The Fiction Challenge: ‘Jessi’s Sunset’ by Marsha L. Mullen

Editor’s Note:

This is the final story in our fiction writing challenge. Next, we will post all of the stories for review and a final push for votes. This has been a blast, we have received so many comments, emails, and new readers. Great job to all of the writers, our readers loved your stories. Good luck on the grand prize!


Two Drops of Ink Fiction writing challenge image 2 The Fiction Challenge: 'Jessi’s Sunset' by Marsha L. Mullen


Jessi’s Sunset

Alone, scared, and naked, Jessi lay shivering on the dirt floor. A sliver of light landed on the dirt like a ray of hope, but then disappeared with the slam of a distant door. Standing up, she tried screaming for help, but the pain in her head was too much. Collapsing back onto the bare dirt, she laid down.

 

 

As she emptied her glass, Jessi thought she saw something glint in the distance. She knew every inch of their property as far as the eye could see, there shouldn’t be anything shiny out there. She grabbed her straw hat and took off across the path. Sweat slid down her back and into the waistband of her jeans as she stepped over small clumps of cactus, around rocks pushing up out of the ground, and past the famous saguaro cactus.

 

. The hot, dry Arizona afternoon had everything scurrying for shade. Her husband, Mark, had traveled to Phoenix to look at a stud they had been eyeing. Their old stud had died, leaving them with the unexpected expense of finding another one.
As she emptied her glass, Jessi thought she saw something glint in the distance. She knew every inch of their property as far as the eye could see, there shouldn’t be anything shiny out there. She grabbed her straw hat and took off across the path. Sweat slid down her back and into the waistband of her jeans as she stepped over small clumps of cactus, around rocks pushing up out of the ground, and past the famous saguaro cactus.
She jumped when two large muscular men stepped out from behind a large rock, both holding pistols that were pointed straight at her. “Hi fellas, you lost?” Chuckling, the two men walked towards her. She turned to run back to the house but two more armed men stepped out from behind the house.
“What do you want? Who are you? If it’s money you want, you are fresh out of luck with me.”
At the snickers from all four men, she knew she was in deep trouble. If they didn’t want money, then these men knew Mark. His past had just caught up with him, and she was going to pay the price.
Mark had been a Navy Seal for twelve years. After retiring, he had opened a private security firm. He and his employees, five ex-military men and two women, were hired to protect an Arabian diplomat. Damion Barro, an ex-CIA agent, offered Mark and his people a million dollars each to look the other way. Someone wanted the diplomat dead, and Barro was the man for the job.
The temptation of a million-dollar paycheck had been too much for Amanda and Zeek, two of Mark’s latest recruits. They handed their guns and badges over and followed Barro out the door. A homeless man found their bodies later that day. A note had been stuffed in Zeek’s pants pocket: ‘Nothing personal, Mark, all or none – DB.’ Mark called the FBI and gave them a detailed report of the situation; he knew they couldn’t do anything without physical evidence.

 

 

Four days later, three more of Mark’s people ended up in the hospital. Two had bullet wounds to the chest, and one had been shot in the head, fortunately, it had grazed the right side of his skull. Unable to find Damion, and unwilling to risk more injuries to his people, Mark requested they be put into witness protection. When they were safely hidden, he sold his business and moved to Arizona where he met and married Jessi.
Jessi stood her ground as the men stepped closer to her. She turned around, not sure what to do, knowing her chances of escape were nonexistent. “What do you want from me?”
“We want you to come with us to see the Boss. If you want to fight us, we would be happy to use whatever force is necessary. Your choice.”
“Who is your boss? What does he want with me?”
“Didn’t Mark tell you all about his past life? He’s a wanted man!”

 

“Ya, he’s wanted dead!” The second man said in a low voice with a nasty chuckle.

 

“Start walking.” The leader gestured towards the trees with his pistol. After a short walk, she saw a tan military Humvee. Forcing Jessi into the back seat, the two men that had been behind her house slid in beside her. The bumpy ride over the rough terrain had everyone slamming their seatbelts on. Jessi didn’t try to latch hers, instead, she lunged for the door handle. The large man behind her grabbed her hair, forcing her back. “I told you if you want to fight us, we would be happy to use force.” A fist slammed into the back of her head. White sparks of light shot through her vision, then a shock of pain coursed through her body as a stun gun was pressed into her shoulder. The pain in her head rivaled the current that flowed through her body; she gave in to the darkness and passed out.
Waking up, retching from the slamming pulse in her head, she crawled into a sitting position. Naked! Panicked, she felt around for her clothes but only felt cool dirt under her. Afraid to know, knowing she needed to know, she touched herself. The absence of soreness and fluids between her legs had her sighing in relief. The darkness was so deep she couldn’t see her hands. Afraid she had gone blind, she waved her arms in front of her, hoping to see something, but to no avail. The throbbing behind her eyes stopped her from further exploration. Laying back down to ease the nausea and pain, she cradled her head on her arms. Unsure if she had a concussion, she tried to stay awake; she lost the battle and dropped into the dark abyss of sleep.
A loud crash jerked through her dreams forcing her awake. The slamming of a distant door had her scrambling up, again searching for her clothes. There was a small streak of light on the floor, it gave enough light to show her the walls. She wasn’t blind! A sob escaped her as she momentarily rejoiced. The floor was dirt, the room was small, and the only object she saw was a bucket. Slowly standing up, she stepped over to the bucket. A roll of toilet paper was inside. A half sob, half laugh, escaped her. She walked around the small room feeling of the walls. The small stream of light, barely enough to see with, had her using her fingers to explore the walls. Cement walls. Dirt floor. No door.
Baffled, terrified, and chilled, she did the only thing she could think to do – she screamed. As loud as she could, she screamed for help. She heard the clunk of heavy boots on a wooden floor. “Shet up, winch, there ain’t nobody gonna hear ya. We’re miles from nowhere. Ya keep it up and I’ll knock ya out muself.” Laughing at what he perceived to be a funny joke, the thumping boots walked away.

 

Not normally one for tears, she sank to the floor, laid her face on her arm, and tried to keep them at bay. Unable to stop them, tears dropped off her face and pooled on her arm. Wiping the tears from her face and arm she knew she couldn’t lay here and wait for them to kill her, or whatever it was they were going to do with her. She searched every inch of the wall as far up as she could reach, then all the way down to the floor. There were no holes, no latches, no strings. Where the hell was the doorway to this room? She couldn’t find a way out, so she started to dig in the cool dirt. After digging three inches down, she hit rock. She jumped up and started screaming, unable to control the fear that was coursing through her. There was no sound, no light, nothing but complete darkness and quiet. Sobbing, she laid on the floor again.
She woke up to thumping boots and the small stream of light. She tried to ask for water, but her throat was too raspy from screaming. Realizing this was the third time she had seen the light, she figured it was the third day. She went to the corner of the room and made a deep line in the dirt, then another, then a third. A swirling fog rolled into the stream of light and swirled around. Realizing too late what it was, she collapsed onto the floor and fell into a deep fog induced sleep.
She woke up, remembered the fog, then jerked into a sitting position. The stream of light lit up the little room enough for her to see something on the other side. Crawling on hands and knees, she found a bottle of water and some food. Half an orange, half an apple, a boneless piece of what she guessed was chicken, and a small chunk of raw broccoli. She hated broccoli; she ate it like it was her favorite food. She wanted to save the water for later, but her thirst was too great. Unable to stop herself, she drained the bottle.
She couldn’t understand why they chose to feed her after three days. Worry, fear, and a little hope had her yelling again. “Why are you keeping me here? What do you want from me? Let me go! Please, let me out of here!” Her pleas left unanswered, she went to another corner to try digging again. A door slammed in the distance and her stream of light disappeared. “No, please, no! Please give me my light back!” Out of tears, her throat and fingers raw, she sank back onto the floor and laid down. Afraid to give in to the nightmares that plagued her dreams, she got back up. She walked the four steps it took to get to the opposite wall, then another four steps back to where she had started. Trapped like an animal.
Each day she woke up to a small serving of food and a bottle of water. She continued marking the days on the floor – eighteen. They had kept her captive for over two weeks without any type of explanation. Eighteen days they had drugged her with the fog to make her sleep. They would open the secret door to give her food and water, and to empty her bucket; for that she was thankful.
On day twenty-one heavy boots thumped across the floor, then her ceiling opened up. Shocked at the sudden brightness, she slammed her hands over her eyes. A loud metallic clank beside her had her jumping with a scream. Hands falling away from her eyes, she saw a silver ladder leading up out of her room.
“Climb up here, you’re gonna go see the Boss.” It was the man she had thought of as the leader. “First, you gotta have a shower, you are one nasty looking creature.” Laughing, he watched her slowly climb the ladder. Halfway up, two of the larger men reached down and grabbed her arms. They lifted her the rest of the way as though she weighed nothing. They half dragged, half carried her outside to a man waiting with a running water hose. On the ground beside him were several bottles; she saw shampoo and body wash. “There’s soap. If you don’t want to wash, one of the men will do it for you.” Several of the men grunted in agreement, one set his gun down and walked towards her. Happy to be in the hot sunshine, and to get clean again, she stepped up to the hose.
The spray of water was cold as it washed off three weeks of dirt. Grabbing the shampoo, she poured a large amount into her hand. A disappointed groan came from the man walking towards her. She washed and rinsed her hair and body as fast as she could in case they changed their mind. When she had rinsed away all the shampoo and soap, the leader handed her a large bath towel and a comb. Wrapping the towel around her thin body, she went to work on her waist-length hair. The tangled mass of blonde hair would need conditioner to get a comb through it.
They led her to a large camper. Still cold from the makeshift shower, she stepped into the air-conditioned room and shivered. Goosebumps raised on her still wet skin, while her teeth clanked together uncontrollably.
“Ah, Mark, she just stepped inside! Would you like to talk to your wife? I think she may have been pretty before, but it’s hard to tell, her hair is a matted mess and she’s so thin I’m afraid she’ll blow away. Hey John, next time you take her outside be sure to put a rope around her, she’ll probably blow away if you don’t!” Doubling over, the man laughed hard at the vision he must have seen of her flying away. Instantly serious, he spoke into the phone again. “You have had three weeks to find your wife, you failed. She loses. I knew you would tell the FBI what I was planning to do. You also knew the consequences if you did.”
Jessi saw the gunpoint her way. The roar as the bullet rocketed out of the barrel was deafening. The slug slammed into the wall beside her; an involuntary scream leapt from her throat. A large hand slammed across her mouth, closing off the rest of the scream. She heard a yell on the other end of the phone line – Mark. She knew what he must be thinking now, that the bullet had stopped her screams, he thought she was dead.
“Sorry, Mark, I tried to get you to see reason. You didn’t listen, now your little wifey is gone. We’ll bury her body out here where maybe someday you’ll find her. A little late, but hey, better late than never, right?” He ended the call with Mark yelling threats. Jessi’s tears poured over the large fingers that were still covering her mouth. Going limp, she fell to the floor, the hand over her mouth jerked as the owner tried grabbing her before she fell.
“Why? Why keep me alive for three weeks just to do that? He thinks I’m dead now. Why didn’t you go ahead and just shoot me?” A sob shook her body as she stared into the cold blues eyes of the man holding the phone.
“Do you know who I am? No, you probably don’t. I’m guessing Mark is the type to keep his past hidden so his little wifey can sleep at night. Well, honey, let me tell you, your husband isn’t as nice as you think he is! Do you know how many of my people he has killed? Let me count- Jack, Steve, Adam, Barry, Samantha – damn, and she was hot, too. Who else did he kill?”
“He killed Pete, remember? He stepped outside to grab a smoke and Mark put a hole in his forehead.” The man standing behind her spoke quietly.
“Yes! I knew I was missing one! Pete! I didn’t like him much, but he was one of my men, gotta take care of my people.” He gestured to a small orange sofa, John picked Jessi up and dropped her on it, her towel fell off. Grabbing it, she covered herself. “Don’t worry, honey, you aren’t my type, I like robust women with big …”
“I know who you are!” Jessi spoke up, ignoring his last comment. “You are Damion Barro, the man that tried to hire Mark to kill that Arabian diplomat when he was here on business! If Mark killed those men you said he did, they deserved it!”

 

Damion’s head snapped around, his face angry. The metallic slide of a bullet going into the chamber made her face lose its color, but she continued facing him. The cold metal on her forehead sent ants up and down her spine. “We’ll get about $2,000 for you in Mexico, you can become someone’s bitch down there.” With that, Barro holstered his gun and walked outside.
Looking around the camper, Jessi looked for something to wear. Seeing a t-shirt and old pair of sweatpants laying on the floor, she dropped her towel and rushed to put them on before any of the men came back. Doing a quick search, she found a cell phone, a pocket knife, and her cowboy boots. Excited to see her old boots again, she slipped them on after finding a pair of socks in a drawer. Wishing the knife was a gun, she peeked out the window, then looked at the phone. Dialing her home number, wondering if the cell would even work, she listened for a ringtone. A man’s rough voice answered the other end. “What do you want, you already killed her, you son of a …”
“Mark? Oh baby, is that you? Mark, please get me out of here!” Jessi was breathless with fear and excitement. “I love you so much, Mark! If anything happens to me, please know I love you.”
“Jessi? Jessi, is that you? Where are you? I thought he had killed you.” Tears deepened Mark’s voice, he cleared his throat.
“I don’t know where I am, I’ve been locked in a small room underground.”
“It’s ok, baby, I’m so glad you’re still alive. I hoped, but with Damion’s background, I really thought he had shot you. We have been searching for you and have a pretty idea where you are. Hang on, Jessi, I’m going to find you.”

 

“Mark, can you get a lock on this phone? I found it, I’m in a camper. They said we were miles away from anywhere, but I have a strong signal here.”
“Hold on tight, Jessi, I’m with the FBI, I’ll see what they want to do. Jessi, I love you, baby. I’ll do my best to get you out of there.”
A beep came from the phone in her hand. The battery was dying. “No! Please, just when I find some hope! Mark, the phone is dying.” Searching for a charger, she heard someone coming. Sitting back down on the couch, she threw the phone onto the bed where it bounced and hit the floor on the other side.
“What the hell? Did Damion tell you to put those clothes on?”
“Of course he did, you idiot, said he didn’t want me parading around in front of you guys in my towel. What’s it to you?” She lied, hoping he’d go away.
“I came in to have a little fun now that your old man thinks you’re dead and Damion doesn’t need you anymore. May as well enjoy you before the Mexicans get a hold of you.” His disgusting smirk took on a sinister look as he grabbed her hair and jerked her head back. He fumbled with the zipper on his pants, jerked at it, then let her go to use both hands. Taking advantage of his diverted attention she grabbed the knife, flicked it open, then rammed it hard into his left thigh. He yelled and bent over the knife, grabbing the handle. She kicked up, slamming a boot into his face. Blood gushed from his split lips and busted nose. He grabbed his face as she aimed for his testicles. Tears streamed down his bloodied face, the unbearable pain between his legs stole his voice. He landed hard on his knees, shaking the camper. She grabbed his pistol and slammed it into the back of his head. Sliding the curtain back, she looked out. She couldn’t see any of the men. Not wanting to stay in the camper, she opened the door and ran.
Jessi slid behind the Humvee, dust swirling around her as she flopped down. Laying on her belly to look for the men, she shimmied underneath the vehicle and hid behind the oversized rear tire. The men were standing next to a building; she counted nine large men, all carrying weapons. They were too far away to hear what they were saying, but several of them were smoking, four sat down in the dirt, and three walked off looking alert. Damion and John walked inside the building, leaving Jessi wondering what her next move was. She took in the scenery. The barren landscape was littered with saguaro cactus, a few cows wondered the area, some tall rocks, and not much more. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. She considered jumping into the vehicle she was laying under, but if the keys weren’t in the ignition, she risked being spotted, and she had no idea how to hotwire it.
Sweat stung her eyes and dripped off her nose. The stolen t-shirt was too wet with her sweat to wipe her face off. A rustling in the dirt behind her had her jumping, afraid one of the three men had walked behind her. A large rattlesnake was wanting to share her shade. Knowing if she moved, she’d be dead, she waited until the venomous creature slithered past her to the other end of the truck. With a quiet sigh of relief, she looked around again. Spotting the three men as they walked back up to join the small group, she decided to make her move. She slid backward out from under the vehicle. Checking to see if her path was clear, she ran away from the vehicle and away from the men, the Humvee hiding her escape. The ground fell away to what should have been a creek. She ducked into it and kept going. Weak from her captivity, she knew she wouldn’t get far if they found she was missing.
Hearing a strange thwapping noise, she ducked and looked behind her to see if she was being followed. A helicopter was flying low to the ground, heading in her direction; she saw someone point at her. Not waiting around to be captured again, she ran. Gunshots had her diving onto the ground with a scream. Rolling away from a small cactus, she covered her head.
“Jessi! Jessi, it’s me, Mark!” Turning over when she heard the yells, she sat up.
“Mark!” He jumped out of the hovering helicopter and raced to her. They clung to each other, standing there locked together until an FBI agent approached.
“Damion Barro raised his gun, that’s all it took!” Explained the lead agent. “We weren’t going to play his game. He lifted the barrel of that rifle he’d picked up and I’m pretty sure every one of us put a couple of bullets in him. He won’t be moving again except in a body bag. Ma’am, I’m really and truly sorry it took us so long to find you.”
Two weeks later Jessi heard the truck pull up; she loved that noisy diesel truck. Setting the curry comb aside, she patted their new stallion one last time, then walked to the front of the house. Resting her hand on the butt of the pistol Mark had given her the day after she got home, she watched Mark as he stepped out of the truck. She walked towards him when he turned back to the truck, then set something on the ground. A black and tan puppy ran around his feet. Grinning wide, he watched her walk to him. Her surprised smile and squeal of joy as she saw the puppy had him chuckling. “Jessi, meet Agent Luca; Agent Luca, this is Jessi. Luca is a full-blooded German Shepherd. I’ve always wanted to get one, and wish I had done this a long time ago. He’s a bit young, only nine weeks old, but you now have a full-time bodyguard that I know will love you as much as I do.”

 

Mark and Jessi sat on the front steps playing with Agent Luca as the sun set in the rusty sky. Looking up, she saw a large saguaro cactus hold the sun up – just for a moment – enough to remind her that life is still full of wonder, hope, and possibilities.

 

The End Is the Beginning


Author’s Bio:

 

The Fiction Challenge: 'Jessi’s Sunset' by Marsha L. Mullen

Marsha L. Mullen

Marsha is a senior at Wichita State University; she is pursuing an English degree with minors in Creative Writing, Criminal Justice, and Psychology. Her passion is to write about the good guy always catching the bad guy. Her belief is if she wanted sad, she’d watch the news, therefore, she gives her readers happy endings. Marsha lives with her 17-year-old daughter, Audrey, Audrey’s two kittens, ferret, and dog, along with her own fantastic German Shepherd, Kalani, who she absolutely adores almost as much as her two daughters. Audrey is also a writer (she has a published story, see the link below). They live in the quiet suburbs of Wichita, Kansas. Her 20-year-old daughter, Ashley, who is graduating with her Architectural degree in December, lives in a neighboring town with her boyfriend. Marsha recently started a blog with tips for the everyday driver; she feels her seven years as a commercial driver has shown her what everyone with a license should know. Check it out: www.marshalynnewriter.com. You can also find Marsha on Facebook and Twitter. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009331770905  https://twitter.com/MarshaLMullen66

Audrey’s story was entered into a contest when she was 16:

http://shortfictionbreak.com/from-beginning-to-end/


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13 comments

    • I did have a lot of fun writing this piece. I had considered killing Jessi towards the end, but that went against my nature, and I just couldn’t do it. Thanks for reading my story! I am so excited to see which of the stories wins, glad I’m not having to choose one story out of all these!

      Liked by 3 people

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