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It’s the second half of the Ray Bradbury Challenge of writing a short story each week for a year. This is story 35 of 52.

I am finding that this story challenge is getting in the way of my novel writing, so to get to 52 faster, I am going to compress the challenge and attempt to write 2 stories a week, with the goal of getting all 52 done by the end of October.

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com


A plumber in training

Contacts a long-lost child

Something new

Family Matters

The Bruce Collins Quality Plumbing van pulled into the driveway of the small brick house. The house looked like every other one on the street. Probably all built at the same time with the same contractors and subs. 

Samantha looked over at Bruce as he turned off the ignition and picked up his tablet with a loud sigh. 

“Mrs. Conley’s commode is once again clogged. I’m starting to wonder if Mrs. Conley is stuffing things down it so she can have some company.”

Samantha nodded. This was her third trip to the home since she began her apprenticeship. Mrs. Conley was very nice, but Bruce was probably right about her only wanting some company. 

“Well, this one is all yours,” Bruce said. “I’ll entertain the old lady while you plunge.”

“Thanks.” Samantha got out of the van and grabbed a plunger and a snake from the back of the van. She followed Bruce to the door. 

Mrs. Conley let them in. There was a teapot and some cups on the small table in front of her sofa. 

Samantha winked at Bruce. He was right. She just wanted company. Gripping the plunger tighter, she made her way down the hallway to the main restroom.  

The commode was full, but there was no water on the floor. At least she wouldn’t have to clean up a bunch of water. It didn’t take long to clear the clog. Samantha grabbed some toilet paper, wiped off the plunger and flushed one more time. As the water swirled, she noticed the medicine cabinet slightly ajar. Curiosity killed the cat, but plumbers were a different story. 

There was a row of prescriptions, she counted twelve altogether. Samantha picked one up. It was the same drug her father was given to help with the side effects of chemotherapy. Did Mrs. Conley have cancer? That would explain her desire for company Where was her family?

Samantha got back to the front room, where Mrs. Conley was pouring tea into a cup for Bruce. His fat fingers could barely fit through the handle of the bone china tea cup.  

Mrs. Conley looked up. “Done already, dear? Here, have a cup of tea.”

Bruce started to get up, “We have more customers to get to today, ma’am, but we–”

“Of course we have time for a cup of tea.” Samantha took the cup from Mrs. Conley. She glared at Bruce, but he was no mind reader. She sat down on a side chair. “So, how are you feeling, Mrs. Conley?”

Mrs. Conley sat down on the sofa next to Bruce, who also sat back down. “Thank you so much for asking, dear. I have felt better. This is my chemo week, so i feel awful.”

Bruce looked down at the floor. 

Good, he got the picture. “I’m so sorry to hear to you’re sick, Mrs. Conley. Is your family able to come by and help you?”

“I have some nurses that medicare sends. They are all very nice.” She looked at the tea in her cup. “I don’t have any family.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. There is no one you can call for support, maybe a cousin?”

“No, I was an only child, the daughter of two only children. It’s just me, and Mr. Whiskers over there.” She sighed. “Maybe I have a child out there, a daughter. I gave her up for adoption. Back in 1979, single mothers were frowned upon. At least around here.”

Bruce’s face was a bit pale. This was too much information for him.

“I was afraid,” Mrs. Conley said. “I didn’t think I could do it alone. But I worked hard, I bought this house and I did make a life. I just wish she could have been a part of it, that I was just a little bit braver.”

“I’m sure if she knew you what you have done, she would be proud of you. Have you tried to contact her?”

“No, the records were sealed. I asked my lawyer about unsealing them, but it would take too long. I don’t want the first time she meets me to be my deathbed.” She sighed again. “It was Christmas 1979. My gift to her was a new, happy life.”

“But maybe she is wondering about you, too!”

Bruce stood up. “Thank you very much for the tea, Mrs. Conley. We do have other customers who need to have their clogs fixed.” He put his cup down, and motioned that Samantha should do the same. 

Mrs. Conley smiled. “Thank you dear. I can see that not only do you want to fix pipes, you want to fix the world.”

Bruce shook his head. “We will stick to what we can control, right Sam?”

Sam could only nod and follow him back out to the truck. “

“From now on, when you are on my dime, stick to the plumping, OK? Everyone has a sad story and if you want to fix them, you are in the wrong business.”

“Yes, sir.”

At the of her shift, Sam texted Turk. “Have to see you. Need help.”

He got to her apartment just after she did. “What’s wrong?” he asked, glancing out the window. 

What was his problem? “I have a customer that we can help. But I need you. I have to go to 1979.”

“Sam, the Rangers are after me already, I have to lie low for a bit. If I go traveling, they will track me down for sure.”

“But Mrs. Conley is going to die alone, and never get to meet her daugther!” 

“What are you talking about?”

Sam explained about Mrs. Conley, the adoption, and her cancer. “We can’t find her daughter here, but maybe we can go back and convince her not to give up her daughter.”

“Sam, we can’t do that. That is way too much change. The Rangers will be all over me for that.” He looked at her. “Can you do it yourself?”

“Myself? You won’t go with me?”

“You can take the goo. It will take you to 1979. You’ve done it before. I will wait here and if you don’t come back in a reasonable time, I will come after you, promise.” Turk opened up the backpack he always carried. He pulled out a box that looked like lime green jello. “Here is the Lime-a-tin. Just add a teaspoon to the full tub.”

“You think it’s safe to use my tub?”

“When was this place built?”

“I thought it was the 80s.” Sam took the box, but her heart started racing. The last time she had time traveled alone with the green goo, she was confronted by a Time Ranger. He was very nice, and he did help her get back, but would he be that nice again? If it was even the same one?

Sam went up to the bathroom and filled her tub. She carefully measured out the Lime-a-tin and mixed it with her hand. The tub was immediately filled with a green goo. All she needed to do was stand in the tub, and the Lime-a-tin would do the rest. It would take her back to its date of manufacture –  December 1979.

She didn’t end up in a bathtub as she did last time. Instead, she was in a small pond of green goo in the middle of a pasture.  This was already going off the rails. To make matters worse, there was a bull across the field. He saw her and started running over.

Sam saw a fence and started running toward it as fast as she could. The pasture was damp and her feet sunk in the soft grass and mud, slowing her down. She turned back to see how far away the bull was. He was just coming up on the pond when…

He was gone. Where did he go? Hopefully, not her bathtub at her apartment. She stopped running and put her hands on her knees to breathe. Turk was right. This was a bad idea. Time-traveling bulls were sure to get the attention of the Time Rangers. As Sam thought about Turk dealing with the bull, he appeared next to her.

“How did you…” she stuttered

“It’s the new tattoo. I can go exactly where I need to go.” He showed her an intricate clock inked on his right forearm. “So let’s get this woman to keep her kid so we can go clean up the mess in 2009. Your bathroom has some serious damage. What were you thinking sending that beast back?”

“I didn’t do it.” She pointed to the pond. “There is no bathroom here, just  a pond. He fell in.”

“Ok, let’s do this first, then worry about the bull.” Turk took her hand. “Now where do we find your friend?”

“I don’t know. I realized when I got here that all I know is the that the baby was born on Christmas day in 1979.”

“Hm. We are a few weeks off, then.” Turk moved her hand so she was holding his left elbow. “Whatever you do, don’t let go.” 

He pressed his tattoo, and Sam could feel her stomach lurch. It was the same lurch she felt when she stepped into the tub. The feeling stopped. They were still standing in the same field. The bull was back, and he was staring at them.

“That’s the bull,” Sam said.

“Yeah, we got him home, looks like.” Turk started walking to the fence. “Let’s go find the hospital.

He was so casual about it. We go the bull home, he said, like it was nothing. We moved a thousand-pound animal, through thirty years, twice, and it was no big deal to Turk. What was she doing in a relationship with this guy?

The pasture was not far from the small town, and they managed to find the hospital after a  couple of hours of walking.  They walked in, and Sam was relieved that her work pants and shirt and Turk’s khaki’s and button-down fit right in. 

Turk went up to the registration desk. “We are looking for…” he turned to Sam.

“Marjorie Conley.” Sam said, glad she remembered Mrs. Conley’s first name.

“Are you the adoptive parents? She was expecting you.”

Turk smiled, “Yes, yes we are. We are so excited.”

He lied so easily, so smoothly. Sam didn’t say a word. 

They went to the room number the receptionist gave them. Turk softly rapped on the door. 

“Come in!”

Sam followed Turk through the door. On the bed, holding the infant, was sixteen-year-old Majorie.  She was staring at the baby with obvious adoration. 

Turk poked Sam. 

“Um, Marjorie, hi, you don’t know me, but I just,” Sam looked at Turk. 

He nodded.

“I want to tell you. You should totally keep the baby. I know that you are scared and that you don’t think that you can do it, but be brave. I know you can do this.”

The girl looked at Sam. “Who the hell are you? You’re not the Kuykendahl’s?”

Turk walked closer to the bed. “No, we are not, but I heard some things about them, and I wanted you to know. I know that you don’t want  your daughter to be hurt in any way.”

“What? What did you hear? Do you know them?”

“I am with law enforcement. We are in the middle of the investigation, so we cannot give you details. I will be in so much trouble if they find out I am warning you, so please don’t tell anyone we were here. “ He took a deep breath. “But if you go through with this adoption, you will never forgive yourself when the truth comes out.”

Sam could only stare at Turk. Law enforcement? Impersonating a police officer? They were going to be in so much trouble. 

There was a clatter in the hallway. Turk grabbed Sam’s arm. “Please, consider what I told you,” he said to Marjorie. “We have to go.” He pulled Sam out of the room, and down the hallway, into a little empty alcove. “Grab my arm.”

Stomach lurching, and then they were back in Sam’s apartment. “How? We didn’t have to use the pond again?”

Turk laughed. “It the tattoo. That’s why they are after me.”

There was a loud stomp in the bathroom. The bull.

Turk took a step to the bathroom, then turned to Sam. “I’ll get rid of him and the goo on both sides. Why don’t you check on your friend?” 

The last thing Sam wanted to do was deal with the bull. She dashed out to her car and drove to Mrs. Conley’s home. 

There were cars in the driveway. Sam panicked – they didn’t belong to hospice or medicare nurses, did they?

She walked to the door. She could hear a baby crying, and older children yelling inside the house. She took a deep breath and pressed the doorbell. 

A woman answered the door. She wasn’t Mrs. Conley, but she did resemble her. 

“I was just checking on Mrs. Conley, is she okay?” Sam’s hands were shaking. 

The woman turned, “Mom, someone from the plumber’s is here to check on you!”

Sam looked down; she was still wearing her Bruce Collins Quality Plumbing uniform. It hit her, the women said Mom.

“Are you Mrs. Conley’s daughter?”

“Yes, my kids and I are staying here until she gets through this round of chemo.” She waved her hand at the kid chaos behind her. “She said that the plumbers came this morning to fix the toilet.”

“Uh, yes, we did.” Sam’s heart fluttered. Did it work? Was this the baby from the hospital? 

A child came up to the door. “Mom, Grandma is still sleeping, should I wake her up?”

Sam shook her head. “Oh, no, don’t wake her. If the toilet is working, I will be on my way.” She turned and started to walk back to the car. 

A young man in a dark blue suit leaned on her car door. Damn, she recognized Joshua, the Time Ranger. He had popped up the last time she traveled with the Lime-a-tin.

“Hi there, Sam. We need to talk.”