Highland Springs: for NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

As promised, here is the short story I submitted for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I had 8 days and 2500 words to write a short story in the follow category:

Heat 21:
Genre: Spy/ Espionage
Subject: A Long Distance Relationship
Character: A Pharmacist

This was a real challenge for me as the genre felt impossible. I’m not hopeful TBH but I’m proud of the work I did and the dedication I put forth. Now I know I have no limitations! Enjoy and please, give feedback!

Highland Springs

by Paula Michelle Gillison

* This story has been submitted for copyright & should only be shared via the link to this page.

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The town of Highland Springs Virginia wasn’t as ordinary as it appeared. From the outside, it was a normal southern neighborhood with churches, schools, and a grocery store. It appeared like a scene from the 1980’s. For Portia Prince, however, it was where she and her team, a group of secret agents lived and operated as a part of a special force for the United States government. They were known as The Envoy.

The team consisted of five members: Quincy was the muscle and weapons expert. Mila, a bombshell who could make and deactivate them. Their director and chief, Horatio who received all the missions from headquarters. And Micheal. The team barely saw Micheal. He was one of the top agents and was constantly in the field.. Lastly was Portia, in charge of tactical operations, she developed the plans and had the skills to execute them. 

As per every Tuesday morning, Portia Prince walked into Franklin’s Family Pharmacy on Adams street. The store was a small family run business where the windows were covered in outdated medicine advertisements and a giant plaster pill bottle was its only appeal. Much like everything else in Highland Springs, this store was forgotten. 

Portia walked in at 8:05 AM. The bell positioned over the door frame rang slightly alerting Mr. Doucet that he had his first customer of the day. 

“Ms. Prince!. Ms. Prince,” Mr. Doucet smiled. He popped his head up from where he sat, rearranging the greeting cards. 

“Good Morning Mr. Doucet. Anything new come in this week?” Portia began to browse around the store as per their routine. She knew all of his inventory but Mr. Doucet would appease her anyway. 

“Oh, there’s a shipment of melatonin I’m waiting for. It’s about three days late. Three days late!” Mr. Doucet said while making his way to the counter. “It’s sad the amount of people who suffer from sleep in this town, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so,” Portia responded while picking up one more thing before coming to the counter. 

“Is this all for you, Ms. Prince?” Mr. Doucet said while scanning her items. 

“Well, this plus my medicine,” Portia giggled. Mr. Doucet was helpful but forgetful. He was well-intended but really, it was Micheal who kept everything in order here. Micheal owned the store and used it as a cover to maintain his relationship with Portia. Every Tuesday, she would visit Franklin’s and Mr. Doucet would deliver her a letter in a pill bottle. Portia and Micheal had been in love since they joined the agency in the early 70’s. He was strong and compassionate and after a few months of rejecting his advances, she found herself swept into a love affair of grand proportions. The agency forbade them from having intimate relationships but they couldn’t help themselves. They were in love and eventually got married in a non-legal ceremony in Dubai. But as his career advanced, she saw him less and less. She had become accustomed to maintaining their relationship from a distance, always continents apart, but because of his current mission, they could only speak by letters once a week. So she arrived at the pharmacy every Tuesday. He had been gone a year today.

“Oh yes,” Mr. Doucet looked disappointed in himself for forgetting, “This is usually Micheal’s part but he isn’t here. He isn’t here.”

“No?” Portia said unconcerned but providing the empathy Mr. Doucet needed. “He’s probably just running late.” Portia knew Micheal wasn’t going to be there but Mr. Doucet was absent-minded and often said things that didn’t make sense.

“But it’s been three days.” Mr. Doucet added. “It’s not like Micheal to be gone that long. Gone that long. Gone that long.”

Portia could see the strain in Mr. Doucet’s face as if he was trying to remember the last time he had seen Micheal. His face remained tense while he shuffled through the medicines once carefully labeled on a rack behind the counter but now being thrown to the floor as he searched. Mr. Doucet went into a frenzy searching for the package. “Prince. Prince. I know it’s here. Peters, Powell, where is Prince? Oh, Micheal is supposed to do this for me!”

Portia watched as Mr. Doucet’s hard drive began to overheat. Smoke streamed from his ears and his upper body began to swivel off its hinges. Portia quickly ran behind the counter and pulled Mr. Doucet close to her, pressing a button on the back of his neck that turned him off. A rush of cold air released from a valve on his shoulder cooling him down and restarting his functions. Portia dropped his body to the floor knowing it would be an hour before he was back up and running. Before leaving the pharmacy Portia pulled out her phone and texted  Code 0813. 

Twenty minutes later, Portia stood before her team at The Envoy operational base. It was located underground beneath a library in the heart of the city. 

“An 813? Agent P, what’s going on?” Horatio demanded of Portia while banging his fist on the table. An 813 urgent message demanded that each agent report to base immediately. “And where is Micheal?” Horatio continued.

“That’s why I called the 813, Sir,” Portia responded. “He’s missing. I watched the Doucet 5000 overheat today because it hadn’t been serviced which means Micheal has probably been gone at least 5 days.” 

“That robot is old,” Quincy interrupted. “It could have overheated because you kept talking to it.”

“You’ve never taken pleasure in a Robot?” Mila jabbed at Quincy while winking and reminding him of how he entertained himself in Highland Springs. 

“Sir,” Portia turned her attention back to Horatio ignoring the conversation beside her, “Micheal takes every mission seriously and keeping that pharmacy running is part of his mission. So if the Doucet is down, something has gone wrong.” 

Horatio was inclined to believe Portia but had no evidence. “This isn’t unusual. What makes you think he’s missing opposed to on a mission.”

“I just know,” Portaia insisted physically upset. Horatio looked confused. 

“How?” Horatio demanded.

 Portia continued knowing that by revealing this sensitive information, she was risking her spot in the agency. 

“We have to find him. Because… Micheal is my husband.”

The entire room fell silent. 

Horatio stood up from his seat. The heaviness of his despondency was like fog in the room. He never broke eye contact as he walked toward Portia, his hands behind his back clenching a tight fist. Horatio was a small man but not without intimidation. Portia stood awaiting his judgment. 

“If this is an actual 813 Portia, you will have the full force of the Envoy at your disposal. But mark my words, after this is over, we will discuss your future in this agency.”

A sigh of relief swelled in the room.

“Okay P, Let’s get started, “ Mila chimed in. She turned on the projector behind Portia’s head. A picture of Micheal and Portia’s wedding day was on the screen. Portia should have been surprised but she was a member of a United States secret agency. Of course, they already knew about her marriage.

The next day, Portia and her team were wheels up to Russia. They had discovered that the shipment of melatonin for Franklin’s pharmacy was coming from a small factory in Kadykchan. The delivery truck didn’t leave the medicine at Franklin’s and Micheal went missing the same day. It was their only clue. 

The team had their assignments. Mila would handle I.T. infiltrations. From the outside, the factory looked like a dump but was actually a high-security facility for some of Russia’s best operatives. Quincy would take out all the guards and Portia would rescue Michael. 

It didn’t take Mila long to get Portia and Quincy inside the building. Through the earpiece, Mila guided them into the air-duct system and positioned them directly above the room they believed Micheal was being held in. 

“Listen. I need you to do something for me,” Portia whispered to Quincy who was beside her and to Mila and Horatio who were in a truck just up the street from the factory. 

“If anything goes wrong, you save Micheal okay. Not me.” Tears were swelling in Portia’s eyes. As an agent, she has always been tougher than nails but watching her cry for her husband made the entire team want to ensure they both came back alive. 

“No one is dying on my watch,” Horatio spoke to his team through the headpiece. “Now get in there and bring Micheal home.”

Within seconds, a bomb that Mila had manufactured from an old computer, created just enough diversion for Portia and Quincy to break through the ceiling. Quincy immediately went into action. He took down 4 of the 7 guards using aikido martial art skills he had picked up in Japan and then disarmed the other henchmen using a broom as a bokken. While Quincy fought, Portia searched through the smoke for Micheal. He was not there. She heard footsteps down the hall and was sure the Russians were trying to move him. She searched for him all over the building but he was gone. 

An hour later, the team randevud at a local inn. Each appeared to be sulking over their failure to rescue Micheal. 

“Damnit,” Horatio shouted while kicking over a desk chair. 

“That was our only lead Portia,” Quincy snapped. 

“No, it isn’t,” Mila interrupted. “While you were giving your speech, Portia, it was lovely btw, I recorded the audio from the factory.” 

Mila removed her earpiece and plugged it into her laptop. The team listened.

“Micheal, Sir, You have got to make a choice.”

“I know but what am I supposed to do. I can’t just leave her. She won’t survive without me.” 

Portia gasped as she heard Micheal’s voice. Not sounding detained or captured, he spoke to the man as if he were his commanding officer. 

“Yes, I know sir. But you’re jeopardizing the whole operation for a dream.”

The audio gets foggy as the recorder picked up the sounds of Portia and Quincy breaking into the room. The recording continues with the sound of Quincy taking out the guards.

“Wait,” Portia stopped Mila, “Right there. Rewind the tape and sharpen the audio.”

Mila did as told and rewound the tape to the moment Quincy falls from the ceiling. With the sound sharpened, Micheal’s voice is clear.

“How did The Envoy find us?”

At that moment, it became painfully obvious. Micheal hadn’t been kidnapped. He had gone rogue. Where Portia was attempting to rescue her husband, he was selling them out to the Russian government. 

“We have to get home,” Horatio lamented to a visibly heartbroken Portia, “Micheal knows we know. He’ll come looking for us. We need to report this to headquarters and eradicate Highland Springs. The Envoy will have to dismantle.”

Portia knew Horatio was right but something about the entire situation wasn’t adding up for her. She had to get home.

Back in Highland Springs, the operational base was uprooted within minutes. Every inch of their existence was gone except one. Portia knew this was her responsibility. 

“Ms. Prince?” Mr. Doucet exclaimed surprisingly. “It’s not Tuesday and it’s not 8:05 AM. What are you doing here?”

Portia felt silly skipping the pleasantries but she knew she was here simply to deactivate the robot she had come to consider a friend. Then she would disappear.

“And look,” Mr. Doucet grinned as Portia approached, “Micheal’s back.”

Portia froze for only a second before drawing her weapon and aiming it at her husband.

“Portia, don’t!” Micheal began. “I can explain.”

“What are you doing here, why did you do this to us?” Portia asked without lowering her gun. The pain in her heart cracking her voice between each word.

“I didn’t think you’d find me but you always do,” Micheal started ignoring Portia’s questions. 

“What are you talking about Michael?” Portia took another step toward her husband. She noticed he was unarmed and not threatened by her aim.

“We do this every year,” Micheal continued with a sigh. “You get anxious if I’m gone too long and find any excuse to come looking for me. You were too good of a spy. You always find me.”

Portia was even more confused by Micheal’s words. She attempted to understand but he spoke so matter-of-factly. She begged him to explain. 

“This isn’t real Portia.” He said her name painfully. “Do you even remember how you got to Highland Springs?”

Portia searched her mind for answers. She couldn’t find any memory of the day she arrived. She remembered Horatio giving her an assignment and then she remembered being asked by Micheal to wait for him in Highland Springs. 

Micheal walked closer to Portia allowing her gun to push into his chest. “You were searching for a Russan syndicate operation believed to be located here. But when you arrived, you reported to HQ that there was nothing. You called for your team as backup. The operation went sour. You and your entire team were killed.” 

With those words, Portia’s mind began to flood with memories of the operation to infiltrate the syndicate over twenty years ago. She had called Horation, Mila, and Quincy to meet her. But Micheal left out details. When they arrived, it was revealed that she was a double agent selling intelligence from America to the Russians. Her entire team was assassinated. Then the Russians turned on her and shot her through the heart. 

“What did I do?” Portia screamed while dropping the gun and falling to her knees. Her heart pounded like metal in her chest. “Why would I do that to you? This doesn’t make sense. How am I here?”

Micheal knew the answer. Portia left him a note with the wedding ring he had given her inside of a pill bottle. Then she disappeared. She had agreed to betray the American government and her husband to save their son. When Micheal found the letter, he was too late. Arriving on the scene, he was able to recover the brains of each of his former agents including his wife. But not of their son, Franklin Doucet Prince. 

“I should have never left you that long Portia. I broke us. I should have stayed and protected you both.” 

With tears in his eyes, Micheal turned the diamond on his wedding band counter-clockwise initiating a restart sequence. He watched as his wife, the pharmacist, and all of Highland Springs Virginia melted into a vortex and swallowed itself into the plaster pill bottle. 

 A few hours later, the bottle was back in front of the store and all was as it once was. 

At 8:05 AM, the bell positioned over the door frame of Franklin Family Pharmacy rang slightly alerting Mr. Doucet that he had his first customer of the day. “Ms. Prince,” he smiled, “Good Morning!”

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