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The Spot Writers – “Witch” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Halloweenish tale The Man with the Crystal Ankh, a story of a violinist who is contacted by spirits while she plays. This month’s prompt is very Halloweenish as well: write a scary story using the words dress, light, dark, pumpkin, ghost.

***

Witch by Val Muller

They call us witches. It’s because they don’t understand. They can’t conceive of something so far advanced, so beyond and above them, something their primitive science can’t explain, and so they call us magic and they call us dangerous. And me sent to search among them.

One thousand years I was granted to find you. Not long for us, but dozens of lifetimes in the place you went. And so I knew you would be hard to find because you would always be changing—and on top of that I had the entire world to search.

I knew where you’d begin. A forest in the north. Isolation. The complete opposite of home. Where else would a rebellious girl go to escape her mother? I sensed you there, but by the time I arrived, so many had been slain by invading armies that you were already gone. The inhabitants here are so brute.

I heard of a revolutionary named Hildegard of Bingen, one who had dreams and visions, who possessed an intelligence that others did not. That was you, I knew, but you passed before I could get to you. Your lives on this world are like those of an insect, and almost before I can sense you, you’re gone.

I heard rumors of someone named Joan of Arc, another revolutionary, a leader like you were destined to be.

Always there was something in my way and I was never able to get to you in time before your deaths. Travel on this world is tedious and slow. Bodies are so heavy here. All the while, my eternal light pressed against the body I borrowed, wanting to escape the dark confines of the flesh. How I longed to return to our world of light, or even to reveal my true form and become a god to the primitive beasts of this world. But I remembered the Queen and kept my promise and remained hidden in flesh.

I smelled your Essence during the cruel witch trials, where people like you were burned. People they feared. Some were of this planet—ones who could see beyond their time. Others, like you, were visitors whose incarnations here were cut short by the fearful brutes. The panic of those massacres made the moments I had to find you fly by too quickly, in too much of a blur.

I knew I would find you eventually.

I followed your Essence to the New World, where I could tell you had been a Native. You passed of old age before I could find your body, but I stayed on the land awaiting your return. When another wave of witch trials arose, I knew you had returned as well.

I sensed you leaving the grave of an infant born to the colonists, one who died moments after birth. Soon after, I heard your laugh in a child’s babbling, but there were so many lives flying about that I could not pinpoint you before your next death.

My one thousand years were drawing to a close, and I knew they would summon me back again. I could not fail. What would they say if I failed to bring the Queen’s daughter back from her escapades on Earth? Losing my job was the least of my worries. I would likely be recycled back into the ether with the hopes that I’d be reincarnated as something more useful to the Queen.

I was not ready for that.

I intensified my searches. I gave up physical comforts. I walked through green fields of summer and smelled the air for you. In crisp, cool mornings I walked through wheat fields wet with dew, and I sensed your presence close by. I tried to make note of every single second, to detect every day of yours that would pass. That level of concentration is barely sustainable, but I caught your essence. It was moving.

I followed the trail into a city. I wouldn’t think that the Queen’s rebellious daughter would want to return to so industrial a place, one so similar to what she’d fled from in her own home. It seems that the Queen’s love for cities and urban populations was part of you as well; perhaps you were showing your true nature and coming into your own. I hoped you were ready to return.

I followed you all the way to New York City. It was the month of October, which for me is the mere blink of an eye. I forced myself to concentrate on every single second so that the mere moment of the month felt a longer. As I slowed down, I realized that people were dressed differently: some wore masks, some had painted faces, many wore dresses that did not seem to fit this era—some of the dresses were reminiscent of my earlier time on this world. Something was strange and I knew you were behind it.

At first I found it hard to locate you in such a large population, but then I remembered how it was on our home, how everyone packed into a huge city has their Essence vibrating through the air the way the people here leave ghosts of themselves even after they have gone. All I needed to do was listen closely enough and I could isolate yours. And so I did, and I found you in the basement of a large building. The building rose and stretched to the stars, toward our home, but the stairways into the basement led away from it. The steps were lined with large pumpkins, each carved into a face that did not belong on this planet. Indeed, those grinning visages reminded me of home.

One of them was carved to look just like your mother.

I held my breath to listen to the night, and I learned it was you after all, throwing a Halloween party. I’d read of it in a book once, and it made sense. Halloween is the closest the people of this world have come to understanding our ways. The line that blurs life and death is so fluid, yet in their world death seems so sudden and final. They don’t understand the true nature of things, the constant renewal and rebirth. They don’t understand that their energy never truly disappears, that we are all of us made of brilliant light that shines through all our iterations.

But on Halloween they come a bit closer to this epiphany. Their tiny minds open to what they would otherwise consider witchcraft. Magic. So of course it is fitting that I would find you there.

When I enter the basement, loud music resonates, and bodies dance everywhere, writhing in pleasure and even in pain. Bodies reaching out to each other, bodies dressed in whimsy and creativity, bodies free to express themselves. I know, of course, that you are behind that, too. I know that this is your party, and so I look on stage and indeed there you are in a dress befitting the Queen’s daughter, a dress like a queen herself would wear. There you are, leading them through sound, with your Essence resonating in every pulse of the music. You sing to them of our ways and your ways. I hold my breath to hear your words, and there it is: our native tongue, chants that in other ages led to your death at the stake. You have them all in rapture now. They have accepted you.

I look over the writhing bodies, and my eyes catch yours. Instead of fleeing as you I thought you might, you keep on singing and your earthly lips break into a smile. I let myself dance, too, but only for the blink of an eye. I know after the party is over, we are going home.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Consumed” by Dorothy Colinco

This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted any way. This week’s story comes from Dorothy Colinco.

Consumed by Dorothy Colinco

He had plucked a woman from her tribe, reaching back into time and space to place her here and now, wherever that was. Wherever this sterile room with the chrome table and white walls was. The organization’s work required some unpleasantness, which was not made easier by the fact that the subjects were unsuspecting of the inevitable and irreversible damage. Of course, the damage was never physical. They were not so cruel as to inflict physical pain. But the pain was real nonetheless, and sacrifices had to be made for the advancement of the greater good.

The woman was now seated awkwardly on the chair. He felt stupid for making her sit there; of course she didn’t know how to sit in a chair. Had he expected her to lean back with her feet flat against the floor, arms crossed in front of her chest? He should’ve known she would sit – more accurately, squat – with her feet on the seat of the chair and her bottom hanging between her heels, knees up to her armpits as though she were squatting over a makeshift toilet in the ground.

She was able to communicate with her in the language and gestures she used with her tribe. She, of course, was a gatherer, her fingers stained the color of wild berries and covered with tough skin that long ago resisted the lacerations of the thorns.

“Are you scared?” He asked. She only looked at him, but in her eyes he saw that universal expression of understanding. She had understood him, and she was scared, but she was not about to admit it to this hunter, though his garments, she noticed, were not stained with the blood and fat of prey. Her son of only 50 moons had surely hunted more prey than him.

“Don’t be,” he said, and he was not unkind, which surprised her.

“I only mean to show you something. To ask questions. I won’t harm you.” Still she remained silent. He gestured, and food was brought into her room by two other women. They didn’t speak to or look at her. “Eat,” he urged. She could not resist the smells emanating from the pile before her, and she ate, gingerly at first, and eventually without restraint. She had none.

“How many are in your tribe?” He began with the questions. She saw no harm in answering him. He did not seem to want to harm her or her people. If he was planning an attack, they would be ready. Or long gone.

“We are 50 in number. Strong enough to keep other tribes away. Small enough to feed each other.”

“How many other tribes are there?”

She bit into something she was sure was venison, but it was more flavorful than any venison the hunters ever brought back. She chewed while she thought about his question.

“We know there are four other tribes. But we have heard tales of even more. Perhaps there are 10, but that is only legend. We have seen only four.”

She saw a look pass over his face. It was the look of a hunter who was about to kill a small, defenseless rabbit. There was no viciousness in that look. Only pity, and that was even more confusing.

He asked more questions, questions about their rituals. About losses they have suffered. About violence within their tribe and with others. She has endured three great losses in her life – her mother’s son when he fell off a cliff during a hunt, an elder when he grew ill and never awoke, and her own child, her second, only 12 moons, not even old enough to name.

He asked how big the other tribes were. How far they traveled. He asked her to paint the world on the wall using her fingers and paste from the brightest berries. She drew their pack, then the trails she remembered, then the locations where they met other tribes or found evidence they left behind. On the wall, her tribe was the size of her palm, and the world she could cover with her torso.

Again, that look from the hunter.

Next, he showed her a painting of an orb, the color of deep water and grass mixed with swirls of a rabbit’s fur. “Do you know what this is?”

Her silence answered for her.

He knew what the protocol asked him to do. To delay it would only be cruel. So he began.

He told her she was wrong. That there were more tribes than she thought.

“So the legends are true? There are 10?” When he was silent, she pressed, “15? 30? How many?” She wanted to know. His silence meant he thought the numbers low, but she could not begin to comprehend 10 tribes the size of hers. Where were they all? Who were they all? What were their names?

He told her. Painstakingly, he told her of the numbers. And then he told her worst parts. What they had done to each other. What happens to the equivalent of 10 of her tribes every day. That there are children without tribes. That there are children with tribes who still let them starve. That in some very large tribes, some dine on what the hunter brings and some dine not at all. That just recently, one hunter hurt a group bigger than her tribe, killed them, and still no one knows why.

They do not deal in physical pain. But that does not stop the subjects from weeping and crying out. From clutching their stomachs with revulsion.

Finally, he hands her the monster. It fits in her palm and it glows brightly. Here she finally sees the other tribes. Here, she sees the suffering over and over, in its myriad forms, and she cannot comprehend it. She was not made to. And still she clutches the monster because she cannot look away. She cannot unknow the truths and untruths she now possesses. Like so many before her, she is consumed.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

 

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Good Kijijers

In a recent post, I lambasted Kijiji People. I even compared them to Walmart People. I take that back. Some good Kijiji People exist.

Then again, there are still the bad.

I have numerous items for sale on Kijiji (Hubs and I trying to downsize). I’ve suffered the Good, the Bad, the Ugly. For instance, I have items listed at $25.00 (excellent buys, by the way) and KP bombard me with: Will you take $20? Will you take $15? These questions are prospective purchases sight unseen. What would they offer me in person? Would they be as bold? (Another post will follow about more recent, harrowing episodes.)

If you’re one of those KPers, and you didn’t receive a response, it’s because I’ve simply hit the DELETE button! Or, if I was in an especially good mood, maybe I replied, “Um, no, sorry. Price is firm.”

I’m thinking I might go into my ads and increase the price of each item proportionately by at least $5.00. That way, when they haggle, I’ll end up at my intended price.

But I digress.

Today, I searched for the services of a KPer. I know! Scary, right?

Yeah, Wifey (me!) was getting tired of Hubby not using his man cave. Long story, but months ago he disconnected our home theatre and was unable to hook it back up. Oops—he succeeded in hooking it back up, but either the TV was silent, like movies before sound had been invented, or pictureless, as if one watched a radio. Neither was conducive to Hubby remaining in his man cave. Instead, he took over the living room.

Today, he moaned again about his poor, unused man cave.

“Want me to check Kijiji?” I asked. “I’m sure I can find someone capable of inserting the right wire into the right slot.” (Or the left wire into the left slot . . .)

Hubby’s eyes lit up. “Yes, please do.”

Please? When had he ever mumbled a “please”?

He trailed me to my computer. Gah, how I hate him hovering over me, especially while on my computer. Who knows what I might have left unminimized.

I found three individuals suitable for the job and fired off emails.

Within minutes, I received a reply. Hired him on the spot. Ninety minutes later, he appeared at our door. Two hours and $209 later, he disappeared.

Hubby and I then ate dinner, after which he headed to his man cave.

He’s in his glory now.

So am I.

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The Spot Writers – “Wolves Don’t Knock,” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted in any way. Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie, who is hard at work finishing her first (and only) novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK. The following is an unedited excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book.

WOLVES DON’T KNOCK: Expected publication date: November 1, 2017.

***

Miranda carefully shut the door behind her. She must not disturb Paul.

Despite wanting to flee far away from the cabin as quickly as possible, she paused to inhale great gulps of crisp woodland smells. The fresh scent of pinecones brought forth memories of Christmas. She exhaled, watching her breath spiral like smoke from a chimney and then vanish.

The wood pile, overflowing with logs for the stove, looked smaller surrounded by clusters of snow that remained after the milder temperature the previous day. Trees around the property, taller and thinner, appeared eerie in the dim light. Paul’s battered pickup truck sat by the cabin. Why hadn’t she snatched the keys?

Paul allowed her outdoors every few days, when he freed her from the chains, but she knew better than do anything foolish. She couldn’t jeopardize the little freedom he gave her. She relished those times—and others in the cabin—when she felt free, for her captivity could have been much worse.

Had it been that long since she had been outdoors, or had the chill changed the surroundings? Everything once green looked dried-up dead. Most of the snow had melted or Paul would be able to track her footprints.

The moon hovered, illuminating her path to freedom—if she could find the path.

The shed! She must investigate the shed.

Owooooo!

She froze. Had he woken? Was he after her? The wolf? More than one?

The shed forgotten, she raced through the woods until she couldn’t run any longer. Gasping, she leaned against a tree in a vain attempt to fade into the blackness and ignore sets of eyes that watched from behind every object.

Shivering, she jerked the threadbare sweater around her chest, her hands resting across her stomach. Her baby. Kevin would be—what? Five? Six? Seven? She shook her head. She could ponder later.

Where was the road?

She glanced around. Too many paths. Which way? And where would they lead?

She shuddered and swiped her hand under her runny nose. She didn’t know the time when she escaped, but it had been closer to morning than midnight. How long had she been outside? Three hours? Four? Frostbite worried her. The night had grown colder. The nubby wool sweater with its overstretched sleeves hanging below her hands didn’t afford much protection, but she had seized the chance when it arrived, not wasting time searching for proper clothing. Thankfully, despite wearing sneakers, her feet were dry. Nothing was more uncomfortable than wet feet. Not that comfort concerned her. She was elated to be out. To be free.

Ahhh wooo!

She jumped at the sudden sound. An animal? Wolves?

Not Paul. Paul the animal would have pounced long ago.

The cold, dank night seemed never ending. Eyes tailed her, glowing in the dark. Lights, white and yellow.

Inch by inch, the moon disappeared, allowing the sun to rise. Cousins trading places. Light overtaking dark. Monsters soon to be revealed for what they were.

Tree limbs lay on the crusty snow. A miracle she hadn’t tripped over them. She discovered a strength she thought lost and sprinted from one tree to the next like a rabid rabbit running from a wicked wolf. She would run for a few minutes, take shelter behind a tree, peer around to ensure the coast was clear, and flee to another tree.

Eventually, she would reach a road and find people. She had to believe that; she had believed that for the previous few hours.

While she mumbled prayers, Paul’s words rattled in her mind. “I’m Paul Wolf. That’s all you need to know.” She would never forget those first words out of his mouth and ones that followed about death to loved ones if she tried to escape. She hadn’t wanted to endure more death. The death of her father had been horrid enough, but selfishly she was relieved he was gone—if one believed, to a better place—because he would be ashamed of her.

Paul had moulded her the way he wanted, but she kept enough of herself intact. She endured pain at his hands but learned to co-exist, and thoughts of escape faded while endless days merged into endless weeks and weeks into nameless months. How long had it been? How many years?

When she had been home, before being taken, the odd news reports broadcasted abductions, and rarely had results been good. Paul ensured she had food and allowed her input into the grocery list. At the beginning, he regularly forced himself on her but those incidents gradually lessened. The more he ignored her, the nuttier and crazier he became. Had she turned into a nutcase as well?

Days had been so foggy she wondered if she would ever see clearly. And nights were worse when wolves surrounded her, chased her, howled. Ahhhh woooooooo!

She patted her pocket, which gave her comfort. The photograph she kept hidden. Paul had never found it.

When she glimpsed a road between the trees, she stopped to catch her breath. At the sound of a vehicle, she slipped behind a pockmarked pine and watched the car zoom by. Her stomach sunk.

No, all was okay. She would wait for the next car. The sun had fully risen, and she would see a vehicle in the distance and discern if it was Paul. If not, she would chance that, if he followed, he would be on foot, but she prayed he remained passed out on the floor. Time was running out. The cold would kill her if he didn’t. She must flag down the next vehicle. If he wasn’t already after her, he would soon be waking, and she had to be far away before then.

Minutes passed. Or was it hours? Snowflakes swirled. She stopped, sticking out her tongue to catch them. She hadn’t realized how dry her mouth was.

A vehicle! She dashed into the road, flailing her arms like a crazy person. The driver might run her down, thinking she was a crazed individual, or the driver could be Paul. Either way, she would be dead, but she had to chance it.

 

Wolves front cover FINAL

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco. http://www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Monster” by Val Muller

This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted in any way. This week’s story comes to us from Val Muller, YA author of The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away, both discounted to $2.99 for the rest of the month.

***

Monster by Val Muller

The end of the fiscal year coincided with the chill in the air, even in the streets of Washington. It was almost like the decaying leaves piling in the country out west sent their ghostly miasma in with the commuters. That chill, that scent of decay spoke of the thinning line between living and dead, that boundary that would continue to thin as department stores threw up Jack-o-Lantern decorations and trees threw off the last of their leaves.

Something about that thinning line sent a chill into Daniella’s spine, and it froze and hardened a piece of her soul. On September 1, she’d been all smiles when Timothy asked to telework because his daughter had a sudden case of strep. On September 2, she let Marie go an hour early to check on a sick puppy. That Friday, the one before Labor Day, she told everyone to go home an hour early.

“Happy Labor Day,” coworkers chanted as they hurried down the hallway toward weekend plans.

“Happy closeout month,” she responded, her fingers tapping behind her back. “The fun begins Tuesday.”

At barbeques that weekend, employees joked with family and friends about Daniella’s demands for year-end closeout.

“At our staff meetings, she said we may have to work twelve-hour days.”

“She’s threatening to make us come in on Saturdays.”

“And Sundays.”

It was met with laughter, then forgotten as fathers played catch with sons and mothers went with daughters for a last dip in the pool.

But in a lone apartment, not a mile from the office, sat a husbandless, childless soul. Her fingers folded in a tent in front of her as she thought about the month ahead. Everyone would be working late. In her mind, there were already parades of memos, lists of funding documents, and hourly meetings. They would all have to check in with her before they left, and only at quitting time would she tell them that they had to work late.

They’d have to arrange last-minute babysitters. They’d have to miss soccer games and youth football. Mommies would have to explain to children that there were just some things more important than storytime with daddy. And daddies would have to explain to neglected children why mommy wouldn’t be there for birthday parties.

In the corner of Daniella’s darkened apartment, a blue screen glowed. It was still open from the atrocity she saw this morning on Facebook.

Jerry.

They’d had a brief fling in college, but he left her to seek “more fun, less serious.” Somehow, she always thought he’d be back. How could he choose some floozy over her rigidly-straight GPA, her list of extracurriculars, her reputation as drill sergeant of the women’s cross country team? He had made a terrible mistake. In every country music song—like the one playing on repeat from the computer, the one preventing the screen from dimming—she heard the hope and sorrow of their relationship. She knew he’d be back for her one day. His breakup had been a mistake he’d yet to realize. His marriage was something he’d been coerced into. It had always been only a matter of time. She’d waited years already and was prepared to wait more.

But now, this.

Jerry was a father.

His baby’s newborn eyes plastered all over her Facebook feed. The infant’s smile was a punch in the gut. Why, he hadn’t even posted that his wife had been pregnant! So smug, keeping that their private little secret like they were in some kind of exclusive club. And there went that. With an infant’s smile, there went her excuse, her reason to ignore the dating scene. There went her nightly fantasies, her frequent hopes that his status would turn to “single” and she’d be welcomed back into his life.

Gone.

The cold front seeped into her soul. She thought of the office, of Brittany’s baby shower and Harold’s office bachelor party. They were smug too, weren’t they? Making their plans. Having their weddings. Prioritizing their families. Not even thinking of the office, were they? Of the cold, beautiful symmetry of it all. The same 72 degrees all year. The same lighting. The same sterility. She’d bet none of them were even giving the office a second thought.

Let them all enjoy their weekend.

On Tuesday she would have them.

That Saturday she tried three new hairstyles. She went jogging and shot disgusted looks at the family of five taking up the entire sidewalk with training wheels and strollers. On Sunday she went to the salon for an impromptu haircut, but a wailing toddler and his obnoxious brother ruined the mood, and she went home with her outdated coif. On Monday she tried a new makeup regime and went shopping, but a gaggle of mothers was standing near the clearance rack, comparing toddler bedtime routines and little league scores.

With each foiled attempt, the monster grew in her soul. Her heart hardened and chilled, and she couldn’t wait for the memos that would come. She couldn’t wait to tell them about their mandatory one-hour lunches. That way, they’d be able to stay for the daily 5:00 meeting and still have half an hour to spend at her command. She’d string them along like fish, luring them with the hope of an on-time departure from the office. And she’d come in for the kill. She’d already planned the dates they’d stay late: she’d know, from the very second they set foot in the office. She couldn’t wait to walk through the cubicles, her monster feeding the anticipation that would be nearly tangible in the air. They would have no idea until her evening meeting, no idea whether they’d be dining with their families or eating out of the vending machine again. Their suffering fed her monster.

The monster’s claws emerged that week, and each memory of Jerry grew into a hardened bone, a serrated tooth, a beastly horn. During the third week, John shuffled into her office, a folded note in his hand. It was a letter from his wife, one he promised her he’d deliver. It stank of desperation, and she chewed her smile as John watched her read the list of complaints. He was like a sheepish child delivering a note to a teacher. What, did his wife own him? It was written in bubbly handwriting: Couldn’t John please come home on time? The children missed him and she was losing her mind, living like a single mother of three. Couldn’t Daniella see her way to letting him telework, from home, after the kids were in bed?

“We’re all in this together,” she said to John, her lips pouting for him. “And I’m afraid tonight is going to be a late one.”

* * *

The second Saturday in October, Daniella walked to the base of the Washington Monument. Fiscal close-out was done, and with all the free time afforded by the on-time departures from the office, she had joined an online dating service. Jerry would have to be replaced. And she had so much to offer. If only she were given the chance, she could run a household with the iron fist with which she ruled her office.

The man waiting there looked every bit as good as he did in his picture. He smiled at her, but when she smiled back something faded on his face. She knew in an instant he wouldn’t contact her for a second date.

What was it that chilled him to the prospect of a life with Daniella? Perhaps he feared her ramrod-straight work ethic, or her love of her job. Perhaps her role as Boss intimidated him. As she walked home alone and scowled at two kids screaming in a pile of leaves at the edge of a park, the chill of autumn bit under her jacket, and she shuddered. She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he feared the monster, the one that had taken residence in her soul.

* * *

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: http://www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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The Spot Writers – “A Cute Story for People Who Don’t Like Rap” by CaraMarie Christy

September’s prompt: Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid? This week’s story is by CaraMarie Christy.

***

A Cute Story For People Who Don’t Like Rap

There is a world where everyone in it can sing. It is a planet that used to be called Earth, but then a bug infected all the non-singers and they diead. Everyone left can sing. They don’t sing all the time, that would be awful. However, most of the time, when its citizens pause over morning coffee on their porches or sit to read a book, in the land of Alto, there is a hum in the background. Someone, somewhere, will be singing gently as they paint a fence or clipping coupons, admiring the beautiful rise and fall of their voice. It’s like living in a world where all you eat is cake. Everything is sweet, but eventually cake starts to become ordinary. Only grand cakes, like the type with expensive fillings, become interesting.

Which is why, in Alto, it is very common for people who can sing—but not as well as a professional operatic singer—to be considered “bad” at singing. In our world, they might be considered “nice” or “good for a pleasant night of karaoke”, but they will never compare to the likes of Whitney Houston.

Because the notes out of her throat were only “good”, never great, and she was a boring piece of cake, Melody Hymn dreaded going to chorus class. She stuck out. Half of her class period, Mrs. Solo, her teacher, spent more time with the soprano section in which Melody was stuck, trying to make her sound as pleasant as everyone else, than any other section. Like the teacher was trying to smooth out a stubborn wrinkle. Melody knew that she was that wrinkle.

Nothing was going to change that, not even when the great Octave Song, three-time champion of their district’s annual concert, transferred into her school.

Mrs. Song almost melted when Octave walked into class. She pointed her to a spot on the chorus room’s risers beside Melody. The small, pixie girl looked up at Melody and smiled but Melody tucked her head to her chin, staring at invisible dust on her converse. This was how Mrs. Solo was going to fix her wrinkle, by pairing her best student up with the worst. She had already tried pairing Melody with Star Vocal, hoping Star would rub off on her. It had only lead to Star’s parents calling the school and forcing a conference. The next morning Star was moved far away from Melody.

They started their lesson on an acapella piece, Maroon Five’s “She Will Be Loved”, an ancient piece that few people on Alto could remember anymore. It was their attempt to bore the audience, Melody thought. Melody did her best to keep her voice low and soft, but Octave was so much smaller than her. The singer’s ear was almost exactly at the height of Melody’s mouth.

While Mrs. Solo was scolding the bass’s for missing a note, Octave whispered to Melody, “You have a very interesting tone, you know? I quite admire your breathing technique. And you have a lot of power in your voice that you hold back from using. Don’t be shy.”

“Thanks?” Melody didn’t know what to do with a compliment on her singing. She was afraid it was sarcasm, but Octave’s eyes were too bright. Melody added, “Sometimes I like to figure out what the difference between shouting and singing is when I’m in the shower. My mother hates it.”

“People are dumb. There is all types of singing—not just pretty singing. There’s cool singing. And then there’s things that are almost just like singing, but different.”

Despite her reluctance at making Octave’s friendship, Melody found being complimented hard to resist. She was also fond of the fact that, when Mrs. Solo saw Octave stopping to talk to Melody after rehearsals, that her choral teacher began to leave her alone.

“Why don’t you help out someone like Star instead of me?” Melody asked at lunch.

“Because I could try and make her better all day, but I don’t think she’d listen to me. Do you? I could teach her to fix the tremor in her voice when she reaches the high notes, fix her hectic breathing patterns… But I don’t want to.” Octave shrugged and smiled.

When the school talent show came up, Melody was surprised that Octave had somehow convinced her to sign up. It happened while they were searching the school’s music archives. They had stumbled upon a rare piece of music, a strange form of “almost” singing. Mrs. Solo, Star, and Melody’s mother were shocked when Melody went up on stage and took the mic.

“Hello, my name is Melody Hymn, and I’ll be singing Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco. http://www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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A Poem of Threes

A mother never expects one of her children to die. Never.

It happened to me.

Three months after the first symptom (which was hardly any symptom at all, really), less than three months after a diagnosis, my son was gone. The nightmare is replayed before me, every day, over and over. I can’t think about him without tearing up, but I don’t want to forget him. I want to remember him, but I’m sick of my tears.

Today, it’s been six months since he left us. Where have the days gone? It seems like yesterday, when too many of us surrounded his hospital bedside, but it also feels like a distant memory, a nightmare, one I never awake from.

There is so much more I want to write, but I can’t. I just can’t.

Poems are therapeutic.

***

A Poem of Threes

Six months ago today—

Nine months ago—

My life changed.

 

9/11,

Irma,Kattia,Jose.

Is my loss greater?

 

Feng Shui:

Fuk, Luk, and Sau,

Long life, fame, fortune.

 

Three-legged toad,

Three wise men,

Three immortals.

 

Three’s company,

Father, Son, Holy Ghost,

Tall, dark, handsome.

 

Rules of threes.

Odds better than evens:

Good things come in threes.

 

But odds beat you:

The Big C.

Despite three hearts.

 

Rules are meant to be broken,

But rules shouldn’t break—

Not at thirty-six.

 

Birth, life, death,

Two loving children

Plus one at rest.

Matt candle crop

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The Spot Writers – “Suffice” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to The Spot Writers. September’s prompt:  Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

***

Suffice by Dorothy Colinco

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient. Among the traits that you should avoid when seeking a potential life partner, self-sufficient seems pretty far down the list, far below convicted felon, substance abuser, Pirates fan, vegan, or lactose-intolerant. An inability to consume ice cream without later having to desecrate a powder room seems more offensive than the ability to exist without depending on another person for validation and security. And yet.

Ironically, her self-sufficiency is one of things I found most attractive about her. Here was a woman who told me about her flat tired AFTER she had changed it herself. Who saw Les Miserables alone rather than drag me to a musical. I hate musicals, but I loved her. I would’ve gone. When she had a bad day at work or a fight with her mom, she didn’t ask me to bring her wine and ice cream (yes, she could of course consume dairy) and lend her my shoulder to cry on. She just took a weekend for herself and called me three days later, refreshed and happy and content. I was ready and willing to do all those things. I’ve done worse for women I’ve cared less about. But she never asked that of me, asked anything of me, and for a while this hardly seemed something to complain about.

We were our best selves when we were together. She was warm and funny. She told jokes that were unexpectedly irreverent but never downright bawdy. She was so good at describing movies and books and albums. I always said she should be a pop culture writer, and one day she submitted an essay to this magazine and they published it. The first thing she ever sent out! She was kind. So kind, my goodness. Like that one time an autistic kid in the subway screamed at her for touching his shoulder when she said ‘excuse me,’ and the kid’s mom was mortified and apologetic but also very used to this kind of thing, and instead of backing away with a freaked look on her face, she chatted with the mom. not about the kid’s autism and ‘what’s it like to be a mom of a kid on the spectrum?’ No, she just chatted about stuff. I don’t even remember. And the mom was so grateful, you could tell.

We were our best selves together. But. I felt like I wasn’t giving enough of myself. She never asked me to sacrifice anything for her. And after all, isn’t that what makes up a good portion of a relationship? Resenting someone for all you’ve had to sacrifice for them, and then loving them anyway? I thought maybe as we fell deeper for each other that she would start to need me. To view me as essential to her existence. But instead, it seemed like our love had fastened her self-sufficiency to her core even more tightly. It made her more sure than ever of her adequacy as a distinct entity in this vast emptiness that is our existence.

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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The Spot Writer – “Across the Fence” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. September’s prompt, a hard one: Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

This week’s post is from Cathy MacKenzie. She found it such a difficult prompt that she was forced to dig into her stash of poems (always a poem for every season!) for something suitable. This one, she says, was written many years ago—no, it doesn’t exactly follow the prompt, and it’s a simple, amateurish poem, but maybe it’ll resonate with someone.

Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published its second anthology, TWO EYES OPEN, a collection of sixteen stories by sixteen authors, to read during the day . . . or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Note: Not “horrific horror” . . . more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply a “good read.”

Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

***

Across the Fence

From her kitchen window,

she views the Porsche

and two other vehicles—

one a fancy four-wheel drive—

and a house twice the size of hers

with granite countertops

and modern appliances

and big screen TVs.

 

She knows of the neighbours’ vacations—

their twice-yearly cruises—

having seen photos they shared

and bragged about.

 

Oh, what money can buy!

 

She thinks of the husband away—

weeks at a time—

the shouting and slamming doors

when he’s home,

and, not by choice, a childless household.

 

She examines her side of the fence—

grass needing to be greener,

an empty driveway,

cracked and dulled countertops,

out-dated but still-working appliances,

shabby furniture—

all needing an overhaul.

 

How has she come to be

in this neighbourhood?

 

She caresses her baby boy

content in her arms,

pictures her daughter at school

and her husband soon home from work.

 

Her life may not be perfect,

but it’s full of love and joy

and complete—

the four of them

in their wondrous world

with things money can’t buy,

while living across the fence.

 

***

 The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Herald” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is: Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

Today’s post comes to your from Val Muller, author of the young adult novel The Girl Who Flew Away. https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away/dp/1941295355/

***

The Herald by Val Muller

I came for a Wisher, a little boy sitting on a rusty swing in a lonely park after dark. His was a Genuine Wish, not a superficial one like most. Some ask for ponies or money, games or toys. True Wishers ask for things that matter.

He asked for his parents to love again.

A Wish intangible for him as stardust in the vacuum of space.

He first saw my twinkle floating above the park, shimmering in the darkened sky. I descended with his Wish and landed at the edge of a fence. I had to move quickly because the boy stood right away to investigate. His life at home was so strained, he’d lost all fear and sense of self preservation.

I turned first into a glowing flower, tempting him to pluck me, but I knew that form would never last. The flowers here are ephemeral, not like the sentient ones in the outer planets of Myler. But in the instant her reached to pluck me, I felt his skin and knew his mind. And so in the darkness I disintegrated into the earth and followed the rooty passages into the brush, where I emerged as a puppy.

It was one he’d seen on a television show—a cartoon, which is a type of art form on this world. I worked quickly to make myself look a bit more realistic than the two-dimensional ink of his mind. It was enough. In the darkness, the boy cradled me, and with his touch I saw it all:

His mother, taxed and tired at the end of each day, his father grumpy and exhausted from an unfulfilling job. And each nearly looking forward to the dinner table, where they nightly poured their wrath as quickly as they poured their drinks. Dinners were a verbal battle that left the boy nauseous.

His father drank to squash his courage, so that he could not stand up to his boss or his desires or the temptation to lash out with his fists. His mother drank to sharpen her courage, so that she could stand stone still while her husband put another foot through the drywall, or punched through a window, or turned plates into shrapnel. She drank to find the courage to stand stone still as her son ran out to the park every night and to tell him, when he returned, the lie that she never feared his father would turn his wrath on them.

As he held me tight, I saw through his mind the way life used to be, the way it lingered in his memories. His father building and playing each night, constructing roads and bridges for toy vehicles, making anything the boy asked for out of wood and straws and cardboard and love. I saw his mother, happy and young without the stress of an angry spouse, supporting him and reading homework and stories together. A mother who didn’t drink.

In the midnight darkness, he cradled me in his arms. He ran home as his life played in my mind until I knew my task.

A yellow light shone above the stovetop in the kitchen as we entered. His mom sat at the table, a glass of water in front of her. I knew from the boy’s memories that she always sat up this way, waiting for him, making sure he was safe. This time, a new bit of plaster littered the kitchen floor.

She took us both into her arms, her embrace warm and trembling. She didn’t question my presence, but her eyes leaked and she spoke of her childhood and the dog she grew up with. She spoke of how it’d brought comfort to her, a perpetual friend. As her fingers ran through my simulated fur, the stress of her life floated out. I made sure the harmful rays dissipated into the air and into the night.

I knew my task, so I barked once, twice, just the way I heard it in the boy’s memory, a cartoonish bark, until I heard the rustling upstairs. I felt the boy’s father wipe the haze of drink from his eyes and stumble down the stairs. When he saw the tableau before him, the boy getting kisses from his new best friend and the woman embracing them both, his heart melted into tears, and it all came pouring out—in words this time, not in anger—the frustration, fatigue, disappointment. He had only just begun to realize that such is the reality of life on his world. A constant flux, a managing of expectations, a search for the small things that bring joy. He had lost balance.

The three of them sat together, circled around me, the parents’ faces wet with tears and the boy’s sore with the unfamiliar smile of joy.

In their touch, I saw everything. Recovery would be a hard road for the boy’s father, but he would succeed with only two transgressions. He would heal soon enough to be joyed by the news the boy’s mother would save for just the right moment: that the boy would soon be an older brother.

I could not stay for a lifetime, not even for the life of a dog on this planet where life flies by as fast as comets. There was no need of me anymore. I had fulfilled the Wish. I saw how it would happen. The next day, father and son would build me a doghouse out of the wood scraps in the garage, the ones he used to use all the time when he built toys for the boy. While they were sawing, I would disappear. But it would be only a matter of days before the family stumbled upon a box of puppies for sale on the way home from the boy’s school.

They would pick the runt, the one that needed extra love, because of course they’d have to have something to live in the dog house they’d built. Something to build toys for, to center their love around. Something to bring them together. They’d name him Herald.

They would wonder about me for a time, but I cast an order for their memories of me to be brief. In a decade, they would not remember that they had built their doghouse before the arrival of Herald. They did not need memories of the strange light that descended from above and took the clumsy form of a dog in the darkness. They did not need those memories of me. They needed only to remember who they had once been.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco. www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

 

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