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The Spot Writers – “Hot for a Reason” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. December’s theme is to write a story that involves baking or a fire, something to take our minds off the chill in the air.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published two anthologies: OUT OF THE CAVE and TWO EYES OPEN, two collections of short stories by authors around the world, to read during the day…or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Not “horrific horror”…more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply good reads. BUY IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!

TWO EYES OPEN: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

OUT OF THE CAVE (milder stories for 13+):  https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Cassandra-Williams/dp/1927529298/

***

Hot for a Reason by Cathy MacKenzie

“I’m so hot.”

“Me, too.”

“And so bright.  I’m blinded.”

“Yeah, I agree. But what can we do?”

“Not much. We’re holed in here. Literally.”

“Literally?”

“Yeah, kinda means there’s no hope.”

“We’re doomed, you mean?”

“Yeah, kinda. Until we burn out.”

“But everyone burns out eventually, right?”

“Yeah, can’t help burnout.  Life’s like that, but if we didn’t burn out, we’d explode. And we don’t want that.”

“Nope, that would be serious. We could cause a tree fire and the house would burn down. No one needs that at Christmas.”

“I agree. So I’m happy for burnout, the lesser of the evils.”

“You’re such a nice person.”

“Haha! I am, aren’t I? Am I glowing with your praise?”

“You are. Nice and bright.  I love your blue.”

“You’re not so bad yourself. Green looks nice alongside me. And how about neighbour Red?”

“Red, like Elfie on the shelf.”

“Haha, that’s his name. I heard his girlfriend is Eleanor. Two kids were here earlier talking about their elves: one named Red, the other Eleanor. They put Eleanor in Barbie’s bed and waited for Red to join her.”

“That sounds X-rated.”

“Nothing happened. The kids gave up when an older child said they weren’t supposed to touch the elves. That ruins the magic.”

“Christmas is such a nice time of year.”

“It is.”

“Let’s shine as bright as we can. And spread our glow throughout the land.”

“Yeah, let’s do that. And wish the world a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and PEACE ON EARTH.”

***

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

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Warm” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s theme is to write a story that involves baking or a fire, something to take our minds off the chill in the air. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller. If you’re looking for heartwarming, check out her poignant YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away-ebook/dp/B06XKDFXTZ

Warm by Val Muller

Maxine mixed the dough tenderly. She’d always done it so, always by hand, never with the bread maker or even with the mixer Ron had bought her for Christmas so many years ago. She added the cranberries and walnuts by hand, kneading them in with the dough.

When the bread was resting in the oiled bowl, she walked across the kitchen to the living room. She rolled a sheet of newspaper into the shape of a donut and stuck some kindling through the middle. Then another. And another. She smiled, remembering when Ron had taught her how—his father’s Boy Scout trick for starting a fire. She set the three donuts at the base of the fireplace and stacked them gently with more kindling.

She struck a match and watched the flame lick the newspaper, each donut catching in turn. Her hand at the back of the fireplace confirmed the updraft. The fire would take. As the kindling ignited, the orange glow illuminated the brick hearth, the metal of the bellows glimmering next to the brush and dustpan. She could almost feel Ron’s arms around her as she gazed into the fire.

Almost.

She stacked a triangular log on the flame, just a small one to start. She sighed, inhaling the familiar wood scent. Then she walked to the sink to wash her hands of flour and soot. She dried them carefully before taking her wedding ring from its bowl on the windowsill.

Even after five years, she still wore it. She would always wear it.

But five years, already…

She glanced at the dough, already lifting the towel that covered it into a rising lump. She poured some wine and padded to the fireplace, adding one more log. The lights from the neighbor’s house twinkled in through the window, the triangle of multicolored lights from their front window and the white icicles hanging from their front porch.

It hadn’t quite felt like Christmas yet this year, even with the cold.

The yeasty scent of the bread rising mixed with the crackling fire, and she stared into the flames until the clock told her the bread was ready for baking. She uncovered the bowl, punched down the dough, and cut it into two sections, shaping each into a ball and plopping them onto her stoneware.

Ron had always wanted to eat one right away, still warm enough that the butter melted. The other he would save for turkey sandwiches or French toast the next day. Maxine’s heart fell a bit at the thought. She had no one to dine with. Only the fire.

When the bread finished, she turned off the oven and left the stoneware on the counter to cool. The two loaves looked up at her, almost as if they, too, were questioning this tradition.

Yet she had to. For Ron.

Didn’t she?

She placed the first of the loaves onto the plate, the way she always did for Ron. She sliced it directly down the middle three times, choosing the middle two pieces for him. The butter had been sitting out all afternoon, so it was spreadably soft now. She slathered it on extra thick, the way Ron always liked.

She placed the slices next to the two halves of the warm bread and took the plate to the fire. “Well, Ron,” she said. “I hope you enjoy.” She glanced at the fire and up the chimney, imagining the smoke traveling all the way up to heaven, giving Ron his birthday treat from his beloved wife. Thirty-one years she’d baked that bread for him, and then five years after that.

Thirty-one years that just wasn’t enough. She knelt down, taking half the bread in her hand and getting ready to cast it into the fire, the way she always did, when a ringing doorbell jarred her as from a trance.

She put the plate on the coffee table and hurried to answer the door.

A band of children from the middle school—she recognized little John from next door—stood, decked in red and green and silver and gold. They held choir books and smiled up at her. “Ms. Maxine,” John said, his breath making swirling patterns in the cold. “For our school outreach project, we’re spreading holiday cheer through carols. May we sing to you?”

Maxine nodded and crossed her arms against the cold as the group started up a round of “Little Drummer Boy.” When they finished, they looked at her expectantly.

“How about one more?” she asked, clapping. Their little faces looked so innocent, even as old as middle school. They still had their whole lives ahead of them, a lifetime of finding true love, a calling, a passion. She smiled for them.

They were singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” now, and she wiped a tear from her cheek. How did that get there?

When they finished, she held out her hand. “Wait, wait just there, just for a moment.” She hurried in and sliced rapidly, cutting up the rest of the first loaf and all of the second. She slathered the pieces with butter and brought them out on her large snowman platter.

“Just a little something,” she said. “To give you carolers energy. Cranberry and walnut bread was one of Ron’s favorites.”

John smiled. “It’s so warm,” he said, biting into one of the pieces.

“Just out of the oven,” she said.

“Almost like you knew we were coming,” said another caroler, smiling as she bit into the warm bread.

“Someone did,” Maxine said, smiling up at the plume of smoke rising from her chimney into the sky.

It finally felt like Christmas.

***

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

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Library” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. November’s theme: write a story set in a library. This week’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie.

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. Not “horrific horror” . . . more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply a “good read.”

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

Also available: OUT OF THE CAVE, the first anthology, suitable for 13 and up:

https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Stephen-Millard-ebook/dp/B01ICAWBVU/

***

The Library

“We can’t go in,” Mark said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Cos it’s locked up. And . . . your father— why would you want to?”

“Ya,” Anthony chimed in. “Why?”

I ignored them and continued walking toward the steps while my friends Mark and Anthony lagged behind. I didn’t realize they had stopped until I heard them yelling.

I turned around.

“No!” they said in unison.

I moved toward them. “If I’m okay going in, you guys should be, too.”

Mark latched onto my hand.

What male kid grabs a guy’s hand? Only Mark.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Mark said.

The three of us were fooling around after school, trying to stay out of mischief. I’d gotten into trouble recently when I stole a chocolate bar from Plum’s Grocery. Mom hadn’t seen the theft, but I gave myself away when I started munching on it before we reached the car. I should have waited until we were home, after the groceries were out of the car and I was safely in my room. Mom almost sent me back into the store to fess up and apologize, but she was cold and cranky, so she had flung her arms in the air and said she would deal with me later.

We had unconsciously veered toward the abandoned library outside of town—at least they had. I was the leader, and that’s where I wanted to go. Not sure why. To see the scene of the crime?

I didn’t want to do any more bad deeds, but the yellow police tape, which had turned a mustard colour since the last time I saw it, had been removed from the building. The front door wasn’t nailed shut and the windows weren’t boarded up, so who was to say we weren’t allowed in?

“Look. It’s just a building,” I said, pointing.

That wasn’t the case, though. The library was huge and old, monstrous like a mansion with secret passageways and strange rooms, like conservatories and ballrooms and billiard rooms.

I liked books—not that I read much—but I pretended, and the younger librarian—not the old one, Mrs. White, whose name matched her hair and gave me the willies—used to help me pick out the best books. (Years from now maybe I’ll read, when I’m ancient and crotchety like Mrs. White.)

“Come on, guys. It’ll be fun,” I said.

Not many abandoned buildings exist in our town of Prattsville. Heck, in this place, where everyone knows everyone, nothing is secret except probably in the minds of parents—like my mother, especially—who think the worse about their kids. And why not? There’s nothing for us to do except get into mischief—and worse. Nothing as bad as murder, though.

Mark dropped my hand, no doubt suddenly realizing he was clutching it.

“What do you want to do, Parker?” Anthony asked.

“Go in,” I said, without hesitation. “Let’s explore. Why did they close it anyhow?” I snickered, knowing more than them about what had taken place there shortly before it closed, but that wasn’t the reason for the closure. Just coincidence and damn progress. A bigger building, not necessarily better, on Main Street instead of at the outskirts of town.

“Dunno,” Anthony said.

Mark was silent.

“You in, Mark?” I asked.

He’d have to say yes. What else could he say? The odds were against him.

We crept to the front steps. The cool November wind picked up. Snow wasn’t in the forecast, yet I swear I saw flakes swirling through the trees flanking the building.

I was glad October was over; Halloween and all that. October was the scariest month. November denoted the start of winter. December, Christmas. One good month out of the last three of the year.

I shouldn’t be afraid. Not in November.

But I was.

And I knew why.

I shuddered.

My two friends shivered. From the cold.

They didn’t know. Not everything.

We gripped each other’s hands while walking up the steps. I pretended to be more scared than I was because that made them feel better. Plus, I didn’t want to arouse suspicion.

The double wooden doors loomed in front of us, with its two polished lion-head brass doorknobs and the tiny, grimy windows inches from the top, much too high for us to peek through.

I grabbed hold of one lion’s head, hoping it wouldn’t bite off my hand, and we walked into the monstrosity of a room. Dark, damp, dingy.

Mark produced a flashlight and swung it around.

I scanned the room. Nothing out of the ordinary. Wall-to-wall shelving and aisles of free-standing shelves. I expected to see discarded books the movers had knocked from shelves and couldn’t bother picking up. I had hoped there’d be something interesting. A best seller. A first edition. A limited edition. But, nope, no books.

Empty. But eerier with the flash of light.

And chilly and creepy, like all abandoned buildings. A surplus building waiting for the demolition crew. When would the town tear it down? What do I know? I’m just a kid, right? A stupid kid, with not enough sense to tie my shoelaces. That’s what Mom says.

I expected it to look different. I didn’t ask their opinions. As far as I knew, they hadn’t stepped inside in forever, and I doubted either had returned any books they’d checked out—had they checked out any or even read them.

I shouldn’t judge. No one can clue in what’s in others’ minds.

“Let’s keep, going,” I whispered. “Down here.”

My father had always admonished me: “Be a leader.” Look at me now, Father, I almost shouted, but he couldn’t hear, no matter how loud I shrieked. No, he would never hear me again. Mom could never again say, “Just wait until your father comes home.”

He’s been gone for almost two years now—twenty-three months, two days, six hours to be exact. Died in this very building.

I stepped four paces until I heard my friends creep behind me. Tip-toeing as if we had to be quiet and not wake spirits. Or whatever creatures slept in deserted libraries. Maybe book fairies? That’s all the rage now. Hilarious, as if fairies flit around putting books in odd places for people to find, read, and leave somewhere else for another individual. Ya, right, as if people are really gonna do that and not keep the books to fatten their shelves.

“Down here,” I said, heading to the back rooms out of the public’s view. Rooms for cleaning supplies, storage, whatnot. These items would normally be stored in a cellar, but cellars are basements, and the library had been built on a concrete slab. No cellar.

Along the way, I touched the shelving. Cold, hard metal reminding me of ornate sterling silver candlesticks.

I paused at the two small washrooms—one for men, one for women; gender neutrality was unheard of when the library had been built. Even when the building bustled with bookworms, no one made a stink about washrooms. Mom says there are three large washrooms in the new library, but I haven’t been there yet. No desire to; not anymore.

Miss Scarlet used to sashay to the female washroom. Sometimes, when no one had been about, I leaned on the door, listening to female sounds while she was inside. She was the younger of the two librarians, the prettier one, in her early twenties. Oh, so young. Much closer to my age than my mother’s. She’s the one who helped me locate books. Of course, I never read what she suggested, but I checked them out and returned them the next day, eager to see her again.

My father, apparently, was eager to see her, too, but I didn’t know that until near the end.

Scarlet. The red. So much red.

My father. Killed by one of the top metal shelving pieces, which was found alongside his body. Mrs. White found him in the back of the building, in one of the never-used rooms, shortly before the building had been vacated, after Mom thought he had abandoned us to take off with Miss Scarlet. I guess the odour got to her one day. For an old biddy, she still had her sense of smell.

Miss Scarlet is missing.

My father’s murderer has never been found.

I was careful to remove all fingerprints.

I dare you to find one clue!

***

 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 – “Needle in a Stack” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story that takes place in a library. Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller author of The Man with the Crystal Ankh and The Scarred Letter. Val just finished up a blog tour for those two young adult books. You can find the full tour here, where you can learn interesting tidbits about her childhood, her writing career, and her works: http://www.valmuller.com/2017/10/25/writer-wednesday-my-blog-tour/

Author’s note: The following story may or not be inspired by the fact that I cannot think of the perfect wedding gift for someone very special to me who may or may not be reading this post and whose wedding may or may not be less than a week away.

Needle in a Stack by Val Muller

Fun facts:

  1. On Fridays, the Westfield Library shuts down early–at 5 p.m.
  2. On Saturdays, it doesn’t open until 10 a.m.
  3. Driving from Westfield Library to Thomasville takes three hours. Add another twenty to get to the east end and to find parking near the chapel. Leave time for last minute hair and makeup before the photographer shows up, and that means I’d have to leave the library no later than 9:40 to make it to the pre-wedding photo session on Saturday.
  4. 9:40 is twenty minutes before the library even opens.
  5. The library has a security system at the front and rear door that’s activated an hour after it closes—when the librarians and custodians leave. The system does not monitor movement within the library during the night.
  6. The custodians leave the supply room unlocked all the time.

I had the perfect wedding gift chosen for my sister: a sterling silver heart wrapped with the infinity sign. After meeting with my mom to put finishing touches on the centerpieces, I returned the heart to the store. It cost me a $5.50 restocking fee. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten it engraved yet. That was Thursday night.

For years, since Dalia was still in the womb, Mom has been recording her thoughts, tidbits of our family history, milestones of Dalia’s life, in a handwritten, black leather journal. And now the journal was ready to become Dalia’s most treasured wedding gift. While Mom was loading the centerpieces into her SUV, I snuck a peek at the journal. I read enough to get the brilliant idea, the idea for a gift my sister would value as much as Mom’s journal. Perhaps moreso.

When I was too young to remember, my grandfather used to take Dalia to the library in Westfield. They have a children’s section painted in whimsical murals, and the entrance to the children’s stacks is guarded by a life-sized paper mache dragon. Dalia loved the library but had always been hesitant to read, so my grandfather apparently drew cartoons all throughout the children’s library books. His drawings featured a cartoon rendition of Dalia dressed in a princess costume. It was the way he got Dalia to read. She’d read through the pages looking for the pictures of herself.

Mom mentioned in the journal that she wished they’d kept one of the books, or taken a picture at least. Grandpa kept this up for over a year before the librarians caught him and made him stop defacing the books.

Of course that was two decades ago, but some of the books have to remain. They’ve got to. It’s what I’m banking on. Just one book, just one is all I need.

More fun facts:

  1. Sometimes on Friday nights, the custodians hang out in the lobby, having a drink.
  2. Crouching behind a stack of industrial-grade toilet paper and paper towel rolls while you wait for the custodians to finish drinking can really get to the hamstrings.
  3. There are no emergency lights in the library. If you don’t have your own flashlight, you have to rely on the flashlight app on your phone to search the stacks.
  4. When searching a library in the middle of the night, it would be wisest to arrive with a fully-charged phone. Or at least a charger.
  5. Because you can’t really leave once you’re locked inside with the system armed.
  6. You’d think you could identify old books by how worn their spines are, but you’d be wrong. Some of the oldest books hold up the best. Some of the newer ones are the first to fall apart.
  7. You have to open the books to check the copyright dates.
  8. Sometimes, in the darkness, a life-sized dragon made of paper mache can really get the heart racing.
  9. If you try to remove a library book without checking it out, the red light will flash, even if the library is closed.
  10. If you try to leave the library before the system is disarmed the next morning, it will cause a loud alarm, which summons the police officers who are stationed right down the block.

None of this will matter when I see the look on my sister’s face. It’s three hours to Thomasville, and I’ve got something better than a journal, and just in the nick of time.

***

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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Eight Months

 

The eleventh of every month
Brings a horrible reminder
Of your dreadful death,
Seven morphed to eight.

Every November eleventh
I’ve honoured the veterans,
I’ve stood at the cenotaph
To watch, listen, pray.

Today in my year of firsts
And every November eleventh,
I’ll not forget the veterans
And I’ll mourn again for you.

 

 

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My Son. My Grief. Eight Months Today.

I seem to be able to compartmentalize my life, not that it seems possible to do so. Although I don’t want to be around other people most days, when I am, I hold in my tears. People tell me I’m strong, but I’m not. I just don’t like sharing my grief with others and I hide it until I’m alone. People don’t understand. Unless you’ve lost a child, you’ll never understand. And I hope you (whoever is reading this) never lose a child.

I may smile, but it’s not a real smile. I may laugh, but it’s not a real laugh. Not like before. When he was here. My life seemed so simple then. All problems back then too minor. Why had I ever worried about “such and such”? Bigger issues would take over, when he died. Nothing back then could ever compare to now.

It’s a horrific horror story, losing a child. I never EVER imagined I’d lose one of my children. How could such a thing be possible? They were all healthy. Loss had never affected us. Sure, I lost grandparents. I was devastated at my parents’ deaths. But parents always predecease children.

No, not always. Not in my case. And that’s a rarity. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.

I’m so overwhelmed with grief over my son’s passing, eight months today, that I don’t know how I manage some days. I’m not in denial he’s gone. I know he’s gone.

Dead, funeralized, buried.

But I miss him. Every second of every day. He’s first on my mind when I wake in the mornings and last on my mind at nights. When I do sleep, that is. Sleeping pills have become my best friend, but they don’t always work, and those are horrific nights, when I cry and toss and turn and want to be somewhere else. Where, I don’t know. Where else is there to go?

I’m not suicidal. I’m not a believer in life after death. I’m not that far gone I’d kill myself to be with him. I have two other children. And grandchildren. And a husband. And I want to continue my life, such as it is. I still have goals and dreams. I still have trips I want to take, places I want to visit and explore. I have stories in my head. I have the book of my experience with my son’s last three months I want to write, which I’ve titled (in my head) “Three Hearts. My Truth as I See It.” Whether I can ever write it remains to be seen.

I have no desire to give up everything to—maybe—join him.

Of course, at the time, when he was given a death sentence, I would have given him my life. I’d have done that for any of my children. Or grandchidren. I’d prolong each of their lives, if I could.

My son was a kind soul, loving and giving. All he wanted was to live to see his children grow. During his last days, he cried many times over that. His tears weren’t for him; they were for his two girls, whom he dearly loved.

I’d have given my son my heart had I been able. So he could have lived.

That’s all he needed. A heart that wasn’t full of cancer.

But death doesn’t work that way.

Death takes who it wants, when it wants.

We can’t bargain with death.

Death.

Death is just death. There is nothing else once death shows its face.

Matthew, my son, I miss you so terribly. And I know how humbled you’d be to know how many grieve for you. Not just me, but the rest of your family, and your friends. Even your co-workers. So many people.

You were such a simple soul. You’d help a stranger in the street.

And, dear reader, I’m not eulogizing him as people do after a death. My son truly was a perfect person. He was honest, sincere. A hard worker. He loved life. He loved his two children more than anything, and had he been able, he would have given his life for either one. But he was never called to do that.

Death took him before he could.

 

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My Experiences with Death

My Experiences with Death

(This is an abridged version of my essay for the Guided Autobiography course I’m taking.)

I was nine when I experienced my first death, too young to understand and grieve for a grandfather far away in Bermuda, a man I’d seen maybe a half dozen times. I don’t remember being told he had died, but I found my mother in the basement laundry room, weeping, and asked what was wrong. We didn’t go to his funeral; I don’t think Mom went either, being pregnant at the time with my youngest sibling. Nine was the age of my granddaughter Taylor, when she stood by her uncle Matthew’s open coffin, staring and crying so hard I thought she was having a meltdown.

My next experiences with deaths were years later, when my grandmothers died at the ages of 89 and 90 (my paternal grandmother achieving her goal of reaching her ninetieth birthday). I was close to them both and grieved, of course, but it was if their deaths were expected, at their ages. Plus they were grandparents, and all grandparents die before the rest of us, right? How funny perspectives change. Now that I’m a grandmother, I hate how I had justified their deaths. I don’t want my grandchildren to say, “Oh, she was a granny; she was old. She needed to die.”

Had my father taken better care of himself, he may have lived longer than 72. When he started passing out at the kitchen table due to lack of oxygen, Mom forced him to go to the hospital. He didn’t want to go, saying, “They’ll put me down.” She always regretted her decision, wishing she had let him die peacefully in his sleep.

While Dad was in the hospital, the nurses told us to limit our numbers in the small waiting room, as other families were unable to use it while we were there. Other than short rotations to shower and bring in food, we were there for five days. Mom slept in a cot by his bed, while eight of us (me, my four siblings and their spouses) snuck into a large empty room, snatched linens from the closet, and slept on the cold, hard floor. Nurses found us there the first night, in the dark, and told us to leave. As before, we ignored them, and the second night they brought us pillows.

When we were told there was no hope for Dad, they moved him out of intensive care and nine of us hovered around his hospital bed, waiting. When we thought he had breathed his last, a hush swept over the room. Stunned and shocked, we all looked at each other. And then he groaned, a deep guttural sigh, and we all jumped. Naïve me thought he had come back to life; perhaps the others had, too. This was my and my siblings’ first real experience with death.

Seventeen years later, my mother’s death, on Good Friday, in 2016, was worse. Perhaps it’s because I’d been closer to my mother. I must have been in denial my mother would ever die because it took me and my brother three days after she was admitted to the hospital before we flew to Ontario from Nova Scotia. My once-vibrant mother had morphed into a shrunken, frail woman, shrouded in linens like Dad had been, with numerous tubes and wires snaking from beneath the sheets. Mom had always taken care of herself. She even had her own teeth—pristine perfect teeth—pure white without the use of whitening agents. When the paramedics arrived at her home to transport her to the hospital for observation after a fall, the first thing they wanted was to remove her teeth. Someone said, “No, her teeth are her own,” which changed the paramedics’ attitude, realizing they weren’t dealing with the usual elderly senior.

Mom, like my father, didn’t have to die, even at 89. She was caught in a catch-22 type situation. Drugs for pneumonia would work against her heart condition, and drugs for her heart would work against the pneumonia. Ironically, she was scheduled for heart surgery to remedy her minor heart condition until pneumonia struck. Oddly, no one, including her, knew she had pneumonia until after that minor fall at her home.

We children had the horror of deciding our mother’s fate. After agonizing for hours, we decided to let her go. We left the room while they transported her down the hall to palliative care. One of my brothers and I returned to her condo, a five-minute walk away, while my sister and another brother sat in the waiting room. My youngest brother was on his way.

As it turned out, my siblings and I thankfully didn’t have to play God. Unbeknownst to anyone, Mom had been dumped, and ignored, in the palliative care room and died alone. The nurses forgot to notify my two siblings in the waiting room that they could go to her room, and when my brother and sister decided two hours of waiting was long enough, they snuck into her room. My two sons, driving almost nonstop from Nova Scotia to Ontario, had stopped to pick up my nephew in Ottawa, and arrived minutes too late. My nephew was the only one who went in to see her body. I almost wished I had never left home because she never really knew I, or anyone, was there, and now all I remember is a shriveled figure that was not my mother.

The loss of a child is an unsurmountable grief, from everything I’ve read, a death that stays with a parent forever. And I know that to be true, something I never ever thought would happen to me. It’s a constant ache. Life is different now. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed; some nights I can’t go to bed. I don’t want to be around people as much anymore, either. I don’t remember crying much immediately after my son died, but I must have, because my husband caught me one day. “You can’t keep crying like this,” he said. “You have to get over it.” And then he paused, “Well, it’s only been two weeks, I guess it’s okay.” I was aghast. My husband was telling me I couldn’t be upset? I know he regretted his words immediately after saying them. Matt wasn’t his son, so he doesn’t suffer my pain; he doesn’t know what it feels like.

Matt’s death, a year after my mother’s, has overshadowed hers, and I hate I don’t think of her as much anymore, being so consumed with him. But occasionally, I’ll pick up the phone to call her, forgetting, mostly wanting to share my grief with her.

One horrendously rainy afternoon, when Gary and I were driving to a burial, I reached to the floor for my purse and my phone. I needed to tell my mother how sad I was going to a burial and how wet we’d all be. And then I hesitated. And the tears flowed. The burial was hers.

I read Ted Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, a few years ago. He wrote a passage that resonated with me: “I wish that life were simpler. I wish that loved ones didn’t have to die too young. I wish that tragedy never haunted a single soul. But to wish all that is to ask for an end to our humanity.” I loved his eloquent wording, and after digesting his words, I understood why death exists and received confirmation of that the next time I looked at my grandchildren. If death didn’t exist, neither could birth. Life brings birth and death, giving us a certain perspective, making us appreciate life.

The other day, I discovered a grief quote on Facebook. One of the lines rings true: “Grief is just love with no place to go.”

 

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The Spot Writers – “Pumpkin Head” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. October’s theme is . . . guess what! Halloween. Write a short, scary story using these words: dress, ghost, pumpkin, light, dark.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. 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. Not “horrific horror” . . . more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply a “good read.” BUY IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN!

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

***

Pumpkin Head

Dark clouds hovered though it was only seven o’clock, but darkness was apropos on Halloween night. Tom clutched his treat bag, an old pillowcase decorated with paper ghosts, witches, and pumpkins, and suddenly realized how corny it looked. He had enjoyed the colouring, cutting, and gluing to the fabric, but the dampness was loosening the paper and rolling the edges. His bag would soon be a mess and the other kids would tease him. Bully him, even. Who wanted that?

He had only been outdoors for twenty-four minutes. He had timed how long it would take to go up and down the four streets his mother had given him permission to canvass and knew he’d have plenty of time to go to each house. Thankfully, the streets were long ones, with lots of houses, because four streets wouldn’t normally be enough on Halloween. He had to be home by nine, but as soon as his bag was full, he would head back. No sense staying outside for no reason.

He wandered up the walkway of 39 Cresthaven Avenue, where a pumpkin on the porch beckoned, light flickering between gaps in the squared teeth. The chunky grin mesmerized him. His mother had warned him not to read anything into sights he saw while trick or treating. “Nothing is real,” she said. “Just enjoy being a kid and eat your candy. Forget about cavities one day of the year.”

He had been stunned at her words. Forget about cavities? From a mother who yelled at him every night to brush so invisible creatures didn’t create caters in his teeth? Sometimes she even went as far as brushing his teeth, as if he were a baby. He was twelve, for Pete’s sake. Almost a teen. Soon he would be able to have sex, like people he saw on television when his mother wasn’t looking. He had already snuck into the stash of his father’s Playboy magazines. Did she even know they were there? There would be more nagging for sure if she found them.

Every Halloween, after returning home from his allotted, unsupervised time, his mother insisted on rooting through his pillowcase. The previous year, she said, “There are crazies out there. I have to make sure there’s no needles or disturbed wrappers.”

Needles? Disturbed? He always wondered why she snooped through his bag. Usually, by the time he returned home, he had demolished half the candy. Until the past year, she had never said “Don’t eat anything until I check everything.”

Nagging constantly. That’s all his mother did: nag, nag, nag. It wouldn’t be so bad if she’d give him a bit of praise. Her yelling and nagging scared him as much as the dark, but every October thirty-first he donned a brave face and dressed in the costume-of-the-year—whatever that was: a clown, a Ninja, a pregnant Khloe—a different flavour every year. So much hype about clowns. What was scary about clowns? Sure, scarlet lipstick resembling blood enlarged their mouths and their sad, soulful eyes were ginormous. But silly clowns were frightful? He looked forward to clowns once a year when the circus came to town. And at Halloween, of course.

But what about now, this moment? He shivered. This pumpkin—the weird orange globe with the light shimmering inside.

“Nothing is real, Tommy,” his mother had said. “Just pretend everything is okay.” Pretend, pretend, pretend . . .

He shivered again and glanced around. No one but him—except for that weird pumpkin head.

What! Had it moved? It had been on the porch floor, hadn’t it? Now it was on the top step.

“What the heck.” His hand flew to his mouth. His mother would kill him if she knew he said “heck.” But wasn’t “heck” better than “hell”?

“Hey, you there, kid?”

Tom jumped. “Wha—”

“You there? I’m a good pumpkin, not the bad, scary kind. Not the kind you eat, either. Gah, if you ate me, where would I be?” Giggles and laughter echoed. “I’d be in your belly then, and what good would that be except to fatten you up?”

Tom looked around. Who had spoken? No one’s here but me.

“Me! I’m here,” a voice echoed.

What? Pumpkin Head possessed powers?

Tom scratched at goosebumps sprouting on his arms.

“Yes, me!”

Tom stared at the orange head. The flame inside was stronger, straighter. Unflickering. “You?”

“Yes, me.”

“My mother warned me about you. About things that looked real that weren’t really real.”

“I’m real. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“I—I guess so.”

“Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“You aren’t?”

“Heck, no. I’m enjoying life. The dark. The kids who come and stare.”

Tom scanned the yard. And the street. Empty. “No one’s here but us.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s pretty deserted tonight. For being Halloween and all. But it only takes one, right?”

“One?”

“Well, you,” Pumpkin Head said. “An audience of one. I’m happy you’re here even if there’s no one else.”

“Hmm, I suppose.” Tom looked around again. Where was everyone?

Neither spoke for several moments.

Tom waivered: should he stay, should he go home? He wasn’t absolutely petrified, but he was a tad scared. And it was getting dark.

His mother’s voice echoed: “Be home by nine.”

“Gotta go, I think.”

“Why?”

“My mom’s waiting. She’ll be mad if I don’t get home on time.” He couldn’t admit the dark scared him. “Ya, I better run.” Run? I better dash for it.

“Why don’t you take me home with you? I’m lonely. And cold.”

“Really? You want to go home with me?” Why would that pumpkin want to go to his house? This house was much grander, and surely the owners much nicer than his mother.

“Yeah, take me with you.”

Many scenarios flashed before him. But why the heck not? “Okay, then. Let’s go.”

“Blow out my flame first. I don’t want to burn you.”

That made sense. “Sure. Okay.” Tom stooped and blew.

The smile disappeared.

Tom picked up the plump pumpkin. He made sure he had his pillow case of loot, too, though it wasn’t nearly as full as it should have been, and headed home.

He stopped in front of his house. A small bungalow, so unlike the grand mansion where he had found Pumpkin Head.

He set the pumpkin on the cement landing. There were no steps, just a worn path on the grass to the slab of cement.

“You have a match?”

“What?” Tom asked.

“I need to see. I can’t see in the dark without my flame.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Tom enjoyed building fires. According to his father, he was a hellion, but his father left many years previous. To another family, another wife, another son. Tom had duct-taped a pack of matches to the bottom of the mailbox, safe from rain and prying eyes. Who knew when he might need them.

He flipped open the metal flap. Still there. He withdrew the matchbook and flicked one against the rough edge. A flame exploded. Bright. Glowing. Pointed.

He removed the lid from Pumpkin Head and lit the wick. Success! He replaced the lid.

“Hey, great job. And I love your loot sack, too. Your drawings and colouring are amazing.”

Tom’s face glowed like the face of the pumpkin. It had been longer than forever since he had received recognition and been praised.

“Happy Halloween!” Pumpkin Head screeched.

***

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 – “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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