Tag Archives: Catherine MacKenzie

The Spot Writers – “Paperwork in the Sand” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is to write a story involving “”awakening from a bad dream or, even worse, a nightmare.”

Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, a young adult reboot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece, available in paperback for only $5.75 for a limited time!

***

Paperwork in the Sand by Val Muller

It was a classic nightmare, one you don’t realize you’re having until you wake because it seems so real. Miriam was standing in front of the entire staff—front and back office. Dave had just introduced her, and all eyes pierced her body. It was obvious she was supposed to be presenting on some important topic, but she could not for the life of her remember what it was. Was it a financial report? Something about the new auditing policy?

The answer didn’t matter: soon everyone gasped and laughed. She looked down to discover the quintessential nightmare situation. She was naked. With her worry, her breasts bounced for all to see. They were too large to hide behind her arms. Dave scoffed and pointed. Bill pulled out his phone. Miriam’s thighs jiggled as she backed away, the rolls on her stomach squashing around to the delight of Jenny and Kim, who both did yoga and kickboxing after work and ate carrots and humus for lunch.

In the background, computers beeped and monitors flashed. The fax machine sang its cacophony of tones, and the computer played percussion. Miriam escaped to her cubicle, where her paperwork shielded her naked body. It towered over her, unending. She’d be working overtime for weeks, wouldn’t she?

She saw it all stretched before her: the long hours, the air-conditioned office ice cold on her skin, warming up with endless cups of coffee, a water fountain to refill her bottle whenever she got bored, filling up with donuts left over from the morning’s meetings…

Miriam’s phone rang. The called ID told her it was Alison Jenson, the boss’s boss. You only got a call from Ms. Jenson if you messed up real bad or did something amazing. And Miriam certainly hadn’t done anything amazing lately. She took a deep breath and reached for the phone. In her most professional voice, she answered. “Accounting, this is Miriam.”

Miriam’s eyes popped open. The sunlight blinded her pupils back into hiding. She rolled over, feeling that the sand had stuck to her sweaty skin. What time was it, and how long had she been asleep? Her heart sank. She reminded herself to breathe. So she wasn’t back, then. Not in the chill of the office. Not under the stacks of paperwork. She was still—here.

Here.

Waves lapped the shore. Turquoise. Teal. Azure. One of them was the right color to describe it. She couldn’t remember. Just another instance of missing Google. The color was miserably beautiful. If she survived this, it was a color that would haunt her dreams.

Her half coconut sat on the stone table beside her. How long had she been sleeping? Her skin pulsed a bit, red. Her heart skipped a beat as she remembered her pasty skin from the nightmare. She stood and examined herself. She wasn’t naked anymore—but close to. Her pants—shorts, now—barely covered her thighs. And those thighs that had been so plump in her dream—why, the hunger had eaten every last ounce of fat, every small dimple of cellulite. Even Jenny and Kim would be jealous. She sighed as the afternoon sun glared at her.

It wasn’t the golden glow of the afternoon sun back home, the one that welcomed you into its arms and eased you into evening. Here in the tropics, the sun seemed to go from high noon to night all at once. It would soon be evening, her chance to scavenge for shellfish.

She shook her head in admonishment. She hated when she fell asleep during the day like that. Those were her chances to spot a ship or a plane. She’d have to do better tomorrow.

That night, she breathed a word of bitter thanks. She had survived another day, she mused as she added an 87th tick mark to her tally along the rock embankment. The small crabs she had caught made for a pitiable meal, and as she laid down on her bed in the sand under the remains of her deflated life raft, she hoped that if her rescue didn’t come that night, she would at least be blessed with another nightmare about the never-ending paperwork in the air-conditioned office.

*

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

+++
C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].

 

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The Spot Writers – “Pomeranian” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is based on a photo taken at a local zoo. There was a fence leading to a “no admittance” area, but about 12 inches at the bottom had been bent upward, allowing admission of… people? animals? And where does it lead? Write a story involving a fence that has been snuck through—as a major or minor plot point.

This month’s story comes to us from Val Muller. She is the author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series (www.CorgiCapers.com) and the YA coming-of-age tales The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away.

 ***

Pomeranian by Val Muller

“You shouldn’t have a dog if you’re just gonna leave it outside all the time.” The afternoon sun baked down on the earth. Victor could only imagine how hot the metal water dish had gotten. That water had to be soup by now.

“At least he’s got water,” Jenn said. “And food.” She wrinkled her nose at the swarm of flies gathering around the untouched food dish.

The two leaned against the white picket fence, watching the dog. The owners, if home, had never made an appearance, not in three years. The dog sat up, barked several times, and twirled in a circle. Then, panting with the effort in the July heat, he scratched at the earth a bit and plopped down in the filtered shade of the small tree growing nearby.

“But it’s such a floofy dog,” Victor said. “Those types are not meant for the outdoors. They’re the kind you pay a lot of money for so you can keep them indoors and bring them to restaurants in little carrier bags and put bows on them every time they are groomed. This one is just ignored.”

Jenn raised an eyebrow. “Since when have you become a dog person?”

Victor shrugged. “I’m not. I hate dogs.”

Jenn nodded. “Usually. But every time we walk past here, you start with the comments. You want a dog?”

“No. I mean, not in theory.”

Jenn hid a smile. “Because our new place has a back yard…”

Victor kept his poker face. “Dogs are a pain. I mean, they’re always there.”

“A fenced yard.”

Victor frowned.

“So no dog for us, then?”

He shrugged. “You know what they say. Dogs are the gateway drug to kids.” He offered a mock shudder. “It’s just something about this dog…”

“It’s a Pomeranian. I looked them up last Christmas. You know, when I was trying to convince you to get me one.” She smirked. “Which you didn’t. They’re purebred, which means they are not affordable. Not for us, anyway.”

“All the more reason for these people to take better care of it. One day, someone’s just gonna come grab it.”

“It’s fenced in.”

“Yeah, behind a picket fence with no lock. The gate can easily be opened. Hell, I could jump the fence if I wanted to.” He took a peek at Jenn’s face, then leaned over the fence and clapped his hands. The Pomeranian ran over to him, nipping at his hands in a friendly way. Victor reached down and scratched behind its ears.

Jenn had turned her attention to the house, but there was no movement. No indication that anyone was home. There was never any indication that anyone was home, except that once in a while the beast got a haircut. Last time, during the spring, the dog was cut to look like a lion: short hair on its back and legs, hair left long on its head and chest like a lion’s mane. Victor had been especially drawn to the idea of having a miniature lion sitting there in a suburban yard.

“Are you saying you want to?”

Victor stepped back from the fence and continued his walk as if to answer Jenn’s question. What was it about this stupid little dog? Something about it pulled at him. He seriously hated dogs ever since his mom’s Rottweiler nipped him as a kid. But this little one…

“What do you think his name is?” Jenn asked.

She wouldn’t drop it. “Lion,” Victor said. He regretted his lack of hesitation. Would she know he’d already chosen a name? “Or maybe “Leon,” he said, trying to sound casual. “Or Leo.”

Jenn raised an eyebrow. Luckily, her phone beeped, and a minor fashion crisis on the part of her sister distracted her from the rest of the conversation. By the time she put her phone away, they were already at the drainage pond—it had been dry the entire month so far—and the conversation turned to the drought and their excitement about moving up north—where it was much cooler—at the end of August.

August kept its reputation, burning like an inferno that intensified on Moving Day. Two of the paid movers called out “sick,” though Victor and Jenn agreed the weather was to blame. The two of them picked up the extra work with the one brave hired hand, sweat drenching them in the first five minutes of the morning. It wasn’t until nearly 9 p.m. that the entire house was packed up, the very hot and tired hired man was paid, and the two of them were in the rented truck, air conditioner blasting.

They didn’t expect it to be so late, and they hesitated. “What do we do?” Jenn asked. “Spend a final night in our house?” They were required to be out by midnight, but there was little chance the landlord would come by until the next morning.

Victor shook his head. “Pillar of salt,” he muttered. “Best start toward our new lives.”

The air hung with silence. They had two new jobs, a closing on a home—their home—in 36 hours—and the rest of their lives, all waiting for their arrival.

Jenn switched the truck into “drive.”

“Nice bench seat up here,” Victor said. “Plenty of room…”

“You’re planning on sleeping in the car?” Jenn asked. “I assumed we’d drive straight through.” She pulled toward the exit of the housing development.

“No, not sleeping in the car. Something else,” Victor said.

“Do you see how sweaty I am?” Jenn asked. “I am not in the mood.”

Victor rolled his eyes. “Not that. Pull over up here, will you?”

Jenn humored him.

“Keep it in drive, and be ready to go.”

“What?”

But Victor was already out the door, running toward the white picket fence. The Pomeranian—Leon, or Lion, or Leo, or whatever its name was—was barking its head off as usual. Victor didn’t hesitate at all. He simply opened the gate, reached toward the dog, and with a deft swipe, had the orange fluff of a dog in his arms. He ran out the gate, not bothering to shut it.

The gate swung open in the summer dusk as Jenn pulled away, her new pet happily sitting in the middle of the front bench seat. Not wanting to turn into a pillar of salt, Victor did not glimpse back in the rear view mirror, but he guessed Leon’s owners did not bother to come out. He’d stake his future on it.

 

***

The Spot Writers:

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

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

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

 

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My Debut Novel! Wolves Don’t Knock

I’m elated to receive another excellent review. This one is posted on Amazon (along with two others) and was written by a verified purchaser.

I don’t think anyone could receive a better review than this.

I’m sharing it here:

“C. A. Mackenzie’s extraordinary ability to harness psychological drama compelled me to swiftly turn the pages of “Wolves Don’t Knock.” MacKenzie’s grip is so strong that Miranda’s torment became my own. I was unable to rest until the end; exhausted when I did. Without any reservations, I can declare Wolves Don’t Knock a five-star novel. It is, and literary agents should be fighting each other to represent Catherine A. MacKenzie’s future works.

“It would be tragic if Wolves Don’t Knock is undiscovered in Amazon’s Slush Pile Mountain. This novel belongs on Amazon’s Bestseller List….”

Tragic for MY book to be undiscovered? Wow!

This guy does not mince words. He says it like it is, with full honesty. Yes, I know him from online groups, but I know he means what he says. He’s read short stories of mine and rated them according to stars: one to five. He has said a couple of my stories didn’t even rate a one and that they should be trashed. Literally put out at the curb!

The other two reviews on Amazon:

Wolves Don’t Knock is a spell-binding novel that delves into the mysteries of a traumatized young woman’s psyche while she fights to regain a sense of worth. As the story progresses, the variety of well-developed characters will keep the reader turning the pages. Thumbs up and five stars to this talented author.”

“I loved this book so much that I passed it on to a friend. It is a riveting story with the cast of characters and many unexpected plot twists. You never know what’s going on in a small town neighbourhood. A sequel looks like a natural progression. Way to Go!!!”

The first individual was a beta reader. The second individual is a verified purchaser (she purchased the print book), but for some reason she posted a Kindle review so she doesn’t show up as one.

Several other individuals have promised reviews on Amazon (though I did receive some via email and Facebook), but I’m still waiting. Oh, well… Non-writers don’t realize how valuable reviews (good or bad) are to authors. And of course, I want HONEST reviews. No fluff and stuff if the book is horrible.

This is my debut novel. I have Paul’s story in my head (you’ll have to read Wolves Don’t Knock to know who Paul is) and hope to start writing that very soon. Paul’s story will be titled Mr. Wolfe. This second book will be a stand-alone book (as is Wolves Don’t Knock). The reader will not have to read both books in order to enjoy each or get a full understanding of the stories, but there will be some surprises in Mr. Wolfe that the reader will be able to trace back to Wolves. The reader will not spot any dangling threads in Wolves Don’t Knock other than one unanswered question, but whether that question will be answered in Paul’s story is up in the air (and will remain that way). But if Mr. Wolfe unfolds as I want it to and the reader has read Wolves, he/she will be surprised by some revelations.

Have I intrigued you enough to purchase Wolves Don’t Knock? I consider it a blend of suspense, mystery, thriller, and family relationships. A couple of readers have categorized it as a “psychological drama.” If the book were totally about Miranda, I would agree, but the book is told through the points of view of Miranda and her mother, Sharon. I suppose Sharon is traumatized a tad, too, but mostly she just has secrets and guilt.

The book would be suitable for mature teens and up. It’s about a kidnapping so, of course, there is rape, but the images are only implied; there are no graphic scenes or foul language.

The book is set in Nova Scotia, Canada, with references to Halifax, Lower Sackville, Lunenburg, and Peggys Cove.

Anyhow, if you’re local, I have books at my home available for purchase. $15 Canadian.

Otherwise, check it out on Amazon.

Available in print and Kindle, but the print book is much nicer (some fancy formatting). If you purchase, please drop me a quick note to let me know how you liked it. I would appreciate it!

Cathy

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Lady Marian and the Kids” by Chiara De Giorgi.

Welcome to The Spot Writers.

The current prompt is a story about a character who finds an object that had been lost. This week’s story comes from Chiara De Giorgi. Chiara dreams, reads, edits texts, translates, and occasionally writes in two languages. She also has a lot of fun.

***

 Lady Marian and the kids

It had seemed a good idea, to bring the cat along.

They planned on travelling through France with their motor home during the Summer break for their family holiday: it would take them three weeks to go as far as Paris and come back.

Their usual cat-sitter wasn’t available, and the replacement they had found had asked double the budgeted amount. So there were only two choices, really: shorten their holiday, or take the cat to Paris.

She had sighed, loaded the motor home with food for two adults, four children, and a cat, and they had left.

Their first stop was Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc. There was a huge parking lot at the edge of a forest. It was quiet, it smelled good, it was cheap. They stopped for the night, and as she sat stroking the cat and reading a book, the kids chased one another right outside the motor home, running in and out the forest.

Her youngest suddenly opened the door.

“Mom! Can we play with Lady Marian outside? Please?”

“I’m afraid it’s not a good idea”, she replied. “Our Lady here is used to staying in, she might get frightened outside.”

“Just a few minutes! I want to show her the woods!”

Kid number Three jumped in, sweat and dirt clinging to his cheeks and hands.

“Yeah, can you imagine how she’ll love the tree trunks? Sooo many huge scratchers!”

The kids laughed and clapped their hands. They made her laugh, too.

“Please, mom, we’ll be careful.”

“We’ll protect her!” cried the youngest, puffing his little chest.

She sighed and turned her head: the cat was actually showing a bit of curiosity for the world outside the door. Lady Marian had been with them for five years: she probably trusted her humans enough to allow them to take her for a stroll outside.

“Okay”, she said at last. “But!” she added, raising her voice over her kids’ enthusiastic hurras. “Bring your brother and sister. I want them to be with you at all times.”

Kids number Three and Four found number One and Two, who were exploring a big woodpile, and Lady Marian was finally brought into the big big world outside the motor home.

Her eyes were huge, and her tiny nose twitched like crazy: wood, pine, snow, wind, grass… so many new smells!

The kids brought her to the woodpile, and Lady Marian was happy to touch the logs’ bark with her pads. Laughing excitedly, the kids and the cat played together, jumping up and down the logs.

Until at one point the kids lost sight of the cat.

They searched all around the parking lot, they entered the forest with a torchlight, they called, pleaded, offered treats… the cat was nowhere to be found.

They stayed one day longer in Chamonix, but Lady Marian didn’t come back.

Everyone was crying, by the time Mom and Dad decided to leave the cat behind and go to Paris anyway.

“She’s a proud feline, you don’t have to worry”, she said, trying to reassure the kids, but it didn’t work. She felt so terribly guilty.

Twenty days later, they were back in the parking lot at Chamonix, on their way home.

As soon as Dad parked the motor home, the kids ran to the woodpile.

“They’re going to be disappointed all over again”, said Dad.

She sighed.

“What would you do, forbid them to go out?”

Dad shook his head.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped here.”

“I think we should go with them”, she said suddenly. “I feel guilty, I should have kept Lady Marian inside.”

“And they would have been angry at you, you know that. They would have tried to convince you to let her out every single day of our trip!”

She sighed again.

“You’re right. And yet…”

“Mom! Dad! Come!”

Kid number One was calling them with all her voice.

“Oh my God, what happened?” she cried, worried sick in an instant. When her girl called, it was always for a good reason.

“It’s Lady Marian! We found her, but we can’t reach her.”

“What?” Mom and Dad asked together, jumping up from their seats. “Where?”

“She’s hidden somewhere under the woodpile! Do you think she’s stayed there for all this time, waiting for us?”

“I really don’t know”, she answered, getting the torchlight.

“She’ll be so hungry!”

She hold the light for Dad, while he tried to reach the cat. The kids were holding their breath. She could hear Lady Marian’s feeble meows coming from under the tree trunks.

“She’s here! I can see her!” Dad finally said.

They all stared down a crack between two thick logs, and Lady Marian’s yellow eyes blinked back.

Dad called her, stretching a hand through the crack: “Lady, it’s us, come on!”

After a while, Lady Marian gathered enough courage and stretched her forepaws forward.

“I can touch her,” Dad whispered. “Just a couple of inches… There! I got her!”

Dad sat, withdrawing his hand from the logs. He was holding their beloved cat. Lady Marian was purring and rubbing her head against Dad’s hand, while everybody else was cheering, crying and laughing at the same time.

“It was a good holiday”, said kid number Two the following night, as she tucked him in. “Do you know what I liked best, mom?”

“What? The Tour Eiffel? The boat ride along the River Seine? The fireworks at Versailles?”

“That our Lady waited for us and made us find her again. That was the most beautiful thing that happened. And the woodpile was really cool, wasn’t it?”

***

The Spot Writers:

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

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

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

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The Spot Writers – “Cerebus” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is among the most difficult I’ve tackled. In fact, when I shared it with my student writing group, they were all stumped. Update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn’t consistent with the original legend.

Today’s post comes from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series. Learn more at www.CorgiCapers.com. And if you like modern twists on mythology, check out her supernatural mystery The Man with the Crystal Ankh: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Crystal-Ankh-Hollow-Book-ebook/dp/B01N75XTGK/

***

Cerebus by Val Muller

 

“Where are we?” asked the largest of the heads.

“I’m thirsty,” answered the middle head, craning its neck in search of water.

“Meow,” said the third.

“Meow?” the other two repeated.

“Meow,” confirmed the third.

“Where are we?” asked the largest head again, its eyes devoid of intellect. An affront to its position. I sighed. That should have been me—head head, brain of Cerebus. What was Ambrus doing in my spot? If I were still in charge, I would have crushed ten souls by now. Twelve! And the three of them were just standing there.

“You’re on Earth, you twits,” I answered. “Don’t you remember anything?”

“Earth?” repeated the largest head—my head—in Ambrus’s lame voice. He said it the way you remember a dream you just woke from, a dream you’ll forget in the next moments. “It’s very bright up here,” he complained.

“Yes,” agreed the second head. It had to be Mikula. He had taken Ambrus’s place as middle head.

We all turned to the third head. “Meow,” it said.

I looked down to note that I was licking my paw. Of all the undignified…I growled at myself, but it came out as more of a purr. In fact, I found myself thinking about finding a nice cardboard box to curl up in.

How atrocious.

And what the hell is cardboard?

“I’m confused,” said the largest head. I glanced at him. I couldn’t help but admire his—my—chiseled jawline, its bone-crushing teeth, its fiery mane of hair, more lion than dog. Oh, but those vacant eyes. I narrowed my own.

“When are you not confused, Ambrus?” I asked. Ambrus was our brawn, not our brain. He did what I told him. He devoured souls when I didn’t feel like it, he pounded his head into the rocks of the underworld to create cavernous cave-ins. He told us when we needed sustenance. Pure beast. He did none of the actual thinking.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Wait,” said Ambrose. “What’s going on?”

I growled—trying to make it as purr-less as possible. Any imbecile could see what had happened.

“We were sent up and forward,” I said.

“Up?” asked Mikula.

“Forward?” asked Ambrose.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Up.” I motioned to the surroundings with my paw. I was surprised at how dexterous the feline appendage was. I pointed to the alleyway, the buildings, the glowing lights of the city.

“And forward.” I pointed to the airplanes in the sky, the automobiles, the indicators of the current era.

“But why?” asked the idiot who occupied my head.

This had literally been explained to us moments ago when we were still in Hades and still in our own era.

“We’re being proactive,” I said. “Sorting and gathering souls for Hades. Things were getting crowded. Gods, haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? We’re supposed to scare up some people into behaving better. Hades is tired of dealing with so many down in his turf. We’ve got to slow down the influx of souls.”

Mikula nodded like it was the first he was hearing of all this. That’s all he ever did. Agree and obey.

The third head meowed. I wished the other two would just bite his head off already. There were fewer things more useless to me than cats. And here I was…

“When we transported,” I explained, “we were supposed to be sent somewhere deserted. You know, to fully materialize. Hades can see all, but he apparently missed that there was a mangy alleycat right here, licking its damned paws just as we arrived. The sheer force our arrival crashing into its existence, and my head was taken by idiot over there, leaving Ambrose’s head ripe for Mikula’s taking. And me…” I meowed so loudly I felt sick and forced up a hairball.

A human walked by, talking into a sparkly device. The three heads turned to gauge my reaction.

“I thought we were bigger,” Ambrose said. Indeed, the human had towered over us. “We used to be able to devour men in a single gulp. That I remember.”

“Souls have no size,” I said. “In this world… “ But what could I say? How could I justify Cerebus’s new diminutive size with talk of limited resources of the laws of physics in the real world? These partners of mine came from an alternate dimension, and they barely understood anything. It was pointless. We weren’t going to devour souls anytime soon. And we certainly weren’t doing Hades any favors.

A human walked by. “Meow,” I said, swallowing my disgust.

“Awww,” the human said. “Are you lost, little kitty? Stay right here.” She disappeared into a doorway and emerged a moment later with a little can. She flicked the top, and it made the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I leapt to her feet and devoured the sweet ambrosia that was trapped inside. Fish and liver pate. I couldn’t remember a thing in Hades I liked better.

When I finished, I glanced up. Music from an open window above the alley had lulled the three idiots to sleep. Their body was warm and their breathing, rhythmic. I purred once and leapt into the crook of their front leg, snuggling in for a nap. Before I fell asleep, I admired the clean paw I had just licked. Its calico pattern was something to rival the finest artisan’s work. Then I licked it some more, just to be sure.

It’s what cats do, after all.

* * *

The Spot Writers:

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

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

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story in which one character plays a prank on another. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, the young adult reboot of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, and Corgi Capers, the kidlit, canine-packed mystery series.

For this month’s rotation, we’re featuring guest writer Eric Egger, publisher at Freedom Forge Press, who will write this prompt with the added challenge of connecting it to the theme of freedom, as with everything having to do with FFP.

***

Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift

By Val Muller

Robbie Stewart was the kid she had every year. He came in different names, different bodies, he took different courses. But he was always there. Every iteration was a natural leader or especially talented, or at least had the potential to be, but he always squandered his natural charisma for ill and chaos. Sometimes he riled up the rest of the class. Sometimes he set off another conflicting personality and made a 90-minute class last all afternoon. Sometimes he popped into Ms. Spindle’s head as she tried to fall asleep. Or when she was cooking, one of his irritating antics would replay in her mind, causing her to burn dinner. Sometimes he appeared as a character in a movie or television show, ruining her immersion.

For thirty-seven years she had put up with the Robbie Stewarts of the world. For thirty-seven years she grinned and bore it. She’d always planned on going for just three more. Three short years to round her career to an even forty. Just three more years of Robbie Stewarts. But last month’s faculty meeting had put an end to that. The new initiative, following the latest educational trends, dictated that next year neither she nor any other member of the faculty at Piney Field High School would be allowed to hold students accountable to deadlines. Adhering to deadlines was not part of the academic standards, and it was harmful to student learning.

Theoretically, the Robbie Stewarts of the world could turn in every single assignment from September onward at the end of June. She knew this because Robbie Stewart, sitting in third block study hall, had gotten wind of the new initiative and was questioning her about it.

“So if it was next year, then if I held on to all my assignments and turned them in on June 1, you’d still have to grade them?” he asked, his mouth cracking into a smile. His face was oily with acne, and his teeth needed flossing.

She did not answer, but she suspected her involuntary cringe was all the encouragement he needed.

“And what if every student did the same? You would have to grade every single assignment from every single student on June 1.” He stifled mock concern. “That would take you hours. You’d have no time to yourself. Not on weekends, not on evenings. It would almost mirror the way teachers make students feel. Having assignments intruding into all our waking hours…” He was mumbling now, taking the joke beyond its natural stopping point, making a few other students chuckle. “…would barely even have time to shower, let alone eat.”

Luckily, this particular Robbie Stewart would graduate in a few weeks, but another would replace him, and next year’s R.S. would surely take full advantage of the new late work policy, exposing all the loopholes before the administration team even had a chance to address them.

“It’s not worth it,” her husband agreed over dinner that night. “You put in your time. Not everything has to be neat and even. Thirty-seven is just as good as forty.” Indeed, the difference in pension was a mere seventeen dollars and fifty-three cents a month if she stayed the extra three years.

“I won’t get my forty-year service pin,” she said. “Or my watch.” The district gave a fancy, engraved watch to all teachers who made it to the forty-year mark.

Her husband smiled. “I’ll buy you a watch, Mrs. Spindle. Any color you want. Even gold.”

She thought about Robbie Stewart. This year, he was big on taking pictures of assignments and distributing them to classmates. He didn’t charge for this service; he did it for the fame. She’d caught him in October with a copy of the vocabulary quiz, one he’d gotten from a recycling bin at the end of the previous school year. She’d caught him using his watch to send texts with answers to the fifteen-page history packet right before the due date. She’d tried to turn him in twice, but each time, Robbie Stewart cleared his phone so that when Admin searched it, they found nothing incriminating.

Except Mrs. Spindle’s repressed frown.

Robbie Stewart was on her mind that night as she agreed to the retirement with her husband. After that, her teaching took a noticeable dive. She relied on decades’ worth of material for the final weeks of the year. She took sick days to accommodate several three- and four-day weekends. She allowed students to view more movies in one month than she’d allowed in the last five years. And while they watched, she just stared and stared. The time was growing short. She had only days to make her move.

She had been watching carefully, these new smart devices students had. There were watches and jewelry and little fobs you stuck to your sneaker. They tracked movement, sent alerts and notifications, and even browsed the web.

Robbie Stewart had the most impressive watch of them all. It was a blue one, a unisex band not too thick. It was a serene blue, too, the color she imagined retirement would be. Whenever he got a text, the watch glowed, a pulsing blue light. And she knew he could send texts from it, too, and access the Internet. She wasn’t sure the details of how it worked; she knew only that she desired that watch more than she desired her service pin or the platinum-colored watch the district would have bestowed upon her three years hence. It was a symbol of the menacing power of Robbie Stewart.

She popped in another movie and opened her laptop. Years of creativity, repressed by student apathy and teenage angst, came flooding out. Her years of teaching journalism and research papers mingled together in the cauldron of her brain, coalescing into the perfect concoction. It was fed by the renewed energies allowed by her recent long weekends and lack of lesson planning. It was the inspiration of a career’s worth of self-indulgence, all packed into a single moment.

She experimented with fonts and columns, with stock art and bylines, until it looked the part. She left the class alone to watch the film and trotted to the copier. She photocopied the article once, then photocopied the copy and its copy until it had that worn-out look that made it seem genuine, like something the main office would distribute.

And then she left the bait. When Robbie Stewart’s class came in, she left it tucked between the chair in front of him and his desk. It stuck out just enough to intrigue the lad. Before she started the film, she channeled all her years of teaching Shakespeare. With a performance worthy of an Emmy, she feigned concern.

“Students, I seem to have left an important article somewhere. If you happen to see it, please turn it in to me at once. No need to read it. In fact—” she hesitated and tried to make her face turn red and then pale— “It’s actually a bit controversial. It has nothing to do with you, mind you. Just with some policies going to be implemented next year.”

She stifled a smile as Robbie raised an eyebrow. As soon as her back was turned, she heard him snatch the article. She made a show of searching under several student desks as the movie commenced, not minding the young lad reading quietly at his desk.

As the students shuffled out, Robbie tossed something in the trash, leaving the room especially quietly. She waited until they all left. The room was silent and full of the emptying scent of teenagers. As the air cooled and freshened, she bent down to unroll a wad of paper. There was her article, well read. High school senior expelled as smart watch reveals cheating; college admission rescinded. She smiled again at her use of quotations from the principal of the nearby county who was apparently receiving some kind of award for his groundbreaking sleuthing into student technology. Even the superintendent had been quoted, confirming the district’s ability to search student devices without warning.

She chuckled. If the article were true, Robbie’s watch probably contained enough evidence to get him expelled three times over. Too bad it was just really good fiction.

She wadded up the article to return to the trash when something twinkled in the trash can. There it was, in all its glory: Robbie Stewart’s blue watch. Abandoned for fear of it being a snitch. Her article had been more convincing than she thought.

The watch felt cool around her wrist, but it warmed almost immediately, and she swore she felt youth making its way from her skin into her blood and up her arm. She went to the main office right away to arrange leave for the rest of the year. Who needed to work three more years to make an even forty? She left school smiling, her trophy sparkling serenely around her wrist in the early June sun.

* * *

The Spot Writers is seeking another member. Have what it takes to write one flash fiction piece per month? Want it published on four different blogs? Need other flash pieces for your blog content? It’s a great way to stay motivated to write—and write for an audience. If interested, contact Val for details!

* * *

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Eric Egger: www.freedomforgepress.com/blog (guest this month)

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The Spot Writers – “Heirloom” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is based on a Stephen Hawking quote: “The universe does not allow perfection.”

This week’s story comes to you from Val Muller, author of the middle-grade mystery series Corgi Capers. Find out more at www.CorgiCapers.com

***

Heirloom by Val Muller

They lived like those in Pleasantville or Leave it to Beaver. Or one of those old shows. Not that anyone would know. No one watched television shows anymore, let alone movies. No one had the time or the attention. They were all too perfect to spend so much time sedentary. No narratives longer than the 70-second clips people watched while they waited for their can or train or meal. Their workdays and exercise schedules and social events were all planned to the minute.

Those old programs caused too much thought, and too much thought led to unhappiness, and that was the Unperfect Old Way.

Thomas watched them from the roof, each person an even speck, miniature models in the cityscape below. Each one slim and muscular, the optimal body composition; each one as perfect as the cherry tomatoes he harvested. He opened the crate sent from the grocer. Each tiny bubble in the crate was designated to hold exactly one cherry tomato. Each would be cradled on its way to the grocer. Exactly zero tomatoes would be wasted in transit on the short trip to the city below. The coating on the inside of each bubble meant no early spoilage, either. He placed one tomato into each crate before sealing the crate and sending it down the elevator shaft to the courier waiting below.

Every day, each one of those tiny specks below would be allotted four cherry tomatoes. Or half a banana. Or a quarter of an apple. But Thomas’s concern was only the tomatoes. Thomas couldn’t be sure, since he didn’t leave his rooftop dwelling, but he suspected that the apple and banana and other farmers followed similar processes to create perfect produce.

In the building beneath him, each perfect little speck was allotted 100 square feet of living space and a small bathroom shared by members of the family. In the country, wood harvesters were tasked with building bunk beds and recessable tables that would fit cleanly in the 10×10 space.

When a baby was born, calculations based on life expectancy estimated the exact number of tomatoes that would be required to supplement the human’s nutrition bars These numbers were sent to a screen on Thomas’s rooftop farm, telling him how many tomatoes to harvest on any given day.

Somewhere else, where water was processed, a similar calculation told the engineers just how many gallons of potable water each person would consume each day. Somewhere, tailors received the exact measurements for garments required each week and month and year. Everything was calculated, from the amount of water required to cleanse a newborn to the amount of heat required to turn a person into their final puff of ashes.

It was perfection.

Politicians were required now only to reinforce rules already established. Computers kept birth rates, consumption, jobs all in balance. There was nothing to improve upon anymore. The world was in a state of balance.

The sun was sinking now beneath the tall skyscrapers, and Thomas pushed the button which would cover the plants from the elements of the high elevation that might harm the plants at night. Already, the gossamer film was absorbing radiant energy, converting it to a diffuse light that allowed the tomatoes to grow, even at night. In this lighted greenhouse, the fruit matured nearly twice as fast.

The light on Thomas’s elevator blinked, indicating a delivery making its way from the street below. Sunset. Perfect timing. Thomas smiled and hurried to his corner garden. He chose the largest two tomatoes, two huge ones larger than his fists. Both were roundish but not spherical, with several bulbous excrescences. Their weights were incredible; each seemed to hold twice its volume in water and nutrients.

Thomas brought one to his nose, and instantly the sharp, earthy smell transported him to his grandmother’s garden in the days before The Perfection. He wrapped the tomato in a slice of paper announcing water regulations for the agriculturalists and pulled the opaque black curtain down over the corner garden. Maybe it was just an old-fashioned belief, but Thomas swore that the heirloom tomatoes grew best when they got to rest at night. Same as people.

The elevator had finally reached the rooftop, and Thomas opened the door. The pungent odor of a whole fish hit him as he unwrapped the offering. “Thanks, Bill,” he said. He placed the wrapped tomato on the platform, closed the door, and sent the elevator down to his old friend, who was now just a speck on the sidewalk below.

He started right away, scaling the fish and filleting it. The waste he would grind and use to fertilize the heirloom garden.

The city planners allowed no extra energy source to cook food; the nutrition bars allocated to Thomas and everyone were edible right out of the package, as were the produce supplements he was allowed. They had calculated everything, from lighting needs to water heating needs, most powered by solar energy and man-powered gyms in the building below.

But the city planners and the computers that calculated things had let something slip. The impossibly high elevator required to transport people to their skyscraper dwellings produced an abundance of heat, and this had nowhere to go except to be vented through a shaft to the rooftop garden, where it helped establish a greenhouse under the night’s gossamer film.

Anyone but an expert gardener would require the heat source to produce the required quantity of tomatoes. Anyone else’s crops would suffer if the heat source was used to power the small oven that provided Thomas with cakes and fish and poached eggs and all sorts of contrabands, courtesy of his artisan connections across the city. He’d even rigged the heat source to power a small television screen and DVD player so he could watch movies and relive the time before The Perfection, like the dinner dates of old.

He plucked a handful of herbs from behind his blackout curtain. Freshly-picked was always the best. He wrapped the herbs around the fish and placed it in the oven. The aroma was apparent almost immediately, though there was no way the people in the building below could ever smell it. Thomas placed the other heirloom tomato on a plate and sliced it, salting it lightly just the way his grandmother used to do. Each slice was asymmetrical, imperfect, and delicious. It would pair well with the fish.

Perfectly, in fact.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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INDIE AUTHOR EXTRAVAGANZA

 

 

indie-author-extravaganza

 

Indie Author Extravaganza, this Saturday, August 20, Halifax, Nova Scotia!

I’ll be there selling three books: OUT OF THE MIST (local writers group anthology); my personal anthology, OUT OF THE CAVE; and Tom Robson’s memoir, WRITTEN WHILE I STILL REMEMBER.

 

 

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Review of my short story, “Doorbells and December”

This year’s Dancing With Bear Publishing’s Christmas anthology, titled Gingersnaps and Candy Canes, is available as a print book for $8.99 through Create Space at: https://www.createspace.com/4543075#!  The anthology consists of 12 stories by ­­­­9 authors, of which I am one.

 

Gingersnaps & Candy Canes

My story, “Doorbells and December,” was written in two parts. Part 1 was published in last year’s Christmas anthology. I purposely ended the story abruptly and left the ending to the reader’s imagination. I continued the story for this year’s anthology.  Parts 1 and 2 are published in the 2013 anthology. (Don’t forget to check the Dancing With Bear website in December 2014. Perhaps there will be another installment of this story.)

Excerpt from my  story, DOORBELLS AND DECEMBER:

Corinne knew her daughter wasn’t coming home—ever. The police had said the first seventy-two hours were the most crucial and without those vital leads at the start, there wasn’t much hope. They said she had likely run off to one of the bigger cities where she made her home on the streets, got high on drugs, and delved into prostitution.

“There’s a slim chance she might be alive,” they told her after numerous weeks of investigation. “If she hasn’t overdosed or been killed.”

Corinne listened to the words they didn’t say. She knew in her heart her daughter wouldn’t be coming home, as hard as it was to admit it.

The knock grew louder. Then the doorbell blasted its soulful tune.

Corinne jumped at the sound of the doorbell. She hated that sound. The doorbell had brought the news of her husband’s death. December had brought her daughter’s disappearance. Doorbells and December—two hated words in her vocabulary. If it weren’t for Kevin, she wouldn’t even celebrate Christmas.

The insistent doorbell blared again. She glanced at her grandson. Kevin, her one constant, her main purpose for living, stood in front of her. Henry was gone from her life—dead and buried. Her only daughter, dead or alive, was missing, and only God knew the whereabouts. She didn’t have anything to lose by answering the door, but she did have everything to gain. She opened the door.

 

Review of my story by Melissa Snark:

This review is written specifically for Catherine A. MacKenzie’s short story, DOORBELLS AND DECEMBER, which is a contemporary suspense thriller set during the Christmas holiday season. The writing is smooth and practiced, editing is solid, and characterization is good, but there were sections where the pacing felt a bit rough. This was certainly not my usual Christmas reading fare. I tend to prefer stories with gooey centers that give warm fuzzies. The subject material of this tale disturbed me, as it was meant to, so the author is successful in accomplishing her goal.

Corinne is grandmother to six-year-old Kevin. She has experienced loss and sorrow in December. First when her husband was killed in an auto accident, and later when her daughter, Miranda, disappeared under mysterious circumstances immediately following Kevin’s birth. Corinne and Kevin are left wondering about Miranda’s fate. Unknown to either, Miranda was kidnapped by a man and held hostage for those absent years. The story picks up with Miranda’s suspenseful escape, which is where the pacing of the plot really picks up.

So far as short stories go, DOORBELLS AND DECEMBER delivers a tale of uncertainty and fear that will involve the reader in the fates of these three characters. It left me unsettled. I liked the story and found the writing to be seamless, but I really wanted more than the ending delivered in terms of a joyous reunion between this distressed little family. However, the potential for a HEA-ending is there.

 

The stories and authors:

Gingersnaps and Candy Canes – Susan Sundwall

The Quiet Please Lady – Christine Collier

Did You Hear That? – Bobbie Shafer

The Inkwell – Christine Collier

Doorbells and December – Catherine A. MacKenzie

A Loyal Noel – Cyndi Lord

The Mitten Man – Mary C. Ryan

Christmas Pizza – Christine Collier

The Train – Justine Johnston Hemmestad

Departure on Black Friday – Christine Collier

The Messenger – Michael Ritt

The Christmas Tea – Marion Tickner

Adventures in the Aisles – Debbie Roppolo

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“Between These Pages” – Josh Hick’s Review, Part 2

Indie Book Review by Josh Hicks: Between These Pages, by Catherine MacKenzie, Part 2 of 2:

This is the second half of my review for Between These Pages, a short story anthology by Catherine MacKenzie.

The first half of Between These Pages was good, but the second half is definitely my favorite.  With respect to the other authors I’ve reviewed, Between These Pages is probably the best book by an independent author that I’ve read over the course of this year.  It was well-written, and contains a lot of interesting topics, especially the half I’m about to review.

1.    Quota:  This interesting story stood out almost as much as Island Lovers, but, being a fan of science fiction, I enjoyed this one more.  This sci-fi story could best be described as a population-control horror story (if such a genre ever existed).  A man must fill his quota of death, or else.

2.    Between the Good and the Bad:  This is an erotic story about a character (Vanessa) that is a cross between witch and vampire.  The main character uses her abilities to kill people who she believes deserve to die, because they are evil, or to end their misery.  One of my favorites.

3.   The Mannequin:  One of the most memorable stories in the entire book, a wife pretends to be the mannequin that was created in her likeness in order to catch her husband having an affair.

4.    Molly Mulligan:  This is a story about secrets.  Molly Mulligan has a family secret, and her children want to know the truth.

5.    Afterword:  In one of the more tragically compelling stories of this book, a woman kills her husband, assuming he was having an affair on her.  This story is extremely well written, and memorable.

6.    Trapped in the Swallow:  A man and wife go on vacation to New Zealand, and one of our main characters finds herself stuck in a sinkhole.

7.    Tart Thorns among Silken Threads:  This is a story about a woman who continues to marry men, and kill them, to inherit their possessions and live a life of luxury.

8.   Footprints in the Snow: Catherine MacKenzie pushes boundaries with this story about a controversial topic.  A woman once requested to be put out of her misery if her illness took away her quality of life.  Will her husband live up to his end of the bargain?  Will she still want him to when the time comes?

9.   Blood Dreams:  An old woman claims that her caretakers are draining her blood, but people think she’s delusional.  The marks on her body are real, but what about the bats flying overhead?

Who would like this book?  Previously, in the first half of this review, I said Between These Pages was geared toward women.  That remains true for the second half as well.  However, Catherine MacKenzie has written a book that can be enjoyed by a variety of different readers.

Here are some of my personal reactions to the second half of Between These Pages:

“Afterward”:  This was the story that had me on the edge of my seat.

“Quota”:  The first, and only, science fiction story in the book.  I was happy to see something from the sci-fi genre in this book, and even happier to see how well it fit in with the rest of the stories.

“Between the Good and the Bad”:  I’m not an expert in the commercial success of books, but if I could make a suggestion to Catherine MacKenzie it would be MAKE AN ENTIRE SERIES BASED ON THIS CHARACTER!  The main character of this story, Vanessa, is sexy, violent, and already has a great story.  She’s a witch and a vampire.  She’s a renegade who kills people based on her own judgment.  She’s sexually promiscuous without shame or apology.  Vanessa, in my opinion, could sell a lot of books.

“Footprints in the Snow”:  This is my favorite story in the entire book.  The story evokes strong emotions of what it means to be alive, and what it means to experience the process of dying.  Cathy MacKenzie tells her story as a work of fiction, but the real-world implications are hard to ignore.

Between These Pages was an excellent read.  Support Catherine MacKenzie by downloading her book, and let her know what you think of her stories.

The e-book is only $2.99

Available on Smashwords

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/329083

Available on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Between-These-Pages-ebook/dp/B00DP3RDOA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381594825&sr=8-1&keywords=Between+These+Pages

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