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The Spot Writers – “Satan’s Donuts” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story involving hunger. The hunger does not have to be literal. Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller, author of the YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away, available from Barking Rain Press or anywhere books are sold.

***

Satan’s Donuts by Val Muller

Her stomach growled even before her alarm sounded. A tired swoosh of the hand turned on the television, and the merciless Morning News came on with something warm and bubbly resounding on the screen. It was the perky and very fit, athletic, and blonde reporter Janet Simmons. She was speeding down the sidewalk—backwards, always backwards so she faced the camera—in beautiful high heels and speaking into the microphone without even sounding winded.

The camera stopped as she turned briefly, revealing her mornings destination. Simmons was known for her fun local features on the morning news. This morning, she was standing in front of the heavily advertised Satan’s Donuts.

Sally giggled. It wasn’t really called Satan’s Donuts, of course. It was called Satin Donuts. You know, because of how smooth they are when they slide down your throat. One after the next.

Not that Sally would know. She had stayed on her diet everyday for the past four months and had already shed 20 pounds. But that was the easy weight. Now, her body seemed to have reached what it believed to be ideal weight. Her doctor disagreed, encouraging her to lose the extra 10.

Satan’s Donuts happened to have its shop just four blocks from Sally’s office downtown. They had already wallpapered the mail room with flyers for free donuts to celebrate their grand opening. Several co-workers had brought in boxes over the past week, taking advantage of the BOGO offer.

At work, donuts were everywhere.

These were not regular grocery store donuts or even national franchise donuts. These were the kind that Sally could smell as soon as she walked into the office. They smelled expensive. They smelled like they were made of ingredients of higher caliber then Sally traditionally ate or cooked with. They smelled like they were worth the calories.

These Donuts were Gourmet.

And there, on the screen, sitting at the 1950s-style counter on a Satan-red and chrome stool, was Janet Simmons. Skinny and smiling in her trim pink suit. In front of her, the store owner had set a dozen donuts, lined up along the counter so that the camera could pan them slowly and excruciatingly.

The camera paused as the owner cut a small slice of each one. Kind of like a pizza. Sally watched as thin and perky Janet Simmons picked up the First Slice.

This one was a traditional Boston cream. But it made the national franchise brand look anemic. It was like a giant puff pastry. The entire donut was just about as big as Janet Simmons’ trim face. The camera panned in for a close-up. The dough looked airy and soft. The custard filling glistened in the light, and the chocolate ganache on top looked good enough to be a meal on its own.

Janet Simmons bit into her little slice and exclaimed all kinds of heavenly sounds to let the viewer know exactly what they were missing. She put down the remaining portion of her little sliver and moved on to the next donut.

Yes, she was going to sample all 12. But it was clear her producer and an eye on the clock because she started speeding up her little taste test. She hurried through the powdered jelly and committed blasphemy when she shoved a double chocolate into her mouth without truly savoring it.

She didn’t even really give the maple and bacon donut the time it deserved.

Simmons did finally pause for the birthday cake donut, a rainbow-speckled wonder that looked good enough to die for. The pink of the sprinkles perfectly matched her suit.

Sally winced. Her mouth watered. A rough calculation suggested that even with her small bites, Janet Simmons had just ingested about 500 calories worth of goodness.

That’s right, Sally had researched it. Each of those donuts topped out above 800 calories. They were a dieter’s nightmare. And they were giving Sally a headache.

Her stomach growled as the segment on TV finally came to an end. And of course a McDonald’s commercial appeared, displaying an egg and cheese sandwich magnified to take up the entire 60-inch television.

Sally turned off the TV.

Her stomach growled as she pulled on her shorts and workout shirt. She checked the weather and tied her shoes. A glance in the mirror made her smile. She lifted her shirt to check out her abs. Sure they were nothing like Janet Simmons’– all the world would know, after Janet’s little visit to the yoga studio last for last weeks’ feature—but they were defined, and they were progress.

Sally headed through the kitchen to the front door and eyed the box of chocolate protein cereal that waited for her to finish her run. That and half a banana wouldn’t even equal what Janet Simmons had eaten that morning. And that was its own kind of victory.

Sally locked her front door and pounded the sidewalk at a brisk pace. A good run, she learned, was the best way to beat the hunger, and to look just a little more like Janet Simmons.

 ***

 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 – “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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The Spot Writers – “Monster” by Val Muller

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

***

Monster by Val Muller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Sundays.”

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

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

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

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

Jerry.

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

But now, this.

Jerry was a father.

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

Gone.

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

Let them all enjoy their weekend.

On Tuesday she would have them.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Across the Fence

From her kitchen window,

she views the Porsche

and two other vehicles—

one a fancy four-wheel drive—

and a house twice the size of hers

with granite countertops

and modern appliances

and big screen TVs.

 

She knows of the neighbours’ vacations—

their twice-yearly cruises—

having seen photos they shared

and bragged about.

 

Oh, what money can buy!

 

She thinks of the husband away—

weeks at a time—

the shouting and slamming doors

when he’s home,

and, not by choice, a childless household.

 

She examines her side of the fence—

grass needing to be greener,

an empty driveway,

cracked and dulled countertops,

out-dated but still-working appliances,

shabby furniture—

all needing an overhaul.

 

How has she come to be

in this neighbourhood?

 

She caresses her baby boy

content in her arms,

pictures her daughter at school

and her husband soon home from work.

 

Her life may not be perfect,

but it’s full of love and joy

and complete—

the four of them

in their wondrous world

with things money can’t buy,

while living across the fence.

 

***

 The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “That One Time I Got Punched on Stage” by CaraMarie Christy

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: Think back on a memory when you were angry. REALLY angry. Now change the names of the people in the memory, the setting, everything familiar about it, and most importantly… the ending. Turn it into a memory that ends happily. Let all the writing wash your anger away. Today’s post comes to us from CaraMarie Christy.

***

That One Time I Got Punched on Stage

It is basic knowledge that a troupe of actors should get along with one another. There is the occasional twitter of “who is sleeping with who” and “he misplaced my prop before a crucial scene”, and these might cause some tension behind the curtains. But “hatred”, when your fellow actor is the only comrade you have in your fight against any viewing audience, is never a term to take lightly. When an actor gets too much venom in their blood, it can destroy a show. Which undermines the actor creed: the show must go on.

So, when I found myself sprawled out on the ground, the audience gasping, I was quite confused. And my heart sunk as I realized that I was the target of all the evil that this tiny, brainless hack of an actress had. I was knee deep in her venom. And every thought hitting my head was that my “lifesaver” had been the one to send me spiraling into the water, crashing to the stage. My blood boiled, cheeks flushing red as I forced myself to push up to my knees. The audience was silent. My mother, in the fourth row, had her fist clamped over her mouth, her eyes wide.

My blocking had said step between the women, interrupting their discussion, to pour a glass of “poisonous” wine. One of these ladies had disagreed with what we had planned. Gabby, the red-haired freshman with an outrageous bob, whose ego had been inflated when she had been cast in a speaking role instead of a servant, was the culprit. Something in her tiny brain had snapped. I knew I was right to move, I could picture the notes about it in my head, scribbled into a corner of my script. At first, when I’d come forward, she had nudged me with an elbow, prodding me back a few steps. When her prods only got her a half-raised eyebrow, she began tugging at my vest, pulling me so that she could continue her improvised babble with her fellow lady. But I found she was running out of clever things to say and the scene wasn’t moving forward. So, playing the deceitful servant, I’d reached for her “wine”.

At last, crying to her companion about how dreadful the rain was, Gabby punched me in the chest, shoving me out of the scene entirely and knocking me clean off my feet. Her “poisoned” wine went flying through the air. It landed somewhere offstage, onto a stagehand judging by the whispered curses behind the curtains.

I was up on my knees and seething, staring at the drops of grape juice on my white serving shirt. With one finger, I pointed to an actor at random offstage, gesturing to them out of sheer madness and praying someone else could solve this girl’s mess. From the wings the Lord General appeared, a football playing junior who had wandered in to theatre. He was not supposed to come on stage for another act. But in his giant hand was my lost cup.

“Are you all right there, chap?” In three steps, he was hauling me up and putting the drink in my hand. Looking at the drink, my heart felt lighter. Here was a fellow actor. Here was a comrade throwing me a life preserver.

“Weary, my lord! But I thank you for catching my mistress’s drink.” I yelled, hiking up my boots. “Many a man has had much worse fall from such a woman.”

And the audience laughed. And from the look on Gabby’s face as she drank, I might as well have punched her back.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

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The Spot Writers – The Pineapple Plant by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: Think back on a memory when you were angry. REALLY angry. Now change the names of the people in the memory, the setting, everything familiar about it, and most importantly… the ending. Turn it into a memory that ends happily. Let all the writing wash your anger away.

Today’s post comes to us from Dorothy Colinco.

The Pineapple Plant

The last time she saw him, her bromeliad was in a broken heap around his chair. It was a gorgeous plant, leaves sprouting in a concentric pattern around a firm stalk that ended with what looked like a miniature pineapple. That’s what everyone called it – the pineapple plant. “Is that going to grow into a big pineapple?” “Can you eat it?” “WILL you eat it?” If there was a map of the school building that included quirky landmarks, The Pineapple Plant in room 514 would definitely be on there.

And now there it was, the miniature pineapple snapped off the stem, the white and gold pot in jagged ceramic pieces.

She balled her fists up, if only to stop them from shaking. “I can’t look at you right now.”

“It was an accident. I was leaning my chair back, and I reached up to stretch, and then…”

“Please stop talking.”

She turned to shift her attention to the student standing in the front of the room in the middle of giving a presentation. “Go ahead,” she said, “please continue.”

As the student tentatively read through the slides about a made-up person living during the Great Depression, none of which Ms. Grace heard. When the presentation ended and the students gave light applause with Snappy Fingers, Ms. Grace stood up and barely managed to clear her throat, before saying, “wait for the bell” and rushing out of the room.

She took deep breaths in the faculty bathroom, staring at the chipping paint and the onion skin toilet paper. When she finally returned to her classroom 10 minutes later, someone had swept up the pieces of the plant. The tiny pineapple was gone. The only difference was a blank space on the windowsill where the bromeliad used to sit and specks of dirt on the group that hadn’t been caught by a broom.

Now here he was, holding out a tiny pot with leaves sprouting out of the rich soil.

“I did some research. It’s supposed to grow a stem and sprout another pineapple just like it. It’ll take a couple weeks, maybe a couple months. But it’s not dead. It can still be beautiful. I’m really sorry.”

She took it gingerly from his hands, and she sensed that he was afraid to let go should it come crashing down again like it had in its previous life.

“Thank you,” she managed. She placed the small pot in the old bromeliad’s place. So maybe she was being dramatic when she thought this was a harbinger of things to come. Maybe her first year wouldn’t be tragic after all. When the new pineapple grew, if the new pineapple grew, this would one day make for a good story.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “Grading on Effort” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: Think back on a memory when you were angry. REALLY angry. Now change the names of the people in the memory, the setting, everything familiar about it, and most importantly… the ending. Turn it into a memory that ends happily. Let all the writing wash your anger away.

Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the young adult books The Scarred Letter, The Girl Who Flew Away, and The Man with the Crystal Ankh. Her novels with Barking Rain Press are discounted to $2.99 from now until May 14.

Grading on Effort

By Val Muller

Everyone on the faculty glared at Mr. Becket. They all knew, even though the principal didn’t lay the blame. They all knew it was him, his policies in Gourmet Foods, that was making them all suffer through this ridiculous policy.

“And so,” the principal finished, “we are implementing the policy as of this semester, that we will only grade students on their effort. Too many grades have been given out subjectively, and we just can’t have that anymore.”

The faculty groaned. They’d all read the editorial written by Stephen Smitchen. The one criticizing an unnamed Gourmet Foods teacher of showing favoritism in his gradebook. Stephen Smitchen had prepared Hasselback potatoes, a recipe that required arguably (as his editorial asserted) more culinary skill than Mr. Becket’s required “rustic smashed potatoes.” And yet Stephen was deducted points because the precise cuts of his Hasselback recipe “contradicted the rustic nature of the recipe.”

It was one of those stories that garnered national news attention, an easy topic for clickbait and teasers on the nightly news. And thus the principal’s hands became tied to defend the school’s policies in front of a national audience.

And the school’s policies lost.

The memo was printed on Pepto-Bismol pink paper, and the roomful of them looked sickly, like the memos were there to cure the faculty’s collective stomachache. Martin Flemming wrinkled the corner of his memo as he read: …effective immediately, students will, be allowed to appeal grades, by writing a short essay explaining the effort they put into the assignment. If they can assert, that they put in a valid and admirable effort, then their grade must be changed irregardless of the actual product produced. The rubric, for their essays is printed below…

Martin’s eye twitched at the principal’s use of “irregardless” as well as the excessive use of commas. Shouldn’t a principal understand how to use English correctly? Or at least hire a proofreader? In any case, this policy was bad news. How could he hold students accountable in his Medieval Literature course if he was only allowed to grade on effort? He thought back on all his years of teaching. So many essays written with gusto that were completely…wrong.

You just can’t argue that Beowulf was written to mirror the struggles of modern man. Effort or not, that essay was just inaccurate. And that essay last year, the one arguing that Chaucer was influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? No amount of effort could justify that conclusion. Unless Chaucer had a time machine.

Martin raised his hand.

“Mr. Flemming?” the principal asked. “You have a question?”

“More of a statement,” he said, clearing his throat. All eyes turned to him, hungry mosquitoes ready to bite. “An anachronism is not something subjective. It’s fact. So if—”

But the principal was already shaking his head, his eyes glossed over at the use of the difficult vocabulary word. “If you have specifics about English or History, you’ll need to consult your department chairs.”

Several other hands raised. It was going to be a long meeting. Martin turned to the one tiny window not covered by the meeting room’s light-blocking blinds. It was a nice day. The birds were singing, and the sun looked warm and pleasant. He looked back at the faculty. By the time the principal got through all these questions, the sun would be setting before he’d had a chance to go home and run.

He tucked the pink memo into his bag and shuffled toward the door. The principal gave him an irritated glance, but it would be okay. In the morning, after his mind had been cleared with a long run on a sunny afternoon, Martin could explain to the principal just how hard he’d tried to stay at that awful faculty meeting. Maybe the principal would be amused. Maybe he’d get written up.

Martin shrugged as he stepped into the sun.

He enjoyed his run irregardless.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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The Spot Writers – “Dino Express” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s post comes to us from Dorothy Colinco.

This month’s prompt: These objects should appear in your story: a train, a pink post-it note, and keys. One of your characters must be an animator. One of your characters (it doesn’t have to be the animator), must share a name with a famous public figure, and this coincidence must come up in the story.

Dino Express by Dorothy Colinco

He stared at the preliminary sketches of the scaly cartoon dinosaur, one that admittedly looked too scary for a children’s show. As he transferred those images onto a digital sketch pad, he mused, not for the first or last time, how his name had once again dictated his path in life. Though the actor Jeff Goldblum starred in many films, the one most people remember is Jurassic Park, as they liked to remind him, Jeff Goldblum, the not-actor.

“This is my friend, Jeff. Jeff Goldblum, actually. Not the actor, obviously. Ha ha.”

“Let me introduce you to Jeff Goldblum. The one who wasn’t in Jurassic Park.”

He had to give them credit for finding different ways to use the same idea multiple times, kind of like the folks at the cough syrup companies, who created lots of different coughs and offered the same syrup, marketed as different blends, to treat them.

He thought about how strange it was that while he was so aware of the other Jeff’s existence, the actor had no idea about this Jeff, let alone how their lives were intertwined.

On this particular occasion, Jeff the animator for the producer Imaginext, gave the creative team, who had yet to live up to their name, a great idea. It was decided that since Jeff Goldblum shared a name with an actor on Jurassic Park, what better for him to illustrate than the very prehistoric subjects of the film? But the show couldn’t just be about now extinct dominators of the Mesozoic Era, it also had to feature locomotives. The creative idiots had looked at one graph indicating that trains were back “in” with the tots these days, so they decided to kill two birds, descendants of prehistoric reptiles, with one animated stone. Thus, Dino Express was born, and it was up to not-actor Jeff to bring it to digital life.

How was he going to pull this off? Dinosaurs didn’t exactly bring to mind inventions of the Industrial Revolution.

He needed a break. Some coffee, maybe a croissant. He usually didn’t let those flaky pastries around his sketches – grease stains were his mortal enemy – but he deserved one with chocolate oozing out as a bonus. He scanned his cluttered desk for his phone and keys. Sketches covered every square inch of the table, dotted here and there by fluorescent green and pink Post-Its where he left himself notes and comments. “Teeth are too pointed” and “no – Mickey Mouse” they said. He found his keys, and he noticed the way the metal glinted right below a stegosaurus’s neck. He slowly lowered himself onto his chair with the weight of a new idea. Once again, his name inserted itself into the narrative.

Later, he pitched the idea with the new sketches fueled by coffee and a splendid chocolate croissant.

“So,” the most creative of the creative team said, “the dinosaurs… BECOME trains?”

“Yes,” said Jeff Goldblum, “precisely.”

“But the two are separated by millions of years!” said another very creative person, as though it was Jeff’s idea to pair terrible lizzards with 19th Century transportation in the first place.

“Life,” he said, with a contemplative pause, “finds a way.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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The Spot Writers – “Courage” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s post comes to us from Val Muller. Check out her brand-new release: The Girl Who Flew Away is a coming of age tale of a freshman prone to keeping secrets. Follow this link to receive a free four-chapter preview + 35% off coupon!

This month’s prompt: These objects should appear in your story: a train, a pink post-it note, and keys. One of your characters must be an animator. One of your characters (it doesn’t have to be the animator), must share a name with a famous public figure, and this coincidence must come up in the story.

***

Courage (by Val Muller)

As soon as he came through the door, he made for the chair in the corner. “The lighting here is best,” he said. He spoke with as much purpose as he walked. As soon as he opened his satchel, I could smell his charcoals, his erasers. He smelled like an artist.

Of course he did. Meagan only knows artists. It’s like she’s a lightning rod for creative types. How she came to know a world-class animator is a story best left for a soap opera. That’s how her life goes. Ex-husband of a college roommate, but not as simple as that. Meagan was part of the reason he’s an ex. Cheated with him. And with her. That’s Meagan for you.

Not like boring old me. There I was, taking a sick day off work and letting Christopher Lloyd play hooky from school so that he could do gymnastics on the living room floor for a famous animator, who hoped to become lead animator on some new film that apparently featured a kindergartener gymnast. It was the most exciting thing that would ever happen to us.

“Christopher!” I called. Christopher was still upstairs. I turned back to my guest. “Can I get you a drink, Mr.—”

“No,” he said. “And call me Mike.” He looked down at his art supplies, and the sun from the window danced in his perfectly-sculpted hair. Bed head, accented with the perfect amount of stubble. Rustic and artsy. Not like clean-shaven James, who looked as vanilla as a member of the military every day of the week.

I smiled. “Mike. Christopher’s a little shy, but he’ll warm up to you.”

“Christopher Martin Lloyd,” I called up the stairs.

“Coming,” came a muffled reply.

“Christopher Lloyd, huh?” Mike asked, laughing.

I smiled. “We could barely resist. Maybe we’re raising a future mad scientist. Doc Brown was always a favorite character of mine.”

Mike flashed a smile. “Mad scientists are fun to animate.” He flipped open his sketchpad, and charcoal raced across the page. Before long, he’d drawn a mad scientist that looked like Doc Brown.

“That’s amazing,” I said. I tried to remember whether I’d ever been that passionate about, or talented at, my job. Or any job. Ever. I began to understand why Meagan had chosen him for an affair.

“Christopher!” I called a bit too loudly. The poor boy was already descending the steps. “Oh, there you are. Chris, this is Mr. Mike. He’s going to draw some sketches of you while you go through your gymnastics routine.”

Christopher turned to Mike. “Am I gonna be in a movie?”

Mike shrugged. “Hope so. If they choose my drawings, then the things I draw today will be used to create a character—” The man was already at work on a fresh page, sketching Christopher. He perfectly captured my son’s shy, strong demeanor.

I watched the tendons in his arm work like magic, rippling and tensing and helping his fingers dance around the charcoal as he made my son look more like my son than he did in real life. I brushed away goosebumps and tried to breathe. I glanced into the kitchen. “Looks like you left your toy trains out again,” I lied. “I’ll go put them away. In the meantime, do your warmup for Mr. Mike.” I flashed a smile. “Maybe you’ll be in a movie, Chris.”

I didn’t wait for a response. I hurried into the kitchen and then through to the living room, where I dug through Christopher’s toy chest and pretended to put away the trains. On the wall, a picture of me, James, and baby Chris looked down at me. Why did James’ eyes make me feel guilty? He knew about the appointment today. Heck, he was prouder of Christopher’s gymnastics than I was. Why did I feel guilty?

I could hardly deny it. I’d never done anything glorious like have an affair. And never with a renowned artist. But based on his past with Meagan, Mike was fairly open to possibilities, right?

My body moved without my permission. I barely recognized my feet as they padded into the kitchen. I barely knew my fingers as they grabbed a pink sticky note from the kitchen desk and picked up a purple pen.

Megan told me that—

No, that was stupid. I crossed it out. Pulled off the sticky note.

I thought maybe—

What am I, in middle school?

My fingers smiled and danced as they decided to write on a fresh note:

James works late on Thursdays, and Christopher is away at practice.

Blushing, I pulled off the note and stuffed it in my pocket. My hands might be able to write it for me, but I’d never work up the courage to give him the note. I stood in the kitchen for an eternity, watching him complete sketch after sketch of my boy. His eyes lit up as he discovered the best of my son. He filled up two entire sketchbooks with Christopher’s essence. He was like a father discovering his newborn son for the first time.

I stayed frozen in the kitchen, just watching like the passive person I’d become. I stayed as he flipped through the pictures with Chris. I stayed as he got up to leave. Chris led him to the front door, and I watched him clutch the two sketchbooks like precious relics. But my eyes travelled to the chair in the corner. He was about to forget his satchel. I hurried to grab it for him, and once again my fingers worked without my consent. They were too afraid to reach for the sticky note, but they swiped my keys on their way past the counter. And as they retrieved his satchel, they tossed the keys inside it. And then, while Chris was taking one last glance at the drawings, they even threw in the sticky note. One of those items, at least, would force a return trip.

“Oh, my satchel!” Mike said, looking up at me. “I would have missed that!”

He took two steps toward me—he was still a lifetime away—but I panicked. I did the only thing I could think to do. I upended the satchel, and the world exploded in a blur of charcoal and pastels, pencils and kneaded erasers. And of course, a set of keys and a sticky note.

All manner of art supplies cascaded down on the kitchen floor. Christopher giggled.

“I’m so sorry,” I lied as I bent down to snatch the keys and note. In an instant, he was there next to me, picking up his supplies. He smelled like an artist.

I stuffed the sticky note back into my pocket and put my keys on the counter while I watched him put away the rest of his supplies. Before he left, he pulled off one of the sketches: Christopher jumping in the air with his fist out like Superman. I tacked it up on the refrigerator, a testament to the most exciting day of our lives, and to the day my courage failed.

 ***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco. www.dorothycolinco.com

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

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The Spot Writers – “The Trophy” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. March’s prompt is to use these five words in a story: builder, chance, trophy, glory, unexpected.

Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Her one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has a submissions call for stories for an upcoming anthology titled TWO EYES OPEN, which call ends March 31, 2017. The theme: thriller, mystery, horror. Check out MacKenzie Publishing’s website for further particulars. www.mackenziepublishing.wordpress.com

***

“The Trophy” by Cathy MacKenzie

Pete stared at the unexpected snow piled outside the window of his front-room office. The wind had abated, leaving huge drifts. Could he even open the door? Although he detested winter, he’d take a chance at the snow, which was preferable to staring at a blank screen—though both were glaring white canvases, daring him to choose: write or shovel.

Once a builder, Pete had aspired for his own construction company but had given up on that dream.  The glory he sought would surely come when he wrote a Pulitzer-prize winning novel, but that dream had never materialized either. Suddenly, he was left with nothing: no job, no novel.

Even his wife had left him. “You’re too much a dreamer,” she had screamed before slamming the door in his face.” Later, he laughed. Good thing you had an escape. His belly would have hurt even more watching her fat butt waddling through a tunnel of packed snow, which had been the case the previous year when there’d been so much snow they’d only been able to access the side door. And even then, it had been a literal tunnel. Truth be known, he was glad she left because, by leaving first, she had voided the pre-nup they’d signed several years previously. Not that he had anything to give her in a settlement.

When he stepped outside, he found the snow to be light and fluffy. The newscaster had forecast colder temps, so the snow would harden overnight, but he’d worry about that later. For now, he needed a drink.

He ambled to the local bar, a place he frequented often. The guys there knew him. No one admonished him. No one nagged. No one made him feel guilty. Yes, he was glad for the umpteenth time that Alice had left. And of her own free will, too. He was one lucky man!

He and Joe commiserated while they drank. Joe, on marriage number four, had one too many whiskeys while Pete consumed several beer.

A shadow covered Pete before he realized the room had darkened. Joe, in his stupor, was oblivious to the change.

A voice bellowed. “What are you doing?”

Pete looked up. Alice. “What are you doing here? This is a men’s establishment.”

“You’re my husband. I have a right to be here.”

“No, you don’t. You left, remember?”

Alice held firm. “And now I’m back. Like Arnold.”

“Arnold?”

“Schwarzenegger. The actor. The governor of California?”

“Right. Him. Yeah.”

“Come home now, Pete.”

“I need another drink.” Pete slammed down the empty beer can, motioned to the bartender for another, and eyed his friend. “Joe, you awake?”

Joe tilted his half-empty glass on the counter. “What do you want?”

“Are you awake?”Pete repeated.

“Of course I’m awake. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“And Alice is here, too.”

Joe glanced at Pete and then at the hovering figure. “Hey, Alice. How’re you?”

“Fine, Joe. You?”

“All’s good.” Joe slugged another mouthful. “Yeah, all’s good.” He stared at Alice a moment before speaking. “So, what’s this I hear? You left Pete?”

“No, I did not leave Pete.”

“Pete said you did. He’s been gloating about his freedom.”

“Oh, you don’t say. Pete? What say you?”

Pete gripped his beer. “Hmmm?”

“Come on, Pete. Time to go home,” Alice said.

Joe giggled. “Pete, you have a trophy. Hold it high.”

Pete frowned.  “Trophy? Alice?”

“Alice is a trophy, yes. She’s twenty years younger than you. Isn’t that a trophy bride?” Joe snickered.

Pete stared at his drink. Trophy? He didn’t think so. But he hadn’t much success at a job or a novel or…nothing. Yeah, he’d better grab a trophy—any trophy—while he could, even if she did have a fat butt. “Alice, sweet. So good to see you.” Was that enough? “I’m sorry. I appreciate you so much. Let’s go home.”

Alice smiled and latched to his arm. “Come on. Home it is. Snow is in the forecast. You may have to shovel in the morning.”

***

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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