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The Spot Writers – “The Library” by Cathy MacKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

***

The Library

“We can’t go in,” Mark said.

“Why not?” I asked.

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

“Ya,” Anthony chimed in. “Why?”

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

I turned around.

“No!” they said in unison.

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

Mark latched onto my hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dunno,” Anthony said.

Mark was silent.

“You in, Mark?” I asked.

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

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

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

I shouldn’t be afraid. Not in November.

But I was.

And I knew why.

I shuddered.

My two friends shivered. From the cold.

They didn’t know. Not everything.

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

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

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

Mark produced a flashlight and swung it around.

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

Empty. But eerier with the flash of light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlet. The red. So much red.

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

Miss Scarlet is missing.

My father’s murderer has never been found.

I was careful to remove all fingerprints.

I dare you to find one clue!

***

 The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Needle in a Stack” by Val Muller

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

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

Needle in a Stack by Val Muller

Fun facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More fun facts:

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

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

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Pumpkin Head” by Cathy MacKenzie

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

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

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

***

Pumpkin Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, you there, kid?”

Tom jumped. “Wha—”

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

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

“Me! I’m here,” a voice echoed.

What? Pumpkin Head possessed powers?

Tom scratched at goosebumps sprouting on his arms.

“Yes, me!”

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

“Yes, me.”

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

“I’m real. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“I—I guess so.”

“Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“You aren’t?”

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

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

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

“One?”

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

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

Neither spoke for several moments.

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

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

“Gotta go, I think.”

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Yeah, take me with you.”

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

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

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

The smile disappeared.

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

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

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

“You have a match?”

“What?” Tom asked.

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

“Yeah, okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Happy Halloween!” Pumpkin Head screeched.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

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