Tag Archives: fiction stories

The Spot Writers – “Follower” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use these five words in a story/poem – esophagus, carrot, pigeon, lily, moustache. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series (among other works). You can find out more at www.CorgiCapers.com.

Follower by Val Muller

Author’s note: I read recently that the YMCA I frequented as a kid was purchased to become an extension of the nearby hospital (the hospital where I happened to be born, in fact), but that the building stands abandoned years later. The news story mentioned that a group of youths was recently caught trespassing there after dark with a camera, prompting my imagination.

Lily swallowed over the boulder lodged in her esophagus. The evening sounds—chirping crickets, distant train whistle, slowing whir of traffic—provided none of their usual comforts. Instead of settling in for one of her last few cozy evenings at home, she stood out here in the parking lot like a criminal. The chill of the Connecticut August made her shiver with its hint of Halloween. Even so, the camera and tripod felt clammy in her hand as she waited for Harold to get the lighting right.

“Ready?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s hard to test the lighting when we have to keep it dark until go time,” he said.

A siren blared in the distance, and Lily froze, as did the others, trying to determine whether it was headed toward them. The sound faded, then disappeared altogether.

“We’ll have to enter from here,” Harold said, briefly illuminating the bright lamp. It was blinding—a genuine lamp from the state university film department—on loan to sneaky Harold for the evening.

The light shocked everyone, and a flutter from a window of the abandoned building made him snap it off. The blinding light was replaced by his phone’s built-in flashlight, revealing the intruder to be only a pigeon startled from its perch.

“Get a grip,” Lily told herself. Then, she raised her voice. “I hope you appreciate this, Margie. We’re all going to have criminal records by the time we’re done.”

Margie peeked from behind her phone, permanently set to “selfie” mode to serve as a mirror. “We won’t have criminal records,” she said. “No one cares about an abandoned YMCA. And I do mean no one.” She flashed a smile and raised an eyebrow. If she were a male, she would have stroked her moustache contemplatively. Everything about her was calculated, from the inflection of each word to the choice of sentences and facial expressions. Calculated the way soap operas are calculated.

Which was exactly the point.

Margie had orchestrated the whole thing to serve as her audition video for a prestigious and competitive film program in New York City. The video they were filming was designed to be one of those hunting-for-ghosts shows, and Margie was the host. The abandoned building, she argued, showed her resourcefulness, while the premise allowed her full range of emotions to be put on display.

And here Lily was, as usual, being dragged along just because Margie was cooler than she was. She longed for college—a mere nine days away. It would be a fresh start, a chance for Lily to be Lily, not just Margie’s friend.

Harold’s expertise, and his use of state university film equipment, further allowed Margie to remind everyone that not only did Margie have a boyfriend, but she had a college boyfriend at that. She was eons cooler than Lily would ever be.

The door to the building opened, and a frazzled Emily poked her head out.

“The props are ready,” she said. Then she looked around at the shadows surrounding them. “I heard sirens.”

Margie shot her a look.

“I know, I know,” Emily said. “But my prints are all over the place now. What if they, you know, revoke my scholarship? Or deny my admission?”

Harold laughed. “It’s not like they have everyone’s fingerprints on file. And besides, that whole ‘colleges will revoke your scholarship or admission’ is more like an old wives’ tale. It’s something teachers use to scare seniors into behaving during the last months of high school.”

Lily sighed. “But we’re not in high school anymore. This is the real world. We’re trespassing. Technically, a college could—”

“Technically, you all need to man up,” Margie said, pausing dramatically. She smiled. “Besides, in exchange for helping me, I’m giving you all a nice chunk when I make my first million.” She paused, dangling the imaginary money in front of them like a carrot. “Except you, Harold. We’ll be married by then, so we’ll have to work it all out in the pre-nup.”

In the darkening evening, the look on Harold’s face glowed. The look on his face said there were so many things he wanted to say, but his twisted lips said he was going to keep quiet. As if controlling him, Margie put her hands on her hips and threw out her chest, accentuating all her curves.

Yes, in her imagined glamour of living the Hollywood life, she had Harold captivated. The same way she had captivated Lily and Emily into jeopardizing their records to give her dream of acting in the big-leagues a shot in the dark.

Speaking of dark, red and blue lights lit up the distance, overpowering the streetlights as they approached. Their sirens remained silent, but their destination was more than clear. Two sets of police cars sped toward the abandoned building.

Emily ran off first, disappearing into shadows. Harold was next, leaving only enough time to secure the expensive equipment he’d borrowed. Lily was frozen to the spot, staring at Margie. If Margie was going to stay and confront the cops, so was Lily, the same way Lily always followed the ringleader. She had flashes of following Margie through terrifying dodge ball games in elementary school, to play auditions in middle school, to awkward dances and boring football games, to nothing Lily had ever wanted to do.

Margie turned dramatically, the colored lighting illuminating her face. “Oh well,” she sighed, pausing to let her eyebrows shift into resignation. “You win some, you lose some.” Lily could just picture the scene fading out on that resigned brow—until Margie took off in an unscripted run, Lily trailing at her heels.

***

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 – “Myself” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about a character who finds an object that had been lost.

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. She is taking the prompt a bit more metaphorically. It is inspired by David Bowie’s video “Thursday’s Child” (https://vimeo.com/240799507), a video which has always intrigued her.

***

Myself

By Val Muller

The kid was finally down for a nap. There was finally silence. Peace. She sighed and looked around the room. The vacuum cleaner sat in the corner, its cord unraveled and covered in stickers. Its canister was full of beans, dirt, sand, and dog hair and needed to be emptied. The carpet was sprinkled with dried bits of Play-Doh. The dog’s head was stuck under the couch as it tried to reach a half-eaten bag of Veggie Straws that had spilled earlier. Its front legs struggled to reach under the couch, scattering more beans onto the carpet.

Note to self, she thought. Put beans on top shelf of pantry from now on.

In the kitchen, a trail of water led from the dog’s water dish to the toddler’s doll house in the living room, where it filled the toy bathtub and toilet, already starting to warp the wood of the toy furniture. The trail seeped into the carpet in a serpentine line. A half-eaten bowl of Cheerios sat on the Mickey Mouse child’s table in front of the television, absorbing milk.

To her right, the kitchen sink overflowed with dishes. The dishwasher had become a repository for beads and sand dumped there during an unexpected phone call yesterday, and she couldn’t find the energy to clean it or hand-wash the backlog of dishes that had accrued.

It was all too much. She went to the bathroom. Closed the door. At least she could have thirty seconds to pee unencumbered, without a toddler asking “whatcha doin’ in there?” or sticking her little fingers under the door. She washed her hands and dried them on her pants: the hand towel was missing. Likely, it had been used to drag water from the dog bowl to the doll house.

She looked in the mirror and sighed. When had she last brushed her hair? Like, really brushed it, while looking in a mirror and using styling products? Last week? Last month? It might have been years ago, before the toddler.

A stranger stared at her from the mirror. Her eyes looked tired. No, not tired.

Dead.

That was it. She was dead inside. She was a function. She got chocolate milk out of the refrigerator when asked. She kissed boo-boos and tied sneakers. She quelled tantrums. Couldn’t a robot do as much? A twinge of guilt pricked her stomach. She was ungrateful. She had a healthy toddler. That should be enough.

She stepped out of the bathroom and plopped on the floor to pluck stickers from the vacuum’s cord. On the hearth above the fireplace sat two books she’d put there at Christmas—Christmas a year and a half ago—that she planned to read. But what was the point now? Each time she sat down to read, something interrupted her. An accident, a request for a snack, a cup of milk being dumped on the dog. No, better not try to get into something like a book. Best to use nap time to clean the house.

She was almost finished removing the stickers by the time she realized she was singing: music was still playing from the living room speaker. It was The Wiggles, and she had been singing to “Five Little Monkeys.” She hurried in to stop the music, and it still echoed in her head. She didn’t even mind it anymore. It was even familiar. Comforting.

What?

What had become of her that she didn’t even realize she was singing along to kids’ music? When was the last time she listened to something of her own choosing?

She needed to get out. A trip to the mailbox. A box awaited, sent by her parents. They were cleaning out her late grandmother’s home, and they mentioned they’d be sending some old photos Grandma had kept over the year. She returned inside, using a broom handle to push the rest of the Veggie Straws out from under the couch. The dog gratefully consumed them.

The first few photos in the box were recent: baby’s first and second Christmases, first and second birthday parties, first time swimming. She flipped through the stack. The pictures aged. Here, her graduation from college, arm around Grandma. Then, a photo she’d sent of herself in her college apartment. She’d forgotten about that space tapestry. It had graced her wall for all four years of college. She always maintained that crazy idea—that she was a stellar traveler, and her life on Earth was just one of her lives, just one experience of many. She insisted that her very vivid dreams were her soul’s way of remembering all of her other lives. Her nickname had been Supernova.

How could she have forgotten about that? She still had that tapestry somewhere, didn’t she? And when had she last had a vivid dream? Maybe you died inside when you stopped dreaming.

She kept flipping. Back through the college and high school years. There were the pictures of her art show. Her high school exhibit, Nebula, had gotten her a free ride for two years in college. Good grief, she’d forgotten the scope of that final project for college, the one that got her national acclaim. The canvas took up the entire wall of her dorm room. She’d had to transport it to the show in sections. And now each section was boxed up in the basement, stacked under a disassembled crib.

There was that whole wall in the office. It had been empty since they moved in. Maybe she could hang it up again…

She flipped through the photos, going back in time to her days as a swimmer, her time on the debate team, her summers at the beach, the time she colored her hair blue and purple. Her first ear piercing, and her seventh. Her days in elementary school gymnastics, her role in the kindergarten school play, her dozen-and-a-half lifetimes that had passed since her birth.

An aged picture of her in ripped jeans and a Starman t-shirt reminded her that she had loved David Bowie. She remembered that now. Why was she content with The Wiggles? Where were her Bowie CDs? She hurried to the garage and dug through her car, under the crusted layer of cereal that seemed to cover everything. Under the copies of The Wiggles and Disney soundtracks and pouches of applesauce and travel packs of disinfectant wipes. There they were, at the very bottom of the center console, interred more than three years earlier. Her Bowie CDs.

She flipped through them. There is was: David Bowie. The 1969 album. She hurried inside and replaced the kid CD in the living room player. “Space Oddity” started playing. It played softly, and she kicked up the volume.

She closed her eyes, rocking back and forth in the living room, listening to the tale of Major Tom, risking everything to follow his dream of space travel, even to his ultimate detriment. But he went. He risked things. He didn’t leave the book on the mantle for fear of interruption.

The song drew to a close, and she hit “repeat.” The intro started up again, and she kicked up the volume, wondering how loud she could make it before waking the kid.

The guitar tickled her mind. The drums pounded with her heart. She ran her fingers through her hair, remembering how she used to toss it around in college. Wild and teased with hairspray, like it had been kissed with stardust.

She kicked up the volume some more so that her hearing took over. The sight of the messy room faded. She listened again to the tale of Major Tom. What had he discovered in those moments in space? What insights did he gain? How much had he grown? What would his next life bring him?

He wouldn’t have been bothered by stickers on an electric cord, or sand in the dishwasher. Those things were irrelevant.

He would have bought paints by now, reclaimed the office, reclaimed a dream.

He was a space traveler. He glowed brightly. He was remembered by all. He was a Supernova.

Emily kicked up the volume again, planning the décor for a home office renovation, her mind igniting with the names of all the paint colors she’d need to paint a nebula. Major Tom’s name echoed on the track.

Major Tom was dead in the end, sure, but not dead inside.

And neither was she.

***

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.ca/

 

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