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The Spot Writers – “Coming of Age” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The August 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? The Spot Writers’ task: Write a story involving a fence that has been snuck through—as a major or minor plot point.

This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Sacristy-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07CK94SKV/

***

Coming of Age by Phil Yeats

The school bus dropped them off on Friday afternoon after their third week in grade ten at their new high school. They lived in two isolated houses on the far side of a large industrial estate, the last two kids off the bus before the driver turned back to town. Everyone in school thought they were going steady because they spent their free time together, but it wasn’t so. They knew no one at school and had been friends forever, so they hung together. But they weren’t romantically involved, at least not then.

Mitch dropped his school bag at his place and continued to Jen’s where Mortimer eagerly waited for his afternoon romp. She threw her bag on the porch and chased after her mutt. Mitch followed more slowly knowing they’d make so much noise he’d have no trouble finding them. And anyway, Jen needed a run as much as her dog did. She was the high-strung adventuresome one, always getting them into scrapes.

When Mitch tracked them down, he saw Mortimer running along the chain-link fence that bounded unused forested land behind the industrial estate. The dog vanished through a gap in the fence. Jen yelled “Morty, come back here!”, then squeezed through the gap and promptly disappeared.

Mitch rushed up to the fence and stared into the forest. With no undergrowth or large trees to hide behind, he should have spotted them. Where were they? And why couldn’t he hear them?

After pulling at the fencing to widen the hole, he squeezed through, tumbling and banging his head on fine white sand. Mitch gazed at palm trees swaying in a warm breeze and listened to waves breaking on a beach. He stumbled past girls in bikinis and surfer dudes in their baggy shorts wondering how the Nova Scotia forest had transformed into a tropical beach.

When he found Jen and Mortimer, they were back in the Nova Scotia forest. She rested in a hollow in the long grass while Morty bounded around like the crazed rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. No more tropical beach, just a meadow in the forest, a place where they’d often stopped.

Mitch flopped down beside her, and she reached over and pulled him close, kissing his lips. Had she also been assaulted by the strange tropical beach images? Were they omens, images destined to lead them forward from children to adults? Had they suddenly joined the high school culture where everyone was more interested in relationships than the physical world around them?

Weird and wild, but hey, Mitch could handle it.

***

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/

 

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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 – “The Herald” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is: 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?

Today’s post comes to your from Val Muller, author of the young adult novel The Girl Who Flew Away. https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away/dp/1941295355/

***

The Herald by Val Muller

I came for a Wisher, a little boy sitting on a rusty swing in a lonely park after dark. His was a Genuine Wish, not a superficial one like most. Some ask for ponies or money, games or toys. True Wishers ask for things that matter.

He asked for his parents to love again.

A Wish intangible for him as stardust in the vacuum of space.

He first saw my twinkle floating above the park, shimmering in the darkened sky. I descended with his Wish and landed at the edge of a fence. I had to move quickly because the boy stood right away to investigate. His life at home was so strained, he’d lost all fear and sense of self preservation.

I turned first into a glowing flower, tempting him to pluck me, but I knew that form would never last. The flowers here are ephemeral, not like the sentient ones in the outer planets of Myler. But in the instant her reached to pluck me, I felt his skin and knew his mind. And so in the darkness I disintegrated into the earth and followed the rooty passages into the brush, where I emerged as a puppy.

It was one he’d seen on a television show—a cartoon, which is a type of art form on this world. I worked quickly to make myself look a bit more realistic than the two-dimensional ink of his mind. It was enough. In the darkness, the boy cradled me, and with his touch I saw it all:

His mother, taxed and tired at the end of each day, his father grumpy and exhausted from an unfulfilling job. And each nearly looking forward to the dinner table, where they nightly poured their wrath as quickly as they poured their drinks. Dinners were a verbal battle that left the boy nauseous.

His father drank to squash his courage, so that he could not stand up to his boss or his desires or the temptation to lash out with his fists. His mother drank to sharpen her courage, so that she could stand stone still while her husband put another foot through the drywall, or punched through a window, or turned plates into shrapnel. She drank to find the courage to stand stone still as her son ran out to the park every night and to tell him, when he returned, the lie that she never feared his father would turn his wrath on them.

As he held me tight, I saw through his mind the way life used to be, the way it lingered in his memories. His father building and playing each night, constructing roads and bridges for toy vehicles, making anything the boy asked for out of wood and straws and cardboard and love. I saw his mother, happy and young without the stress of an angry spouse, supporting him and reading homework and stories together. A mother who didn’t drink.

In the midnight darkness, he cradled me in his arms. He ran home as his life played in my mind until I knew my task.

A yellow light shone above the stovetop in the kitchen as we entered. His mom sat at the table, a glass of water in front of her. I knew from the boy’s memories that she always sat up this way, waiting for him, making sure he was safe. This time, a new bit of plaster littered the kitchen floor.

She took us both into her arms, her embrace warm and trembling. She didn’t question my presence, but her eyes leaked and she spoke of her childhood and the dog she grew up with. She spoke of how it’d brought comfort to her, a perpetual friend. As her fingers ran through my simulated fur, the stress of her life floated out. I made sure the harmful rays dissipated into the air and into the night.

I knew my task, so I barked once, twice, just the way I heard it in the boy’s memory, a cartoonish bark, until I heard the rustling upstairs. I felt the boy’s father wipe the haze of drink from his eyes and stumble down the stairs. When he saw the tableau before him, the boy getting kisses from his new best friend and the woman embracing them both, his heart melted into tears, and it all came pouring out—in words this time, not in anger—the frustration, fatigue, disappointment. He had only just begun to realize that such is the reality of life on his world. A constant flux, a managing of expectations, a search for the small things that bring joy. He had lost balance.

The three of them sat together, circled around me, the parents’ faces wet with tears and the boy’s sore with the unfamiliar smile of joy.

In their touch, I saw everything. Recovery would be a hard road for the boy’s father, but he would succeed with only two transgressions. He would heal soon enough to be joyed by the news the boy’s mother would save for just the right moment: that the boy would soon be an older brother.

I could not stay for a lifetime, not even for the life of a dog on this planet where life flies by as fast as comets. There was no need of me anymore. I had fulfilled the Wish. I saw how it would happen. The next day, father and son would build me a doghouse out of the wood scraps in the garage, the ones he used to use all the time when he built toys for the boy. While they were sawing, I would disappear. But it would be only a matter of days before the family stumbled upon a box of puppies for sale on the way home from the boy’s school.

They would pick the runt, the one that needed extra love, because of course they’d have to have something to live in the dog house they’d built. Something to build toys for, to center their love around. Something to bring them together. They’d name him Herald.

They would wonder about me for a time, but I cast an order for their memories of me to be brief. In a decade, they would not remember that they had built their doghouse before the arrival of Herald. They did not need memories of the strange light that descended from above and took the clumsy form of a dog in the darkness. They did not need those memories of me. They needed only to remember who they had once been.

***

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 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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The Spot Writers – “The Language Addict” by CaraMarie Christy

Welcome to the Spot Writers! This February’s prompt: Pick up the two books closest to you (a mandarin textbook and A Court of Mist and Fury). For the first book: copy the first 3 words of the book. This is how your story will start. For the second book: copy the last 3 words of the book. This is how your story will end. Fill in the middle. As an added challenge, turn to a random page in each book. Choose the most interesting word on each of those pages. Include those 2 words in your story. Interesting words from these: humanities and wrath.

This week’s post comes from CaraMarie Christy, the young-un of Spot Writers. Visit her blog on Word Press at Calamariwriting and check out her book from when she was twelve, Fairies Fly. Bonus points if you ask her about her book photography.

***

The Language Addict

Essential phrases: Hello. That’s it. A one word list of everything I need to remember to make people like me. The only thing you ever need, in any language, is that one word. My mind whirs, as only an old woman’s can, with thoughts, ones from the past cluttering the new ones, popping behind my eyes as I consider what to do to entertain myself. I’ve got four more hours left on this flight. Hanging into the third-row aisle, I have a nice expansive view of my companion choices. That’s all us old women ever think about anyway: who to talk to. There’s the couple arguing in Dutch at the back of the plane, the French flight attendant that keeps narrowly avoiding my elbow, and the man in the black coat sitting suspiciously next to the exit. But my eyes have been especially wondering toward the woman across the aisle from me. Her eyes are dark and there’s a faintly square shape to her chin. I want to ask her in… No.

Because if I reach across this aisle, and assault this woman with a two-week’s course of her supposed native tongue, it would be an invasion of her space, much more than a simple smile and the phrase “guten tag!”. And if she doesn’t speak German, then she can smile, nod, and go on reading the book in her hand. And if she does speak German… Bam. Friend. But for her, this could be a connecting flight to lord-only-knows where. Or she could be a tourist like me, which would be just as swell as a real German. Even if she is a German citizen, only 78% of Germans natively speak German. She could be an immigrant. And that will get us nowhere.

In the pleather seat in front of me, there is a sewn pocket overflowing with textbooks. I’ve stuffed them there. The wrath of the young gentleman to my right, when earlier I elbowed him six times while trying to flip through every page for how to say “spinach” (turns out it was just “spinat”), was enough to set me straight. Read like a chicken and be glared at or keep my arms to my side. I chose to keep him happy. I’d be interested in his language, but his flippant way of sneering at my books and penny loafers made it abundantly clear–American. Definitely. I don’t know why, having lived and worked in U.S. elementary education all my life that now, in retirement, I’ve grown to dislike “American”. I’ve got a taste for other types of humanities now, other ways of speaking. They seem much more fun.

The thought chills me and I want to edge away from this young man. I scoot further into the aisle, my hip gouging into the arm rest. It’s the woman on the left who is interesting. There’s a world of possibilities with her.

English, French, Chinese, Spanish… She could speak one of them. The big guns. The chances of that were high. And I knew plenty of words from the big languages.

I’ve convinced myself of it, when I find myself leaning across the aisle, smile pasted on, and give her a good, “Guten tag! Sprechen sie deutsch?”

WRONG. Three words too many come out and I can feel my ego soaring while the rest of me, the part of me that knows how to weave around a social interaction, comes crashing around my ears.

“Eh, sorry…” Laughs the woman. Her eyes twinkle and she never loses her smile as she says, “Ah… Español?”

Yes. A big gun. One of the biggest. Three weeks with Mr. Harviar at Northern Virginia’s Sterling community college. I know this one. The old and new thoughts collide. In my attempt to find something, anything to say… I pull out the first phrase that comes to mine. I can’t hear Mr. Harviar saying it in my head. Instead, it sounds like a little Hispanic girl selling soft and hard tacos.

Porque no los dos?”

My ego crashes down to the floor, where the rest of me had been scattered. The woman forces a laugh at the old, overused joke, then makes a point to ignore me, leaning back in her chair, reading a novel that I can’t even translate the cover of. I slink back into my own seat, scooting toward the right, to remove myself completely from teetering into the aisle, then pull out an Amazon catalogue from the pocket in front of me. The American man’s eyes are on my neck, as I ignore my travel guides and my books.

***

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 – “Timehop” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers, bringing you your weekly dose of flash fiction. This month’s prompt is to write about waiting in line, making it as interesting as possible.

Today’s scifi-inspired tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter and The Man with the Crystal Ankh. You can snag a copy of The Scarred Letter for just $3.99 through January 15th.

***

Timehop by Val Muller

The line wound through ropes the way lines do in amusement parks, a labyrinth of time travelers waiting their turn at the portal. Paul sighed. This could take days. The woman in front of him eyed the line and then checked her phone. She turned to him with a smiling scowl. “I hear the line is always longest at the beginning of the year. New Year’s resolutions and all.”

Paul nodded, trying to say something snarky and witty. Guilty as charged, perhaps?

But the woman kept talking. “I was hoping to get this done before noon. I have an awful meeting with the boss, but if things go right this morning—well, you know. That meeting should cancel itself, right? I keep checking my phone, you know? Like, the whole paradox thing. If I am successful, wouldn’t my appointment have been cancelled already? But it’s still here in my calendar.”

Paul shrugged. “I’m not sure how it works, but I think you have to have your appointment first.”

She sighed. “I know that, but wouldn’t I always have to have had my appointment?”

Paul raised an eyebrow. The whole paradox thing was beyond him. Best not to think too hard about it, anyway. That’s what the brochure said. He eyed up the woman again. She looked about his age. Not too bad looking, either. But why was she here? Avoiding a meeting with the boss? Dressed in simple business attire, the woman hadn’t struck him as particularly sinister. What could she have done, anyway?

“Theft, honey,” she answered. “You have an honest face. I don’t. It’s the sweetness of my face that lets me get away with things. I stole from the boss. Wasn’t worth it, of course. Turns out I need the paycheck more than I needed the one-time payload. Wouldn’t’a been so bad, except for the criminal record and all. Now I can’t get a job anywhere, you know?”

“So you’re meeting with your boss?”

“Not that boss. He was done with me long ago. This one’s a different kinda boss. Parole officer. But I hope to fix things today.”

Up ahead, an employee dressed like a 1960s flight attendant was moving down the line. “Triage,” she announced. “Trying to move the line along. Please have your applications handy.” She carried a slim tablet and held up the camera to a paper application held by one of the people in line. Then she sighed loudly. “I’m gonna say this once here, for all of you in line. You need to have read the user agreement before signing it. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to send home today. For the last time, you cannot go back in time for the purpose of changing the outcome of the presidential election. Got that?”

A few of the would-be clients looked around nervously, then stepped out of line and shuffled away, heads down.

“Seriously, people. This is time travel. The secret service is already on our backs, and we’re this close”—she held her two fingers together—“to losing our permit. And that means none of you get to go back to do whatever it is you’re here to do.”

She paused as if she had finished, but then she continued her tirade. “And you think it’s cheap fixing what you people mess up? You’re all lucky we make you take out an insurance policy. You know how much it costs for us to send our SpecialOpps back in time to fix your mistakes? Every time you digress from your intended purpose, every time you ignore the contract you signed upon completing your application. I can’t even tell you! Listen. No politics. No assassinations. No kidnapping. No giving out lottery numbers or any of that nonsense. What do you think this is, Back to the Future part two? I can’t even tell you how many agents we’ve had to send to clean up those messes.”

A few more people stepped out of line, shoulders drooping. She continued her tirade, but Paul turned to the woman in front of him again.

“So theft, huh?” Despite her chosen profession, she was attractive and seemed witty enough. Maybe a good match for Paul?

She shrugged. “What about you?”

Paul felt his face blush. It was just the reason he was going back.

“It’s stupid,” he muttered.

“No it’s not. If it was stupid, you wouldn’t be here. We all know how much this costs. It’s obviously very important. So, out with it!”

Paul took a deep breath. “Okay. So I’ve always been so, well—vanilla. Nothing spectacular. As a kid I always amazed my parents and did brilliant things at home. But whenever I walked out my front door, I just closed up. Never spoke up for myself. I was thinking about it, and this one day, one stupid day in my childhood, stands out above the rest.”

“You’re much more interesting than a thief,” the woman said. “Do tell.”

His face felt impossibly hot. “It was elementary school gym class.”

She laughed. “Go on. I think most psychiatrists can trace everyone’s problems to elementary school gym class one way or another.”

Paul managed a chuckle. “A hockey game. I wasn’t the last one chosen, but I wasn’t the captain, either. The two captains were doing a face-off. I never heard of it. I just saw them standing there, in the middle of the gym, with the hockey puck between them. They just stared at each other. I didn’t know what they were waiting for.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“So, thinking I was being some kind of hero, I ran up to them with my hockey stick and smacked the puck toward the goal. Everyone was so shocked that it made it past the goalie. I raised my hands in victory only to be met by the gym teacher’s angry stare. I had to sit in time out for half the class. I was so ashamed that for the second half, I just kind of moped around by the corner, playing with a crack in the plastic of my hockey stick. I’m pretty sure it was the last time in my life I’ve ever taken a risk.”

Her smile faded. “Oh, honey. That’s no way to live.”

Paul nodded. “I know.” He sighed. “So you see, I think if I could just go back and stand up for myself, I would have found the footing to have confidence in other ways, too. Instead of a downward slope, it would have been the start of an upward climb. From getting shut out of sports teams in elementary school to not asking my crush to dance in middle school. Everything would have been different. And I’d be a lot better off than I am now.”

The woman stepped closer to him, and she was about to say something when the “flight attendant” approached. “Application?” she demanded.

The thief flipped a screen on her phone and held it to the attendant. The tablet beeped. “Eleanor Dietz.” The tablet’s screen glowed, and the attendant sighed. “I assume you read the user agreement before you signed it?” she asked.

Eleanor reddened. “I, um. Those things are all the same, you know? I mean, I skimmed it…”

The attendant shook her head. “Traveling back in time to avoid becoming a criminal is a violation of our user policy.”

Eleanor’s eyebrows arched. “Why? I would think causing fewer criminals in the world would be a good thing. I just want to stop myself from stealing the—”

The attendant shook her head. “Too many criminals were going back not to stop their crimes, but to improve them. With hindsight, they were able to go back and destroy evidence and cover tracks. Under our agreement with the EPA, DHS, and several other organizations, we are bound to prohibit anyone with a criminal record from traveling forward or back.”

Eleanor squinted her eyes at Paul, like maybe he could do something about it. But the attendant had already moved on, asking Paul for his application. “Paul Harper.” She scanned it, read her screen, and then looked sympathetically at Paul. “Sweetie, we should let you cut the whole line. Poor thing, but you’d probably be too afraid to, wouldn’t you? You go back there, and you make sure that little boy doesn’t hit the hockey puck, okay?”

Paul nodded.

The attendant continued down the line. Eleanor shook her head. “Well, life’s much more interesting with a parole officer, right?” She deleted her application with the swipe of her finger. “So what’s your plan, anyway? You gonna go and scare yourself? Or maybe you’ll go convince the gym teacher to take a day off? You know, so you can be the substitute for the day? Make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself? The young you, I mean.”

Paul shook his head. He hadn’t thought of that. “No, I have this book.” He pulled a small board book out of his pocket. “It’s about the rules of hockey. I was going to give it to myself a year or two prior to the, um, event. I figure, if I learn the rules of hockey, I won’t make an idiot of myself later on.”

“Not a very bold plan. You sure it will work?”

Paul’s feet grew heavy, sinking into the ground. Maybe she was right. Even after all the money he’d saved up, even after all the time he’d had to rethink his life, all the lonely nights, maybe he just wasn’t meant to be a somebody. Maybe he was simply destined for vanilla.

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “You know, it’s never to late to start fresh. I don’t mean going back in time. I mean, how much does it cost for—” She turned to a chart on the wall, showing the cost versus demand for traveling back to the 1960s. Cost increased as more people travelled to an era—the more time travelers, the more complicated it was for Timehop to monitor the integrity of the space-time continuum. “Holy crud,” she said. His desired time period put him out seven figures. “Holy crud.”

Then her face melted into a smile, and she stepped close. Very close. “Paul Harper, I happen to know someone in the islands who knows someone who knows a guy who can fudge identities. And they always have need for couples willing to run businesses for tourists. We could, I don’t know, take some of your money, buy a fresh start, open a sunset cruise destination for tourists. Live every day in the tropics.”

Paul’s hands grew sweaty. He wanted to take her hand, to say yes, to step away from the others in line, the ones in their fancy business attire with their fancy jobs and fancy lives, the ones who hadn’t been afraid to say no. But how could he? The image of his gym teacher’s disapproving stare haunted him. He’d be punished again for taking a risk, wouldn’t he?

Eleanor took his hand, and the warmth travelled from his fingertips to his shoulder, and all the way to his chest.

“You know what?” he said. “Why not?”

Like a wild hockey player defying all the rules of the game, he grabbed her hand tighter and wove himself through the serpentine line, Eleanor in tow. He brushed passed a surprised attendant and sailed out of the door with his new love just as smoothly as a hockey puck sliding into an unguarded net.

***

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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