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The Spot Writers – “Go Fish” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. August’s prompt is to use these five words in a story or poem: besides, fishes, inn, owing, born.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/

MISTER WOLFE (the sequel) coming soon!

***

“Go Fish” by Cathy MacKenzie

Amber looked up toward the large blue-shingled house, which was so unfamiliar to her. What little they’d moved into the house two days previous was in disarray. The bulk of their furniture and other possessions weren’t due to be delivered for another week. Until then, the family would sleep at the Riverside Inn and spend days at the house.

According to her mother, there was plenty to do at the new house. “Dad has to mow the lawn, and I have to clean,” she’d said. “You kids can organize your rooms.” She had smiled. “And play, too. Summer will soon be over.”

Right, Amber thought. Organize our rooms? What is there to organize?

She was thankful she didn’t have to deal with school the same time as the move. But Labour Day would soon be upon them, marking the end of summer vacation. Luckily, her parents had bought a house in the same neighbourhood, so she and her brother, Julien, would still be attending the same schools.

Her mother couldn’t understand why it had to take so long for their furniture to be packed up and delivered. “Spencer, why don’t we rent a truck and move ourselves? This is ridiculous,” she had spouted. “We’re less than ten blocks away, for Pete’s sake.”

Apparently, the end of July was the busiest time for movers in their area, and Amber’s father wouldn’t admit he had procrastinated calling the moving company. She knew he had messed up when she overheard him arguing on the telephone with the company. She was glad he’d apologized or they might never have gotten a moving date.

Amber liked their new house, which was much larger than their previous one. The grounds were more spacious, too. Numerous colourful flowers grew alongside the house, mostly all foreign to her, although she did recognize the daisies.

And, of course, she was familiar with rose bushes that bordered one side of the fish pond.

But what good was a fish pond without fish?

“I can’t believe there’s no fish,” she said, glancing at her brother.

“Yeah, according to Dad, the previous owner said they died.”

“I don’t know why we can’t get more.”

Julien sighed. “Mom can’t be bothered. She figures Dad won’t help out and then it’ll all fall on her. In the spring she said we can get some. She hates the thought of them in the cold all winter. You know her.”

“But goldfish are supposed to survive over the winter. Though I don’t know how.”

“You’re supposed to make sure there’s a hole in the ice so the fish can breathe while they hibernate.”

“If they hibernate, why do they need a hole in the ice?”

Julien glared at her. “I don’t know. Just what I’ve read.”

“Dad says you read too much.”

“Yeah, well Mom says you daydream too much.”

She ignored him and stared into the pond. She shook the unopened container of fish food, which she had grabbed off the shelf in the garage.

“I’m going to sprinkle some food on the water. Maybe if the other people had fed them, they’d still be alive.”

“No sense feeding dead fish,” Julien said.

Ignoring her brother, she unscrewed the lid and sprinkled flakes on the water.

“It’s probably old. That’s why they left it,” Julien said. “Outdated. Not good for anything. And you know what? If the owners said they hadn’t fed the fish for two years, it’s probably more like five. Everyone lies.”

The flakes floated together for a few seconds and slowly separated.

“The poor dead fishes,” Amber said, swiping at her eyes with her left hand. She’d been teary lately, which was unusual for her, probably owing to the stress of the move. She was only twelve, but her hormones would be raging sooner than later. And more tears, she figured.

She shrieked. “Look! What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“There.” She pointed. “Isn’t that a fish?”

While she watched, another bright orange fish swam alongside.

Another appeared.

And a fourth.

The last two were a paler orange. Almost translucent.

“I don’t believe it,” Julien said. “They can’t have survived for this long.”

“Look, they’re jumping at the food. We have to go tell Mom.”

“No, we can’t tell her. She’s got enough on her mind. Besides, if you tell her, she’ll freak about them all winter long.”

“What, then? We don’t tell anyone they’re here?”

“We’ll just come down and feed them every day. Then, over the winter, we’ll make sure there’s a hole in the ice. We can surprise Mom in the spring, once the snow is gone.”

“Mom wasn’t born yesterday. Don’t you think she’ll find out?”

“How will she find out? Besides, once she knows these fish survived, she’ll be more receptive to getting more.”

“What about Dad? Should we tell him?”

“No, Dad’ll only tell Mom. They don’t have secrets, remember.”

“Yeah, right.” She’d heard her parents talk enough about how marriages shouldn’t have secrets, no matter how small. She giggled. Her father hadn’t shared the moving van story. “Okay, it’s our secret? No one else’s?”

“Yep, it’s our secret.”

“Oh, I love secrets,” Amber said, already anticipating telling her mother. She might even tell her the moving van secret.

***

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/

+++
C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.
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The Spot Writers – “The Tree of Dorian Gray” by Chiara De Giorgi

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is a story about a tree of (any type of) significance that is cut or falls down.

This week’s story comes from Chiara De Giorgi. Chiara dreams, reads, edits texts, translates, and occasionally writes in two languages. She also has a lot of fun.

***

The Tree of Dorian Gray

by Chiara De Giorgi

 

Do you remember the first time you acted badly? I mean consciously. Like, for example you told a lie and were aware that your lie would damage another; or you stole something with the clear purpose of hurting someone. Me, I think I was seven, and I did both.

 

I was angry with Toby, my neighbor and class-mate. We had spent a whole afternoon together at his place, working on a school project. It was about ecology. We built a model of a landscape with pebbles and leaves, I think it was really cute in the end. The following morning, Toby fell down the stairs while he was carrying the model. He broke his arm, and the model. Miss Brown was very sympathetic and gave us another week to bring in another one, but I was upset. He should have been more careful. So I planned my revenge.

A few weeks later, it was Laura and Mindy’s turn to present their project, I think it was a pyramid or something, I don’t remember. Anyway, during lunch I stole it and hid it inside Toby’s schoolbag. Then I went to Miss Brown and told her I had seen Toby steal and hide the girls’ model. Toby was punished, both by Miss Brown and his own parents, and I felt bad. Not enough, though, to gather enough courage and tell the truth.

I was ashamed of myself for what I’d done, and ran to the woods, screaming and crying. I stopped by a large tree and told it everything. When my speech was over, I realized I could blame Toby: hadn’t he crushed our model, nothing would have happened. I felt better at once, and I went back home.

 

After that, I got used to going to the large tree every time I did something that bothered my conscience. Soon I noticed that the tree was slowly rotting away. The more the tree decomposed, the less my conscience bothered me, until one day I realized I could do anything I wanted and not be bothered at all.

By then I was older and read “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. How I loved that book! I named my tree “The Tree of Dorian Gray”, and felt completely free for the first time in my life. I could be and do whatever I wanted, the tree would rot and I would stay spotless. Incredibly, none of my malfeasances caused people to dislike or accuse me. It was always somebody else who paid the price in the end.

I should have known that it couldn’t last forever.

 

When the first injunction reached me, and then the second, and the third… I realized something must have happened. I went to the woods and saw: Where so many tall trees used to grow, concealing “my” tree from the view, now was a construction site. There were no trees anymore.

 

I know what awaits me now: injunctions will keep coming and coming, every wrong I’ve ever made in the dark will be exposed.

It’s over.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The Spot Writers – “One Historical Romance” by Chiara De Giorgi

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: a cat stares at something behind its owner’s back. What does it see?

This week’s story comes from Chiara De Giorgi. Chiara dreams, reads, edits texts, translates, and occasionally writes in two languages. She also has a lot of fun.

***

One Historical Romance by Chiara De Giorgi

My roommate, Jenny, loves to read historical romances.

Historical romances are basically love stories: out of eight hundred pages, at least six hundred are devoted to detailing hot intercourses and describing massive male chests and backs that are as vast as Greenland, but since in the remaining two hundred pages a king, a battle, a stronghold – or something of the kind – are featured, then they’re called “historical romances”. I also suspect the term “love stories” is widely despised.

So, anyway: Jenny loves those books. Recently, she’s seeking out all those that are set in Scotland, where the manlier men in the world apparently live: men that are so manly, they can wear a skirt! (The reason I know all these things, is that I normally sit next to Jenny while she’s reading, so as to peek at the pages and read along. Sure, sometimes I fall asleep, but that is normally not an issue, because when I wake up the hero and the damsel are still setting fire to the woods with their uncontrolled passion, just where I had left them.)

Sorry, I lost my train of thought.

A few nights ago Jenny threw a party. I really don’t like it, when Jenny throws a party. All those strangers prancing around the flat with their dirty shoes, claiming all couches and armchairs… it’s irritating. So, as usual, I stayed out of the way, half hidden behind a curtain. I was very still, and I scanned the crowd. I like to observe and deduce, I know things about people at first glance, that you wouldn’t believe. Once Jenny made me watch “Sherlock Holmes”: finally, a kindred spirit! Of course he had to be fictional.

Anyway. There I was, doing my thing, when he entered the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I stared at him from my hiding place, considering my options.

Suddenly, Jenny realized I was staring at something right behind her and she turned around. Damn it, now she was facing him, and her reaction was exactly what you can expect. She gasped and dropped her glass. He gallantly picked it up, while Jenny let her gaze slide all over his muscled body, his white shirt, and the sexiest kilt you can ever imagine. He looked like he had just jumped out of one of those historical romances, and Jenny was clearly determined to become his damsel. Could I allow such a waste of manhood? Of course not.

I quietly slipped out of my hideout and slowly made my way towards the two of them, keeping my eyes fixed right behind Jenny’s head – I know it creeps her out when I do that.

When I reached them, Jenny was flirting shamelessly and even shifted just enough as to conceal me from his sight. Unperturbed, I brushed up against his legs with a special technique of mine, tripping him up. He caught Jenny’s arm so as not to fall – not what I had wanted. But he had noticed me, and I knew he was mine.

He stroke me on my head and between my ears, baby-talking to me. “And who’s this beauty?”

I seized the moment and jumped in his arms, then I curled up against his formidable chest. Jenny was already defeated, but I lifted my eyes, stubbornly staring behind her head. There was nothing, of course, there’s never anything, but she doesn’t know that, does 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/

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Edge” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: “A story that involves someone, not a stranger, standing on the edge of a precipice.”

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/

MISTER WOLFE (the sequel or stand-alone) coming this summer!

***

The Edge by Cathy MacKenzie

Lucille pondered the path before her. The road would be an easy one, effortless and without any pre-planning. No sales to wait for, no tickets to purchase, no suitcases to pack. No mad tear to wake up at ungodly hours, no stress with eyes barely open while wondering if taxis would arrive on time, no boring three-hour waits at airports. No throngs of people mashed together like potatoes behind roped barricades, itching to reach the ticket counter before the next person. No dragging of suitcases or tripping over feet while moving too slowly through the maze.

Although at one time Lucille enjoyed flying, airport travel had become horrific, what with delays and terrorists and crashes, not to mention hassles of added security and other rigmarole. In the early days of plane travel, one could arrive thirty minutes ahead of a flight and still board. One used to be able to carry shampoos and hairspray and face cream in carry-ons. Once upon a time, one didn’t have to worry about the number or weights of suitcases.

Lucille and her husband had travelled frequently, spending winter months down south until he died and left her to travel alone.

But she wouldn’t travel by plane any longer, nor would she take any more road trips despite preferring—even enjoying—driving over flying. Never again would she have to ensure the car was in perfect running order or fill up the gas.

No, there’d be none of that on her trip. Peace would prevail, which is how travel used to be before the world changed. The only worry Lucille had was the lack of light, for there’d be no light until the end—if one believed myths and suppositions.

But the journey would be peaceful despite the black. As if confined in a windowless train zooming down the tracks, the predestined trip would be without an end in sight. Time and space would take over while barrelling along, enclosed in darkness, a metal time capsule let loose like a bullet aiming for its target.

What would she see when she arrived? The fabled pearly gates, the white-robed greeters, the happy reunion with long-deceased relatives? Would endless time permit one to do endless things, or would nothingness exist—a void similar to sleeping when one didn’t dream or have any sense of life? She’d suffered those nights—too many of them when she hadn’t dreamed—and when she opened her eyes in the morning, she realized if she hadn’t awoken, she would never have known she had died. For if you’re in that state and never wake up, how would you know?

Such strange and crazy thoughts that she could never share; no one would understand.

She wasn’t so special that Mr. Death wouldn’t call; she wasn’t that naive to think he’d forget her. No, death loomed in her future. She once prayed it wouldn’t happen too soon. She had wanted to remain on earth where she felt secure, wanted to breathe in smog so she could cough and gag, wanted to cry when peeling onions, wanted to laugh at nonsensical funnies. She once wanted to take the good with the bad for that was life. But life brought death. That was the bad in the good. People had no choice.

She watched clouds rolling by. She enjoyed searching for faces—Jesus or other famous people who appeared in fluffs of white. Photos of clouds were posted as mind games on Facebook—faces others easily saw but ones she never did until she wracked her brain and examined them more closely. Even then, she didn’t always discern a face, but if she concentrated and allowed her imagination to run amok, she could see what she wanted: endless peaks and valleys, smoky ranges, bursts of sun, vast oceans—even faces.

What a waste of time though she enjoyed the puzzle. And what else would she do if she weren’t peering into clouds?

Life had gotten the best of her. Nameless life with nameless faces much like clouds. Those nameless, breathing souls were real yet as distant as the ones high above.

She looked up and saw fluff piled high upon seas of foam. Blue like the ocean or as black as night. Or virginal white marred by dirt. Send me Your love, for Your love shines down upon us all, does it not? Tears hit some; others are lambasted with hail and snow. Cover your face; close your eyes! Capture those daydreams. And see those faces.

There! Was that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?

Did certain individuals exist within that narrow sphere between light and dark? Was there a slight groove where bodies were caught, a trap from which they’d never extricate themselves? Lucille pictured a narrow roadway between life and death, one minuscule and easily invaded where an unsuspecting person could easily find oneself, on the rim looking down and not having the opportunity to decide whether to jump or flee; falling simply happened. One would not know how or why. Later, one might wonder how the fall could have been prevented, how the event couldn’t have been foreseen—for it was an event, was it not? The end of a breathing soul, the end to whatever a person believed in.

Who actually believed in Heaven and Hell? Who truly believed they’d burn endlessly in a bottomless pit or float through fluffy clouds surrounded by angels? Perhaps that’s how cloud faces evolved—nameless faces not so nameless after all: remnants of dead souls who had nowhere else to go.

Would she know when she arrived? Would she be one of those faces leering at earth, filling up lonely lives by providing them with guessing games to pass the time? Who would know it was her except for family and friends? The rest of the world would pretend to recognize her as someone she wasn’t. For the remainder of her days, she’d be one of those nameless faces peering down.

She looked again. Brad was gone and so was his famous ex-partner. Despite intently studying the moving formations, she saw no other faces. She was sure someone in the world would, though. Didn’t the same clouds hover over every facet of earth, no matter what country one lived in?

She gave up examining the sky. Her neck hurt, craning as she had. Besides, she had better things to do.

She clutched her cloth handbag against her side, metal pressing hard against her skin, the unmistakeable chill seeping through the thin fabrics.

She sauntered down the dirt road. How had she ended up in the deserted countryside? She had hopped the bus at Winchester Avenue and stayed on despite various stops—most of which she had never seen before—and when the bus lurched to a stop, she hardly paid attention when she alighted.

She was so confused some days she didn’t know if she existed in life or in a foreign state from which she couldn’t extricate herself. She hadn’t known then of the edge.

After getting off the bus, she found it, although pondering fate while examining the clouds had lessened its relevance, relegating it to the back of her mind. Sauntering through the countryside had brought it back to the forefront.

The edge.

The long road before her wound like a large snake meandering through the landscape. Sections were hidden behind themselves as if construction crews hadn’t wanted trespassers to view the entire road, but she saw through the plan.

“We must go on adventures to find out where we belong,” she mumbled.

Clouds skimmed along as if they had a destination. They had the task of remaining over earth, moving or still, white or black. What could be more concrete than that? Options, seemingly at will. Options she didn’t have. Her fate was predestined; she was positive of that.

The edge. It was there, ahead of her, waiting…

Dust swirled around her feet. Teeny natty flies swarmed about her face. She swatted them away, but they persisted. She ran a few feet trying to escape. It worked.

For a while.

***

I think back to my story of Lucille. The truth still eludes me. I was never very religious. Sure, I believed—and still do—that some higher being exists, but really, who knows? No one—until death actually happens—can know with any certainty, and then, of course, it is too late. Who has ever returned to earth after dying—really dying—to fill us in on details? Does anyone really believe those who travel the tunnel—the real tunnel—to reach the other side come back to earth?

Studies have determined those people who travelled the tunnel and returned—those who saw the bright lights or hovered over their supposedly dead bodies—were never actually dead in the first place. In those instances, brain waves interfered or dreams took over.

While we’re living, we don’t know we live on the edge. We don’t know if we’re going to be hit by a car or murdered by a crazy. Or develop a lump and be told, “You’ll be fine. We got it all,” and a month later informed your life is ending; the doctors were wrong—they didn’t get it all.

We all live on the edge. The edge of today; the edge of tomorrow.

All of us are on loan to the world. When you die, however, you’re relegated to a six-foot-deep plot you’ll own forever unless you’re scattered to the winds where specks of ash will float and meld with the atmosphere, living on throughout time, for where would the ash go except exist forevermore, whether in the air or falling to earth? Each part of us remains though not in our earthly form.

I’ll always remember my fictional character Lucille. I’m a writer, you know, and I remember all my characters. Despite numerous individuals with varied ideas, opinions, and thoughts, I still don’t know what’s true or false. I never have, never will.

I remember stories I’ve written, stories about life and death and characters in my head who never gave up until I did them in or they did someone else in. Everyone has repressed anger! I don’t like killing off characters, but sometimes it’s fun. I can’t—and won’t—kill in real life. My parents taught me the difference between good and bad.

I could have saved those characters had I wanted.

And now it’s my turn.

I didn’t save Lucille before she travelled the tunnel, so how can I expect anyone to save me? Not that anyone would. Or could. Death happens.

Lucille reached her end. She saw the pearly gates, the white-robed greeters, the angels flying strong. Everyone needs an angel. I do, too, but there are none for me.

I see the edge, the precipice. The space. My today and my past. I don’t see my future. Nothing exists below or beyond. I don’t see gates or bright lights or masses of white. I don’t see anything except a dark, cold void. A black, blank canvas, a mass of nothingness threatening to suffocate me.

And it does.

My earthly journey has ended. I won’t return to earth. I won’t be able to tell you what happens next.

The edge beckons. I jump. I fall for what feels like an eternity.

And I land.

 

***

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/

 

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

 

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

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

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

***

Paperwork in the Sand by Val Muller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here.

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

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

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

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

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

*

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “And Then, What” by Chiara de Giorgi

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: “Winter to spring—a time of transitions. Write a story that takes place in a train station.”

This week’s story comes from Chiara De Giorgi. Chiara dreams, reads, edits texts, translates, and occasionally writes in two languages. She also has a lot of fun.

***

“And Then, What?” by Chiara De Giorgi

Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of every week, at 6:25 am, there I am. Yorkstraße. That’s where I get with the underground (Line 7), then I climb three flights of stairs and get to the platform to wait for my train.

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall: I know how the Berlin sky looks like in every season at 6:25 am.

In Winter it is dark. Sometimes it is clear and I can spot a few stars. Not many, though: the yellow artificial lights pollute the view. My breath is a white puff that lingers, unwilling to leave the warmth of my body.

In Spring I can hear the early birds singing, and it doesn’t take long before I can witness the sunrise from the train platform: a heart-warming orange-red disc rising from behind the buildings on the eastern side of the station.

In Summer the sky is clear and bright, except on stormy days, of course. The mastermind that designed this train station decided that it did not need a platform roof, and only a couple small shelters were added, but all the benches are exposed, so when it rains you can either sit and get wet, or stand and stay dry. As if you weren’t already miserable enough, being out and about at such an ungodly hour on a stormy day.

The sky gets darker and darker as Summer turns into Fall, and colored leaves twirl and land on the platform, leaving the surrounding trees bare and melancholic.

 

I almost always read a book, while I’m waiting for my train.

My mind and my heart are not on the platform. They’re in a faraway land, living dangerously, and passionately, and bravely. Sometimes I have a really hard time letting go of the story and starting my work day. Sometimes my heart rebels at the thought of the day ahead. It doesn’t want to be chained at a desk, typing the day away. It wants to live.

That’s when it suggests we jump on a train, any train, and just go. Never get off, until the train stops. Where? Irrelevant. Anywhere will do. Anywhere but where we’re supposed to go. Don’t tell anyone, just go. Disappear, do something daring, do something new. Start over, be another. Just go, go, go…

While my heart restlessly beats, my face is still, my expression unchanged. No one will ever know about my inner turmoil. And the train approaches. What will I do? Will I dutifully get off when it reaches my station? Or will I be reckless and follow my heart’s desire?

My mind toys with the idea. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would I be? I could, I would, I wish… At some point, my mind asks the most difficult question: And then, what? What will you do, when you get to Anywhere? How will you live? Who will you meet? Won’t you wish to come back? What will people say? Will it be worth it?

My heart kicks and screams, but my mind hushes it. Be quiet, little one, dreamy one. Be quiet.

Alright, my heart says, I’ll be quiet. But then, what?

***

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/

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

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The Spot Writers – “Future Imperfect” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: “Winter to spring—a time of transitions. Write a story that takes place in a train station.”

Today’s post comes from Phil Yeats. In December, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second 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/Tilting-Windmills-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07L5WR948/

*****

Future Imperfect by Phil Yeats

I strode toward the train station in the cold drizzle that passes for spring in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A large banner adorned the columns supporting the portico of the white marble edifice. It announced the grand reopening of the hundred-year-old building.

The celebration marked the completion a major west to east upgrade to the Canadian National Railroad by its new Chinese owners. The Quingzhu Corporation’s local representative had invited me to the May Day 2028 festivities.

I presented my personalized invitation to the security guards controlling the building’s formal entranceway. I would have avoided this event if I could, but as a consulting engineer with a business to run, I needed to maintain positive relations with large firms like the Quingzhu Corporation.

Inside, I noticed the renovations adhered to the building’s early twentieth century European style. The newly installed antique display board for arrivals and departures caught my eye. The numbers of trains at this end-of-line station was limited, so I anticipated no imminent updates. But I remembered with fondness the clattering noise I heard as a child when these old-fashioned display boards updated.

I was staring at the board willing it into action when an old friend from my university days tapped my shoulder. “Daniel, my old buddy. Long time no see.”

“Jason! How’s the intrepid investigative reporter?”

“Making a decent living, but no security.”

I shook my head and cast my eyes heavenward. “Similar story. Reasonable profit from most contracts, but without another coming down the pipe…”

“That’s what brings you here today, searching for your next contract?”

“Exactly. This company’s been good to me. They’re part of the growing Chinese Mafia, so I must keep them sweet.”

“If I were you, I’d approach your contact, do the obligatory glad-handing to line up your next project and get the hell out.”

“You expecting trouble? That why you’re here?”

“Yup.”

“Isn’t this a popular project? Quingzhu’s renovated the system, built up the passenger network and lowered freight rates. What’s the complaint?”

“The entire rail system’s in foreign, read Chinese, hands with no guarantee the good times will last.”

I eyed the bar, and the tables laden with finger food. “Okay. Long-term worries. They shouldn’t affect our enjoyment of this little party.”

Jason nodded toward a cluster of suits standing several metres away. “Investment execs. They’re here to make trouble because the last independently owned industrial company was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange this morning. Our now emasculated national stock market is reduced to trading the shares of subsidiaries of foreign companies and the few remaining Canadian companies in banking and other regulated industries.”

“Come on! That bunch of stock brokers aren’t planning a riot.”

“Probably not, but a confrontation between the pro- and anti-Chinese factions is inevitable. It might occur today. Keep your eyes open when you partake of the treats you’ve been eying. If a food fight develops, skedaddle, just like we did in university.”

I laughed. “Join me for a drink?”

“Sorry, you’re on your own. I’m working, looking for a quote or two from your stock brokers.” Jason turned away. “I’ll see you around. Good luck with your next contract.”

I smiled as I headed for the bar but followed Jason’s advice and kept my eyes peeled. When I noticed security personnel slithering into the room, I positioned himself with my escape route in mind. Just like the old days.

*****

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 +++

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “Transitions” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: “Winter to spring—a time of transitions. Write a story that takes place in a train station.”

This week’s fiction is from Cathy MacKenzie. Check out her novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, available on Amazon and other retailers. www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/

***

Transitions by Cathy MacKenzie

The whistle shrieks from around the bend. Sally sits on the bench, debating whether to stand or wait until the train pulls into the station and everyone alights. People are in such a rush today that they can’t be polite and let people exit before charging in, whether in an elevator or a train. Her mother taught her better manners than that, but she can be impatient, too, depending upon her mood.

The brakes squeal, metal against metal, and the waiting throng descends upon the train as if vultures at a firing squad. The doors open, and bodies squirm to the platform while others squeeze inside.

She stands and adjusts her heavy wool coat over her arm. The station is warm though the last dregs of winter linger outside.

The train rumbles in preparation for departure. Stragglers jump aboard, latching to the stanchions and grab rails.

She has seconds to cover the remaining distance and slip inside before the doors close.

She moves slowly, deliberately. Wedged like a rubber mannequin in a metal packing crate doesn’t appeal to her, nor does the stench of people heading home after work.

The vibration beneath her feet calms her nerves. She dislikes this period—these undefinable days; not winter but not spring despite what the calendar states. That elusive space in between. The storm before the calm.

But winter transitions into spring, and spring shifts quickly into summer, her favourite season.

Abruptly, she turns the opposite way, takes a few steps, and dons her coat.  She’ll walk the forty-two minutes to her apartment on Mason Avenue.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

+++

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

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The Spot Writers – “Rear View Mirror” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s topic is: something nice and unexpected happens on a gloomy day.

This week’s post is by Val Muller, author of the coming of age novel The Girl Who Flew Away. Surrounded by high school students all day, many of her works revolve around the lives of teenagers finding their place in a less-than-ideal world.

***

Rear View Mirror by Val Muller

“Are you serious?” Ms. Martel asked. She leaned back in the creaky chair, arms crossed, staring straight ahead at the principal.

“Quite,” said Principal Hutt.

“You want me to eat with these kids? The thirty minutes of the day I have free, and you want me to spend it with my four discipline problems?”

The principal nodded. “You know we’re all about creative solutions here at Echo Academy, Ms. Martel. ‘Discipline problems’ are really just young people reaching out for help.”

“Texting while in class and blowing off assignments is not reaching out for help. It’s just ignoring their responsi—”

But Principal Hutt had already turned away, working on his next email.

“I’ll expect to see you in the dining hall this afternoon, Ms. Martel. And I’m sure your students will find it something to look forward to as well.”

 

The cafeteria—dining hall, rather—smelled like teenagers and toddler food. It was a miasma of chicken nuggets, wilted vegetables, and teenage angst. And there in the center of it were her four nightmares, the ones who made Ms. Martel dread coming to work each day.

Tommy Sutherfeld, Elayna Cunningham, Marko Jacobs, and Lilliyanna Roth. They sat there like protagonists in The Breakfast Club, unaware of the gravity of their behavior issues. Did they realize they spoiled every Third Block Literature class? Did they realize they were like black holes, sucking out the ambitions and concentration of all other students in the room? Did they get up in the morning wondering how disruptive they could be, or were they simply that uncaring that they didn’t realize how much of an impact they had?

And now, with her paper bag lunch, Ms. Miriam Martel was tasked with the terrible job of—what? Babysitting them? It wasn’t that. Principal Hutt had said something far worse. She had to reach them.

Tommy smiled and raised an eyebrow. “‘Sup, Ms. Martel? The Hutt told us you’d be here today.”

Tommy scooted over to make room for her.

“Hi,” she said.

“We didn’t mean to get you in trouble,” Lilli said.

“Trouble?”

Elayna looked down at her lap. “We didn’t mean to have the Hutt force you to eat with us. That is, like, the worst.”

“Oh.” Ms. Martel opened her lunch bag, pulling out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Is that really what you eat for lunch?” Tommy asked. “Or did you bring that because you knew you’d be eating with us?”

“I didn’t find out until this morning,” she said. “Principal Hutt called me in before school.”

“I stopped eating PB and J in like fifth grade,” Tommy said. “Why do you eat that?”

Ms. Martel shrugged. “It’s fast. It’s cheap.” She eyed their lunches. Two of them had footlongs from Subway. Two were sharing half a pizza, probably leftover from last night’s dinner. She fought the threat of a flushing face. “I’m saving to replace my car, or at least fix it,” she said.

“What’s wrong with it?” Marko asked.

“Starter, I think. I don’t know. Sometimes it just stalls.”

“Alternator, maybe,” Marko said. He was always talking about cars. And researching cars. On his phone. During class discussions. During classroom observations with Principal Hutt.

“Well…” Ms. Martel forced a smile and unwrapped her sandwich, taking a bite.

“If you’re going to be eating with us all week, like the Hutt says, we can get you Subway,” Lilli offered. “I mean, it must suck to be stuck with us. You probably have teacher things you like to be doing during lunch. My parents say I’m dragging them down all the time. And now I’m dragging you down, too.”

Ms. Martel shook her head. “That’s nice of you, but I’m okay—I mean, peanut butter is relatively healthy…”

“I haven’t even started my Macbeth project,” Tommy blurted. “I just wanted you to know. I haven’t turned it in because I’m just a complete slacker. There’s no excuse. If I turn it in, will you be able to eat with the teachers again?”

Ms. Martel inhaled, stalling for time to think of a response.

But Tommy continued. “It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I’m the worst. My parents pay all this money to send me here, and I just can’t force myself to care. No offense, Ms. Martel, but learning about witches and ghosts or whatever, written in Old English, just isn’t my top priority.” He sighed. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to fail my parents’ expectations. You know, being a failure.”

“I—” How was she supposed to reach these kids?

“See, grades just don’t matter,” Tommy continued. “Not everyone gets As in high school, and some people who get As turn out to be real—” He stopped himself. “I know, think of a smarter word,” he said. “See, I do listen to you in class sometimes, Ms. Martel. My point is, didn’t, like, Steve Jobs fail out? Or Bill Gates? The system just can’t hold some of us. It’s like a prison. You have to break out of the system. I promise I’ll do big things one day.”

“We’re gonna open up a garage,” Marko said. “Refurbish old cars. You know, like old punch-buggies and Mustangs and all that.”

“A boutique garage,” Lilli said. “I’ll be their marketer. We’ll appeal to nostalgia.”

“That’s another vocab word you taught us,” Tommy said. “Nostalgia.” He patted her on the shoulder and rubbed against her jacket, tugging it a bit. Ms. Martel scooted over. Principal Hutt wanted her to get close, but this was too much. She didn’t want to actually touch them.

She left lunch with two bites taken out of her sandwich, a stomach ache, and an impending headache. At the end of the day, Principal Hutt called for her to stop by on her way out.

“Looks like you’ll have to eat with them again tomorrow,” he said.

“Why?” Ms. Martel asked.

The principal pulled up an attendance report. “The four of them skipped the rest of the afternoon classes.” He shook his head. “I wanted you to reach them, not make them worse.”

“Look, I—” But Ms. Martel stopped herself. There was no point trying to explain things to Principal Hutt, who wasn’t even in a classroom more than a few minutes each day. “Okay,” she said. “Tomorrow, then.”

She walked to the parking lot and reached into her pocket for the key.

Empty.

She never took her key out of her pocket. When would she have possibly—

“Son of a—” She spoke aloud.

“Think of a smarter word, Ms. Martel,” said Tommy, behind her.

She spun around to see him smugly twirling her keyring around his finger.

“You little—”

He held his hand to stop her, and he pointed to the visitor parking spots. There was Marko, leaning against her car. Lilli and Elayna were there, slurping smoothies from the place down the street.

“You stole my—”

“Fixed, not stole,” Tommy said. He handed her the keys. “Though we did take it for a test drive to make sure it worked.”

“We left you a berry smoothie in the cup holder,” Elayna said.

Marko smiled. “We cut class and took your car to the autoshop. Our mechanics teacher always lets us bring in our cars to work on them. You have a Honda. Super easy to find parts for. We found you a new alternator. It works good as new now.”

Tommy tossed her keys in the air, and she caught them. “Maybe at lunch tomorrow you’ll bring something better than PB and J, huh, Ms. Marko?”

She smiled as she got in her car and listened to it start up right the first time.

“Maybe I will,” she said and watched them smile at her in the rearview mirror as she drove away.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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The Spot Writers – “What Do Elves Do After Christmas?” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. In our last prompt for 2018, we had to use the following words in a story: stables, swimming pool, pavement, trees, mailboxes. Today’s prompt comes to us from Val Muller, author of the YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away and The Scarred Letter, a modernization of Hawthorne’s masterpiece.

What Elves Do After Christmas by Val Muller

Most of the elves were at the festival. They’d be there a week longer—every year, the festival ran from Santa’s return until January 6. It was a time to celebrate, to burn off the adrenaline of the Christmas rush. Hot chocolate spiked with crème de cacao and harder stuff, too; candy cane casserole, gingerbread mansions. The feasting hall boasted a swimming pool filled with marshmallows. And, oh, the reindeer games!

For most elves, Christmas was life. It was their only purpose, and Santa’s insistence on waiting until January 7 to begin planning for next year left many elves feeling glum. Which is why, decades ago, the festival was established. It gave the elves purpose while Santa rested and recovered on his yearly stay-cation with Mrs. Claus. For elves, otherwise, two weeks of idle time would be a prison sentence.

It was existentialism, really. But only Ronnie knew it. He was the only one who used his vacation days to read. Or think. It wasn’t even New Years, and he’d already gotten through Hamlet, The Life of Pi, The Stranger, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—for good measure. Together, the works had wracked his brain. He planned to tackle some Kafka next, and read The Myth of Sisyphus before being summoned back to work.  

He’d read enough to know the elves had become defined as what they did every day, 353 days a year. They were cogs in the Christmas Machine.

The arctic sun rose as high as it was going to, and Ronnie took advantage of the midnight darkness to take a walk. The roads of the North Pole were paved, but the festival meant no one was available to plow, so the pavement remained covered in drifts of snow. Colored light strings showed the way to the Grand Hall, their incandescent bulbs melting some of the snow and causing icicles to form on the wire.

Ronnie passed several mounds—the huge mailboxes, now empty and covered in snow, that would fill in the later part of the year with letters from children asking for sleds and snow globes and dolls and technology.

As he trekked away from the Christmas village, the trees shrouded the perpetual darkness, their piney arms bending in defeat. Ronnie had seen a television show once—televisions played nonstop in the workshops, blasting Christmas movies and TV specials 24/7. It had been about an elf who wanted to be a dentist. Everyone acted like it was the most absurd desire in the world, to want to shake off the mortal coils of toy-dom.

But standing in the twilight snowdrifts and looking back at the colored lighting running up to the Grand Hall, and the gaudy lighting it threw up into the sky, Ronnie could understand that. All year, he had been in charge of placing computer chips. Almost all toys had them nowadays. His name seemed superfluous, even. Ronnie? Why call him Ronnie? He might as well be Chip-Placer. Or maybe give him a serial number. That’s all he was. A cog in a machine.

But what was the alternative, he wondered as he looked over the winter wasteland. Where could he go? Who would employ an elf other than Santa? Humans were known to be prejudiced against the pointed-eared little people. Ay, there’s the rub.

What lay beyond the North Pole? What fate awaited him if he were to leave?

*

The faint echo of a drunken Christmas carol wafted toward the stables as Ronnie opened the door. The stables were maintained by a skeleton crew these few weeks, so the reindeer remained fed as they recovered from their Herculean ordeal. A pile of curly-toed shoes peeked out from the hay, and the snoring of drunken elves suggested the reindeers’ keepers were well-provided for during the festivities.

Ronnie selected one of the reindeer overlooked for Santa’s sleigh ride this year. One of the Dashers, a young one, seemed especially restless. Maybe he, too, wanted to leave this place. So Ronnie saddled him up and left the stables. The gaudy lights of the Christmas village disappeared into nothingness as he rose toward the moon and toward his future.

He could be anything, now. Anything at all. Even a dentist.  

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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


+++

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

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