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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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The Spot Writers – “The Snow Globe” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story that involves a snow globe.

Snow glob

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

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

***

The Snow Globe by Cathy MacKenzie

For the fourth time that day, Miranda stood in her bedroom. Her mother hadn’t disturbed the room except to clean and move some of her books into Kevin’s room.

She spied her Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book and Ramona, the over-sized ratty rabbit she’d had since her third birthday, and cradled the soft toy in her arms, inhaling scents of long ago. Stuffing escaped from the seams where the stitching had loosened. One floppy ear hung lopsided where her mother, eons ago, had reattached it, but the ear would never be the same. No one could put Humpty Dumpty together again either, not to its original form.

The stuffed animal’s forlorn amber eyes stared the way Kevin stared at her, forcing her to look away. She heaved the stuffy to the bed and shrieked when she spied the snow globe on the shelf, a gift from her father on his last Christmas. The name tag had displayed both her parents’ names, but he had proudly exclaimed that he had picked it out, so she had always considered the gift from him alone.

She shook the globe. White flakes lifted from the bottom, revealing the bitty brick walkway leading from the log cabin to the edge of the glass. Mesmerized, she watched while the flakes settled and obscured the path.

Why did a cherished object bring forth such horrible reminders?

She sank to the bed, one hand clutching Ramona to her shoulder, letting the threadbare fleece absorb her tears. Too many scenes bombarded her: Paul, Kevin, her parents. What was real and what wasn’t?

How could one object that once held so many fond memories conjure such horridness? And how could one small object be so perfect in its portrayal: a non-descript cabin in the woods, an ordinary path leading to the cabin’s door. Pristine snow.

The more she stared, the more the past surfaced. Memories she wanted to forget were jammed in a plastic object, small enough she could hold it in her hand. Small enough she could toss it across the room, watch water cascade down the wall, and eye fake snowflakes falling to the carpet instead of to the bottom of the globe. She could even crush the trees and the cabin beneath her feet.

She wanted to scream. Wanted to shout to a God she didn’t believe existed.

She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present, and squinted at the innate object in her hand. The scene should be a tranquil one—and it would be to anyone but her—but it showcased where she’d spent six years of her life. She almost hurled the globe as she had Ramona Rabbit minutes previously, but she returned it to the shelf, sliding it behind a china doll.

No matter the horrid memories, she couldn’t trash one of the few treasures she had left of her father.

She must pull herself together. Had it been purely by accident she’d managed to escape the kidnapper’s clutches? Her foggy mind wouldn’t allow her back there, at least not to that last evening. Perhaps God did exist, after all.

She dried her tears, slipped off the bed, and knelt on the floor. “Thank you, Heavenly Father. Thank you.”

 

The foregoing is a passage (slightly revised and with an “ending” to make it more of a “complete” story) from a scene in the book, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK. Miranda is kidnapped at sixteen, escapes after six years, and returns home. She and her mother must learn to readjust while constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering if and when the kidnapper will return. Twists and turns will keep the reader turning the pages.

Read this book to discover, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

***

 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 – “Rogue Copies” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: a book keeps appearing out of the blue in the most unexpected and unusual places.

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/

***

Rogue Copies by Phil Yeats

 

Yesterday, I saw a copy of Tilting at Windmills sitting abandoned on a park bench. I sauntered by perusing the cover. It was definitely my cover, my title and my pen name.

I’d recently distributed electronic copies of the manuscript, including jpegs of my proposed covers, to eight writing colleagues for final comments before I formatted it for self-publication. I’d also sent the first fifty pages, no covers, to several publishers. But I hadn’t published it.

After sneaking down another path, I approached the bench from a different direction. I stood behind one of the Public Garden’s giant rhododendrons and noted everyone within sight as I tried to understand this strange event.

Had someone stolen my manuscript, printed copies of the book, and placed them for sale in local bookstores? Or had someone left a mock-up of the covers with blank pages where I’d find it? A none too gentle reminder from a colleague telling me I’d taken too long getting this manuscript finished.

I watched for half an hour, but no one approached the book, and no one I recognized loitered nearby. I picked the damn thing up and leafed through it.

Two things were obvious. First, it wasn’t laser printed covers around blank pages. It was a properly formatted and printed versions of my book, one I’d have proudly displayed if I’d produced it myself. Second, someone had sliced out the page that identified the printer.

 

This morning, I looked for a listing on Amazon—nothing. I stopped by two bookstores to see if copies were on their shelves—again, nothing. Finally, I visited the library to search for it in their catalogue.

I saw the second copy on a display table of books by local authors. I picked it up and rushed to the information desk.

The librarian on duty shook his head. “Not ours. Someone must have slipped it into our display.”

I now had two copies of my unpublished book and no idea where they came from. I wandered into the library’s busy café, ordered a coffee, and tried to unravel my little mystery.

A woman appeared, plunked a third copy of Tilting at Windmills on my table and disappeared into the crowd near the café entrance. I grabbed my backpack and chased after her, but realized the futility as I pushed through the crowd inside the café into a larger one outside. I’d only managed a brief glance at the woman, enough to conclude she wasn’t anyone I knew, but little else. She’d been wearing a colourful cape, but she could easily have slipped it off and blended into the crowd.

I returned to my half-drunk coffee slightly wiser. I was now certain someone targeted me with these copies of my book, but I didn’t know why or what to do about it.

An idea popped into my head. I could format the authentic version of Tilting at Windmills and rush it into print. In the meantime, I could write blog posts describing the strange occurrences of rogue copies of my as yet unpublished book. If they caught on, they could form the basis of an interesting publicity campaign.

 

A week later, I passed George Foster, one of my eight beta readers, on Spring Garden Road. “I see your manuscript is finally published,” he said without stopping.

I stared at his retreating back. Was he referring to the e-book version I’d posted on Amazon three days earlier, or more rogue copies floating around Halifax?

***

 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 – “The Notepad” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: a book keeps appearing out of the blue in the most unexpected and unusual places.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, is available from her locally or on Amazon, to great reviews.

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

***

The Notepad by Cathy MacKenzie

“Bob, did you see my book?”

“What book?”

“The one I was reading. I had it a few minutes ago.”

“Which one was that?”

Candace and Bernie,” I shouted back, exasperated. “Did you see my book or didn’t you?”

“Nope.”

“I had it a few minutes ago.”

“Don’t know. Haven’t seen it.”

Was I losing it? Books I had been reading had mysteriously disappeared over the last little while. Is this what the Golden Years bring us seniors? Sure, I was forgetful but no more than the average person; at least, I didn’t think so.

I’ve lost other things in the past, like my reading glasses, only to find them perched on top of my head or dangling from the beaded chain around my neck. One time I found them on the bathroom counter, where I’d forgotten them after plucking that unsightly and hard-to-grasp silvery, spidery hair from my chin.

And then there were the car keys. Easy to misplace those. Voila, they turned up on the foyer table even though that wasn’t a place I’d ever leave them. I’m always extra careful to put my keys back into my purse because I’ve returned into the house too many times after forgetting them on the kitchen counter. Once, after looking for hours, I found them in my coat pocket.

But this missing book was another matter, one far removed from the usual, everyday age-forgetfulness. Math has never been my strong point, but this particular book has been lost at least six times—all during the past week. Was dementia setting in faster than expected? And was it dementia—or something worse?

I was into the third chapter earlier in the week when it first went missing, but I later found it in the guest bedroom. The next time, I discovered it in the closet in the side porch. I’d never leave a book in those places, let alone read there, so I was mystified. The third time, it turned up in the refrigerator. I wasn’t aware the book was missing then and had breathed a silent prayer that Bob hadn’t found it first. What would he have thought?

The other places were just as silly. Stupid, silly places.

And now, missing again, and I was positive, as I’d always been, that I had left it by my chaise lounger in the living room.

I sauntered to the bedroom and plopped to the bed. Tears cascaded down my face. Too many instances of misplaced objects lately, and I was sick of Bob nattering at me about being so forgetful. He had put his mother in a home when she developed Alzheimer’s. “I can’t handle her anymore,” he had said. He was an only child; there was no one else. I offered to take care of her since I was home all day, but Bob wouldn’t hear of it. “She has plenty of money. She can afford to go to a home.”

Stashing a human away, never again to see the light of day, was cruel. And everyone’s heard horror stories about those places. Bob’s promised daily visits turned into weekly visits that soon morphed into monthly. The month before she passed on, visits had become almost non-existent. Bob seemed grateful at the end as if he’d been absolved of guilt. And duty.

Would Bob do that to me? I’ve always dreaded going into a senior’s home. We’d made a pact when we married thirty years ago that we’d never do that to the other. Instead, we’d care for each other in sickness and in health—‘til death do us part.

But if I were losing my mind? What then? I’d eventually be unaware of my surroundings, and Bob could easily deposit me in one of those institutions. Without a functioning mind, how would I know?

I dried my tears and picked up the phone. I must see my doctor. Luck was on my side. She had an opening on Monday. I didn’t tell Bob. No sense worrying him. He wouldn’t know anyhow; he’d be at work.

Four months until he retired. We’d enjoy the good life then, travelling, dining out, enjoying each other’s company. Bob was excited and eager for that day.

“Did you find your book?” he asked when I returned to the kitchen.

“Yes.” For the first time in my marriage, I lied to my husband.

Minutes later, I found it in the laundry room on top of the dryer.

Hours later, while trying to concentrate on Candace and Bernie—a not-so-happy life for either of those fictional characters—I devised a plan. I’d keep a small notebook in my pocket and when I finished reading, I’d jot down where I left my book. That way, I’d easily find it. Bob would be none the wiser.

The plan seemed ideal to me (as long as I remembered I had a notepad), yet I shivered despite the hot summer day. Is this what my life had reverted to? Losing one’s mind wasn’t pleasant.

Bob seemed distant in bed that night. When I questioned him, he claimed work issues. I returned to my side of the king-sized bed.

On Monday, my doctor assured me I was fine. “Advancing years,” she said. “I’ve experienced the same issues.” She was ready for retirement, too, but I bet she hadn’t experienced missing books that turned up in odd places.

When I returned home, I decided to start the week fresh. A new week. A new notepad.

The notepad didn’t help. Most of my days were wasted while I continually searched for my book. I felt like a child hunting for Easter eggs. I didn’t get much reading done. But I knew one thing for certain: I wasn’t going crazy; I hadn’t lost my mind. But what was going on?

And then, mid-week at noon (Bob always came home for lunch), I caught him scurrying off with my book.

Aha! The mystery was solved. But why?

The next evening, I followed Bob when he was purportedly going to the Silver Seniors’ Centre down the road. Supposedly, guys played crib there once a week.

But he didn’t go to the Seniors’ Centre.

And then it all made sense. He wanted to get rid of me, probably wanted to commit me to an insane asylum (did such institutions still exist?) or, at the very least, toss me into a home as he had his mother. If it weren’t for my trusty notepad, I’m positive I would have turned into a crazy.

Yep, you guessed it! (Didn’t you?) Bob, my dear sweet (ahem!) husband, was experiencing itchiness.

Bob had found a young thing to cavort with.

I immediately transferred half of our investments into my name, cleaned out our joint bank account, and left him to his sweet honey. He never contacted me. He knew I had the goods on him, so to speak.

I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I’m enjoying my books in my solitude. And they don’t go missing any longer!

Mwahahaha!

***

 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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