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The Spot Writers – “The Vampire” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. March’s prompt: How (or why) a young person decides what career (or path) to follow.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published two anthologies: OUT OF THE CAVE and TWO EYES OPEN, two collections of short stories by authors around the world, to read during the day…or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Not “horrific horror”…more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply good reads.

TWO EYES OPEN: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

OUT OF THE CAVE (milder stories for 13+):  https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Cassandra-Williams/dp/1927529298/

***

The Vampire by Cathy MacKenzie

Nancy jumped. What was that?

The book she’d been reading, A Nightmare of Vampires, lay beside her. Had she fallen asleep? “Darn, now I’ve lost my place,” she mumbled.

She tiptoed to her bedroom door. Carefully she opened it and peeked into the hall.

Dark. Quiet. No—what was that?

A shadow. At the end of the hall.

Was that Nathan, her seventeen-year-old brother?

Once Nancy’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the shadow morphed into a vampire—a real life vampire. A female vampire! Heading to Nathan’s room!

She wanted to keep watching, but she was a fearful. Vampires were bad creatures. They sucked the blood out of you and where would you be then? But that’s why she wanted to be a vampire. She wanted control: control of her destiny, control of others.

She liked the look of blood, the thick red, coppery scent. She’d tasted blood previously, when she cut herself, sometimes on purpose, so she could lick her skin until she had lapped up all the red. The taste wasn’t bad, actually, but not as sweet as she had expected. She worried—if her dream to be a vampire came true—whether she’d be able to stomach strange blood. That was perverse and unnatural, wasn’t it?

But it would be fun to haunt the night, to soar through the sky—vampires did fly, didn’t they? She considered herself a people person, at least that’s what her teacher had recently said. At the time, Nancy thought “people person” was a label for yapping fools who didn’t shut up, but she later learned the connotation was desirable. People were supposed to be sociable, talkative, and interested in others. Nancy was all of those: all the requisites for a female vampire.

She hesitated. She’d love to confront the vampire in the hall and converse with it, but she snuck back to her bed.

Katherine Krimmins was an excellent writer, and Nancy immersed herself in the story again, picturing herself as Vanessa the Vampire. She was aware most vampires were male, but this was the twenty-first century. Couldn’t she be whatever she wanted?

The next morning, she met her grandmother, who was visiting for a couple of weeks, on the stairs, and told her that she wanted to be a vampire when she grew up.

Granny’s eyes grew wide. “What! A vampire? How do you know what a vampire is?”

“I know what they are. I’ve seen them.”

“You’ve seen vampires?”

“Well…just one. Last night.”

“Oh, you must have had a bad dream. A nightmare.”

“No, Granny, I saw one for sure.”

“Where?”

“It was going into Nathan’s room.” She pointed behind her. “I saw it.”

“Oh, Nancy, you silly girl.”

“No, Granny, I saw it.”

“It’s not nice to tell fibs.”

Nancy pouted. “I’m not. And that’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

Her grandmother hugged her. “Oh, sweetie, if you want to be a vampire, you can be a vampire. You can be anything you set your mind to, but you’re only twelve, so I’m sure you’ll change your mind dozens of times before then.”

Nancy relaxed. Even if her grandmother didn’t believe her tale, she had, at least, agreed she could be a vampire. Her mother, though, would have a different opinion.

“Let’s go eat breakfast,” Granny said.

They entered the kitchen. Her mother, busy at the counter, greeted them. Nathan appeared seconds later.

Nancy couldn’t help but notice his flipped-up collar. “Nathan, your collar is skewered.”

His face flushed. Up to no good, she thought.

He glared at her. “Shut up, Nancy.”

Their mother wagged her wet fingers. “Kids, behave.”

When Nathan sat at the table, his collar flipped down.

Nancy gasped and whispered to her grandmother. “Granny, see? Vampires do exist. They suck the blood outta you, just like one did to Nathan last night.”

“Sweetie, what are you talking about?” Granny asked.

She motioned toward Nathan. “Look at Nathan’s neck. See the red blotch? That’s dried blood. That’s where the vampire got him. Sometimes they don’t kill you, you know. It all depends how sharp their teeth are.” Nancy figured she’d be a good vampire. Suck up enough blood to satisfy her urge but not enough to kill.

Nathan, his face even redder, yanked up his collar. “What you guys looking at?”

Their mother growled again. “Kids, hush. Sit down, Nancy and Granny. I have eggs and bacon.”

Nancy ignored her mother and whispered to her grandmother again. “See, I told you I saw a vampire.”

Granny leaned in to her. “I believe you, sweetie. I saw the red mark. But let’s keep that our secret.” Her eyes glistened.

Was she crying?  She looked sad.

“You missing Grampie?” Nancy asked.

“I am, sweetie.”

“Sorry, Granny.”

“Life goes on. Companionship is a good thing. I think being a vampire would be a good occupation when you grow up,” she said.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Transcendental Beauty” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about why or how a young person decides what career or path to follow. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the poignant coming of age tale The Girl Who Flew Away (https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away-ebook/dp/B06XKDFXTZ).

***

Transcendental Beauty by Val Muller

“An egg candler? You mean, as in candles?”

I nodded and smiled, but Mom’s brow was doing that thing again, that squinty thing it does when she’s mad.

“An egg what, now?” Dad asked. He peered over the folded edge of his newspaper. “A handler, like as in, a packer? You want to work at a factory, son?”

I shook my head. How could I make them understand? “Not a handler. A candler. Remember that old cartoon we watched at Uncle Mike’s house? The one where the farmer holds up all the eggs to a candle until he finds the egg that has the chick in it?”

My mom’s brow was now a map of the Grand Canyon.

I swallowed a lump in my throat. “Well, that’s what I want to do.”

Dad’s newspaper fell to the table. “So you want to spend your life holding up eggs to candles? Am I hearing this right? You’re taking five AP classes so you can hold an egg to the candle?”

The air grew dense.

“Are you taking drugs?” Mom asked.

“No!” I felt my face flush. “It’s just—” I tried to picture the German classroom, to picture the beauty of it in a way that my parents would understand. The way Frau made everything soft and welcoming. Even the German language sounded like soft poetry the way she spoke it. “For Easter, Frau Beckham let us make eggs.”

“Make eggs?” Mom asked.

“Who the hell is Frau Beckham?” Dad asked.

“His German teacher,” Mom said. She lowered her voice. “I think he has a crush on her.”

The blush rose to my ears.

“Aren’t you supposed to be learning German in that class?” Dad asked. “Is it a cooking class? Home Ec is for girls.”

“We’re learning German,” I insisted. “She was giving us the directions in German.”

“The directions?” Dad asked. “On how to be an egg candler?”

“No, the egg candler wasn’t Frau’s idea. She had us decorate Easter eggs. We blew the yolks out and then decorated the eggs. Now they’re hanging on a tree on her desk. Mine is the one right in front.” I swallowed a smile. “It’s pink with a purple heart in the center.”

“You blew the yolks out? In the classroom? On desks where kids sit?” Mom asked. “She could give someone salmonella that way.”

“You just make a little hole on each side,” I explained. And then you break the yolk and then blow it all out into a bowl. If we were in Germany, we would have used the eggs in the bowl to cook something.”

“Good thing you were in a public school classroom, then,” Mom said. “That all seems rather unsanitary.”

“She had the desks all covered. She brought these little table clothes, and she set them each with lots of napkins and even some chocolate eggs. And her dress matched, too. All very spring-like.”

Dad rolled his eyes and picked up his paper again. “Looks like our son has spring fever for this Frau.”

“Maybe I should call the school,” Mom said, her voice so much less dismissive than Dad’s. “This all seems rather unhealthy. And an egg candler…” She scrolled through her phone screen. “The median salary is laughable, James. This is not the job for a son of ours. Not one who is bound for college.” She put her phone down and squinted at me. “I think I will call the school about this Frau, planting ideas in your head of making you a bum.”

“Yeah, son. A factory job is no place for you.”

“Mom, an egg candler is not a bum.” I turned to Dad. “And you don’t know what my place is, anyway. Besides, it wasn’t Frau who got me thinking about that kind of a job.”

My parents looked at me, my dad’s eyes glaring over the paper.

“In English class, we’re discussing Existentialism. The idea is that nothing really has meaning until we impose it. So this whole idea that we have to go to college…”

“James!” Mom scolded.

“…and work fifty weeks a year just to spend tons of money on a two-week vacation…”

“You’re on thin ice, boy,” Dad said over the paper.

“…and work to exhaustion at college just to find a competitive career that will make us sleepless at night and stressed during the day…”

My parents exchanged glances. I, in the middle of them, felt their impact as if I were caught in a firing squad. But I couldn’t stop myself.

“So instead of sitting behind a desk all day, or stressing about clients, or worrying about competition, why not find something amazing, like the simple beauty of an egg? Why not look inside the beauty of nature every day? It’s very Transcendental, actually. Emerson and Thoreau would—”

But that was it. Their looks had killed me. I swallowed hard, like swallowing over an egg stuck in my throat, before getting up to do the dishes. I had to hurry: I had lots of work to do for my five AP classes if I had any hope of getting into a good college.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Too Much Silliness” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use these five words: riot, tear, leaf, bread, nurse.

Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie. “Like” her WOLVES Facebook page to keep up to date on her first novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK (coming soon!!): https://www.facebook.com/WolvesDontKnock/  (No! This book is not about werewolves or vampires!)

***

Too Much Silliness by Cathy MacKenzie

The outside commotion dragged Natalie from her dinner. She peeked out the bedroom window to darkness, but when flares soared high into the sky, she saw police brandishing their guns. A full-blown riot!

She yanked the drapes together as if blocking the scene made it less threatening. The action reminded her how she closed her eyes when she didn’t want someone to see her—as if doing so made her invisible. Such silliness!

Returning to the kitchen table, she demolished the last of the bread and soup. The soup had cooled in the few minutes she’d been in the bedroom. She closed her eyes, imaging the horror outside—outside on her very street, right outside her window! How could that be?

The world had changed; violence was the new normal. Unknowingly, she had picked the right profession. Nurses and doctors were in demand. At first, she hadn’t been certain she could follow through with her chosen career, but gradually, during her forty-plus year as a nurse, the sight of blood became her new normal.

Except she wasn’t working any longer and missed those days at the hospital.

She missed her husband, too.

She let her face drop to her hands, ignoring the tear that plopped to the table. Her sweet Bill. Whatever in the world had she been thinking?

She dipped her index finger into the blob, which had increased with the addition of several more tears, and traced the outline of a leaf. The shape resembled a teardrop, reminding her of dear Bill. A teardrop leaf. She snickered. How silly!

She smacked the blotch, surprising herself.

She sighed and returned to the window, peeking between the drapes. The din had lessened though a throng of people still lingered.

She went to the closet and withdrew an almost weightless box from the top shelf, placing it on the floor and removing the lid. Ah, her nurse’s cap, which she hadn’t worn for the last ten years, not after she’d been forced from the hospital due to her age. At least that’s what she told herself.

In reality, she had been fired for drinking blood, caught in the act by a sickly patient who had screamed at the discovery. Natalie had tried to wheedle her way out of the predicament, but blood dripping down her chin was the only evidence needed.

A policeman had the audacity to ask if she were a vampire. A vampire? Hadn’t they gone out with the dark ages? Had they ever been real?

“You’re too silly. I’m not a vampire.” Her words had been spewed to deaf ears—except for the dratted patient who had given Natalie away. Natalie had wanted to throttle her white, turkey-gobbler neck.

She sighed and twirled her waist-length hair into a bun, ensuring it lay neatly on top of her head. Had she really been fired because of the blood? She had convinced herself she had been fired due to her age, which gave her a legitimate reason to hate her employer and the staff, who had been itching for her to resign for years. Luckily, she had managed to keep her pension. She had worked the requisite thirty plus years; no one had the right to snatch that from her,

What a load of crap! It wasn’t against the law to drink blood. And silliness to boot! So much silliness that no charges had ever been laid. The hospital, not interested in adverse publicity, wanted to forget the incident. Old Mrs. McNaughton, the woman who had caught her in the act, was senile and adamantly refused to testify. They had no case even if the hospital had wanted to press charges.

Natalie’s supervisor at the hospital had declared her a nut case. Natalie grimaced. After over thirty years at the same hospital, she should have held the supervisor positon, not some upstart twenty-year-old who didn’t know the difference between a needle and a thermometer.

“What kind of imbecile drinks blood?” Natalie’s supervisor had added after declaring her a nutcase.

“Me,” Natalie had said. “I was thirsty.” She kept a straight face but inside her guts constricted with glee. She had known it was the wrong reply, but she couldn’t help herself. She had whispered it, though, so only the supervisor heard it, which made the younger woman even more irate. But the telltale blood was the nail that kept the lid on the coffin, so to speak.

“Never mind,” Natalie had said, “I quit,” even though she was aware she was a tad late; she had already been fired.

She had paid no never mind to the awe-struck onlookers, snatched her handbag and her pristine white cap that had fallen from her head during the “excitement,” and raced from the ward. She hadn’t set foot in that hospital since. Wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing she might be sick.

Without more pondering, she set the cap on top of her head. It sat perfectly, wedged on her bun, but just in case, she secured it with two bobby pins.

After a final look in the mirror and a minor adjustment—must look presentable, dearie—she closed the door behind her and descended the three flights of stairs to the ground level.

The evening was darker than usual with the streetlights destroyed by rioters, but riots meant injuries. Injuries meant blood. No one would see. A dark corner would exist, somewhere, away from the cops and the flares.

She licked her lips in anticipation. Her dear, sweet Bill flashed in front of her. She prayed she could snare a wounded, unconscious man. Alive was best, one who resembled Bill. Poor Bill, gone much too soon, but she had enjoyed his last moments of breath even if he hadn’t.

She snickered. Much too much silliness! She’d never find another Bill.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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The Spot Writers! “Valentine’s Day” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this week is to use these five words in a story or poem: riot, tear, leaf, bread, nurse.

Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the poignant YA tale The Girl Who Flew Away, a story of friendship, family, addiction, adoption, and forgiveness.

***

Valentine’s Day by Val Muller

Why on Earth would she agree to babysit her niece and nephew on Valentine’s Day? Allison took a deep breath and closed her eyes, making the living room full of children disappear for a few seconds. Her own seven- and five-year olds were rambunctious enough, but to take on a toddler and a crawler at the same time?

Allison tried to remember what it had been like. It was hard being new parents, and Melanie and James had only been at it for a couple of years. Their little Brucie, the crawler, still wasn’t sleeping through the night, and Marianne was going through her terrible twos. No wonder Melanie and James needed a break.

Still. Did they have to go out on Valentine’s Day?

In the middle of the week?

After hopping their kids up on chocolate and lollypops?

Allison opened her eyes again. The television blared Peppa Pig, but before she could come to terms with the fact that she knew the episode by heart, she noticed little Brucie’s mouth. It was outlined in bright blue, and the color was dripping down his chubby cheeks in long, sticky lines.

“Marianne, don’t let your brother eat your lollypop,” she sighed. “He’s too little for candy.”

Marianne’s eyes flashed, and she took a handful of Lego Duplo blocks and chucked them across the room. She sputtered a string of gobbledygook that sounded like witchcraft and then crossed her arms in anger. Then she hurried to the bookshelf and flung several bedtime storybooks with the fervor of one ready to start a riot.

“Mom, Marianne didn’t do it,” Amy said. Amy, the seven-year-old. The only one adult enough to offer any assistance.

Allison chuckled at that thought. A seven-year-old as an adult. This was her life now.

“Well then who did?” Allison asked.

Amy pointed at her brother. Adam smiled guiltily, revealing a row of blue teeth. In his hand was the offending item. “Adam, Brucie’s too young for candy, okay?”

The kindergartener shrugged. “It’s Valentine’s Day. Everybody deserves candy.”

Something about this annoyed Marianne, who was already on the verge of tears. She charged Adam in an attempt to steal his lollypop.

“Pop!” she screamed.

Adam resisted, his hand knocking to the ground the plate of bread and butter he’d insisted on for dinner and then promptly ignored. The plate flew like a frisbee and hit Brucie on the forehead. The baby wailed immediately.

Allison hurried to pick him up. This better not have left a bruise. Melanie and James were still in that honeymoon phase of parenting where they cared about every little injury. They’d probably take off work to bring the baby to the pediatrician to check for a concussion or some other injury they researched on the internet. Allison kissed the wound to no avail.

Meanwhile, Adam and Marianne were coming to blows.

“Amy, please help!” Allison asked.

The seven-year-old shot a “why me?” look.

Marianne ran to the carnage of books and ripped out several pages, shredding them and throwing them in the air like leaves.

Allison shot a look at her daughter. “Please, Amy” Allison begged. “Help mom out this evening, and I’ll take you to Target to pick out any toy you want.”

At that, Adam froze. “Me too?” he asked.

Allison sighed. There went the money she saved by not hiring her own babysitter and taking a date night of her own. Instead, she agreed to babysit for her sister’s kids and allowed her husband to work late.

“I guess,” she sighed. “If you help take care of Brucie and Marianne.”

Adam sprung into action. A roll of tape materialized from nowhere, and he dove into action, putting together the torn pages like a nurse sewing together a patient. Marianne stared, captivated at the process.

Amy picked up little Brucie and took him to the bathroom, where a minor fuss indicated that his face was being washed. A moment later, the four of them were sitting on the couch just as a new episode of PJ Masks was coming on. Allison couldn’t help but smile. It was an episode she hadn’t seen before. A rare treat. She snuck into the corner of the room and plucked three of the chocolates her husband had given her before work this morning. She popped one in her mouth and hid the other two behind her back. These were quality chocolates, not to be shared with children. Not even mature seven-year-olds.

She eyed the bottle of wine on the living room table but decided she could wait until Melanie and James came to pick up the kids—and until the hubby returned. For now, in the warm glow of the television and the soothing sweet of candy, the chocolate was enough.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

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The Spot Writers – “Satan’s Donuts” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story involving hunger. The hunger does not have to be literal. Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller, author of the YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away, available from Barking Rain Press or anywhere books are sold.

***

Satan’s Donuts by Val Muller

Her stomach growled even before her alarm sounded. A tired swoosh of the hand turned on the television, and the merciless Morning News came on with something warm and bubbly resounding on the screen. It was the perky and very fit, athletic, and blonde reporter Janet Simmons. She was speeding down the sidewalk—backwards, always backwards so she faced the camera—in beautiful high heels and speaking into the microphone without even sounding winded.

The camera stopped as she turned briefly, revealing her mornings destination. Simmons was known for her fun local features on the morning news. This morning, she was standing in front of the heavily advertised Satan’s Donuts.

Sally giggled. It wasn’t really called Satan’s Donuts, of course. It was called Satin Donuts. You know, because of how smooth they are when they slide down your throat. One after the next.

Not that Sally would know. She had stayed on her diet everyday for the past four months and had already shed 20 pounds. But that was the easy weight. Now, her body seemed to have reached what it believed to be ideal weight. Her doctor disagreed, encouraging her to lose the extra 10.

Satan’s Donuts happened to have its shop just four blocks from Sally’s office downtown. They had already wallpapered the mail room with flyers for free donuts to celebrate their grand opening. Several co-workers had brought in boxes over the past week, taking advantage of the BOGO offer.

At work, donuts were everywhere.

These were not regular grocery store donuts or even national franchise donuts. These were the kind that Sally could smell as soon as she walked into the office. They smelled expensive. They smelled like they were made of ingredients of higher caliber then Sally traditionally ate or cooked with. They smelled like they were worth the calories.

These Donuts were Gourmet.

And there, on the screen, sitting at the 1950s-style counter on a Satan-red and chrome stool, was Janet Simmons. Skinny and smiling in her trim pink suit. In front of her, the store owner had set a dozen donuts, lined up along the counter so that the camera could pan them slowly and excruciatingly.

The camera paused as the owner cut a small slice of each one. Kind of like a pizza. Sally watched as thin and perky Janet Simmons picked up the First Slice.

This one was a traditional Boston cream. But it made the national franchise brand look anemic. It was like a giant puff pastry. The entire donut was just about as big as Janet Simmons’ trim face. The camera panned in for a close-up. The dough looked airy and soft. The custard filling glistened in the light, and the chocolate ganache on top looked good enough to be a meal on its own.

Janet Simmons bit into her little slice and exclaimed all kinds of heavenly sounds to let the viewer know exactly what they were missing. She put down the remaining portion of her little sliver and moved on to the next donut.

Yes, she was going to sample all 12. But it was clear her producer and an eye on the clock because she started speeding up her little taste test. She hurried through the powdered jelly and committed blasphemy when she shoved a double chocolate into her mouth without truly savoring it.

She didn’t even really give the maple and bacon donut the time it deserved.

Simmons did finally pause for the birthday cake donut, a rainbow-speckled wonder that looked good enough to die for. The pink of the sprinkles perfectly matched her suit.

Sally winced. Her mouth watered. A rough calculation suggested that even with her small bites, Janet Simmons had just ingested about 500 calories worth of goodness.

That’s right, Sally had researched it. Each of those donuts topped out above 800 calories. They were a dieter’s nightmare. And they were giving Sally a headache.

Her stomach growled as the segment on TV finally came to an end. And of course a McDonald’s commercial appeared, displaying an egg and cheese sandwich magnified to take up the entire 60-inch television.

Sally turned off the TV.

Her stomach growled as she pulled on her shorts and workout shirt. She checked the weather and tied her shoes. A glance in the mirror made her smile. She lifted her shirt to check out her abs. Sure they were nothing like Janet Simmons’– all the world would know, after Janet’s little visit to the yoga studio last for last weeks’ feature—but they were defined, and they were progress.

Sally headed through the kitchen to the front door and eyed the box of chocolate protein cereal that waited for her to finish her run. That and half a banana wouldn’t even equal what Janet Simmons had eaten that morning. And that was its own kind of victory.

Sally locked her front door and pounded the sidewalk at a brisk pace. A good run, she learned, was the best way to beat the hunger, and to look just a little more like Janet Simmons.

 ***

 The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Sulfur” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about a fictional something that should be left in the past. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the poignant YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away-ebook/dp/B06XKDFXTZ

 ***

Sulfur By Val Muller

Even in Georgia, the day was brisk, leaving streets empty. It was the first week of January, and most people still had their Christmas decorations up. Was it to make the cold snap feel less brutal? Or maybe the Southerners simply hibernated when temperatures dropped too low: the decorations would come down when they could move again.

In any case, it worked out well for Andrea. She’d used extra perfume this morning—“holiday sparkle,” it was called, and it paired perfectly with the pine needle potpourri she stuffed into her satchel. If he asked about the scent, she could claim she was just being seasonal. Celebratory. That’s what people looked for in a nanny, right? A celebratory nanny would never have been involved in a—no, she had to move past it.

She took a deep breath and double-checked the address on her phone. Yes, this was it. 13450 Hummingbird Lane. His name was Mr. Weinstein, although her expansive Internet searches could not tell her whether he pronounced it as steen or stine. A forgivable offense, but given her situation, she couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

He answered the door holding a handkerchief to his nose, then he dabbed his red nostrils and invited her in. He closed the door behind her before reaching a hand and offering a shake. She told herself not to hesitate and to grip firmly, glad she was wearing thick leather gloves against his germy hand.

“Andrea Climbury,” she said.

“Goob to meet you,” he said. “Excuse the mose.” He motioned to his head, obviously congested.

“Of course,” she offered. At first she frowned at his lack of introduction—she still didn’t know how to pronounce his name. But then her face broke into a smile. With a stuffy nose, there was no way he could smell anything about her—pine tree or otherwise. She swore with the last interview, the sulfur ruined everything.

“Come on into the study,” he said, checking his watch. “Elissa is just finishing her map.” His face drew into a smile at what must have been Andrea’s surprised expression. “She still maps. She’s only three,” he said. “I mow, my ad made her sound a bit older. Unintentional. She’s a bit precocious, is all. She loves books.”

“I certainly do love to read to the little ones,” Andrea said. “It’s one of the reasons I answered your ad. At my last job, books were a big—” She caught herself. “And I’ve worked with children of all ages.”

Mr. Weinstein motioned for her to sit on the couch. She glanced around the study. The books were all leather and looked older than even Mr. Weinstein. They had to be worth at least twice what he paid for his house. Several rare volumes sat open on pedestals.

“Elissa loves to read,” he explained.

He retrieved Andrea’s resume from his desk and joined her at the other end. “So, Ms. Climbury, I see you’ve moved here from up north. Andover, was it? Now where do I know that town? I’ve never been to Massachusetts, but the name sounds so…”

Andrea sighed. This was it, then. He’d make the connection and she’d be on the search for a job again. If Georgia wasn’t far enough, then where in the world could she go? Distract him, stupid!

“Yes, there was a little girl there. Madison. She loved to read, too. That’s how—” She forced her face into a smile. “Anyway, I was, um, heartbroken when her parents decided to send her to boarding school.”

He nodded, but his face was elsewhere, trying to retrieve a memory. Then it relaxed. “That’s right! Andover. Late last year—Andover was the site of that, well. I don’t know what to call it, actually.”

The Portal to Hell. That’s what the media had called it. The house that randomly opened up in a sinkhole filled with what appeared to be smoldering magma. Unexplainable by geologists, architects, and city planners. A new tourist destination for fans of nearby Salem, and witchcraft, and the occult.

Andrea scratched her nose, and it burned with the familiar scent. She feared she’d remember the scent as long as she lived. To be fair, Madison had been a nice girl. Even to this day, Andrea blamed the books. They’d turned the child into a young Dr. Faustus. And then all it took was a passing taunt on the way home from little Madison’s rival. A few Latin chants later, and little Jenny’s house had become a portal to Hell.

Madison’s parents told Andrea the decision for boarding school was unrelated to the sinkhole incident. It wasn’t completely clear they knew their daughter was to blame. So what if Madison had been standing on the rim of the smoldering crater when the fire department arrived? But Andrea suspected they’d put two and two together. Why else would they send their daughter off to Wisconsin?

Same reason Andrea was down in Georgia.

Andrea looked up to see that Mr. Weinstein was frowning at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You probably don’t like talking about that very buch.” He sniffled. “I’m sure it was traumatic for your town.”

Andrea turned her face to sniff out the pine scent of her satchel. It helped cover the itchy sulfur that had infused itself into her on that fateful day. “In any case,” she said, “I’m eager to start in a new position right away. Like I said, I love working with kids.”

A pitter-patter on hardwood interrupted the conversation. “Speak of the devil,” he said, “here’s little Elissa now.” He turned to a wild-eyed little girl in a pink, frilly tutu with a sequined purple witch hat. “How was your map? You ready to do some reading?”

“Yes!” she squealed.

Andrea looked around, searching for the stash of children’s books that had to be somewhere. But little Elissa was already busy pushing a wooden stool up to a pedestal stand containing a very old, leather-bound volume.

“The Necronomicon,” she chirped, offering a toothy toddler smile to Andrea and her father.

Mr. Weinstein turned to admire his precocious little daughter. “Miss Climbury, I’m sure the two of you will get along just fine. I’ll leave the two of you to get acquai—”

But when he turned toward Andrea, he saw only an empty couch, felt the draft of the front door opening to the cold, and even through his congestion caught the faintest whiff of sulfur among pine.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Consumed” by Dorothy Colinco

This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted any way. This week’s story comes from Dorothy Colinco.

Consumed by Dorothy Colinco

He had plucked a woman from her tribe, reaching back into time and space to place her here and now, wherever that was. Wherever this sterile room with the chrome table and white walls was. The organization’s work required some unpleasantness, which was not made easier by the fact that the subjects were unsuspecting of the inevitable and irreversible damage. Of course, the damage was never physical. They were not so cruel as to inflict physical pain. But the pain was real nonetheless, and sacrifices had to be made for the advancement of the greater good.

The woman was now seated awkwardly on the chair. He felt stupid for making her sit there; of course she didn’t know how to sit in a chair. Had he expected her to lean back with her feet flat against the floor, arms crossed in front of her chest? He should’ve known she would sit – more accurately, squat – with her feet on the seat of the chair and her bottom hanging between her heels, knees up to her armpits as though she were squatting over a makeshift toilet in the ground.

She was able to communicate with her in the language and gestures she used with her tribe. She, of course, was a gatherer, her fingers stained the color of wild berries and covered with tough skin that long ago resisted the lacerations of the thorns.

“Are you scared?” He asked. She only looked at him, but in her eyes he saw that universal expression of understanding. She had understood him, and she was scared, but she was not about to admit it to this hunter, though his garments, she noticed, were not stained with the blood and fat of prey. Her son of only 50 moons had surely hunted more prey than him.

“Don’t be,” he said, and he was not unkind, which surprised her.

“I only mean to show you something. To ask questions. I won’t harm you.” Still she remained silent. He gestured, and food was brought into her room by two other women. They didn’t speak to or look at her. “Eat,” he urged. She could not resist the smells emanating from the pile before her, and she ate, gingerly at first, and eventually without restraint. She had none.

“How many are in your tribe?” He began with the questions. She saw no harm in answering him. He did not seem to want to harm her or her people. If he was planning an attack, they would be ready. Or long gone.

“We are 50 in number. Strong enough to keep other tribes away. Small enough to feed each other.”

“How many other tribes are there?”

She bit into something she was sure was venison, but it was more flavorful than any venison the hunters ever brought back. She chewed while she thought about his question.

“We know there are four other tribes. But we have heard tales of even more. Perhaps there are 10, but that is only legend. We have seen only four.”

She saw a look pass over his face. It was the look of a hunter who was about to kill a small, defenseless rabbit. There was no viciousness in that look. Only pity, and that was even more confusing.

He asked more questions, questions about their rituals. About losses they have suffered. About violence within their tribe and with others. She has endured three great losses in her life – her mother’s son when he fell off a cliff during a hunt, an elder when he grew ill and never awoke, and her own child, her second, only 12 moons, not even old enough to name.

He asked how big the other tribes were. How far they traveled. He asked her to paint the world on the wall using her fingers and paste from the brightest berries. She drew their pack, then the trails she remembered, then the locations where they met other tribes or found evidence they left behind. On the wall, her tribe was the size of her palm, and the world she could cover with her torso.

Again, that look from the hunter.

Next, he showed her a painting of an orb, the color of deep water and grass mixed with swirls of a rabbit’s fur. “Do you know what this is?”

Her silence answered for her.

He knew what the protocol asked him to do. To delay it would only be cruel. So he began.

He told her she was wrong. That there were more tribes than she thought.

“So the legends are true? There are 10?” When he was silent, she pressed, “15? 30? How many?” She wanted to know. His silence meant he thought the numbers low, but she could not begin to comprehend 10 tribes the size of hers. Where were they all? Who were they all? What were their names?

He told her. Painstakingly, he told her of the numbers. And then he told her worst parts. What they had done to each other. What happens to the equivalent of 10 of her tribes every day. That there are children without tribes. That there are children with tribes who still let them starve. That in some very large tribes, some dine on what the hunter brings and some dine not at all. That just recently, one hunter hurt a group bigger than her tribe, killed them, and still no one knows why.

They do not deal in physical pain. But that does not stop the subjects from weeping and crying out. From clutching their stomachs with revulsion.

Finally, he hands her the monster. It fits in her palm and it glows brightly. Here she finally sees the other tribes. Here, she sees the suffering over and over, in its myriad forms, and she cannot comprehend it. She was not made to. And still she clutches the monster because she cannot look away. She cannot unknow the truths and untruths she now possesses. Like so many before her, she is consumed.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

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Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Anyone?

Who doesn’t want anti-wrinkle cream, especially the product that was on Dragon’s Den? I ordered it while on my phone recently, when I was in the car with Hubby (him driving, of course!). The price was great at $2.85 for a fifteen-day sample, and even better in Canadian funds.  I dug out my credit card and placed the order, and within seconds, I received a confirmation email. I didn’t examine it too closely except to see the price of $2.85 and that it was being delivered by Canada Post.

The Riversol ads had been dominating my Facebook feed lately, and I’d read the numerous comments. For some reason, I trusted what I’d read and had been meaning to order for a few months. The Facebook Riversol representative swore that Riversol wasn’t a scam, that it wasn’t a “trial subscription” where the company, unbeknownst to you, dings you monthly and keeps sending product. Posters agreed, yet there were those stating they’d been scammed by other companies and didn’t trust this one and would never order. The company representative continued to back up claims that Riversol was on the level: Three dollars for shipping and that was it; no further charges; no further product.

I should have paid more attention. The day after placing the order, I checked my online credit card statement, as I always do every couple of days, and was surprised to see two charges: one for $2.41 and the other for $1.28, for a total of $3.69. Yes, only a difference of eighty-four cents, but I was a tad perturbed since the site clearly said $2.85. Plus there was an odd notation about U.K. and U.S. funds.

I immediately replied to the confirmation email, asking why the discrepancy. No answer.

A few days ago, I received the shipment and forgot about it until I was in bed the other night. I got up to get it to show it to Hubby. Back in bed, I read the packaging. “It says to apply in a circular motion.”

“How often do you use it?” Hubby asked.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t say. Hmmm, I think I’ll go online and see if there’s further instructions.” I pulled out my tablet.

As soon as I saw the lotions on the Riversol site, I knew something was wrong. The samples looked nothing like what I’d received. I examined the jar. No mention of Riversol. The name on it was Skin Glow*. And then I remembered the $3.00 price of the Riversol and the $2.85 plus I’d been charged.

“Something’s wrong,” I said, bounding out of bed, immediately thinking of the scams. Had I inadvertently signed up for some sort of monthly subscription? I had been scammed a few months previously when booking a hotel while on my cell. I’d been positive I was on the hotel’s website but it turned out I had booked through some scammy U.S. reservation company that charged all sorts of hidden fees and had been diverted from the hotel site to theirs. Had a similar thing happened again? I was positive I’d been on the Riversol site. The site mentioned Dragon’s Den and Vancouver and had the little Canadian flag symbol at the top.

“I gotta check my credit card,” I shrieked, and raced to the computer in my office. Thankfully, my account was fine; no weird charges. I returned to the bedroom for my credit card, returned to the office, and called the number on the back of the card. A recording said one caller was ahead of me.

Within minutes, a pleasant-sounding English-speaking woman answered. I frantically spewed that I needed to cancel my credit card. I relayed how I had ordered something I hadn’t intended to, that it might be a subscription thingie, that it might be a scam. “I need to cancel my card.”

While I yanged on and on, she tried to calm me down. For some reason, I felt I was being scammed again. Had I called MasterCard or Skin Glow? It was unusual to not hear a foreign-speaking person on the other end. The instructions on the phone had advised me to punch in my card number and then the two digits of my year and month of birth, but even despite that, I’ve always been asked a myriad of questions before the individual gave me any information.

But she had all my information at hand, for immediately she asked, “Is it Skin Glow?”

“Yes, it is. They’re gonna charge me again. I need my card cancelled.”

“Calm down, Catherine. Call the 1-800 number on your invoice and tell them to cancel the trial.”

“But I didn’t get an invoice. The cream just came in a box. Nothing else. I need my card cancelled.”

“Here’s the number to call,” and she rattled off a 1-855 number. “Oh, you’ve been charged twice. Another by Skin Glow Online. Here’s that number.”

All the while, I’m thinking: How do you know it’s Skin Glow? Why do you have those numbers so handy?

“Call now,” she said. “They will cancel.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to cancel my card?”

“It’s easier to call them. You’ll be without a card for two weeks while another one is being issued. If they give you a hard time, call back and we’ll cancel your card.” She added, “They have to cancel by law. You have fourteen days to do so. If you don’t, they can legally charge you.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked.

She laughed. “Ninety percent of my calls deal with Skin Glow.”

What! I was stunned. “Okay, then. Thanks very much.”

By this time, it was almost midnight. I checked the number of days. I was on Day Nine. I’d call in the morning.

I went back to bed and explained the “scam” to Hubby, who was confused. He couldn’t understand that I DID order Riversol, or at least I thought I did. He didn’t understand the “trial subscription” model. Duh! (He still doesn’t understand how I could have reserved that hotel room in error, either!) I’m very careful with online ordering and decided at that moment I’d never again place orders on my cell phone.

The next morning, I called Skin Glow. The foreign guy who answered must have kept me on the phone for thirty minutes “while the computer was activating the cancellation.” He asked why I was cancelling when I hadn’t even had time to try the product. I repeatedly told him I didn’t want further charges on my card, that I didn’t want to call back later to cancel, that I wanted to cancel now. I’d use the product, and if I liked it, I’d place an order. He gave me so many spiels: he’d give me a thirty-day trial instead of the fifteen-day one; he’d extend it three months. “I’ll even give you six months,” he said. I kept declining; he kept offering. Then, he said he’d reduce the price 25 percent. Then he offered 50 percent off. He was relentless.

I wanted to shriek, “Don’t you understand the meaning of “no”?

Finally, I got rid of him and received the confirmation email that I’d receive no more product nor any more charges.

That night, I ordered Riversol. Three dollars. And I’m positive I was on the correct site. I received the Riversol confirmation email.

I’m using the Skin Glow cream. Who knows, it could work. But their practices are scammy. I checked back on the site. Definitely no fine print to say I’d signed up for a subscription. On the box was fine print that the cream was made in the U.K.

I’ll continue to use the sample of Skin Glow until I receive the Riversol sample. I’ll be back to let you know how the anti-wrinkle creams worked, hopefully to show my younger face!

In the meantime, be careful of online ordering! And stay tuned for updates from a younger me!

*The name of the product is NOT Skin Glow, and hopefully there isn’t such a product because as far as I know I made it up. (Should such a name exist, this is NOT the name of the product I’ve written about and my apologies.) I decided to err on the side of caution and not post the correct name; I don’t need to be sued—even though everything I state here is correct.

***

Check out TWO EYES OPEN , a just-published anthology of short stories: mystery, thriller, intrigue, horror.

Two Eyes Open FB

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Grey Fedora,” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is to write a story including the words bird, roof, egg, war, hay. This week’s contribution comes from Cathy MacKenzie.

Give Cathy’s new Facebook page, “Granny MacKenzie’s Children’s Books,” a “like” and a comment perhaps?

Like and comment here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Granny-MacKenzies-Childrens-Books/482398755246309

 

The Grey Fedora

A sudden noise caused Robin to peer down. At first he pondered the blur of grey until he realized Harry stood beneath him. The worn fedora, propped precariously on the elderly man’s head, looked as if a fly could knock it to the ground. Perched as it was, the hat reminded Robin of a weathered nest, similar to Robin’s home cuddled in the knuckles of tree branches.

Robin couldn’t help but notice white stippling the hat. For some reason, the sight struck him funny, and he would have giggled but birds couldn’t laugh, at least not the way humans do. The bird wasn’t sure what humans had to laugh about. Then again, what did he, Robin, have to laugh about? Compared to man, Robin was a mere speck hatched from an egg, a life that mainly existed roosting on tree limbs or flying over roof tops. No, Robin didn’t enjoy a life of laughter. Unlike birds, humans made war; perhaps that’s why Robin wondered what Harry laughed about. After much thought, Robin decided he preferred life as a bird, getting along with feathered folk, free to fly at whim.

Well hidden behind thick summer leaves and tough branches, Robin observed Harry puttering about. Harry ambled here and there, yanking weeds and tossing them into the wheelbarrow. Though the man occasionally scanned the tree, Robin felt safe; the man couldn’t attack him, not high in the sky.

The bird wondered why the thought that Harry might harm him entered his mind. No reason existed—none except for the glaring white stains upon the grey felt.

Soon, Harry disappeared and Robin heard the slam of the door.

Alone again, thought Robin, glancing around to see if his feathered friends were available. Piss on you, he chirped, when he saw no kin about. Maybe being a bird wasn’t so great, after all. The others had forgotten him, just as humans sometimes don’t care about their friends.

Robin eyed his nest, which needed padding. Though Robin felt lazy, he flitted to a low-lying branch. He’d have to fly to the country for perfect nesting hay, and he didn’t have the ambition to stray too far. He fluttered to the lawn and pecked at sturdy grass. He could gather enough grass for his nest if he kept at it long enough.

What was that? Robin cocked his head toward the sound of the screen door.

Harry was back.

Robin hid beneath a bushy bush. Harry strode into the garden and plopped to the concrete bench. The sun danced on the man’s shiny head. Had the lowly fly succeeded? Then Robin spied the hat clutched in Harry’s gnarled hands.

Harry’s face looked as sweaty as his hairless head. Robin regretted pooping on Harry’s hat. He hadn’t meant to, but he had had an accident. No doubt something he had eaten. He had likely left white stuff on the windowsills, as well, but that’s what birds did. They flew and pooped.

Several days previously, when Robin deposited the slimy treasure on Harry’s hat, the irate man had brandished a fist in the bird’s direction and spewed wild words Robin had never heard previously.

Despite Harry’s recent rude actions, Robin felt possessed to make amends. Harry seemed oblivious when Robin flew to a shrub by the bench. What did Robin have to do to get his attention? A song, Robin thought, and so the bird burst out in tune, cheeping as birds do. Harry remained motionless. Was he deaf?

Just before Robin was about to dart away in defeat, he noticed a worm crawling on the grass. A tasty morsel, Robin thought. When the bird swooped down for the prey, Harry, still clutching his old hat, jumped up as if the bench were about to collapse.

The situation unfolded as if time had stopped for Robin, as if his matchstick legs had formed roots that delved deep underground. Harry moved in slow motion. So did the worm. Robin, distracted by too many events, understood Harry’s purpose when the man raised his hat. The hat whacked Robin on his left wing. The bird squalled. Feathers flew as if pillows had been involved in a fight.

“Take that you dratted bird, pooping on my favourite hat. It stinks now, hear me. Stinks. I hate birds. Always have.”

Harry scooped up the shivering bird and glared into dazed eyes. Robin attempted to open his beak, to protest Harry’s handling of him—to try to save himself—but couldn’t.

Robin felt himself hurled into the air but, with a mangled wing, was unable to fly. As the air uplifted him for several seconds, he closed his eyes, awaiting the final descent. He landed, hearing the deafening crunch of his right wing.

A tornado of air swirled over Robin when Harry lifted his right foot. Robin closed his eyes.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

RC Bonitzhttp://www.rcbonitz.com

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

Catherine A. MacKenziehttps://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Deborah Marie Dera:  www.deborahdera.com

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