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The Spot Writers – “Me Time” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use the following words or images in a story: whirlwind of leaves, wizened old man, lonely call of an owl, crackling fire.

***

“Me Time” by Val Muller

There he stood, in the strip mall in front of Tropical Palms Spa. His skin tingled from his facial, and his muscles were so relaxed he could melt. He sighed and glanced back at the neon palm tree in the window. Of course, there was nothing tropical about it, it being located in the middle of Hudson, Ohio. But that was the point, to go somewhere away from it all. Near a national park, it was a good place to get lost.

And getting lost was easy to do. He’d taken his doctor’s advice and started Intermittent Fasting, eating only during an eight-hour window each day. Gone were the days of keeping gingerbread cookies at the ready, eating one practically every five minutes. Without the chill of his wintry abode, he didn’t need that much insulation anymore, and the extra weight was bad for his knees.

He wondered if his wife would even recognize him after his sabbatical. He’d lost countless pounds and dropped so many pant sizes that he could wrap himself in his old clothes threefold. His energy had increased, just like the doctor said it would. He went for walks now, long walks, wondering how in the world he used to conquer all those lists and deadlines.

The checking once, twice; the playing moral judge. It had all been so taxing, so ubiquitous, so constant. Who was he to determine naughty or nice? His therapist was right: it was time for parents to start looking after their own children’s behaviors. Santa needed to look after Santa.

His elves, he’d sent off to a holiday in the tropics. The coconuts and rum would be good for them; after all, they lived on carbs. They would be back just after Thanksgiving. That would be plenty of time for them to run maintenance on COAL 2.0, the new program the rep installed. It was a fully-automated system that assigned kids gifts or punishments based on algorithm.

It scanned their parents’ social media posts, monitored phone conversations with grandparents and friends, even tapped into school security cameras and data from the NSA. In mid-December, it spit out a list of kids good, bad, and neutral. Then, it assigned one of a small range of toys—about twelve possible options, including rocks for punishment (coal was not environmentally sustainable)—based on age and behavior.

There was really nothing Santa needed to do. The program sent the gifts to homes via drone delivery. He could still ride on his sled, but the ride would be mere ceremony. He would be back in time to catch a Christmas movie with the missus while enjoying a hot chocolate (if it was still during his 8-hour feeding, and not fasting, window).

He stepped off the curb, and a whirlwind of leaves swirled from the side of the parking lot onto the sidewalk, surrounding him and playing with the stubble on his clean-shaven whiskers. The cold made his face, fresh with the facial, tingle. He shivered, for a moment missing his plush red robe. He heard the lonely call of an owl and turned around. The lot was largely deserted, it being the middle of an October work week, and he examined the Halloween décor in the windows.

He envied Halloween. It was everyone’s job to give out candy. And that, said his therapist, is how it should be. The world had no right to demand a single entity be responsible for billions of toys each year. That was too much for any man. A flashy jack-o-lantern in the window mocked him with its smug confidence.

He gritted his teeth and reached for a cookie, but there were none, of course. The therapist had blamed sugar—in part—for the Breakdown. Santa sighed and noticed a Costco across the street. He couldn’t help himself. He’d been working on thinking of himself and his wife only—as his therapist directed—but his mind naturally went to buying in bulk. He would just take a peek.

Inside, the store was already decorated for Christmas. They must have sold out of their Halloween items long before October 1. Sparkling colored LED lights on magnificent plastic trees. His body—his old body, the fat one, the one before his recovery—in miniature, carrying a heavy sack, standing on a mirrored music box. And Christmas cookies. A box with 96 of them for $8.99. He smiled, remembering the good old days and how that box would make a nice midnight snack. He reached in his pocket and fingered the ten-dollar bill. Crisp, but not as crisp as those cookies looked.

And then he heard the pitter-patter of children. A check of his watch let him know school must have been let out. The kids ran up the aisle examining the Christmas wonder. A little boy—that was little Timmy from Twinsburg—was pushing his little brother (Joey—he was such a good little boy) to get a closer look at the tree display.

“Naughty, naughty,” Santa muttered, reaching for his list.

But he had left his list at home. The therapist told him to destroy it, but Santa had opted to store it in his drawer instead.

“Hmmm,” he said, gritting his teeth. He picked up the box of cookies and walked to the register to pay.

Out in the parking lot, at his rental car, he put the remaining half-box of cookies on the passenger seat and brushed the crumbs off his shirt. In the window’s reflection, he looked like a wizened old man, not a holly-jolly one. He shook his head as he got in and pushed the start button.

“On, Dasher,” he said, chuckling. Then he reached for another cookie.

Across the street, the smug jack-o-lantern was still watching him through the window, with beady eyes and an insistent LED smile. Dash him and all his goblin friends, Santa thought, watching a mother load bags of candy into her trunk. The woman’s two young daughters—the Beardsley twins—were bickering about who got to have first pick of the Halloween candy. Neither even gave a thought to helping their mother.

Santa cringed and stuffed a handful of cookies into his mouth. The sugar made him feel much better.

“North Pole,” he typed into the rental car’s GPS. It was a long drive, according to the map that appeared. He’d need a lot of cookies. Luckily, the rental car’s on-board computer had a way to search for stops along the way. He would need one at least one every few miles. Yes, it would take quite a while without his trusted team. But at least when he got there, there’d be his wife, and an endless list of names to double-check while sipping hot chocolate in front of the crackling fire.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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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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Writer Wednesdays – Rhonda Eichman

Writing Wicket welcomes Rhonda Eichman.

Rhonda is a lifetime resident of Kansas and received her education at St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City. She offers an authentic view of life on the Kansas prairie where she lives.  As a history buff, she can relate with unique historical culture to create fiction that is entertaining and features life’s lessons through her characters’ actions. She is the author of articles in Kansas Country Magazine and several technical materials and grants. She lives with her husband, Ray, in Seward County, Kansas.

I asked Rhonda:

Q: What’s the most you’ve ever edited out of a book? 

My first book, Bargain On The Prairie, lost 5,000 words during edits.

Q: What motivates you (either in writing or otherwise)?

A desire to leave what I know for others to read and understand.

Q: Are you ever upset when you’ve finished a story, that your characters have said all they’re going to say?

They’re actually never finished, and I have to keep going with the next book or sequel.

Q: Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Oh yes, Christian Fiction as a category.  After I started reading Christian Fiction, I can’t go back to regular fiction. It feels flat, missing something.

Q: What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

Researching each detail about the historical period I’m writing in to make sure the places, the goods and services, and character actions are correct for the period.

Q: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

The Eagle

Q: Do you ever have trouble coming up with titles for your books?

Yes, the hardest part ever.

Q: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Yes, I read them and try to reflect on what I can do better.

Q: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Yes, characters’ actions and thoughts that only a reader of Christian faith will get.

Q: What was the hardest scene you’ve ever written?

When one of my characters has a miscarriage.  I cried.

Q: Have you set goals?

Yes, when my next book will be finished.  Horsethief Canyon will be done in March or April, 2019.

Q: Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Hurts. You must be able to take criticism and make corrections to move forward and be a better writer.

Q: Do you Google yourself?

Yes, I do have a larger profile now that my first book is out.

Q: When you were growing up, did you ever expect to be a writer?

Always, that was my goal.

Q: What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

Housework! Lots of laughs. I often put off tasks I should do so I can write. I take on-line seminars to improve and try to connect with other authors, so I don’t feel isolated and give up.

Q: Have you ever cried with one of your characters?

Oh yes, when I can make myself cry, I’m finally there.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Stop and write everyday, work always waits on you.

Q: Is there a genre you wish you could write that you can’t?

Hot Romance!

Q: How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Six to eight months.

Q: What books have you self-published?

None, I am a traditionally published author with my first book, Bargain On The Prairie, released 9-24-18

Check out Rhonda on social media:

Twitter:

 https://twitter.com/EichmanRhonda

Wix Website:

http://rhondaeichman.wixsite.com/website

Instagram:

http://www.instagram.com/rhondaeichman/

facebook author page:

https://www.facebook.com/rhondareichmanauthor/

linked-in:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/rhonda-eichman-289037160/

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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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ANOTHER SEGMENT—OR TWO. Will it ever end?

Today is Good Friday, supposedly a day of relaxation and to remember “whatever.” For me, it’s remembering my mother who died on Good Friday in 2016. Of course, she didn’t die two years ago today since the date of Good Friday changes every year. I thank Facebook for reminding me of her death on March 24 cause I’m horrid with dates. I’ll never forget Mom died on Good Friday, but I won’t always remember the 24th.

We have family coming for dinner on Sunday. EEK! Thirteen people, now that I count; that’s unlucky and I don’t need more bad luck, so I’ll set a place setting for Matt and put his photograph on the chair. This will be our second Easter without him.

For the past few weeks, I’d been searching for my high stool that magically disappeared. The only place it could have been was in our large, walk-in linen closet that was stogged so full you couldn’t see the floor or the shelving. I asked Hubby to help me organize it. He’s always eager to throw stuff out, so perhaps he had the wrong impression re my request as he was most accommodating.  We got a few things moved out, and low and behold: my stool! Sadly, I’d accused Hubby of taking it and forgetting where he’d put it; I had even gone as far as saying “someone must have stolen it.” (Who, I didn’t know.)

And then I saw them: turds. Oh My Gosh–to put it mildly. In my linen closet?! Never, ever have they been in the closet. I needed to remove everything. Long story and job that was, so I won’t even start that tirade.

Needless to say, it was more than a morning’s work. And then I had to wash numerous precious items, most of them by hand. And NOT how I wanted to spend Good Friday–or any day, for that matter. I needed a drink (or two) badly, but 11 a.m. was a bit early, even for me.

So, now I have an extremely (for me) neat linen closet.

linen

Okay, so it doesn’t look THAT neat, not in the photo. And it’s way bigger than it looks, too. It’s very deep and long. Six (or more) people can easily fit in it, not that THAT matters!

But, GAH, mice in my linen closet? What the heck! And where are they coming from?

After that, we tackled the TV cabinet. [If you’ve read my earlier post(s), you’ll understand.] Hubby removed all the electronics. GAH: more peanut shells. He was great, though, he dusted like crazy. First time I’ve seen him dust–or clean!

PART TWO TO THE SAGA:

Once the linen closet and the TV cabinet were clean, I tackled the office (where I spend my days writing stories no one ever reads). It wasn’t in that bad a shape, but the surfaces needed organized and books replaced back on shelves. It’s also my library.

So, I opened the bottom drawer of Hubby’s desk to stog stuff into it.

Low and behold: peanut shells and turds.

Oh my! What has my life become?

I had kinda been joking in earlier posts when I said how I constantly look over my shoulders, but you know what? I need to. They’re everywhere. And who knows where!

It’s now 4:44 p.m. Time for a drink, right? (Maybe two…maybe three…)

And this is how my Good Friday went. I hope yours is/was better.

“Happy Easter,” says Oliver the Rabbit.

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More Used Books!

Hubby and I just returned from the used bookstore, one of my favourite places here in Ajijic, Mexico, IF I can wrap my head around the book lice (see an earlier posting of mine)—either pretend none exist, even if I don’t see any, or do preventative treatments just in case. I’m taking the latter road.

So, my “new” books are basking in the sun. I did wipe and shake them when I first got them home. I threw away one dust jacket—what an apropos name—since it was extremely dusty, torn, and dirty. I haven’t seen a bug yet. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed.

Want to know what treasures I found? My most precious find was “The Love of a Good Woman” by Alice Munro (a collection of short stories). Also in my bag were: “The Short Stories of John Cleever” (the book with the discarded dust cover), “The Best Loved Poems of American People,” and the “Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad and Other Stories” by Howard Norman.

To be honest, I haven’t read all the previous ones I had purchased. Sometimes I think I’m simply a book collector, not a reader. But, I will read them, and some I will take home to Canada with me to add to my library there.

Why short stories you ask? I have a short attention span lately—more than “lately,” seems like for the past few years. Besides which, I write short stories; ergo, I like to read them.

Short story collections are hard to find, so I scoop them up whenever I can, especially at the prices here. We pay five pesos (less than fifty cents) for soft covers and ten pesos (less than one dollar) for hard-covered books. What a deal! Can’t pass those prices up!

The sun is shining brilliantly this afternoon. I’m heading outdoors to our luscious patio with a glass of wine. I’ll grab one of the sunbathing books, sit in the sun, and read it (and hope I don’t see a bug that I mistake for a period or a comma). Despite the clock showing 2:11, it’s cocktail time somewhere in the world. It might as well be here. Hey…it IS here. I have the glass of wine to prove it.

Happy reading, everyone, wherever you may be!

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