Tag Archives: short stories

The Spot Writers – “My Life Beyond the Hills” by Chiara De Giorgi

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The August prompt is based on a photo taken at a local zoo. There was a fence leading to a “no admittance” area, but about 12 inches at the bottom had been bent upward, allowing admission of… people? animals? And where does it lead? The Spot Writers’ task: Write a story involving a fence that has been snuck through—as a major or minor plot point.

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

***

My life beyond the hills

by Chiara De Giorgi

 

“If you want to know what my life will be like, you have to follow me.”

“Where?”

“There.”

The girl pointed to the top of the hill.

By then, I was pretty sure I was dreaming. Where and how had I fallen asleep, though?

 

My friends had wanted to go paddling on the lake, but I had felt such an urge to go explore the woods behind the B&B, that I had quickly packed a waterproof jacket and a bottle of sunscreen  – you never know what the weather’s going to be like in Scotland, after all! – and had started hiking up the hill.

Fluffy, white clouds were scattered across the sky, and a soft, warm wind was blowing, leaves rustling under its fingertips. The air smelled sweet, birds were singing, flowers were blooming all around, and my heart was about to burst with joy. This place was so beautiful, and somehow familiar. Where had I smelled that sweetness before? When had I seen such colorful meadows?

My hike abruptly came to an end when I reached a fence. I glanced right and left and saw no one, but I’d never climb over it: I was too well behaved for that. I squinted in the sunlight, trying to locate the end of the fence: maybe I could just go round it, and find the path again on the other side. I saw nothing promising, though: the fence just climbed all the way up the hill and disappeared beyond the top.

“I can show you a way through.”

Her voice startled me. Where had she come from? She looked about my age, small leaves and grass blades were entangled in her hair, that was long and dark and matted. Her sparkling green eyes made her dirty face look pretty, and she watched me with wariness and amusement.

I didn’t know what to say, I just opened my mouth and asked: “How?”

“Come with me, quick!”

She picked up her long, ragged skirts and started running up the hill, along the fence.

“What? Wait!”

I started after her before I even had the time to think. Who was this girl? Where had she come from? Why was she so shabby? Where was she leading me, and why?

“Okay, stop. Stop!”  I cried.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “We can’t stop now. They’ll catch us! Come on, run, we’re almost there.”

She started up the hill again, and I couldn’t help but follow. I stopped again when she did. I thought I’d be out of breath, but I was not: that’s when I realized this must be a dream.

“Now what?”

“Look”, she said, pointing to the ground. The fence had been wrecked.

“We’re too big, we’ll hurt ourselves. Besides, what’s the point? Why not simply climb, if we have to get to the other side?”

She grinned.

“Let’s do that!”

With one leap she was beyond the fence and had started running again.

“Wait, stop!”

She kept running, so I climbed the fence, much less nimbly than her, I admit, and ran after her.

She finally stopped and crouched behind a big, thorny bush. Sweat was leaving white streaks on her dirty brow and cheeks, her breath was heavy. She looked at me, terror in her eyes.

“What? What is it?” I asked, grabbing her hand.

“Shut up, don’t talk! They might hear us. Oh God, will they catch us? Where are they? Can you see them?”

“Who are you talking about? There’s no one here, it’s just the two of us.” Dream or not, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. “Now calm down and tell me: who are you? What or who are you running from?”

She looked at me with sad eyes.

“Don’t you remember?” she asked.

I gasped. One moment I was myself, the next I was the girl in front of me. Chased by men who wanted to burn me as a witch. By men who had burned down my village, killing or capturing all my friends and family. I was left alone in a dangerous world. Running for my life, but where?

My head was spinning.

“What…”

“Now you remember”, she muttered. “We fled”, she added, nodding to herself, her eyes lost in the distance.

“Did… Did they catch us?”

She shook her head.

“They did not. We ran for days, climbing hill after hill after hill. We were all alone. We shed tears for all the people we had lost. For all the beauty of this place, wasted on evil people. For all the magic that was lost.”

I didn’t dare break the silence that followed, so I stayed still, crouched next to her, waiting for her to speak again. At last, she glanced at me and smiled.

“It wasn’t lost, not all of it, at least. The magic, I mean. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I am you, you are me. That much you know, right?”

I nodded quickly, before my mind had time to process the thought and convince me it was nonsense.

“I am here right now, but you are not. Not really, at least. You are my future. I needed a scrap of hope, and I called out to you. Now I know it’ll be worth it.”

I slowly stood and lifted my eyes to the top of the hill. She did the same.

“If you want to know what my life will be like, you have to follow me.”

“Where?”

“There.”

One heartbeat. Two, three. I shook my head.

“Go on and live your life”, I said then. “I’ll go on and live mine. Come see me some other time, if you wish. Let me know how you’re doing.”

She sighed, but kept on smiling.

“I will. Take care, and be wise.”

She turned and started running again. I stood there, watching her becoming smaller and smaller until she disappeared beyond the top of the hill.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to wake up, but realized I was already awake.

The sun was about to set and I must run if I wanted to be back at the B&B before dark.

 

***

The Spot Writers:

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

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

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

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “Dr. Trowbridge Looks Back – And Forward” by Millicent Hughes

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 Millicent Hughes. March’s prompt: How (or why) a young person decides what career (or path) to follow.

***

Dr. Trowbridge Looks Back ─ And Forward – by Millicent Hughes

Howdy, ma’am, nice festivities here for the wedding.

No, my Sylvia’s over there. Hot gossip a’flying, no doubt. You have a cordial, I see. Perhaps you would care to sit down. I been doctoring all night, but had to come see the young couple get off on their trip. Birthed both him and her, you know. I’m about beat, but let me have a sip of this raspberry shrub.”

Was my father a doctor? No, ma’am, he failed in the hat business.. I said as how I wanted to doctor, but there was books and schooling to pay for, even in them ancient days. Plus, nobody would believe you were a real doctor without you had an office and a horse and buggy. Not in the cards for my family.

My parents talked me into apprenticing as a tailor. Yes, Ma’am, you are right to laugh, but it’s the truth. Four long years cutting and stitching and not a drop of blood that wasn’t mine!”

“Oh, you heard right. I turned schoolteacher. I always had a mind for books, so studied the Latin book one day and taught it the next. The real reason for Latin was that I was studying medicine in secret. I’d teach ‘til I got money for a medical course, take it, and go back teaching again.”

Why? I guess doctoring was like a festering wound in me. I wanted to work miracles, not waistcoats.

The puppies started it. S’pose that was about 1830 or so, up in Bethel. I was just a little lad when an old neighbor saw me in the yard and motioned me over. “Come ‘ere, boy. Got a wondrous sight for a lad to see, right there in the shed.”

His hunting dog bitch whelped pups right there in front of me. We went from one animal to six within an hour. After that, whenever I saw the pups, it felt like I owned them.

When I was eighteen, the big thing happened. One morning two boys raced down the street past me. “Come on! Some old tramp just slit his throat! Right down the block!” Out of breath, they returned to running.  I did want to see it.  Maybe more than they did.

Dr. Hanford Bennett knelt in the dirt, bending over a body. Having ripped off his coat, he bunched it into a pillow under the victim, all the time looking over the surrounding crowd. Coming up close, I saw that he wanted another coat and I gave him mine.

“I need clean water and I need it fast,” he yelped. “And clean rags or linen. What I got ain’t enough.” Women flew off to find the items he needed.

The town barber, who pretended  to fix wounds, came out of the crowd and knelt by Dr. Bennett’s side. The patient kicked and struggled, spraying blood all over. The crowd began backing up, under the impression that death was imminent.

“Jim, get on his legs,” Dr. Bennett ordered the barber. “Lean forward and hold him down, a hand on each wrist. I can’t do anything against that struggling.”

“Need somebody to hand me things out of my bag!” The doctor demanded. I picked up the bag, which was just out of his reach and knelt on the opposite side of the body.

“Take the scissors out and give them to me handle-first. Then open the wadding and lay it on this fellow’s chest, ‘cause he’s just about to go unconscious.”

And so we went on, with me handing items and retrieving them, while Dr. Bennett cleaned up the jagged gash, not one of fatal severity.

Then he looked up at me, in a pretend dilemma. “Somebody can either hold these edges together or stitch the wound. Which you goin’ to do, boy?”

Of course he would do the stitching, but it felt, ma’am, like a tornado got hold of me. I wanted so bad to show him how well I could stitch! I had never put needle and thread to human, but I wanted to with all my might.”

“Look at how I’m holding this skin, boy. Put your fingers exactly where mine are and as I stitch, move down, holding the edges together just so. Ready? Put your fingers right behind mine.”

And so he stitched, layer after layer. It seemed like a long time, there in the dust with the sun beating down and the smell of blood rising up into our faces. Two ladies tried to watch and turned sick at the stomach.

Jim hovered over us and poured water when the blood obscured the wound. The dust turned into bloody mud.

​Dr. Bennett told Jim and me that we were doing fine and he was almost done. He had said that when he hadn’t even started, which is a trick I now use myself.

When we were finished, some folks took the suicide away on a door. Jim left us, laughing at the bloody picture Dr. Bennett and I made. I helped Dr. Bennett to his feet.

I told the doctor that I had always wanted to do doctoring, but my fortunes indicated otherwise. He returned his glasses to his pocket, then took me by the shoulders and stared right into my eyes. “Don’t let other folks dictate when you have a talent for something! If you truly want to study medicine, you can find a way. You’ll be a surgeon, I can tell. No one can stop you!”

So, from that experience and the puppies, well, hardly a day goes by that I don’t birth a baby!”

Yes? What say, sir? Dr. William Trowbridge at your service!  Yes, my horse is at the door, as always. Ma’am,  please  relay to my wife where I went!

***

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 – “Clark’s Memorial” by Millicent Hughes

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 Millicent Hughes.

***

Clark’s Memorial by Millicent Hughes

Real nice to see you this morning, sir. Haven’t seen you since … well, you know…. My own boy, Clarkie, Clark Hamilton … fallen like a leaf from a tree. Well, our boy, our Danbury boy, ain’t that right, sir?

Yes, the pain of his death has worn off a bit, thanks for asking. The official notice was just a deadly shock. But since I got that letter from Richmond, the real letter, from that officer, I truly do feel better.

A thinkin’ person wants an explanation, you know. Just some answer as to how a little wound ends up to kill a man when doctors do battlefield amputations and the men live. ‘Course, I s’pose all the docs nurse them officers like they was Queen Victoria, don’t you think?

Died real noble in battle, you say? That idea might satisfy some, but it didn’t satisfy me!  I wanted the real truth and nothin’ but the truth. I knew my boy was not a victim of another young man, a boy with a gun just like his’n.  I wasn’t turnin’ a blind eye with some twisted idea of ‘glory in the grave.’

What say? Oh, what you heard is true, all right. Clarkie was wounded at Cedar Creek there in Virginia. but it ain’t where he died nor what he died of. Not by a long shot. I had the report he was taken to Richmond, so he must have come off pretty good to survive the battle and go on the cars to that prison.

No, that ain’t a tear! Why you think that, hey? No, sirree, bob!

Say, rather than tell you about it, I’ll let you read that letter for yourself. I carry it in my billfold. Nice enough that that officer cared to send it, let alone tell his mother and me the actual fact of the matter. Here, did you want to see it?

No, don’t refuse like that, sir. It ain’t real personal, like you say. I want to publish this letter to the world. That’s why I carry it ever’wheres. I want to show people that ain’t a drop of humanity in them Confederationist devils. Why the decent population down south don’t riot agin ‘em, I don’t know.

And one man dared to tell me the truth. He wrote me this letter, sir, namin’ it plain. My son, Clark Hamilton, met with murder, murder by starvation. Starvation by the fools in them Confederate states.

No, that officer din’t have nothin’ to do with our boys, just happened to be there is all.

I’m sorry you ain’t got the courage to read it. I’ll just put it back in my moneyfold for anyone who’s interested.  P’rfaps next time you’ll see fittin’ to take a look.

Nice seein’ you again, sir.

***

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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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 – “Dino Express” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s post comes to us from Dorothy Colinco.

This month’s prompt: These objects should appear in your story: a train, a pink post-it note, and keys. One of your characters must be an animator. One of your characters (it doesn’t have to be the animator), must share a name with a famous public figure, and this coincidence must come up in the story.

Dino Express by Dorothy Colinco

He stared at the preliminary sketches of the scaly cartoon dinosaur, one that admittedly looked too scary for a children’s show. As he transferred those images onto a digital sketch pad, he mused, not for the first or last time, how his name had once again dictated his path in life. Though the actor Jeff Goldblum starred in many films, the one most people remember is Jurassic Park, as they liked to remind him, Jeff Goldblum, the not-actor.

“This is my friend, Jeff. Jeff Goldblum, actually. Not the actor, obviously. Ha ha.”

“Let me introduce you to Jeff Goldblum. The one who wasn’t in Jurassic Park.”

He had to give them credit for finding different ways to use the same idea multiple times, kind of like the folks at the cough syrup companies, who created lots of different coughs and offered the same syrup, marketed as different blends, to treat them.

He thought about how strange it was that while he was so aware of the other Jeff’s existence, the actor had no idea about this Jeff, let alone how their lives were intertwined.

On this particular occasion, Jeff the animator for the producer Imaginext, gave the creative team, who had yet to live up to their name, a great idea. It was decided that since Jeff Goldblum shared a name with an actor on Jurassic Park, what better for him to illustrate than the very prehistoric subjects of the film? But the show couldn’t just be about now extinct dominators of the Mesozoic Era, it also had to feature locomotives. The creative idiots had looked at one graph indicating that trains were back “in” with the tots these days, so they decided to kill two birds, descendants of prehistoric reptiles, with one animated stone. Thus, Dino Express was born, and it was up to not-actor Jeff to bring it to digital life.

How was he going to pull this off? Dinosaurs didn’t exactly bring to mind inventions of the Industrial Revolution.

He needed a break. Some coffee, maybe a croissant. He usually didn’t let those flaky pastries around his sketches – grease stains were his mortal enemy – but he deserved one with chocolate oozing out as a bonus. He scanned his cluttered desk for his phone and keys. Sketches covered every square inch of the table, dotted here and there by fluorescent green and pink Post-Its where he left himself notes and comments. “Teeth are too pointed” and “no – Mickey Mouse” they said. He found his keys, and he noticed the way the metal glinted right below a stegosaurus’s neck. He slowly lowered himself onto his chair with the weight of a new idea. Once again, his name inserted itself into the narrative.

Later, he pitched the idea with the new sketches fueled by coffee and a splendid chocolate croissant.

“So,” the most creative of the creative team said, “the dinosaurs… BECOME trains?”

“Yes,” said Jeff Goldblum, “precisely.”

“But the two are separated by millions of years!” said another very creative person, as though it was Jeff’s idea to pair terrible lizzards with 19th Century transportation in the first place.

“Life,” he said, with a contemplative pause, “finds a way.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco. http://www.dorothycolinco.com

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

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TWO EYES OPEN!

Two Eyes Open FB

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! Submit your stories!

DEADLINE MARCH 31

MacKenzie Publishing is accepting fiction submissions for its second anthology, stories for 18+, titled TWO EYES OPEN (horror, suspense, thriller, mystery, etc.).

Submission deadline: March 31, 2017

Payment: $10 Canadian per story, paid via Paypal

Word count: 2,500 to 5,000 words
Publication date: August 1, 2017

MacKenzie Publishing does not accept material that has been published previously, either online or in print. By submitting to MacKenzie Publishing, you are assuring you hold the rights to the work and grant MacKenzie Publishing the right to publish the submitted work. MacKenzie Publishing will require exclusive rights to the stories until December 31, 2017.

To Submit:
Paste info and document in the body of an email (no attachments) in this order:
-Title of story, your name, email, word count
-Story
-Bio (up to 150 words)

Email stories to MacKenzie Publishing at: TwoEyesOpenAnthology@gmail.com

Put the title of your submission in the subject line.

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The Spot Writers – “A Road of Anthracite” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to the Spot Writers, bringing you a weekly dose of flash fiction. Today’s prompt involves a bit of fun: Pick up the two books closest to you. For the first book: copy the first 3 words of the book. This is how your story will start. For the second book: copy the last 3 words of the book. This is how your story will end. Fill in the middle. As an added challenge, turn to a random page in each book. Choose the most interesting word on each of those pages. Include those 2 words in your story.

This week’s story comes from Dorothy Colinco. Check out her blog for fiction, books reviews, and book news.

***

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – First three words: It was 7; Bonus word: Wellington

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk – Last three words: road of anthracite; Bonus word: transatlantic

***

A Road of Anthracite by Dorothy Colinco

It was 7 years after that first meeting that we spoke again. The first time was initiated by me, but chance had its hand in our second meeting.

In the moments when I thought about my good fortune, the bounty of my life, I was sometimes checked by a sudden realization, a miscalculation of the good and the bad, and I’d remember, “Oh yes, I have a brother who has rejected my very existence,” and I would read a doorstop of a novel or paint or review the taxes of the small business whom I worked for until I no longer remembered.

I remember walking along 7th Avenue, perfectly content in this city that was supposedly overdone and stale and gentrified and no longer the center of the universe, though it still was to me. I was headed to the restaurant, the one he suggested after I requested a meeting. I didn’t have to explain who I was. He must have known by my name on social media, but even without that, my picture gave him clues The end of my nose, my hooded eyelids, the fullness of my top lip.

I remember reading the menu posted outside the restaurant, entrees I had never hear of at the time – beef wellington, niçois salad, escargot. I was about to give the hostess my name when I saw him at a small table in the corner of the room. I had never seen him before, but I too had clues: his hairline, the arch of his brows, his cheekbones, so like my own. The resemblance to a face that was forever lost to me hurt.

As I sat down, he looked up, and I thought I saw him startle as he too registered the resemblance before he took on a neutral air.

He reached into his briefcase and took out a checkbook.

“How much do you need?”

“What? I don’t – That’s not what I-” I stared at the pen hovering above the table. “That’s not what I wanted.”

He seemed confused, and then, irritated.

“What, then?”

I suppose I wanted to tell him that I was angry at being rejected for no reason, that I was sad about our father passing, that I was again angry that I’d been deprived of someone who had access to memories of him. But at 23, I didn’t know all those things, or at least I didn’t know how to say them out loud.

And so I left. I didn’t want his money. I didn’t even need it. I was doing very well for myself. My modest flat was exactly that, but it was also paid for each month, on time.

I was 30 when we met again. This time, I was not a discarded half-sibling licking the wounds of rejection but an accountant at a law firm who published short stories in little-known magazines in her spare time. I had moved into a different but still modest flat, and my tendency toward everyday simplicity afforded my occasional luxuries, like the transatlantic cruise we had unknowingly both booked; I was with my close friend, and he was with his wife. It was at the piano bar that we found each other. My friend Claire had found a beau on the ship who invited her to dinner, so I sat alone at the bar while listening to Piano Man. In another setting, it may have been too on the nose, but floating on the Atlantic Ocean with strangers whom I’d see for another 7 days, it was pitch perfect.

It was then that the bartender brought over a drink paid for by “the gentleman over there.” I almost waved it away, but I noticed a tilt of the head that was not unfamiliar, the bar lights glinting off cheekbones that were like the ones I brushed highlighting powder on earlier that evening.

I didn’t touch the drink for a while. Condensation was slipping off the glass when I finally picked it up and brought it to my lips. It was bitter, with an underlying current of something sweet and bright, like citrus.

I couldn’t discern what this drink was – an olive branch? A bridge? A door, perhaps, opened after being shut forcibly and for so long.

As I stood and moved toward the seat across him, I decided it was a road, though not an easy or pretty one. It was rough and hard and unforgiving. It was still a road, though it was a road of anthracite.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco. www.dorothycolinco.com

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “Goodbye” by Val Muller

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The prompt for this month: As the year ends, we’ll focus on the topic of Endings and New Beginnings. Keeping with the December theme, a fruitcake must also appear somewhere in your story.

Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the YA reboot The Scarred Letter. Also check out her new YA novel The Man with the Crystal Ankh, releasing on December 12. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N75XTGK/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_l6KpybDE49H9B

***

Goodbye

The soft sounds of snoring carried over the crackling fire, and Elenore glanced over her family. Jill and Michael slumped together in the love seat, the contents of their empty wine glasses ruddying their cheeks. On the floor in front of the fire, Megan dozed in the sleepy embrace of her new fiancé. Her diamond ring sparkled against the flames, and their four-month old snoozed next to them in his bouncy chair. His chubby cheeks drew up into a smile as if he knew that his parents’ Christmas engagement was something to celebrate. And Michael Junior was asleep in the beanbag chair, the screen of his hand-held gaming toy turning his face orange and green and blue.

Next to each, an uneaten slice of fruitcake. It had been her mother’s tradition for years, a tradition Elenore kept when she made her home. Except her homemade fruitcake had been delicious. Jill—busy, busy Jill—had bought it from the store. A hard brick of a cake. Elenore had pretended not to hear the groans, especially from Michel Junior, about the outdated tradition. Family these days had outgrown such things. And so the slices would be deposited into the trash after Elenore was collected again for the Home.

And Elenore? She shifted in her wheelchair, adjusting the blanket around her shoulders. She never thought she’d live to be a great-grandmother, but there she was, thrice blessed, and for four whole months now. Jonathan Thomas would have loved the little babe. In fact, she saw her husband’s glow in the little tyke’s eyes.

She glanced around the room at the typical post-Christmas mess. The wrapping paper balls, the tangled ribbons, the half-strewn trash bags. Elenore wished she could tidy up for them. Always so much for the young to do. If only she could help. But these old bones were all but useless.

“Can’t be walking around anymore,” the doctor had said. Old bones can’t handle it. So brittle they might snap. It’s why they installed the wheelchair alarm, to alert the nurses at the Home in the event that Elenore tried to go out walking again. Terrible shrieking contraption, that. Scared the living daylights out of her the first time it went off.

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Her diaper had needed changing for an hour now, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to bother Jill about it. She’d just wait ‘til the van from the Home came for her.

That was her life now, anyway. Waiting. What was another hour? She glanced at the sparkling bag dangling over her arm rest. What gift had they given her again? Was it a necklace? A candle? Maybe that was last year. She couldn’t remember anymore. She had no use for gifts, anyway. Even for the gift of time. All she wanted lived in memory.

The day darkened to twilight, and she glanced out the sliding glass door, enjoying the rare moment. The nurses at the Home always pulled the shades tight by 4 p.m. They said the residents went a little crazy at twilight, sundowning with the day. They said twilight was the most dangerous time for people in the Home. Best they slipped into nighttime unknowingly, peacefully.

Like dying in one’s sleep.

But it was a silly superstition. Nothing odd or upsetting about the sun going down. Elenore smiled at the reflection in the glass against the setting sun. Those eyes.

I missed those eyes.

Jonathan Thomas stood tall, his shoulders as broad as ever. He motioned for her.

What, me? Go outside in the snow at this time of day?

“It’s the best time,” he answered. “The moon’s out here on the north side. Come see. I’ll keep you warm.”

She struggled against the rubber lap desk they’d stuck in her wheelchair. It was meant to hold her in place, since the alarm didn’t seem to do the trick. Nasty thing, that lap desk. Near impossible to remove. Not from a seated position. Not with brittle bones. Maybe Michael Junior would help.

“No.” Jonathan Thomas shook his head. “Let the boy sleep. Come. Just you.”

She glanced around. Everyone was still snoring. No sense waking them. Maybe Jonathan Thomas was right. Maybe it was time for a new adventure.

The glass door slid smoothly open, almost as if it were made of gossamer strands of moonlight. Her legs felt strong again, and her feet crunched easily through the snow. She’d forgotten what it was to stand, and she nearly stumbled, but J.T. was there to catch her.

I missed your eyes.

“I know,” he said.

She took a step out to the yard, but J.T. stayed put. “You sure you’re ready?” he asked. “This is it.”

She turned around. This time, she looked the other way through the glass at the warm orange glow surrounding her sleeping family—her daughter and son-in-law, her grandson and granddaughter, her grandson-in-law and their child, all sleeping. And there in the corner, finally seeming at peace in the wheelchair, was someone who looked the way she looked once, her skin sagging with the years, her hair wispy and white. That couldn’t be her, could it? Not her her.

No, best leave her be. That Elenore lived a thousand eternities ago. That Elenore wasn’t her, not truly. Best leave her be, then. She was sleeping now.

As for Elenore, the real Elenore, she grasped J.T.’s hand and turned toward the beautiful moonlight, and they started out together.

Another adventure awaited.

***

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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Give Anthologies a Chance!

(This post first appeared on Val Muller’s Blog on August 31, 2016.)

Give Anthologies a Chance!

I’ll be honest: anthologies aren’t a great sell, perhaps rated just above poetry collections, yet I think shorts are wonderful to read.

On August 1, 2016, I published (under my imprint, MacKenzie Publishing) my first anthology, a book of 21 short stories by 21 authors, titled OUT OF THE CAVE.

  

 

OUT OF THE CAVE is packed to the brim with horror-themed stories suitable for teens and youth. And, despite anthologies not being the rage, I plan to publish another anthology next year, titled TWO EYES OPEN, this time for adults.

Two Eyes Open FB

People don’t have long attention spans anymore, so readers should be clamouring for short stories. I love shorts—both to read and to write. I’ve published several collections of my own stories and am always on the lookout for anthologies to purchase and read.

On August 2, Hope Clark, a successful author, was gracious enough to write a guest post on my blog that she titled “The Short Reality of Shorts.” She stated:

As a writer, short pieces scare me. As a six-time novelist and one-time nonfiction book author, I find comfort in longer prose. But I have to admit . . . there’s no writing more profound than a short that snaps in its delivery. Short fiction, flash fiction, memoir, and essays. It takes intense craft to make those pieces zing.

OUT OF THE CAVE is my “pride and joy” (to use a cliché). It’s my baby, and I don’t hesitate spamming and publicizing wherever and whenever (versus promoting my own writings). Sales have been “okay” though not as great as I had hoped. But, hey, I’m not dead yet; OUT OF THE CAVE can still be a best seller!

I created the cover for the book from a photo of one of the many caves on Phia Beach in New Zealand. Until I had completed the cover, I hadn’t realized a ghostly image peeked through the sunlight between the rocks. I first thought the “ghost” was Hubby and then, suddenly, recognized myself. Funny, because I have no recollection posing for that shot.

I lucked out when I snagged Steve Vernon, a prolific local (Nova Scotia, Canada) writer of ghost stories and such, to write the foreword to OUT OF THE CAVE. Part of his awesome foreword reads:

Kids of all ages CONSTANTLY live in the shadow of fear. Am I going to be good enough? Are my parents going to get divorced? Am I going to be popular enough? Will Dad lose his job? Can I pass that darned math test? Will those bullies leave me alone?

Fear—kids live in it constantly—and a good scary story teaches a kid how to deal with fear. And THAT, more than anything else, is why you ought to let your kids read all of the scary stories that they can get their hands on.

So let’s do that today.

Pick up this book and buy it and give it to your kid.

Let’s drag scary stories out of the darkness of the cave.

Several stories in OUT OF THE CAVE were written by local authors; others are from writers living in Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and other parts of Canada. The stories are a mix of horror, supernatural, suspense, mystery, and thriller—but totally PG13, suitable for teens 13 and up. Adults, too, would enjoy them, though those readers might want to wait for TWO EYES OPEN.

And speaking of my next anthology, TWO EYES OPEN, I need to snare a famous horror writer to write that foreword. I do have an individual in mind (perhaps another “Steve”?). We shall see….

Though I enjoyed the process of publishing OUT OF THE CAVE, the book was more work than I had anticipated. I gathered the stories, which resulted from a submissions call I widely publicized, and weeded the best from the bunch. I read each story several times, corresponded with the authors, edited the stories, formatted the book, and published it.

Whew! But all that effort pales in comparison to promotion and garnering sales.

Writers need sales. What’s the good of publishing a book if no one purchases and/or reads it?

My purpose for OUT OF THE CAVE was to encourage teens/youth to read. And who doesn’t enjoy an excellent ghost story?

Shirley, an adult reader/local purchaser, stated:

Good mix of disturbing stories. Some of the stories keep coming back to haunt my dreams. Not sure if I’d want to deal with kids in my house who might want Mommy reassurance after they experienced similar nightmares. All the stories are well-written and/or well-edited.

So, hey, give anthologies a chance—whether mine or another! OUT OF THE CAVE would make an excellent birthday, Christmas, or all-occasion gift for a son/daughter, grandchild, or other deserving youth. Purchase here!

Please leave a review, whether good or bad. Reviews help us indie authors capture sales.

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TWO EYES OPEN Facebook Page

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The Short Reality of Shorts

This week (yesterday, in fact) is the release of MacKenzie Publishing’s first anthology, OUT OF THE CAVE: twenty-one stories by twenty-one writers suitable for youth 13+. Suspense, mystery, horror, supernatural…what more could a teenager (or adult) want? And, for those of you in the Atlantic Provinces, you will recognize Nova Scotia’s Steve Vernon, who wrote the Foreword. OUT OF THE CAVE is available as an e-book and print book on Amazon and Smashwords

 

 

Hope Clark has graciously written today’s guest post, “The Short Reality of Shorts,” which (coincidentally) coincides with the release of MacKenzie Publishing’s book of short stories. Hope is an inspiration to all writers! Her blog http://www.FundsForWriters.com is always pertinent and reaches 35,000 readers every week. And her books are well received. What more could an author want? (Further info on Hope and her books is at the end of this post.)

Thank you, Hope, for this post!

***

The Short Reality of Shorts by Hope Clark

As a writer, short pieces scare me. As a six-time novelist and one-time nonfiction book author, I find comfort in longer prose. But I have to admit . . . there’s no writing more profound that a short that snaps in its delivery.

Short fiction, flash fiction, memoir, and essays. It takes intense craft to make those pieces zing. So when the Killer Nashville mystery conference asked that I contribute to their mystery anthology, I almost choked. Sure, I write mystery . . . 100,000-word mysteries. But to take crime, clues, and characters and mold them into a 3,000-word package, scared me senseless. But I accepted the challenge.

And I think “Rich Talk” turned into some of my best writing.

Every novelist sooner or later pens a short story. And those shorts, while, um, short, often become more memorable than longer works. Ask Stephen King. Shorts exercise different writing muscles. The reader isn’t allowed a lull, and each sentence carries more weight. But that twist in the end . . . that wow factor . . . shows the power of words, and therefore, the power of you as a writer. Shorts must deliver serious oomph.

Anthologies of shorts can be power houses. With anthologies ranging anywhere from ten to maybe fifty stories, each tale has to represent the theme with enough talent to make the reader want to read the others. A heavy responsibility upon each author as well as the editor compiling the collection. But when an editor has a keen eye, and the slush pile of stories is great and deep, an anthology can turn into an admirable portfolio credit for all involved. And a treasure trove for readers.

Memoir and creative nonfiction hold the same responsibility, and the same demands are made of their authors. Though the pieces may be taken from reality, like the myriad Chicken Soup anthology tales, they must still read like a short story with a solid beginning, middle, and nice-and-tight swing around ending. Reading like good fiction, creative nonfiction recalls a moment and spins it into a concise, well-told tale. It just happens to be steeped in real life.

So many writers start with shorts because book-length material rattles them. The thought of so many chapters intimidates them. Me? I’m just the opposite because I know the tight, well-constructed thought process that goes into a successful short. And every time I read one that resonates, that tells a story with a snap, crackle, and pop, I so wish I’d written it.

I’ve just released Echoes of Edisto, the third book in my Edisto Island Mysteries, and I’ll continue writing my books, but here and there now I’ll make myself create a short. Why? Because those muscles need exercising, and the sharpness of talent that goes into a short is admirable indeed. I also want to be that kind of writer.

***

BIO: Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com, a newsletter and website that reaches 35,000 readers every Friday. She is also author of the Carolina Slade Mysteries and the Edisto Island Mysteries, with the newest release being Echoes of Edisto. www.chopeclark.com

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