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The Spot Writers – “Coming of Age” by Phil Yeats

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 Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Sacristy-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07CK94SKV/

***

Coming of Age by Phil Yeats

The school bus dropped them off on Friday afternoon after their third week in grade ten at their new high school. They lived in two isolated houses on the far side of a large industrial estate, the last two kids off the bus before the driver turned back to town. Everyone in school thought they were going steady because they spent their free time together, but it wasn’t so. They knew no one at school and had been friends forever, so they hung together. But they weren’t romantically involved, at least not then.

Mitch dropped his school bag at his place and continued to Jen’s where Mortimer eagerly waited for his afternoon romp. She threw her bag on the porch and chased after her mutt. Mitch followed more slowly knowing they’d make so much noise he’d have no trouble finding them. And anyway, Jen needed a run as much as her dog did. She was the high-strung adventuresome one, always getting them into scrapes.

When Mitch tracked them down, he saw Mortimer running along the chain-link fence that bounded unused forested land behind the industrial estate. The dog vanished through a gap in the fence. Jen yelled “Morty, come back here!”, then squeezed through the gap and promptly disappeared.

Mitch rushed up to the fence and stared into the forest. With no undergrowth or large trees to hide behind, he should have spotted them. Where were they? And why couldn’t he hear them?

After pulling at the fencing to widen the hole, he squeezed through, tumbling and banging his head on fine white sand. Mitch gazed at palm trees swaying in a warm breeze and listened to waves breaking on a beach. He stumbled past girls in bikinis and surfer dudes in their baggy shorts wondering how the Nova Scotia forest had transformed into a tropical beach.

When he found Jen and Mortimer, they were back in the Nova Scotia forest. She rested in a hollow in the long grass while Morty bounded around like the crazed rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. No more tropical beach, just a meadow in the forest, a place where they’d often stopped.

Mitch flopped down beside her, and she reached over and pulled him close, kissing his lips. Had she also been assaulted by the strange tropical beach images? Were they omens, images destined to lead them forward from children to adults? Had they suddenly joined the high school culture where everyone was more interested in relationships than the physical world around them?

Weird and wild, but hey, Mitch could handle it.

***

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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The Spot Writers – “Lady Marian and the Kids” by Chiara De Giorgi.

Welcome to The Spot Writers.

The current prompt is a story about a character who finds an object that had been lost. 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.

***

 Lady Marian and the kids

It had seemed a good idea, to bring the cat along.

They planned on travelling through France with their motor home during the Summer break for their family holiday: it would take them three weeks to go as far as Paris and come back.

Their usual cat-sitter wasn’t available, and the replacement they had found had asked double the budgeted amount. So there were only two choices, really: shorten their holiday, or take the cat to Paris.

She had sighed, loaded the motor home with food for two adults, four children, and a cat, and they had left.

Their first stop was Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc. There was a huge parking lot at the edge of a forest. It was quiet, it smelled good, it was cheap. They stopped for the night, and as she sat stroking the cat and reading a book, the kids chased one another right outside the motor home, running in and out the forest.

Her youngest suddenly opened the door.

“Mom! Can we play with Lady Marian outside? Please?”

“I’m afraid it’s not a good idea”, she replied. “Our Lady here is used to staying in, she might get frightened outside.”

“Just a few minutes! I want to show her the woods!”

Kid number Three jumped in, sweat and dirt clinging to his cheeks and hands.

“Yeah, can you imagine how she’ll love the tree trunks? Sooo many huge scratchers!”

The kids laughed and clapped their hands. They made her laugh, too.

“Please, mom, we’ll be careful.”

“We’ll protect her!” cried the youngest, puffing his little chest.

She sighed and turned her head: the cat was actually showing a bit of curiosity for the world outside the door. Lady Marian had been with them for five years: she probably trusted her humans enough to allow them to take her for a stroll outside.

“Okay”, she said at last. “But!” she added, raising her voice over her kids’ enthusiastic hurras. “Bring your brother and sister. I want them to be with you at all times.”

Kids number Three and Four found number One and Two, who were exploring a big woodpile, and Lady Marian was finally brought into the big big world outside the motor home.

Her eyes were huge, and her tiny nose twitched like crazy: wood, pine, snow, wind, grass… so many new smells!

The kids brought her to the woodpile, and Lady Marian was happy to touch the logs’ bark with her pads. Laughing excitedly, the kids and the cat played together, jumping up and down the logs.

Until at one point the kids lost sight of the cat.

They searched all around the parking lot, they entered the forest with a torchlight, they called, pleaded, offered treats… the cat was nowhere to be found.

They stayed one day longer in Chamonix, but Lady Marian didn’t come back.

Everyone was crying, by the time Mom and Dad decided to leave the cat behind and go to Paris anyway.

“She’s a proud feline, you don’t have to worry”, she said, trying to reassure the kids, but it didn’t work. She felt so terribly guilty.

Twenty days later, they were back in the parking lot at Chamonix, on their way home.

As soon as Dad parked the motor home, the kids ran to the woodpile.

“They’re going to be disappointed all over again”, said Dad.

She sighed.

“What would you do, forbid them to go out?”

Dad shook his head.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped here.”

“I think we should go with them”, she said suddenly. “I feel guilty, I should have kept Lady Marian inside.”

“And they would have been angry at you, you know that. They would have tried to convince you to let her out every single day of our trip!”

She sighed again.

“You’re right. And yet…”

“Mom! Dad! Come!”

Kid number One was calling them with all her voice.

“Oh my God, what happened?” she cried, worried sick in an instant. When her girl called, it was always for a good reason.

“It’s Lady Marian! We found her, but we can’t reach her.”

“What?” Mom and Dad asked together, jumping up from their seats. “Where?”

“She’s hidden somewhere under the woodpile! Do you think she’s stayed there for all this time, waiting for us?”

“I really don’t know”, she answered, getting the torchlight.

“She’ll be so hungry!”

She hold the light for Dad, while he tried to reach the cat. The kids were holding their breath. She could hear Lady Marian’s feeble meows coming from under the tree trunks.

“She’s here! I can see her!” Dad finally said.

They all stared down a crack between two thick logs, and Lady Marian’s yellow eyes blinked back.

Dad called her, stretching a hand through the crack: “Lady, it’s us, come on!”

After a while, Lady Marian gathered enough courage and stretched her forepaws forward.

“I can touch her,” Dad whispered. “Just a couple of inches… There! I got her!”

Dad sat, withdrawing his hand from the logs. He was holding their beloved cat. Lady Marian was purring and rubbing her head against Dad’s hand, while everybody else was cheering, crying and laughing at the same time.

“It was a good holiday”, said kid number Two the following night, as she tucked him in. “Do you know what I liked best, mom?”

“What? The Tour Eiffel? The boat ride along the River Seine? The fireworks at Versailles?”

“That our Lady waited for us and made us find her again. That was the most beautiful thing that happened. And the woodpile was really cool, wasn’t it?”

***

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 – “Land’s End” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The July prompt: a character finds an object that had been lost. (In this tale’s case, a person!)

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Her first novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, is available. https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/

***

Land’s End by Cathy MacKenzie

 Annie dashes across the jutting rocks, her flowing gown clotted with crimson, and pauses to catch a breath. A menacing black ceiling threatens to descend upon her. She balances precariously on tiptoes to grab the sole gleaming gem. The wind hurls wet hair across her face, jarring her to reality.

She glances around. Adam might be following. She shudders in the cold before continuing her trek.

A few more feet. The cave lies ahead, and Adam isn’t aware of it. She told no one about the cave, knowing she might need its shelter and protection against an evil that might befall her someday. 

The cave was her discovery—and her secret.

 ***

Sherry scanned the newspaper article about the discovery of a human bone washed upon the shore at Land’s End the previous day. The beach had been aptly named since it was the last beach of five heading eastward. Steep cliffs and boulders sheltered each individual beach, making them private. The remains of several dilapidated and almost-non-existent huts dotted the landscape. Although one had to be careful traipsing in the brush, that area was half a kilometre from the beach, and most beachgoers remained on the sandy side.

She had trampled through the brush section many times but had never stumbled upon anything of importance nor had she fallen down abandoned wells. She figured the gossip about sightings and strange occurrences were based on legend and folklore.

She usually frequented Turtle Bend, the beach adjoining Land’s End, but the previous day an unknown force had lured her from Turtle Bend to the other area, which was when she discovered the cave. She hadn’t had time to enter it, which gnawed at her. What lay inside?

“Corey, I’m running out for a bit.” She placed the newspaper on the table and waited for an answer. Had she yelled loud enough?

Corey, glued to the TV, relaxed in the den down the hall. If he hadn’t heard, she could leave and return before he even knew she’d left.

If she had more time, she could walk the thirty minutes to Land’s End, but it was almost eight o’clock. She needed to get there and return home before dark.

***

 Shrouded in darkness, Annie crouches on the rocks. Though the night transformed the bloodstains into a patterned fabric, she feels dirty. She allows the soaring waves to rush over her.

Numb from the rawness of the chilled water, yet refreshed and clean, she creeps along the cliff’s edge. Once she reaches the cave, the storm will shield her, and she’ll be safe. The ocean will be her protectress from evil.

If Adam frequented the beach as she did, he might have found the cave, but he doesn’t enjoy the ocean. Despite living near the water, he never learned to swim, but he assured Annie he would be able to save himself if the need arose.

 ***

Sherry traipsed from her car to the beach. The wind had picked up since she left home, but the sun hadn’t fully set. In the distance, black symbols marred the glaring yellow police tape that cordoned off a small rectangular area. The words CRIME SCENE, DO NOT CROSS designating the area where the bone had been discovered became clearer the closer she approached. When she neared the ocean’s edge, she turned left and scrambled over the boulders. She hadn’t gone very far before the water lapped at the rocks. Spray spit at her legs. Salt coated her lips. Just a few more feet.

Exhausted, she finally faced the cave. She dug her feet into the sand, thankful she could do so. The wind had blown her about like a rag doll. What a foolhardy decision. Would she be found if she had an accident? Several times she had almost fallen.

She gathered her damp, tangled hair into a ponytail, wishing she had tied it back before she left home. She searched her pockets for the penlight flashlight she had grabbed before leaving and switched it on.

She shuddered at the eeriness of the cavernous hollow. She advanced a few steps and shone the flashlight, the thin beam threatening to rip apart the abrasive walls. Water, reminding her of tears, dripped hesitantly over the uneven surface. She wiped her face with her sleeve.

She continued toward the back of the cave, where the light illuminated scattered bones. She had never seen human bones previously, but that’s what they were. They had been gnawed and chewed by wild animals.

The longer she stared, the more her tears flowed. Flashbacks gripped her in a vise; her body winced under the pressure. Her own bones constricted, about to snap like frozen vines. She clutched the flashlight, afraid she’d drop it and become stranded as Annie obviously had—Annie from her dreams. Sherry hadn’t known her as Annie then, merely an unnamed female bearing innocent features.

Until the bone washed up on shore. And then Sherry’s dreams made sense.

The remains were believed to be that of Annie Creamer, who had disappeared in 1892. The story still spewed from people’s lips, everyone craving an unsolved mystery. Back then, the townsfolk had accused Adam of her death, but he had denied it. Everyone knew he had beaten his wife on more than one occasion. Everyone knew, but no one had done anything to stop it.

***

 Annie curls up on the cave floor. She ignores her tears. The enormity of what she did unfolds before her as if watching a play at Ulysses Theatre. Is Adam physically able to search for her? Can she return to face her fate? Surely once the truth is revealed, the noose won’t be looped around her neck. Or would it?

What is the truth? Will anyone believe her? Wives are supposed to obey their husbands, no matter what torment men bestow upon them. Will females forever be treated as chattels? Will a day come when women can stand alongside men to be treated as equals? It won’t happen in her lifetime, but she often dreams of herself in a future time.

She falls asleep, hugging herself in the dank cavern.

***

Sherry followed the flashlight’s beam while leaving the protection of the cave. When she emerged, the wind rushed at her face. Glad she had donned a windbreaker, she pulled up the hood before clambering over the rocks to the safety of the beach. While the wind howled like a tormented soul and pelted harsh shards of salt water onto her face, she gazed across the endless ocean.

“Annie. Annie, where are you?” The voice, distinctly male, came from far away, the words fading as quickly as Sherry heard them.

Sherry stood transfixed. Though she wanted to run, she also wanted to stay. Despite her confusion, she remained rooted. What lay below the wet sand and how far could she sink? If she dug her sodden sneakers into the darkened mass, she could disappear into its depths, never to be seen again. She had always felt conflicted about her lapses into the past. Had she lived a prior life? Her confusion intensified after discovering the cave, and the washed-up bone added more mystery.

Having lived in Briarwood since birth, Sherry grew up with the knowledge of Annie’s plight but had always considered the dreams as a result of being aware of the legend. Until that moment, standing before the ocean’s passion and madness, she hadn’t realized she lived the legend.

The moon illuminated wild whitecaps rushing across the vast expanse. Sounds swept in off the water, the waves unleashing pent-up emotions and hushed voices.

“Sherry…Sherry…Sherry.”

A white form appeared. Corey’s unruly hair sprouted from the top, and brown eyes glowed from its centre.

Corey?

Fear coursed through her. No, it was Adam. Adam yelling for Annie. Adam searching for his wife in the dark.

“Annie…Annie…Annie.”

Waves thundered against the boulders, obliterating further sounds.

The ghostly image exploded into red splatters.

Sherry touched her chest. Blood? She couldn’t determine for sure, not in the dark, but an acrid smell wafted into her nostrils.

She stumbled, her feet slogging into the sand.

“No!” Her voice echoed, startling her. Had she yelled that loudly? She must get back to her car. Needed to get away from the voices. Needed to see Corey.

When she reached the car, her heart stopped its incessant pounding. She stood on solid ground again. She swiped her hand across her brow. Had she smeared blood on her face? She unlocked the door and jumped in. After the engine roared to life, she turned on the interior light and pulled the rearview mirror toward her. Her face, though ashen and wet, wasn’t smeared with red. Her hands were clean. No blood on her clothing.

With a fervour she hadn’t experienced while on the beach, a pleasant warmth flowed through her. Corey. She couldn’t wait to see him and regretted not having told him she was going out. If he had discovered her absence, she hoped he hadn’t worried.

She headed home to Corey, who loved and treated her as a man should. Now that Annie had been found, both Annie and Sherry could rest in peace.

***

 The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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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 – “Needle in a Stack” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story that takes place in a library. Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller author of The Man with the Crystal Ankh and The Scarred Letter. Val just finished up a blog tour for those two young adult books. You can find the full tour here, where you can learn interesting tidbits about her childhood, her writing career, and her works: http://www.valmuller.com/2017/10/25/writer-wednesday-my-blog-tour/

Author’s note: The following story may or not be inspired by the fact that I cannot think of the perfect wedding gift for someone very special to me who may or may not be reading this post and whose wedding may or may not be less than a week away.

Needle in a Stack by Val Muller

Fun facts:

  1. On Fridays, the Westfield Library shuts down early–at 5 p.m.
  2. On Saturdays, it doesn’t open until 10 a.m.
  3. Driving from Westfield Library to Thomasville takes three hours. Add another twenty to get to the east end and to find parking near the chapel. Leave time for last minute hair and makeup before the photographer shows up, and that means I’d have to leave the library no later than 9:40 to make it to the pre-wedding photo session on Saturday.
  4. 9:40 is twenty minutes before the library even opens.
  5. The library has a security system at the front and rear door that’s activated an hour after it closes—when the librarians and custodians leave. The system does not monitor movement within the library during the night.
  6. The custodians leave the supply room unlocked all the time.

I had the perfect wedding gift chosen for my sister: a sterling silver heart wrapped with the infinity sign. After meeting with my mom to put finishing touches on the centerpieces, I returned the heart to the store. It cost me a $5.50 restocking fee. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten it engraved yet. That was Thursday night.

For years, since Dalia was still in the womb, Mom has been recording her thoughts, tidbits of our family history, milestones of Dalia’s life, in a handwritten, black leather journal. And now the journal was ready to become Dalia’s most treasured wedding gift. While Mom was loading the centerpieces into her SUV, I snuck a peek at the journal. I read enough to get the brilliant idea, the idea for a gift my sister would value as much as Mom’s journal. Perhaps moreso.

When I was too young to remember, my grandfather used to take Dalia to the library in Westfield. They have a children’s section painted in whimsical murals, and the entrance to the children’s stacks is guarded by a life-sized paper mache dragon. Dalia loved the library but had always been hesitant to read, so my grandfather apparently drew cartoons all throughout the children’s library books. His drawings featured a cartoon rendition of Dalia dressed in a princess costume. It was the way he got Dalia to read. She’d read through the pages looking for the pictures of herself.

Mom mentioned in the journal that she wished they’d kept one of the books, or taken a picture at least. Grandpa kept this up for over a year before the librarians caught him and made him stop defacing the books.

Of course that was two decades ago, but some of the books have to remain. They’ve got to. It’s what I’m banking on. Just one book, just one is all I need.

More fun facts:

  1. Sometimes on Friday nights, the custodians hang out in the lobby, having a drink.
  2. Crouching behind a stack of industrial-grade toilet paper and paper towel rolls while you wait for the custodians to finish drinking can really get to the hamstrings.
  3. There are no emergency lights in the library. If you don’t have your own flashlight, you have to rely on the flashlight app on your phone to search the stacks.
  4. When searching a library in the middle of the night, it would be wisest to arrive with a fully-charged phone. Or at least a charger.
  5. Because you can’t really leave once you’re locked inside with the system armed.
  6. You’d think you could identify old books by how worn their spines are, but you’d be wrong. Some of the oldest books hold up the best. Some of the newer ones are the first to fall apart.
  7. You have to open the books to check the copyright dates.
  8. Sometimes, in the darkness, a life-sized dragon made of paper mache can really get the heart racing.
  9. If you try to remove a library book without checking it out, the red light will flash, even if the library is closed.
  10. If you try to leave the library before the system is disarmed the next morning, it will cause a loud alarm, which summons the police officers who are stationed right down the block.

None of this will matter when I see the look on my sister’s face. It’s three hours to Thomasville, and I’ve got something better than a journal, and just in the nick of time.

***

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 – “Suffice” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to The Spot Writers. September’s prompt:  Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

***

Suffice by Dorothy Colinco

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient. Among the traits that you should avoid when seeking a potential life partner, self-sufficient seems pretty far down the list, far below convicted felon, substance abuser, Pirates fan, vegan, or lactose-intolerant. An inability to consume ice cream without later having to desecrate a powder room seems more offensive than the ability to exist without depending on another person for validation and security. And yet.

Ironically, her self-sufficiency is one of things I found most attractive about her. Here was a woman who told me about her flat tired AFTER she had changed it herself. Who saw Les Miserables alone rather than drag me to a musical. I hate musicals, but I loved her. I would’ve gone. When she had a bad day at work or a fight with her mom, she didn’t ask me to bring her wine and ice cream (yes, she could of course consume dairy) and lend her my shoulder to cry on. She just took a weekend for herself and called me three days later, refreshed and happy and content. I was ready and willing to do all those things. I’ve done worse for women I’ve cared less about. But she never asked that of me, asked anything of me, and for a while this hardly seemed something to complain about.

We were our best selves when we were together. She was warm and funny. She told jokes that were unexpectedly irreverent but never downright bawdy. She was so good at describing movies and books and albums. I always said she should be a pop culture writer, and one day she submitted an essay to this magazine and they published it. The first thing she ever sent out! She was kind. So kind, my goodness. Like that one time an autistic kid in the subway screamed at her for touching his shoulder when she said ‘excuse me,’ and the kid’s mom was mortified and apologetic but also very used to this kind of thing, and instead of backing away with a freaked look on her face, she chatted with the mom. not about the kid’s autism and ‘what’s it like to be a mom of a kid on the spectrum?’ No, she just chatted about stuff. I don’t even remember. And the mom was so grateful, you could tell.

We were our best selves together. But. I felt like I wasn’t giving enough of myself. She never asked me to sacrifice anything for her. And after all, isn’t that what makes up a good portion of a relationship? Resenting someone for all you’ve had to sacrifice for them, and then loving them anyway? I thought maybe as we fell deeper for each other that she would start to need me. To view me as essential to her existence. But instead, it seemed like our love had fastened her self-sufficiency to her core even more tightly. It made her more sure than ever of her adequacy as a distinct entity in this vast emptiness that is our existence.

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient.

***

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 – “The Herald” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is: Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

Today’s post comes to your from Val Muller, author of the young adult novel The Girl Who Flew Away. https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away/dp/1941295355/

***

The Herald by Val Muller

I came for a Wisher, a little boy sitting on a rusty swing in a lonely park after dark. His was a Genuine Wish, not a superficial one like most. Some ask for ponies or money, games or toys. True Wishers ask for things that matter.

He asked for his parents to love again.

A Wish intangible for him as stardust in the vacuum of space.

He first saw my twinkle floating above the park, shimmering in the darkened sky. I descended with his Wish and landed at the edge of a fence. I had to move quickly because the boy stood right away to investigate. His life at home was so strained, he’d lost all fear and sense of self preservation.

I turned first into a glowing flower, tempting him to pluck me, but I knew that form would never last. The flowers here are ephemeral, not like the sentient ones in the outer planets of Myler. But in the instant her reached to pluck me, I felt his skin and knew his mind. And so in the darkness I disintegrated into the earth and followed the rooty passages into the brush, where I emerged as a puppy.

It was one he’d seen on a television show—a cartoon, which is a type of art form on this world. I worked quickly to make myself look a bit more realistic than the two-dimensional ink of his mind. It was enough. In the darkness, the boy cradled me, and with his touch I saw it all:

His mother, taxed and tired at the end of each day, his father grumpy and exhausted from an unfulfilling job. And each nearly looking forward to the dinner table, where they nightly poured their wrath as quickly as they poured their drinks. Dinners were a verbal battle that left the boy nauseous.

His father drank to squash his courage, so that he could not stand up to his boss or his desires or the temptation to lash out with his fists. His mother drank to sharpen her courage, so that she could stand stone still while her husband put another foot through the drywall, or punched through a window, or turned plates into shrapnel. She drank to find the courage to stand stone still as her son ran out to the park every night and to tell him, when he returned, the lie that she never feared his father would turn his wrath on them.

As he held me tight, I saw through his mind the way life used to be, the way it lingered in his memories. His father building and playing each night, constructing roads and bridges for toy vehicles, making anything the boy asked for out of wood and straws and cardboard and love. I saw his mother, happy and young without the stress of an angry spouse, supporting him and reading homework and stories together. A mother who didn’t drink.

In the midnight darkness, he cradled me in his arms. He ran home as his life played in my mind until I knew my task.

A yellow light shone above the stovetop in the kitchen as we entered. His mom sat at the table, a glass of water in front of her. I knew from the boy’s memories that she always sat up this way, waiting for him, making sure he was safe. This time, a new bit of plaster littered the kitchen floor.

She took us both into her arms, her embrace warm and trembling. She didn’t question my presence, but her eyes leaked and she spoke of her childhood and the dog she grew up with. She spoke of how it’d brought comfort to her, a perpetual friend. As her fingers ran through my simulated fur, the stress of her life floated out. I made sure the harmful rays dissipated into the air and into the night.

I knew my task, so I barked once, twice, just the way I heard it in the boy’s memory, a cartoonish bark, until I heard the rustling upstairs. I felt the boy’s father wipe the haze of drink from his eyes and stumble down the stairs. When he saw the tableau before him, the boy getting kisses from his new best friend and the woman embracing them both, his heart melted into tears, and it all came pouring out—in words this time, not in anger—the frustration, fatigue, disappointment. He had only just begun to realize that such is the reality of life on his world. A constant flux, a managing of expectations, a search for the small things that bring joy. He had lost balance.

The three of them sat together, circled around me, the parents’ faces wet with tears and the boy’s sore with the unfamiliar smile of joy.

In their touch, I saw everything. Recovery would be a hard road for the boy’s father, but he would succeed with only two transgressions. He would heal soon enough to be joyed by the news the boy’s mother would save for just the right moment: that the boy would soon be an older brother.

I could not stay for a lifetime, not even for the life of a dog on this planet where life flies by as fast as comets. There was no need of me anymore. I had fulfilled the Wish. I saw how it would happen. The next day, father and son would build me a doghouse out of the wood scraps in the garage, the ones he used to use all the time when he built toys for the boy. While they were sawing, I would disappear. But it would be only a matter of days before the family stumbled upon a box of puppies for sale on the way home from the boy’s school.

They would pick the runt, the one that needed extra love, because of course they’d have to have something to live in the dog house they’d built. Something to build toys for, to center their love around. Something to bring them together. They’d name him Herald.

They would wonder about me for a time, but I cast an order for their memories of me to be brief. In a decade, they would not remember that they had built their doghouse before the arrival of Herald. They did not need memories of the strange light that descended from above and took the clumsy form of a dog in the darkness. They did not need those memories of me. They needed only to remember who they had once been.

***

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 – The Pineapple Plant by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: Think back on a memory when you were angry. REALLY angry. Now change the names of the people in the memory, the setting, everything familiar about it, and most importantly… the ending. Turn it into a memory that ends happily. Let all the writing wash your anger away.

Today’s post comes to us from Dorothy Colinco.

The Pineapple Plant

The last time she saw him, her bromeliad was in a broken heap around his chair. It was a gorgeous plant, leaves sprouting in a concentric pattern around a firm stalk that ended with what looked like a miniature pineapple. That’s what everyone called it – the pineapple plant. “Is that going to grow into a big pineapple?” “Can you eat it?” “WILL you eat it?” If there was a map of the school building that included quirky landmarks, The Pineapple Plant in room 514 would definitely be on there.

And now there it was, the miniature pineapple snapped off the stem, the white and gold pot in jagged ceramic pieces.

She balled her fists up, if only to stop them from shaking. “I can’t look at you right now.”

“It was an accident. I was leaning my chair back, and I reached up to stretch, and then…”

“Please stop talking.”

She turned to shift her attention to the student standing in the front of the room in the middle of giving a presentation. “Go ahead,” she said, “please continue.”

As the student tentatively read through the slides about a made-up person living during the Great Depression, none of which Ms. Grace heard. When the presentation ended and the students gave light applause with Snappy Fingers, Ms. Grace stood up and barely managed to clear her throat, before saying, “wait for the bell” and rushing out of the room.

She took deep breaths in the faculty bathroom, staring at the chipping paint and the onion skin toilet paper. When she finally returned to her classroom 10 minutes later, someone had swept up the pieces of the plant. The tiny pineapple was gone. The only difference was a blank space on the windowsill where the bromeliad used to sit and specks of dirt on the group that hadn’t been caught by a broom.

Now here he was, holding out a tiny pot with leaves sprouting out of the rich soil.

“I did some research. It’s supposed to grow a stem and sprout another pineapple just like it. It’ll take a couple weeks, maybe a couple months. But it’s not dead. It can still be beautiful. I’m really sorry.”

She took it gingerly from his hands, and she sensed that he was afraid to let go should it come crashing down again like it had in its previous life.

“Thank you,” she managed. She placed the small pot in the old bromeliad’s place. So maybe she was being dramatic when she thought this was a harbinger of things to come. Maybe her first year wouldn’t be tragic after all. When the new pineapple grew, if the new pineapple grew, this would one day make for a good story.

***

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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