Tag Archives: Val Muller

The Spot Writers – “Counting the Days” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. In honour of these mid-winter postings, this prompt is a story that incorporates the words “will winter ever end.”

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie, who dedicates this tale to Val Muller, a fellow spot writer who enjoys winter more than any other season!

Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, with elements of suspense, mystery, romance, and family relationships, is available from her locally or on Amazon.

***

Counting the Days by Cathy MacKenzie

Evelyn stuck out her tongue, catching flakes that immediately melted. Seconds later, she quickly shut her mouth and scanned the busy street, hoping no one had seen her act like a child. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, watching her breath spiral like smoke from a chimney. She adjusted her wool scarf against the chill and trudged down the snow-covered sidewalk toward Fernwood Tower, where she worked as an administrative assistant.

The Christmas season was over, bringing an end to the hustle and bustle. Except for the cold weather, Christmas was Evelyn’s favourite holiday, but when the festivities ended, she was exhausted.

It had taken her longer to recover this holiday season. The winter was the worst it had been in many years. It was only January 31, and she’d already lost two workdays due to storms—two days docked from her already meagre vacation time. It wasn’t fair that inclement weather forced employees to use vacation days.

“It’s not our fault you live out of town,” Blair Holt, the curmudgeonly CEO of Higgins & McCarthy, spouted to the employees at the last staff meeting. Mostly, though, his barb had been directed at her. Ironically, the firm granted snow days if town employees couldn’t make it into the office.

She caught another flake on her tongue. Will winter ever end?

That morning, she examined the calendar to calculate the number of days until March 20, the first day of spring. Not many left, but who was she kidding? Nova Scotia’s winters could persist into April, and it wasn’t unusual for a snowfall in May; June, even.

“Just get me through February,” she muttered, “and I’ll only have twenty days left.” February, despite being the shortest month, was always the worst weather-wise.

Evelyn had also counted the days until she retired and eagerly anticipated that date when she’d move to a warm climate. Down south somewhere warm—anywhere. Mexico. Florida. Maybe the Caribbean, where balmy evening breezes would waft over her tanned body. Where she would bask in sunshine on a beach and sip Pina Coladas without waiting until the four o’clock cocktail hour. Where every day would be another stress-free day of relaxation and doing whatever she wanted.

She clenched her hands, her fingers numb within the thick mittens, and groaned. Only nine thousand one hundred and twenty-seven days left until retirement.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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


+++

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.

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The Spot Writers – “New Year’s Resolution” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story using the following five words: tables, swimming pool, pavement, trees, mailboxes.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, with elements of suspense, mystery, romance, and family relationships, is available from her locally or on Amazon.

***

New Year’s Resolution by Cathy MacKenzie

The whoosh of the wind almost knocked Callie to the ground. She was aware the winter wind was in a rage but hadn’t expected it to be this bad. She managed to stand and struggled back to the motel room. Thankfully, the porch extended the length of the motel units, with the two ends enclosed, so she could easily open the door and get in out of the cold.

She looked out the window. The mailbox across the road had blown off its pole and lay on the pavement, waiting for disaster from an oncoming vehicle. She pictured hers and Dan’s house and hoped the flimsy plexiglass around the swimming pool remained intact. Nearby trees would wreak disaster, too, should one of them topple. Would Dan bother checking, or would he be luxuriating in the man cave, cut off from the world’s realities?

She should have stayed home rather than running off like a spoiled brat, especially on New Year’s Day. But would it be too much for her husband to pay attention to her once in a while? Seemed all Dan wanted to do was watch television. He was a movie freak but would watch movies over and over, not realizing he’d already seen them. Two minutes into a movie and Callie recognized a repeat.

Did he even know she wasn’t at home? Several times over the past six months, she’d left the house in the afternoon and gone to the mall. He’d still be sitting in front of the boob tube when she returned, none the wiser. She snickered. Boob tube? How apropos.

This time, though, she’d been gone three days. She had every intention of returning home. In fact, she’d already decided to return the following day. Four nights would be enough to jolt her husband back to reality. He’d have missed her so terribly that he would never again ignore her—but if he wanted her home, why hadn’t he telephoned or texted? She had checked her phone every hour. Nothing. Playing hard to get, no doubt. They’d played silly games in the past.

She yanked the dingy drapes across the window, plopped to the queen-sized bed, and flicked on the television.

The next day, she checked out, cringing at the bill for a second until realizing the money would be well spent if some sense had been knocked into her husband.

She sped home, anticipation coursing through her loins. She had missed him terribly. The feeling would be mutual; she was certain of it.

She pulled into the snow-covered driveway and parked behind his truck. She unlocked the side door, jumping at the shrill beeping. Though they’d cancelled the alarm system, the deafening noise would be enough to scare away even a fearless robber.

She dropped her purse on the counter and flung her coat at the kitchen stool.

She glanced around the kitchen, noting the clean table and empty sink. If he’d cooked, which he must have if he’d wanted to eat, he had cleaned his mess. Score one!

She ambled down the hall. Quiet. Too quiet. Where was he?

Despite the sun shining through the living room windows, the ceiling light glowed at the top of the stairs going to the basement.

She stopped. That noise. Was someone down there with him? 

She shuddered. What if he was angry? What if he never talked to her again? What if he wanted a divorce?

Had she gone too far?

The voices ceased and music blasted, the tell-tale sound of the television. She relaxed. Dan liked the volume loud. But at ten in the morning? She smiled. Definitely bored. A good sign.

Soundlessly, careful to hold onto the railing, she descended the carpeted staircase.

He was sitting on the couch when she reached the bottom. Thank God he was alone. If he’d had another woman, she didn’t know what she would do. Serve her right, though, for trying to teach him a lesson. She regretted her actions, but she’d make it up to him. A New Year’s resolution formed in her head.

“Hi, honey. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

As usual when he was pissed off, he ignored her and continued to stare at the screen.

She crept toward him. “I’m sorry. I just felt like I needed to teach you a lesson. I wanted you to miss me. I wanted to feel needed.”

She sat beside him and grasped his arm. “I was wrong, though. I shouldn’t have gone this far.”

She leaned over to kiss him. Her lips grazed his cheek.

“Honey? Dan?”

His blood pressure machine perched precariously on the armrest. After suffering a heart attack a few years previously, he religiously—and fanatically—checked his pressure.

She touched his face, and his head plopped toward his shoulder. The blood pressure machine fell to the floor.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

+++

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.

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The Spot Writers – “What Do Elves Do After Christmas?” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. In our last prompt for 2018, we had to use the following words in a story: stables, swimming pool, pavement, trees, mailboxes. Today’s prompt comes to us from Val Muller, author of the YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away and The Scarred Letter, a modernization of Hawthorne’s masterpiece.

What Elves Do After Christmas by Val Muller

Most of the elves were at the festival. They’d be there a week longer—every year, the festival ran from Santa’s return until January 6. It was a time to celebrate, to burn off the adrenaline of the Christmas rush. Hot chocolate spiked with crème de cacao and harder stuff, too; candy cane casserole, gingerbread mansions. The feasting hall boasted a swimming pool filled with marshmallows. And, oh, the reindeer games!

For most elves, Christmas was life. It was their only purpose, and Santa’s insistence on waiting until January 7 to begin planning for next year left many elves feeling glum. Which is why, decades ago, the festival was established. It gave the elves purpose while Santa rested and recovered on his yearly stay-cation with Mrs. Claus. For elves, otherwise, two weeks of idle time would be a prison sentence.

It was existentialism, really. But only Ronnie knew it. He was the only one who used his vacation days to read. Or think. It wasn’t even New Years, and he’d already gotten through Hamlet, The Life of Pi, The Stranger, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—for good measure. Together, the works had wracked his brain. He planned to tackle some Kafka next, and read The Myth of Sisyphus before being summoned back to work.  

He’d read enough to know the elves had become defined as what they did every day, 353 days a year. They were cogs in the Christmas Machine.

The arctic sun rose as high as it was going to, and Ronnie took advantage of the midnight darkness to take a walk. The roads of the North Pole were paved, but the festival meant no one was available to plow, so the pavement remained covered in drifts of snow. Colored light strings showed the way to the Grand Hall, their incandescent bulbs melting some of the snow and causing icicles to form on the wire.

Ronnie passed several mounds—the huge mailboxes, now empty and covered in snow, that would fill in the later part of the year with letters from children asking for sleds and snow globes and dolls and technology.

As he trekked away from the Christmas village, the trees shrouded the perpetual darkness, their piney arms bending in defeat. Ronnie had seen a television show once—televisions played nonstop in the workshops, blasting Christmas movies and TV specials 24/7. It had been about an elf who wanted to be a dentist. Everyone acted like it was the most absurd desire in the world, to want to shake off the mortal coils of toy-dom.

But standing in the twilight snowdrifts and looking back at the colored lighting running up to the Grand Hall, and the gaudy lighting it threw up into the sky, Ronnie could understand that. All year, he had been in charge of placing computer chips. Almost all toys had them nowadays. His name seemed superfluous, even. Ronnie? Why call him Ronnie? He might as well be Chip-Placer. Or maybe give him a serial number. That’s all he was. A cog in a machine.

But what was the alternative, he wondered as he looked over the winter wasteland. Where could he go? Who would employ an elf other than Santa? Humans were known to be prejudiced against the pointed-eared little people. Ay, there’s the rub.

What lay beyond the North Pole? What fate awaited him if he were to leave?

*

The faint echo of a drunken Christmas carol wafted toward the stables as Ronnie opened the door. The stables were maintained by a skeleton crew these few weeks, so the reindeer remained fed as they recovered from their Herculean ordeal. A pile of curly-toed shoes peeked out from the hay, and the snoring of drunken elves suggested the reindeers’ keepers were well-provided for during the festivities.

Ronnie selected one of the reindeer overlooked for Santa’s sleigh ride this year. One of the Dashers, a young one, seemed especially restless. Maybe he, too, wanted to leave this place. So Ronnie saddled him up and left the stables. The gaudy lights of the Christmas village disappeared into nothingness as he rose toward the moon and toward his future.

He could be anything, now. Anything at all. Even a dentist.  

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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


+++

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].

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The Spot Writers – “A Waif’s Treasure” by Phil Yeats

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

Today’s post comes from Phil Yeats. Last week, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

***

A Waif’s Treasure by Phil Yeats

Mary gently shook the youth sleeping on the open ground near the communal fire. “Shh, Daniel,” she whispered, placing her index finger before her lips. “Get dressed and follow me.”

He slipped from under his rough blanket, rolled it, and secured it with a strap. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly before reaching for his ragged clothes.

She sighed. Those little expressions of affection kept them sane in the cruel world they inhabited.

They’d been together for several years, orphaned children dumped into the unforgiving wilderness where they’d survive by scavenging or die. After six months struggling to avoid starvation, they were rounded up by the Protectors, marauding thugs who enslaved them, branding them as human cattle before setting them to work. Daniel and Mary scavenged the dusty plain and adjacent badlands for anything the Protectors could sell during dry periods. In the infrequent rainy spells, they tended crops of quick growing grasses festooned with blue flowers.

Daniel followed Mary in the half-light that accompanied dawn. An hour later, she pushed aside some sage and squeezed through a narrow opening in the rock. As Dan’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he realized they’d entered a narrow cavern.

Mary peered into the gloom before turning back toward the entrance. “I’ve returned as promised.”

A girl crawled from a crevice near the opening to the outside world. She stood, eyes darting furtively, ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. She was very young,barely pubescent, and wearing meagre fragments of cloth that made Mary’s tattered clothes appear majestic.

Mary took one step toward her and extended her hands palm up. “I brought my friend Dan. We’ll help you avoid our fate. Together, we can get you to the city and someone who’ll protect you. But you must trust us.”

She crouched and extracted something from her crevice. “It’s too frightening.”

“Please, show Dan your treasure.”

With shaking hands, she held out a clear glass sphere containing a miniature scene. It was attached to a shiny black base. She overturned it, and the sphere filled with white specks that sparkled in the cavern’s dim light.

She smiled as she offered it to Dan. After Dan took it, she reached out and fingered the scars left by the hot branding iron the Protectors applied to his forehead.Mary’s forehead was similarly disfigured, but the girl’s was untouched. Was she trading her treasure for a promise to protect her from branding?

Minimal exploration proved this cave, like others scavengers discovered, contained the possessions of refugees from the global chaos in the 2050s. Decades later,their long-abandoned possessions supported the meagre lives of another generation of outcasts.

Dan and Mary loaded their two-wheeled cart with items they could trade. At the cave entrance, Mary addressed the barefoot girl. “We’ll leave tonight when it’s dark. You know where to meet us?”

The girl nodded without comment. She’d crouched by the entrance fiddling with her treasure while Dan and Mary filled their cart.

“Don’t forget to bring it,” Mary said as she pulled the cart into the heat of the outside world. Dan followed shouldering a large iron bar he would trade with the camp cook for food they’d need on their journey.

The girl peered outside, nodded again. “Thank you.”

She appeared as Dan and Mary reached the rendezvous point. Mary passed her a ragged old shirt to cover her semi-nakedness, and they strode eastward on a two-day trek to the walled city.

At dawn on their third day, they gathered outside the city gates waiting for the morning watch.When the gates opened, they registered for outcasts’ passes and queued at the trading center. With their chit for credits earned, they headed for the professor’s house.

The professor, a frontier town legend, was a renowned collector of unusual stuff. He paid handsomely for relics from the lost era.

The professor barely glanced at the girl’s treasure before hustling Dan’s two companions to a bathroom. They’d soak in a warm bath, a luxury unheard of in their normal existence.

When the professor returned, he picked up the girl’s treasure. “Do you recognize it?”

Dan shook his head. “Never seen anything like it, but it mesmerizes our friend. It must have magical powers.”

The professor laughed as he extracted an old text from his bookshelf. He leafed through the pages stopping at an illustration. “Snow globe. A popular ornament in more civilized times. They’ve always fascinated young girls.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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


+++C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [
https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].

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The Spot Writers – “Home” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story that involves a snow globe. The snow globe can contain anything and doesn’t necessarily have to do with or take place around Christmas.

Today’s prompt comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series. Check it out at www.CorgiCapers.com.

***

“Home” by Val Muller

He’d finally done it. Finally cleared out the whole house. Four dumpsters worth. Seriously. Decades of accumulation from Mom and Dad. Toys they saved, some his and some Maggie’s. Years of school artwork, paintings, grade school worksheets.

Scrabble. Operation. Toy water guns. Flashlights with leaking batteries. Mildewed stuffed animals. The glue that had bound him to Maggie growing up. Things Mom and Dad refused to give up. The toys were too degraded to be worth much, and honestly, the memories were things he’d rather keep buried.

So he’d done a quick Google search and chosen the first company that popped up, a company that brought empty dumpsters and collected them once full. They’d come four times already, and he watched out the window as they left for the last time.

He’d tossed things in remorselessly.Anything that couldn’t be donated had been tossed. He wouldn’t have any metaphorical ghosts on his back, nothing to haunt his home with memories of his sister or parents. Those days were in the past, and they lived on in his memory only. He didn’t need a daily physical reminder of the pain of loss.

Funny, he’d always thought Maggie would be the one stuck with the task. He imagined her old and gray, with children of her own, or possibly even grandchildren, cleaning out the hoarder’s paradise that Mom and Dad built. He’d always thought he’d have gone first, not his sister. But there’d been the car wreck. Maggie never married, never had children, and now the task was his alone.

He returned inside, noticing the creaking groan of the front door. Funny, he hadn’t noticed it the hundreds of times he’d been in and out clearing years of possessions. It had seemed like someone else’s door then. A relic from a past that no longer belonged to him. He’d grown since he’d lived in the house, and he was a new person, all around.

Didn’t they say a body’s cells regenerated every eight years or so? It had been more than thrice that since he’d lived at home. He was a different person, twice removed. No need to dwell in memory.

But there was something about the creaking door.

The living room was empty now, only the faded carpet remaining. But he glanced at the fireplace and was transported back to a Christmas years ago. The darkened room illuminated with the warm glow of Christmas lights against a crackling fire. He and Maggie had been sitting under the tree, guessing at their gifts based on the shape of the packages.They knew, absolutely knew, that Dad had gotten them a train set, and they were secretly plotting where they would set it up. When Mom and Dad finally woke that morning, he and Maggie tried to act surprised when they opened the huge box of train tracks and locomotives. Their feigned surprise was so ridiculous that they simply ended up laughing instead. Simply laughing and smiling, and before they knew it, the room was full of contagious laughter and Christmas morning hugs. That was his quintessential memory, the pure essence of childhood.

He reached to brush something off his face and pulled his hand back when he found a tear. Here was what he held back years ago when his father died, and a year later when Maggie got in the car wreck.She’d never really gotten over Dad’s death, and she’d had a few close calls prior to the crash. He hadn’t cried at her funeral, either, nor when she was conferred a posthumous honorary degree from the university. Relatives commented on how stoic he was, how strong he was being for his mother. But the truth was,he’d simply buried it.

When he learned about Mom, it was more of the same. He’d cleared the house quickly and efficiently, allowing only superficial thoughts to enter his mind. Was it valuable enough to sell? New enough to donate? Old enough to trash? It was only triage and vacuuming and getting the house ready for market by December 26, as the realtor had requested.

But now, standing in the empty room and hearing the creaky door, he mourned. He longed for the possessions he’d thrown out. Not all of them, but some. Just one. If he only had one, he could make it.

He stared into the fireplace, and the memories of crackling fire faded to the darkness of the fading evening. But something glittered there in the fireplace. Hadn’t he cleared out everything?In her later years, Mom had used the fireplace to store Tupperware boxes full of sewing supplies. Maybe he’d missed something.

He reached toward the sparkle and retrieved something cold and heavy. A snow globe. He’d forgotten about it. It had been a staple of Christmastime growing up. They’d placed the globe on the end table near the couch so that it caught the lamplight. The snow was made of white specks and blue glitter, enclosing the globe’s residents in winter magic.

Dad had bought it on a business trip. He remembered because it was a Christmas when money was tight, and Mom questioned the purchase. But Dad couldn’t resist, he’d insisted. The globe not only contained a snowman, Maggie’s favorite, but a boy and a girl who looked almost identical to him and Maggie. The little girl in the globe was pointing at the snowman in awe, and her brother was holding her hand, looking at her. It captured their personalities almost perfectly.

He dropped the globe in his coat pocket and hurried out the front door, locking it behind him, ready for house hunters. His eyes watered in the cold winter evening, but he didn’t mind. The weight in his pocket felt like the tug of nostalgia, the tug of a home that would always be his.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

+++

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].

 

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The Spot Writers – “Back to Work” by Val Muller

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: a book keeps appearing out of the blue in the most unexpected and unusual places. Today’s tale comes to you from Val Muller, author of the spooky novel The Man with the Crystal Ankh.

Back to Work By Val Muller

From the moment her daughter just “had to have it” at the checkout line, Harrison Habbinger the Squirrel drove Marie crazy. It should be illegal for stores to have children’s items in the checkout section. Or any items, for that matter. The check-out line was always the worst part of grocery shopping with a toddler and a newborn.

But what is a mother to do? When there’s a fussy toddler and a cart full of items to be placed on the conveyor belt, the easiest thing is just to give in. And the toddler always knew just how to time things just right—messing with the cart items just to the point of causing an actual mess. It was like she knew her mommy would be frazzled enough to buy the small book. In the game of chicken, the toddler always won.

And it was what, $3.95? But it was a four-dollar mistake. Since its purchase, Harrison Habbinger the Squirrel kept popping up everywhere, even when Marie tried to hide it.

It wasn’t even a great story. It made its point with alliteration. Each page played with a letter. “Harrison Habbinger loved lemons, licking his lips for lavender lemonade…” The author had labored so much on making the alliteration happen that there was nothing interesting about the story. The toddler didn’t learn any new facts about squirrels, there were no insights, no characterization, no funny jokes put in there for parents. Some children’s books did all these things. They were—well, maybe not quite enjoyable to read, but at least they made an effort at it, eliciting a chuckle at some idiosyncrasy of the grown-up world.

But not Harrison Habbinger the Squirrel. Yet for some reason the toddler was obsessed with it. The book followed them everywhere. Even when she thought she put it back on the bookshelf, it would materialize in the pantry, under the TV next to the DVD player, in the passenger seat of the car…

One day, Marie received an email from her husband at work. He’d discovered the book stashed in his briefcase. He’d showed it to his co-workers, and the office had a good laugh at the stupidity of the book.

Every night, the toddler asked for it to be read once, twice, sometimes more. It was excruciating, and the worst part was that the alliteration made it impossible to tune out. It was laborious for a tired mom to read at the end of the day. As the newborn grew, his love of the language patterns only helped encourage the toddler’s obsession.

And it didn’t just stop at the book. The obsession with the squirrel transcended the pages.

The toddler often asked for stories in the car, always about the squirrel. Waiting in line. In the bathtub. At bedtime. Eating lunch. In the car. Everywhere, the toddler demanded a story about Habbinger.

It was getting harder to make up original stories about the squirrel that had very little personality. When trying to put the baby to bed, Marie cringed at the excited cheers downstairs shouting the fact that as soon as the baby fell asleep, Mommy would be free to read Harrison again.

And again.

And again.

When Mommy was stuck for hours at a time and a chair feeding the baby, she was held captive by a toddler and her book.

Marie tried to remind herself that she was only away from work for 12 weeks. The time would fly by quickly, the baby would get bigger, and the toddler would return to daycare as well. The time would fly by fast, even if the hours might seem long. But still: every time she saw that book, she shuttered.

Her seven-hundredth attempt to hide the book failed on the cusp of her return to work. She spent her last waking moments of maternity leave reading the squirrel book several times to the squealing delight of her daughter who seemed nowhere near ready to fall asleep for the night.

The first two days back to work were a sort of reorientation into the work world, with coworkers taking her out to lunch and her regaling people with stories of the birth and the first few weeks and the toddler’s reactions and all the cute baby pictures that leave out the less desirable moments of parenthood—the diaper blowouts and temper tantrums and the obsession with badly-written kids’ books.

But after those first two days of work, things got back into routine. Everyone focused back on their jobs, and Marie realized she had a lot of catching up to do. It was on that Dreadful Wednesday, hump day, dreary rainy blurry Wednesday, when she actually felt a bit tearful dropping the kids off at their daycare. She stared at her desk. Had she done it? Has she been one of those moms to squander her time off? Everyone told her to appreciate every little smile, every little diaper accident, every little change of clothes, every all-nighter, every annoying story, because those hands wouldn’t be little for much longer. They said it was way too easy to squander if you weren’t careful.

Had she squandered all that time?

She dug into her bag to try to find her lunch. She’d packed some Halloween candy, and chocolate always cheered her up. As she dug through her bag, something tattered and worn and colorful peeked out at her.

It was Harrison Habbinger the Squirrel. In all its glory. There in her work bag.

How had it got in there? She smiled and knew the answer. That little toddler of hers, as mischievous as she always seemed, always knew how to time things just right.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

+++

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.

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The Spot Writers – “Shadows Hanging over Us” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s post 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/

The current prompt: News these days contain a plethora of depressing stuff from floods and wildfires and other environmental problems, to mass shootings, to refuge problems and other political and social crises, to whatever you like as your favourite example. Write a story focused on one or more of these depressing occurrences and give it a happy ending.

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Shadows Hanging Over Us by Phil Yeats

Moe plunked his coffee on the table and slumped into a plastic chair, slouching until his chin was level with the table’s surface. “Despite today’s bright sun and oppressive heat, four shadows darken our world.”

“Oh, God, what now,” I replied. Moe, the scruffy overweight killjoy in our midst, had outdone himself with his theatrical entrance and outlandish statement. “Have the four horsemen of the Apocalypse descended upon us?”

“Super,” Jen interjected, smiling. The stately blonde always treated Moe’s outbursts as jokes. “Death, famine, war, and conquest. Which one will you describe first?”

Moe looked up, eyes mere slits. “Why should the horsemen of our modern devastation align with the biblical ones? We’re facing an existential crisis, and you two should bloody well appreciate it. But go ahead, mock me, everyone does.”

Jen was a law student and social activist, and I, an ecologist studying the impact of climate change. We, more than Moe, the philosophy student and jack of no trades, should realize humanity teetered on the brink.

“What’s your greatest threat?” I asked.

“Weapons of mass destruction.”

Jen stared wide-eyed. Getting under her thick lawyer-in-training skin was incredibly difficult, but Moe had inexplicably accomplished it. Somehow. “Are we back in Iraq with George Bush?”

“Symbolism,” Moe retorted. “Weapons of mass destruction are symbolic of our ability to unleash weapons of incredible destructiveness since the atomic bombs that ended World War II.”

Jen wasn’t ready to concede. “But international agreements have effectively controlled the nuclear threat.”

Moe snorted. “But more countries are developing nuclear arsenals, and the new weaponry isn’t limited to nuclear bombs.”

I jumped into the fray hoping to bolster Moe’s case. He’d been madly in love with Jen for months but never bested her in the verbal love jousts he initiated. “With the North Koreans possessing nuclear weapons and dingbats in Washington and Moscow controlling the largest nuclear arsenals, the nuclear threat must have increased dramatically.”

Jen attempted a diversionary tactic. “I suppose you’ll blame the current refugee crisis on these ‘weapons of mass destruction’.”

Moe refused to acknowledge her contention. “The next threat is global warming.”

She snorted, gazing at the ceiling. “Another issue that’s amenable to political management. You need more compelling arguments.”

“Not so. Governments are not curbing their militaries, and the political situation for global warming is no better. Talk and highfalutin’ pronouncements but no action. Consider our so-called progressive government. A few weeks ago, Trudeau walked back from his commitment to tax companies for their carbon emissions. Then when the US government announced they would lower gas mileage requirements, our government meekly followed their lead.”

Jen wagged a finger. “Your biases are showing. You’ve always been anti-Liberal.”

“We live here so I find Canadian examples, but the problem’s global. We’re not reaching our Paris Accord targets, and even if we do, it won’t solve the problem.”

Jen took a deep breath and leaned forward towering over the slouching philosopher. “Your arguments are meaningless. History shows that when humanity needs to, it finds the will to act dramatically and effectively.”

“Not this time,” Moe responded, sitting up with his eyes glinting. “Modern weapons are so powerful and fast-acting they provide no response time, and climate change has too much inertia. If we stopped increasing emissions tomorrow, temperatures would increase for decades.”

Jen and Moe appeared ready to increase the intensity of their sparring perhaps leading to the romantic encounter Moe sought, but I wanted to hear about the remaining shadows.

“Horseman number three?” I asked.

“China,” Moe said as he settled into his seat with the coffee he hadn’t touched.

“China,” Jen spluttered. “You’ve already had weapons of mass destruction, so China’s growing military might is derivative.”

Moe shook his head. “I’m talking about their rapid economic growth. Their political-economic model with an autocratic government directing a market economy beholden to itself is more efficient than our western model of democratic governments and unfettered free market economies.”

Jen’s shoulders slumped, but she hadn’t abandoned the fight. “China will self-destruct as her citizens demand more freedom.”

“You hope, but China has no democratic tradition to dampen the intoxicating allure of wealth and influence. Meanwhile, our western democracies are trapped in downward spirals, unable to mount any opposition to the Chinese juggernaut. If democracy is dead and the Chinese model is the future, we’ll have Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

“We now have weapons of mass destruction, environmental collapse, and efficient economies managed by ruthless autocrats. What’s modern horseman number four?” I asked.

Moe crushed his now empty coffee cup. “I felt four distinct shadows. The final one, a fearsome creature, part lion, part man, remains enigmatic.”

“Bloody hell,” Jen exclaimed, turning to me. “You got it right when you mentioned the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Our atheist philosopher friend has had a religious experience. He’s seen the beast in William Butler’s Second Coming slouching ‘toward Bethlehem to be born’.”

“So, the end is nigh,” I said, pushing matters a little further.

“Damn right,” Jen replied as she tugged Moe from underneath the table. “We should get it on.”

I smiled as Jen led Moe from the café. She looked determined, but his face displayed the silly grin of a surprised lottery winner. The downtrodden knight had finally won a joust.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

***

C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.

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The Spot Writers – “The Cabin” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller. She’s the author of the Corgi Capers mystery series (www.CorgiCapers.com) among other works.

The prompt: News these days contain a plethora of depressing stuff from floods and wildfires and other environmental problems, to mass shootings, to refuge problems and other political and social crises, to whatever you like as your favourite example. Write a story focused on one or more of these depressing occurrences and give it a happy ending.

***

The Cabin by Val Muller

It was his grandfather’s legacy, something he built by hand with old-school craftsmanship, something they didn’t even really teach anymore. As a kid, grandfather’s cabin had always felt more like a bomb shelter to Ryan in that it seemed indestructible. Its worn wooden boards were solid as the Earth. Its door could take a battering from any kind of weather. Visiting the cabin was a perpetual camping trip, a constant game of fetch, an unending wilderness retreat.

As a teen, the cabin sheltered Ryan in a different way. It was impervious to bullying and breakups, to failed chemistry tests and college rejections. Like Walden, it promised a retreat from the monotony and fatigue of life. There was always a fishing trip to be taken, a stroll to be had in the woods, a fire to be built in its stout little potbelly stove. It had been a place for grandfather to bestow his ancient wisdom, and a place to remember the old man after he had passed.

But not even grandfather’s cabin could withstand the forest fire. Ryan was lucky he got out alive. He’d been there not twenty-four hours before the whole forest was put under mandatory evacuation. He left without a sight of fire, with only the faintest scent of smoke on the wind. He read later that a father and son on a mere two-hour hike had gotten stuck in the fire and perished just yards from a pond that might have saved their lives.

Yes, Ryan was lucky to have left alive. Now, he returned to a smoldering world, a post-apocalyptic one worse than the most painful breakup or the most misunderstood unit in chemistry. He followed the gravel trail there in his off-roader; the remains of the trail were the only sign that he was in the right place. The cabin, tiny in the dense forest, had been nothing for the fire to consume. A mere side dish for its insatiable appetite.

There, in the ashes, stood the stone steps grandfather had stacked himself, still mostly intact. And in the corner of what used to be the cabin, the potbelly stove, black as ever and the only thing that seemed remotely okay to have witnessed such flames, next to a charred chimney.

“I’m sorry, grandfather,” Ryan whispered. He remembered his grandfather’s words, the ones repeated in the will and testament. Take care of the cabin as I did and bequeath it to your children’s children.

Now, there was no cabin left to bequeath. How long did it take forests to recover from such fires? The trees stood around the razed cabin like charred matchsticks. A bit further away, green undergrowth peeked out of the ashes, and several lines of trees seemed untouched. The path of the fire hadn’t taken everything–but it had come straight for the cabin.

The undergrowth seemed to sway in the windless day. What was that? A draft?

No, something else.

Ryan stepped closer. Something brown peeked out of the growth. A coyote? Did those even live around here? A bear cub?

Whatever it was, it looked half dead. It approached on cautious, shaky legs.

A dog?

Ryan blinked. For a moment, it almost looked like the ghost of Blue, grandfather’s favorite dog. Ryan remembered the German Shepherd Dog as a kid. Blue would always be the quintessential dog in Ryan’s mind. Fetch-loving, tail-wagging, bone-chewing Blue.

Yes, it was definitely a dog. Ryan reached into his pocket, pulling out the only thing he had to offer, a granola bar. He unwrapped it slowly, and the dog sniffed, its tail wagging between its legs.

“It’s okay, Boy,” Ryan said, offering the bar.

The dog’s tail raised, and it approached. It made eye contact briefly, then grabbed the granola bar and retreated a few feet to consume its prize. Finished, it looked at Ryan expectantly.

“I have water in the car,” he said.

The dog sat, tail wagging, clearly domesticated.

Ryan tipped the bottle of water into the dog’s mouth, and it lapped at the stream greedily. Ryan noticed it had no tags. No name. No home. He’d read about the animals displaced from the fires. People were setting their animals free in hopes they would save themselves–horses, livestock, dogs, cats… with only moderate chance of being reunited with loved ones. The scope of the fires was simply too much. This dog was one of its victims.

“One less victim,” Ryan whispered, looking at the cabin again and noticing its foundation easily traceable in the ashes.

“Come on, Blue,” he told the dog, jingling his car keys. “Let’s go home.”

***

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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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers, including Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/.

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The Spot Writers – “The Unpopular Prompt” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The September prompt is to use these five words in a writing: carrot, lily, moustache, esophagus, pigeon.

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/

***

The Unpopular Prompt by Phil Yeats

After their monthly writing group meeting, two women stopped on the library steps.

“What’s up with Colonel Mustard?” Susan asked.

Beth laughed. “Is that what you’re calling Maurice Moutarde? And I presume your question refers to his angelic smile when Claire announced this month’s prompt.”

“Yeah, really. Have you ever seen him smile?”

“Not part of his persona. And everyone knows he hates prompts based on five disconnected words.”

Susan shook her head. “We’ll find out what he’s up to next month.”

 

One month later, the dozen writing group members reassembled in the library’s meeting room.

“Time to start,” Claire announced before everyone had taken their seats. “No newcomers, so we should commence our readings. Who wants to start? And remember, no more than five hundred words.”

Susan rolled her eyes. Everyone knew the five hundred word maximum. She snapped to attention when Maurice cleared his throat.

He stood, theatrically displaying an opened three-by-eleven-inch Power Corporation envelope before spreading it face down on the table. Maurice paused, staring at Claire. When she looked up from her agenda, he began reading.

“A pigeon with moustache-like marking above its beak scarfed a carrot-coloured encrustation from the pavement, staggered to Claire’s prized lily and dislodged the disgusting mess from its esophagus.”

Beth whispered to Susan. “Would you conclude he hasn’t changed his opinion of those prompts?”

“Or abandoned his ongoing feud with Claire over the preferred direction for our group,” Susan added.

Their mirthful eyes and suppressed chuckles contrasted with the evil eye Claire cast toward Maurice. He ignored her malevolent glare as he bowed to his audience before sitting. Mark one up for Maurice in their little battle to become top dog in an insignificant writing group.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].
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The Spot Writers – “Pigeon Phobia” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The September prompt is to use these five words in a writing: carrot, lily, moustache, esophagus, pigeon.

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

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

***

Pigeon Phobia by Cathy MacKenzie

The final time I visited Granny in her fourth-floor condo, I was ten. I didn’t know exactly how old she was then, but the brown spots on her hands, her stooped shoulders, and her grey, frizzy hair showed her years. For as long as I could remember, she sported a bit of a moustache, and the stubby hairs rubbed against my face whenever she kissed me.

She used to stand by the sliding door that opened onto the balcony and talk to Stella. “I see you, Stell” and “What are you doing, Stell?” were her usual questions. No one answered, of course.

I had never seen Stella standing on Granny’s balcony, never even met her as I far as I knew, nor did I know why Granny talked to this mysterious, invisible woman several times a day.

The pigeons were in full force, though, swooping down to the balcony. They pooped on the wicker furniture, on the side tables, and on the railing. I swear those beady eyes looked right into the living room. I eyed their scruffy feathers and scrawny beaks. So close, I could touch them.

One day, Granny stomped from the living room into the kitchen, yanked open the fridge, and pulled out a bag of carrots. I sensed what was coming and moved out of her way.

Yep, she hurled those carrots, one by one, with a strength a frail, elderly woman didn’t normally possess. “Get away, you dratted creatures,” she shrieked.

As hard as she threw, though, she didn’t hit any.

She gasped after yelling at the birds and covered her mouth. “Stell, I’m so sorry if I disturbed you. Go back to sleep.”

She turned from the door, and a sad face overtook her surprise at seeing me. “Sorry, Carmen. It’s those damned pigeons. How I hate them.”

“Can we go out to sit, Granny?”

“No, we cannot. Not with those dratted pigeons ruining everything. Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow we’ll go out.”

I was at Granny’s condo for six days that last time, but “tomorrow” never came. The pigeons continued their tirade, almost taunting her. She wouldn’t go outside with them perching on the railing as if they owned her balcony. “I dare you,” they seemed to say. “I dare you.”

I would have yelled “double dare” back, but that would have given the pigeons the attention they craved, and Granny wouldn’t have liked that.

Visits with Granny are as fresh in my mind as if they happened yesterday, but many years have passed. The pigeons aren’t as bad as they once were. Maybe they were never that bad. When one lights on the balcony, I shoo it away.

I hate the sunlight as much as Granny hated the pigeons. The afternoon glare hits the sliding door most days and highlights my age spots, similar to those that lined Granny’s hands and arms.

I have no grandchildren. No husband. No siblings.

But I have my memories.

I cough, remembering how Granny wheezed and hacked every few minutes. I had always thought her coughing a nervous habit, but she suffered bouts of heartburn and inflammation of the esophagus, so perhaps not.

I peer down from the fourth floor balcony. I can just barely see Granny’s headstone. “Hush now, Granny, the pigeons won’t hurt you anymore.” I cover my mouth and giggle. “Oh, Stell, I hope I didn’t wake you.”

If I lean over far enough, I can see Stella’s headstone, too.

Yesterday I visited Granny and left an orange lily, her favourite flower. I stopped by to say hello to Stell, too.

Strands of shoulder-length grey hair whip across my face. The wind whispers. Or is it Granny?

“Hush, Granny. Sleep tight.”

***

 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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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].
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