Ten Months

January 11: Ten Months
 
What’s ten months?
Ten months could be any time length:
A lifetime or one day,
A yesterday or a tomorrow,
A today that never ends,
Or a moment frozen in time.
 
Not the same as nine or twelve,
Less than eleven
That will soon arrive.
 
Eleven is notable:
The eleventh day of every month
I commemorate you.
 
But what is ten?
Just ten long, unfathomable months
Since you’ve been gone,
Since you died—
Not passed away or passed on
But died—
Dead and buried died.
 
Ten months of grief,
Two months short a year.
 
My life has changed,
Irrevocably, forever,
But I’ll never forget you.
 
My middle child, my son,
Life isn’t the same without you,
My heart is a hole
That overflows with tears,
An endless pit of ache,
A vacuum of void.
.Matt candle cropUrn
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The Spot Writers – “Sulfur” by Val Muller

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

 ***

Sulfur By Val Muller

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

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

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

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

“Andrea Climbury,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Elissa loves to read,” he explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same reason Andrea was down in Georgia.

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

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

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

“Yes!” she squealed.

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

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

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

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

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

 

 

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Saint Joseph, Home Seller

Saint Joseph 1

When I was visiting my son and his family at their new house a couple of weeks ago, my daughter-in-law mentioned a saint she is certain aided in selling their home. They had been on the verge of freaking since they had purchased another home before selling their old one.

“It’s a little statue,” she said. “It’s a home seller kit.”

She relayed how friends had purchased the statute and immediately sold their home. So, of course, she wanted one for herself. Soon after burying the statue in their yard, they had an offer. Their deal was closing the following Tuesday. “I must go back to dig it up and bring it over here,” she said. Apparently, once the deal closes, the statute is to be buried at the new home.

“I need one,” I said. Hubby and I are putting our house on the market in the spring, and I’ve been worried about it not selling as quickly as we’d like.

We were busy while visiting and never got to their local pharmacy to purchase one. When I got home, I found them online at various sites, but instead of ordering one for me, I ordered one for my brother Hugh, who has been trying to sell his house for almost a year. (A couple of days later, I ordered one for me.)

I had actually mentioned these kits to Hugh, who lives in another province, in a conversation after we returned home. He scoffed, asking, “Are they like Elf on the Shelf?” I laughed. “Something like, I guess.”

I placed Hugh’s order December 14, and delivery was expected December 21 or 22. I was elated. A surprise Christmas gift!

After placing the order, I was in dire anticipation. Hugh would get a kick out of it, and I couldn’t wait to hear his reaction. I checked the tracking every day, which took days to update (like waiting for water to boil!). Finally, I received notification it would be delivered on the 27th. I was upset it wouldn’t arrive by Christmas, but a gift after the holidays would be a special treat. Despite that, I still checked the tracking every day in the hopes it would arrive earlier.

Then came an update that a card had been left re delivery. I hope it doesn’t get lost, I thought, thinking delivery had been attempted at their home. Later that day, I realized the card had been left in their postal box to pick up at the post office.

I waited all day; no pick up.

The next day, I waited again. Finally, in the afternoon, tracking updated that Hugh had picked it up, and I waited eagerly again for a call or a text. Nothing for hours. Then, I received a text: “Got a parcel today. Very nice (and funny).”

Hugh had previously notified me they had a showing that Saturday. “You’ll have to bury it before Saturday,” I texted. His text crossed mine: “I will have to bury statue in snow tomorrow before people look at house Saturday.”

“Not sure if it’ll work in snow,” I texted back. I knew there were particular instructions as to burial; either feet up toward Heaven or feet down toward Hell, and I wasn’t sure if snow constituted burial. I impatiently awaited my saint, which would give me precise instructions.

Minutes later, I received another text from him: “Funny, actually. When I opened it, I saw a religious figure and thought it was from Harry. Then I realized what it was and immediately knew it was from you.”

“Ha ha, that is funny,” I texted back.

Harry is the more religious of our siblings, so a religious statue wouldn’t have been out of the realm. Thinking of Harry reminded me of our recent conversation. After I shared the news of the saints I had ordered and explained the significance, thinking he’d never heard of them, Harry’s memory was jogged and he relayed the story of a friend who had tried to sell his house for several years to no avail—even with the statue. Turned out, he had buried it the wrong way. The day after he righted it, the house sold!

I received my order today. I’m amazed at the size of Saint Joseph. Only three and a half inches tall. But so cute! The packaging is adorable, too. It comes with a prayer card, as well as a card of instructions and the history of the saint.

The statute must be buried upside down with its feet pointing toward Heaven. It can be faced toward the house being sold or toward the new house one’ll be moving into. Some place it near the “for sale” sign, some in the back yard, some in a corner of the property. Condo owners favour flower plots or plants. Once the house sells, one unearths the statue and takes it to the new house, which brings good luck.

Hmm, I thought. Nothing says it actually has to be placed in dirt, so I suppose snow will be okay. Nothing much Hugh can do about it, not with the ground frozen and covered in snow.

I now have something to look forward to: spring, so I can plant my Saint Joseph and sell our house! I’ll be sure to plant him feet upward, toward Heaven and not toward Hell.

Saint Joseph 2

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I’m Psychic!

nurse calendar

My siblings and I don’t usually exchange Christmas gifts, but when I received notification in the mailbox that I had a parcel to pick up at the post office, I immediately knew it was from my brother Eric.

The next day when the postal clerk brought out the package from the back room, I knew right away it was a calendar. And my next thought was my brother had made a personalized one with photographs of our mother, who had died in 2016.

When I got home and opened it, I discovered I was right! It was a calendar and my mother’s face stared up at me. It was my mother, wasn’t it?  At first glance, yes.  I peered closer. No, it wasn’t.

My mother had been a nurse, granted only for a short time, if at all, for I’m sure she didn’t work after she married my father almost immediately after graduating nursing school. And a year later, after I was born, she didn’t work outside the home.

I peered at the calendar again. Yes, it was my mother’s face.

No, it wasn’t.

Still, the woman resembled my mother. The package had to have come from Eric, a bit of a prankster, and he probably sent it to each of his siblings as a semi gag gift.

But there was no name, no return address. Who else would have sent it but him?

I had slit the two pieces of taped cardboard to withdraw the calendar. Maybe I missed something.  I pulled apart the cardboard. A card!

Yep, it was from Eric: “I saw these in a store and figured everyone would want one as it looks so much like Mom.”

I laughed.  How funny. Did I have ESP?

My other brother called me the following day. After chitchatting for a bit, I asked, “Did you get a present from Eric?”

“Yeah, you, too? I thought it was just me, that I was special.”

“Ha ha,” I said. “At first, I thought I was special, too, but when I saw the calendar, I immediately knew he’d sent one to each of us. It really does look like Mom, doesn’t it?”

“It does.”

I relayed my ESP story, which he thought pretty amazing. Turned out, he had no clue who had sent him a nurse calendar either, and he, too, also had to search for the card since he had slipped out the calendar as I had.

After we hung up, I wished I could pick up the phone again to call my mother. She would have gotten a kick out of the story.

Miss you, Mom, this second Christmas you’ve been gone.  Hope you and Matt are keeping each other company.

And thank you, Eric, for a sweet thought!

 

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The Spot Writers – “Hot for a Reason” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. December’s theme is to write a story that involves baking or a fire, something to take our minds off the chill in the air.

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. BUY IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!

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/

***

Hot for a Reason by Cathy MacKenzie

“I’m so hot.”

“Me, too.”

“And so bright.  I’m blinded.”

“Yeah, I agree. But what can we do?”

“Not much. We’re holed in here. Literally.”

“Literally?”

“Yeah, kinda means there’s no hope.”

“We’re doomed, you mean?”

“Yeah, kinda. Until we burn out.”

“But everyone burns out eventually, right?”

“Yeah, can’t help burnout.  Life’s like that, but if we didn’t burn out, we’d explode. And we don’t want that.”

“Nope, that would be serious. We could cause a tree fire and the house would burn down. No one needs that at Christmas.”

“I agree. So I’m happy for burnout, the lesser of the evils.”

“You’re such a nice person.”

“Haha! I am, aren’t I? Am I glowing with your praise?”

“You are. Nice and bright.  I love your blue.”

“You’re not so bad yourself. Green looks nice alongside me. And how about neighbour Red?”

“Red, like Elfie on the shelf.”

“Haha, that’s his name. I heard his girlfriend is Eleanor. Two kids were here earlier talking about their elves: one named Red, the other Eleanor. They put Eleanor in Barbie’s bed and waited for Red to join her.”

“That sounds X-rated.”

“Nothing happened. The kids gave up when an older child said they weren’t supposed to touch the elves. That ruins the magic.”

“Christmas is such a nice time of year.”

“It is.”

“Let’s shine as bright as we can. And spread our glow throughout the land.”

“Yeah, let’s do that. And wish the world a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and PEACE ON EARTH.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Warm” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s theme is to write a story that involves baking or a fire, something to take our minds off the chill in the air. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller. If you’re looking for heartwarming, check out her poignant YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away-ebook/dp/B06XKDFXTZ

Warm by Val Muller

Maxine mixed the dough tenderly. She’d always done it so, always by hand, never with the bread maker or even with the mixer Ron had bought her for Christmas so many years ago. She added the cranberries and walnuts by hand, kneading them in with the dough.

When the bread was resting in the oiled bowl, she walked across the kitchen to the living room. She rolled a sheet of newspaper into the shape of a donut and stuck some kindling through the middle. Then another. And another. She smiled, remembering when Ron had taught her how—his father’s Boy Scout trick for starting a fire. She set the three donuts at the base of the fireplace and stacked them gently with more kindling.

She struck a match and watched the flame lick the newspaper, each donut catching in turn. Her hand at the back of the fireplace confirmed the updraft. The fire would take. As the kindling ignited, the orange glow illuminated the brick hearth, the metal of the bellows glimmering next to the brush and dustpan. She could almost feel Ron’s arms around her as she gazed into the fire.

Almost.

She stacked a triangular log on the flame, just a small one to start. She sighed, inhaling the familiar wood scent. Then she walked to the sink to wash her hands of flour and soot. She dried them carefully before taking her wedding ring from its bowl on the windowsill.

Even after five years, she still wore it. She would always wear it.

But five years, already…

She glanced at the dough, already lifting the towel that covered it into a rising lump. She poured some wine and padded to the fireplace, adding one more log. The lights from the neighbor’s house twinkled in through the window, the triangle of multicolored lights from their front window and the white icicles hanging from their front porch.

It hadn’t quite felt like Christmas yet this year, even with the cold.

The yeasty scent of the bread rising mixed with the crackling fire, and she stared into the flames until the clock told her the bread was ready for baking. She uncovered the bowl, punched down the dough, and cut it into two sections, shaping each into a ball and plopping them onto her stoneware.

Ron had always wanted to eat one right away, still warm enough that the butter melted. The other he would save for turkey sandwiches or French toast the next day. Maxine’s heart fell a bit at the thought. She had no one to dine with. Only the fire.

When the bread finished, she turned off the oven and left the stoneware on the counter to cool. The two loaves looked up at her, almost as if they, too, were questioning this tradition.

Yet she had to. For Ron.

Didn’t she?

She placed the first of the loaves onto the plate, the way she always did for Ron. She sliced it directly down the middle three times, choosing the middle two pieces for him. The butter had been sitting out all afternoon, so it was spreadably soft now. She slathered it on extra thick, the way Ron always liked.

She placed the slices next to the two halves of the warm bread and took the plate to the fire. “Well, Ron,” she said. “I hope you enjoy.” She glanced at the fire and up the chimney, imagining the smoke traveling all the way up to heaven, giving Ron his birthday treat from his beloved wife. Thirty-one years she’d baked that bread for him, and then five years after that.

Thirty-one years that just wasn’t enough. She knelt down, taking half the bread in her hand and getting ready to cast it into the fire, the way she always did, when a ringing doorbell jarred her as from a trance.

She put the plate on the coffee table and hurried to answer the door.

A band of children from the middle school—she recognized little John from next door—stood, decked in red and green and silver and gold. They held choir books and smiled up at her. “Ms. Maxine,” John said, his breath making swirling patterns in the cold. “For our school outreach project, we’re spreading holiday cheer through carols. May we sing to you?”

Maxine nodded and crossed her arms against the cold as the group started up a round of “Little Drummer Boy.” When they finished, they looked at her expectantly.

“How about one more?” she asked, clapping. Their little faces looked so innocent, even as old as middle school. They still had their whole lives ahead of them, a lifetime of finding true love, a calling, a passion. She smiled for them.

They were singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” now, and she wiped a tear from her cheek. How did that get there?

When they finished, she held out her hand. “Wait, wait just there, just for a moment.” She hurried in and sliced rapidly, cutting up the rest of the first loaf and all of the second. She slathered the pieces with butter and brought them out on her large snowman platter.

“Just a little something,” she said. “To give you carolers energy. Cranberry and walnut bread was one of Ron’s favorites.”

John smiled. “It’s so warm,” he said, biting into one of the pieces.

“Just out of the oven,” she said.

“Almost like you knew we were coming,” said another caroler, smiling as she bit into the warm bread.

“Someone did,” Maxine said, smiling up at the plume of smoke rising from her chimney into the sky.

It finally felt like Christmas.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

 

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

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

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Library” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. November’s theme: write a story set in a library. This week’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie.

Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published its second anthology, TWO EYES OPEN, a collection of sixteen stories by sixteen authors, to read during the day . . . or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Not “horrific horror” . . . more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply a “good read.”

Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

Also available: OUT OF THE CAVE, the first anthology, suitable for 13 and up:

https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Stephen-Millard-ebook/dp/B01ICAWBVU/

***

The Library

“We can’t go in,” Mark said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Cos it’s locked up. And . . . your father— why would you want to?”

“Ya,” Anthony chimed in. “Why?”

I ignored them and continued walking toward the steps while my friends Mark and Anthony lagged behind. I didn’t realize they had stopped until I heard them yelling.

I turned around.

“No!” they said in unison.

I moved toward them. “If I’m okay going in, you guys should be, too.”

Mark latched onto my hand.

What male kid grabs a guy’s hand? Only Mark.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Mark said.

The three of us were fooling around after school, trying to stay out of mischief. I’d gotten into trouble recently when I stole a chocolate bar from Plum’s Grocery. Mom hadn’t seen the theft, but I gave myself away when I started munching on it before we reached the car. I should have waited until we were home, after the groceries were out of the car and I was safely in my room. Mom almost sent me back into the store to fess up and apologize, but she was cold and cranky, so she had flung her arms in the air and said she would deal with me later.

We had unconsciously veered toward the abandoned library outside of town—at least they had. I was the leader, and that’s where I wanted to go. Not sure why. To see the scene of the crime?

I didn’t want to do any more bad deeds, but the yellow police tape, which had turned a mustard colour since the last time I saw it, had been removed from the building. The front door wasn’t nailed shut and the windows weren’t boarded up, so who was to say we weren’t allowed in?

“Look. It’s just a building,” I said, pointing.

That wasn’t the case, though. The library was huge and old, monstrous like a mansion with secret passageways and strange rooms, like conservatories and ballrooms and billiard rooms.

I liked books—not that I read much—but I pretended, and the younger librarian—not the old one, Mrs. White, whose name matched her hair and gave me the willies—used to help me pick out the best books. (Years from now maybe I’ll read, when I’m ancient and crotchety like Mrs. White.)

“Come on, guys. It’ll be fun,” I said.

Not many abandoned buildings exist in our town of Prattsville. Heck, in this place, where everyone knows everyone, nothing is secret except probably in the minds of parents—like my mother, especially—who think the worse about their kids. And why not? There’s nothing for us to do except get into mischief—and worse. Nothing as bad as murder, though.

Mark dropped my hand, no doubt suddenly realizing he was clutching it.

“What do you want to do, Parker?” Anthony asked.

“Go in,” I said, without hesitation. “Let’s explore. Why did they close it anyhow?” I snickered, knowing more than them about what had taken place there shortly before it closed, but that wasn’t the reason for the closure. Just coincidence and damn progress. A bigger building, not necessarily better, on Main Street instead of at the outskirts of town.

“Dunno,” Anthony said.

Mark was silent.

“You in, Mark?” I asked.

He’d have to say yes. What else could he say? The odds were against him.

We crept to the front steps. The cool November wind picked up. Snow wasn’t in the forecast, yet I swear I saw flakes swirling through the trees flanking the building.

I was glad October was over; Halloween and all that. October was the scariest month. November denoted the start of winter. December, Christmas. One good month out of the last three of the year.

I shouldn’t be afraid. Not in November.

But I was.

And I knew why.

I shuddered.

My two friends shivered. From the cold.

They didn’t know. Not everything.

We gripped each other’s hands while walking up the steps. I pretended to be more scared than I was because that made them feel better. Plus, I didn’t want to arouse suspicion.

The double wooden doors loomed in front of us, with its two polished lion-head brass doorknobs and the tiny, grimy windows inches from the top, much too high for us to peek through.

I grabbed hold of one lion’s head, hoping it wouldn’t bite off my hand, and we walked into the monstrosity of a room. Dark, damp, dingy.

Mark produced a flashlight and swung it around.

I scanned the room. Nothing out of the ordinary. Wall-to-wall shelving and aisles of free-standing shelves. I expected to see discarded books the movers had knocked from shelves and couldn’t bother picking up. I had hoped there’d be something interesting. A best seller. A first edition. A limited edition. But, nope, no books.

Empty. But eerier with the flash of light.

And chilly and creepy, like all abandoned buildings. A surplus building waiting for the demolition crew. When would the town tear it down? What do I know? I’m just a kid, right? A stupid kid, with not enough sense to tie my shoelaces. That’s what Mom says.

I expected it to look different. I didn’t ask their opinions. As far as I knew, they hadn’t stepped inside in forever, and I doubted either had returned any books they’d checked out—had they checked out any or even read them.

I shouldn’t judge. No one can clue in what’s in others’ minds.

“Let’s keep, going,” I whispered. “Down here.”

My father had always admonished me: “Be a leader.” Look at me now, Father, I almost shouted, but he couldn’t hear, no matter how loud I shrieked. No, he would never hear me again. Mom could never again say, “Just wait until your father comes home.”

He’s been gone for almost two years now—twenty-three months, two days, six hours to be exact. Died in this very building.

I stepped four paces until I heard my friends creep behind me. Tip-toeing as if we had to be quiet and not wake spirits. Or whatever creatures slept in deserted libraries. Maybe book fairies? That’s all the rage now. Hilarious, as if fairies flit around putting books in odd places for people to find, read, and leave somewhere else for another individual. Ya, right, as if people are really gonna do that and not keep the books to fatten their shelves.

“Down here,” I said, heading to the back rooms out of the public’s view. Rooms for cleaning supplies, storage, whatnot. These items would normally be stored in a cellar, but cellars are basements, and the library had been built on a concrete slab. No cellar.

Along the way, I touched the shelving. Cold, hard metal reminding me of ornate sterling silver candlesticks.

I paused at the two small washrooms—one for men, one for women; gender neutrality was unheard of when the library had been built. Even when the building bustled with bookworms, no one made a stink about washrooms. Mom says there are three large washrooms in the new library, but I haven’t been there yet. No desire to; not anymore.

Miss Scarlet used to sashay to the female washroom. Sometimes, when no one had been about, I leaned on the door, listening to female sounds while she was inside. She was the younger of the two librarians, the prettier one, in her early twenties. Oh, so young. Much closer to my age than my mother’s. She’s the one who helped me locate books. Of course, I never read what she suggested, but I checked them out and returned them the next day, eager to see her again.

My father, apparently, was eager to see her, too, but I didn’t know that until near the end.

Scarlet. The red. So much red.

My father. Killed by one of the top metal shelving pieces, which was found alongside his body. Mrs. White found him in the back of the building, in one of the never-used rooms, shortly before the building had been vacated, after Mom thought he had abandoned us to take off with Miss Scarlet. I guess the odour got to her one day. For an old biddy, she still had her sense of smell.

Miss Scarlet is missing.

My father’s murderer has never been found.

I was careful to remove all fingerprints.

I dare you to find one clue!

***

 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 – “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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Eight Months

 

The eleventh of every month
Brings a horrible reminder
Of your dreadful death,
Seven morphed to eight.

Every November eleventh
I’ve honoured the veterans,
I’ve stood at the cenotaph
To watch, listen, pray.

Today in my year of firsts
And every November eleventh,
I’ll not forget the veterans
And I’ll mourn again for you.

 

 

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My Son. My Grief. Eight Months Today.

I seem to be able to compartmentalize my life, not that it seems possible to do so. Although I don’t want to be around other people most days, when I am, I hold in my tears. People tell me I’m strong, but I’m not. I just don’t like sharing my grief with others and I hide it until I’m alone. People don’t understand. Unless you’ve lost a child, you’ll never understand. And I hope you (whoever is reading this) never lose a child.

I may smile, but it’s not a real smile. I may laugh, but it’s not a real laugh. Not like before. When he was here. My life seemed so simple then. All problems back then too minor. Why had I ever worried about “such and such”? Bigger issues would take over, when he died. Nothing back then could ever compare to now.

It’s a horrific horror story, losing a child. I never EVER imagined I’d lose one of my children. How could such a thing be possible? They were all healthy. Loss had never affected us. Sure, I lost grandparents. I was devastated at my parents’ deaths. But parents always predecease children.

No, not always. Not in my case. And that’s a rarity. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.

I’m so overwhelmed with grief over my son’s passing, eight months today, that I don’t know how I manage some days. I’m not in denial he’s gone. I know he’s gone.

Dead, funeralized, buried.

But I miss him. Every second of every day. He’s first on my mind when I wake in the mornings and last on my mind at nights. When I do sleep, that is. Sleeping pills have become my best friend, but they don’t always work, and those are horrific nights, when I cry and toss and turn and want to be somewhere else. Where, I don’t know. Where else is there to go?

I’m not suicidal. I’m not a believer in life after death. I’m not that far gone I’d kill myself to be with him. I have two other children. And grandchildren. And a husband. And I want to continue my life, such as it is. I still have goals and dreams. I still have trips I want to take, places I want to visit and explore. I have stories in my head. I have the book of my experience with my son’s last three months I want to write, which I’ve titled (in my head) “Three Hearts. My Truth as I See It.” Whether I can ever write it remains to be seen.

I have no desire to give up everything to—maybe—join him.

Of course, at the time, when he was given a death sentence, I would have given him my life. I’d have done that for any of my children. Or grandchidren. I’d prolong each of their lives, if I could.

My son was a kind soul, loving and giving. All he wanted was to live to see his children grow. During his last days, he cried many times over that. His tears weren’t for him; they were for his two girls, whom he dearly loved.

I’d have given my son my heart had I been able. So he could have lived.

That’s all he needed. A heart that wasn’t full of cancer.

But death doesn’t work that way.

Death takes who it wants, when it wants.

We can’t bargain with death.

Death.

Death is just death. There is nothing else once death shows its face.

Matthew, my son, I miss you so terribly. And I know how humbled you’d be to know how many grieve for you. Not just me, but the rest of your family, and your friends. Even your co-workers. So many people.

You were such a simple soul. You’d help a stranger in the street.

And, dear reader, I’m not eulogizing him as people do after a death. My son truly was a perfect person. He was honest, sincere. A hard worker. He loved life. He loved his two children more than anything, and had he been able, he would have given his life for either one. But he was never called to do that.

Death took him before he could.

 

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