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 it’s 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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My Experiences with Death

My Experiences with Death

(This is an abridged version of my essay for the Guided Autobiography course I’m taking.)

I was nine when I experienced my first death, too young to understand and grieve for a grandfather far away in Bermuda, a man I’d seen maybe a half dozen times. I don’t remember being told he had died, but I found my mother in the basement laundry room, weeping, and asked what was wrong. We didn’t go to his funeral; I don’t think Mom went either, being pregnant at the time with my youngest sibling. Nine was the age of my granddaughter Taylor, when she stood by her uncle Matthew’s open coffin, staring and crying so hard I thought she was having a meltdown.

My next experiences with deaths were years later, when my grandmothers died at the ages of 89 and 90 (my paternal grandmother achieving her goal of reaching her ninetieth birthday). I was close to them both and grieved, of course, but it was if their deaths were expected, at their ages. Plus they were grandparents, and all grandparents die before the rest of us, right? How funny perspectives change. Now that I’m a grandmother, I hate how I had justified their deaths. I don’t want my grandchildren to say, “Oh, she was a granny; she was old. She needed to die.”

Had my father taken better care of himself, he may have lived longer than 72. When he started passing out at the kitchen table due to lack of oxygen, Mom forced him to go to the hospital. He didn’t want to go, saying, “They’ll put me down.” She always regretted her decision, wishing she had let him die peacefully in his sleep.

While Dad was in the hospital, the nurses told us to limit our numbers in the small waiting room, as other families were unable to use it while we were there. Other than short rotations to shower and bring in food, we were there for five days. Mom slept in a cot by his bed, while eight of us (me, my four siblings and their spouses) snuck into a large empty room, snatched linens from the closet, and slept on the cold, hard floor. Nurses found us there the first night, in the dark, and told us to leave. As before, we ignored them, and the second night they brought us pillows.

When we were told there was no hope for Dad, they moved him out of intensive care and nine of us hovered around his hospital bed, waiting. When we thought he had breathed his last, a hush swept over the room. Stunned and shocked, we all looked at each other. And then he groaned, a deep guttural sigh, and we all jumped. Naïve me thought he had come back to life; perhaps the others had, too. This was my and my siblings’ first real experience with death.

Seventeen years later, my mother’s death, on Good Friday, in 2016, was worse. Perhaps it’s because I’d been closer to my mother. I must have been in denial my mother would ever die because it took me and my brother three days after she was admitted to the hospital before we flew to Ontario from Nova Scotia. My once-vibrant mother had morphed into a shrunken, frail woman, shrouded in linens like Dad had been, with numerous tubes and wires snaking from beneath the sheets. Mom had always taken care of herself. She even had her own teeth—pristine perfect teeth—pure white without the use of whitening agents. When the paramedics arrived at her home to transport her to the hospital for observation after a fall, the first thing they wanted was to remove her teeth. Someone said, “No, her teeth are her own,” which changed the paramedics’ attitude, realizing they weren’t dealing with the usual elderly senior.

Mom, like my father, didn’t have to die, even at 89. She was caught in a catch-22 type situation. Drugs for pneumonia would work against her heart condition, and drugs for her heart would work against the pneumonia. Ironically, she was scheduled for heart surgery to remedy her minor heart condition until pneumonia struck. Oddly, no one, including her, knew she had pneumonia until after that minor fall at her home.

We children had the horror of deciding our mother’s fate. After agonizing for hours, we decided to let her go. We left the room while they transported her down the hall to palliative care. One of my brothers and I returned to her condo, a five-minute walk away, while my sister and another brother sat in the waiting room. My youngest brother was on his way.

As it turned out, my siblings and I thankfully didn’t have to play God. Unbeknownst to anyone, Mom had been dumped, and ignored, in the palliative care room and died alone. The nurses forgot to notify my two siblings in the waiting room that they could go to her room, and when my brother and sister decided two hours of waiting was long enough, they snuck into her room. My two sons, driving almost nonstop from Nova Scotia to Ontario, had stopped to pick up my nephew in Ottawa, and arrived minutes too late. My nephew was the only one who went in to see her body. I almost wished I had never left home because she never really knew I, or anyone, was there, and now all I remember is a shriveled figure that was not my mother.

The loss of a child is an unsurmountable grief, from everything I’ve read, a death that stays with a parent forever. And I know that to be true, something I never ever thought would happen to me. It’s a constant ache. Life is different now. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed; some nights I can’t go to bed. I don’t want to be around people as much anymore, either. I don’t remember crying much immediately after my son died, but I must have, because my husband caught me one day. “You can’t keep crying like this,” he said. “You have to get over it.” And then he paused, “Well, it’s only been two weeks, I guess it’s okay.” I was aghast. My husband was telling me I couldn’t be upset? I know he regretted his words immediately after saying them. Matt wasn’t his son, so he doesn’t suffer my pain; he doesn’t know what it feels like.

Matt’s death, a year after my mother’s, has overshadowed hers, and I hate I don’t think of her as much anymore, being so consumed with him. But occasionally, I’ll pick up the phone to call her, forgetting, mostly wanting to share my grief with her.

One horrendously rainy afternoon, when Gary and I were driving to a burial, I reached to the floor for my purse and my phone. I needed to tell my mother how sad I was going to a burial and how wet we’d all be. And then I hesitated. And the tears flowed. The burial was hers.

I read Ted Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, a few years ago. He wrote a passage that resonated with me: “I wish that life were simpler. I wish that loved ones didn’t have to die too young. I wish that tragedy never haunted a single soul. But to wish all that is to ask for an end to our humanity.” I loved his eloquent wording, and after digesting his words, I understood why death exists and received confirmation of that the next time I looked at my grandchildren. If death didn’t exist, neither could birth. Life brings birth and death, giving us a certain perspective, making us appreciate life.

The other day, I discovered a grief quote on Facebook. One of the lines rings true: “Grief is just love with no place to go.”

 

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The Spot Writers – “Pumpkin Head” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. October’s theme is . . . guess what! Halloween. Write a short, scary story using these words: dress, ghost, pumpkin, light, dark.

This week’s story 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.” BUY IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN!

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

***

Pumpkin Head

Dark clouds hovered though it was only seven o’clock, but darkness was apropos on Halloween night. Tom clutched his treat bag, an old pillowcase decorated with paper ghosts, witches, and pumpkins, and suddenly realized how corny it looked. He had enjoyed the colouring, cutting, and gluing to the fabric, but the dampness was loosening the paper and rolling the edges. His bag would soon be a mess and the other kids would tease him. Bully him, even. Who wanted that?

He had only been outdoors for twenty-four minutes. He had timed how long it would take to go up and down the four streets his mother had given him permission to canvass and knew he’d have plenty of time to go to each house. Thankfully, the streets were long ones, with lots of houses, because four streets wouldn’t normally be enough on Halloween. He had to be home by nine, but as soon as his bag was full, he would head back. No sense staying outside for no reason.

He wandered up the walkway of 39 Cresthaven Avenue, where a pumpkin on the porch beckoned, light flickering between gaps in the squared teeth. The chunky grin mesmerized him. His mother had warned him not to read anything into sights he saw while trick or treating. “Nothing is real,” she said. “Just enjoy being a kid and eat your candy. Forget about cavities one day of the year.”

He had been stunned at her words. Forget about cavities? From a mother who yelled at him every night to brush so invisible creatures didn’t create caters in his teeth? Sometimes she even went as far as brushing his teeth, as if he were a baby. He was twelve, for Pete’s sake. Almost a teen. Soon he would be able to have sex, like people he saw on television when his mother wasn’t looking. He had already snuck into the stash of his father’s Playboy magazines. Did she even know they were there? There would be more nagging for sure if she found them.

Every Halloween, after returning home from his allotted, unsupervised time, his mother insisted on rooting through his pillowcase. The previous year, she said, “There are crazies out there. I have to make sure there’s no needles or disturbed wrappers.”

Needles? Disturbed? He always wondered why she snooped through his bag. Usually, by the time he returned home, he had demolished half the candy. Until the past year, she had never said “Don’t eat anything until I check everything.”

Nagging constantly. That’s all his mother did: nag, nag, nag. It wouldn’t be so bad if she’d give him a bit of praise. Her yelling and nagging scared him as much as the dark, but every October thirty-first he donned a brave face and dressed in the costume-of-the-year—whatever that was: a clown, a Ninja, a pregnant Khloe—a different flavour every year. So much hype about clowns. What was scary about clowns? Sure, scarlet lipstick resembling blood enlarged their mouths and their sad, soulful eyes were ginormous. But silly clowns were frightful? He looked forward to clowns once a year when the circus came to town. And at Halloween, of course.

But what about now, this moment? He shivered. This pumpkin—the weird orange globe with the light shimmering inside.

“Nothing is real, Tommy,” his mother had said. “Just pretend everything is okay.” Pretend, pretend, pretend . . .

He shivered again and glanced around. No one but him—except for that weird pumpkin head.

What! Had it moved? It had been on the porch floor, hadn’t it? Now it was on the top step.

“What the heck.” His hand flew to his mouth. His mother would kill him if she knew he said “heck.” But wasn’t “heck” better than “hell”?

“Hey, you there, kid?”

Tom jumped. “Wha—”

“You there? I’m a good pumpkin, not the bad, scary kind. Not the kind you eat, either. Gah, if you ate me, where would I be?” Giggles and laughter echoed. “I’d be in your belly then, and what good would that be except to fatten you up?”

Tom looked around. Who had spoken? No one’s here but me.

“Me! I’m here,” a voice echoed.

What? Pumpkin Head possessed powers?

Tom scratched at goosebumps sprouting on his arms.

“Yes, me!”

Tom stared at the orange head. The flame inside was stronger, straighter. Unflickering. “You?”

“Yes, me.”

“My mother warned me about you. About things that looked real that weren’t really real.”

“I’m real. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“I—I guess so.”

“Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“You aren’t?”

“Heck, no. I’m enjoying life. The dark. The kids who come and stare.”

Tom scanned the yard. And the street. Empty. “No one’s here but us.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s pretty deserted tonight. For being Halloween and all. But it only takes one, right?”

“One?”

“Well, you,” Pumpkin Head said. “An audience of one. I’m happy you’re here even if there’s no one else.”

“Hmm, I suppose.” Tom looked around again. Where was everyone?

Neither spoke for several moments.

Tom waivered: should he stay, should he go home? He wasn’t absolutely petrified, but he was a tad scared. And it was getting dark.

His mother’s voice echoed: “Be home by nine.”

“Gotta go, I think.”

“Why?”

“My mom’s waiting. She’ll be mad if I don’t get home on time.” He couldn’t admit the dark scared him. “Ya, I better run.” Run? I better dash for it.

“Why don’t you take me home with you? I’m lonely. And cold.”

“Really? You want to go home with me?” Why would that pumpkin want to go to his house? This house was much grander, and surely the owners much nicer than his mother.

“Yeah, take me with you.”

Many scenarios flashed before him. But why the heck not? “Okay, then. Let’s go.”

“Blow out my flame first. I don’t want to burn you.”

That made sense. “Sure. Okay.” Tom stooped and blew.

The smile disappeared.

Tom picked up the plump pumpkin. He made sure he had his pillow case of loot, too, though it wasn’t nearly as full as it should have been, and headed home.

He stopped in front of his house. A small bungalow, so unlike the grand mansion where he had found Pumpkin Head.

He set the pumpkin on the cement landing. There were no steps, just a worn path on the grass to the slab of cement.

“You have a match?”

“What?” Tom asked.

“I need to see. I can’t see in the dark without my flame.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Tom enjoyed building fires. According to his father, he was a hellion, but his father left many years previous. To another family, another wife, another son. Tom had duct-taped a pack of matches to the bottom of the mailbox, safe from rain and prying eyes. Who knew when he might need them.

He flipped open the metal flap. Still there. He withdrew the matchbook and flicked one against the rough edge. A flame exploded. Bright. Glowing. Pointed.

He removed the lid from Pumpkin Head and lit the wick. Success! He replaced the lid.

“Hey, great job. And I love your loot sack, too. Your drawings and colouring are amazing.”

Tom’s face glowed like the face of the pumpkin. It had been longer than forever since he had received recognition and been praised.

“Happy Halloween!” Pumpkin Head screeched.

***

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 – “Witch” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Halloweenish tale The Man with the Crystal Ankh, a story of a violinist who is contacted by spirits while she plays. This month’s prompt is very Halloweenish as well: write a scary story using the words dress, light, dark, pumpkin, ghost.

***

Witch by Val Muller

They call us witches. It’s because they don’t understand. They can’t conceive of something so far advanced, so beyond and above them, something their primitive science can’t explain, and so they call us magic and they call us dangerous. And me sent to search among them.

One thousand years I was granted to find you. Not long for us, but dozens of lifetimes in the place you went. And so I knew you would be hard to find because you would always be changing—and on top of that I had the entire world to search.

I knew where you’d begin. A forest in the north. Isolation. The complete opposite of home. Where else would a rebellious girl go to escape her mother? I sensed you there, but by the time I arrived, so many had been slain by invading armies that you were already gone. The inhabitants here are so brute.

I heard of a revolutionary named Hildegard of Bingen, one who had dreams and visions, who possessed an intelligence that others did not. That was you, I knew, but you passed before I could get to you. Your lives on this world are like those of an insect, and almost before I can sense you, you’re gone.

I heard rumors of someone named Joan of Arc, another revolutionary, a leader like you were destined to be.

Always there was something in my way and I was never able to get to you in time before your deaths. Travel on this world is tedious and slow. Bodies are so heavy here. All the while, my eternal light pressed against the body I borrowed, wanting to escape the dark confines of the flesh. How I longed to return to our world of light, or even to reveal my true form and become a god to the primitive beasts of this world. But I remembered the Queen and kept my promise and remained hidden in flesh.

I smelled your Essence during the cruel witch trials, where people like you were burned. People they feared. Some were of this planet—ones who could see beyond their time. Others, like you, were visitors whose incarnations here were cut short by the fearful brutes. The panic of those massacres made the moments I had to find you fly by too quickly, in too much of a blur.

I knew I would find you eventually.

I followed your Essence to the New World, where I could tell you had been a Native. You passed of old age before I could find your body, but I stayed on the land awaiting your return. When another wave of witch trials arose, I knew you had returned as well.

I sensed you leaving the grave of an infant born to the colonists, one who died moments after birth. Soon after, I heard your laugh in a child’s babbling, but there were so many lives flying about that I could not pinpoint you before your next death.

My one thousand years were drawing to a close, and I knew they would summon me back again. I could not fail. What would they say if I failed to bring the Queen’s daughter back from her escapades on Earth? Losing my job was the least of my worries. I would likely be recycled back into the ether with the hopes that I’d be reincarnated as something more useful to the Queen.

I was not ready for that.

I intensified my searches. I gave up physical comforts. I walked through green fields of summer and smelled the air for you. In crisp, cool mornings I walked through wheat fields wet with dew, and I sensed your presence close by. I tried to make note of every single second, to detect every day of yours that would pass. That level of concentration is barely sustainable, but I caught your essence. It was moving.

I followed the trail into a city. I wouldn’t think that the Queen’s rebellious daughter would want to return to so industrial a place, one so similar to what she’d fled from in her own home. It seems that the Queen’s love for cities and urban populations was part of you as well; perhaps you were showing your true nature and coming into your own. I hoped you were ready to return.

I followed you all the way to New York City. It was the month of October, which for me is the mere blink of an eye. I forced myself to concentrate on every single second so that the mere moment of the month felt a longer. As I slowed down, I realized that people were dressed differently: some wore masks, some had painted faces, many wore dresses that did not seem to fit this era—some of the dresses were reminiscent of my earlier time on this world. Something was strange and I knew you were behind it.

At first I found it hard to locate you in such a large population, but then I remembered how it was on our home, how everyone packed into a huge city has their Essence vibrating through the air the way the people here leave ghosts of themselves even after they have gone. All I needed to do was listen closely enough and I could isolate yours. And so I did, and I found you in the basement of a large building. The building rose and stretched to the stars, toward our home, but the stairways into the basement led away from it. The steps were lined with large pumpkins, each carved into a face that did not belong on this planet. Indeed, those grinning visages reminded me of home.

One of them was carved to look just like your mother.

I held my breath to listen to the night, and I learned it was you after all, throwing a Halloween party. I’d read of it in a book once, and it made sense. Halloween is the closest the people of this world have come to understanding our ways. The line that blurs life and death is so fluid, yet in their world death seems so sudden and final. They don’t understand the true nature of things, the constant renewal and rebirth. They don’t understand that their energy never truly disappears, that we are all of us made of brilliant light that shines through all our iterations.

But on Halloween they come a bit closer to this epiphany. Their tiny minds open to what they would otherwise consider witchcraft. Magic. So of course it is fitting that I would find you there.

When I enter the basement, loud music resonates, and bodies dance everywhere, writhing in pleasure and even in pain. Bodies reaching out to each other, bodies dressed in whimsy and creativity, bodies free to express themselves. I know, of course, that you are behind that, too. I know that this is your party, and so I look on stage and indeed there you are in a dress befitting the Queen’s daughter, a dress like a queen herself would wear. There you are, leading them through sound, with your Essence resonating in every pulse of the music. You sing to them of our ways and your ways. I hold my breath to hear your words, and there it is: our native tongue, chants that in other ages led to your death at the stake. You have them all in rapture now. They have accepted you.

I look over the writhing bodies, and my eyes catch yours. Instead of fleeing as you I thought you might, you keep on singing and your earthly lips break into a smile. I let myself dance, too, but only for the blink of an eye. I know after the party is over, we are going home.

***

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 – “Consumed” by Dorothy Colinco

This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted any way. This week’s story comes from Dorothy Colinco.

Consumed by Dorothy Colinco

He had plucked a woman from her tribe, reaching back into time and space to place her here and now, wherever that was. Wherever this sterile room with the chrome table and white walls was. The organization’s work required some unpleasantness, which was not made easier by the fact that the subjects were unsuspecting of the inevitable and irreversible damage. Of course, the damage was never physical. They were not so cruel as to inflict physical pain. But the pain was real nonetheless, and sacrifices had to be made for the advancement of the greater good.

The woman was now seated awkwardly on the chair. He felt stupid for making her sit there; of course she didn’t know how to sit in a chair. Had he expected her to lean back with her feet flat against the floor, arms crossed in front of her chest? He should’ve known she would sit – more accurately, squat – with her feet on the seat of the chair and her bottom hanging between her heels, knees up to her armpits as though she were squatting over a makeshift toilet in the ground.

She was able to communicate with her in the language and gestures she used with her tribe. She, of course, was a gatherer, her fingers stained the color of wild berries and covered with tough skin that long ago resisted the lacerations of the thorns.

“Are you scared?” He asked. She only looked at him, but in her eyes he saw that universal expression of understanding. She had understood him, and she was scared, but she was not about to admit it to this hunter, though his garments, she noticed, were not stained with the blood and fat of prey. Her son of only 50 moons had surely hunted more prey than him.

“Don’t be,” he said, and he was not unkind, which surprised her.

“I only mean to show you something. To ask questions. I won’t harm you.” Still she remained silent. He gestured, and food was brought into her room by two other women. They didn’t speak to or look at her. “Eat,” he urged. She could not resist the smells emanating from the pile before her, and she ate, gingerly at first, and eventually without restraint. She had none.

“How many are in your tribe?” He began with the questions. She saw no harm in answering him. He did not seem to want to harm her or her people. If he was planning an attack, they would be ready. Or long gone.

“We are 50 in number. Strong enough to keep other tribes away. Small enough to feed each other.”

“How many other tribes are there?”

She bit into something she was sure was venison, but it was more flavorful than any venison the hunters ever brought back. She chewed while she thought about his question.

“We know there are four other tribes. But we have heard tales of even more. Perhaps there are 10, but that is only legend. We have seen only four.”

She saw a look pass over his face. It was the look of a hunter who was about to kill a small, defenseless rabbit. There was no viciousness in that look. Only pity, and that was even more confusing.

He asked more questions, questions about their rituals. About losses they have suffered. About violence within their tribe and with others. She has endured three great losses in her life – her mother’s son when he fell off a cliff during a hunt, an elder when he grew ill and never awoke, and her own child, her second, only 12 moons, not even old enough to name.

He asked how big the other tribes were. How far they traveled. He asked her to paint the world on the wall using her fingers and paste from the brightest berries. She drew their pack, then the trails she remembered, then the locations where they met other tribes or found evidence they left behind. On the wall, her tribe was the size of her palm, and the world she could cover with her torso.

Again, that look from the hunter.

Next, he showed her a painting of an orb, the color of deep water and grass mixed with swirls of a rabbit’s fur. “Do you know what this is?”

Her silence answered for her.

He knew what the protocol asked him to do. To delay it would only be cruel. So he began.

He told her she was wrong. That there were more tribes than she thought.

“So the legends are true? There are 10?” When he was silent, she pressed, “15? 30? How many?” She wanted to know. His silence meant he thought the numbers low, but she could not begin to comprehend 10 tribes the size of hers. Where were they all? Who were they all? What were their names?

He told her. Painstakingly, he told her of the numbers. And then he told her worst parts. What they had done to each other. What happens to the equivalent of 10 of her tribes every day. That there are children without tribes. That there are children with tribes who still let them starve. That in some very large tribes, some dine on what the hunter brings and some dine not at all. That just recently, one hunter hurt a group bigger than her tribe, killed them, and still no one knows why.

They do not deal in physical pain. But that does not stop the subjects from weeping and crying out. From clutching their stomachs with revulsion.

Finally, he hands her the monster. It fits in her palm and it glows brightly. Here she finally sees the other tribes. Here, she sees the suffering over and over, in its myriad forms, and she cannot comprehend it. She was not made to. And still she clutches the monster because she cannot look away. She cannot unknow the truths and untruths she now possesses. Like so many before her, she is consumed.

***

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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Good Kijijers

In a recent post, I lambasted Kijiji People. I even compared them to Walmart People. I take that back. Some good Kijiji People exist.

Then again, there are still the bad.

I have numerous items for sale on Kijiji (Hubs and I trying to downsize). I’ve suffered the Good, the Bad, the Ugly. For instance, I have items listed at $25.00 (excellent buys, by the way) and KP bombard me with: Will you take $20? Will you take $15? These questions are prospective purchases sight unseen. What would they offer me in person? Would they be as bold? (Another post will follow about more recent, harrowing episodes.)

If you’re one of those KPers, and you didn’t receive a response, it’s because I’ve simply hit the DELETE button! Or, if I was in an especially good mood, maybe I replied, “Um, no, sorry. Price is firm.”

I’m thinking I might go into my ads and increase the price of each item proportionately by at least $5.00. That way, when they haggle, I’ll end up at my intended price.

But I digress.

Today, I searched for the services of a KPer. I know! Scary, right?

Yeah, Wifey (me!) was getting tired of Hubby not using his man cave. Long story, but months ago he disconnected our home theatre and was unable to hook it back up. Oops—he succeeded in hooking it back up, but either the TV was silent, like movies before sound had been invented, or pictureless, as if one watched a radio. Neither was conducive to Hubby remaining in his man cave. Instead, he took over the living room.

Today, he moaned again about his poor, unused man cave.

“Want me to check Kijiji?” I asked. “I’m sure I can find someone capable of inserting the right wire into the right slot.” (Or the left wire into the left slot . . .)

Hubby’s eyes lit up. “Yes, please do.”

Please? When had he ever mumbled a “please”?

He trailed me to my computer. Gah, how I hate him hovering over me, especially while on my computer. Who knows what I might have left unminimized.

I found three individuals suitable for the job and fired off emails.

Within minutes, I received a reply. Hired him on the spot. Ninety minutes later, he appeared at our door. Two hours and $209 later, he disappeared.

Hubby and I then ate dinner, after which he headed to his man cave.

He’s in his glory now.

So am I.

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The Spot Writers – “Wolves Don’t Knock,” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted in any way. Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie, who is hard at work finishing her first (and only) novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK. The following is an unedited excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book.

WOLVES DON’T KNOCK: Expected publication date: November 1, 2017.

***

Miranda carefully shut the door behind her. She must not disturb Paul.

Despite wanting to flee far away from the cabin as quickly as possible, she paused to inhale great gulps of crisp woodland smells. The fresh scent of pinecones brought forth memories of Christmas. She exhaled, watching her breath spiral like smoke from a chimney and then vanish.

The wood pile, overflowing with logs for the stove, looked smaller surrounded by clusters of snow that remained after the milder temperature the previous day. Trees around the property, taller and thinner, appeared eerie in the dim light. Paul’s battered pickup truck sat by the cabin. Why hadn’t she snatched the keys?

Paul allowed her outdoors every few days, when he freed her from the chains, but she knew better than do anything foolish. She couldn’t jeopardize the little freedom he gave her. She relished those times—and others in the cabin—when she felt free, for her captivity could have been much worse.

Had it been that long since she had been outdoors, or had the chill changed the surroundings? Everything once green looked dried-up dead. Most of the snow had melted or Paul would be able to track her footprints.

The moon hovered, illuminating her path to freedom—if she could find the path.

The shed! She must investigate the shed.

Owooooo!

She froze. Had he woken? Was he after her? The wolf? More than one?

The shed forgotten, she raced through the woods until she couldn’t run any longer. Gasping, she leaned against a tree in a vain attempt to fade into the blackness and ignore sets of eyes that watched from behind every object.

Shivering, she jerked the threadbare sweater around her chest, her hands resting across her stomach. Her baby. Kevin would be—what? Five? Six? Seven? She shook her head. She could ponder later.

Where was the road?

She glanced around. Too many paths. Which way? And where would they lead?

She shuddered and swiped her hand under her runny nose. She didn’t know the time when she escaped, but it had been closer to morning than midnight. How long had she been outside? Three hours? Four? Frostbite worried her. The night had grown colder. The nubby wool sweater with its overstretched sleeves hanging below her hands didn’t afford much protection, but she had seized the chance when it arrived, not wasting time searching for proper clothing. Thankfully, despite wearing sneakers, her feet were dry. Nothing was more uncomfortable than wet feet. Not that comfort concerned her. She was elated to be out. To be free.

Ahhh wooo!

She jumped at the sudden sound. An animal? Wolves?

Not Paul. Paul the animal would have pounced long ago.

The cold, dank night seemed never ending. Eyes tailed her, glowing in the dark. Lights, white and yellow.

Inch by inch, the moon disappeared, allowing the sun to rise. Cousins trading places. Light overtaking dark. Monsters soon to be revealed for what they were.

Tree limbs lay on the crusty snow. A miracle she hadn’t tripped over them. She discovered a strength she thought lost and sprinted from one tree to the next like a rabid rabbit running from a wicked wolf. She would run for a few minutes, take shelter behind a tree, peer around to ensure the coast was clear, and flee to another tree.

Eventually, she would reach a road and find people. She had to believe that; she had believed that for the previous few hours.

While she mumbled prayers, Paul’s words rattled in her mind. “I’m Paul Wolf. That’s all you need to know.” She would never forget those first words out of his mouth and ones that followed about death to loved ones if she tried to escape. She hadn’t wanted to endure more death. The death of her father had been horrid enough, but selfishly she was relieved he was gone—if one believed, to a better place—because he would be ashamed of her.

Paul had moulded her the way he wanted, but she kept enough of herself intact. She endured pain at his hands but learned to co-exist, and thoughts of escape faded while endless days merged into endless weeks and weeks into nameless months. How long had it been? How many years?

When she had been home, before being taken, the odd news reports broadcasted abductions, and rarely had results been good. Paul ensured she had food and allowed her input into the grocery list. At the beginning, he regularly forced himself on her but those incidents gradually lessened. The more he ignored her, the nuttier and crazier he became. Had she turned into a nutcase as well?

Days had been so foggy she wondered if she would ever see clearly. And nights were worse when wolves surrounded her, chased her, howled. Ahhhh woooooooo!

She patted her pocket, which gave her comfort. The photograph she kept hidden. Paul had never found it.

When she glimpsed a road between the trees, she stopped to catch her breath. At the sound of a vehicle, she slipped behind a pockmarked pine and watched the car zoom by. Her stomach sunk.

No, all was okay. She would wait for the next car. The sun had fully risen, and she would see a vehicle in the distance and discern if it was Paul. If not, she would chance that, if he followed, he would be on foot, but she prayed he remained passed out on the floor. Time was running out. The cold would kill her if he didn’t. She must flag down the next vehicle. If he wasn’t already after her, he would soon be waking, and she had to be far away before then.

Minutes passed. Or was it hours? Snowflakes swirled. She stopped, sticking out her tongue to catch them. She hadn’t realized how dry her mouth was.

A vehicle! She dashed into the road, flailing her arms like a crazy person. The driver might run her down, thinking she was a crazed individual, or the driver could be Paul. Either way, she would be dead, but she had to chance it.

 

Wolves front cover FINAL

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

 

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The Spot Writers – “Monster” by Val Muller

This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted in any way. This week’s story comes to us from Val Muller, YA author of The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away, both discounted to $2.99 for the rest of the month.

***

Monster by Val Muller

The end of the fiscal year coincided with the chill in the air, even in the streets of Washington. It was almost like the decaying leaves piling in the country out west sent their ghostly miasma in with the commuters. That chill, that scent of decay spoke of the thinning line between living and dead, that boundary that would continue to thin as department stores threw up Jack-o-Lantern decorations and trees threw off the last of their leaves.

Something about that thinning line sent a chill into Daniella’s spine, and it froze and hardened a piece of her soul. On September 1, she’d been all smiles when Timothy asked to telework because his daughter had a sudden case of strep. On September 2, she let Marie go an hour early to check on a sick puppy. That Friday, the one before Labor Day, she told everyone to go home an hour early.

“Happy Labor Day,” coworkers chanted as they hurried down the hallway toward weekend plans.

“Happy closeout month,” she responded, her fingers tapping behind her back. “The fun begins Tuesday.”

At barbeques that weekend, employees joked with family and friends about Daniella’s demands for year-end closeout.

“At our staff meetings, she said we may have to work twelve-hour days.”

“She’s threatening to make us come in on Saturdays.”

“And Sundays.”

It was met with laughter, then forgotten as fathers played catch with sons and mothers went with daughters for a last dip in the pool.

But in a lone apartment, not a mile from the office, sat a husbandless, childless soul. Her fingers folded in a tent in front of her as she thought about the month ahead. Everyone would be working late. In her mind, there were already parades of memos, lists of funding documents, and hourly meetings. They would all have to check in with her before they left, and only at quitting time would she tell them that they had to work late.

They’d have to arrange last-minute babysitters. They’d have to miss soccer games and youth football. Mommies would have to explain to children that there were just some things more important than storytime with daddy. And daddies would have to explain to neglected children why mommy wouldn’t be there for birthday parties.

In the corner of Daniella’s darkened apartment, a blue screen glowed. It was still open from the atrocity she saw this morning on Facebook.

Jerry.

They’d had a brief fling in college, but he left her to seek “more fun, less serious.” Somehow, she always thought he’d be back. How could he choose some floozy over her rigidly-straight GPA, her list of extracurriculars, her reputation as drill sergeant of the women’s cross country team? He had made a terrible mistake. In every country music song—like the one playing on repeat from the computer, the one preventing the screen from dimming—she heard the hope and sorrow of their relationship. She knew he’d be back for her one day. His breakup had been a mistake he’d yet to realize. His marriage was something he’d been coerced into. It had always been only a matter of time. She’d waited years already and was prepared to wait more.

But now, this.

Jerry was a father.

His baby’s newborn eyes plastered all over her Facebook feed. The infant’s smile was a punch in the gut. Why, he hadn’t even posted that his wife had been pregnant! So smug, keeping that their private little secret like they were in some kind of exclusive club. And there went that. With an infant’s smile, there went her excuse, her reason to ignore the dating scene. There went her nightly fantasies, her frequent hopes that his status would turn to “single” and she’d be welcomed back into his life.

Gone.

The cold front seeped into her soul. She thought of the office, of Brittany’s baby shower and Harold’s office bachelor party. They were smug too, weren’t they? Making their plans. Having their weddings. Prioritizing their families. Not even thinking of the office, were they? Of the cold, beautiful symmetry of it all. The same 72 degrees all year. The same lighting. The same sterility. She’d bet none of them were even giving the office a second thought.

Let them all enjoy their weekend.

On Tuesday she would have them.

That Saturday she tried three new hairstyles. She went jogging and shot disgusted looks at the family of five taking up the entire sidewalk with training wheels and strollers. On Sunday she went to the salon for an impromptu haircut, but a wailing toddler and his obnoxious brother ruined the mood, and she went home with her outdated coif. On Monday she tried a new makeup regime and went shopping, but a gaggle of mothers was standing near the clearance rack, comparing toddler bedtime routines and little league scores.

With each foiled attempt, the monster grew in her soul. Her heart hardened and chilled, and she couldn’t wait for the memos that would come. She couldn’t wait to tell them about their mandatory one-hour lunches. That way, they’d be able to stay for the daily 5:00 meeting and still have half an hour to spend at her command. She’d string them along like fish, luring them with the hope of an on-time departure from the office. And she’d come in for the kill. She’d already planned the dates they’d stay late: she’d know, from the very second they set foot in the office. She couldn’t wait to walk through the cubicles, her monster feeding the anticipation that would be nearly tangible in the air. They would have no idea until her evening meeting, no idea whether they’d be dining with their families or eating out of the vending machine again. Their suffering fed her monster.

The monster’s claws emerged that week, and each memory of Jerry grew into a hardened bone, a serrated tooth, a beastly horn. During the third week, John shuffled into her office, a folded note in his hand. It was a letter from his wife, one he promised her he’d deliver. It stank of desperation, and she chewed her smile as John watched her read the list of complaints. He was like a sheepish child delivering a note to a teacher. What, did his wife own him? It was written in bubbly handwriting: Couldn’t John please come home on time? The children missed him and she was losing her mind, living like a single mother of three. Couldn’t Daniella see her way to letting him telework, from home, after the kids were in bed?

“We’re all in this together,” she said to John, her lips pouting for him. “And I’m afraid tonight is going to be a late one.”

* * *

The second Saturday in October, Daniella walked to the base of the Washington Monument. Fiscal close-out was done, and with all the free time afforded by the on-time departures from the office, she had joined an online dating service. Jerry would have to be replaced. And she had so much to offer. If only she were given the chance, she could run a household with the iron fist with which she ruled her office.

The man waiting there looked every bit as good as he did in his picture. He smiled at her, but when she smiled back something faded on his face. She knew in an instant he wouldn’t contact her for a second date.

What was it that chilled him to the prospect of a life with Daniella? Perhaps he feared her ramrod-straight work ethic, or her love of her job. Perhaps her role as Boss intimidated him. As she walked home alone and scowled at two kids screaming in a pile of leaves at the edge of a park, the chill of autumn bit under her jacket, and she shuddered. She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he feared the monster, the one that had taken residence in her soul.

* * *

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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The Spot Writers – “A Cute Story for People Who Don’t Like Rap” by CaraMarie Christy

September’s prompt: Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid? This week’s story is by CaraMarie Christy.

***

A Cute Story For People Who Don’t Like Rap

There is a world where everyone in it can sing. It is a planet that used to be called Earth, but then a bug infected all the non-singers and they diead. Everyone left can sing. They don’t sing all the time, that would be awful. However, most of the time, when its citizens pause over morning coffee on their porches or sit to read a book, in the land of Alto, there is a hum in the background. Someone, somewhere, will be singing gently as they paint a fence or clipping coupons, admiring the beautiful rise and fall of their voice. It’s like living in a world where all you eat is cake. Everything is sweet, but eventually cake starts to become ordinary. Only grand cakes, like the type with expensive fillings, become interesting.

Which is why, in Alto, it is very common for people who can sing—but not as well as a professional operatic singer—to be considered “bad” at singing. In our world, they might be considered “nice” or “good for a pleasant night of karaoke”, but they will never compare to the likes of Whitney Houston.

Because the notes out of her throat were only “good”, never great, and she was a boring piece of cake, Melody Hymn dreaded going to chorus class. She stuck out. Half of her class period, Mrs. Solo, her teacher, spent more time with the soprano section in which Melody was stuck, trying to make her sound as pleasant as everyone else, than any other section. Like the teacher was trying to smooth out a stubborn wrinkle. Melody knew that she was that wrinkle.

Nothing was going to change that, not even when the great Octave Song, three-time champion of their district’s annual concert, transferred into her school.

Mrs. Song almost melted when Octave walked into class. She pointed her to a spot on the chorus room’s risers beside Melody. The small, pixie girl looked up at Melody and smiled but Melody tucked her head to her chin, staring at invisible dust on her converse. This was how Mrs. Solo was going to fix her wrinkle, by pairing her best student up with the worst. She had already tried pairing Melody with Star Vocal, hoping Star would rub off on her. It had only lead to Star’s parents calling the school and forcing a conference. The next morning Star was moved far away from Melody.

They started their lesson on an acapella piece, Maroon Five’s “She Will Be Loved”, an ancient piece that few people on Alto could remember anymore. It was their attempt to bore the audience, Melody thought. Melody did her best to keep her voice low and soft, but Octave was so much smaller than her. The singer’s ear was almost exactly at the height of Melody’s mouth.

While Mrs. Solo was scolding the bass’s for missing a note, Octave whispered to Melody, “You have a very interesting tone, you know? I quite admire your breathing technique. And you have a lot of power in your voice that you hold back from using. Don’t be shy.”

“Thanks?” Melody didn’t know what to do with a compliment on her singing. She was afraid it was sarcasm, but Octave’s eyes were too bright. Melody added, “Sometimes I like to figure out what the difference between shouting and singing is when I’m in the shower. My mother hates it.”

“People are dumb. There is all types of singing—not just pretty singing. There’s cool singing. And then there’s things that are almost just like singing, but different.”

Despite her reluctance at making Octave’s friendship, Melody found being complimented hard to resist. She was also fond of the fact that, when Mrs. Solo saw Octave stopping to talk to Melody after rehearsals, that her choral teacher began to leave her alone.

“Why don’t you help out someone like Star instead of me?” Melody asked at lunch.

“Because I could try and make her better all day, but I don’t think she’d listen to me. Do you? I could teach her to fix the tremor in her voice when she reaches the high notes, fix her hectic breathing patterns… But I don’t want to.” Octave shrugged and smiled.

When the school talent show came up, Melody was surprised that Octave had somehow convinced her to sign up. It happened while they were searching the school’s music archives. They had stumbled upon a rare piece of music, a strange form of “almost” singing. Mrs. Solo, Star, and Melody’s mother were shocked when Melody went up on stage and took the mic.

“Hello, my name is Melody Hymn, and I’ll be singing Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’.”

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

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

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

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

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

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