venerdì 15 novembre 2019

Werner’s Syndrome

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use the following words or images in a story: whirlwind of leaves, wizened old man, lonely call of an owl, crackling fire.
Today’s post is written by Phil Yeats. Last December, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

Werner’s Syndrome
by Phil Yeats
The wizened old man gazed, as he did most mornings, at the world outside his woodland cabin. A whirlwind of colourful autumn leaves swirled past his window, and his trusty friend, an old owl, stared as immobile as a statue from a nearby tree limb.
He’d learned when only thirteen that he would never be normal. Stunted growth, arthritis, and cataracts already dominated his life. Operations to replace the cataracts with plastic lenses improved his vision, but the other signs of aging marched on relentlessly. His life expectancy at thirty-two was measured in years, not decades.
After breakfast, he split logs for his evening fire. His only strenuous activity; he had to accomplish it in the morning when his strength was greatest.
Half an hour later, he set the chunks of split firewood and kindling beside his hearth and positioned his easel in the brightest part of his woodland cabin. Drawing was his life, his only solace from the cruel fate nature bestowed on him.
He spent the morning generating illustrations for a children’s book. At noon, he set them aside and turned his attention to his private drawings, therapeutic ones that kept him sane.
The young woman from the publishing house arrived in mid-afternoon. She studied each of the drawings he’d set aside. “Perfect,” she said when she arrived at the last one. “We never reject any. You wouldn’t believe the fights we have with our other illustrators.”
He picked up the manuscript she’d given him when he received the commission. “Don’t see what’s so difficult. You read the book and draw the images it generates.”
She smiled as she strolled to his easel. “What have we here?”
Images from my imaginary life.”
She shook her head. “A naked woman like a model from a figure drawing class and two tykes dressed like they could be from that book.”
He took the sheet, tore it from top to bottom, and handed her the pieces. “There you go, two separate drawings.”
She handed them back. “I must go, get your drawings to the office before quitting time. New manuscript that’ll be perfect for you arrived this week. I’ll get it to you once the editor decides.” She smiled, nodding toward the drawings in his hand. “In the meantime, I’d pay for a drawing of me in a pose like that one.”
I’d need photos to work from.”
She skipped out. “Watch your inbox. I might do it.”
Darkness fell upon his woodland glade as he prepared his evening meal. Afterwards, he lit the fire he’d laid that morning. When it was crackling nicely, the lonely call of an owl, perhaps the one he’d seen perched in his tree, pierced the quiet night. He shredded his therapeutic drawings and fed the fragments into the fire.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

venerdì 8 novembre 2019

We're in this together

Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use the following words or images in a story: whirlwind of leaves, wizened old man, lonely call of an owl, crackling fire.
This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon. MISTER WOLFE, the sequel, coming early 2020. Watch for it!

We’re in this Together
by Cathy MacKenzie

Walter rubs his hands and shivers. Night is drawing to a close, and morning will soon be upon him.
He throws another log on the fire, humming a sorrowful tune that came to mind. He can’t remember the name—or the words—so he sings his own. Nonsensical phrases he’ll never repeat even if he had a friend.
Loneliness. Grief. Sadness. Where’s the happiness he once enjoyed?
Silly me,” he mumbles, knowing darn well where his joy went. The way of everything good: a wife, kids. A home. A job.
Not that he needs a job at his age. His meagre pension covers his expenses. He’s thrifty. Has to be. Enjoys it, actually, as if proving he can overcome any obstacle.
He tosses another log into the fiery mass. The resulting sparks remind him of autumn leaves blown about by the wind. He’s careful to keep the fire contained within the metal rim. Mustn’t play with fire: a haunting refrain from his childhood. He didn’t know much about fires then and never played with matches, but his parents still spewed the words.
He stares into the crackling pit. Flames rise, higher and higher. Out of control. In the distance—the far distance—he hears screams. Shrieks. Smells burning flesh. Oddly familiar. But no, he’s never smelled anyone burning. That would do him in, for he’s read that burning flesh is an odour one never ceases smelling. His sense of smell remains intact even though the rest of him’s gone to crap.
Despite that, he inhales. A huge deep breath that relaxes him.
No horrific smell; nothing but the smoky pine of the campfire.
And the screams? A lonely owl crying in the night.
The vision? Gotta keep that out of his mind. Nothing exists around him but his tent and trees. The moon. And darkness except for the hypnotic fire that’ll die if he neglects it. That’s what happens with neglect: death and heartache.
The fire is fine. Contained in its container. Nowhere for it to go. He should never have lit the fool thing, but every time he camps, he feels compelled to do so. A mysterious force that commands, “Light me, light me.” And he does. His penance, he figures.
He’s never enjoyed camping, but the dark shrouds him from himself. He can pretend he’s twenty-five when his life stretched before him. He can ignore the white hair, the mottled skin, the discoloured fingernails. Nasty yellowed toenails, too, but his feet are hidden in his haggard hiking boots.
It’s impossible not to feel close to ninety when glimpsing a wizened face in a mirror. A stranger—no one he knows. He sighs and rubs his palms against his dungarees. Who’s he kidding?
He doesn’t consciously look at himself except for shaving, but sometimes the bathroom mirror draws him in, forcing him to shout at the invisible person behind it. “I’m alive! Foxed you, eh?”
He stares into the darkness, somewhere behind the trees. “Hey, God, I cheated death, didn’t I? Or was that your plan all along?”
God shouldn’t take the innocent, but He doesn’t care. Too many gone too soon. Too many too young.
The fire dances. He blinks, swearing he can see his wife. Yes, there she is! For a second.
Then gone.
His son and daughter. Sees them, too, but for a lesser instant if it’s possible to cut an instant in half. He didn’t have his children as long as he had his wife and barely remembers what they look like. But, no, there they are. Their faces rise with the flame, and they screech, “Daddy, save us. Save us.” His wife’s arms wrap them close. “Hush, my babies, hush. Everything will be okay,” she says. “We’re in this together.”
He’s positive she’d have said those last four words. She used to comfort him with the same words when life didn’t go quite as planned—minor blips on life’s stage now. We’re in this together.
Yes, she would have said those words when she comforted the children. When he wasn’t there to save them. When they must have called out to him, “Save us, save us.” He should have been there.
They thought he was.
But he wasn’t.
He returned home to an inferno, the flames devouring their home. Firetrucks surrounded the house. Firemen with hoses battled an undefeatable rival. Helplessly, he stood. Hopelessly, he fell.
Despite fisticuffs with everyone blocking his way, too many stronger arms held him back.
He heard no screams. Smelled no burning flesh. He couldn’t even form the horrid images of what transpired. Their deaths. What must have been in their minds?
Their charred remains were found, the three entwined together as if seeking warmth from the cold. We’re in this together. Would the words have comforted their children as they’d once comforted him?
He leans back. “We’re in this together,” he yells to Heaven.
He prays his family heard.
I’m sorry,” he mumbles. “I’m so sorry. We should have been in this together.”
The Spot Writers—Our Members:

giovedì 31 ottobre 2019

Me Time

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use the following words or images in a story: whirlwind of leaves, wizened old man, lonely call of an owl, crackling fire.

Me Time
by Val Muller

There he stood, in the strip mall in front of Tropical Palms Spa. His skin tingled from his facial, and his muscles were so relaxed he could melt. He sighed and glanced back at the neon palm tree in the window. Of course, there was nothing tropical about it, it being located in the middle of Hudson, Ohio. But that was the point, to go somewhere away from it all. Near a national park, it was a good place to get lost.
And getting lost was easy to do. He’d taken his doctor’s advice and started Intermittent Fasting, eating only during an eight-hour window each day. Gone were the days of keeping gingerbread cookies at the ready, eating one practically every five minutes. Without the chill of his wintry abode, he didn’t need that much insulation anymore, and the extra weight was bad for his knees.
He wondered if his wife would even recognize him after his sabbatical. He’d lost countless pounds and dropped so many pant sizes that he could wrap himself in his old clothes threefold. His energy had increased, just like the doctor said it would. He went for walks now, long walks, wondering how in the world he used to conquer all those lists and deadlines.
The checking once, twice; the playing moral judge. It had all been so taxing, so ubiquitous, so constant. Who was he to determine naughty or nice? His therapist was right: it was time for parents to start looking after their own children’s behaviors. Santa needed to look after Santa.
His elves, he’d sent off to a holiday in the tropics. The coconuts and rum would be good for them; after all, they lived on carbs. They would be back just after Thanksgiving. That would be plenty of time for them to run maintenance on COAL 2.0, the new program the rep installed. It was a fully-automated system that assigned kids gifts or punishments based on algorithm.
It scanned their parents’ social media posts, monitored phone conversations with grandparents and friends, even tapped into school security cameras and data from the NSA. In mid-December, it spit out a list of kids good, bad, and neutral. Then, it assigned one of a small range of toys—about twelve possible options, including rocks for punishment (coal was not environmentally sustainable)—based on age and behavior.
There was really nothing Santa needed to do. The program sent the gifts to homes via drone delivery. He could still ride on his sled, but the ride would be mere ceremony. He would be back in time to catch a Christmas movie with the missus while enjoying a hot chocolate (if it was still during his 8-hour feeding, and not fasting, window).
He stepped off the curb, and a whirlwind of leaves swirled from the side of the parking lot onto the sidewalk, surrounding him and playing with the stubble on his clean-shaven whiskers. The cold made his face, fresh with the facial, tingle. He shivered, for a moment missing his plush red robe. He heard the lonely call of an owl and turned around. The lot was largely deserted, it being the middle of an October work week, and he examined the Halloween décor in the windows.
He envied Halloween. It was everyone’s job to give out candy. And that, said his therapist, is how it should be. The world had no right to demand a single entity be responsible for billions of toys each year. That was too much for any man. A flashy jack-o-lantern in the window mocked him with its smug confidence.
He gritted his teeth and reached for a cookie, but there were none, of course. The therapist had blamed sugar—in part—for the Breakdown. Santa sighed and noticed a Costco across the street. He couldn’t help himself. He’d been working on thinking of himself and his wife only—as his therapist directed—but his mind naturally went to buying in bulk. He would just take a peek.
Inside, the store was already decorated for Christmas. They must have sold out of their Halloween items long before October 1. Sparkling colored LED lights on magnificent plastic trees. His body—his old body, the fat one, the one before his recovery—in miniature, carrying a heavy sack, standing on a mirrored music box. And Christmas cookies. A box with 96 of them for $8.99. He smiled, remembering the good old days and how that box would make a nice midnight snack. He reached in his pocket and fingered the ten-dollar bill. Crisp, but not as crisp as those cookies looked.
And then he heard the pitter-patter of children. A check of his watch let him know school must have been let out. The kids ran up the aisle examining the Christmas wonder. A little boy—that was little Timmy from Twinsburg—was pushing his little brother (Joey—he was such a good little boy) to get a closer look at the tree display.
“Naughty, naughty,” Santa muttered, reaching for his list.
But he had left his list at home. The therapist told him to destroy it, but Santa had opted to store it in his drawer instead.
“Hmmm,” he said, gritting his teeth. He picked up the box of cookies and walked to the register to pay.
Out in the parking lot, at his rental car, he put the remaining half-box of cookies on the passenger seat and brushed the crumbs off his shirt. In the window’s reflection, he looked like a wizened old man, not a holly-jolly one. He shook his head as he got in and pushed the start button.
“On, Dasher,” he said, chuckling. Then he reached for another cookie.
Across the street, the smug jack-o-lantern was still watching him through the window, with beady eyes and an insistent LED smile. Dash him and all his goblin friends, Santa thought, watching a mother load bags of candy into her trunk. The woman’s two young daughters—the Beardsley twins—were bickering about who got to have first pick of the Halloween candy. Neither even gave a thought to helping their mother.
Santa cringed and stuffed a handful of cookies into his mouth. The sugar made him feel much better.
“North Pole,” he typed into the rental car’s GPS. It was a long drive, according to the map that appeared. He’d need a lot of cookies. Luckily, the rental car’s on-board computer had a way to search for stops along the way. He would need one at least one every few miles. Yes, it would take quite a while without his trusted team. But at least when he got there, there’d be his wife, and an endless list of names to double-check while sipping hot chocolate in front of the crackling fire.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller:
Catherine A. MacKenzie:
Phil Yeats:
Chiara De Giorgi:

domenica 27 ottobre 2019

The whispering tree

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story inspired by what you see out your window.
This week’s story comes from Chiara De Giorgi. Chiara dreams, reads, edits texts, translates, and occasionally writes in two languages. She also has a lot of fun.

The whispering tree
by Chiara De Giorgi

The tree was the first thing I noticed when I looked out the window the day the real estate agent showed me the apartment. One branch, long, thin and bare – it was Winter – reached to just beneath the window sill.
In just a year or two, on a stormy night it will scratch the window pane, I thought.
I don’t know why the thought thrilled me. A tree branch scratching the window pane on a stormy night sounds like something out of a horror tale, but I guess it appealed to my romantic side: there I was, renting an apartment in one of the busiest cities in Europe, and yet there was a tree outside my bedroom, whose branches would scratch the window as if I were living in a cabin in the middle of the forest.
I moved in shortly after that first visit and for a few weeks forgot all about the tree and its branch. I was busy unpacking, buying and assembling IKEA furniture, hanging pictures and mirrors on the walls.
Then suddenly it was Spring, and I opened the window. The thin branch was now full of small leaves, tender green and delicate. I smiled and silently encouraged it to grow stronger and reach higher.
Seasons came and went, and by the following Spring the branch had finally reached my window. I looked at it and I can swear I heard its voice. Here I am. Now you have to let me in.
I quickly closed the window, then stared at the tree through the glass. I needed curtains.
I’ve probably never bought anything with such urgency: the same night, the whispering branch was hidden behind lace curtains.
A few days later, though, I realized I missed the view from my bedroom window: the soft pink sky at morning, the golden sunsets, the children playing in the nearby garden, the elderly strolling along the street, the dogs, the cats, the birds… I pulled the curtain aside and peered out. The branch was bare and withered!
I opened the window at once and asked the tree: What happened to you? but I got no answer. I felt sad and weirdly responsible, so I removed the pretty curtains.
The following day, the tree was as alive and lush as before, and I thought I must have imagined everything. However, I didn’t dare open the window, in fear that I’d hear the branch speak to me again. That’s why it scratches my window pane at night, every night. It wants to tell me something, it wants me to let it in, but I think a whispering tree belongs in a horror tale, which is where I don’t want to end myself. I’m never opening my bedroom window again.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller:
Catherine A. MacKenzie:
Phil Yeats:
Chiara De Giorgi:

giovedì 17 ottobre 2019

The Impatient Passenger

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story inspired by what you see out your window.
Today’s post is written by Phil Yeats. Last December, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

The Impatient Passenger

by Phil Yeats

I stared from the front window of my second-floor apartment in an old urban house as I waited for my early morning coffee to brew. A woman standing on the curb attracted my attention. She was young, perhaps twenty-five years old, and decently dressed, like someone heading for the university or a job that didn’t require formal clothes. It wasn’t her age or attire that caught my attention; it was her nervous demeanour.
She shifted from one foot to the other as her head swiveled, glancing left and right. When a gap developed, she stepped onto the road and stared at the oncoming traffic. Seconds later, she leapt onto the curb as a dark grey econobox swung toward her and screeched to a halt. The rear passenger door flew open, she dove inside, and the door slammed shut. More screeching of tires and honks from annoyed drivers as the car recklessly charged into the traffic.
I noted nothing particularly distinctive about the car or its passenger, but her nervousness and the obvious haste of the car’s driver left me imagining the strange events that could generate these observations. Was there something sinister, or just people in a big hurry?

The Spot Writers—Our Members: