Field of Dreams

off-route and in for a slightly spooky night

Photo by Gabriel Hohol on Pexels.com

We were hours off schedule and hours from the nearest motel, or, frankly, parking lot. All we had was the vast empty of the highway. Dan’s insistence on following the schedule to a T was countermanded by his magnetic pull towards the world’s biggest anything. We can’t stop for an unscheduled snack, but we can sure detour a hundred bumpy backroad kilometres off course to visit a Biggest.

Dan’s love of the unique has its ups and downs. We have stopped at some absolutely spectacular restaurants, hidden gems tucked away down back alleys or on the side of the highway and disguised by their shoddy exteriors. We have also borne witness to the biggest mosquito, ball of yarn, goose and apple. The apple was full of pie, though, so maybe that one counts as a hidden gem. I would certainly not have expected good pie out of a giant fake apple.

I definitely considered this to be one of the downs. Marv’s Christian Family Fun Campground and Cabins. It was early October, and most definitely the off-season. I’m not sure whether I’d have found it less creepy if it was full of families who had chosen this campground above the other, presumably less Christian, campgrounds.

I suggested pulling over on a side road – after all, we are literally towing our house behind us – but Dan was adamant that the schedule had us at a place with showers, and this place had showers. Not to mention off-season pricing.

We pulled in at dusk, interrupting Marv’s dinner to get a key to the showers and an assigned campsite. He wished us a blessed evening, and not to go wandering this late at night while an 8 foot tall Jesus loomed menacingly behind him. The neon glow of the giant cross out by the highway gleamed in Jesus’ eyes. Who knew Jesus could have been in the NBA? Or a mob enforcer?

Dan went on a walk after dinner. I’d been invited, of course, but completely unrelated to the threat that seemed to shine from Jesus’ eyes, I decided to stay in and read. I got caught up in the story, and it was only when my bladder alerted me to its needs that I realized Dan had been gone for 3 hours. His phone rang from the drivers’ seat of our minibus, and I resisted the urge to leave a scathing voicemail about the utility of mobile devices when left immobile.

I pulled out my headlamp and the park map Dan had insisted he wouldn’t need, left a note on the door, swung by the washroom (a friendly giant Jesus holding a soap pump) and then set out. With my phone. We were the only guests at the park on a random Thursday in October, but I didn’t want to yell out and disturb Marv if I didn’t need to. It was the polite thing to do. Unrelated to the extra shadow-y giant Jesus at the first intersection I passed, arms folded disapprovingly.

I wandered along the main path down the center of the park, past wide open campsites and sparse vegetation. I trailed quietly through the cabins, calling softly for Dan at intervals. I came to a trailhead, and was ready to turn back down the next row of cabins instead – Dan wouldn’t be foolish enough to go on a forested trail in a strange place at night – but as I turned away, my light caught on a gleam of metal. I backtracked and picked up an old pressed penny, recognizably the one that Dan kept in his pocket to fidget with. He’d gotten it at one of his earliest Biggests – a catfish, in Alabama.

A giant Jesus held a sign board with a large trail map on it, his enthusiastic grin strangely sinister in the shadows cast by my headlamp. It showed a slightly meandering loop, and the trail was smooth enough to walk in the dark.

I shrugged and started on the loop, staying to the left as I had earlier in hopes that Dan, too, would choose counter clockwise.

I soon caught sight of what I presumed to be Dan, but which turned out, horrifyingly, to be another giant Jesus. Posed as though he was taking a stroll down the trail, just a giant man-shape looming out of the darkness.

I reassured myself that the kids probably got a kick out of their lord and savior joining them on a family walk. They probably didn’t look so foreboding in daylight.

The trail map showed it coming out into a large field, but it did not prepare me for what I found there. Hundreds of giant Jesuses (Jesi?), each with a slightly different expression and pose, all at least 7 feet tall. And Dan, his expression even more manically joyful than the time we saw the world record ball of rubber bands, wandering amongst them, headlamp casting eerie shadows.

“Dan, what the hell!”

He trailed reluctantly out from amongst the shadowy figures. “I thought you didn’t feel up for a walk?”

I pointedly raised my phone and called his. Apart from the tinny tone of a phone ringing through my speaker, silence.

“Oh… sorry.”

“Are we here on purpose? Was this your plan?” I snarled, I could hear it, but I couldn’t change my tone.

“What? No! They don’t even advertise this! I mean, why don’t they advertise this? It must be the largest number of Jesus statues in one place, right?” Dan gestured wildly back at the crowd.

“It’s crazy,” I replied, unable to stop myself from panning my headlamp across the multitude.

“I know, it’s amazing!” Dan replied, exuberant.

Jesus’ assorted eyes gleamed erratically under the gleam of two headlamps, randomly catching figures in the far distance in surprising and disturbing ways.

Dan agreed to come back in the morning, thankfully. I could only hope they wouldn’t be so ominous in daylight.

**

I stared at the field in daylight. This is what I got for making assumptions. What could make a dark field of giant Jesuses less creepy than the daylight version? An EMPTY field. Not a single statue to be seen. The soap in the bathroom was on the counter, and no statues were along any route to the trail.

Of course I hadn’t taken any photos.

Dan paced the empty field, muttering and gesticulating for over an hour before we went in search of our host.

Marv gave us a strange look and politely explained that the statue at the entrance was the only one. “Otherwise, what would the kiddies think?” he chuckled, “That there’s more than one son of God? You know, the families that come here, they really just love this guy.”

On a more serious tone, he scolded us for wandering off in the dark like he’d warned us against – we could have gotten hurt stumbling around, must have imagined all that strange stuff with the shadows!

We declined his offer to have our picture taken with the one and only giant Jesus statue in the park.

As we pulled out of Marv’s Christian Family Fun Campground and Cabins, Dan weakly started describing a great little hole in the wall joint we could go to for brunch, only an hour or so away. He stared at the road for a long moment then said, “You know what? How about Tim Hortons.”

Buddy Jesus loves you & wants you to be happy
“Buddy Jesus loves you & wants you to be happy” by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

PS – It’s fiction, it’s not meant to offend or insult any religions. If it upsets you, mentally replace it with Elvis… Marv’s Elvis Family Fun Campground and Cabins. Problem solved, you’re welcome.

Nan’s House

This was a response for YeahWrite #508:

A teapot

“Teapot with purple steam” by garrellmillhouse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

***

“Nan’s house is magic, you’ll love it!” Gia was positively vibrating in her seat, straining against her seatbelt like she could make the car speed up and get there faster.

Brody had his doubts about this. He’d found grandparents to be a real sticking point with foster homes in the past. Old people had a distinct preference for kids who were the kids of their kids. Not so much the random one they got saddled with babysitting at the same time. Grandkids are a blessing, but other peoples’ kids were a chore, one rosy cheeked old woman had muttered to her neighbour friend when he’d slunk into the kitchen to ask for a glass of water.

“And Nan’s magic, too!” Gia added. “You’ll love her too!”

“What do I call her?” Brody asked, pitching his voice loud enough to carry towards the Bernardis in the front seats without, he hoped, being obnoxious. This home had so far been too good to be true, he’d do what he could to keep on their good side. If that meant being invisible for the summer so Nan wouldn’t complain to them about the extra work of looking after another child, he’d be the world’s most polite potted plant.

“Nan, of course,” Gia sent him a baffled look before resuming her strain towards the house they’d be living in for two months while the adult Bernardis went away. Mrs. Bernardi had to go to somewhere in Germany for research, and they’d decided to make a vacation of it.

Mr. Bernardi glanced in the rear-view mirror and met Brody’s eyes for a moment. “She’ll likely encourage you to call her Nan, but you can also call her Mrs. Costa if you prefer. Whatever makes you most comfortable.”

Brody was most suspicious of Mr. Bernardi. His eyes were so warm. He was too perceptive. He’d noticed Brody’s interest in the coffee table book about frogs and gotten him another from his office! Later, the man had offered to take Brody to the library! He had looked positively delighted when Brody slipped some books on sharks onto the checkout counter too. Brody couldn’t figure out his angle.

The car pulled off the highway and wound down back roads for another hour, and, all too soon, they were creeping down a winding tunnel of trees and hedges. Nan’s house was small and brick, with a riot of gardens all around it, a huge pond out front and a flock of wind chimes hanging from the wide porch.

Nan herself was a tall scrawny scarecrow of a woman, long white hair frizzing out of a long braid, wearing overalls, birkenstocks and a tee-shirt with a large smiley face on it.

She met Gia halfway, dashing the gangly girl up in a tight hug before pulling her back by the shoulders to do the standard grandkid once-over.

Brody hung back behind the Bernardis, clutching his backpack full of books to his chest and sidling towards the trunk to help with the bags.

He let out a yelp of surprise when he found himself swooped up in a tight hug by the old woman, who had apparently skipped the Bernardis to come and greet him first.

“Brody! I’m so excited to meet you! I’m Nan, and I’m so happy you’re here!”

Brody stood frozen in surprise as she proceeded to hold him at arms length and give him – him! – the grandkid once-over! It was madness! She didn’t even have a previous iteration to compare him to!

“I heard from Dan that you’ve got an interest in aquatic creatures, which is just wonderful, because you’ve arrived at the perfect time for tadpoles!”

She gave him a friendly slap on the back, passed him his bag from where it had fallen, and went to greet the adult Bernardis.

Gia bounded over and started unloading the trunk, her grin a match for the raspy-voiced old woman’s.

**

Brody spent the evening braced for the switch – the Bernardis had left after a hearty lunch in the back garden, which could only mean that Mrs. Costa would soon show her true colours.

So she urged him to help himself to seconds… of dessert. And then urged him to join her and Gia in a boardgame. She gave him extra marshmallows in his hot chocolate later, with a friendly wink and a comment about growing boys. She then gave Gia extra marshmallows with a comment about growing girls. Then added more to her own, with a comment about growing old.

It would happen when Gia wasn’t around, he was sure. Maybe she didn’t want to let her granddaughter know what she thought of the foster kid she was stuck babysitting. Adults were sometimes like that.

Though he was apparently definitely supposed to call her Nan.

**

Brody lay in bed as long as he could bear, hoping that Gia would prove to be more of a morning person here than she was at home. He was wondering how long he could continue only interacting with Mrs. Costa while in the presence of her granddaughter. He liked Nan-Mrs. Costa… he didn’t want to meet only-doing-my-daughter-a-favour-Mrs. Costa.

But it was nearly 8, and he was horribly bored.

He’d just slip downstairs and go explore a bit outside.

Mrs. Costa – Nan – was in the kitchen, eating toast and reading the newspaper. Not absorbed enough for him to slip past unnoticed, however.

“Lovely, a fellow early-bird! I’ve got toast, cereal, and, if you’re up for cooking yourself, there are eggs. Help yourself to whatever condiments – the cupboard by the fridge has nutella and peanut butter, jam’s in the fridge, so’s the milk and juice, butter’s on the counter.”

Brody made himself some toast with peanut butter and jam, uncomfortable in the silence. Nan pulled the comics section from the paper and placed it in front of the seat opposite her. Brody slipped into the offered seat and pulled the pages towards himself. Nan seemed content to sip her coffee and peruse the paper in silence while he ate.

“Gia wants a tea-party this afternoon,” Nan commented, staring into her coffee.

“Really?” Brody asked, surprised. Gia was thirteen – Brody was only ten, but quite sure Gia was long out of the age of tea parties.

Nan raised her eyebrow at Brodys tone – or possibly, Mrs. Costa did, he thought – and he looked away.

“You’re never too old for a tea party, kiddo- nothing makes you feel fancier, or more like a giant than tiny tiny sandwiches.”

Nan then suggested Brody join her in the garden to hunt for toads.

**

The tea party was more of a picnic. They all spent some time prepping tiny sandwiches – cucumber, pb&j, and egg salad – and chopping vegetables and fruit to go with the dips.

Once everything else was packed, they each chose a tea-cup from the many on the shelves, and packed that into the basket. Gia carried the basket, and Brody carried the blanket. Nan pulled down a small teapot and filled it with tap water.

They all trooped out to the far end of the garden, where there was a nice sun-dappled patch of grass surrounded by flower beds and trees.

Once everything was set up, their tea cups arranged on the basket-top, Nan looked at the children with a solemn expression. “And now for tea.”

“Me first!” Gia burst out, earning a reprooving look from her grandmother – not unlike the look she’d given Brody that morning. “Brody hasn’t done it before, he needs a demonstration.”

Nan nodded at that, as though Brody really did need a demonstration of cold water being poured into tea cups.

“Very well, my darling, what will you be having today?” Nan asked, holding the pot poised over Gia’s cup.

Gia scrunched up her face for a long moment in needlessly intense thought. “Raspberry Cordial.”

“Excellent choice!” Nan poured the water, giving it a bit of dramatic flare by drawing the teapot up high so the water cascaded down into the cup.

Gia smiled at Brody after taking a sip of her water. “You can ask for any kind of drink you can think of, Brody! But the raspberry cordial is really good, if you can’t think of anything.”

Brody wondered how he’d already lived with this girl for a whole month before learning she was crazy.

Nan turned to Brody. “And you, sir?”

“Um, could I please have some water?” He did his best to not roll his eyes.

Nan nodded without a comment and raised the pot, but Gia darted her hand out to cover Brody’s cup. “Brody – water’s the most boring thing – you can pick anything, really! It’s no fun if you just pick water.”

Gia looked so upset by Brody’s lack of effort to participate in the game. She was so nice, even if at times more enthusiastic than Brody was used to.

“Um, then how about… um… orange soda? Please?”

“Delightful choice!” Nan crowed, dramatically pouring the water into the tea cup. “In fact, I think I’ll have the same, since I can’t even remember the last time I had orange soda!”

She proceeded to pour her own water as dramatically as theirs, and took a sip. She smacked her lips then burped. “Oh, the bubbles do have that effect! Definitely a good choice, though.”

Brody smiled politely, resting his teacup of water on his knee. He was about to reach for a sandwich when he realized that Gia was staring at him with tense glee in her expression. And Nan was watching him rather intently too.

Apparently playing the game in full was the barrier between him and tiny sandwiches.

Brody lifted the cup and took a small sip of water to appease the others. And gasped in surprise, causing orange soda to fizz out his nose and down his chest.

Gia howled with laughter, while Nan simply smiled, eyes twinkling, and handed him a napkin. “There’s a good lad – I knew you had it in you.”

He did try the raspberry cordial, and it was really quite good.

Brody was beginning to think Gia was right – this summer would be magical.

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Podcast Recs – The Magnus Archives

A short review of the Magnus Archive Podcast

Podcast Genre: Horror Fiction

Episode Duration: ~1/2 hour

The Magnus Archives is a horror fiction anthology that follows the archivists at the Magnus Institute. Every episode includes the head archivist reading aloud a statement submitted to the institute about a strange or frightening event. Gradually, the stories begin to tie into each other, revealing an ominous bigger picture truth about the world. I’m paraphrasing their description a bit, click the photo for their official podcast description.

Firstly – Horror – yech. I cannot handle horror in movies. I don’t generally seek out horror in books. If you want deeply unsettling murder mysteries, look to the Scandinavians. My sister and mother love them, but brace yourself for the extra bad things happening to the adult or child who is missing/murdered. They spend too much time in the dark. If you want jump-scares, you’re on your own. Horror movies make me scared of bathrooms. What’s behind the door? What’s behind the shower curtain? Why does something bad always happen in the bathroom?

I’d define this podcast as Spooky, or Ominous. I realize that is not an actual category of fiction.

The Magnus Archive is not that jumpscare type of horror – it is more reminiscent of campfire stories. I think it helps that the Archivist reads the statements in a calm and occasionally dismissive tone of voice. He tells you about what happened to someone, read from their perspective, and it is an eerie thing, or an unusual thing, or even a frightening thing. And one that you know they survived, at least long enough to get to the Magnus Institute and write out a statement.

After the first few episodes you start getting to know what’s going on at the institute, including what’s going on with the other archivists. The statements are the anthology, but they’re tied together by the goings-on at the institute, and by the strange connections between them. If you enjoy the level of scary the stories are, I do recommend giving it a few episodes to decide if you like it or not – I found I enjoyed it more as it went along because of the storyline emerging around the statements.

I know nothing about how to make podcasts. That being said, the volume is all very even, they have subtle music and sound in the background of the episodes that really lets you get swept away in them, and the actors are all excellent. The first time I heard the actor Jonathan Sims (who plays the character Jonathan Sims) speak outside of his character voice I was NOT expecting Johnny Sims. The stories are the right amount of scary that I can listen to them while walking the dog alone at night, but still feel a bit of a thrill. Sometimes the sound does make me look around to find out where the rustling noise is coming from, or the echo-ey steps.

A nice, but also sad thing is that the story is coming to a close in the next few months – you won’t have to wait for a new episode every week. Or wait for the next season during the dreaded hiatus. On the down side, soon there will be no more episodes of the Magnus Archive.

If you’re looking for fandom, you’ll find an awful lot of artwork, embroidery, and fanfic, wherever you find your fandom.

They do give content warnings in their summaries, so if you’ve got anything that you’d call a no-go, read those, get warned, and make a decision.

Have you listened to the Magnus Archive? Let me know your thoughts! If you do try it out based on my post – maybe come back and let me know if that was a good life choice, or if I’m on your list of untrustworthy people now! What else should I be including in a review?

~Statement ends~

Hacking It

YeahWrite weekly writing challenge #507 (yup, that’s the previous week’s!) – “Can you Hack it?”

I once found a kid weeping on the phone at an international competition because she didn’t get top 5, and she felt as though her life up to that point had been a waste. The pressure on teenagers boggles my mind.

**

Tuesday – 5 am

“This is your life, Allison!  You have to take responsibility! Can you hack it or not?”

Allison nodded silently, chewing furiously on a protein bar as she shoved her books into her bag.  Late.  She was so late.

Coach frowned when she skidded onto the pool deck. “Late again, Heitzner.  Team captains aren’t late – shape up!”

Allison rushed her apology and joined the rest of the team in the warmup.  She finished last, just after the next slowest. Some of her teammates cast commiserating glances, others covetous. How many lates before they could add Team Captain to their resume?

Two hours later, frozen hair dripping chills down her back, she slid into her first class of the day.  No time for her banana, coach made her do extra laps for being late.  Time only for concealer for the shadows under her eyes.

An A- slid across her desk.  “Not your best work, Allison.  You have so much potential, but you’re just wasting it. Focus less on makeup and more on your education. It’s what you’re here for.”

She managed to eat the banana between classes.

An A+ and an essay submitted in the next class. 

Half a sandwich before debate club.  Fifteen minutes after debate club, enough time to finish up and submit her article about the swim team and the one about the volunteer group she lead, the one that would be working all March break.  The roster was full for March break, but they had plans to do long weekend and summer activities.  Those would also fill up quickly. At least she didn’t need to worry about filling in her volunteer hours.

The rest of the sandwich right before the quiz in chemistry.  Not a wise choice when they switched to a lab in the second half –the blast of sulfur did nothing to settle her ham and cheese.

A presentation in her last class, working on her practice sheets for Mathletes while other students presented.

French club after school.  “Si vous ne pratiquez pas, vous n’améliorez pas,” Madame scolded.  “Si vous n’améliorez pas, je n’écrierai pas un lettre de recommandation.”

An hour of dryland training, reviewing history notes, followed by half an hour on the bus, earbuds in and following along to Rosetta Stone.

“Hey Kiddo, how was school? You know, high school is some of the best years of your life!”

The idea of that being true made her nauseous. Or maybe it was hunger.

Dinner reheated and eaten over homework. 

Dissect the A-, dissect the A+, dissect swim practice.  Agree to suggestion that a part time job at Dad’s law office would look good on College applications.  Agree to add more running to her training to improve her cardio. She could complete assigned readings while on the treadmill downstairs.

Homework.

“It’s late, Allison, why are you doing this now?  We need you to be more helpful around the house.”

More homework. Midnight. She pulled out her phone and sent a quick message to her best friend.

“It’s no wonder you’re always oversleeping, you’re staying up late wasting time on your phone. Lights out, kiddo.”

Wednesday – 4:30 am

Allison bolted upright at her alarm. On time. Not late. Halfway through pulling on her swim gear before she was fully awake, her to-do list washing over her in a burst of adrenaline.

Ready to race through another day. So that she could race through another after that. Because it was her life, and of course she could hack it.

She changed back into her pajamas. She didn’t want to hack it, she wanted to live it.

Dating, by the Book

ooc-3

“If you did that during a zombie apocalypse, we’d all die!  Dammit, Misty, get down!” I hissed, trying to tug the girl I’d been crushing on since third grade back into the trench.

“Ugh, calm down, Jesse!”  Misty took a step out of my reach and continued brushing futilely at the green paint spattered across her cleavage and the low collar of her tight cropped tee shirt.  She continued standing out in the open, unprotected and indifferent to her surroundings like the ultimate noob.  She’d ripped off her goggles and the top of her coveralls the instant one of the snipers had taken her out.  Of course, if she hadn’t insisted on leaving her coveralls unbuttoned to the waist… not that I’d really pressed the issue with her looking like G.I. Barbie.

“It’s a stupid game anyways,” her sharp voice brought me back to the moment.  “Is this paint washable?  Why the hell did one of your lame friends shoot me?  Why the hell did we have to come here?  Next time you take me out, make it something fun.

It occurred to me that the girl standing before me and still looking like my wildest fantasy, only greener, was proof that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I should have known better.

“The Op is still live, Misty, get down before you get – ” well… we’ll call that a real… concrete learning experience… I winced in sympathy as pink paint bloomed on the side of her pigtailed head.  Head-shots hurt.  “You should put your goggles back on.”

Misty’s eyes went very wide, and her lips pressed tightly together.  She crouched down beside me, and slipped the goggles back on, smearing pink down her cheek in the process.

“Show me how to use the gun again,” she said, her voice strained.

“What?  Look, how about we just… go?”  I’d tried to give her a lesson about aiming the gun before we’d started the Op, and she’d shown no interest.  I really had thought she’d have fun.  That it’d be a good chance for me to impress her with my skills.  Instead, she’d grumbled and complained through the first half-hour, decided we should leave and gotten shot right in the boob while trying to drag me toward the exit.

Misty finished tying the top of her coveralls tightly around her waist, grabbed my collar and dragged me close.  “SHOW ME” she hissed, eyes full of rage.

I hastily demonstrated the basics and gave her a hushed explanation of aim.  She stared intently at me throughout, nodded, and rose into a crouch.  “Your stupid friends’ rule is 3 shots?”

“Um… yeah?”

I watched in astonishment as she performed a precision tumble across an open area, came up and shot twice.  Kyle yelped from a tree, and Jim cursed from behind a brick panel.  She shot him twice more and stole his cover.  While Jim stalked toward the exit, she sprang up the nearest wall, surprising Amber in her hidey-hole and nailing her with three shots, ran along the top of the wall and jumped down out of sight.

It was chaos.  I could only track her based on my friends’ curses and yelps.  She was ruthless and, based on the people stalking towards the dead-zone, not averse to shooting people in the face.  Not that I could blame her.

I shot Jim when I found him sneaking up behind her, and she shot him again when she turned around.  We exchanged a grin and finished the rest of the crew off as a team.

When I was sure we’d cleared the field, I cleared my throat.  “Misty, I was wrong.  You would totally save everyone if there was a zombie apocalypse.  That was amazing!”

I had plumbed Misty’s unplumbed depths, and they were Aweome.  The guys were going to be so jealous.

Misty grinned at me and replied, “You’re not too bad yourself,” and shot me three times at close range.  She smirked.  “You said last-man-standing, too, right?  Can we eat now?  Winner gets to choose, and I say Thai.”

As she walked off the field, gun raised in triumph, I knew I was in love.  You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

***

In case you didn’t guess… no, I have never paint-balled before.  Click the photo above to read more prompt submissions, or submit your own!

The Other Side of the Glass

checkersdt

Wesley stared intently down at the checker board, lips pursed in deep thought.  With great deliberation he moved a piece.  He pressed his heavy digit into the worn wood for a long moment, pondering his choice a moment longer before releasing it.  He sat back with a satisfied grunt and steepled his fingers.  Sunlight glinted off the rim of his spectacles, lighting up the dust motes hanging in the air.

The old clapboard farmhouse sat well back from the road, surrounded by fields now tended by their children.  The dry red dirt of their livelihood sifted through the cracks and coated everything, no matter how often they dusted.  With four kids grown and out of the house, the empty rooms were heavy with the silence and the red dust.

A draft stirred the thick dust on the windowsill, lighting sparks into a beam of light.

Wesley frowned across the board.  “What’ye laughin’ at, woman?” he growled.  “Caint fool me with your psychological games, and you ain’t won this one yet.”

The morning sunlight beat through the window, dusty light flashing across the board. Maggie moved the pieces like she had all the time in the world, light and quick and without any uncertainty.  Wesley snorted, but stared for a long moment, trying to see what her end game was.

“Y’don’t need to give me that look, I know when  you’re laughing at me, with or without sayin’ a thing, sugar.”

He took his turn decisively, regretting his move almost immediately.  Maggie looked far too smug.  Wesley flexed his gnarled hands, rough fingertips scraping the stained wood of the kitchen table in a nervous drumbeat.  The sunlight was kind on his arthritic knuckles, soothing deep aches.

An engine rumbled in the distance.  Wesley peered through the dusty kitchen window, even though it faced out back toward the barn and fields.

“Must be Jerry with a couple a dinners for us.”  Hands gripped tightly on to the arms of his chair, Wesley hoisted himself upright with a low groan.  “Gettin’ old, Mags.  Cain’t let Jerry hear me talking like that, though,” he added with a chuckle.  “He’s already gettin’ ideas.”

Wesley pulled his walker closer and switched his grip to its arms.  His slow shuffle had him wheezing heavily at the front door just before the old Chevy made it to the end of the long rutted driveway.

Maggie twitched aside the living room curtains to watch her eldest son step down out of his truck, tipping a cowboy hat onto his head and walking around the back to pull a cooler out.  She smiled warmly at the man he had become, long and lean and weathered from the sun, just like his father.  The sunlight caught in the stained glass decorations in the window, casting beams of blue and green and red across the faded carpeting.

“He grew up good,” Wesley said with a smile.  “He’s a good boy.”

Their son had put the cooler down by his truck and was testing the hinges on the old gate.  it had come loose from the top hinge a while back, and Wesley felt ashamed he hadn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet.  With a glance up at the house, Jerry retrieved a can of WD40, a hammer and a few nails from his toolkit.  In short order the gate was swinging freely.

“He’s a real good boy,” Wesley repeated, voice sad.  He felt every one of his years like a weight around his neck.

He unlocked the door and shuffled slowly to his easy-chair, settling in with a sigh.

Jerry came in, cooler in his arms, and hip-checked the door closed.  “Pops?  It’s me, Jerry,” he called down the dim hallway.  “POPS?”

“I ain’t deaf, boy,” Wesley grumbled.  His son startled at finding him so close, and Wesley exchanged an amused glance with Maggie.

Jerry glanced uncertainly past his father into the living room.  “Don’t normally find you in here lately, Pops.  Amanda made up some extra chili and meatloaf and stuff for you – I’ll go put it in the fridge, eh?”

He disappeared down the hall and Wesley listened as he puttered in the kitchen. “Bin workin’ on your checkers skills, Pop?” Jerry called out.

“Your mother ain’t gonna beat me this time,” Wesley replied, glaring fiercely at his smiling wife.

The fridge door opened and there was some muffled movement and muttering in the kitchen.

Jerry returned to the living room and passed Wesley one of the beers he’d brought out.  He set his hat on the coffee table and sat down, expression serious.

“Pops, you ain’t et…” He paused and cleared his throat.  “You haven’t eaten hardly any of the meals we left you last week.”

Maggie leaned against the back of the recliner, pressing her hands into Wesley’s shoulders.  Wesley smiled gratefully up at her and patted her hand reassuringly.  “Ain’t been much hungry, son.”

“Amanda and I think it’s time, Pops.”  Jerry leaned forward on his elbows, face lined with concern.  “Time for you to come live with us.  Or at least let me hire a home help nurse.”

Wesley’s shoulders sagged briefly.  “Yeah, I recon you’re right.  It’s about time.  That’s why my suitcase is packed.  It’s in the main floor bedroom, mind helpin’ an old man out and takin’ it to the truck?”

Jerry, at a loss for words at his father’s sudden agreeableness, nodded and strode from the room.  He rushed out, suitcase banging down the porch stairs, as though sure his father would change his mind if he didn’t move fast enough.

“He’s a good boy,” Wesley said softly.  “They all are.  I hope one of them moves in here.  It’ll be nice to have some younguns runnin’ around the place again.  I know how much you’ve missed that.”  He patted his wife’s hand again and let out a deep sigh.

Long shadows stretched across the empty yard by the time Jerry left.  Wesley stood and offered his wife his arm, feeling a real bounce in his step for the first time in he didn’t know how long.  “How’s about we go finish that game, sugar?  And after that, maybe I’ll take you dancin’.”

***

Visit Our Write Side to read more prompt responses by clicking on the photo above!

 

Doing Business

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The photo is from “The Darkroom” writing prompt… click it to check out other responses!

***

When the aliens first arrived on Earth, there were… misunderstandings.  Highly intelligent though they were, the beings were extraordinarily literal.

Martha did her best to accommodate them for her tours – she really did.  She arranged things to start an additional half-hour early so that they would have time to read – in excruciating detail – the entire waiver and ask questions.  So. Many. Questions.  She’d reviewed her spiel and removed euphemisms, word-play and jokes from the notes, because, frankly, a day-trip to Algonquin Park didn’t have time for a two hour debate on whether a bear did indeed do business in the woods, and what that business might be, and what customs might be involved.  She’d learned to switch between parent of impressionable child and tour-guide for Travellers speak, because they were slightly more likely to understand the expression “Does a bear do business in the woods?” if she used more adult language.  Slightly.

So her business of an ex informing her that actually he wouldn’t be taking their son fishing like he’d scheduled months ago was just SUPER.  She loved her son dearly, but he had the verbal filter of an 8 year old boy and the subtlety of a battering ram.  And she didn’t have time to find someone to look after him for the next two days of Traveller tours.

***

“As you can see, the Park is heavily forested with a wide variety of tree species, including Jack Pine, birch and Sugar Maple.  The booklet goes into further detail of all tree species found in the park, and methods of identifying them.”  Martha drove down the highway, chatting her way through her on-the-road information, knowing from past experience that the eight Travellers in her tour van were alternating between staring intently out the window, staring intently at their informational booklets and staring intently at the various parts of the interior of the van, all with equal intensity and interest.  Feedback on her tours didn’t give her a hint about what she could say that they would be more interested in, and she suspected that if she rattled off stats about the 1982 Superbowl or about the tour bus’s maintenance history they would be equally interested.  Since starting Traveller tours, she’d had to do research on the tour bus, in fact, to accommodate those who wanted to know about plastic used in the old bus instead of about birds that migrated through the park.  They were just plain interested.

Ben draped himself over the back of the passenger seat, grinning a gap-toothed grin, and crowed, “You don’t know JACK!”

OH business, Martha thought.

There was a discordant buzzing in the back, as the Travellers carefully dissected this statement.

One reedy voice after another arose, each politely waiting until the previous one had finished their sentence before adding their own rebuttal.

“I have met a Jack, but am understanding that this was not the only Jack, and am unsure if meeting is adequate to equate to knowing.”

“I have indeed, never met a Jack.  Is this a matter of concern?”

“I have met more than one Jack, and feel confident in the 81st percentile of knowing one of them, though his full name is Jack Perkins and lives at 43 Seventh Street in the town of Toronto.  Having worked closely with him for 257 working days between March 23, 2016 and today, I believe I know him well enough for that descriptor to apply.  If this is the Jack of which you speak, I feel confident in refuting your statement.”

And on, and on.  Most of them had, at some point, met a Jack.  Only two thought they could probably consider their relationship with the Jack in question as knowing.  

Martha then listened in astonishment to her son’s reply.  “The Jack I’m talking about is a Jack Pine tree, and the phrase, you don’t know Jack, is one way of recognizing them, because the phrase is usually paired with this gesture,” he paused for demonstration, and Martha winced and made a note to have another conversation with her son while the Travellers hummed.  “And if you look at a Jack Pine, that’s kind of what it looks like they’re doing.”

The buzzing hum rose again, and again, they spoke.

“It is an offensive expression meant to show disrespect towards another’s knowledge base.”

“But trees on this planet cannot be disrespectful due to their intelligence level, so they are not, in fact, being disrespectful.”

Another buzzing conference.

“It is funny because no disrespect is actually being shown.”

“It is funny and informative”

The vehicle filled with the sound of crickets chirping, the Traveller equivalent of applause.

Martha wished Travellers were more appreciative of 21st Century Earth humour, as she’d love to hear them at a comedy show.

***

Travellers noticed everything.  So, as happened at least once on every tour, they wanted to stop and see an animal crossing sign.  As Martha was about to go into her prepared explanation of the fact that the signs were representations, her son laughed.

“You’re funny – that’s just a picture of a moose.  It’s just to let you know that moose like to use this part of the road to cross.”

The normally highly sensitive Travellers took this in stride, apparently not concerned that a small human had come very close to calling them unintelligent (or an equivalent word, all of which were highly offensive in Traveller culture, a trait shared by most human cultures).

The rest of the day was peppered with her son’s saucy explanations of things, given in such a direct and simple manner that they cut through what could well have been hour-long debates about the various meanings of ‘bark’, or a seriously concerned Traveller anxiously explaining that it was not calling Fairy Lake a derogatory term for homosexuals, but that someone else may have intended that in naming the lake, or may not have.  Martha had never had such a smoothly run day with Travellers in the year she’d been touring them.

As they cruised out of the park and back to the Traveller’s hotel (Deerhurst, whose deer had not yet been noted, near the possibly-derogatory Fairy Lake) for the weekend in the waning light, one of them spoke up.  “Ben, son of Martha.  For one so young in years, you are rich in knowledge pertinent to the Algonquin Park, and accurate in your speech.  Do you spend a very large percentage of your time there?”

Ben grinned and glanced at his mother.  She saw the look and knew he was about to push his luck.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Riches is Riches

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The pirates spread through the lush undergrowth, sweating and swatting at flies, casting suspicious looks at their brothers in brigandry.  The map had led them here.  To this place.  X marks the spot, and no map was so convoluted, nor led through such terrors as they’d faced, without leading to the kind of treasure a man could retire on.

Maybe even the kind of treasure a ship full of men could retire on.  Though just in case, each was determined to get there first, and shove a semi-retired-and-owning-a-pub sized piece down his trousers before the others caught up.

A man could make good money with a pub, as long as only a few strangers a year disappeared in the night, leaving their horse and bags and that fine cloak they were wearing behind (how odd! but fair’s fair and he didn’t pay his fare).

And so they slogged, swatting and sweating and keeping their fellows in sight in case they tried anything funny.

Dim Jimmy found it, blast him.  Too daft to sweep up at the bar, let alone roll a toff out back of one.  Certainly too loud for any one man to silence him before the rest heard.  If anyone else aboard-ship had looked so damned pleased to find a secret cave entrance, it’d be sure and certain rubies’d shake loose when he got shaken down.  Nothing did though, so the pirates dropped him and waited for the Captain.

The whole crew was cutthroat, but the captain was the most cutthroat of them all.  The wicked grin sliced into his neck by a would-be usurper had scared off most other usurpers.  His use of the other man’s skull as a soup-bowl scared off the rest, so far.  The heavy man’s rolls had rolls, but he moved like a cat, appearing in the midst of the anxiously waiting crew members without even a rustling of tropical leaves.

He stepped over a dazed Jimmy and through into the dank corridor leading down into the cave without a word, not slightly worried at having a horde of backstabbing murderers at his back.

Down the dank tunnel, stumbling and sliding on the uneven steps, they lit their torches and added black smoke to the dank smells emanating from the cave below.

The dim and flickering light of their torches gleamed on the kind of treasure a whole crew of men could retire on.  With or without the bar.  Mounds of gems, piles of gold bullion, gem encrusted armor, jewelery, antique vases, priceless statues… the cave was so vast that the far corners couldn’t be seen.  It was as though the entire island had been

The entire crew – cutthroat, vicious murderers all – whooped and ran out into the field of treasure.  When Jimmy caught up – having slipped down the last several steps and hit his head again – he found the Captain staring thoughtfully at a small brass plaque, and his crewmates giggling and frolicking in the treasure like school children.

“Do you read, Jimmy?” the Captain asked.

“No sir.  Can spell m’name, though… fishhook… twig-wi’-floaty… bubbies…bubbies… twig-wi’-two-arms.”

“Hmm.  Well, what this plaque says is this:

The twisted trophy is yours for the taking,

if the jinxed treasure is worth your changing.

Take a man’s share and leave a man’s life behind.”

Jimmy stared at the plaque for a long moment.  “It says to take the treasure,” he offered.

The Captain sighed.  “Jimmy, what would you do with a sackfull of this treasure?”

“I would buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat.”

“And if you were a woman?”

Jimmy hesitated.  “I… would… buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat… and I would have bubbies.”  His thought process appeared almost painful.  “I like bubbies.”

The Captain nodded pensively.  “I suppose rich is rich, ain’t it?  Off with ye, grab yerself enough swag to buy a lifetime’s worth of beef stew.  I’ve my own to collect.”

***

Several months later…

Two gentlemen recently arrived from England stood at the punch-bowl eyeing the crowd.  A rather boisterous crowd of ladies stood around a small table  A rather rotund woman with a scar across her throat and a rather spectacularly feathered tricorn hat was leading them in a rousting and highly inappropriate song about barmaids.  The combined glitter of jewelery from the ladies was enough to make one squint, and one of them appeared to have a golden, jewel-encrusted hook in place of a hand.  Empty punch cups littered the ground around them, and two were arm-wrestling.

“These wealthy caribbean ladies are… terrifying,” one said, taking a swig of punch and choking.  “And this punch is… well, I think it’s actually just rum with some bits of fruit in it.”

“Extraordinarily rich, though…” the other replied, eyeing the ladies in question with caution and surreptitiously draining his punch into a potted plant.  “The upper-crust here is… well it’s certainly not like in England, is it?”

“Beef stew for everyone!” a rather impressively endowed lass bellowed out in glee.  She, too, wore a tricorn, though this one was covered in fake fruit and birds, as though she’d attempted to turn it into a lady’s hat.  The others raised their glasses and joined in bellowing for beef stew.

“No, it is very different.  They seem rather uninterested in match-making, at least,” the first gentleman replied, sounding relieved.  He then jerked up with a yelp and grasped his bottom in a most un-gentlemanly manner.

“Wouldn’ be too sure of that, luv,” a lady with a gold front tooth grinned up at the surprised gentleman whose bottom she had just pinched.  “At least a few of us are enjoying the full extent of our changed fortunes.”  She waggled her eyebrows.  “Care for a dance?”

***

For more stories in response to this prompt, click the image at the top of the page!

A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

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Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

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“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Quilt of Fate

What? Participating.  I feel like I keep having to start-up again, but at least I’ve always got some great prompts to start the gears turning.  Check out the rest of the responses at the link below, and add your own:

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Also check out the artist AquaSixio, otherwise known as Cyril Rolando.  His work is below, one of many works of art painting a picture of a story I want to know more of.  What I love about this particular piece is the eerie colour of the scene, and the way it makes me wonder if this person is running away from something or towards something.  Either way, sometimes making a choice, right or wrong, can feel like leaping from a moving train.  The artist also includes a piece of writing that perfectly describes that stagnation of routine, the reward of jumping from the train.  Read it at Train Train Quoditien.

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My mother spent her life on scraps, collecting the discarded leftovers of other peoples’ lives and putting them together in new ways.  I spent my childhood desperate for the things that others took for granted.  Patches disguised the holes in my jeans from everyone but me, and the hand-made cardigan wasn’t at all like the GAP sweatshirts of my peers.

Just once, I begged, just once might I have a blanket all in one tone?  Monochrome, I pled, to the bafflement of my family.  New.

I rejected the colours, the patterns, recycling and making do.  I ran away to the real world,  and relished my drab wardrobe, cookie cutter condo and processed foods.  I became the happiest of cogs in the machine.

I met a perfectly ordinary girl and fell in love with her family’s staid ways, the generations of suburbanites and shiny new IKEA furniture.

My fiancée forced a strained smile and gave me a sidelong glance when I introduced my mother in her draped shawls and bangles, and I felt embarrassment.  My mother’s eyes sparkled with pride and love.

My bright-coloured family capered and laughed and drank, young and old dancing late into the night in celebration of my wedding to this woman they’d never met, in celebration of my future happiness.  A reminder of my fond memories of home on the open road, each wedding, funeral or crossing of paths a reason for joyous revelry.  My family brought us gifts handcrafted and brimming with love and pride.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my new wife suggested that their gifts would fit best in our storage locker.  I was surprised I hadn’t suggested it myself.

But not the quilt, I said, stroking the colourful tree my mother had hand-sewn for us, a symbol of good fortune and happiness in marriage.  Every leaf stitched with a member of my family and hers, with room for new additions.  My wife gave me a strange look out of the corner of her eye and pressed her lips together.

Her mother had gotten the burnt umber bedspread on our registry.  Had no one in my family thought to look on the registry?  She clucked her displeasure at their selfishness in denying us a KitchenAid stand mixer in taupe, and I looked at this stranger and questioned myself.

I tucked it away in my closet and brooded.  I wondered if I’d actually intentionally bought 4 pairs of near-identical navy slacks.  Why I ate so many beige foods.  She, meanwhile, cut her eyes in disapproval of the introduction of brightly coloured dress-shirts into my wardrobe.

We scheduled date night in the same way as we scheduled dental work and with as much enthusiasm.  Every moment of my parents’ lives was a breathless run through the deluge of their affection for each other and for life.

When she left me, my first thought was for my mother’s quilt.  I took it down, spread it out and smiled.  My family spread out in beautiful chaos, with blank spaces for my future wife, her family and room to grow.  My mother spent her life taking up the discarded pieces and putting them together anew.

I left with only the necessities, including a vibrant purple shirt in need of mending.