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Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW Day 16

The following is a short piece from a work in progress. This is a scene I pulled from my next novel and (hopefully) turned it into a short story.

Nightly Traipsing

By Beem Weeks

There might’ve been a dream. Or maybe not. Violet Glass really couldn’t recall. Probably, though. A dream concerning some stupid boy—or even a girl.

Whatever.

Can’t control what creeps through your sleep.

Her body stirred awake as the blackest part of night splashed its inky resolve across that part of Alabama.

Violet stared at the ceiling, tried like the dickens to recall a face, perhaps a voice—anything belonging to the one responsible for this latest agitation.

Nothing came through, though.

Even dead of night did little to lay low that sticky heat. Old-timers in town swore oaths affirming this, the summer of 1910, to be more oppressive than any other summer since before the war between the states.

Violet eased her body from her bed; the soles of her feet found cool the touch of creaking floorboards.

There’d be nobody to catch her—not at this hour.

Nobody, but Ruthie.

And Ruthie Sender?—she’d never let on of these doings.

Violet scampered through the kitchen, flung her blue-eyed gaze against the darkened parlor. Only shadows and silence bore witness to her planned escape, a girl’s nightly traipsing.

The back door gave up with only minor provocation.

Dripping moonlight splashed the yard with a silvery sheen; promising secrets lingered among the gathered glow.

Around the rear of the house she skulked, careful to hold close to the shadows, to remain hidden from the ones who’d blab, those others who’d hold it over her head for gain.

Back behind the barn she found her crouching spot, fell low to the ground, fixed sight on the direction of Ruthie Sender’s place a few hundred yards away. Traipsing just didn’t hold its fun without Ruthie tagging along.

Violet rushed her granddad’s cotton field without that hesitation she’d known only a summer earlier.

Shadows stirred and wiggled in the distance. Figures formed, made shapes around a low-burning fire. Even at the center of all that cotton, Violet could pick out words of songs sung by the coloreds, those kin to Ruthie Sender.

They sang about standing on wood, an old slave’s saying, drawing up recollections of a time they themselves belonged to someone else.

Belonged to Violet’s kin.

Wood smoke fogged the night air.

Violet hunched low, skirted the yard where those coloreds took up with their fire and song and whiskey. Friendly sorts, all of them. Always first with a kind word, an interest in Violet’s family, how the girl’s folks were getting on—even if that interest leaned toward pretend. But that’s the nature of the matter. It’s Violet’s great-granddad who’d once owned all those souls that gave creation to the very ones now singing and drinking.

She broke through shadows collected beneath an ancient willow tree, found respite behind the Sender family’s privy, and waited for the girl to either show or not show.

The colored girl’s legs appeared first, dangling from the pantry window, bare feet scrabbling at the air, searching for a solid thing to set down upon. The thud of her sudden drop wouldn’t wake anybody.

A dingy gray nightshirt clung to Ruthie’s body. Her dark-eyed gaze landed out where she knew to find Violet. If the girl offered a smile, it couldn’t be seen—not from this distance.

“Go out back of Tussel’s, maybe?” Ruthie asked, finding space in Violet’s shadow.

“Catch a strap across my butt, I get found by that saloon again,” Violet promised. “Daddy don’t say things twice.”

Ruthie said, “Chicken liver.”

Violet backed down a notch, weighed her options. “Who’s gonna be there?”

“Fella named Ferdinand something. Plays piano.” Ruthie tossed a nod toward those others out by the fire. “They won’t share us no whiskey.”

“Won’t share up to Tussel’s, neither—unless you got some money.”

*      *      *

They were born the same night, Violet and Ruthie, back during spring of 1895. Only a few measly hours managed to wedge in between them, separated the girls from being twins of a sort.

Close enough, though.

Ruthie came first—if her folks were to be believed.

“Where we going?” Violet asked, following after Ruthie’s lead.

“Lena Canu’s place,” said Ruthie.

“How come?”

“She got stuff to drink, mostly.”

Droplets of sweat ran relays along Violet’s spine, leaving the girl’s skin wet, clammy. “Awful hot, it is.”

“She a conjure woman,” Ruthie announced, laying her tone low, protected. “—Lena Canu, I mean.”

Midnight’s high ceiling lent sparse light to the path splitting the two properties. Violet’s kin, they’d once owned the entire lot. Her great-granddad, he’s the one took notion to make things right, gave half of his land to the slaves he turned loose after the war.

Ruthie’s kin, mostly.

Senders and Canus.

Couldn’t ever really make a thing like that right, though.

A small cabin squatted in the brush; the orange glow of a lamp shined in the window. Used to be a slave’s shack, this one here.

Moonlight dripped on the colored girl’s face, showed it round and smooth, lips full and perfect, eyes alive with life and mischief. “Gonna see does she have any drink.”

Violet leaned closer, her bare arms feeling the other girl’s heat. She asked, “Can she tell fortunes?”

“Like reading a book.”

That dark door yawned wide; Lena Canu peered into the night. “I’ll tell your fortune, white girl,” she said.

Ruthie gave a nudge, guided Violet up the walk and into the shack.

A table and four chairs congregated at the center of the bare space. Kerosene fed a flame dancing like the devil atop the glass lamp. A pallet in a corner threw in its lot with the scene.

Lena Canu tossed a nod toward her rickety table. “Have you a seat, now,” she ordered, “—both of you.”

Violet sat first. Ruthie found perch across from her friend. Beneath the table naked feet bumped and rubbed, each girl assuring the other this would be a good turn.

“You one of them Glass girls, ain’t you?” Lena asked, dropping onto a chair of her own.

Violet said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Lena waved her off. “Ain’t no ma’am. Call me Lena, is all. You the one runs wild.” A pronouncement rather than a question.

Ruthie asked, “You got any liquor?”

A clear pint bottle came into the moment; its bitter amber liquid promised that sort of burn a person won’t mind.

Each girl drew off a long pull, let the heat mingle with their blood. Neither girl had ever gone full-on drunk; only a swig or two is all they ever dared.

Lena Canu, conjuring woman, spread a pile of bones over the table and commenced to ciphering future happenings a girl might need to know.

Things about boys and marriage didn’t come up. Neither did mention of babies and such. All Violet heard portended mainly to trouble.

“Quit you runnin’ wild,” Lena proclaimed, “and you be just fine.” She took up her narrow gaze again, aimed to settle matters. “But you keep doin’ what you been doin’, things gonna go bad.”

The suddenness of gunfire echoed through that sticky air. Three quick shots chased by a lazy fourth that staggered along a moment later.

Lena jumped first, ran for the door. Ruthie followed after, peering into the dark, no doubt expecting to put a face to the one pulled that trigger.

Violet remained stuck to her chair, attentions tugging between the matters outside and those sayings left to her by that conjuring woman. Did she really believe in such things, or was it all just a mess of nonsense?

“What am I gonna do to make things go bad?” she asked, supposing it wouldn’t hurt to know—just in case.

But Lena had other notions to work over. “Sounds like they come from over to your place,” she said to Ruthie.

Ruthie tipped a nod, said, “Could be they gettin’ liquored up too much, huh?”

“Might could,” answered Lena.

It happens that way, boys and their whiskey, wandering along crooked paths of discontent, blabbing things not really meant for harm—just boasting, is all.

But boasting to a drunken fella is as good as a punch on his nose.

“Gonna go see,” said Ruthie, pushing past the threshold, pressing on toward home.

Violet held her ground, let the colored girl disappear in the night. Attentions ceased their tugging, settled on the one making proclamations concerning bad manners and trouble to come.

Lena came loose of her thoughts, brought one to words, said, “Go on home now, white girl. Nighttime belongs to devils.”

*      *      *

Clouds laid a brief smudge against the moon, stripped its shine right off the night, left Violet to wonder if it really might be footsteps stumbling along behind her, following that same narrow path toward home.

“Fool boys,” she muttered, tossing nervous glances over either shoulder.

Footfalls fell heavy—like boots hammering the earth. An eager thing born of desperation.

Violet bolted left, squatted low behind a pile of brush that had the makings of a snake shelter. She held her breath and waited for the one at her back to pass on by.

A piece of tree limb came to her hand, a long and heavy thing, able to put a soul right should he come at her with wrong intentions.

That smudged moon went shiny again, dripped light across the path, showed off the shape of a man loping toward home. Tall and thin, this one; he moved quick with purpose.

Going the wrong way, though, Violet thought, waiting for the man to pass.

She gained her feet, charged his retreat, swung that heavy piece of wood and caught that interloper straight between his shoulders.

“Jay-zus!” the man hollered, hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes.

“This is private property!” Violet informed him, fixing up for a second swing.

The fella pulled up on his knees, tried to reach for that spot on his back no doubt gone swollen. He said, “It’s private property only ’cause I say so.”

Foolishness seeped into the girl. She squinted against the dark, drew recollection of his face. “Granddad?” she said, hoping her recollections proved wrong.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” he demanded, giving his legs a try.

“Came out to use the privy,” she fibbed. “Heard gunshots, came to see, is all.”

“Liar!” the old man spat. “You been gallivanting again, ain’t you?” He moved closer to the girl, sized her up, made a big fuss over her running around in only a nightshirt and nothing else. “Your daddy’s gonna hit ya where the good Lord split ya—then he’s gonna move you to your sister’s room upstairs. Won’t be no sneaking out from there.”

Her gaze caught that glint at his waistband, a familiar hunk of blued steel. “Don’t matter,” she said. “Daddy’s gonna put you in the county home.”

“On account of what?”

“On account of you’re going senile, traipsing off, bothering colored folks again with that pistol of yours.” Violet leaned closer, continued her spiel. “Heard him and Mama talking just last week, saying how you’re a danger to yourself just as much as to others.”

The old man’s jaw fell open and slammed shut; intended words went lost to the night. He couldn’t tell on her now—not without personal risk.

Defeat fogged his eyes. “I won’t tell your business if you don’t tell mine.”

Violet seized the moment with both hands. “That depends,” she informed him.

“On what?”

“Who’d you shoot tonight?”

“Nobody. Just meant to scare, is all.”

“Gonna kill somebody one day—if you ain’t already.”

“Ain’t in my blood, killin’.”

“Don’t have to mean it to do it.”

The old man pulled back, let frustration have its way. “We got a deal or don’t we?”

“You gonna leave Ruthie’s people be?”

“Just want what’s mine,” he complained.

“But it’s their land, Granddad—been so for forty-five years. A hundred guns ain’t gonna make it not so.”

He never did wear misery well.

Violet’s arms went easily around the man. She pulled close to him, breathed in that familiar odor of sweat and tobacco.

He said, “I won’t bother them no more.”

“Then we have us a deal.”

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Beem Weeks RWISA Author Page

How would you like to become a RWISA Member so that you’re able to receive this same awesome FREE support? Simply click HERE to make application!

 

 

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NEW RELEASE! Strange Hwy: Short Stories by Beem Weeks is Now Available!

Fresh Ink Group is pleased to announce the release of Strange Hwy: Short Stories by Beem Weeks. This collection of short stories makes a perfect Christmas gift for the reader in your life.

Strange Hwy: Short Stories is available in full-sized trade paperback, dust-jacketed hardcover, and all ebook formats. You can purchase Strange Hwy: Short Stories at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google Books, and many other online retailers.

Whether you’re into horror, historical fiction, coming of age, or slice of life stories, this collection has something for you.

Blurb:

If you ever find yourself on the Strange Hwy—don’t turn around. Don’t panic. Just. Keep. Going. You never know what you’ll find.
You’ll see magic at the fingertips of an autistic young man,
•A teen girl’s afternoon, lifetime of loss.
•A winged man, an angel? Demon—?
•Mother’s recognition, peace to daughter.
•Danny’s death, stifled secrets.
•Black man’s music, guitar transforms boy.
•Dead brother, open confession.
•First love, supernatural?—family becomes whole!
You can exit the Strange Hwy, and come back any time you want.
See, now you know the way in, don’t be a stranger.

Where to Purchase:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Google Books

Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW – Day 9

“Shielded”

By

Suzanne Burke.

I welcome the shield provided by darkness. Those sweet moments when I allow myself to sit in the velvet depth of silence and dwell only on what is to come.

For the past only exists to remind me of the challenges I failed to meet. The things I thought myself powerless to change. I know better now.

I have no room for failure here as I sit wrapped in the warm blanket of my darkness-inspired illusion of safety.

The soft glow of the clock now heralds your arrival. I feel my pulse jump in anticipation.

I check the window … again. No vehicle yet slows to a stop on the rain-drenched streets so many floors below.

I feel the twitch of the nerve in my jaw and suck in the air in an effort to still it.

I remind myself once more that external factors are likely responsible for your late arrival. I know you too well to ever believe that you would be late by choice. You are eternally predictable. That comforts me somewhat.

My neck muscles clench and I stand, stretching my arms and softly willing them to relax.

The clock rolls through another hour, and my calmness begins to falter.

I check through everything that I have prepared in anticipation of our meeting.

Grunting with approval at my readiness, I check the window one more time, and I gift myself a smile as your vehicle draws up and parks on the opposite side of the now quiet street.

The excitement begins to make itself felt and I shiver.

You will arrive soon, and all the waiting will end.

I lick my dry lips and take a deeply satisfied breath.

I hear the sound of the ping the lift makes as it stops on this floor. I hear your key turn in the lock.

I wait as you fumble for the light switch and flick it on. You swear in displeasure as the room remains dark. Now you search for your iPhone and seek out the torch app. The room in your immediate vicinity is caught within the boundary of its fractured light.

I smile.

My surprise still awaits your discovery.

You feel your way slowly along the wall and take a faltering stumbled step into the kitchen. The light switch disappoints you once more.

The language that follows that discovery explodes in the air. I hear you open the refrigerator to confirm to yourself that this lack of light has permeated the entire apartment. You shrug out of your coat and drop it to the floor, uncaring of the dirt and clutter it now lay amongst.

You find the bottle of scotch and slam cupboard doors seeking a glass. There are none. They lay in a disordered mess of unwashed utensils still awaiting attention on the food scrap cluttered kitchen bench.

I hear you curse as you stagger. The booze you’ve been consuming for hours rattles your movements and makes them disjointed.

You sit heavily in the easy chair uncaring of the scattered and dirty clothing that cushions your weight.

You unscrew the lid of the scotch bottle and take several satisfying gulps.

The anticipation makes me quiver now.

I have waited so long for this.

The cigarette lighter grants you a drag of the nicotine that is but one thing on your list of addictions.

The clock ticks over again and moves time relentlessly forward.

The bathroom awaits your imminent arrival and you curse again at your now shaking hands as you seek out your ever-present stash of heroin. You scream in rage and frustration when you finally acknowledge that there is none to be found.

I hear you slamming the walls with your now white-knuckled fists.

I reach across and flick off the power override switch. I illuminate the apartment.

It takes brief seconds for you to lurch back into view.

“Melody? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were here? What the hell! When did you get back?”

“I discharged myself from the hospital.”

“Oh. Good. This place is a mess. It needs cleaning.”

“Yes, Charles. Yes, it does.”

I watch you nod your head, pleased at my response.

You check your wallet, quickly counting the bills waiting inside. You confirm your decision, “I  need to go out. Fix me something to eat. I won’t be long.”

“Why do you need to go out again? It’s raining.”

I watch you glare at me for daring to question you. “I need a fix. I’m heading to see Freddy.”

“There’s no need. I stopped by and saw him on the way home. I wanted to give you a surprise.”

You smile for the first time. “Well, now. That’s fine. That’s good.”

“Do you want me to get it?”

You now wear your frustrated look. “Fuck yes. Of course. Hurry up.”

“Sorry. It’s a little hard to walk with my ribs strapped.”

“You’re always sorry. You’re pathetic!”

I access the bedroom and return with his fix, and watch as he draws it up and applies the tourniquet to his upper left arm.

“You broke my jaw again, and two ribs this time.”

You glare at me as I dare to disturb your concentration, “You shouldn’t aggravate me like you do. You know you asked for it.”

The smack hits you, and I watch as your pupils dilate. The sickly smile that you now wear is most unattractive.

I wait.

You look suddenly startled. I watch the confusion on your face turn to fear … and then a moment of understanding colors your now bulging eyes. “Fuck! Fuck, Melody! What did you d…………….”

I wait.

You make a gargled choking noise as you begin to foam at the mouth.

I wait for five minutes and then check for a heartbeat … I smile … there is none.

I need to be certain that reviving you is not possible. Fifteen minutes should do it.

I punch in a number on my iPhone.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Oh, God … help me, please! Please! I’ve just found my husband. He’s not breathing. Please … I think he’s overdosed.”

The kind operator took my address, “Okay. Stay calm. I have paramedics on the way.”

“Hurry! Hurry, please, please hurry.”

I turn off the lights and sit within darkness’s velvet cloak. My iPhone torch casts a spotlight on your rapidly cooling body.

I smile.

The rigid look of fear on your now strictured face brings me comfort. “Did you like my little surprise, Charles?”

I hear the sirens approaching.

I laugh in delight as the heady rush of adrenaline-fuelled relief floods my system.

The dawn light is just filtering through the balcony windows. Soon now I’ll have no need to seek the comfort of darkness.

I wait now. I have finally regained control.

#

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.

 

We ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Suzanne Burke RWISA Author Page

How would you like to become a RWISA Member so that you’re able to receive this same awesome FREE support? Simply click HERE to make application!

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW – Day 6

OUT TO PASTURE

Musings of an Erstwhile Asia Hand

by Ron Yates, RRBC 2017 KCT Int’l Literary Award Grand Prize Winner

 

 

He watched the hawk circling high in an infinite Southern California sky, far above the shaggy brown hills that loomed behind acres of avocado and orange trees. Every so often the hawk would dip as though preparing to dive on its unsuspecting prey, but then it would pull up abruptly, unsatisfied with the approach to its target, waiting perhaps for a better opportunity.

 

He knew this hawk. He had seen it before. There were two patches of vermilion feathers on the underside of its broad chestnut wings that reminded him of the red circles that adorned the wingtips of the Japanese fighter planes he used to see in the Pacific during World War II.

 

He closed his eyes, allowing the warm sun to wash over him. The only sound other than the crisp dry wind that blew up the long pass from La Jolla, was the dull whine of the automatic pool cleaner as it made its programmed passages back and forth in the pool next to the patio. For a moment he could feel himself being pulled back to a time when the heavy coughs of old propeller-driven fighters ripped through the dense, fragrant tropical air like a dull knife through perfumed silk.

 

For a brief moment, he pictured himself sitting at his old black Underwood, pounding out another story of some long-forgotten battle in World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam that he had covered. He could almost see the white typing paper rolled half-way out of the typewriter and he could see his By-Line typed neatly just above the first sentence of the story:

 

“By Cooper McGrath

 Global News Service.”

 

He sighed and shifted his body in the pool-side lounge chair, allowing his growing potbelly to slide slowly to the other side of his frame. “Typewriters,” he thought. “Nobody even knows what they are today.”

 

Then he reached for his binoculars so he could get a better view of the hawk.

 

“Look at old Zero-sen up there. He’s going in for the kill.”

 

“Zero-sen?” Ellen was still puttering around the patio, watering potted plants and trees.

 

“Yeah, the hawk. That’s what I call him. Look at those red spots on his wings. He looks like one of those old Japanese Zeros.”

 

Ellen squinted up at the sky and frowned. “You have a lively imagination, Cooper.”

 

The hawk continued to circle, but it was moving further away. Finally, it dipped below a small rise and disappeared. When it reappeared, it was carrying something in its talons. Cooper exhaled and at the same time pounded his ample belly, the sound of which reverberated across the patio like a hollow drum. Then he pulled himself upright in the recliner.

 

“I always did, you know.”

 

“Did what?” Ellen asked, only half paying attention to what her brother was saying.

 

“Have a lively imagination.”

 

“Oh, that.” She was on her knees pushing sticks of fertilizer into her potted plants. “And as I recall, it always got you in trouble.”

 

“Is it time for lunch?” he asked, rising slowly to his feet. “God,” he groaned. “I’m stiff as a dead tree.” He looked at his watch. It was already one-thirty in the afternoon—way past his usual lunchtime and his stomach was growling.

 

“You don’t get enough exercise, Cooper. I keep telling you, you should enroll in that aerobics class they’re offering down at the clubhouse.”

 

She stood looking at him for a few moments, hands on hips, white, wide-brimmed gardening hat shading her beige face from the hot sun. She loved her brother mightily, but it saddened her to see him in such physical and mental decline. Why had the Global News Service pushed him into retirement? He had given his life to that ungrateful news agency.

 

As he stretched his arms skyward Cooper’s ever-expanding belly caused the bottom of his shirt to pull out of his shorts at the midriff, revealing a roll of untanned flesh the color of boiled pork. Finally, she shook her head and made one of those disapproving clucking sounds with her tongue.

 

“I’ll call you when lunch is ready. Why not take a few laps in the pool, or even better, call the clubhouse about that senior’s aerobics class?”

 

Cooper mumbled some acquiescent reply as Ellen walked into the house. She was right of course. But at 70 he didn’t feel any particular need to jog around a room with a bunch of other ill-proportioned old farts in tights. Hell, he was retired. Why did he have to do anything at all? Hadn’t he worked his ass off all his life? Didn’t he risk his life reporting stories nobody cared about? Didn’t he deserve some time off to do, well, to do nothing? Nothing at all? Hell yes, he did.

 

He sighed heavily, and a bit guiltily. He always did when he remembered the half-finished manuscript in his small office. It sat there day after day on the desk next to his laptop computer—unfinished, unedited and unsold. Sometimes he half expected it to finish itself, to somehow link up magically with his mind, download forty years of journalistic experience and then turn it all into some kind of marketable prose that a big time publisher would snap up without hesitation.

 

But it didn’t work that way. He knew that. Oh, how he knew that. After years of meeting one deadline after another—thousands and thousands of them—if there was one thing Cooper McGrath knew it was that nothing got written until he sat down at his typewriter and began banging it out. Then, about five years ago, toward the end of his career as a foreign correspondent, he had reluctantly traded in his typewriter for a computer. The laptop had been sent over to Singapore by his editors. He would no longer roam the Asian continent as he had for most of his professional life. Instead, he would write a column every two weeks that focused on current events. And that’s what he had done for the past few years. His job, he was told, was to insert his years of historical perspective into dispatches written by less knowledgeable, more youthful correspondents.

 

Cooper knew what was really going on, of course. He was being put out to pasture. Sure, the discipline was the same. You still had to sit down in front of a blank screen and create something worth reading. The difference was the burnout. He felt as burned out as an old war correspondent could feel—like the old iron kettle in which he cooked up his special chili. He had served up so many portions of his life that there just wasn’t anything left to spoon out anymore. It was 1990, and the kettle was empty—empty and caked with rust.

 

Yet he knew he had things to say, stories to tell, history to recount. He was, after all, an eyewitness to some of the greatest history of the Twentieth Century. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, not to mention more than a score or so revolutions and coups d’état. When he thought about it that way, he could feel the juices stirring and bubbling in the bottom of the kettle, and he would get excited enough to walk into his small office, turn on the laptop and type a few lines. But after a while, an inexplicable gust of arid self-doubt would blow through his mind, and he would feel the passion receding. Then it would be gone—as extinct as that old black Underwood he used to pound on day after day in places like Rangoon, Saigon, and Hong Kong.

 

“Nobody gives a damn,” Cooper would say when Ellen asked him why he didn’t finish his memoirs. “It’s all ancient history. Hell, I’m ancient history.”

 

Ellen knew he was feeling sorry for himself. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell him that. Instead, she guilefully nudged and tugged his ego gently back to its perch above the bleak valley of his self-doubt.

 

“You’ve seen so much, and you have such a gift for describing what you’ve seen,” Ellen would say. “You must write it all down, to preserve it for others. That is your gift to the world. It shouldn’t be wasted.”

 

Cooper knew Ellen was right—if not for the sake of history then for the sake of his own mental and physical health. He needed to be doing something. And he had to admit, when he was writing, he felt like he was contributing again. It gave him a sense of power and purpose.

 

But after Toshiko’s death most of the power and purpose he still possessed deserted him. He retreated emotionally and physically from the world. He gave up the grand old house in Singapore where he and Toshiko had spent the last ten years of their married life. He just couldn’t bear living in it anymore—not when everything in the place reminded him of Toshiko and their life together.

 

For the first few weeks after Toshiko had succumbed to the ravages of cancer, Cooper would sit on the verandah of their house built during the British-raj, drinking one vodka-tonic after another and wondering why Toshiko had to be the first to go. He always figured he would be the first. After all, he was the physical wreck, not Toshiko. She had taken care of herself. Her 5-foot 2-inch body was as lithe and slim as it was the day he met her in 1946 in Osaka.

 

Cooper knew the hours spent on his verandah were nothing more than a boozy ritual of self-pity. But he didn’t care. It was the only way he knew to deal with abandonment. And that’s what had happened. He had been abandoned; and cheated, and irreparably damaged. By dying, Toshiko had deserted him. These were the emotions that had churned in Cooper’s sozzled brain with ever-increasing velocity until late afternoon when he was, as they say, “decks-awash and listing severely to starboard.” Then, with the sun descending past the tops of the traveler palms and tamarind trees that populated his front lawn, Cooper would stumble into the house and collapse on the small bed in the guestroom. Even drunk he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in the bed he had shared with Toshiko.

 

The self-pity finally wore off in a couple of months and so did the appeal of Singapore. After minimal coaxing from Ellen, he left Asia and moved in with his only living relative. Ellen, his little sister, lived in the sunburnt craggy hills just north of Escondido. The house was one of those rambling Spanish-style places with a red tile roof and bleached stucco walls. It had been built by Ellen’s husband just before his untimely death ten years before.

 

Moving in with Ellen wasn’t Cooper’s idea, but he was thankful she had offered. One evening in Singapore during a fierce tropical storm that had forced Cooper to retreat from the Verandah, Ellen had called, and in the course of the conversation, she suggested he come to California and help out with her thirty acres of avocado and orange groves.

 

A month later, after selling off five decades of Asian bric-a-brac, several rooms of teak, rosewood and rattan furniture, half of his oriental carpets and various silk screens, wall hangings and jade statuary, Cooper returned to the U.S. It was the first time he had been back in almost 20 years. When he stepped off the plane in San Diego, he couldn’t help observing how sterile, how ordered, how incredibly mind-numbing it all was.

 

“Where’s the texture?” he asked as Ellen drove him north toward Escondido.

 

“What?” Ellen responded.

 

“You know, the texture. The dirt. The coarseness. The graininess that makes a place look lived in.”

 

Ellen had dismissed Cooper’s outburst as a sign of jet lag or crankiness.

 

In fact, Cooper was frustrated by how little the change in scenery had done for him. He had merely traded the verandah of his house in Singapore for the poolside patio of Ellen’s mountainside villa. There was one huge difference, of course. There was no booze to be had anywhere in Ellen’s house. Just lots of lemonade and cases of those flavored ice tea drinks that were so irritatingly trendy.

 

And so it had gone for the past six months that he had lived with his sister in the hills north of Escondido. He purged the booze from his system, but not the pain. He drank lots of ice tea and lemonade and every so often the two of them took day trips to places like the old missions at San Juan Capistrano or San Luis Rey, or the old stagecoach town of Temecula, or the posh resorts of La Jolla.

 

If nothing else, Cooper was getting to know his kid sister once again and Ellen was rediscovering her brother. Nevertheless, sometimes she thought he would have been better off staying in Singapore. But she was the only family Cooper had left and it distressed her to know he was alone and suffering in Asia.

 

Cooper watched Ellen as she reemerged from the house and moved across the patio with the water hose trained on the hanging plants. He closed his eyes and imagined Toshiko standing on the long wooden verandah of their Singapore house under slowly turning teakwood paddle fans fussing with the bougainvillea and orchids. It was too easy. All he had to do was will her into his consciousness and there she would be, just as she had always been. That was the problem. As much as he had loved Toshiko in life, he found himself consumed with an even stronger love for her in death. Sometimes he thought it was becoming his own personal cancer, and he had no doubt that it was killing him.

 

Cooper paced the length of the patio, spent a moment or two pushing himself up by the toes, then walked back to the lounge chair, eased himself onto its thick foam rubber cushions and closed his pale blue eyes under freckled eyelids.

 

“That’s enough exercise for today. I think I’ll take a little nap.”

 

Ellen looked over at him and shook her head. His tanned legs with their crepey skin extended from knee-length blue shorts and his meaty, liver-spotted hands rested on a half-buttoned red, yellow and blue Hawaiian shirt that threatened to burst open with each of his breaths.

 

“You really are a lazy old bear, Mr. McGrath.”

 

Cooper, muttered an indistinct reply and watched Ellen as she pottered past him into the house. He closed his eyes, yawned, and began drifting away to another time in a vanished world where his personal cloistered refuge awaited.

 

“Tomorrow,” he mused. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll come in from the pasture.”

 

 

The End

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Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW – Day 3

Stop Worrying

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.

Corrie Ten Boom

 

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, London, England

I was delighted to see Uncle James after several months of absence. The evening before my mother’s arrival in London, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my English guardian. He had kindly invited Andy and me to sup with him at one of London’s oldest English establishments – Simpson’s-in-the-Strand.

“What is worrying you, boy?” Uncle James pressed. “You know you can ask or tell me anything. I promised your mother that I’ll do my best to assist you, while you are in my care.”

Touched by his kindheartedness, I muttered, “I know my mother is in London to whisk me away from Andy. She’d gotten wind that I am having a homosexual affair with a boy. Is that true?”

My guardian gave a hearty laugh. “That is indeed true, and it was I, who told her about Andy. Most importantly she is here to see her darling son and to meet his mannerly beau.”

“If she intends to get to know Andy Why is she bolting me, with her female entourage to Europe for two weeks?” I questioned.

“She misses her son and wants to spend time with you,” my guardian answered on my mother’s behalf.

“Knowing my relatives, they’re likely to convince her that my homosexuality is a sin,” I countered.

James acknowledged. “Although that is true, you should evince to them that you have come into your own and you have the right to love whom you choose. Young, positive actions will always speak louder than words.

 “Your mother is a worldly and a well-traveled woman. She understands you more than anybody else, besides Andy.”

“It’s hard not to worry,” I opined.

Andy, who had thus far remained quiet, expressed, “My dearest, the answer lies in your beliefs in the negative and the positive about worrying. On the negative side, you may believe that your worrying is going to spiral out of control, which will drive you crazy, and may damage your health.

“On the flip-side, you may believe that your worrying will help you to avoid bad things; like preparing you for the worst and then coming up with solutions. In my opinion, your worrying shows you’re a caring and conscientious person.”

Uncle James denoted, “Andy is in part correct. Negative beliefs or worrying about worrying add to your anxiety.

“But, positive beliefs about worrying can at times be damaging. It’s tough to break the worry habit if you believe that your worrying protects you. To stop worrying, you must give up your belief that worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realize that worrying is the problem and not the solution, you can regain control of your worried mind.”

He paused before he rejoined, “Young, you can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive perspective.

“Let me cite you an example: daily, I have tough decisions to make as the CFO of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and it is not easy to be productive if I allow worries and anxiety to dominate my thoughts….”

My Valet asked before my uncle could finish. “What techniques do you use to rectify that, sir?”

James responded smilingly, “It doesn’t work to tell myself to stop worrying; at least not for long even if I can distract myself for a moment. I can’t banish those anxious thoughts for good. Trying to do that often makes these thoughts stronger and more persistent. 

“Thought stopping often backfires because it forces me to pay extra attention to that very thought I want to avoid, thereby making it seem even more important. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do to control worry. This is where the strategy of postponement of worrying comes in. Rather than trying to stop or get rid of the anxious thought, I give myself permission to have it, but I put off dwelling on it until later.”

He took a breather before he resumed, “Postponing worrying is effective because it breaks the habit of dwelling on worries when I’ve other more pressing matters to attend to, yet there’s no struggle to suppress the thought or judge it. I simply save it for later. As I develop the ability to postpone my anxious thoughts, I realize that I have control over them.”

Andy inquired curiously, “How do you stop thoughts of worry from reemergence by deferment?”

The CFO answered, “There are three steps I take to accomplish this goal. 

“First, I create a ‘worry period.’ I choose a set time and place for worrying. For me, it is from 6:00 to 6:30 PM so that it is early enough for me to not be anxious before dinner and bedtime. During my worry period, I allow myself to worry about whatever is on my mind, while the rest of the day, is a worry-free zone.

“If an anxious thought comes into my head during the day, I make a brief note of it and then continue about my day. I remind myself that I will have time to think about it later. Therefore, there isn’t any need to worry about it for now.

“Lastly, I go over my worry list during the appointed worry period. If the thoughts I had written continue to bother me, I allow myself to worry about them. But only for the time I’ve set aside for my worry period. If those worry thoughts don’t seem important anymore, I cut short my worry period to enjoy the rest of my evening.”

My Valet exclaimed, “What a brilliant way to deal with worry and anxiety.”

James gave an acceding nod and added, “You see, worrisome thoughts and problem-solving are two very different things. Problem-solving involves evaluating a situation, before coming up with concrete steps to deal with it, and before putting the desired plan into action. 

“Worrying, on the other hand, rarely leads to solutions. No matter how much time I spend dwelling on the worst-case scenarios, I am no more prepared to deal with them should the actual event happen.”

I queried, “How then, do you distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries?”

“Young, It is much easier than you think. If a worry pops into my head, I start by asking myself if the problem is something I can actually solve. I ask myself these questions:  

Is the problem something I am currently facing, or an imaginary what-if? If the problem is an imaginary what-if, how likely is it to happen? Is my concern realistic? Can I do something about the problem to prepare for it, or is it out of my control?”

He sipped his wine and continued, “Productive, solvable worries are those I can take action on right away. For example: if I’m worried about my bills, I could call my creditors to see about flexible payment options. 

“Now, unproductive, unsolvable worries are those for which there is no corresponding action. Like: What if I get cancer someday? Or what if my kid gets into an accident?

“If the worry is solvable, I start brainstorming by making a list of all the possible solutions I can think of. What I try not to do, is get hung up on finding the perfect solution. I focus on the things I can change, rather than dwell on the circumstances or realities beyond my control. After I’ve evaluated my options, I draw out a plan of action. Once I have a plan, I can start to do something about the problem. This way I feel less worried.”

My lover questioned, “How do you deal with unsolvable worries or a worry I cannot solve?”

Andy, you’re not a chronic worrier, but if you are, it is vital for you to tune into your emotions. In the majority of cases, worrying helps a person avoid unpleasant emotions. Worrying keeps one in one’s head – like thinking about how to solve problems rather than allowing him or herself to feel the underlying emotions. Yet, one cannot worry one’s emotions away. While a person is worrying, his/her feelings are temporarily suppressed. As soon as the worrying stops, the feelings bounce back. Then, the person start worrying about his/her feelings, like: ‘What’s wrong with me? I should not feel this way!’” James paused when our waiter fill our wine glasses.

When he departed, my uncle resumed, “It may appear alarming to embrace one’s emotions because of a person’s negative belief system. For example, I may believe that I should always be rational and be in control and that my feelings should make sense. Or I shouldn’t feel certain emotions, such as fear or anger.

“The truth is that emotions, like life, are complex. They don’t always make sense and are not always pleasant. But as long as I can accept my feelings as part of being human, I will be able to experience them without being overwhelmed, and I can learn how to use these emotions to my advantage.”

I remarked, “Uncle, it is difficult to accept uncertainties when I don’t know the outcome.”

“That is indeed true. The inability to tolerate uncertainty plays a huge role in anxiety and worry. Chronic worriers cannot stand doubt or unpredictability. They need to know with a hundred percent certainty what is going to happen. Worrying is seen as a way to predict what the future holds, to prevent unpleasant surprises, and to control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work.

“By thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. You may feel safer when you’re worrying, but it’s just an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening. It will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. My dear boy, if you want to stop worrying, start by tackling your need for certainty and immediate answers,” my surrogate dad counseled.

“Worrying is usually focused on the future, on what might happen and what you’ll do about it. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries and redirect your focus back to the present. This strategy is based on observation and release, in contrast to the previous techniques I mentioned; that of challenging your anxious thoughts or postponing them to a worry period. Merging these two strategies together will help you to identify the roots of the problems and will assist you to be in touch with your emotions.

“By not ignoring, resisting, or controlling them, and through acknowledgment and observation of the anxious thoughts and feelings, one then views the worrisome thoughts without immediate reactions or judgments, from an outsider’s perspective.” 

 “My dear fellas, let go of your worries. When you don’t control your anxious thoughts, they will pass; like clouds moving across the sky. Stay focus on the present, pay attention to your ever-changing emotions, and always bring your attention back to the present,” my surrogate dad reassured as our English roasts arrived for us to dig in.

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Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW – Day 2

THE WEEK MY FATHER DIED

 

I was at work when my mother called to tell me that dad had been rushed to the hospital the night before, suffering from excruciating pain in his abdomen.

 

Dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer about fifteen years earlier and it had spread to other parts of his body, but he had been doing fairly well so there was no reason to anticipate something like this.

 

Mom told me that dad had spent quite a bit of time at the hospital while they ran numerous tests to discover the cause of his pain. Long story short, his kidneys were failing and there was nothing that could be done. He was sent home with a hospice nurse, so that he could be with his family in comfortable surroundings when the end came.

 

We rented a hospital bed and put it next to the front window so that he could see outside into the yard. We kept instrumental hymns playing on the stereo and moved mom’s chair closer to the bed so that she could be nearer to him.

 

And that’s when things started to get a little crazy.

 

James, my seeing eye son, was living with mom and dad at the time, and my sister, who I was living with at the time, drove out with me every day.  Gail, my other sister, also came out daily, as did her husband, her four children and their collection of young ones.

 

Gail’s grandkids were all under ten and did not really understand the severity of the situation. They knew that Papa was going home to see Jesus, but that was about as far as it went. Gail’s family had never lived close to mom and dad, so their kids only saw my parents three or four times a year. None of them had a close relationship with dad, so the thought of losing him did not rate overly high on their radar.

 

For five days, the kids ran through the house, slamming the doors and yelling to each other. Even when they were sent outside, the noise was loud enough to be heard everywhere in the house. Their respective parents would occasionally tell them to tone it down, but they were kids and that’s what kids do.

 

At one point, one of my nephews-in-law decided to commemorate the occasion by putting it on film. He videotaped everyone going to my father’s side and saying goodbye. Maybe it was the stress of the situation, but I didn’t like what he was doing. My father’s death was not a photo-op, and I resented anything that made it seem that way.

 

I remember being called into the living room and told to say something to dad. I had already spoken to him several times, telling him that I loved him and assuring him that mom would be taken care of. Having my niece’s husband dictate to me where to stand and how long to talk so that he could get it on film, was infuriating.

 

As six families moved through the house each day, my mother spent most of her time sitting with dad, reading the Bible to him and making the most of the time that remained. She loved having her family close, but as the days passed, I could see that the noise and constant disruption was getting to her. I did speak to my nieces individually on several occasions, asking if they could please keep the kids quiet, at least in the house. They always said they would, and I know that they meant it at the time, but it never happened. The noise, the chasing from room to room, and the constant interruptions into my parents’ private space, continued. I could see that it was upsetting my mother, and I finally decided to put my foot down.

 

I took my mom and Gail into the bedroom and asked mom what she wanted or needed. She thought about it for a long moment and then said, very simply, that she wanted to answer the phone. Either Gail or one of her daughters had been taking the phone calls and making a list of the callers. Mom wanted to speak to those people, most of them from her church, and was upset that she was not being allowed to do so. And she wanted the volume around her to be turned down to a much less disruptive level.

 

Gail said that she would take care of it, and she did. Within hours, her grandkids had been taken by their fathers to another location. I didn’t know where they went, and I didn’t much care. They were gone, the house was quiet, and that was all that mattered to me.

Later in the day, James, my other sister Sharon and I,

took mom to Cold Stone for some ice cream. Dad was fairly unresponsive by then, so she felt that it was okay to take a little break.

 

We were gone for about an hour, and by the time we got back, everyone else was back as well. But at least mom had a few hours of uninterrupted time with dad, and I’m so grateful that the girls understood and were willing to do what was needed to give her that.

 

My father passed that night, surrounded by family and carried home on the sound of our voices singing his favorite hymns. Standing in a semi-circle around the bed, we held hands as we sang, while my brother-in-law, a minister, laid his hands on my father’s head and prayed him home.

 

As cancer deaths go, my father’s was fairly quick. He had been fully functional up until the night he went to the emergency room, enjoying his life without much discomfort. He avoided the long hospital stays and horrific pain that are so often a part of that kind of death. My aunt Gloria died of lung cancer when I was eighteen or so. I went to see her in the hospital, and I remember a shrunken figure in the bed, hooked up to monitors and numerous IV lines. Her time of dying took several long and torturous weeks, and I will always be thankful that my father was spared a similar end. I would have hated to have my last memory of this strong and vital man, be that of a wasted shadow of the man that he had always been.

 

I thank the Lord that it didn’t go that way.

 

 

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Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC

The Protective Plague

Laura Libricz

From the Overlord’s house came a quiet but vicious argument. I walked past the stately, tiered structure, decorated with wooden carvings. The other houses circling the town square stood quietly: the midwife’s red wooden house built up on stilts; the ironworkers’ blue housing complex and their adjoining workshop also built on stilts; the dark-brown community building, windows tightly shuttered.

I set my basket down in the middle of the square. The fountain marking the village center bubbled behind me as a mouse scurried around its stone base. The door of the Overlord’s house slammed open and he appeared on the top step. A woman’s sobs came from inside the house. He raised his nose to the sky and sniffed at the air, his black, wiry hair standing on end. He approached the fountain, his black woolen cape fluttering behind him.

“The weather has changed,” the Overlord said.

“You notice such things, Master?” I asked. “Today is the Turn of the Season; coupled with the full moon.”

“Yes, that is why you tie those wreaths of herbs,” he said. “Silly old traditions.”

“We will burn them at sunset on the Field of Fruition. These old traditions give the people comfort.”

“Your traditions have no power,” he said. “This year we initiate my new ritual. The One True Deity is not appeased with burning herbs.”

“What will appease your Deity then, Master? Burning flesh?”

The door of the red house squeaked open. The midwife flurried towards the fountain carrying a spray of reeds. Two red-haired daughters followed behind her. They carried baskets overloaded with sage and wormwood.

“Good day, Master,” she said, dropping her reeds at my feet.

Her black hair, not colored carefully enough, showed red roots at her scalp. I moved between her and the master, hoping he had not seen her hair, and gathered three reeds in my hands. I braided their stalks. Her daughters set the baskets down on the stone steps of the fountain and the midwife pulled both girls to her side.

“The workshop is quiet this morning,” I mentioned.

“The men have crossed the ford to the settlement beyond the Never-Dying Forest. They’ve taken our surplus of food and hope to trade. Years ago, the forest villagers made fabrics.”

The Overlord chuckled. “Foolish men. No one lives beyond the water and the forest but barbarians. They don’t trade, they take.”

I held my braided reeds aloft. “Our petition tonight at the bonfire is to ask for the safety of all villagers involved, whether they come from Forest Village or Field Village.”

“There will be no bonfire tonight,” he said.

As if by the Master’s silent command, the double doors on the community building slid open. Five leather-clad men, adorned with weapons of glinting steel, took two steps forward. Five young women draped with dirty white shifts, hands and mouths bound, knelt behind their ranks. I recognized the midwife’s eldest daughter and the barrel maker’s granddaughter.

“My new Turn of the Season tradition starts today.” The Overlord nodded to the troop. The men grabbed each of the young women under the arms and dragged them into the square. They were forced to kneel on the stone steps by the fountain. The overlord’s daughter was also among them.

“These women will be taken against their will on the Field of Fruition. The One True Deity will come to accept the eggs as soon as they are fertilized. I will summon him. The women and their fruits belong to him. He will exalt them and admit them into his glorious mountain realm.”

I threw my reeds aside. “Our traditions and petitions are based on protecting our villagers, not sacrificing them.”

“These women are ripe. We have prodded them all. The One True Deity will have this offering.”

“Men cannot enter the Field of Fruition at the Turn of the Season. It will bring us harm so close to the coming winter.”

“Your foolish traditions cannot keep the furies of winter at bay. Harm will only come if one of these women becomes pregnant. That would prove her self-seeking nature, her desire to retain the fruits for herself. She will be executed.”

The midwife let out a shriek. The overlord stroked his daughter’s matted hair.

“If she becomes pregnant,” he said, “we will also know she enjoyed the act. She will have defied The One True Deity. Women cannot become pregnant when taken against their will.”

He took two steps forward, his face a breath away from mine. “These women can be saved. Here they are. Save them. Save them now but know this: four others will take their places. You shall be the fifth.”

He turned with a swish of his cape and, followed by his armed mob, disappeared into the community house.

The midwife and I unbound the women. Together we gathered the wreaths, all our herbs and reeds, and walked out of the square towards the Field of Fruition. The sky was overcast. Rains threatened. Two women and their children stood at the edge of the green field, bundling straw. They piled it neatly on a cart. Two other women whacked the lazy ox and the cart jerked into movement.

In the middle of the Field of Fruition, wooden planks stood in support of one another, forming an inverted cone. Mice scurried under my feet and under the cone. The planks were once an old barn. In its place, we built a new one. Since the great flood, our village had prospered. We had practiced our Traditions of Gratitude ever since. I gave silent thanks for the abundance of grain that allowed even the mice to multiply.

“The moon is coming up over the trees,” I said. “We will start the fire now.”

The midwife scraped her knife on her stone and sparks flew into a pile of straw. She convinced the fire to burn and we fed the flames until the dried planks ignited. I raised my wreath of braided reeds over my head as mice scurried out from under the burning planks.

Our peaceful but preventive petition resonated between our practiced voices. We’d recited the verses many times and shuddered with the energy they held. I threw the wreath on the fire; sparks flew into the low storm clouds. More mice scurried over my feet. I looked down and the Field of Fruition was no longer autumn-green, but mouse-grey. A layer of mice had gathered, completely covering the Field–a protective plague ensuring the fulfillment of our petitions of peace and gratitude. Well, this was not what I had in mind, but it would do. No ill-wisher would enter this field tonight.

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