Hector King Jr.
Xavier Wynn Williams
Impromptu: An Anthology
Copyright © 2017
“In Defence of Eden” © Margaret Abela; “Kitschy Art” © Brenda Dow; “Charlotte’s Special Nana” © Carolynne Fairweather; “Dead Line Love” © Frances Katsiaounis; “Green” © Diana Kiesners; “Gravely Experience” “What Was It?” © Hector King Jr.; “Spiders from Mars” “The Pillar Candle” © Larry Kosowan; “The Storm Herald” © Esther Lok; “One Day of So Many” © Marilyn McNeil; “Critical Wait Times” © Darcy Miller; “The Darkest Lord” © Maria Samurin; “A Chance Meeting” © Betty Stewart; “Truth and Beauty” © Xavier Wynn Williams
This anthology is comprised of works of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the authors’ imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © Scarborough Scribblers, 2017
Interior design, typesetting, layout © Maria Samurin, 2017
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without the prior written consent of the author.
This ebook is made available free of charge and licenced for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold to other people. If you’re reading this ebook, please consider leaving an honest review online at your favourite ebook retailer. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase encourage them to also leave an honest review. Thank you for respecting the hard work of these authors.
In his introduction to the 2016 book Library Reflections: An Anthology, my cousin Chai wrote that “…the Scribblers regularly honed their writing and storytelling skills by practicing timed writing exercises from written or verbal word prompts. There’s nothing like a stopwatch to create a short term pressure cooker of inspiration and hilarious writing. Who knew deadlines could be fun?”
I was eager to see this phenomenon for myself, and I recently had the chance. While on a layover on my way to New York, I visited a Scarborough Scribblers meeting. When I entered their subterranean lair, a room they’ve affectionately named the Gravel Bar, thirteen writers were gathered around a polished mahogany table.
After the group’s facilitator greeted me and made the introductions, I presented a gift to the Scribblers. It was painstakingly chosen with the help of my cousin, Chai. Gently, I lifted the Gustav Becker anniversary clock from my leather bag. Its sparkling crystal dome reflected the bright ceiling lights, and the rotary pendulum spun back and forth hypnotically.
The Scribblers placed the clock in the middle of the table. To my relief, they oohed and aahed over the antique. I could tell they preferred this old-fashioned timepiece to their electronic stopwatch. They would now be able to time their prompt writing in style.
Feeling a rush of excitement, I took my place in one of the few remaining seats. Around me, the Scribblers were unpacking pens, pencils, notebooks, and paper. One of the writers, a woman with short blonde hair, appeared to have no writing tools at all, but I later discovered that she had a netbook on her lap. As for me, I had purchased a leather-bound notebook just for this occasion and brought along the gold fountain pen that had once belonged to my great-grandfather. I retrieved both from my bag and faced front, pen at the ready.
Seconds ticked away before I noticed a Cross and Olive finger-bowl being passed around the table. Each Scribbler plucked out a scrap of parchment paper. When my turn came, I held the glass bowl reverently. Delicately, I reached in and picked one particular paper that seemed to call to me. My heart pounded as my eyes raced over the black-inked words, penned in fine calligraphy. It was one of the legendary writing prompts.
When the bowl had gone all around the table, I reached for the beautiful clock. With gentle fingers, I pulled a golden lever and the countdown began. Ten… nine… eight… The rotary pendulum quietly ticked away the seconds. I was mesmerized by the slow, steady whirl of its polished brass mechanism. Swinging to and fro, it flashed reflections of the writers’ faces around the table. Three… two…one!
Everyone began to write at once. The clicking clock was barely audible over the sound of ballpoint pens scratching against paper. My gold fountain pen joined in the mix. I was flooded with magic: image after image, story after story, emotion after emotion. I raced to record my ideas, fascinated to see my piece come alive.
Far too soon, the stately clock chimed. The melodic signal meant that our writing time was up and I dropped my pen, following the Scribblers’ lead. The room fairly buzzed with anticipation, each writer eager to hear the tales so magically woven in so short a time.
Saul Riley Triaou
A Scarborough Scribblers fan
Margaret Abela was born in England and worked in London and Geneva, Switzerland, before settling in Scarborough, Ontario, where she graduated from York University and raised a family. She has developed workplace health and safety educational programs and currently enjoys writing short stories, poems, and creative non fiction, some of which have been published. In 2007, she gained first place in the Scene of the Crime short story contest.
Dana sat in the shadows, the flaming logs in the fireplace projecting a kaleidoscopic pattern across the walls. There was an island of light where Nikolai sat, the lamp beside his armchair illuminating him as he read. Even when he was relaxed, she could see the noble angle of his head that spoke of his White Russian lineage. His eyebrows were fiercely black, yet silky. She longed to trace them with her fingers so that he would raise his eyes and look into hers. She wanted to feast on all the emotions that swirled through those dark depths; the mischievous sparkle when he teased her, their luminosity as he listened to Rachmaninoff, their intensity as he read poetry aloud, and the spreading black velvet that revealed his desire for her before he spoke the words.
After 20 years of marriage, she was glad that he could still have this unsettling effect on her. Perhaps that was why, despite her success in the art world, she had never succeeded in painting a portrait of him. It was difficult for her to dissociate from the subject, to maintain her concentration.
They had met in Chicago. He was the son of a Russian émigré. She was born in Hungary and came with her parents, as a small child, to settle in the city. Although Nikolai was five years younger than her, Dana had been attracted by the mature seriousness and intensity of his nature. He, in turn, was captivated by her exuberant bohemianism and the bold statement of her art which, he said, set her apart from other women. They were like two sides of the same coin. The oneness they achieved in their marriage gave their relationship a quality that was difficult for outsiders to comprehend. Envy of the rarity of their love, she felt, underlay the comments of some who implied that rather than being a love of rare beauty, theirs was an unhealthy relationship.
Dana rose, restraining her impulse to embrace him. She sometimes wondered if he found her too demanding. She touched his shoulder. “Would you like your coffee now?”
Nikolai put aside his book and sat beside her on the couch, adding a little vodka to his brew. “Remember last week I was telling you about the Forbes Mansion being on the market,” he said, “you know, that big place on the lake? Actually, it was built by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, an amazing piece of architecture.”
“Yes, I guess another plus is that it backs onto a conservation area. Though, I must say, I don’t really care for that type of open design.” She knew how vulnerable she would feel behind walls of glass that allowed passersby entry to her private world. “However, I suppose it does appeal to a lot of people.”
“The good news is, Dana, it appeals to one of my clients and he has instructed me to put in an offer.”
“Fantastic. But I’m really surprised. I thought the asking price was ridiculous. He must be saturated in money.”
“A retired Wall Street broker, so he’s not short of cash. It’s in the bag.”
She wondered how he had contained his excitement. He must have been dying to tell her, though he’d had his nose in a book all evening. That commission would make it a record year financially. Another year like this one and they would be able to realize their dream.
She knew a love of art was as much at the centre of Nikolai’s life as it was hers. Instead of going to the gym in the morning like most of the other men at the office, he would head to the living room and settle in front of the piano—a Beethoven sonata, a Bach concerto. Some mornings it was blues and jazz, as if Fats Waller and Herbie Hancock had moved in. He wrote poetry too. But to make a living he sold real estate. She tried to help, giving art and interior design advice to some of his clients. When Nikolai eventually came to leave the real estate business it would be to build a home and studio in the country, a place where they could devote their lives entirely to their artistic interests. She would have more time for her painting, and they would have more time for each other. Now she was excited by the prospect that it might happen sooner than they had anticipated.
The next morning, Dana decided to run a few errands before going to her studio. She stopped to pick up books at the library, and it was nearly lunchtime when she got to the supermarket. She grabbed milk and bread and hurried to the check out. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong line. They were held up while someone was conducting a price check.
There were two women ahead of her in line. One reached forward to tap the shoulder of the other. “Jean? I didn’t recognize you with the new hair style.”
“I’m not sure if I like what they’ve done to my hair, Amanda. I tried out that new hair salon, you know, the one on 59th Street.”
“Well, I think it looks lovely. I’ll have to stop by there sometime. How are the kids?”
“The kids are doing well. They’re both in school now.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Amanda. “How the years fly by. And how’s David?”
“Well, he’s had a promotion. He’s taken over as office manager,” said Jean.
The usual stuff, thought Dana. Boring, boring, boring. I wish this line would move.
“And how about you, Amanda, still going out with that married guy? Don’t you wonder sometimes if he’s just giving you the run around? You know the biological clock’s ticking away there, if you want to have kids. I’d just hate to see you get hurt.”
Dana tried to peer around the two of them to see if the cashier had completed the price check. Perhaps she should move to another line.
“You may have to eat your words, Jean. I just got a call from him this morning to say he put in an offer yesterday for a client who wants to buy the Forbes Mansion. The offer’s been accepted, and he has a big commission coming. He’s done well this year. You know divorce is an expensive business.”
The words “Forbes Mansion” froze Dana’s attention on Amanda. Surely she didn’t hear those words. But then, as if to remove any doubt, Amanda repeated them as she went on to elaborate.
Dana felt dizzy. She gripped the edge of the magazine stand and stared at her. Amanda could not be described as a classic beauty. Everything was carefully pencilled in, the brows, the eyes, and even the lips had been framed with a matching hue. Her skin was smooth and unlined, her face bland as if animated expressions might cause wrinkles. Surely, Nikolai would not have looked twice at this anemic creature who had to sketch in her features as if to reassure herself she was still there. A perverse art. She probably revelled in paint by numbers.
“I’m going to meet him after work by the merry go round and…”
“The merry go round?”
“Well, actually the fairground. There’s plenty of parking there and it’s not far from the office. He wants to start planning where we go from here. Our future.”
Dana felt the colour flooding her face and her heart raced as she tried to control herself. Their future? What did Amanda mean, their future? Her whole body was quivering. She tightened her grip on the magazine stand as she resisted the urge to confront this delusional woman.
“How romantic,” said Jean as she waited for Amanda to pay her bill so they could leave together. That was all Dana heard and, by the time she rushed outside, they had disappeared. Where did this upstart come from?
Her head was in a whirl. She had travelled an extra 10 miles down the highway on the drive home before she realized she’d overshot her exit. All afternoon, she paced from room to room, her anger mounting, her mind flooded with memories.
She recalled how, like a modern Sir Galahad, Nikolai had deftly defended her against the attack on her last exhibit by The Times art critic.
“To describe her work as ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, as if it were some strange flowering of Nietzsche’s philosophy, is an outrage,” Nikolai had said. “Your comments reveal how closed your mind is to artistic development.”
From the next room, Dana had heard Nikolai’s side of the phone conversation.
“Her art would be better described as an attempt to restore Eden. Eden, not in the traditional sense that interprets the Fall as a fall from grace, but rather one that sees the Fall as an event which split the world into seemingly opposite warring parts—time and eternity, male and female, light and darkness, good and evil. Let me finish…,” he’d said.
The critic must have been trying to defend himself.
“In her paintings she is trying to reveal their essential oneness. I’m expressing it rather clumsily, but her paintings might be seen as a combination of the approach of the Pre Raphaelites with that of Hieronymus Bosch. Dana has earned her place as one of the new surrealist painters.”
If she’d ever entertained any doubts, she’d known then that he mirrored her longings. They inhabited the same world.
She’d heard of some men having a mid life crisis. But how was it possible? Nikolai wasn’t that kind of man. He had a natural confidence based on self knowledge. Their sexual relationship was intense and eclectic. It was both the courtly love of the Knight for his Lady, yet also a Garden of Earthly Delights where sensual pleasure was more a glorification of lovemaking than an indictment of sin. It was the perfect union of nature with spirit. Eden as it could have been. Now this Eden was about to be put at risk by another serpent.
What unknown power had the invader called upon? What spiritual poison had this would be usurper put in Nikolai’s drink? Dana recalled that only yesterday she had discussed with Nikolai her ideas for their future home in the countryside. All she knew now was that she would not stand by, as if powerless, and see Nikolai deceived by this snake in the grass. This creature who had slithered out of the dirt to violate their love must be put in her place.
Dana went to the bedroom and took out the .22 revolver from the drawer of her bedside table. Nikolai had carefully taught her how to use it when he’d bought it for her. It reassured him that when he left her alone in the evening to meet clients she had some means of self defence. Dana had never imagined she would ever use it. Except she knew if anyone threatened Nikolai she would not hesitate. She put it in her purse.
The parking lot at the fairground was close to the merry go round. Dana lingered by the bushes, her dark coat blended into the night. She didn’t know what time they were to meet. It was dusk and she was prepared to wait as long as it took. She wished she had thought to bring binoculars. However, Dana had no problem remembering Amanda; that image was burned into her retina. The wind picked up. She raised the hood on her coat, a good idea anyway. She didn’t want to be recognized.
As she looked toward the merry go round she thought she could see Amanda. No sign of Nikolai. Maybe he hadn’t arrived yet. She moved closer, still shielded by the hedge. God, it was noisy, the music from the rides, and now they were letting off fireworks in the parkland. Where was Amanda?
Then Amanda came into view, a short distance away, heading towards a small tent. Dana looked around and quickened her pace. Amanda entered the tent. The sign read Madame Petruskaya, Fortune Teller. Dana sidled up to the entrance. No one else was around. She peered inside. In the dim light she could make out Amanda sitting at a table. Behind it was a woman in a billowing costume and long jangly earrings. Madame Petruskaya. Their gaze was fixed on the crystal ball resting on the table between them and Dana reached into her purse for the gun. Crouching low, she crept into the tent behind Amanda, held the gun close to Amanda’s back and fired. Blood drenched the crystal ball. Dana retreated, blending into the crowd. Madam Petruskaya’s screams were attracting attention. Dana shivered, but she knew she mustn’t lose her focus now. She had to get home. Running behind the hedge, she reached the parked car.
On the way home she stopped briefly on the lake front trail. A full moon lit her path through the trees. She knelt and threw the gun into the deep water, pausing to gaze with satisfaction at her shimmering reflection before returning to the car.
Dana turned on the lights as she entered the house. She felt as if she were acting in a play and that, at some point, she would walk off stage and the sense of unreality would drop away. Dana opened the cabinet and poured herself a shot of whisky. Was it to steady herself or was it a solitary celebration? She had saved Nikolai, she had blocked the threat to Eden. Drained of energy she longed for sleep. But she tossed and turned all night, her sleep disrupted with nightmares of wandering in a gloomy forest alone, searching for Nikolai—circling, circling in the suffocating darkness as if unable to believe that their happiness was not still under threat. Then, as the sun rose in the sky, the sound of music drew her into consciousness. Nikolai was at the piano. All was well with the world.
By the time she got up, he was already brewing the coffee. She poured herself a cup.
“Something unexpected happened,” said Nikolai.
“Really?” Dana did not need to hear the details of what happened at the fairground after she left, though she wondered how Nikolai would explain his presence there.
“Remember I was telling you I thought I had the Forbes Mansion deal in my pocket? Well, as it turned out, Joe Rosenblatt of Telford Real Estate found a client who made an even higher offer. Can you believe it?” Nikolai stood up and went over to refill his cup. “Joe’s only been at Telford’s a couple of years at the most. I can tell you, he’s done very well for himself. I must phone and congratulate him. I wouldn’t want him to think there are any hard feelings.
Are you all right, Dana? You look a funny colour. Drink up your coffee. I’m the one who should be shocked. It was my deal, or so I thought until it fell through. It just shows how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusion.”
Brenda Dow immigrated to Canada from the U.K. in 1956, working in insurance for four years before marriage to husband Brian, and leaving her position to start a family of three sons. Later, returning to the work force at a highly reputable community newspaper, she gained a B.A. in History as a mature student.
Dow’s writing credits include Earl for a Season, a Regency romance, and three Regency mysteries, Friend at Court, Snap Judgment and Friends and Enemies.
Constable Kitchener scowled at his sergeant, pausing in his execution of a lively caricature of that same sergeant. “Don’t call me kitsch! Nothing tawdry about my art!”
Sergeant Brown ignored his subordinate’s customary complaint. “Here’s a new case that’s right up your alley. An inside job!”
Kitchener’s interest quickened. Were his investigative talents about to be recognized at last? “What’s the story? A corporate deal gone sour?”
“A case of graffiti.”
The constable’s face fell. “Graffiti! You’re having me on again. It’s hardly up my alley.”
“Well, not far from what you do, Kitch. Doodling!”
“Don’t call me—alley! Oh, I see. Very clever! Some graffiti artist targeted yet another dingy alley.” Kitchener heaved himself to his feet, turning his pad to a fresh page. “You led me on with that inside job thing. Don’t see how that applies.”
Brown smiled smugly. “Ah, but it does, Constable. The graffiti artist broke into a condo sales office on Kingston Road, and did the dirty deed right inside the building.”
“Damn! Is that the office that had the fire last week?”
Brown beamed. “Now you’re cooking, Kitch! What do you remember about that case? If I recall, you were the responder.”
“I don’t even need my notes, Sarge. It’s still fresh in my mind.” He continued, ponderously, “I arrived at the premises at the same time as the fire truck. The fire crew had the blaze under control in two minutes. Not a lot of damage—mostly smoke. No injuries. Fire started in a waste paper basket. Arson was not suspected. The condo representative blamed it on a client who attempted to light up a cigarette before he could point to the NO SMOKING sign. The client stormed out in a temper, the rep reported. Distracted by his phone, the rep did not observe the client throw either cigarette or match into the waste paper basket, but the fire erupted within minutes. The client had given no name, and had said he was from out of town. There were no witnesses to his departure. The fire marshal was not called in.
“I followed up the next day. Damage repair was already in progress. I was informed that the company had decided to fix the damage immediately in the interest of selling the condo units, a procedure which would be cheaper than paying the deductible fee attached to their insurance. There was no prospect of finding the identity of the careless client, if you remember my report, so the case was not pursued.”
Brown nodded. “That sums it up, constable. So get back over there and see what’s what. You know the address.”
Sounds of a furious argument greeted Constable Kitchener as he entered the condo sales office. He paused on the threshold, taking in the scene. Memories of the fire scene came to him: the burnt wall with a brightly painted mural terribly defaced, the blackened ceiling above; all had been replaced. The ceiling was back to its creamy white. The new paint smell assailed his nostrils, tinged with residual smoke odour. The room was now painted an uncompromising grey blue—a little darker than the Royal Canadian Air Force uniform blue. However, one narrow wall set between two doors had been vandalized. Someone had applied creamy white paint over the blue paint in random rounded smears and lines.
A heavy desk, surrounded by three swivel chairs, stood some eight feet in front of the wall. Behind the desk, two men were in front of the graffiti, somewhat obscuring the constable’s view. The younger, a tall man, probably in his mid thirties, was trying to calm the situation. The constable recognized him as John Field, the chief condo sales representative whom he had encountered on the day of the fire. The other man, smaller, rounder and red faced was shouting at Field, “I don’t care what you think. If a piece of daubed junk isn’t authorized, it’s graffiti!”
As Kitchener advanced into the office, he noted a small female in absurdly high heels and tight navy skirt, cowering to one side, hands over her ears, obviously upset by the argument. She was the first to be aware of his presence, and straightened her stance. Probably an assistant sales rep, he thought, eyeing the crest on her blazer pocket.
He coughed loudly and introduced himself. Immediately he was bombarded by a stream of complaints from the red faced man and a denial of any responsibility by the chief sales rep. Producing his notepad, he took down the names of all persons present: John Field, chief salesperson, Digby May, site manager, and Helen Marcusi, assistant salesperson. That done, he recorded the details of the crime on his notepad. Person or persons unknown had somehow entered the securely locked premises overnight and desecrated one wall of the freshly painted sales office.
“I locked up when I left the office at 8:00 p.m. last night. When I came in at ten this morning that is what I saw,” said Field, indicating the wall. “The fire damage to that wall was the reason we had to redecorate in the first place. It’s the first thing customers see when they come into the sales office.”
“That wall contained a valuable mural contracted by our corporate owners,” stated May, the site manager, bitterly.
“Absolutely inappropriate,” exclaimed Field. “Palm trees, crashing waves and surfers. Fine for California, but not here. Sheer kitsch!”
Kitchener stiffened. “Don’t call—oh, I see what you mean. Your condo dwellers won’t want to be seeing that —kitschy art stuff here.”
“Maybe the waves,” mentioned Helen Marcusi, shyly. “Lake Ontario can get rough on occasion.”
“That’s between the condo and their insurance,” said Kitchener, sternly. “I was previously informed that it was decided to repair the former fire damage without going through the condo’s insurance carrier. I am here to deal with this separate incident of graffiti. I need to know who has keys to this unit beside yourself, Mr. Field. The cleaners?”
“No, they come during the day.”
“No. Helen is new. She will be getting a set of keys next week.”
“And myself, of course!” declared May the site manager. “The intruder must have broken in. Did you check all the doors and windows, Field?”
“As I do every night, May,” Field replied, hastily. “I’ll give you the tour, Constable.”
He conducted the policeman through the small building, followed by Digby May and Helen Marcusi. It was an old building, hastily converted from an old commodity merchant’s to form the condo sales office. There was only one exit on the basement level, which proved to be locked and barred, with no evidence of tampering. They moved from room to room throughout the model showroom suites, but there was no sign of breakage or any forced entry. The premises were situated on a sloping site, most of the rear windows inaccessible from outside. The constable was meticulous about checking the window latches anyway.
Their last stop was the staff washroom on the basement level. The W.C., containing a single toilet, was a narrow little room separate from the washbasin area, in the old fashioned design, rarely still to be found in the twenty first century. A small high window beside the toilet provided illumination in addition to an old fashioned light fixture.
Only Kitchener squeezed in.
Suddenly there was an annoyed exclamation from Helen Marcusi. The constable turned to look at her. She was standing on one foot, fiddling with the pointed heel of her left shoe. She straightened with a small scrap of plastic in her hand. “Ugh! What’s this? It was stuck to my shoe.”
Kitchener took it from her. It was a piece of Scotch tape, indented in a peculiar way. He knew immediately what it had been used for. He climbed on to the toilet, the lid squeaking in protest, and slid the pane open. That scrap of tape had been used to prevent the latch from catching. An old trick, not worthy of a real break and enter artist!
He pondered: Who might have come in through that window? It would have to be someone small enough to squeeze through such a tiny space and athletic enough to complete the manoeuver by landing safely. More important! Only someone who had been inside the premises earlier could set up the entry route! Any one of the staff? Or, had someone prepared the way for a child to get in? But a child could not unlock the doors without a key to let in the perp, nor could a child reach some of the higher white paint splotches on the vandalized wall.
Field had means and opportunity, but he could not get in that way. He was thin, but his shoulders were too broad. Besides, why would he need to do so, as he had a key? Could it be to divert suspicion? He needed to ask everyone for their alibis.
Timid little Miss Marcusi? Nah! He very much doubted it. She did not look the athletic type. Not tall enough to do the high stuff, and not strong enough to move that heavy desk to stand on. Besides, he had seen no scratches on the floor. Standing on one of those swivel chairs—far too great a risk of her falling.
Digby May? Not likely! He had a key, but the destruction of the redecoration for which he was responsible would not reflect well on his management.
Somehow, Kitchener doubted the deed had been perpetrated by a regular graffiti artist. Although one skinny young low life might get in, the white marks on the wall did not conform to any of the usual egotistical displays of a graffiti artist’s talent. Nor a whimsical B & E thief, as there had been no report of missing articles from the show room layouts as yet! He was anxious to have this thing tied up with a valid suspect to present to Sergeant Brown.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Field showed him a maintenance cupboard where paints were stored. Both the surplus grey blue and creamy white paints and brushes were on a high shelf there. Kitchener eyed the brushes, wondering if he should bag them for evidence. He thought wistfully of the days specialists might have taken fingerprints from the brushes, but experience told him that budget restrictions would not allow for sending a team out for so minor a crime. Besides, his nose told him that those brushes had been scrupulously cleaned.
Suddenly, voices were heard from upstairs. As Kitchener, followed closely by the condo staffers, climbed to the main floor, he discovered that three persons had entered the showroom in their absence. Two men and a woman were staring with great interest at the white smeared wall.
He silently rebuked himself for failing to secure the crime scene.
“Mr. Donovan!” spluttered May, the site manager. “I wasn’t expecting you. I am glad to see you here under these horrible circumstances.”
The constable stepped forward. “Who would you be, sir?”
“Ron Donovan, Officer! I’m chairman of the board of this ongoing condominium development. I just happened to be in Toronto. Flew in this morning.” He turned back to the site manager. “May, I’ve brought in a fine couple here. Meet Bill and Sophie Ross! They are interested in the future penthouse.” He gazed around. “What is going on with the sales office? Why was no one here to welcome our clients!”
“Vandalism, sir! Sheer vandalism!” wailed May. He turned towards Helen. “Marcusi, you should have stayed up here while we did our inspection downstairs.”
Donovan gave a ghost of a wink to Helen Marcusi who was blushing a fiery red from embarrassment at her public rebuke. “This?” He took a step back, squinting at the white blotched wall. Bill Ross joined him.
“What do you think, Ross?”
Ross grinned and selected a dark blue marker from a stand on the desk. “I don’t think it’s quite finished. Maybe your artist got disturbed before he could finish the job.” He stepped forward and made a meticulously straight but broken line across the wall, about five feet up from the floor.
“Magnifique!” breathed Sophie Ross. “That makes all the difference. See the moon high on the left side! So large! See the line of puffy clouds much lower down, just over the horizon which you have now drawn for us, mon cher William!” She turned to the rest of the company excitedly. “It is a picture.”
There was a cacophony of voices as the others tuned in.
“And the mist along parts of the horizon!”
“And the lake below the horizon …”
“And the white lines reflecting the moonlight in the water …”
Helen Marcusi inspected the right hand side of the wall intently. “And I do believe that this little area shows a tiny Skylon Tower in the distance.”
Kitchener looked at her suspiciously.
“That looks a thousand times better than our corporate beach seascape,” remarked Donovan. “We should have thought how much more appropriate a scene from your local lake here would be. I think we’ll leave it. This is only the sales office. It gives a nice welcome to the folks that come to check us out.”
May’s eyes roved around uneasily. “Yes, Mr. Donovan. If that’s what you want. Er, absolutely! I see now what a marvelous … nightscape it is. It was almost an optical illusion. Do I have your permission…”
Donovan smiled benignly. “Gotcha, May! You can tell this good officer that we will deal with this matter internally. No charges shall be made in this connection.”
Great! Just like the fire incident! A nothing case! Stoically, Kitchener put away his pad and pen. He nodded brusquely to the others and moved away to the door.
“Thanks for all your help, Constable Kitchener,” John Field called after him. “Sorry for all the bother!”
As Kitchener left, he passed a man in painter’s clothes. He heard the man announce cheerily that he had come to pick up his brushes and other equipment, which he’d left behind the previous week. Seconds later, he heard the painter shout, “Where is it?”
The constable got into his police car and pulled out his notepad. He gave thought to how he should report the situation, idly doodling as he did so. No one could be proved to have done the deed, though he agreed with his sergeant that it was an inside job. Who had a motive? Was it aesthetics as opposed to vandalism?
May was the least likely suspect, and did not seem the art appreciative type. Marcusi did not have the physical abilities necessary. Field denied doing the deed, and it would not be in his interest to vandalize his work place. The Rosses were too new to the premises. Donovan had only that morning come into Toronto.
He observed the painter return to his truck with his brushes, and then disappear to the back of the property. He returned, carrying a small set of steps, which he stowed in the back of his truck.
Kitchener’s eyes narrowed. Steps! Could that set of steps fit through that washroom window? No way! The toilet was too narrow.
He looked down at his notepad ready to write his report. He stared in surprise at what he had doodled. There on the page he had executed a fine caricature of Helen Marcusi standing up straight beside the desk, toes slightly pointed outwards in an elegant stance reminiscent of a ballet dancer.
As he turned on his car ignition he muttered to himself. “Maybe I’m wrong! That little Miss Marcusi is just too cute for words! She has to be the one.” Slowly he pieced it out. He formed a mental picture of her standing effortlessly on one foot, fiddling with the high heeled shoe on the other. Only a trained athlete could do that without swaying or overbalancing. She found—or rather produced—that scrap of Scotch tape used to render the window latch inoperable to divert suspicion from herself. Clever that! She even interpreted one of those white blobs as the Skylon Tower at Niagara Falls. She could probably slither through the washroom window head first, put her hands on the toilet seat, do a bit of a cartwheel and land on her feet. With the steps the painter had expected to find inside the showroom, she could have got down the surplus paints and a brush from the maintenance cupboard, and reached high up the vandalized wall to make a round blob of a moon. But how did she get the steps off the premises? Though not long, the steps would not fit through that tiny window, especially with the narrow walls of the cubicle. She must have had help!
He slapped his hand on the wheel, muttering, “John Field! He was first in. Did he suspect the girl when he came in this morning? Maybe he has the hots for her.” He must have taken the steps outside and hidden them round the back of the building just to protect her before he called 911. Loudly, he exclaimed, “Freaking Sir Galahad!”
In his mind he was satisfied that he had solved the case. He drove back to the police station, philosophically telling himself it hardly mattered. There was no case—again! Now, how to explain to Sarge about the random doodle in his notepad?
Carolynne, a native Torontonian, was introduced to books by her late parents, both lifelong readers. Her mother read to her and her next youngest sister two stories every night for the first ten years of her life.
From young adulthood, it was always her desire to write historical fiction, based on the very interesting family background stories she’d heard from both sides of her family. Since joining the Scarborough Scribblers at Albert Campbell Library in April, 2016, her writing is progressing forward nicely.
It was 1944 and summer was just coming to an end in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Ida Shaw, and her husband, Air Force Corporal Trevor Shaw, had just discovered that Ida was expecting their first child. The doctor who had told her she was pregnant had advised that, due to her small size, she should expect excessive morning sickness. Since the Island did not have many physicians, it would be better if Ida could be settled in Toronto, Ontario where she had two younger sisters residing.
Corporal Shaw and Ida arrived in Toronto on Labor Day weekend to get Ida settled in. They stayed at the Royal York Hotel where they had honeymooned three years before. They found an ideal sounding flat in The Toronto Daily Star, located in Parkdale not far from Ida’s sisters Fern and Tessie.
Trevor and Ida telephoned the number in the ad. They went to see the flat on Sunday morning after church and stopped at Duffy’s Tavern on the corner of Margaretta Street and Bloor Street West to have a bite of lunch. They walked the block and a half north to 463 and knocked on the door.
The door was answered by a very personable older lady, who introduced herself as Mrs. Josephine Latimer. She explained that she had been a widow since 1940 when her late husband George, who had been a barrister in downtown Toronto, had died quite suddenly of a heart attack. Mrs. Latimer shared that she had been born and raised in the small town of Flesherton, Ontario and had met her late husband when she had moved to Toronto to secure work. She had taught public school at home in Flesherton and continued to do so in Toronto after her marriage, hoping to stay home and raise babies. Unfortunately, she and her husband were never able to have children and became blessed instead with their respective careers. George had built a law practice and he and Josie found their two storey, semi detached home at 463 Margaretta in 1910. They were able to pay it off and keep it well cared for in spite of the depression. Josie’s husband had bought her a piano and she gave lessons to children at home. She had stopped teaching school at fifty years of age to allow younger people the opportunity to be employed. She was still giving piano lessons to a few children once a week. Her attitude was one of encouragement. Since the flat had three rooms with a shared bathroom and a front room with a bay window, they took it. It was only $30.00 per month and they stayed there from that day forward until the war ended and they could save to buy their own first home.
Trevor returned to Charlottetown and Ida quickly settled in. Mrs. Latimer showed Ida how to knit and helped her learn how to crochet as well. She had a sewing machine and when she learned that Ida could sew and did it well, she had her help with a great many items she made for her church’s Bazaars. She and Ida attended church each Sunday morning and belonged to various groups that helped with the war effort. They knit socks for soldiers and aided wherever they could. Ida could bake very well and she helped Mrs. Latimer with her many excellent recipes, as she was not able to stand for very long periods of time any more.
In mid December the City of Toronto was hit with a record setting treacherous snowfall that caused almost everything to come to a grand halt. The date of the storm was December 11, 1944 and it snowed so badly that the street cars on Bloor, Dundas, Queen and King Streets could not run safely and TTC sent out buses instead. However, the milk and bread routes were still expected to go out. Mrs. Latimer, who slept downstairs in the room that used to be her dining room, arose to her door being knocked upon. Their milkman, young seventeen year old Kenny was in utter agony. He had slipped on the icy pavement earlier that morning and just kept doing his route because everybody needed their milk. Many of his customers were elderly like Mrs. Latimer and shouldn’t have been going out any place in this major blizzard. Kenny loved his work and needed it, but was waiting impatiently for his eighteenth birthday so he could enlist in the Army. His birthday was just three weeks away from this very day.
Mrs. Latimer was not a lady who usually raised her voice, however she screamed up the stairs, “Ida, Ida!!! Wake up and come down right now, dear. I think our milkman Kenny has broken his leg and I’m calling Silverwood’s Dairy to come and get their horse and cart and someone else to do the deliveries.” Before Ida was able to fully check Kenny’s leg, Mrs. Latimer was calling for an ambulance and a doctor. She was told that they would put her on the list, but it could be hours. She let them know in a very polite, angry tone that the only reason she and her tenant had their milk was because Kenny had walked on his leg since he fell at 7:30 a.m. on his first delivery street and it was now 9:00 a.m. and he was in agony. “So, no excuses please, just come as quickly as possible and thank you very much.”
Ida was a trained Practical Nurse for five years before she married Trevor on July 9, 1942 and was very patient and kind. Most of her patients during her hospital training had been severely burned British orphans, sent over in the summer of 1940 when the City of London, England suffered with terrible bombings almost nightly. Ida had come to know Kenny well in the three months she had been a tenant in Mrs. Latimer’s upstairs flat. He was very upset and was sure that he would be fired because of Mrs. Latimer’s actions. Ida reassured Kenny that in the three months of sharing Mrs. Latimer’s home, she had never seen her this upset. Considering that the radio had advised people not to leave their homes due to the icy sidewalks, and the street cars were unable to ride safely, and the Army had been called out to shovel the couple of feet of new snow, she told Kenny not to worry and just trust her. Mrs. Latimer gave Kenny a hot chocolate with two cinnamon buns and elevated his leg, which Ida had determined was most probably broken in several places because he had continued to walk and work after his fall.
At 10:00 a.m. an older man arrived at the house from Silverwood’s to finish Kenny’s route. He let Kenny know that his job was very safe with Silverwood’s as long as he wanted it. Apparently when Mrs. Latimer had called earlier, she had gotten a supervisor, who had known her from years back and had experienced her kindness personally. Poor Kenny did not get seen to until almost 11:00 a.m., but they sent an ambulance, which took him to Toronto General Hospital where they X-rayed his leg and found three breaks.
Mrs. Latimer and Ida did not see Kenny again until the end of January when he came back to work his route and let them know that he’d given his notice and signed up to join the Army. Silverwood’s had assured him that he was welcome to return to work when the war was over if he desired to do so.
They managed to get shovelled out in time for their Christmas Bazaar, but while the snow was on, they baked dozens of cookies and squares. Baking was one of Mrs. Latimer’s favourite household occupations and now with Ida’s help, she enjoyed it even more. Mrs. Latimer had knit a gorgeous off white woolen shawl for the new baby, which was due to arrive in early May. Ida sang beautifully and it cheered Mrs. Latimer when she was feeling down. Ida had always wanted to learn to play the piano, so Mrs. Latimer added her to the student roster at no charge.
They continued to suffer shortages of foodstuffs as did all of their neighbours and friends. The extra baking they did for fundraisers like their Annual Christmas Bazaar, caused them to request butter, eggs, sugar and flour from their neighbours. Those who were kind enough to contribute always got some free baking for their willingness to help. Kenny got some shortbread by way of the new milkman, who ran his route while he was recovering, and got his Christmas tip the same way. When he was stationed overseas, Kenny wrote letters to Ida and Mrs. Latimer to let them know how good it felt to be in the Army and to help to keep his country free.
Ida’s husband, Trevor, sent letters often. He was delighted when Mrs. Latimer wrote and told him that Ida was doing the best she could, considering that her feet were swelling and she wasn’t always listening when Dr. Ball told her to sit more and let Mrs. Latimer help her. Ida was overdue and Dr. Ball told her that she would have to come to the hospital as soon as her water broke in case there were any issues. Ida’s water finally broke early in the morning on Monday, May 21. Mrs. Latimer called a taxi and sent her to Toronto General Hospital immediately. Ida was in labor all day Monday and through the night until 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 22, when she delivered a healthy ten pound fifteen ounce baby girl.
Ida was very upset that the baby wasn’t a boy, as it was usually considered ideal to have a boy as the first child. Fern, Ida’s youngest sister, sent Trevor a telegram and added that she was sorry it wasn’t a boy. Trevor wired back his delight that the baby was a girl, as in his opinion, “Girls are better as boys only cause mischief, ha ha!” Ida was kept in the hospital fourteen days as she had to have a ninety six stitch episiotomy to close her up, due to her daughter’s very large head. This large head was a genetic thing inherited from her daddy. According to Trevor, “All the Shaws had large heads.” In their family they joked about it, but not the women who had birthed the babies.
The baby’s parents discussed the name they would give her back and forth from Toronto to Comox, British Columbia where Corporal Shaw was now stationed. They finally decided to call her Charlotte Hilda Anne Shaw. ‘Hilda’ was the given name of Dr. Ball’s wife, who had been Ida’s landlady before her marriage. Mrs. Ball always treated Ida like a daughter and remained thoughtful of her and her family until her death.
She was a happy, healthy baby, who grew hard teeth like her daddy’s and grew naturally curly fair hair like her mother’s. The hard teeth were a special blessing, as Ida had soft teeth and was always having to go to the dentist. Ida nursed her daughter and took her out for walks in the fresh air every day and put her out for her afternoon nap on Mrs. Latimer’s back porch as she got a little older. Trevor received letters and photos of all Charlotte’s developmental accomplishments. He wrote to Ida that though the War was over, both in Europe and the Pacific, there were plane cleanup issues to be dealt with and he as the chief mechanic at the Comox base, would be staying until December. His commander had told him that they would most probably be home by Christmas. The commander wanted to go home to his wife and two children as well.
Trevor finally arrived home on the eighteenth of December, when Charlotte was four days short of seven months old. Her daddy brought her a sterling silver locket with a small photo of her daddy and Mommy inside. As she grew bigger the chain was changed to allow for her growing. They enjoyed a very happy Christmas dinner with Mrs. Latimer and she began to spoil Trevor as she had been spoiling Ida and Charlotte.
Every time Mrs. Latimer went anywhere she could take the baby she would ask to take Charlotte with her. She knit her mittens, caps and sweaters and sewed her dresses and corduroy overalls. She fussed over Charlotte just as though she were her own granddaughter. She began to read to Charlotte as soon as she could sit on her knee and Charlotte would always listen attentively to the stories her nana told her of the years when she was growing up in Flesherton with her older sister and younger brother. Mrs. Latimer had taught Kindergarten and she would often tell Charlotte about some of the little persons she had taught when she worked. One of the first words Charlotte spoke was “Nana.” She always smiled when she said it too. As she grew from toddlerhood to a little girl she learned about gas stoves, how to bake cookies, wash dishes, do laundry, go grocery shopping, cook meals, do gardening (pulling up the weeds for Nana) and listen well when she was spoken to, without interrupting.
Charlotte was also a sleepwalker and one night she crawled out of her crib and proceeded to the staircase to go out to play. She was fast asleep, but her daddy, who was a very light sleeper, just in time reached over the bannister railing and put his right hand on Charlotte’s left shoulder and caught her from falling downstairs.
At four and a half years, Charlotte wanted to slide down the bannister railing and one day when Nana was minding her, she asked if she could slide down. While Ida was a worrywart and would never allow her to slide when she asked, Nana, like her daddy, realized the fabulous energy this child had and so they would allow her on the condition that she never mention it to her mommy. As Nana said that day, “it’ll just be our little secret Charlotte. Okay?”
Charlotte’s parents had decided after her third birthday that it was time for her to have a sibling. Ida’s second pregnancy was not quite as stressful as her first one had been and Lydia had only weighed eight pounds eleven ounces. When Ida brought her home from the hospital, Charlotte wanted to hold her right away. Ida had her sit on the chesterfield and explained that she must support Lydia’s head and back, as her bones were not yet solid. When they were settled, Trevor took a picture. He enjoyed taking pictures, as it was one of his many hobbies.
With Lydia’s arrival they needed a larger space to give their girls their own bedroom and so they began to look for a home of their own. Trevor had inherited two quarter sections of land from his parents’ land in Alberta, upon which he had been paying taxes since his mother’s death in 1944. He sold the land to his nephew Don and he and Ida bought their first home in East York in February of 1950 and moved in in July.
On July 12th it was Charlotte’s sister Lydia’s first birthday and Ida had invited Nana to come and spend the day with them at the new house and enjoy the covered back porch and large yard. When Nana arrived at 11:00 a.m. she had brought with her on the street car and bus, half way across the city to East York, a large round multi level gorgeous white cake, decorated with pale green and pink whipped cream and layers of yummy stuff. Cakes were Nana’s thing and she knew that Charlotte’s favourite was her white cake and that Charlotte only liked fudge brownies and chocolate candy. So she only brought chocolate cake at Ida’s and Lydia’s birthdays because chocolate was their favourite cake and white was Charlotte and Trevor’s. Charlotte was the one who answered the front door when Nana arrived and after giving her a big hug and kiss and telling her how happy she was to see her, she then said, “Nana, Nana, what did you bring me?” Trevor was not far behind Charlotte and chastised her for being so greedy. Nana just did her usual Charlotte thing and said, “Let me show you the lovely cake I made for Lydia’s birthday dinner tonight.” Charlotte was immediately delighted because she knew that her nana was the best cake baker there was.
Nana loved the covered back porch and the hollyhocks blooming beside the stoop. Ida hated them and was going to throw them out; but when she learned that Nana loved them, she offered them to her when they died down. Nana offered to give them some of her tulip and daffodil bulbs, so they had a fair exchange down the road.
Nana also noticed that Ida had a gas stove and knew that she was always nervous of the gas when she was living at Nana’s. She explained that you just had to be careful to use the lighter properly and also that the gas cost less and the food cooked more evenly and took less time.
Nana Latimer knew that Trevor was very handy and that the house was in much need of repair. Mrs. Latimer asked very kindly if she could provide them with financial assistance to put the house in good order. Trevor explained that he realized the house had no basement yet because it had been built in 1870, however it did have a root cellar under the kitchen. He also told her that he was going to lower the ten foot ceilings before the 1950 winter came and put in an oil burner in the front living room, so that when winter came they would not wake up in the morning to frozen water pipes. He thanked her very much for her generous offer, but that he had set aside money for emergencies and updating of their home to make it cozy and comfortable.
Trevor enquired if Nana had been able to find a new tenant and she advised that she had a single young lady who was very personable, so he told her that if she needed anything done to call him and not pay somebody. He insisted on driving her home due to the long distance on the transit and the fact that they’d had such a pleasant time, which he and Ida missed having with her.
Trevor would go and put up and take down her storm windows for years afterward. He did until 1957 when he and Ida bought their second house in Scarborough and Nana got a young man to live in the flat, who did this work for her because like everyone else who ever met her, was just delighted to help her.
Charlotte’s Nana lived until October of 1957 when she died of cancer just three months after Ida gave birth to her long awaited son. Trevor had always thought that Mrs. Latimer would leave an inheritance to Charlotte because they had always been so very close. However what Nana had already given to Charlotte was so much more important to her. She had loved her just as she was and not tried to make her into some sort of carbon copy, as many nanas sometimes do unintentionally. She never preached at her, but just listened well and taught the necessities and how to be kind and generous.
Charlotte had never been a jewellery person, but her nana had a shamrock pin made of pewter and mother of pearl. It had come from Ireland originally with Nana’s grandparents and had been passed to her by her parents when she was old enough to take care of it. Charlotte had always loved seeing her nana wearing it and one day, while visiting her family the year before she passed away, Nana had made her a gift of it.
The treasures of early childhood memories were the very inheritance that Charlotte would always appreciate the most. To Charlotte, her nana couldn’t have been better had she been biological because in every circumstance, Nana was love as it should be and often is not these days. The common sense mores learned from Nana Latimer, Charlotte passed on to all the people she met. She knew in her heart of hearts that Mrs. Josephine Latimer was truly a gift and a treasure to everyone who ever was blessed to meet her. Nobody could ever best her in the Nana department. She was truly one of a kind.
Frances is a life long reader who enjoys attending book clubs and the Scarborough Scribblers writers’ group. She is interested in scientific innovations, reads diverse biographies and always has a few novels on the go. She studied English Literature and Psychology at University of Toronto. Fran’s writing credit is “Out of This World Library” in Library Reflections. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
Twilight had just begun when I snuck away from our camp. Quietly, I pulled my ‘rent a camel’ along, hoping she wouldn’t bellow and buck and wake up the security detail. I crammed her blanket into my knapsack to silence the bells on it.
Speaking camel, I whispered, “She sha, come on, shush, sh h h, p p pptth, wa a a lk.” Finally I pulled her out of the makeshift paddock. The camel’s owner in the village had warned me to “Show her who’s boss!” It seemed to have worked so far until I showed her the saddle then she turned away. Firmly, I said, “Koosh” and she turned towards me. She then just looked at me and blinked instead of kneeling down. I tapped the back of her knees and commanded, “Koosh” and she reluctantly kneeled. Daring to get near her deadly back legs, I tapped and said, “Koosh” again then finally, she lay down. I placed the saddle pad, saddle and fancy, pink blanket with bells onto her back and quickly hopped on. After a determined “hut hut,” she walked reluctantly on and we cleared the makeshift paddock.
There was just enough time to get my ‘deal’ done then sneak back into camp to continue my ‘tourist trek’. Our tourist trek was a perfect cover to get me near the arms dealer tents. I was one of a few British people in a group of tourists, which included people who came from various European countries. The camp, including the inept security detail were sound asleep after a short trek in the desert followed by a large meal with hot tea. The cold night air sent everyone scrambling to their warm blankets.
The moon lit up the rippled sand dunes as my camel and I plodded along. She sha was young, rested, well fed and watered. I wondered why she slowed down so much. She should be able to effortlessly maintain a quick trot. Instead She sha slowly climbed one large dune and stopped half way through. Was she lame, I wondered? Just as we cleared the top of the dune she tripped and fell to her knees. I flew off, somersaulted down the dune until I hit the bottom with a thud. She waited for me as all trained camels are supposed to do, but just as I wiped the sand off my face and got up, she took one look at me then trotted off. She was smirking! Quickly, I started running after her, calling “She sha, she sha, come hee re, p p pptth. I’ll be nice, I have a treat for you u.” The triangular bells that hung from her woven pink rug jangled as she continued on her way. She didn’t miss a step as her long neck craned back and she looked right at me before disappearing over a ridge.
“Well,” I said indignantly, “so much for showing her who’s boss! This is darned inconvenient. Why don’t they come with seat belts?” I reached for my water canteen (which I always kept strapped over my shoulder and locked in place). A quick rinse to get the sand out of my mouth set me right. As a trained spy, I was ready for any situation. I needed to accomplish my mission under cover of night. “This is my last mission,” I repeated to myself over and over. “Thank goodness it is nighttime.” My last mission was grueling. I had to dig myself into the sand while stranded in the desert during the day. Ever the optimist, I came back for another ‘trek.’
Following the stars, I continued toward the trade tent oasis. “Only a few more kilometers to go,” I said to myself cheerily. I gazed up at Orion in the sky. The hunter would protect me and make me continue to seek my way. Trekking like this gave me time to assess what I had done with my life. Gentler understanding of any female I encountered was my lesson for tonight. As I got older, I just got more ‘testy’. One would think that year after year of experience would teach me different approaches, devious approaches! Getting on my wife’s good side was never simple.
I reflected on my return to England to resume my life as an English Gentleman. Who would await my return to our house in Surrey? Would she be there or off in the Canary Islands with the kids and her parents? I would probably return again to an empty, cold house. I imagined being barefoot on the cold tiles, opening the fridge door and seeing only a stale piece of cheese. I spoke out loud, “Oh oh I started to think about foo oo d, stop it!” I admonished myself.
Just as I was about to collapse from struggling through the shifting sand, I saw a skinny, green flag on top of a pole waving in the distance. It looked like a circus tent poking over the large dune. Was it a mirage? No, it was my arms trade tent. I brushed the reddish sand off my nice, light linen suit and tried to fix my tousled hair.
Approaching the doorway, I was greeted by the familiar smiling man in a cap and long, ornamental garment who welcomed me with a tray in hand. He placed a large glass of ice water into my outstretched hand. “You are very late, I am just making tea,” he said. He knew I was expected and he was very efficient at screening people at the door. His quiet demeanor hid his true role as a special services armed bodyguard.
Everyone was already gathered on the floor with large pillows. They had finished dinner and the auction was just beginning. I nodded and made my way to my pillow on the floor beside Vlad. The auctioneer said in a booming voice, “Who gives me 900,000 Dirhams for this fine specimen?” as he gestured to the closed curtain. In my head I quickly converted DH (United Arab Emirates Dirham) to the equivalent of $200,000 US. Perplexed, I wondered if they were going to show the actual weapon this time? Was I out too long in the desert? Right behind the auctioneer, out marched my camel from an opening in the tent! Everyone laughed as she looked around at the group and blinked her large eyes a few times. “She sha!” I exclaimed as I got up and gently, quietly, took hold of her reins. She bowed her head and let me lead her out. I gave her a treat from my pocket as we walked outside. To my astonishment, standing in a paddock outside were about twenty Arabian horses. “Wow, I think I’m at the wrong trade show,” I said quietly.
A fine black horse was led into the tent. She pranced in a circle.
As I took my seat again, I whispered to my good friend Vlad, my adversary who had outbid me in the last trade deal, “What happened to the weapons?”
Shaking his head he replied, “Oh, Johnny, we don’t do that anymore. We are all getting old and need to do some good in the world. The people in surrounding villages breed these fine horses. The rich buy them and we take this money to the peacemakers in each village for them. They make sure that all the poor children go to school, play games, buy books, have nice houses, working parents, ponies and nice clothes. The children get free educations, including university and can go anywhere they want in the world. Most return as heroes to their own villages. No funny business, everything is audited and checked, assisted by some of our fine graduates.” As I stared at him trying to process this new information, Vlad asked, “What more could you want?”
I held up my hand and yelled “975,000 DH” and my friend slapped me on the back and countered “1,000,000 DH.” Of course I wasn’t about to let him win, so I counter bid and won at “1,250,000 DH.” Princess was mine! At least I would have reliable transportation back to the camp. Princess could lead She sha. Needless to say, we didn’t make it back to camp. Instead a fine horse trailer and four by four truck rolled in to pick us up. I rode back to the village in style in the air conditioned cab. She sha stood nicely beside Princess in the trailer for the whole ride. I sent word to the tourist group leader that I had an emergency and had to leave.
Now that I am a philanthropist and agent working for the villages, I have much to look forward to. My wife and kids can join me at the next auctions.
I decided to fly directly to the Canary Islands to surprise my large family. My wife and three kids were at our villa by the sea. Her parents, brothers and sisters and their kids were at their individual beach houses next door to each other. As I drove up to our beach house, I honked the horn and my wife and kids came running up from the beach and hugged me. The whole family came to greet me. The kids jumped up and down for joy as soon as they saw the two shiny sea doos on my trailer. Later we launched them into the sea and everyone took a turn. I was long overdue for an extended vacation.
Diana Kiesners lives in Scarborough with her husband, cat, and far too many books. She is happy to be a member of the Scarborough Scribblers writers’ group.
I’ll sing you three, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your three, O?
Three, three, the rivals
Two, two the lily white boys
Clothed all in green, O;
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.
Ever. More. Lily felt the weight of that, even in grade two. While the class was supposed to be learning the song, half of the children were instead going ballistic in the corner, striking each other with stuffed animals and shrieking. Their noise affected her as though she were the one being hit. She wished they would be quiet, or that she could be moved to a peaceful place where they were not.
She definitely was one, O, and ever more would be so.
The puppets turned out to be perfect companions for Lily. They were at once so amiable, and so silent. They always did what she suggested, though red haired Vince did sometimes object for a while, playing pranks and sometimes pulling things out of the suitcases she had carefully packed for them—because they were travellers, the whole troupe of them, going from town to town. Had it been another time, they would all have been in a covered cart, pulled by a horse, or perhaps a donkey. When they reached a town they would have raised the side of the wagon to make a stage and performed there for whoever showed up: card sharks and housewives, tanners and bakers, tinsmiths and farmers, with the usual sprinkling of pickpockets distributed throughout the crowd.
But these were different times, and so they took the train. Or, when things were bad, the bus. Lily had to stifle her anxiety as her friends were stowed in the dark, crowded space beneath. She watched with misgiving as the driver stuffed them into the luggage hold. Was that a shoelace hanging out the side of the case? If so, whose was it? Lacy’s, or Nutmeg’s? Was it wrapped around a leg or arm? The big metal maw slammed shut and the bus took off. Lily wobbled down its aisle, trying to regain her equilibrium and stop worrying. But she knew she wouldn’t feel balanced until she knew the puppets were safe.
It was tricky, this making a living with inanimate friends—though Lily could have argued the point so far as “inanimate” went. She had met a lot of supposedly live humans who were a lot less animate than her puppets. She knew they had souls, and souls could be crushed. Sometimes in a small town she would find a junk store where, jumbled at the back, she would find some forgotten puppet from bygone times, dusty and broken in spirit. Then it would be her job to reanimate it, bring it back to life. She would sing to it of its origins, of the tree that was chopped down just so that this particular puppet could be released from it. Sometimes while she was singing its story she would realize that someone passing had stopped, transfixed by the oddness of what she was doing, and she would pause, embarrassed. When they were alone again, she would wonder if she had been making it all up. But then the puppet would open its eyes, blink or perhaps wink at her. And in a rush everything she had always known would come back to her, and once again she would start to sing.
Hector was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada. He grew up in Armstrong Ontario. He is featured in a book, “NOTICE THIS IS AN INDIAN RESERVE.” Published in 1972. Page 19 he is wearing the bow tie. Education: self taught. He likes, singing, music, reading, poetry, rhymes, writing, movies, drawing, photography, videography and Karate. Was a model, an agent #700, chairman, representative, and PRESIDENT!! A comedy club said, “We’ll try you out, as long as you make up your own jokes, and as long as it doesn’t relate to the dead.” He said, “All my jokes are dead.” In life he recently acted in a short film titled “Shadow.”
Thunder Bay, Ontario. January 02, 1976.
I was dressed wearing a T shirt, boxer shorts, a pair of jeans, summer socks, a jean jacket and pair of boots. I was trying to look cool, but I was cold. A big scary looking man showed me a grave that was practically finished being dug. He pointed to a grave to my right, where a coffin was sticking out a little. He said that another digger chipped it with a big silver jack hammer, and cracked the corner a bit. And then he said, “Don’t mind the new grave to the left.” He then handed me a spade and said, “This is your grave, the one in the middle. Start digging.”
I jumped down into my grave, and as I was excavating the solid frozen ground I was pondering all the dead around me. I was really shivering as the wind blew all around me even though I was almost six feet underground. I was wondering about the grave to my right, if it was disturbed? I was beginning to tremble, I wasn’t dressed appropriately. That morning was ice cold, I was nearly freezing to death.
About forty minutes later I stopped digging and stood up to look around to find out I’m the only one there. I decided to climb out from my grave. It dawned on me, if I didn’t leave now and get away from there, I would be dead before noon. I looked up towards the dull gray sky and the wind started blowing at the trees, making them sway back and forth. I could hear the swooshing sound like a scary scene in a movie. I thought to myself, what if a dead body arose from a grave, and came up from behind me, and put its hand on my right shoulder? A hand did touch me on my right shoulder. Within an instant I turned around almost falling backwards into my grave. A dead looking grave digger said, in a hoarse voice, “I’m sorry I frightened you, I thought they told you we were working together.”
Then the big scary looking man came back with the big silver jack hammer to see if everything was alright. He asked the dead looking grave digger. “What do you think of the new guy?”
“He is not ready, this job is not for him, ask him if he wants to leave.” The big scary looking man asked me if I wanted to leave. I left and when I was at home, nice and warm in my apartment, I was no longer shaking like a leaf.
It flew by my window at night
It was a little white light
It stopped fifteen floors above the ground
And then I heard this horrible sound
A flash fluorescent green
Was what I had seen
The lights blinked out around the block
I was kind of in a state of shock
It was the next day
I had to say
This was at ten
I said to them
One said it was at two
And this is what he knew
When he was hanging around
The rain was pouring down
He saw a green bolt
It gave him a big jolt
It hit the transformer on the pole
A lady said you two are right
And then left out of sight
Larry Kosowan is a retired Correctional Officer from Toronto, Ontario. He writes lyrics, poetry and prose for fun. His poetry has appeared in Scarborough Arts’ 2017 Seniors Write Anthology, Scarborough Writes III and IV. He contributed both poetry and fiction for the 2016 Scarborough Scribblers anthology, Library Reflections. Larry has also volunteered as editor of the Scarborough Garden and Horticultural Society’s Garden Cuttings newsletter.
Archibald—for this was the name by which he had chosen to be called—stood at the helm of the boat to address his fellow adventurers. Gentle waves lapped against the hull, slightly rocking his podium to and fro while his audience shuffled slightly to settle into their positions within the vessel. Archibald had emphasized on other occasions the importance of staying alert to any changes; the sudden presence or absence of a sound, a new vibration through the substances around them, or a change in their visible surroundings. A subtle alteration of shadow or shape, colour or light could signal impending danger from those monstrous beings with which they shared the planet.
“Humans!” Archibald cried aloud, and several of his fellow spiders crouched low, or twisted around in terror before they realized that this was not a cry of warning. “They are capable of annihilating most of our population in the blink of an eye.” He turned his head from side to side as if to demonstrate the trait of wariness which they all should practise. “Never let down your guard.”
Archibald tapped his feet on the deck of the boat. “Listen now to our old friend Inky. He will tell you the story of how we came to live on this planet.”
An older spider climbed up on the gunwales and nodded at Archibald. He waited until there was complete silence on the boat, except for the lapping of the waves and the rubbing of its wooden hull against the dock. A gentle breeze blew through the birch trees on shore, and it cooled the dark shells of the spiders crouching all about the fishing boat.
Inky spoke loudly enough to be heard over the sounds around them. “It was an age ago that we arrived here. We sailed silently to Earth on our newly discovered webs through the air. And for ages before that we lived far above the sky on a jewel of heavenly light upon which we rode amongst the planets around the great star, Sol.” Inky’s spider audience listened, intent on learning the story which he had learned from his elders, so that each of them could share it with others. They sat enraptured. And Inky told the story…
Something was off. Diove felt it as he clenched tightly with all his limbs onto the sharp rocks beneath his torso. He sensed each tremor as it pulsed through their little world, shaking the last vestiges of normalcy from their surroundings, and from their lives. He turned his eyes to his wife, Rethee, her face raised to the subdued light of Earth in the sky above. It was a moment frozen in time on their doomed icy comet. He moved closer to her and gripped the obsidian rubble, desperately afraid of what was to come.
A near collision with Mars had imposed a massive gravitational pull on their stone satellite and nudged them into chaos. The remains of their once spectacular comet spun listlessly through the dark void between the planets. They were off course and rotating strangely; the stars and planets around them seemed to swirl about in a crazy drunken dance through space. Their frosty tail no longer lit the heavens as it had once done so gloriously and their small celestial home now shuddered furiously as it sped through the solar system. Diove bit off a chunk of ice and sucked the oxygen out of it.
“How can you breathe at a time like this?” Rethee shook her head in disbelief.
“I have to think…” He paused, staring at the starlight in her eyes. “Do you remember when the ancient Driewe Scientists warned we might be knocked off course and drawn into the atmosphere of one of these planets?”
She nodded warily. “You don’t think that we might be dragged down to the Earth? We’d be killed!” She looked below her on the dark rock at the swarm of golden creatures which were her offspring; thousands of them seethed there in a mass, waiting for their next meal. “My babies,” she exhaled. Her lean and leggy husband looked at her with compassion.
“Bring them to the lee of the comet,” he whispered, turning away. She followed with the swarm of golden babies.
Then it happened. As they streaked near the Earth and the Moon, a sudden jolt and a resounding, horrendous crack reverberated through the stone cold comet. A fissure formed, rapidly splitting the frozen satellite into two completely separate parts. Diove’s small wedge shaped piece, on which he rode with his family, gradually drifted away from the main body. He glanced back and observed the freshly broken rock of the interior of the comet. Some of the emergency tunnels were now exposed and he saw glistening veins of gold in the black mineral interior.
Cowering with his wife and their baby spiders in the lee of the rock, he lifted his eyes to the planet Earth, and watched as it pulled them in closer. He was thinking, this could be heaven or this could be hell. Diove, Rethee, and the spiderlings streamed into their own emergency tunnels as the rest of the colony watched anxiously from the main part of the comet. Those spiders witnessed the distant fragile wedge slice into Earth’s atmosphere on a dangerously steep trajectory. It rapidly became superheated and spewed spiral streaks of steam behind. The others gasped in horror as Diove’s family disappeared beneath the clouds. They, from their safe position on the main comet, prayed it would be over quickly.
As the intrepid spiders drew near the Earth they peered from their shelters at the vast glowing orb. The planet seemed to bloat larger with each second that passed. The brave adventurers were heading straight towards a vast white plain, upon which there lay bright blotches of blue coloured forms. Rethee and Diove glanced at one another. As they drew even closer, the shapes began to look like pools of blue light, shrouded with pale mist. Diove could barely focus anymore as the intense shuddering from inside their slice of comet began to shake his insides like jelly. Up into his mind he slipped, for a fraction of an instant, to visualize their plight.
Diove tapped out the signal with his feet. His family, sensing the vibrations, sprang from the rocks stretching all their legs out towards the open sky. As Diove glared at the planet before him, he ground his jaws ferociously together. He was furious about the fate which had befallen them. He was so angry he wanted to spit. And so he did!
He let out a vehement spray of venomous exhalation more violent than any he’d ever expunged. Streaming from his face and body, it ballooned out behind him as he hurtled toward the surface. Each member of his spider family duplicated this act and a splendiferous glob of arachnid sputum was released into the air above them; a vast parachute of fine webbing. Their rapid descent was slowed miraculously. Without a care, they sailed toward the world below as kite riders. Lazily, they drifted closer to the blue reflective pools of light.
‘What are these oval patches?’ thought Diove, as they descended. Then he identified, on one of the surfaces, a small crest like pattern. Could those be waves? Could this be water and frozen plains of ice? Perhaps they were in heaven. He looked back at Rethee. She was drawing her brood closer to her because little gusts from the air currents threatened to tug them away. Rethee had discovered that she could cast lines around her babies and draw them closer, as a fisherman reels in a fish. She soon had the entire mass of golden baby arachnids around her, safe in the cocoon she had woven in haste.
As they neared the surface, Diove saw that the field of white was a low lying fog which covered the ground. Met by the sudden rush of air, Diove and his hoard shivered with the force of the blast, their hairs raised up all over their legs and backs, their antennae flattened against their exoskeletons, and all their senses were concussed into a brief lapse of consciousness. They lay motionless in a mass of weeds where their tiny bodies had landed, on a forlorn beach where an alien sign read, “Cottage For Sale.” The sign was clear, although the spiders couldn’t understand it. When they finally recovered from the shock of landing, they marched like a tiny army from the green tangle of seaweed onto the sand. Navigation over the miniscule particles of glycerine was awkward for the newborn, but mother Rethee devised a plan whereby she could toss out some webbing upon which they could climb and be towed to safety. Diove smiled at her as the late afternoon sun warmed his dark shell. He had a feeling that events had unfolded in their favour and began to relax when suddenly, a frightening cluster of horrific, huge forms spun past them. They were gigantic circles built with geometrical precision which churned through the sand so rapidly that the tiny explorers were totally caught off guard by the attack. A second cluster of these whirling wheels followed the first. Diove turned his head to track their movement. He discerned that each of the assaults was made by a distinct body, each comprised of a gigantic cluster of circular figures connected together. As the circles threw back sand, they propelled themselves speedily forward. It was pure luck that the spider family had not all been annihilated by these monstrosities.
Diove stepped gingerly forward in jerky steps as his bodily fluids rushed through him with the sheer terror of that experience. But as he moved close to Rethee, he felt the coolness of her shell. His mouth hung opened as he gazed upon her in a shocked trance, but she started to tap her feet in the sand with an agitation that told him to move on lest the attackers returned.
With vigour, Rethee heaved the cocoon of baby spiders on her back. She was determined to find shelter for them so Diove led onwards, away from the shoreline, discovering a jungle of immobile, stubby green life forms not much larger than himself, past which he pushed until he discovered a promising accumulation of smooth, rounded objects which allowed them to climb up a steep hill with relative ease. These seemed to be comprised of minerals, like the substances in their former comet home.
Not far ahead, a prominent pillar rose out of the hill of green stubs. Fixed to its top there was a white box distinctly marked with four red symbols. It seemed to be of some importance once, but now it was weathered and worn. A faded red flag hung down under the box. Diove suspected the red symbols were some sort of message for the creatures of this planet. He advanced with caution, signalling to Rethee to follow him at a safe distance. Watchfully he climbed toward the summit until he discovered a series of terraces built into the hill. It appeared to Diove that they would be required to climb vertically up a sheer face of earth from one level to the next.
Struggling up the first precipice, he glanced aside to see that Rethee was crawling effortlessly along a graduated slope which he hadn’t noticed in the greenery just beyond the terrace. “Arggh!” He laughed and grinned at her clever resourcefulness.
They clambered together to the top and found a shallow field of green life forms which were so slender they could easily be pushed aside. Their wispy tops waved in the lake breeze. Forging eagerly ahead in search of shelter, Rethee was suddenly repulsed by a rotting odour; everywhere in the universe it was the same; the scent which made all creatures turn their olfactory sensors swiftly away. And though Rethee had recoiled, Diove hypothesized that the odour might be caused by old, decaying building materials. Perhaps they might be very close to shelter.
Suddenly a small black winged creature, half the size of Rethee, landed on one of the tall, thin green blades nearby. It glistened in the sunlight. In an instant she devoured it, crushing it in her powerful jaws and turning towards Diove with a satisfied smirk she gloated, “First kill.”
He responded by leaping to the crest of the hill where an insect with three body sections was emerging from a hole in the sand. “Second kill. Third…. Oh my!” he exclaimed as an army of creatures emerged from the same hole. They both rose to the slaughter voraciously taking their fill. Then Rethee gleefully released the swarms of tiny golden spiders from their cocoon to share the remnants. As they noshed on their meal, she smiled with the contentment of a satisfied caregiver.
Rethee turned then, from their family picnic, to look inquisitively up at a quaint alien construction which dominated the scenery at that place. It was what the inhabitants would have called, “a one story white frame cottage.” Along either side of the building, massive cedars had grown. Those looked like a good location to deploy the webs they had discovered, maybe experiment with some hunting techniques. The windows of the cottage had been boarded up against intruders, and drifts of sand across the front doorway told a tale of disuse. Rethee didn’t understand the faded blue and white sign which swung in the wind from a chain over the front door, but she presumed it to be an important declaration or an announcement. It said simply, “Windriven.”
Rethee looked at the landscape, the vegetation, and the alien buildings and tried to picture this as their solace, their new home. She hummed a little melody while the young ones followed her and Diove up the wall. They crawled into an opening between the planks on one of the windows. “Come now my little ones,” she crooned to the waves of tiny golden spiders. “Come home.”
The sun was setting over the western shore of the lake. It filled the sky with beautiful colours and tinted the clouds with brilliant hues of orange and pink as Inky finished his address to the new generation of spiders. He and Archibald stood silently on the prow watching them as they crept down the rope to the dock and disappeared up the hill into the cedar trees as the lake lapped at the sides of the boat with the rhythm of the ages.
High on a wooden shelf
An old familiar candle
With cascade layers of wax
Dripped down its sides
Like strings of pearly beads
Curls inward at the top
Toward the ashen wick
Bored deep into its core.
Once smooth and tall and straight,
It has burned down from quiet nights alight
Yet lit, burns brightly still, a clear pure flame
Which has not changed through all the years.
Esther Lok is a home school graduate. She writes mainly as a hobby, with science fiction, fantasy, and mystery being her favourite genres. After falling in love with books in elementary school, Esther began to consider writing her own stories. As of 2016, Esther published her first story in the anthology Library Reflections by the Scarborough Scribblers writers’ group, which has been a great source of literary motivation. Reading fiction literature, drawing, and composing keyboard music are some of Esther’s hobbies, while she teaches piano on the side.
[Nix: Reyn, do you know how to ride a horse?]
The teenage boy that received this text picked up his phone eagerly. Brushing the stray curly strands of his brown hair away from his amber eyes, he reread the message. Quickly, his fingers fumbled back a response.
[Reyn: Hi Nix. Long time no see. Will you be coming here this July?]
Reyn waited breathlessly for the reply. He found a smile had spread across his face just remembering the last time he and the gang had seen Nix.
The response was not to his favour—
[Nix: Sorry buddy. Something has come up, so I won’t be able to.]
—and the words confused him. Did Nix know how to ride a horse? From experience, Reyn felt motorcycles were better suited to his friend, who lived in the city. Maybe Nix wanted to learn? That must be it. Nix did show interest in the horses whenever he visited. For the record, neither of the boys had ever asked each other about horse riding before, had they?
[Reyn: I can ride. Did you want me to teach you? I can’t teach you if you’re not here.]
[Nix: Couldn’t you explain it to me through text…[_?_]]
Reyn laughed out loud.
[Reyn: You can’t learn to ride a horse without actually doing it…]
[Nix: Isn’t it like reading instructions off a manual?]
[Reyn: Don’t be ridiculous. A horse can’t be treated like an appliance.]
The direction of the conversation nearly caused Reyn to forget his confusion. He pursed his lips and texted again:
[Reyn: You could always look up videos online. Why do you need to know?]
The reply followed as such:
[Nix: It has to do with the weather. Expect a storm in your area soon. And thunder. Lots of it. ]
“A storm…? What are you now, a weather forecaster?” Reyn blurted, mind whirring with unanswered thoughts.
[Reyn: You say that, but you’re not going to be around?]
His hopes raised a little:
[Nix: I’ll be there for a brief moment. And when I leave, you’ll notice.]
“What do you mean… why are you always so weird…”
[Nix: Gtg. Tell the rest I said hi. And to answer your question from last time—my hair is naturally pink. Good night.]
Reyn forced a chuckle. “That was one year ago you idiot…”
[Nix: P.S. Actually, expect two storms.]
That conversation had been a full month ago, Reyn approximated.
“There’s a storm that’ll be coming soon.”
At his mother’s words, Reyn glanced up to the sky through the window. Indeed, the clouds were gathered low and dark along the horizon, only the light of the sun from beyond it declaring it was daytime. The threat of strong winds and rain could be seen. Yet he lowered his head again, unperturbed.
“If you’ve felt the humidity this month—it’s going to be a big one, aye.”
“Nix said there’ll probably be lots of thunder,” the young teen said absently.
His mother stopped her whisking of the cream in her bowl. “Nix?”
“You know. That boy that drops by every summer to hang out with us.”
“That boy!” The whisk beat into the cream with strengthened briskness. “Is he back again? Didn’t I tell ye not to talk with him anymore? That hair of his! Listen, Reyn, folk from the city are usually a bad influence.”
Reyn took up the slender hobby knife beside him and rolled it in his fingers, inspecting the blade. “Nix says his hair colour is natural.”
“That pinkish hair is a lie.” His mother rapped the whisk against the rim of the bowl, clanging it loudly. “Another reason why ye should not ‘hang out’ with him. Ye hear me, Reyn?”
Reyn set the blade to the balsa wood before him on the table. “You won’t have to worry about that, Mom.” A clean slice through the soft wood detached a triangular shape from the larger board. “Nix isn’t going to be around this year. He says he’ll be busy.”
“Oh, is that so? Good riddance.” His mother carried on with her whipped cream. She paused by the window to regard the view. “Aye, there’s going to be a storm.”
Halting his work once again, Reyn looked out as the clouds grew nearer. He whispered to himself, “…I hope he does come.”
“Come here, Storra.”
He stood alone in the middle of a grass field, a youth with light cherry blossom-coloured hair. His eyes were the same shade of the blackened clouds rolling in overhead. The black jacket he wore used to have sleeves, and the hem of his black pants was frayed. Black sandals to match his outfit shod his feet. As a cool wind whipped up his hair, he closed his eyes with a content smile. In the distance sounded a faint rumble.
Just then, the first of the rain drops began to fall, large and heavy. The tall grass surrounding him began to wave violently under the assault of a stronger wind. As if released from a hold, the rain dropped upon the field like scattered jewels, striking hard against the youth’s face.
Then the thunder began.
A strike of lightning appeared on the other side of the hills in the distance, followed by a muffled roar, like great boulders falling over each other, rolling closer and closer. Darker and darker became the sky as the clouds now completely concealed it whole, not allowing a ray to pass through. Flattened by the wind and downpour, the field of grass became as leveled as a plain, the water rising in the relentless rain.
[_ Thud thud thud thud._]
Muffled thunder turned into muffled drumming, steady pounding in the sky. They sounded louder and louder as it came closer and closer.
Another flash of lightning! This one speared the ground on this side of the hills. With it sounded what was almost a shriek, fading into a whinny. It lit up briefly the pale features of the young man blanched in the spectacle of it. Eyes wide and bright, he focused past the after image flashes in his vision to a movement in the storm.
Forks of lightning streaked overhead, constant and yet erratic, like surges of electricity across a circuit board. The thrumming of thunder was now painful to hear, and the youth held his hands gingerly over his ears, wincing at each crash and growl. Still, squinting at the heavens, his eyes tracked the lone figure running in zigzag patterns down towards him.
“Whoa!” The youth threw his arms over his ears, elbows covering his eyes. The world turned into a blinding field of white around him. The thunder seemed to shock him from the inside out.
Nix was only aware the thunderstorm had abated after the ringing had died in his ears a little. The quivering through his body he noticed next. He felt it wouldn’t wear off for a while. Then, a gentle touch to his drenched hair brought him fully to his senses. A strong desire to reach out made him lower his arms away from his face.
Something indeed moved before him, breathing warm air into his face. Nix dared to open his eyes. They fluttered in the wind and rain, but saw enough to determine the shape in front was what he hoped.
A questioning nicker sounded.
Nix opened his arms and began to step forward. His shaking legs buckled decisively under him and he toppled right into the firm chest of a large body. His arms clasped the thick neck, leaving him half hanging as he tried to sort out his feet.
Warm vibrations buzzed Nix’s ear as the animal made a rough blowing noise.
The youth burst out laughing, breaths weak and giggly. “Were you actually trying to scare me? Even a grown man would be stunned at that. Wait—don’t move for a sec, I’m still trying to find my legs—I’m not mad at you!”
As best as he could, Nix stood and the two backed up till the youth held the long familiar face in his hands.
A horse of dark colours and muscular stature towered over Nix. Its body appeared to be a twilight black with hints of storm purple, flanks smooth and glossy from the rain. In stark contrast, its long untamed mane and tail paled in a flaring lightning white that stood out boldly from its coat, as did its uncannily white eyes that bore no pupils.
“It’s good to see you again as well, Storra.” Nix stroked the horse’s muzzle. “You did well. There won’t be another storm like this for the rest of time. I’m happy you showed it to me.”
Storra brought his head closer and gently pushed Nix’s head sideways. The youth chuckled. “I am taking this seriously. Ceremonies don’t have to be serious y’know. They should be fun and happy.”
Nix glanced up at the horse. Storra was aiming a look at him that seemed to berate him. He smiled sadly. “Yeah, I know… not all ceremonies are happy…” Stepping forward, Nix rested his head against the beast’s shoulder, hand grasping the wet mane. “Are you ready for your last run as a thunder horse…?”
The horse stayed silent. Suddenly, a brisk wind picked up around them. Nix felt his hair blown from his face and when the wind stopped, both he and the steed were dry. He smiled, patting Storra’s neck. “Guess what? I know how to ride a horse now. I searched it up on the internet,” he remarked in jest.
Storra blew through his nose again, nudging Nix with his leg. The youth quickly grabbed a handful of the now luxurious mane. With a practiced dart, he swung his leg over Storra’s back, smoothly rising into a sitting position just behind the withers. Storra began to move immediately, as if eager to go, but halted just as quickly. He moved his head to see his rider and nickered.
Nix continued to pat the solid body. “Whatever you like, Storra. It will take much longer to get to the assembly if we walk, but at the same time, we’ll be able to spend a little more time together,” the youth hinted playfully. “I would like to see you gallop once more though. How about we take a detour?”
Storra’s ears flicked. The great stallion stepped forward. Nix shifted his position, leaning forward and prompting Storra to lengthen his stride. The horse responded with a jump forward, quickly picking up speed. The wind and rain whooshing in their ears, a feeling of bubbling excitement synced between the two. Soon they were galloping across the field, away from the hills and towards a forest.
“Storra—past that forest is the city I live in,” Nix called out. “Let me show you around there. I don’t think the council will mind if we knock out the power in a few areas since it’s your last day. I’ll take responsibilities for it, so relax.”
The horse whinnied, tossing his head. Nix grasped the mane more firmly, laughing along. “Not that relaxed —some consideration here!”
Before he realized it the ground was falling away beneath them and Storra was treading upwards. They ascended in the dense fog, concealed in its blanket. When Storra levelled out, Nix could see the land spread out like a picture, scrolling underneath, an unending painting.
Nix shifted his weight once again and Storra ran on north on the wind.
The Forecaster swiped a finger at his cheek. A drop of water had fallen there. Darker and darkening, the clouds were ready to rain once again over the city, though perhaps it would be different than the last rainfall. Already a report had come in that the thunder horse from Area 131 was on its way and had caused a power outage in the regions it was crossing.
“Gonna give the boy a walloping when I see him…” His voice sounded like rocks worn down by the sea. The Forecaster pulled his heavy cloth tighter around himself. With knobby hands, the old grizzled man reached for his thermos resting in a nook of the stone-carved lookout he manned. The warm beverage comforted him. Then more raindrops scattered across his face. He grunted.
A shift in the wind diverted the course of the droplets. The Forecaster perked. Slowly he rose, joints creaking and refusing to move any quicker. Shuffling steps ushered him to the large open window where he looked over the peaks of a mountain range, the tops of which were hidden in thick fog.
Raising his thermos, he waved it in the air, hollering, “Stop right there young man!”
Horse and rider broke through the cloud cover, diving down in a leap that landed on no material ground, but on the air, as if the sky served as the floor. The duo raced by the Forecaster. The storm pink haired youth laughed and the midnight horse neighed.
“Sorry great gramps! We’re running late!”
A torrent of water battered the Forecaster’s nook from above. The old man sighed as the two whizzed away, rain and wind in their wake. “When has a storm never made one late…” he grumbled. Unable to stop them, the Forecaster shuffled to a seat in the wall. Beside it hung a thick cord. He pulled it, saying, “Attendant Nix and Area 131 Thunder Horse Storra have arrived.”
Somewhere in the distance, the clang of a great bell shimmered through the air. The Forecaster winced, holding his old shaky hands over his ears. He sniffed, taking another sip of his coffee. “I’m getting too old for this job…”
“Welcome, Attendants and Steeds of the Storm Heralds’ Council, to the Ceremony of the thunderstorm horses that have completed their term and now require the time to rest from their duties…” The voice of the master of ceremonies rang out. Head fringed with graying hairs, the aged man robed in pale purple stood in a large hall, styled in the gothic fashion, and faced an assembly of beings—both animal and human—that stood in ordered rows.
“Gramps, is that a long winded way of saying ‘Ceremony for Horse Retirement?’” a lone voice said from the side.
Eyes turned towards the culprit and a distasteful smile curled onto the emcee’s face. “Would you like to ‘retire’ now as well, Nix…?”
“No, thank you.” Nix smirked back at the man and the hall, filled with several horses and their partners, shared in a moment of tense laughter, the horses flicking their ears or nickering along.
Storra, mane untangled and flowing neatly on either sides of his neck, blew through his nose and bumped Nix. The youth stroked the horse’s muzzle with a sad smile.
Order and quiet returned to the hall. The emcee folded his hands before him. “As is the custom, the thunder horses will be succeeded by those in their bloodline, and the attendants will be in charge of the new storm heralds. The horses will be allowed to spend their remaining time with their attendants as the new heralds are initiated into their roles.
“And as is the custom, no celebration will be held in this event. The service you have done will be recorded in the archives of the Council…” His voice carried on.
In the moments that followed, Nix briefly left Storra’s side. A soft murmur pervaded, audible throughout the hall as other attendants interacted with their horses. The youth returned. There was another with him, and Storra nickered.
The dark form beside Nix pranced forward. It was a colt with a reverse dapple coat of twilight colours, its flashing white mane and tail just like Storra’s, but it was smaller in stature. The stallion and colt circled as they regarded each other.
Nix stood off to the side, away from the main crowd, leaning against the cool stone wall with his hands shoved into the pockets. His eyes wandered over Storra, then over the other horse as it passed in front of him. There was a resemblance, but Nix couldn’t find the younger horse anywhere near as impressive as Storra, nor could he muster a sense of fondness or duty to begin taking care of the colt.
“It must mean I’m getting too old for my job…” Nix chuckled. Words came floating into his thoughts. “…last ride, huh.”
“Isn’t Thadrin like his grandsire?”
Nix gave a start at the warm voice close to his ear. He jumped, but his alarm was quickly replaced by irritation. “Oh hello, Dad.”
A tall man with short hair of the same pale pink colour now stood beside the youth. “You have nothing smart to say to me after your grandpa and great grandpa?”
“You wouldn’t take it kindly.”
“I’ll excuse it for today since it’s a special occasion.” The man winked. “So? What do you think?”
They looked at the horses once again. Nix’s eyes remained on his partner. “Thadrin is not even a shadow of Storra.”
“True, Thadrin is not extraordinary in any way other than being a thunder horse. But he’ll grow up to be somewhat like Storra.”
Nix glanced at his father. There was a bit of an age gap between him and the man. It had a similar feeling of the difference between Storra and Thadrin. There was a great difference however, and that was…
“I’m…” Nix spoke softly but decisively. “I’m not going to be Thadrin’s attendant.”
“Pardon?” His father looked at him with wide eyes.
Nix whistled softly. Storra turned instantly and came trotting towards him. He found the majestic head in his hands once again. “I’m going to retire as an attendant after this.”
“Excuse me…?” The man’s tone was incredulous.
Nix laughed. “Dad, I don’t have it in me to do another one after Storra.”
“Son—” his father gave a short laugh. “You haven’t even been an attendant for that long.”
“You mean not as long as you have been…?”
“That too. What I mean is, every attendant goes through this. They have a favourite horse and don’t want to part—I had one too—but you just have to move on.”
Nix laughed again. “A horse every two years since I was nine—that’s five horses. All the other ones relocated, but Storra is the only one that is retiring at the end of his term.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to quit,” his father said firmly.
“Who said I’m quitting…? I said I’m retiring.”
“It’s almost the same thing. And anyhow, who else is supposed to look after Thadrin? I hope you’re not thinking of abandoning that duty. I don’t remember raising you like that.” His father’s tone was severe, like an impending storm.
“Hey Storra,” Nix spoke to the horse, smirking. “Haven’t I been good? Can you tell my dad what I’ve been doing? Oops, looks like we can’t tell you, Dad. That’s why thunder horses have attendants, right? To help the people get to know them?”
“Don’t use that tone with me young man.” Nix’s father frowned.
Storra’s whinny burst loudly in their ears.
“Don’t you use that tone with me either, you…” The man sighed at the stallion.
“Thadrin.” Nix stood straight.
The colt nickered, coming forward and tossing his head. Nix stepped forward and they stopped a meter’s length from one another. There was an impish gleam in the youth’s eyes that twinkled more merrily as he leaned forward with a smile.
“Are you ready? I have someone I want you to meet.”
“That must be the other one.” Reyn stood up from his desk to pull aside the curtains. It was past dusk but the countryside darkness seemed further sunk into the night as he heard the rumble of thunder once again. The rattle of rain on the roof confirmed the weather. “But… what does it mean…?”
It was cool now, the atmosphere. Reyn suspected that the heat would pick up again after this. With all the water soaked into the ground, it would probably be hot enough to make one crave ice cream. There was one nice thing about thunderstorms, apart from the drop in temperature, and that was it kept the bugs low, the mosquitoes especially.
The cell phone on the table buzzed abruptly, lighting up with a text message.
Reyn’s fingers fumbled picking it up, nearly dropping it. Who could be texting him at this time of night…?
[Nix: I hope you weathered out the last storm. Don’t worry, this one won’t be that bad.]
Ah. Right. The only one who would do that was Nix.
[Reyn: Are you still up?]
[Nix: You are too?]
“…answer is pretty obvious,” Reyn muttered sleepily, laying back on his bed.
[Reyn: Can’t sleep. Expecting the thunder.]
[Nix: Great! Can you come meet me outside right now?]
Reyn sat up fast.
Reyn stepped out onto the wet lawn in his sneakers and could feel the water drench his shoes. It was nearly pitch black around him; he almost couldn’t see his hands holding the umbrella. Yet ahead in the midnight space he could clearly discern the outline of some figures standing at the edge of the road by his house. He was glad the dogs had been locked up in the barn because of the rain.
“Nix…? Is that you?” he tentatively called out as he neared the shapes. He discerned the lanky figure of his friend. But the other…
A curious sound reached his ears. It didn’t seem human.
“Hey Reyn. Good morning,” the familiar husky voice of Nix chuckled.
“What are you doing here? I thought you said you weren’t going to come by. Why’d you call me out—” Reyn stopped in alarm. Now that he was within feet of them, he could see there were two other individuals with Nix. And they were much larger than he. “Nix… are those… horses…?”
Nix. Horse riding. Nighttime.
Couldn’t Nix have picked a better time…?
Reyn smiled. Nix was impossible.
“Thadrin. Kehthre unomid,” Nix said.
The soft nicker of a horse and a sudden energetic movement were all Reyn could discern before a warm and blowing nose pushed into him. Reyn reached out his hands in surprise. They came into contact with a firm body. He was right, it was a horse.
“Nix, what is this…?” Reyn struggled to look past the beast ruffling his hair.
“I asked you if you could ride, and you said yes. So I’m dropping off a little guy that needs to be ridden.”
A glowing haze appeared around Nix. Reyn became aware he could see better, not just his friend, but the horses as well. A trick of light or the dark?
Nix cut him off. “His name is Thadrin. He’s about two years old and the grandson of this guy right here.” He patted the unbelievably black horse bearing a white mane that stood quietly beside him. “Fortunately, my family has been doing this for generations, so you’re lucky—you get a written manual from my great great gramps.”
“Thadrin…?” Reyn said aloud. Now able to see the animal before him, he could stroke the smooth coat sprinkled with gray and white spots. He was awed to see the colt’s mane was white as well.
The horse shook its mane, settling down slightly. From a stroke across the strong neck Reyn felt immense strength. He shivered.
“I don’t understand… what are they…” Reyn looked at his friend standing nonchalantly there. “…and what are you…?”
Nix smiled. It had been a while since Reyn had seen that smile. Feelings of nostalgia washed over him. It was the same enigmatically reassured smile.
“I’m a descendant of a people known as the Storm Heralds. We supervise weather inflicting beings such as Thunderstorm Horses to ensure no severe damage affects the environment and civilization. As the movements and moods of Thunderstorm Horses are directly influential to the weather, the duty of people such as I, or as I used to be, an Attendant, is to be aware of the well being of the horse that is assigned to your area.” As he said all this, Nix drew himself up, his expression almost noble. He held forth a thick and well worn book. “And only the assigned Attendant can call forth, ride, and direct their horse. Any questions?”
“Are you serious?” Reyn sputtered immediately.
Nix laughed. “I am.”
“I suppose this is the mystery behind your pink hair then.”
“This is not the time to be bringing up that subject.” For a moment, a blush nearly the same colour as his hair rose to Nix’s face. He touched the back of his head briefly before regaining his composure by handing the book over.
The boy took the volume gingerly. “I don’t get it… why me? Isn’t this your job…? I mean—I’m not one of you.”
“I’m technically retired.” Nix held up his hands. “But actually, I’ve only retired from being an attendant. I’m switching jobs,” he answered to Reyn’s questioning eyes. He placed a hand on Storra’s neck. “I’m going to be looking after the retired horses now.” A smile grew on his face. “I want to be able to spend time with the horses I used to be an attendant to. It’s a hard job, to be honest.”
Nix began unconsciously stroking Storra. “And actually, it doesn’t have to be my family especially to look after the horses. We were just one of the few humans to acknowledge the existence of thunder horses and do something about it. Since you’re approved by both Thadrin and I, we’ve granted you the same privileges. And you’re a hard worker. I know you’ll be able to do this. After all, you can ride horses.” Nix smirked.
Reyn started. “So that’s why you wanted to know…” He turned his eyes back to Thadrin, regarding the wondrous steed. A cool wind had picked up around them. Then he noticed the rain had stopped and the glow around the horses was fading.
“What do you think?” Nix asked.
Reyn laughed. “It’s so sudden…”
“No, it isn’t. I told you ahead of time.”
“People normally say exactly what they want. Not give a few mysterious clues and vanish.”
Nix snickered. “Have I ever once said I was normal…?”
Reyn snorted. “We all figured it out without you saying so.”
A pause followed.
“Do you accept?” Nix asked again.
“You ask as if I have a choice…” Reyn gave a strained smile. But what was there to choose? He hesitated but a moment, considering. Then, “I accept.”
“Good.” Nix seemed pleased. “For now, Thadrin is free to roam the area and acquaint himself with it. You won’t have to do much unless you sense a problem.”
“Problem?” Reyn frowned.
“There usually isn’t one, depending on the horse,” Nix briefed him quickly. “I’ll tell you one thing, and that is—thunder will never sound the same to you from now on.”
The smile Nix flashed at Reyn raised questions in the boy’s mind. Another mystery was added to the scene. He shook his head in wonder at it.
Nix placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “That is everything. And I apologize, but I must take my leave now. The previous Storm Horse of the area is only allowed to stay until the new Storm Horse has safely arrived. I have to return with my Storra.”
Nix was mounted upon his stallion the next moment. Bareback, Reyn noticed with much surprise. If he’d known earlier Nix could ride, the two of them could have spent the summers hitting the trails. He glanced at Thadrin. A gesture like a nod was offered him. There was definitely more to these horses than the farm animals.
“Are you going to come back?” Reyn had to ask.
“Of course,” Nix replied as a matter of fact. “Can’t leave the new Attendant without a few tips. Which reminds me—you don’t need to tell anyone about this.” He held a finger to his lips.
“Nix, I’m sorry to say this, but no one around here believes anything about you…” Reyn added, “Except a few.”
“I like to keep it that way.” The blush colour haired youth smirked. His steed shifted restlessly, pawing the ground and giving little shakes of his pearly mane. Nix patted him, and gave a last look at Reyn and the horse that was now his partner. They would make a good team later on, he thought, and held up a hand in a parting gesture. “Text me when you need to. I’ll be in contact.” He paused. “Thank you, Reyn. And good night!”
A vicious wind whisked through that moment, forcing Reyn to close his eyes and stumble back, but not before he had caught a glimpse of Nix and his midnight horse vanish like mist. When the gale died down, Reyn found only himself and Thadrin on the road. The horse had positioned himself behind the boy, acting as a brace. Reyn flushed and stroked the beautiful coat.
His umbrella lowered and book in hand, Reyn raised his head, feeling a gentle breeze. To his surprise, the clouds had cleared and he was gazing up at a starry sky. Thadrin nickered softly, his head aimed towards the heavens as if admiring the view as well.
Reyn looked at Thadrin again. In the night atmosphere, his mind couldn’t decide if this was a dream, a fantasy, or a made up story that was playing before him. Yet the horse was there and he could feel something was slightly different about himself than when he had first come out. He felt that… this week was going to be pleasant and sunny.
Thadrin started forward, and Reyn knew the thunder horse was intent on exploring the area. He felt he himself should return to his room before his absence was discovered. The horse moved towards the field on the other side of the road… then he looked back. And Reyn knew he’d be seeing Thadrin quite often for the remainder of summer. A few storms were due for the rest of the month.
As the daughter of a Naval Officer, Marilyn’s childhood involved many re locations and lots of adventures. Having both a good memory and an active imagination are graces afforded that enable her to put many of these stories on paper. “Writing is purely a form of self expression; publication may be an added blessing,” she stated.
Marilyn is a retired Insurance Broker who traveled a great deal, and now finds contentment in family life, church and Social Justice Activism. She has lived in Scarborough for the past 40 years.
As the cold February wind pushed against the front door, Herbert pushed harder to get it closed. Hastily fastening the dead bolt after his success, Herbert stamped his snowy boots on the mat and set the mail down on the hall table. It had just been a short walk, down the road to the community mail boxes, but he and his neighbors had all voiced their protest when the bloody things had been installed.
“Door to door delivery is a thing of the past,” said the local officials.
“It’s a hardship for many of us seniors, especially in winter,” protested Herbert. His pleas had fallen on deaf ears and now the ugly, aluminum beast marred the beauty of his quiet street.
After he had replaced his boots with his house slippers, Herbert shuffled to the kitchen to put on the kettle. A nice hot “cuppa” would warm his aged bones and he could almost feel the heat from the steamy mug in his hands.
“Is that you, Herbert?” his wife Wilma called out from the bedroom.
“Yup, just collected the mail,” sputtered Herbert, wishing she would sleep a bit longer so that he could enjoy his tea and perhaps some toast in relative peace and quiet.
“Are you putting on the kettle?” she asked expectantly, as she struggled to get up and join him in the kitchen.
Hearing Wilma wrestling with bed clothes and attempting to raise her frail body to her feet while clutching her walker, Herbert sighed. “I suppose I’d better go help her,” he muttered under his breath. He resented the burden that her illness had placed on him and the rest of the family. He could still hear the hollow ringing of the doctor’s words, “I’m afraid it’s not good; it’s MS.” That was four years ago.
They had coasted along with the occasional flare up for the first couple of years but lately, Wilma had become unable to tend to housekeeping chores. The latest bout seemed to put her into the “helpless” category, needing assistance for personal things such as getting to her feet, in and out of the shower and the ultimate indignity, getting on and off the toilet. Herbert resented having to play “nurse maid” and Wilma began to withdraw emotionally as she sensed Herbert’s moods. Naturally, the intimate relations they once enjoyed like a couple of rabbits, had also disappeared as smoke with the disease’s progression. Sex and housekeeping were the two main reasons Herbert had married in the first place. He wanted to be cared for and did not appreciate this nasty reversal of roles.
The kettle whistled sharply, disturbing Herbert’s reverie. He took two mugs down from the cupboard and tossed a couple of tea bags into the small tea pot. He didn’t bother pre warming the pot like Wilma always had. “She’s lucky to get a cup of tea,” he muttered through clenched teeth. Each time she arose in the morning, he grimly thought about a day filled with resentful servitude and losing his freedom to just wander into town whenever he felt like it. Oh, yes, and all the weekly Doctor’s visits really stuck in his craw too. “The doctor must be making a fortune off all the care required,” he wondered silently.
“Tea is ready,” he hollered, after the obligatory five minutes of steeping. “Do you want some toast?” He hollered again. Silence.
Herbert made his way to the back bedroom that they shared, only to find Wilma sitting on the edge of the rumpled bed, quietly weeping.
“What now?’ he scowled, as he moved toward his wife with the walker in tow. “Let’s get you up for breakfast,” he stated flatly, trying not to allow the tears to affect his now belligerent attitude.
“Oh, Herbert,” she cried, “what’s happened to us?”
“Let’s not get all maudlin, now. We need to get you up and moving. You’ve got pills to take and exercises to do,” he feigned.
His heart began to soften as he observed his beloved weeping not just from the frustrations of her disease but from the sharp pain caused by the absence of the tenderness they once enjoyed. He recalled the days they had once shared and all that laughter. Yes, the laughter! The picnics, the beach, chasing their two children when they were toddlers; now gone. Never to come again. Somewhere inside him, he could feel what he had felt during those days gone by, the love that had been there, the words. “For better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” He had promised. He had made a vow, both to Wilma and before their friends and families. It was too late to back down now. “Only a coward runs away from sworn obligations,” he recalled his father’s words; a remembered lesson from childhood. He recalled too that he and Wilma had a “history.” They had met during their final year of high school. It was love at first sight. They had endured lots of struggles together; the first child that had been miscarried, the joy of finally having a son, Brian, a couple of years later. Then a daughter, Ann, two years after that; ah, the joy!
Wilma had struggled and pinched pennies when Herbert’s business had failed, while he had to humble himself and seek employment from strangers. The big bonfire they enjoyed in the back yard on the day the mortgage was finally paid off. The lump in his throat and Wilma’s tears of joy as he walked Ann down the aisle of the little church on the corner. Later, the shared heartbreak in that same churchyard as they laid Brian to rest, after he was killed in the line of duty, serving and protecting our little community. Yes, real history! Many shared memories.
“Come on, old girl,” he said softly, as he handed Wilma a tissue. “It’ll be alright. I’ll help you. I’ll always be here to help you. That’s what people who love each other do. Right?”
“Oh, Herbert, I know what a strain I must be on your patience; how I take you away from your quiet times with a book when I ask for things.” She understood what Herbert felt. She could almost finish his sentences. This was part of their history. It’s a part of their “understanding”; the unspoken knowledge of one another, cultivated by years of intimate moments and shared silence.
“To hell with the toast. Let’s have some good old fashioned porridge; I’m cooking!” Herbert declared. He leaned over the bed, kissed her cheek, and took her hands in his. Then drawing her to her feet, held her closely. “I’m so sorry if I sounded cranky earlier. I didn’t mean….” his voice trailed off as they looked at each other. “Forgive me?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said, “but only if you forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive,” he said, as he grinned. “You didn’t exactly request this from Santa Claus.” He chuckled. They both burst out laughing and things were once again, as they had been, almost a lifetime ago.
Darcy Miller is a practicing poet and writer of short stories. She joined the Scarborough Scribblers some months back and it is there that she found a wonderful avenue of expression through writing. She thanks the group for encouraging her to share her voice.
I waited in the dark, weary and alone
It was past the witching hour
Time for you to be coming home
Tic Toc Tic Toc Tic Toc
The noise of a silent menace
Banging from inside the clock
I waited in the dark
While the shadows came alive
They were feeding off the moon’s light
And the time kept slipping by
Still your presence was elusive
Tic Toc Tic Toc Tic Toc
Suddenly the walls became intrusive
Then click, I heard the lock
My heart stopped cold and if truth be told
The fear ran rampant in my head,
You were home now safe from harm
It’s late just go to bed
Tic Toc Tic Toc Tic Toc
Maria Samurin is a librarian at Toronto Public Library’s Albert Campbell Branch, where she facilitates writers’ group meetings and supports local authors. When she’s not working, Maria writes adult and young adult fiction.
Once upon a time, a Dark Lord was dying. This would have been a happy occasion—a time for joy and celebration—had there not been Darker Lords waiting to take his place. They’d already begun assembling some distance from the castle, prepared to do battle once the Dark Lord drew his last breath.
Elena, the Dark Lord’s only daughter, had a much more pressing reason not to celebrate. It wasn’t love for her father—for evil had long since consumed his soul. Nor was it worry over the fate of the world at the hands of a Darker Lord. Elena rarely thought of anything beyond herself, her only parent, and the cold stone walls that surrounded her; she’d never been permitted to step outside them, after all. Thus, as the Dark Lord lay dying, what concerned Elena most was her own fate.
Elena had always expected to one day marry and perhaps see a bigger part of the world—her husband’s castle, at the very least, and perhaps even the road that led there. Deciding it was time, she approached her father on his deathbed, asking that he summon her future husband. To Elena’s great annoyance, the Dark Lord laughed at the request. It turned out that he’d never bothered to arrange a match for her; he hadn’t cared enough to do even that.
The Dark Lord had neither friends nor allies, and he had never allowed others near the castle, thus leaving Elena with no one to turn to. If people had heard of her birth sixteen years prior—which she highly doubted—they likely thought her long dead. That, upon further consideration, was more of a boon than curse. She needn’t worry that the Darker Lord would wish her dead alongside her father—only that he’d cast her out with nothing but the clothes on her back.
It seemed, or so Elena surmised, that the best course of action was to leave before a worse fate befell her. With that in mind, Elena scoured the castle for items to take on her journey. She relied on her knowledge from the books she’d read over the years, and she was grateful that the Dark Lord had taught her the skill. He’d concerned himself with her education once, hoping that she would follow in his footsteps. Now, over a decade since he’d lost interest, Elena had read every book in the castle library—some more than once.
After giving it much thought, Elena chose to store her meager possessions in her pockets rather than in a satchel. She knew of thieves and worried that a bag would attract undue attention. She’d also read of jewels and coin, but of course owned neither. Thus, each day, as she visited her dying father, she carefully snuck something of value from the Dark Lord’s chamber: a gold coin here or a ruby there. She also packed some bread, cheese, and a flask of water, thinking that it would be wise to eat and drink on her journey. As an afterthought, she pocketed her old lesson book as well. It had been some time since she’d studied it, and she did not wish to forget something important.
On the morning that the Dark Lord drew his last breath, Elena said her goodbyes and set foot outside the castle. She’d expected to leave at a brisk pace, but reality held her frozen on the front steps. She was unnerved by the wind and how different it felt outside. While the castle windows often let in a draft, never had she endured one as strong as she did now. It grazed her cheeks one moment and threw her hair in her face the next. The same held true for her skirts, which got tossed every which way. All this, Elena would not have minded, if the wind did not have a distinct chill to it. Even wearing her thick cloak, she could not suppress a shiver.
Elena thought that perhaps it should not be windy outside—just as it had never been within the castle—and set off into the distance. She walked down the cobbled path that led from the castle, through the gate, and past the stone fence. She continued thus for several minutes, until the path turned from stone to dirt.
Elena took a tentative step into the sticky mud and paused. It had rained that morning as well as the night before—nature’s cry at the demise of the Dark Lord—and had only stopped seconds prior to Elena’s departure: she would not have enjoyed walking through the rain, after all. Nor did she enjoy entering the canopy of trees, she realized, for they dripped water on her head and soaked her clothes. She was quite sure she’d rather her clothes were dry and that the dripping cease at once. Likewise, she did not much enjoy the mud, and decided that she’d prefer if the path was paved to ease her journey. If only she’d known that the effects of rain were so long lasting, but how could she have when she’d never before set foot outside?
Elena continued on, but her walk was not fated to last long. She’d stuck to the path for less than an hour, and was just starting to tire, when the forest opened up into a clearing. It was then that Elena unwittingly found herself in the midst of the Darker Lords.
By the looks of the contenders, some lords were somewhat darker than others. Many did not dress the part and wore colourful tunics or fancy hats—a testimony to their inexperience. A few were simply too pretty, which was a shame, since a Dark Lord’s aim in life was to incite fear in his enemies. Of course, Elena knew that she was rather uneducated on the whole matter of Dark Lords and Darker Lords. Still, she was rather sure that the whole group was an embarrassment to the title.
Something had to be done. The Darker Lords needed thunder and lightning for their epic battle—not sunshine and chirping birds. Likewise, it was essential that they wear cloaks befitting Dark Lords, so that they’d at least look the part—a menacing bunch, rather than a gathering of clowns and vagabonds. Decision made, Elena waved an arm, pleased at the new scene that unfolded before her.
Unfortunately, and to Elena’s great mortification, the majority of the Darker Lords turned out to be cowards. The moment that these impostors were faced with her meager display of magic—from the pages of her childhood lesson book, no less—they fell to their knees and prostrated themselves before her. Elena decided it was best that she end their miserable existence so they wouldn’t have to live with the shame of it.
Screams filled the air and the Darker Lords scattered, until only one remained. He was a creature that Elena’s late father would have been proud of. His tall, thin body was wrapped in a dark, billowing cloak. He smiled a frightening grimace, which stretched his pockmarked skin and revealed yellowed, rotting teeth. Elena felt rather comforted, for he reminded her of her parent.
The Darker Lord raised an arm and pointed one claw like finger at the young girl. His order to bow reverberated through the silent clearing, and he prepared to cast a magnificent spell. Elena nodded in approval and was about to obey when the Darker Lord’s magic enveloped her. It forced her to her knees, which would have been fine were it not for the newly cobbled path that she had willed for her journey. In hindsight, she supposed that she should have left nature alone and walked through the mud, wind, and rain; since she hadn’t, when she came crashing down, bone hit stone. Unable to avoid bloodying her knees or tearing her frock, Elena lashed out in anger.
Within seconds, the Darker Lord was on his knees. Elena did not even have time to will him there. The Darker Lord had been struck by a bolt of lightning and was now sizzling—much like a dying ember in the castle’s fireplace. With a flick of her wrist, the flame fizzled out. The light in the Darker Lord’s eyes followed and he was no more.
Elena stood. She fixed her frock, healed her scraped knees, and looked around. The Darker Lords had been nothing more than an annoyance—an embarrassment to their predecessors. They were also rather unlikely to evict her from the castle, given that those not presently deceased had run like cowards. Perhaps, if one returned from the dead, but Elena rather doubted that any had the skill.
It was getting quite late, near dinner time, so Elena decided to turn back. She preferred to eat a hot meal in the castle’s kitchen and spend the night in her own bed. She could always set out again in the morning.
Betty joined the Scarborough Scribblers in 2015 and was included in the 2016 anthology. The writers’ group has brought a totally new perspective to her life. She has met helpful and interesting Canadian authors provided by the facilitator and this has opened up many new avenues to the writing process. She is reading a variety of books that now include Canadian authors and has joined the monthly book club. She is thoroughly enjoying the writing journey.
Angie, exhausted from her fourteen hour shift, entered the streetcar at Queen’s Park. It had been a hell of a day. Her team had worked extra hours to try to save the last patient, victim of a drunk driver who had walked away unscathed. The victim’s young wife, his high school sweetheart, was now without the love of her life. His six month old baby girl was without a father. He had died on the operating table.
Angie, her head against the window and tears in her eyes, began to nod off. She woke with a start when a handsome man sat down and plunked a large briefcase next to her. He was too good looking not to be spoken for, she thought. She looked out the window at the blood red geraniums in their window boxes and felt wretched at the sight. Her head drooped as she nodded off again.
Sitting next to her, Pearce was sizing her up and thinking she was a tired wife on her way home to the kids. He thought she was quite pretty, slumped over like a rag doll. She was mumbling in her sleep and every once in a while he could make out what she was saying. She seemed terribly sad and upset about something. The crowd in the aisle pushed Pearce against Angie, waking her up. He asked if she was all right and she replied, “Not really.”
Pearce was about to ask if he could help when her eyes filled with tears. He didn’t know this woman. Was it marital problems? If so, he had no business being involved. She wiped her eyes and shifted over to the window.
An accident in front of the streetcar was causing a delay. People were complaining about the wait and doors were opening and closing to let them off. Pearce thought about doing the same, but he lived at the end of the line.
Angie woke up with a start, and asked, “Where are we?”
“Good, I didn’t miss Jones.”
They both started speaking at once.
Pearce mentioned that he was starving and wanted to jump off and get food.
“Me too!” she said.
“No one is waiting for me at home,” he said.
They were about to leave when the streetcar forged ahead. They looked at each other and laughed.
Pearce said. “Shall we do this now or take a rain check?”
Angie’s day had been so rotten and this was a wonderful opportunity so she said. “Let’s do it now.”
They rang the bell to stop the streetcar once again. Some passengers yelled at them but they were laughing too hard to take any notice.
“My name is Angie.”
“The name’s Pearce and I’m happy to meet you. Angie.”
They found a restaurant and had just sat down at their booth when Pearce’s phone rang. He looked at the number and said, “Sorry Angie. I need to take this call,” and moved away from the table to talk. When he returned, he said, “I’m needed at home, my father is ill.”
Pearce apologized and scribbled his number on a napkin, giving Angie the option of calling him for dinner at a later date.
“Please call,” he said as he rushed out the door.
Pearce was gone. Angie was left speechless and thinking that this was the shortest date on record for her.
Pearce hailed a taxi, made flight arrangements for Montreal, and left a message with his office. When he reached his apartment, he asked the driver to wait while he quickly grabbed a few items for the trip.
When Pearce arrived at the hospital in Montreal, he hugged and kissed his mother while she cried in his arms. He then talked to the doctor and was told there was no hope for his dad’s survival. Pearce approached his dad’s bed, to see a very attractive slim, young, brunette woman kissing his father and saying, “I am so sorry, John.”
His dad was moaning. “Megan, Megan.” When Megan looked up and saw Pearce, she knew exactly who he was, as he was tall, blond and very good looking, a younger version of his father. She smiled at Pearce and quickly disappeared.
Pearce sat down, holding his dad’s hands, watching the heart monitor with tears in his eyes, struggling to stay in control. He tried to talk to his dad, but John was still calling Megan’s name. Pearce had no idea who this woman was and why his father was so attached to her. He would need to ask his mother. Izabelle had returned to the room and was crying.
“Don’t go, John, don’t go; you know I can’t be left alone.”
His mother had wanted her children to remain in Quebec when they grew up to raise their families. But Pearce had always suspected that his sister Beatrice, whom he called Bea, might fly away some day. Sure enough, shortly after university Bea had gone to California to work. While there, she met the man who had become her husband. They were now raising two lovely children. Bea was on her way to Montreal, hoping to talk to her father before it was too late.
Unlike Bea, Pearce had stayed at home after university, but his mother tried to control his life, choosing the daughters of her friends for him to date. It was becoming embarrassing not to be independent and have his own life so he had arranged for a job in Toronto and moved there.
Now, because Pearce was still single, his mother would expect him to give up his job and return to live in the family home so that she would not have to move into a condo or an apartment when his father passed. She would again be choosing his dates. It was not happening this time. Pearce had just met Angie and he knew deep down, that Angie was a potential soul mate.
Angie looked for Pearce on the days that her shift matched the time he would enter the streetcar. He mentioned going to the end of the line so on one occasion she waited at the Main Street station to see if he embarked, but to her disappointment he never turned up.
Pearce left in such a hurry that they had not discussed where he was going, whether it was Toronto or out of town. She wondered if his father had survived his illness. Angie called several times and was told to leave a message, but was reluctant to do so. Pearce disappeared in such a hurry; he might still be involved with his family, or perhaps there was no interest in her after all. She didn’t want to text him as she wanted to hear his voice. This would tell her if he was truly still interested.
Pearce had turned his phone off at the hospital as he didn’t want to be interrupted while with his father or receive those annoying marketing calls.
When Pearce’s older sister Beatrice arrived, he hugged and kissed her saying he was glad that she had made it in time. Beatrice was five years older than Pearce. He loved this charming, beautiful woman who had his mother’s striking looks and wore her shining black hair in a chignon, the same as their mother.
Now that Beatrice was here, Pearce asked his mother to come with him to the waiting room to give Beatrice time with her father. He wanted to learn about Megan’s relationship to his father. Pearce asked his mother about the young, attractive woman. What his mother told him was totally shocking.
His mother was aware that John was having an affair with Megan and considered it a temporary fling, the kind of thing that all men went through at least once in their lifetime.
Pearce had no idea what was going on in his own family. Megan had been recommended by a close friend to help his mother with some cleaning. On his last visit he had noticed a neater appearance in the home. The kitchen counter was cleared of items, and there were fewer ornaments in the living room, but he had not been told that someone had been hired to clean.
His mother had once been a wonderful cook, and had kept a beautiful home. Pearce had not been aware that as she was aging, she needed some help. Now Izabelle usually went to the spa, played cards, or had lunch with friends on the days that Megan came.
Megan cooked meals that could be frozen, and did the laundry, ironing and cleaning. John was not only having sex with Megan, but was head over heels in love with her. He was a very handsome man with thick blond hair streaked with grey. In all his married life, he had never cheated on his wife until the arrival of Megan. Izabelle at seventy-three was not interested in sex but John, sixty-five, played hockey weekly and was very physically fit. As an accountant, John had been a good provider, a kind husband, and a caring father to his children, always attending outings to the zoo, museums, dancing and sporting events.
After Pearce’s talk with his mother, something niggled at the back of his mind. His father’s health issues didn’t add up. He had been given a clean bill of health in his physical at the beginning of the year. Why had he deteriorated in such a short time? Megan had been in his parents’ employ for about eight months. Pearce went directly to the doctor, and told him he would require an autopsy once his father had passed.
When Pearce’s sister Beatrice approached her father’s bed, he was calling for someone named Megan. She had no idea who this was or why her father was so distracted, but this Megan was obviously very important to him. When Beatrice held her father’s hands he was still calling for Megan. He was becoming agitated in her presence so she kissed him and told him she loved him dearly, and then left his side.
Beatrice went to the waiting room to find Pearce and her mother. Izabelle hugged Beatrice and said she had better return to her husband’s room.
Pearce said, “We can’t talk here so let’s go to the cafeteria.”
There Pearce explained Megan’s role in their father’s life. Beatrice, like Pearce, could understand their mother bringing a woman into the house to cook and clean as she was getting older, but was absolutely astounded at the absurdity of allowing her husband to have sex with her. It was insane!
Pearce explained that Megan was a young, vibrant, attractive woman who was likely giving their father the sex of his life. Megan would have grown up with a different mindset about sex than their mother had. Beatrice and Pearce wondered if their mother was suffering from the early stages of dementia to have allowed such a dalliance.
John passed away the following day with the family at his bedside to say their goodbyes. Pearce handled the arrangements with visitation to be held the evening before the funeral.
Megan watched in her car across the street waiting for the family to leave for dinner. Standing for some time over the casket with tears streaming down her cheeks onto John’s clothing, she told him how ashamed and sorry she was to be involved with Stephan’s plan that caused his ultimate death. She signed the guest book with tears splattering the page, kissed him goodbye and quietly left.
As John was well liked and popular in the community, the service in the chapel overflowed to an additional room. Several of his hockey, golf and client friends paid tribute to him with humorous stories and sadness at the loss of their friend.
Megan sat near the back door enabling her to make a quick departure. She knew Pearce wanted a word with her as he constantly looked in her direction. As many people were talking to him and his sister, it was impossible for him to approach.
Megan had quickly escaped out of the hospital as she knew from the look on Pearce’s face, he had no idea of the relationship she had with his father. Now that he knew, he definitely wanted to talk to her.
Brent, a lawyer friend who frequently golfed with John, wanted a word with Pearce after the service. John had put the wheels in motion for a divorce from his wife of forty years that Brent had been hired to negotiate. Izabelle was to be treated kindly with respect and John suggested the house be sold to purchase a condo for her. He had not been feeling well and wanted his affairs in order. He intended to marry Megan as soon as the divorce was final as she was pregnant with his child. Should anything happen to him before the divorce was final, he was leaving $50,000 for Megan and the baby.
John knew his wife would be in shock when she learned of his plans, but he told Brent he had received more love, affection, and happiness in the eight months with Megan than the whole of his marriage to Izabelle. Even with the gap in their ages, he was going to grab the rainbow while it existed.
Pearce was stunned. What on earth had gone on in his family? His sister Bea would be at her wits end too. Imagine his father beginning a new life with a young wife and baby when Pearce was closer to Megan’s age than his father!
Megan had left New Brunswick to become independent from her family only to be caught in Stephan’s web. Stephan, with his black hair in a ponytail and motor cycle gear, was high on drugs, needed money, and controlled Megan. When they met, he was a decent person working his trade as a plumber until his biker friends showed up with drugs. She was badly beaten when she tried to leave. He said if she left again, he would damage John’s property by pouring gasoline around the house, setting it on fire, and watching it burn. He was crazy enough to carry out such an act.
If only Megan had talked to John about her predicament of Stephan’s drug use, his constant abuse and the threats to John and his wife. John, with his many contacts with lawyers, would have known what to do. Instead she had taken a different and dangerous route.
Megan picked up coffee on her way to work from Stephan at his part-time job at a drive-thru coffee shop. This gave Stephan the opportunity to add the Oxilofrine drug to John’s coffee, knowing it could cause a fatal heart attack.
Stephan told Megan that he wanted the $10,000 from John’s estate immediately as he needed to clear out of Montreal before the shit hit the fan for any evidence of wrong doing. Megan could have sex with John, or be a prostitute; he did not care as long as there was money for his habit. It was Stephan who came up with the idea to tell John she was pregnant and to set up a fund for the baby.
John had taken precautions as he knew Megan was young enough to become pregnant and was surprised and rather proud that he could still produce a child.
Pearce discussed the hospital’s findings with Brent, the divorce lawyer, and asked for advice on what to do next, and who to hire. Brent would make some inquiries and get back to Pearce as soon as he had some information.
Pearce finally checked the numbers on his phone. He realized he should have contacted Angie earlier as she might now think he was not interested. He deleted the 1 800 numbers and noticed 416’s and wondered if one was Angie or perhaps she never called. He dialed the 416 numbers hoping to speak with her or to at least hear her voice on the machine to verify the correct number, but no one answered.
Pearce told the firm he needed time off to handle issues and ongoing involvement in his father’s death. The firm held him in high esteem; he was a conscientious worker, and had a pleasant personality working with his colleagues and more importantly with their clients. Pearce would alternate weeks between Montreal and Toronto having daily contact with clients and the office. They would meet again to assess the arrangement.
The private detective located Stephan and Megan, and the police were now looking into their involvement with John’s death. They had a warrant to search Stephan’s apartment for drug evidence and had taken both of them in for questioning. Pearce learned that Stephan was more the instigator than Megan, but she had gone along with the terrible deed out of fear of Stephan. Pearce wondered where Megan’s love was for his father as it was murder and she was very much involved. The case was ongoing and Pearce was still returning to Montreal.
Six months later Pearce entered the streetcar and there was Angie wearing a bright red jacket with her brilliant blue eyes and golden brown hair shining in the sunlight. His heart skipped a beat and spontaneously he smiled with joy at seeing her again. He had looked every day hoping to see her. He wanted to ask if she had left a message or even called, and hoped he had not deleted the call. His smile faded when he saw that she was laughing at something her companion said. It was obvious that they were well acquainted as they were sitting very close together. As Pearce walked past them he hesitated and said, “It’s good to see you Angie. I’ve thought of you often.”
“What was that all about?” Angie’s companion said.
“Oh it was nothing.”
“It was more than nothing,” he remarked. “Did you see his face Angie? He was stricken that you were with me. Sometimes I wonder about you Angie. Are you so stuck in your critical hospital mode that you don’t recognize when someone is interested? Did you notice that he is tall, blond and good looking? Does he have your number?”
“No he thought it more appropriate for me to have his number for safety reasons as we had only met the once,” Angie gruffly replied.
“So he is a gentleman too,” Daniel exclaimed. “Wow Angie this is like pulling teeth with you. Did you call the guy?”
“I tried a couple of times and his phone was turned off.”
“And you left a message right?”
“No Daniel, I didn’t.”
“Here’s what I suggest,” he said, leaning into whisper in her ear.
“No Daniel,” she said, “I’m not doing that.”
Pearce felt miserable sitting a few seats behind Angie. She would be getting off soon and the chance of them meeting again was slim. Pearce could guess what the relationship was with her companion as he was whispering sweet nothings in her ear. He was about to talk on his phone when Angie was suddenly standing beside him. She smiled and handed him a folded note.
It said. “I’d love to hear from you if you are still interested. The note contains my telephone number and my name is Angie Donnelly. Daniel is my brother.”
They were married six months later and for thirty years it was the marriage of soul mates until fate once again entered their lives. That’s a story for another time.
Xavier Wynn Williams is enjoying his third year with the Scarborough Scribblers. He loves to write spontaneous collaborative fiction in small and medium sized groups. Once a high school teacher specializing in the creative arts, he now has more time to explore the transformation of words into creative collective group art through volunteer work and recreational activity.
After twenty minutes of anxious waiting, I heard her faltering steps. Professor Findlay opened her office door slowly and looked at me cautiously over her half moon glasses. I looked up from the hard bench. I had waited anxiously outside in the dreary hallway. She smiled faintly. I packed away my laptop.
“Oh, Dwayne, yes. It is Dwayne? Come in. Sit down. Sit down.”
As we entered her tiny office, I looked down at a messy pile of documents left on the seat in front of her desk.
“Oh, my. Yes. Just put those things on the floor dear. More darned thesis proposals. Never ends.”
I did as she asked and looked up at her hawkish face. She held the arms of her glasses with liver spotted hands and frowned at my essay and began reading it carefully in front of me. I had sat through this old woman’s lectures for five months and never had a word passed between us. I wondered why I was being summoned.
“Now Dwayne.” She coughed quietly. She commenced flipping the pages of the essay back and forth and then started to read past the fifth page with singular intensity. Silence reigned for two minutes. Then three minutes. I could hear her asthmatic wheezing. She was rereading the thing, line by line, in front of me, lowering her head ominously, as the pages progressed. She occasionally cleared her chest with modest coughs. Finally, I could take it no longer.
“Look, Dr. Findlay,” I stammered, “this course is required. I like it…I do. But I had to take it to graduate. I know the essay there is a bit fanciful. Look, I swear it’s all my own work.” She still made no reply. “I do like to, you know, use a lot of adjectives. I tried to paint a beautiful garden, I guess…”
“Hmm? Oh yes. Yes. Quite,” the professor replied. Without looking up, she reached for a cell phone on her desk and dialed. Then she looked up at me and smiled, waiting for the answer at the other end. My heart was pounding with anxiety. “Oh, is that Chez Bistro? Yes. I’m fine thank you. Yes, I was wondering if you have a table for two by the fountain. When?” She looked at her watch, “Well, how about say in forty five minutes? You do? That would be splendid, wouldn’t it?” She said this looking at me with a twinkle in her eye. She even made a quick wink. “Yes. Baxter. Yes. That is wonderful. Thank you so much. We’ll be right over.”
I looked at this woman primping her grey hair and putting on lipstick while I sat before her stupefied. She was 65 and had a hunchback. She put away the lipstick and motioned for us to leave her office.
“Dwayne. That essay. You know I loved it, my boy. Let’s go shall we? We have so much to talk about.”
“So how did you like the melon soup? Dwayne? How do you like the soup?” I refocused my eyes on Professor Findlay’s liver spotted hand on the back of mine and realized I had been surveying the other tables, even though Chez Bistro was the last place in town I would be accosted by someone who might identify me.
I told her the soup was interesting. It actually was a strange blend of sweetness and pepper, not unlike her ongoing interrogation. There was nothing in my essay that was plagiarized, strictly speaking. Still, I had not expected the professor herself to evaluate every page, let alone savour the words and phrases. I thought teaching assistants did the grunt work and professors like her simply skimmed them, maybe adding a few comments here and there. But this mysterious lady had even memorized passages from the middle pages, where the poet Keats imagines a rustic farmer, in my case a rosy cheeked, black haired beauty in peasant dress, gazing lustfully at a cider press, head sideways, almost asleep, as the last drops of sweet juice oozed late into the afternoon.
“You have an appreciation for the romantic poets far beyond your age, you know,” she continued, now trailing her tiny warped index finger over my knuckles.
“Well, I did find the lectures you gave on that unit were… inspiring.” I cannot quite believe I said that now. I had no idea where this conversation was going, but I have to admit it was more than pity that kept me staring into the flickering candlelight reflecting off her glasses. Her intense stare behind the glow as we sat face to face became increasingly mesmerizing. Her dissection of the essay turned into appreciation. Then she voiced unrestrained approval, this from a professor rumoured to be an extremely hard marker. I allowed my hand to be gently caressed as she prattled on next to the statue of Cupid spewing water from his mouth unceasingly.
“What the hell happened? I’ve been waiting forty five minutes.” Gwenny got up stiffly from where she had been sitting on the wide granite steps of the campus library. We had agreed to meet there for dinner. I was in no mood to beg forgiveness, yet I also did not want to make matters worse. How could I explain? I had promised Dr. Findlay to maintain discretion. I certainly did not want to brag about what happened. In truth, I was an emotional mess. I was inspired, flattered and considerably confused. I gazed peripherally behind Gwen’s anxious face towards the road. I assumed she had not noticed the old woman staring at us, hunched over the steering wheel of her little blue hatchback.
I breathed a bit easier. Gwenny had apparently not noticed that the diminutive driver of the passing car had just dropped me off behind the library out of sight. And now my elderly, scholarly confidante was leaving the scene, evidently with morbid interest. The professor clearly wanted to see for herself who it was that had curtailed our private lunch. I could still taste the espresso and orangey liquor on my breath, which my mysterious patron had pronounced with an authentic French accent. She had ordered it for us, not once, but twice.
I attempted righteous indignation with Gwen as she stood incredulous on the busy steps in the cold late afternoon wind, waiting for my excuse. I made my case. Both she and I had been anxious about the appointment with the professor. She knew I needed a good mark in that course. I reminded her of this. We had reassured ourselves that, should the worst happen, it would be difficult to prove that Gwen was basically my ghost writer. It really was hard to say who wrote the Keats essay anyway, Gwen or me, or us? True, Gwen had just returned the books on Keats at this very library after holding onto them past due. She loved Keats more than any of the Romantic poets. But I had learned so much by reading them with her. And, yes, there had been that late night behind the stacks on the second floor when we typed it up together. Sure, we had taken some risks.
So when I told her that Findlay had forced me to rewrite the essay on the spot in front of the old hag for three and a half hours, the last three and a half hours, and that I was shaken up and needed a drink, Gwen took my hand. She looked up and tilted my chin up to her mouth as she leaned down from several steps above. She kissed me and whispered in my ear, “Wow. We’ll have to make sure we do a good job on your last essay too now. You really are such a good student Dwayne. You memorized everything I taught you and wrote it out again?”
Students wound around us trying to enter or exit the building. And when I lowered my gaze, she whispered a sweet apology again with a bird kiss on my left cheek. With feigned hurt and guilt unseen, I accepted. But I was not the least bit hungry.
“England, in the early part of the nineteenth century, was in the throes of a massive demographic shift. The agrarian images that so many of the Romantic poets used so frequently were in stark contrast to the dark, smoking factories and mills springing up. Remember now how Romantic poets continually remind the reader that sheep and cattle once grazed quietly on the hills and valleys of England until the factories arrived. We recall, there had already been a reaction against industrialization found in the work of…ah, who here remembers the poet who wrote The Tyger?” Dr. Findlay looked up from her podium. Four weeks had passed and we were getting close to final exams. “Oh, come now… Anybody? We were studying him before Christmas… Anyone?”
Findlay was ranting once again about her pet peeve, industrialization. About how Ye Olde England would have been so much better off if thinking people like her had, back then, paid more attention to Romantic poetry. She was obsessed with poetry and how writing and studying poetry was so much better than making money exploiting nature and what she called the ‘spoils of empire.’ She had made a career out of this obsession. I had to admit, I still preferred her Romantics 320 to Statistics 101. But even though my marks had improved, I wondered why business students had to take an English course to complete an undergraduate degree at the college.
Our little university was located in a backwater town in the Maritimes. It was the one big employer left. The town was quaint, but its once busy fisheries had no more fish to process. The only pulp and paper mill in the place was under new ownership. It had apparently just retired half of its work force, but I remember that particular afternoon smelling sulphurous farty odours emanating from the open windows at the back of the auditorium.
“Oh come now. Dwayne. You, of all of us, might have an idea?” Findlay squinted up at me. “Dwayne, are you eating in my class?” She pulled her glasses off roughly. Her microphone amplified the abrupt sound of static as she shuffled awkwardly toward the students sitting on the bottom row about ten rows below my little picnic of diet coke and a large bag of sea salt and lime chips. She glared up at my disrespectful snack. It was spread on either side of my auditorium chairs.
“Oh sorry Dr. Findlay. Won’t happen again.”
“That’s what you said last class. I don’t know what’s gotten into you my boy. I’d like to see you after class today in my office. If that would be alright with you?” She turned quickly on her stilettos, revealing her flawed back to me and the rest of the class before I could reply. Fifty of my fellow students grunted and coughed with what I perceived as embarrassment at this strange transaction. Or maybe it was curiosity.
I knew it could come to this. Two classes had come and gone. I had not responded to the terse message next to her grade on the latest and final essay following the Keats triumph. She really was a crafty old bird. On the one hand, she gave my latest effort an 81%, a great mark, for her. What a relief! Gwen and I had rewritten it several times to make sure it was well researched and in the same style as the Keats essay that the old woman had loved so much. Gwen did not want to repeat the last near disaster I had described so convincingly by the library. But I had also convinced her that she had nothing to worry about. The 81% had moved me well above a pass. Findlay believed in me. I was a pet. It was all a bit embarrassing, that was all. But Gwen was a great teacher. And she loved it when I gave her credit. She deserved it.
But then, four weeks later, Findlay returned the final essays. On mine, near her note next to the mark, she requested that I bring back the two essays she had already graded before the Keats masterpiece. She did not explain why, but I guess it shook me up. I also didn’t feel right telling Gwen about this. Those two essays were written before we had started dating. They had averaged 52%.
Well, if Findlay was trying to corner me, or accuse me of anything inappropriate, I sure as hell had a few arrows in my quiver to fire her way. The old bat. Maybe I had not smiled at her enough, or looked at her the way she wanted, except to take notes, since that weird encounter at Chez Bistro. I had not spilled her beans. But I was no suck up. So, yeah, I just might keep eating in her class. And maybe I’d start listening to loud music on my headphones too. Screw her.
Dr. Findlay plodded on that fateful afternoon, mercifully ending her lecture about an hour later. She assigned endless exam prep readings and finally told the class to approach the front table to pick up exam preparation guides. She warned us that they were essential if we wanted to do well. She had copied just enough for each student present. Then, I swear she glared at me. She would not be providing extras after the lecture was over. I felt cornered.
I had no choice. There was no avoiding an encounter. Well, what did I care? I licked the salt off my fingers and zipped up my backpack. I lowered my head and avoided the gaze of my fellow students, aiming to pick up the guide quickly and get out. If Findlay tried to force me, I would simply tell her I had an important meeting with a friend right after class. And that was the truth too. Gwen was waiting outside. In fact, class was ten minutes late.
Suddenly, I realized that Gwen was right behind me. I felt gentle fingers touch the back of my arm just as I was about to pick up a guide. I immediately recognized her lovely voice.
“Hey, Dwayne. You didn’t see me? I was sitting up at the door and tried to wave. I guess I got here a little early.”
I snatched up the guide and swivelled around with the most genuine smile I could muster. My heart was beating fast. Gwen was smiling at Dr. Findlay.
“Oh, hi there Gwen. I, ah, wow. So did you catch any of today’s lecture?” She nodded innocently. Before Gwen could reply, I turned and faced my diminutive professor. “Ah, Gwen, this is Dr. Findlay. Dr. Findlay, I’d like you to meet my friend Gwen.”
Findlay stood erect with her arms folded and nodded gravely. She seemed to be appraising Gwen with considerable gravity. The room was suddenly empty, except for the three of us. Findlay made a polite smile and introduced herself.
“Very pleased to meet you Gwen. I wonder now, you wouldn’t be Gwen Townsend who is on the Dean’s list in our English department? I came across your name when I was on the selection committee last year. You look just like the photograph. I remember it now.”
“Yup, Dr. Findlay. That was me. Oh dear. I need to watch my grammar. That was I, I should say. Yeah, I really loved that Romantics course last year. I took it with Professor Stanovich. He was amazing. Too bad he was only here on contract. How come all the great teachers here have no tenure? Oh well. Dwayne has told me how much he is enjoying your course.”
Dr. Findlay began to collect her notes from the podium. She looked preoccupied.
Gwen prattled on. “I think he has really learned a lot from your course. Haven’t you Dwayne?”
I shrugged stupidly. What could I say? “Even though he is a bit of an imposter, what with being a business major eh? Funny how they make them take an English course.” Gwen sidled up to me and touched my chin affectionately. She was being coy in front of my old, quirky professor.
“Indeed,” replied Dr. Findlay, closing up a green suitcase on wheels in which she had stashed away the remaining papers. She began pulling it toward the exit. “Well, Dwayne,” she said flicking her head toward the door, as if she wanted no part of a threesome. She wanted dialogue with me only. “I wonder if I could speak to you in private about your behaviour in class today? My office is just down the hall.”
“Actually,” Gwen chimed in, “I am a bit confused Dr. Findlay. Why the privacy? Dwayne loves this course. I have seen the progress he is making, even though he is not an English major. He loves Romantic poetry as much as I do. I get the feeling you don’t think he is capable of everything he hands in to you.” I tried to stop her by looking at her with wide eyes. But she was looking at Findlay, not at me. And she would not stop. “Professor Findlay. Can I ask you something? Why do you keep giving him a hard time?”
“My dear girl. I can appreciate you think highly of Dwayne. Yes, his progress has been remarkable. All the more reason to wonder, wouldn’t you say, why he seems to have some sort of negative attitude toward me? Why the resistance to all we have achieved in my course? But really Gwen, this is a matter which must be dealt in my office. I’m sure you will understand. We’ll only be a few minutes.”
And then, the bottom fell out. Gwen went on the attack. It was completely out of character for her, or so I thought. “Only a few minutes? Really? Dr. Findlay, last time, you had him in your office for three hours. Three hours. I know. I was waiting for him in front of the library. Three hours you had him in there, rewriting that essay, which was his own damn work. And then you gave him the highest mark in the class. What gives? I never even got a mark that high in Professor Stanovich’s class.”
“What did you say?” Dr. Findlay spluttered, blinking behind her glasses. “We were never in my office for three hours. I did review the essay with him in my office, but it took no more than twenty minutes, I assure you. Dwayne never rewrote any essay in my office. What on earth are you insinuating?” She paused, breathing fast. “Dwayne, that mark you got from me for the Keats essay was because it was… it was an astonishing piece of work. Outstanding. I’ve rarely seen such insight. And that is why. That is why…” Dr. Findlay dropped the handle of her suitcase. It smacked to the floor loudly. She looked at Gwen. Then at me. She frowned. Her asthma wheezed as she fumbled, trying to retrieve the handle, now looking away from both of us.
“Excuse me?” Gwen’s eyebrows began to quiver. “You never had Dwayne rewrite the essay? Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Dwayne?” Gwen’s tucked strands of her beautiful ebony hair behind her ears. Her moist eyes were growing dark orbs. They turned on mine. I looked at the floor. “Dwayne. What happened that afternoon when you told me you were in the office rewriting our, I mean, the essay? Your essay. You know what I mean. What the hell? Somebody say something. “
“Another round of Grand Marnier for the table, Madam?” It was about the same time of the day I had last spent with Dr. Findlay at Chez Bistro. That day it had been just two of us. Again, the marble statue spouted a noisy stream next to our table. The server was slightly older, but equally kind and discreet.
“That would be lovely,” Professor Findlay replied, gently placing her empty glass on the server’s tray. The server obediently disappeared to get us a second round. “So you see Gwen, the Romantics were a rather volatile bunch really, weren’t they? I mean, take Mary Shelley’s husband. Indeed. And as for Mary Shelley herself? No, I’m afraid we would have to say Frankenstein was not an allegory about shepherds taking care of their sheep on the green hills of Devon and Cornwall. Are you following my thesis? I should really report this mix up, you realize.”
Dr. Findlay took out her cell phone and began texting something, but then she stopped and shook her head. Then she frowned, as if in deep thought, looking directly at Gwen and then at me. “So. We are at a crossroads, my friends. We’re in this little remedial workshop together, aren’t we? I could easily have you both expelled. But I find you to be such a lovely couple. I really do.” She paused and coughed, perhaps to conceal her noisy breathing.
“Gwen, you are an exceptional talent. You paint beautiful gardens. That was the imagery you used to defend yourself in my office, wasn’t it Dwayne? Oh well, dear Gwen, maybe you and I both have tried to help this young businessman rise above himself.” She put away the phone and smiled sadly.
“You know, the Romantics still have a few lessons to teach young people about truth and beauty. Ah, our drinks have arrived. Dwayne. Gwen. Here’s to the two of you.” She raised her glass.
“You tried. We all tried.” She took a tiny sip and squinted at the imitation of Cupid gushing water with abandon and the road outside the window behind it. She shook her head again gravely.
“Now, that’s a bit of shame. The last bus you both took to get here just passed by.” And pausing again, with an emphasis on the word am, she concluded, “Now, how am I going to get you both home? My little car only fits one passenger.”
A prompt is something that inspires a piece of writing. It can be a single word, a series of words, a sentence, some instructions, a picture, or even a memory.
All the short stories and poems found in this anthology originated from prompts. While some of the authors sat down with the intent to write and a timer to provide added inspiration, others took their time, allowing their stories to develop over weeks, or even months.
Quite a few of the authors chose a set of words, phrases, or topics to serve as a prompt:
Frances Katsiaounis wrote Dead line Love based on three prompts: an “English gentleman,” “making tea” and a “dress suit.” She had picked the prompt randomly from a cup at a Scarborough Scribblers meeting. As she stared at the prompt, the timer went off and everyone began quickly writing. She joined them and realized that all you need is a fun group of writers and a timer to unleash your imagination to turn a boring prompt into an exciting adventure!
Brenda Dow chose “humour” as a genre for writing a story for this anthology. A “graffiti artist” was the first character that came into her head. Looking for a subject or a thing to incorporate into a tale, a “condo unit” was her immediate thought. There was no beating about the bush for any other subject. So Kitschy Art was born.
Spiders from Mars by Larry Kosowan was inspired by three writing prompts: a “cottage,” a “rock song,” a “disaster.” Spiders at a cottage on Lake Simcoe, Ontario combined with David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, (released on 16 June 1972). The setting is a fictionalized disaster based on the passing of the Rock Comet “3200 Phaethon,” source of the Geminid meteor showers each December.
The Pillar Candle by Larry Kosowan was inspired by three writing prompts: a “family member,” a “household object,” a “personal trait”; which translated into a comparison of his octogenarian mom with a long-lasting candle.
Diana Kiesners started her story at a Scarborough Scribblers meeting. Everyone in the group provided a prompt word, going around the table, one word a minute. Each prompt had to be incorporated into the ongoing story, and so Green was born.
Marilyn McNeil took a slip from the cup at a Scarborough Scribblers meeting, in order to practice on her own, without time constraints, just to see what would develop. She wrote at her usual spot in the dining area. What bubbles up from her is usually slice of life stories, often involving a display of the human condition; this is one such story.
A couple of authors found inspiration in writing contests or challenges that gave them a set of instructions to follow:
Betty Stewart’s short story, A Chance Meeting, was inspired by the 506 Streetcar Writing Contest. She started out with a short piece (506 words). A man and a woman sat next to one another on the street car, and from there, her story blossomed and grew. The young couple was struck by the love bug; then illness, murder and distance stalled their relationship.
Esther Lok joined a Summer Writing Challenge where she had to include a list of words ranging from easy to hard into a summer themed story of 5,000 words. Dreaming about a black horse with a white mane completed the inspiration that spurred the basis for The Storm Herald.
Then there were those authors who picked sentence prompts to use as their starting point:
Maria Samurin brought a laptop on her morning commute. She had a sentence prompt (“Once upon a time, a dark lord was dying.”) and an hour to get her story down on paper. It took many edits for The Darkest Lord to take shape.
Truth and Beauty by Xavier Wynn Williams was inspired by the prompt: “Write a short piece in twenty minutes that includes the phrase, “I tried to paint a beautiful garden.”
Finally, a handful of authors used memories as writing prompts. Things that happened to them inspired them to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be):
Margaret Abela once jumped to a wrong conclusion which caused her personal embarrassment. Might a character in her story In Defence of Eden jump to a wrong conclusion which would cause more than embarrassment?
Carolynne Fairweather, having married her best friend and love of her life on their country’s 100th Anniversary, wanted to contribute a story of a joyful and treasured childhood memory to her Writers’ Group’s second anthology in Canada’s 150th year. So she will now seriously begin writing her family history as she has always wanted to do.
Hector King Jr. wrote his life story. He titled it A Bit of Things. One bit, Gravely Experience, was a favorite. One night a little white light stopped, and then an explosion, a fluorescent green. He wrote a poem in the meeting and read it to the group. Which lead him to write What Was It?
Darcy Miller wrote her poem in the dead of night. She was thinking about all those times that she waited up for her loved ones and what was going through her mind in those late hours. The darkness has a way of distorting one’s imagination. Hence Critical Wait Times.
The Scarborough Scribblers are a group of writers who meet at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library. Anything goes with this heterogeneous conglomeration of word lovers. The Scarborough Scribblers published Library Reflections: An Anthology in 2016. Impromptu: An Anthology is their second publication.
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Thanks to Diana Kiesners for the anthology title; to Maria Samurin for formatting the book’s interior and preparing it for publication; to a kind stranger for writing the introduction; to Maria Samurin, Diana Kiesners, and Frances Katsiaounis for designing the book cover; to Hector King Jr. for photos of Brenda Dow (page 17), Carolynne Fairweather (page 35), and Hector King Jr. (page 69); to the Scarborough Civic Centre Library’s Digital Innovation Hub for giving us access to a 27” iMac with Photoshop; to the wonderful staff at Asquith Press, Toronto Reference Library, for working with us two years running; and to the helpful and courteous staff at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library.
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The Scarborough Scribblers
Authors of Impromptu: An anthology and Library Reflections: An anthology.
Join the Scarborough Scribblers as they race against time to bring you fifteen of their best impromptu short stories and poems, all inspired by writing prompts and written against the clock in the famous Gravel Bar. When you take away time and add pressure, anything can happen: an arachnid space-disaster, a streetcar adventure, lessons in overlord succession, an equine meteorological fantasy, tales of love and espionage, and more.