Third Annual ALWAYCT Writing Festival Has Arrived!

Welcome friends and writers!  Now is the time to challenge yourself to write something that you want to share and get careful feedback on.

For our Third Annual ALWAYCT Festival there will be two rules:

~Limit your piece to 1000 words or less.

~If you submit, you pledge to share careful feedback on all the other submissions from your fellow writers.  Your feedback should be more than, “I liked it!”  Share suggestions for improvements and mention specific things that you thought were done well.  We all want to learn.

The rest is up to you.  Select your own format and topic.  Fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, poetry–you pick!  Can it be an excerpt from a longer piece?  Sure; just let us know that.

Time frame?  It’s open ended, but remember that I tend to post new challenges fairly frequently, so older ones start to drift off into the nether regions of this blog.  Post soon!

Am I going to comment on your submissions?  I will if I decide to post something of my own.

I look forward to reading your work.  Blast the page!

51 responses to “Third Annual ALWAYCT Writing Festival Has Arrived!

  1. Lady Linquist, my Mentor/Friend, I plan on entering this challenge with enthusiasm and spunk. I have been missing in action lately, but I was in the midst of The Block of Blocks. I broke out of the Block today as I have been ask to teach a creative writing class in our County Jail. Being ask wasn’t the exciting part, the excitement came in an e-mail this morning stating that I had passed the obligatory Background check that must be passed in order to be a volunteer at the Jail. I took such pride in passing until it dawned on me that the check found that I had done nothing wrong in my life, at lease not something that could be considered criminal. But at the same time, the check could just as easily be saying that I had done nothing at all with my life. This observation sparked my muse to start harping on me to get off my butt and write something. Since this site is the absolute best place to “write something”, I can promise, I’ll Be Back !

    • Peanut, I always enjoy your off color characters and descriptions. I agree with Jeff that I felt misdirected as I read. This feels like an excerpt from a longer story. But no matter what you write it’s always a fun read. FYI, asterisks don’t bother me.

  2. I am very glad to hear from you. I was starting to wonder if you were ill or something. Clearly not! Creative writing at the County Jail sounds fascinating. Feel free to use any BWW stuff you want, if it will help. Tell them they are free to write poorly all they want. If they can get online, tell them to post here if that works. Welcome, back.

    • I am very excited to start this jail adventure and thank You for permission to use some of the material in BWW. I always printed off each chapter and have refereed to them many times. I had planned to start with the Free Writing. That should be make them comfortable with the process of writing. I fully expect to be far more educated and blessed by them than they will be by me. I hope I can do you proud as an instructor. I surely will share their stuff here if they allow me to.

  3. Potential

    I purchased the 80 year old Johnson Bay Marina solely on the power of potential. It offered little else in its “As Is” condition. The store building was a mangy old nag with a sway back roof which had been repaired many times with a patchwork of tar paper. Pitted wood panels and rusty corrugated metal adorned the exterior walls as siding. A behemoth of a sliding barn door was the only entrance into a retail area which was lit by four anemic fluorescent fixtures that struggled to light the undulating grease stained concrete floor. A few single-pane windows were perma-coated with a grimy glaze that obscured the beautiful view of Lake Wawasee. If anyone dared to look up at the unfinished interior roof, their eyes would be met with a hand painted sign that read;
    “What the Hell are You Looking Up Here for Anyway?
    I have always been a pushover for strays and rejects, and I fell in love with the decrepit marina at first sight. My bleeding heart won the day over good sense, and I made the decision to purchase Johnson Bay Marina and restore her to her former usefulness.

    I realized that my newly acquired business was in desperate need of repairs and came with a painfully meager supply inventory. I was well aware of these facts, but I had no idea that when I took title to the property, I also took on the responsibility of hosting a cast of neighborhood characters that were accustomed to gathering on the marina front porch every morning just after dawn. Each day, this gaggle of crusty fishermen would gather on my veranda and swap fish stories as rapidly as speculators trade on Wall Street. Exaggeration and outright lies were the coins of this realm.

    I came to know Gene Ovseenko by the nickname “Mean Gene The Drink’in Machine.” He was the raunchy, rambling, pack leader of this daily assembly of anglers. As his name implied, Gene was quite fond of alcohol in any form, from champagne to home brew. Beer was to Mean Gene what WD-40 is to a rusty hinge, an excellent lubricant. Gene started fishing at 4:00 am most mornings, which meant that by 9:00 am he would be on his second six pack of Budweiser for the day.

    One morning, after their morning conference had adjourned, I noticed that Gene had forgotten to take his soiled and smelly fishing hat with him. I had never before mustered the courage to venture down the street to Gene’s hovel of a cabin because I was convinced that his home would be as slovenly as he was. In a moment of kindness or sheer lunacy, I decided to take him his hat.

    I walked down three houses and knocked on his door. As the door opened, it became painfully clear that my hunch was spot on. This was not a house; it was 600 square feet of pure stench contained by four walls. The musty, cave-like, one room was festooned with fishing tackle and gear of every kind. Once inside, my eyes began to water as I struggled to breathe. I needed to make this a quick trip for my survival.

    “Hi Gene, you forgot your hat this morning. Here it is.”

    “Well, what the F***? I can’t catch any G** D*** fish without my F***** hat. Come on in Peanut, I’m just making a batch of Borscht for lunch. Want some? It’s damn good soup, just like my Mama used to make. Yup,damn good soup.”

    Mean Gene’s second language was English, cursing was his first.

    “No thanks. I already had lunch. Tell me Gene, how long have you lived here?”

    “Well, I’ll have to think about that. Maybe since ’65, after my rodeo accident. That son of a b**** bull, ‘Blackheart’, threw me and broke my back in two places. S*** that hurt, I couldn’t move,so they had to drag me out of the ring. When I got all healed up, I caught a bus and headed east. My money ran out so the bus dropped me here. I won this cabin in a poker game, I’ve always been a lucky son of a b****. Oh, s***, my soup is boiling over. Sure you don’t want some Peanut?”

    “ Oh, I have never been more sure of anything in my life.”

    • Hi Peanut: I found this quite a ramble. Your description of the marina at the beginning started me down one road, then comes your character who unfortunately came across as a stereotype of countless similar characters.

      In my opinion if one needs to write rough language into a story, then write it. Abbreviated versions with asterisks don’t cut it for me.

      I think an opportunity was lost to craft a story between the MC and the old man. I never developed in interest in him. For me it simply read too cute. Sorry, Jeff

    • Peanut,
      I think you set this up perfectly with the “power of potential” whether an aging business or as we age. Great crusty characters that were inherited with the marina. I see this as a work in progress. The beginning, up to the description of Gene, is interesting and easy to follow. You introduce Gene and then launch immediately into an experience with him. The experience appears to be an excerpt still being worked on. I understand borscht means Russian but it still needs work. It is unclear whether the story is about him or the new business.

      You may have had a block, but for me you are always an inspiration. Love seeing your work as “in progress”. Congrats on the teaching job.

      Tink

    • I loved the description of the warehouse, especially the sign on the ceiling, so I was disappointed when the story shifted to the crew outside and they did not feed back into the marina back story. I agree with Jeff about the swear words (although maybe the asterisks were to get around the blog censors). Excellent description of Gene’s house, although I wasn’t sure why I (as the reader) was there.

    • Peanut – I think I have read this story before but maybe not. I found the marina a backdrop for this set of characters who came every day to share fish stories. I think if the marina is the connection to these characters, maybe Gene in particular then you could back to the marina now and then. I am not offended by the curse words, but I do understand your respect for the blog. You title your piece “Potential”. It is potential and I love some of your descriptive moments. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on the joy – so interesting!

    • This sentence:

      “A behemoth of a sliding barn door was the only entrance into a retail area which was lit by four anemic fluorescent fixtures that struggled to light the undulating grease stained concrete floor.”

      Is a bit of a run-on sentence. You’re talking about 2 different things here, the door and the retail area. I’d split it into 2 sentences.

      The story also has 2 different topics, the first is the Marina, the second is about Gene. The transition between the two is a bit rough. Maybe stick to one or the other for the purposes of this short piece?

      I like you characterization of Gene. Very colorful. Giving him a nickname and showing us his house adds a lot.

  4. The Squirrel and the Currant

    I shuffled into the kitchen this morning just in time to glance out the window and spot the resident squirrel in the act of demolishing my newly-potted pink flowering currant. I bought the eight-inch seedling at a native plant sale because it was pretty and I wanted to start making this yard my own. If I couldn’t do a complete makeover (my preferred option), I envisioned perhaps starting a native plant garden in containers, anything to bring back some beauty and life to the place. The backyard of this property, like the house itself, has been neglected for years, probably decades. It now is a depository for discarded household objects transformed over the years into just plain trash; the yard has been abandoned to fend for itself. I hoped to steer it into recovery mode and, in the process, begin feeling like I belonged here too.

    My first purchase was a California native currant whose future flowers promised pendulous pink stars, a haven for bees and human senses. Catching squirrel in the death act, my first impulse was to run out the door and scare it away. Instead I just watched for a moment. He was having such a good time – digging in the soft (organic) potting soil, completely engrossed, searching with great expectation for secret buried morsels of food. Squirrel did of course, within a few moments, bite the thin stem nearly through and through, leaving the plant hanging awkwardly over the edge of the pot. Then he went to work on the roots. He dug and danced and dug some more, tail flicking, excited, and eventually found the hidden cache. Adding to the insult, I could plainly hear the murder in progress – rodent molars crushing soft plant parts – as he sat satisfied, in typical squirrel posture, while the seedling drifted further towards its demise.

    Fast-forward a few hours to mid-morning. I went outside and removed the short-lived currant from its short-lived home. While I reclined in my lounge chair, enjoying the still cool breeze and mocking bird songs, I spotted the squirrel, sitting innocently on the fence. Well, actually, three squirrels! I was surprised (and delighted, despite the circumstances) since I hadn’t seen the other two before. They were teenagers playing tag, chasing each other around tree trunks, chattering encouragement while clinging upside down with their back claws, flying fearlessly between branches, and generally defying gravity. I was witness to pure, unfettered joy. It was hard to be angry.

    As they settled down, the third squirrel (the perpetrator, I presumed) began walking along the four-foot high fence that separates most of the yard from the shed. She traveled the 30-foot distance, sniffing in cracks, curiously attending to potentially edible tidbits. Every so often she’d locate such an item, sit, nibble, then continue her exploration. During the course of about twenty minutes, she journeyed the length of the fence, turned around to repeat the exercise, jumped the three foot span up onto the roof of the house, foraged up there for a while, leaped onto the tree next to the fence and then, hopped onto the fence to walk up and back yet again. Which is when it hit me: I had indeed placed the plant in the wrong place! The currant was simply within squirrel’s regular route at the base of the big ash tree, a path she’d probably wandered hundreds of times before. This morning she saw something novel and had to investigate to see if there might be a snack to be had. There was.

    I wondered why I hadn’t rescued the plant from certain death when I had the chance, my typical modus operandi. Several reasons came to mind. First, it seemed out of sorts from the get go. Even before I repotted it, most of its leaves (all six) were losing their green and turning a wan yellow color, not a good sign. Then I couldn’t find a place where I felt the plant really belonged – I moved it several times the first few days and finally settled on a spot between two massive roots of the ash. But even that was not quite right; the plant didn’t seem to fit with the existing “décor”. As I watched it fade over the next few days, I tried to rationalize that maybe it was just adjusting and a new set of appropriately green and healthy leaves would soon unfurl. Deep down, I had my doubts.

    After “the event” I began to contemplate the bigger picture – and this disturbing thought surfaced: perhaps I was the real interloper here, with currant sentenced by association. The squirrels, ash tree, birds, and other plants (even in their abused state) were here long before I arrived, clearly at home in this environment – they had formed a community. In my haste to fit in, I had skipped the courtship, leaped straight towards intimacy, and fell with an embarrassing thud (taking an innocent plant with me). And something else: being an ecologist, I usually first see environmental damage – the inflicted pollution, habitat ruin, and general lack of respect that characterizes so much of human interaction with the earth. Through this lens, my inclination is to fix, to help restore some greater vision in my mind of what a more natural landscape should be – indigenous, diverse, healthy, and beautiful – even in someone’s backyard.

    I believe these are worthy goals. But now I realize that I overlooked what was innately right about this place and the beings here – that each is a source of light and life force in its own right, without me, despite being injured and abandoned. I missed experiencing the felt sense of their true natures, thereby inflicting the greatest wound possible – rendering someone invisible. After that omission, there was no way I could navigate to the next levels of our relationship – appreciation, gratitude and, I dare say, love – exactly what I also need in order to thrive and embody my best self in the world.

    I am sorry. Can we start again? Thankfully, unlike many humans, the plants I’ve come to know elsewhere are infinitely patient, they forgive my transgressions and my laziness, and they don’t know how to hold a grudge. I am relieved and grateful for the possibility of new beginnings. This is what I promise to all the beings who live here: to stand in my sovereignty as a generative, life-affirming human, to listen and pay attention, to offer love and blessings for who you are and, to help hold a safe and sacred space for us all. Let’s meet there. Then who knows what miracles might emerge from our unconventional partnership? Maybe we will introduce some native plants to the garden…or not. We’ll go slow and see what happens.

    • Slice of life vignettes with message endings are not my thing so I am poorly qualified to comment on the substance of the story. As I read, I was put off by the constant use of parenthetical thoughts, dashes and quotation marks. Try rewriting to eliminate these and compare the results. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the new version. Jeff

    • Trudy,
      Great start. I was captivated by your description of the property and how you led in to the destruction of your first plant. But then you fast forwarded and I didn’t want to. I know this is a work in progress. If you can capture the theme you started with, show more than tell, I think you’ll be back on track. Decide what you’re story is about, you observing or the transforming of a garden in spite of the critters. Loved the start, you have a knack for seeing what isn’t written.
      Tink

    • Trudy, I enjoyed the romping, destructive squirrel tale but was disappointed when your story changed to an allegory. I think I would have liked it better if this were two separate pieces or if the story focused more on the allegory and less on the activities of the squirrels. However, it’s well written and I really enjoy your writing style.

    • I think you have some intriguing thoughts building here. I don’t feel like the paragraph about being an ecologist added to the story at this point. I think if you went from wondering why you didn’t rescue the plant to courting acceptance of the existing yard that would have flowed nicely into a theme of renewal through acceptance.

    • Trudy – I too love the outdoors and so I liked the invitation into your garden. I think the sixth paragraph is the point of your story, so maybe rearrange or focus on that part. It is an epiphany to realize you were the intruder so to speak. I was a little confused by the last paragraph because it seemed different than the voice of the rest of the piece. Great start a piece reflecting a man versus nature relationship.

  5. The pathetic kitten found himself along the side entrance leading to the front portico of the old, purple-doored adobe. Some careless fool had discarded him in the metal trashcan. His pitiful meows and frantic clawing at the metal sides attracted the attention of the mistress of the house. Looking more like a drowned rat with a bushy tale than any form of cat, she quickly swept him up into her loving arms. She was no stranger to oddness. She chose to wear her hair cut in a bowl shape on one side while growing a long, thick braid on the other side. She liked her white stripe down the middle front of her head claiming she was like a skunk. Funny she never smelled badly, only of smoke from her beehive fireplace.

    She gently bathed and warmed him by the fire. Inviting her lifelong friend over from next door, they laughed until they cried at how downright ugly this kitten was. He was pitiful to look at, yet there was some magical quality about him neither of the ladies could identify. In spite of his looks, the mistress simply adored him and gave this ugly cat the name Crawford. Unusual name for a cat, but then he was not just any ordinary cat.

    Repulsed by his ugliness, the other cats in the brick-floored adobe gave Crawford the royal snub. They lifted their poufy tails high, arched their backs, hissed in passing, and never offered a paw of welcome. The mistress understood the shunning and made sure Crawford had his own special food bowl and a private spot on the couch in front of the crackling fire.

    Time passed and Crawford grew, unnoticed by others except the mistress and her best friend next door. That ridiculous tail which overwhelmed his body the night he arrived at her house developed into a magnificent vision of royal fluffiness. He held high the gorgeous layers of white, brown, black, and orange as if it signaled to his masterpiece of dignity. His long, slender body sported a unique blend of stripes and solid colors displayed by long hairs. The depth of hairs made him seem exceptional large, but when picked up, he was still a lightweight. His face had the sweetest smile making him probably her favorite feline. Of course rescuing him from death securely bonded their connection and love for each other.

    Now the other cats gave him space not out of rejection, but out of respect and awe at his grandeur. If anyone could catch a rat out in the overgrown field of weeds, Crawford could. He patrolled the property making sure no stray critters ventured into the walls of his domain. Even dogs felt threatened by his presence. Maybe it was his unusually long body or maybe it was the size of his gigantic furry tail, but dogs simply turned and traveled past the old wooden gate.

    As the years passed, Crawford had claimed a name for himself in the neighborhood. No one chuckled anymore when they said Crawford. He had earned respect and love from all the neighbors, but he really only chose to visit the mistress’ best friend next door. After all, she had seen something special in him the night he arrived. Although she and the mistress often marveled at how wretched he looked that night, they never failed to recognize his magnificence now. When the best friend stroked his back, he held his tail particularly high and stiff. Not that his tail ever drug the ground. Unlike most cats, Crawford never dropped his tail whether walking, stalking, or talking about his property. After all, being different offers a chance to shine among the dullness of ordinary.

    Crawford taught everyone a lesson, one that is old, sometimes overused, but true to the mark. Crawford was not a prize by his looks, but by his character. Don’t judge a book by its cover has more depth of truth than the cliché it has come to represent. Maybe Crawford chose to confirm – actions speak louder than words.

    • Ah, the return of the asymmetric hairdo. I recall that from one of your earlier stories. 🙂 As I mentioned to Trudy I am not a fan of such stories as I am used to hard fiction, strong characters and a plot. Not to say that there aren’t fans of such stories.I would like to see more showing and less telling. Jeff

      • It is meant to be a children’s story with illustrations. I find comments of not liking a style similar to English teachers who grade essays on whether they like them or not. I don’t have to like a piece to admire good writing. I do not like H.P. Lovecraft but he was a great writer.

    • khwatkins,
      I immediately felt this a wonderful children’s story, even before reading your comment confirming it. it is a lovely tale of being different and the message conveyed in the persona of a cat. Two areas that are written a bit too mature and unclear than the rest of the story: 1. Description of the mistress; 2. Last paragraph; If you could work those in a different way, I would have nothing to critique and would read this to my grandchildren without skipping those parts.
      Tink

    • I don’t think I could give any added worthwhile feedback. I agree with Tink and think this reads very well as a children’s story but on occasion your audience may get lost in the more mature sections of writing. Nicely done.

    • I would like to see a little more of Crawford in action. An example of how he got to be such a good hunter or why the dogs respected him.

  6. This is a story I’ve been working on this past year. Caution – it’s pretty rough.

    Pit Belles

    Four-ounce gloves. That’s one of the rules. You won’t find them written down. You just learn them.

    Ellie spits her fake teeth into my hand, and I slip her mouthpiece between her toothless gums. She looks at me like she could fillet me with a razor. I jerk her leash and hiss, “You can do it, baby. One more fight.” She spits in my face, and I laugh.

    Ellie punches my gut with vengeance. I tell her she hits like a pussy. She tries a left to my head. I dodge and give her a backhand. She’s becoming predictable. And if I can see it, so can her opponent. This is her sixth fight. That’s three more than most make.

    She begs for a bump of coke, just one bump. I tell her no. Dope’s okay after a fight. Not before. That’s my rule.

    These insanity fights began around the year 2020. Tomas Porjeski and Jimmy Giamarco had sawed off a chunk of South Chicago against rival gangs. Tomas and Jimmy were toasting their success when Tomas’ girl got into a fight with Jimmy’s main bitch about some pointless woman stuff. Tomas bet Jimmy 5-Gs that his girl could whip Jimmy’s gal. Jimmy bet Tomas ten that his girl could kill Thomas’ woman. Five minutes later Jimmy was 10-Gs richer. That was five years ago. Now the fights creep around Chicago’s seedier spots, one a month, word of mouth. Jimmy and Tomas have their fingers in all of them.

    The clamoring of the bell in the basement arena summons us to the pit.

    There’s only one round, and it doesn’t have a time limit. The gate makes the purse. On a good night there will be a hundred well-heeled guys who think nothing of laying down a couple Gs or more to see a woman beat another to death. The entry fee is 10-Gs to keep out the wannabees. Winning manager splits with the house. Losing manager has a body to get rid of.

    I sense I hold the losing hand before Ellie enters the pit. I see it in her eyes. And that’s what sucks about being champ. Champs don’t get to quit. They have to fight to their death just like the rest. Another rule.

    Ellie came from the homeless and vagrant jetsam of Chicago’s darkness. Girls without a future. Tough bitches who steal and whore to make it another day. That’s how I met her. She tried to mug me after a cheap fuck. Nearly whipped me. I cleaned her clock, but she didn’t give up, so I gave her hope. A future. A short future.

    Ellie’s made us a lot of money. Money she’ll never get to spend. She understands that. We’ve lived good on my take. I’ll need the rest of mine to get out of the city when this is over. Her half is in a box under the back seat of my Buick with her momma’s address. I promised her that I would send it when the time came.

    Ellie steps into the pit and squares off with her opponent who looks maybe 18. A sinewy blonde with short hair and a tat across her forehead. Strong legs. It’s her second fight so her face is still okay. I glance at Ellie who looks tragically old at 20.

    The opponent starts yelling shit at Ellie. Ellie looks at her and flips her off with her gloved hand. The crowd screams. Ellie waves. Side bets fly. I remove Ellie’s collar and leash.

    At the bell, mayhem boils, and the girls attack with death lust. Ellie strikes first, feinting a right and striking with a big left to her opponent’s head. She shakes it off and comes after Ellie with a head butt. They both hit the mat, and it’s arms and legs and elbows and knees. It’s not the science of boxing. It’s the science of natural selection.

    Within the first minute I can tell it’s Ellie’s final match. Her opponent takes her down again, straddles her, and pummels her face. Ellie’s eyes are swelling shut. Her nose is split. Her lips, unrecognizable. Her arms move to defend, then nothing. I nod to the medic. He’s the only one who can declare the fight over. He feels for a pulse and shakes his head. I go to Ellie’s battered body and cover her with a sheet.

    The winner struts around the ring, arms raised in victory, but she shies away from Ellie. There’s no championship buckle and belt. She’s made more tonight than in a year tricking and stealing. She gives Ellie a glance, perhaps wondering when her turn will come. But, tonight she’s the champ.

    I wrap Ellie and lift her 115 pounds over my shoulder. Walking to the car I start to tear-up and begin mumbling to her, mostly to ease my conscience. It doesn’t work. I fold her into the trunk and unwrap her face. An arm. I see movement behind her swollen eyelids. Her lips tremble. I had bribed the medic.

    “You ready for that bump?” My voice falters.

    She makes a sound which I take for a yes. She doesn’t know she lost.

    I retrieve a syringe I made up before the fight. It finds a vein. I watch her pass. I close the trunk, and we head toward the mountains. She picked the spot after her fourth fight.

    I think of the cash under the seat with her momma’s name on it. I’ll mail it in the morning.

    • Jeff,
      Even though we have different writing styles, I wonder and admire your writing from what depth I can only imagine. With this piece though, I found myself wondering why the collar and starting scanning to see if Ellie was a dog or another animal because I couldn’t understand if she was a person. With the bump and cash for her momma, I guess she was. You’re right, a bit too rough for me but I understand the fight game so I don’t think it needed to be.

      Tink

    • Jeff, I like to visit the darker side of things often and enjoy your writing. I find your writing compels me to read on. I enjoyed Ellie’s story but don’t find the history behind the fights necessary. The line “That’s three more than most make” is awkward to me. Other than that it’s a great read.

    • I like this story. I think you could take the collar and leash out and it would work just fine. The “leash” is Ellie’s dependence on the narrator who pulled her off the streets and gave her life meaning and value. I thought the line about the science of boxing and natural selection was a little stiff. Maybe you could consider boxing as orchestrated violence and the insanity fight as random noise. Science just didn’t seem to fit to me.

  7. I do not like the content of your hard fiction that places a woman from one victim situation to another. However your writing is vivid and well-done.

  8. If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake. Lie down in your coffin and say, “When you’re ready”.

    David Mitchell
    how true.

  9. This is from an earlier galumphing prompt. I haven’t been writing much lately but wanted to make an attempt. So here goes.

    Arts and Craft

    Through one squinting eye I stabbed the braided wire at the opening in the needle. I glanced at April’s design for a new piece of jewelry. It wasn’t going as well as planned. Like dental floss the cheaply made wiring frayed when encountering any friction. The result reminded me of Albert Einstein’s hair and not the tire chain that inspired the piece. I glared at the back of Rudy’s head trying to ignore the graph showing declining profits. Profits were healthy before Rudy began interfering with my creative process.

    “Are you and April taking off for the Adirondacks again?”

    Rudy swiveled his head and peered out from under his stringy bangs. “Leaving tonight. I’m going to surprise her with this.” He shoved a rectangular hinged box in front of me.

    I opened it, removed a necklace and held it against my throat. “It’s beautiful.” Five gold coins dripped from a chunky-linked rolo chain. A stark contrast to the steel and brass bracelet hanging off my wrist. “Are profits better this month?”

    He folded the laptop closed, “They’re picking up. Your nail and copper piece sold for $150.”

    Ten times more than April’s designs. I wished Rudy would cease his efforts to appease April. She attempted to edge me out by taking on the creative end of the business. Had I any business savvy I would’ve left long ago but Rudy convinced me to stay pointing out that a 50/50 commission was well above the industry standard. He claimed jewelers were rats and snakes ready to exploit my artistry. So I stayed.

    I dumped the necklace back in the box, “I’m going for a walk to find some inspiration.”

    I wandered about the neighborhood and cocked my head to the side when I heard soulful sounds emanating from around the corner. My ears guided me to a local shop. Inside a mocha, dread-locked beauty released raspy tones as she bent over her display case.

    “Great voice, I love Ella.” I approached her. “Nice shop too. Love your displays.”

    The mocha beauty popped up and swished toward me. “Thank you. I’m Karina. However can I help you? And I do mean however.” Her eyes appraised my voluptuous figure and she chuckled.

    I giggled, “I came to see where the singing was coming from. I’ve never been in here before. Care to give me a tour?”

    Karina wove her arm through mine and led me to the front of the store. “Welcome, to Artisan’s Haven. This is a place for local artists to show expressions of themselves. One of my favorites, Dean Mimeo takes discarded items and mends them together conceiving something beautiful. Even from a rusty nail or two.” She cradled an acrylic sphere in her hands. I saw shards of glass glinting from inside as well as a button and nail.

    “What a coincidence! I often work with nails.” I held up my wrist sporting my nails and bolts bracelet.

    Karina’s smile grew. “Coincidences abound.” She held up her own wrist to reveal nails and screws dangling from a copper bracelet. “I see that Valerie Warner inspires you. This piece is well worth the $300 investment.” I recognized the bracelet that Rudy claimed he sold for $150.

    “Best bracelet I ever made.” I grinned.

    Her eyes widened with recognition, “Valerie Warner?!? I’ve been trying to get your line in my store since I discovered this little treasure but that Rudy said you were too vested in Punk Designs. And that it would cheapen your image.” She leered at me. “I’d love to convince you otherwise, perhaps over dinner.” I stayed quiet engrossed in my thoughts.

    Mistaking my silence for disinterest, Karina’s smile faded, “I’ve got to finish my displays. Feel free to browse. If you change your mind, please call me.” She handed me her card.

    I toyed with it for a millisecond then said, “I’d love to have a discussion over dinner but lunch would be even better.” I winked.

    Now Karina giggled, and on a cardboard square she scribbled “Closed for the day. Sorry for the inconvenience.” She grabbed her purse from under the counter. “I’m always up for a promising business lunch.” She taped the cardboard to the front door.

    —-

    We ate at a little dive with great Vietnamese Pho. Karina averted her eyes as she slurped her noodles. “My store is in its infancy. I can’t offer the standard 70/30. I offer 55/45 to more seasoned artists. But I love your work. I’m willing to do 60/40. As my store grows I promise to meet the standard as long as my shop can survive.” She gave me a hopeful smile.
    I placed my hand on hers. “I think working with someone new will be refreshing.” I thought of ditching Rudy and Punk Designs. “I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”

    —-

    I stood behind the counter at Artisan’s Haven when a familiar voice said, “Hi Val.”

    I turned to see Rudy. His eyes were buried in dark circles. I noticed April behind him no longer parading the gold doubloon necklace given to her six months ago. She avoided me and scurried about the shop.

    Rudy looked askance. “No hard feelings? I hear you’re doing well. I’m happy for you.” He paused for my reply. I said nothing. “I was hoping to buy something. For April’s birthday tomorrow. Her friends rave about your stuff. Maybe I can get a discount? For old time’s sake.” He wore a shaky smile.

    I patted his hand and said, “Sure, Rudy, no hard feelings. Here’s a new line I’ve started. Inspired by you, actually.” She picked up a bracelet and handed it to him.

    Rudy fondled the serpentine chain with Chinese characters dangling from it. “Nice. What do these mean? How much?”

    She smirked. “Those are the Chinese characters for rats and snakes. I planned on selling it for $150 but you can have it for $300. You know, for old time’s sake.”

    • I like the characters and the ending, but I was a little unsure why such a successful artisan would not know the money side of her business at all. Who did the money before Rudy? Was she just the crafter and April the name designer?

      • Kbug, thanks for the feedback. I was wondering if someone was going to call me on that.😊 I think the word limit got in my way and I couldn’t resolve all the questions without going over the limit. I just got lazy and posted before this was ready. I’ll work on it. Thanks.

    • Lisa, I like the tension and the resolve of Val to be an artist not a doormat. For me I think rearranging some of the paragraphs and maybe using the first part as a flashback could add interest. Then could work on what a sleaze Rudy is. Nice voice and writing.

  10. Ah, tension at the workplace, management stifling artistry, hint of sex and forbidden fruit. Good writing. I think it reads better without the last two lines.

  11. THE CARETAKER’S COTTAGE

    My husband has called me Tink as long as I can remember. He watches me flitting about and hitting the floor running at 7:00 am every morning. I’m a little lady, long retired, busy doing aerobics, yoga, baking, quilting, gardening, reading. Then I took Ann’s BWW class and the real magic began. This morning I see a new challenge. Come along with me on my adventure.

    I rip open the envelope from Tulalip Publishers. Congratulations, you are one of twenty-six promising new writers we are offering a writer’s retreat to. The retreat will be held at The Waterside College campus, on Cedar Island, WA from May 12-15th, 2015. Directions and instructions are enclosed. RSVP, a self- stamped envelope has been provided.

    You will find this private retreat a perfect setting for your writing. Located within the island’s enchanting forest, it is over 200 acres; three sides are bordered by paved streets and the fourth is on an inlet that connects with Puget Sound. If you’re off for an adventure, you’ll find a map, enclosed in glass, at the start of each path. Take any path–they all lead out to the inlet.

    Throughout the forest and gardens, you’ll see blue poles that have emergency buttons to press if you become lost or need assistance. At the northernmost edge of the forest, you’ll find The Caretaker’s Cottage perched high above the water with access to and from the beach by a stone staircase. Some say it is haunted. Do not disturb the occupants.

    We look forward to seeing all of you on May 12th. Check in time is 9:30 am at the picnic table, outside the cottage. Orientation will begin upon your arrival.

    Winding down the steep dirt road, I find the gravel driveway with a blue emergency pole at the top. My ageing Peugeot will never make it up that hill. I park next to the No Outlet sign. Flinging my backpack over my shoulder I hike up a steep stone staircase. The air is filled with the sweet fragrance of the lavender plants that line both sides of the stairs.

    No one is around when I reach the top, so I high-five the blue pole, careful not to hit the emergency button. I head over to the picnic table, drop my backpack on the bench and finally rub my shoulder. A rock is holding down an instruction /sign in sheet. All twenty-six names start with a different letter: from Abigail to Zelda. I locate my name, Tink, on line twenty and sign in at 8:31 am. Please note the location of the blue emergency pole. Enter the cottage and become acquainted with your new surroundings. The kitchen has been stocked with the foods you requested. Be advised: You are NOT to explore the forest or beach alone.

    I spot the little cottage on the edge of the forest, the trees towering high over its rooftop. In return for the protection, the cottage hides the gateway into the forest. Safe from the world, I am looking forward to spending time in this quaint, gingerbread, storybook house with it’s beveled windows. I’ll snuggle up with a blanket, in front of the cobblestone fireplace and let the words flow from my imagination.

    I start walking towards the cottage. The cottage grows darker; clouds block the sunlight from entering. The closer I get, the windier it becomes. Suddenly, a gust pushes me backwards. I fall hard on my right elbow and hip.

    Shaking, I retrace my steps back to the picnic table, buttoning up my coat. Tears run down my cheeks. I force myself down on the bench, shifting my weight to sit on my left leg, the other dangling, unable to reach the ground. I look at my elbow and then my hip. Scrapped but not broken. I am going to be so bruised. My fingers rapidly tap away on the table. I wish I hadn’t been so eager to get here early. My cell phone reads 10:05 am. Where are the others?

    With one eye on the cottage, my paper and pencil in front of me, a shiver runs down my spine. I take the invitation out and read it again through my tears.

    Sitting in the sunshine, my tears slow with each breath of the sweet, fresh morning air. The crispness will last until mid-afternoon. I sit up straight, my shoulders back. My fingers twirl and roll the pencil around. My eyes travel along with the white, pillowing clouds. I wonder at what speed they are travelling across the slate blue sky. Massive rhododendron branches are heavy with clusters of flowers in an array of colors from lavender to powder blue to ruby red. Huckleberry bushes are full of plump dark purple berries. I hear the quiet whirling of a tiny hummingbird searching for nectar.
    The tranquility is broken by the sound of voices. I look over my shoulder to see a man and woman, around sixty, climbing up the steps from the beach. Their salt and pepper coated terrier trots over to inspect me.
    Laughing, they wave and shout to her, “Annie, stop.”

    John and Sarah are their names. They have returned to sit with me after leaning their walking sticks and buckets of clams outside the door of the cottage. I hand the invitation over to John. I rest my hand on my cheek and watch them read.

    Sarah’s face is smooth and still, her hazel eyes clear, her thick wavy hair streaked silvery white and black. John’s deep creases run down and across his face. He squints to focus, then reaches into his pocket for his glasses. John shakes his head. “An overnight retreat? No one has ever spent the night here.”

    Annie has made herself at home, firmly leaning into my leg, her head resting on my knee. I stroke her softly with my other hand, thinking there is something quite effortless about John and Sarah. I just can’t put my finger on it.

    Without another sound, John squares his shoulders and stares off over the inlet. Handing me back the invitation, Sarah leans forward, locks her now jet black eyes with mine. “We’ll then, it’s settled. You must hike through the rainforest. Take Annie. You’ll be safe with her”

    Annie in the lead, the cottage is alive in rainbows of colors as it allows the sunlight to enter through the beveled windows. I hear John call out from far away, “grab one of the walking sticks.”

    We enter on a narrow deer path, down a steep decline until it levels off. Under the tree canopy the world immediately drops away. Everywhere I look there are different textures and shades of green. Massive ferns with great arching fronds thrive in abundance on the forest floor. Some are matted down probably used for bedding by the deer. Moss drips from tree limbs like lace on a shawl, while ivy twirls its way up cedar tree trunks. My mind and body tingle from the energy surrounding me. Annie is skipping on ahead, glancing back to check on me. I come upon a bridge built over a gentle moving creek. Swatting away mosquitoes, I look down at Annie, splashing about to her heart’s content. Climbing out, she shakes from side to side, and bounces up the path home.

    I lift my head up from my folded arms. I am all alone and still sitting in the same spot at the picnic table. I must have fallen asleep. The sky is filled with bright stars yet eerie shadows loom in all directions. My cell phone has no reception. The cottage has disappeared into the darkness. I slowly raise my leg, weak from being asleep too long. My hip and elbow are on fire. Wrapping my left hand tightly around the walking stick, the moon lights the path down to the blue pole.

    Over the pounding of my heart, I hear Sarah’s voice. “Good girl Annie. Stay with Tink”.

    Holding the crumbled invitation, I slam my hand onto emergency button.
    “Campus Police, what is your emergency?”
    “Help me. Please help me.” Annie leans in closer.

    • Thanks, Lisa. I agree with you about the history behind the fights. My first couple of drafts didn’t include that, but a beta reader suggested it needed some background. Instead of being so literal with a para devoted to that, I will revise to paint a pic of the underworld in general, spreading bits throughout the story. Thanks for catching that.

      • Jeff, I usually have trouble finishing my stories and have an idea that I sometimes can’t execute. I also wondered if I should leave out the last paragraph and have Val be the forgiving sort. But I usually opt for whatever seems more clever. Thanks for the feedback.

      • Jeff, the history is fine just not necessary. Working it into your story in bits throughout is a great idea. After I read your story I actually reworked my piece to weave history into dialogue or the character’s thoughts and I think it’s an improvement. Good luck with the rewrite.

    • Tink: I think this could do without the first para. When I started reading my first reaction was, On, no. Another slice of life story. But then I found myself in the woman’s dream or some type of metaphysical situ.

      Quoting the text from the letter without quotations threw me at first. How would it be if you quoted single lines from the letter in quotes as she reads, interspersed with her thoughts and reactions to what she is reading (It reminded me of the para in my story where I dropped in the history of the fight without giving it proper thought.).

      I’m still not sure what happened at the end. Did she dream this couple and their dog?

      At the end I did like the last two sentences as a writing style, but I didn’t understand what was going on.

      I admire your creativity in this. I think it something you can keep as a perpetual project to refine the story and achieve some greeter depth to the MC.

      • I don’t understand all of your comments, but I do get that I need achieve greater depth in my writing. I admire your work and appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on mine.

    • Tink – you are very creative and your descriptions are good. I had trouble reading present tense throughout and the end. I am not sure if it was all a dream, an alien invasion into her mind, or it really did happen. If it is a campus, where is the rest of the campus? I only saw a cottage, the forest, and the beach. You have great potential here to make this a supernatural piece, a dream sequence, or a real life event. Lots of options but all up to you.

  12. There is a lot going here. I got a little lost. Tink couldn’t approach the cottage, but John and Sarah can leave stuff by the door. When Tink left with Annie, did they go through the cottage? There was sunlight coming through the windows. Interesting puzzling start.

  13. The Special Rock
    “Momma, Momma,” she called, with an insistent note in her voice that demanded I pay attention.

    “What, honey?” I asked, looking up from my magazine. We were “playing” on the driveway, which meant that Jennifer was exploring the flower beds and yard with typical two-year old thoroughness, while I sat on a chair on the driveway, trying to avoid complete mental vegetation by reading a magazine in one minute spurts between bumps, bruises, discoveries and other demands for attention.

    “Look what I found,” she declared with the object hidden in tightly grasped hands.

    “What is it?” I asked holding out my hands to receive the object she thrust towards me.

    “It’s a rock! I found a rock,” was the proud, emphatic reply. “See, see, it’s broke.”

    “You’re right,” I responded. “It is broken along this side. That’s why the edge is so sharp.”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said, punctuating each “yeah” with an quick, jerky nod. “Lookey here, momma, it’s . . .” she paused, the concentration clear in her face as she searched for the right word. I paused, my mouth hanging open with hers, ready to supply a noun, any noun, but hoping she would find the right word for whatever thought she was trying to express. “It’s . . . brown! It’s a brown spot, here, here!’

    “You’re exactly right,” I exclaimed, the pride in my voice acknowledging and affirming the victorious note in hers. “It has a brown spot on this side.”

    “And, and, it’s gray, with a hole over here!”

    “What a special rock you’ve found,” I said. “It’s gray, with a brown spot, a hole, and a sharp broken edge. Would you like me to put in the basket with your other rocks?”

    “No, you keep it momma,” she said, folding my fingers over the rock before she left in search of her next great discovery.

    I smiled at her back as she wound her way through the bushes back into the flower bed. Still smiling, I glanced down at the rock, amazed and somewhat awed by the details she had observed and declared about such a simple thing. As I turned the rock over in my hands, a chill tingled down my spine as I realized those same microscopic powers of observation were trained on my words, my tone, my face, my body language, every minute we spent together. My smile faded to a somber grimace as I wondered what lessons she was really learning from me, this child who found so many special things in a chunk of concrete, chipped off the driveway.

    • kbug – I love the emotion between mother and daughter. The second paragraph is a little confusing – I think the daughter is getting bumps, bruises, and needing attention but it is not clear if it is Jennifer or the mom. I am not sure I understand all of the last paragraph. How did she grimace over a rock and Jennifer’s observations? There is no indication in the piece that Jennifer is learning anything to merit grimace. Good writing.

    • I liked this a lot. I am not a fan of unnecesary adjectives, and while few were found to my taste, I found myself reading some lines again omitting the adjectives.

      I agree with the comment about somber grimace, I think it flows better with simply “smile faded”. Also take out “chill tingled down my spine” – a bit of a cliche which tells but doesn’t show.

      The second para gets a bit wordy, I think you can rewrite it better.

      I liked the object being a rock, changing to chipped concrete didn’t do it for me at the end..

      I liked the self-realization at the end, you got the point across without overdoing it into a Hallmark moment.

      A challenge – go back over it and find 10 unnecessary words to take out.

  14. How the heck did I botch the placement of my remarks so badly 😦

  15. dark child

    little bitty dark girl sits on the stoop after the rain, gazing at the pretty colors of a rainbow shining in the sky.
    momma calls her in to supper.
    the rainbow fades.

    little dark girl on her first day of school, watches the bus go by.
    gotta walk, no change in her pockets.
    when the big girls come, she’ll have to hide.

    young dark girl sitting in class, she knows the answer but sits still… 
    “quiet, quiet. maybe they won’t see me”

    quiet dark girl reads books by day and roams the streets by night.
    she said she was 18 and he believed her.
    lipstick, short skirt, strut, strut…
    sneak back in the window at dawn.

    scared dark girl is starting to show, gotta tell momma.
    momma makes the problem go away.
    dark girl is a woman now.

    empty dark girl is on her own, sleeping in the stairwell.
    or his bed or hers.
    tomorrow…  i can’t think about you right now.

    dark girl sleeps, until the shadows wake her.
    and she finally sees the light.

    dark child, believe in me.
    dark child, follow me.
    dark child, trust in me.

    dark girl walks through the doors and sits in the back pew.
    the living water flows and the rainbow reappears.

    • A lot of strength in this. My only difficulty was making the transition from such a shy girl to one who now looks 18 and works the streets without a suitable transition of growing up. I thought the ending gave a strong closing without going all moral. Hope to read more from you. Jeff

      • Mockingbird

        Thank you jeffswitt. I can see now how the language I chose to convey a teenage girl sneaking out the house at night to meet older boys could lead the reader to visualize that same girl working the streets. I have recently registered for Ann’s online beginners class which begins next week. Very excited and will certainly be back for more!

    • I think you did an amazing job portraying an introvert seeking attention where she thought she was okay and ends up used and abused. She grew up by the abuse of others because she was shy, dark, and misunderstood. Unfortunately I have known young women who would be the carbon copy of her. I did not understand the line “tomorrow … i can’t think about you right now.” until I read the end. Then I went back and reread the line and realized what you were saying. Really nice piece. Very easy style with a powerful punch. You will love Ann’s class; she is an amazing instructor.

  16. Thank you Almond! I can relate to this girl in so many ways.. I have heard nothing but great things about Ann’s abilities!

  17. I’m new to this. Here is a shot at a short fiction piece. Thanks!

    Hope Matters

    I felt the caressing breeze against my face as I sat on the cushioning grass with my arms hugging my knees. I held my breath in anticipation of upcoming sunrise. The first telltale glow of promise began to infuse the horizon. The dawn was perfectly clear making the sunrise that much grander. The sky brightened with the redness of the rising sun. The sunlight began to bathe my face in it’s warmth and wrapped me like a comforting blanket.

    I closed my eyes and took it all in, sighing in ecstasy. After a moment I stood and spread my arms and legs to take in the light in all it’s glory. The golden rays made my cropped, blonde hair sparkle. The experience continued to propel me to new heights of bliss.

    “The maximum allotted time has been reached,” a loud emotionless voice intoned as the hologram dispersed and the normal harsh lighting took over.

    I sighed with disappointment and held my head down to try and hold on to the feeling of joy I had just experienced. Any bliss quickly faded and I turned to leave the projection room.

    Now I had to face the “long walk”. In reality the “long walk” was only ½ a mile, in the moment it seemed an eternity. After leaving the perfect virtual world, participants typically became depressed, much like a drug user going through withdrawal. This made the stark white corridor seem endless. The harsh lightning didn’t help exactly help my mood or brighten my pale skin.

    After an indeterminable amount of time I finally reach the end of the “long walk.” Occasionally entrants were know to commit suicide right outside after the corridor. They just couldn’t take the thought of returning to the real world. I put on my breathing mask and with a monumental effort I pushed open the heavy door and faced the reality of my world.

    Grey. That one word summed up the world in it’s current state. Grey as far as the eye could see, grey sky, grey ground, grey buildings. It was maddening. It was all I could do to trudge towards the homestead, the will to survive barely winning. Much of the vegetation had died years ago, now most of the food was grown in underground hydroponic farms. They said we would all need supplemental oxygen soon, or those that are left.

    Home was as grey and dusty as everything else. The plain one story building used to be white, but now had become grey from years of dust and ash. My home was in a cluster of several others, all built exactly the same. The only way to find it amongst such duplicates was that it was the third one on the right. The buildings were faceless, no windows and no ornaments of any kind. I pushed open the handle and the airlock hissed with a sigh, built to keep out the dust the tended to permeate everything.

    I was greeted at the door by my younger brother. “Welcome back peahead,” he said playfully.

    Despite the grim surrounding he always managed to bring a smile to my face. “Back at you, knothead.”

    Seven of us lived in the 900 sq. foot hovel we call home. Mom, Dad, my younger brother and sister and my Aunt and Uncle. I shared a space with my siblings and Mom, Dad, Aunt and Uncle shared a room with a partition in it. Besides that, all we had was a kitchen and dining area and a bath and a half.

    I removed my mask and put in on the hook next to the others. I walked past my brother and into the kitchen area where Mom, Dad and my Aunt Cindy were fixing dinner.

    “Hi Hope. How was your session?” Mom asked cheerfully.

    “Fine,” I said.

    “Was the withdrawal manageable?”

    I nodded, grabbed a couple of cherry tomatoes and popped one in my mouth as I started to my room. My youngest sibling, Ursa, was in the room.

    “Whatcha doing?” She asked.

    “Just getting back from the holoroom.”

    “Ohhhhh, what did you see?”

    “The sunrise.”

    “Was it beautiful?” she asked with wide eyes.

    “It was.”

    “Will you take me next time?” she asked as she leaned forward in anticipation.

    “It will be a while, but yeah, I’ll take you.”

    “Yeaaa! Thank You!”

    After a few moments she asked, “Can I see your cube?”

    The cube she asked about was an old rubik’s cube. It had belonged to my Uncle when he was a kid. He had given it to me on my tenth birthday. I still held on to it even though it was missing a few of its squares, just because of the colors. Anything of color was hard to come by these days.

    “Sure.” I reached behind my bed and pulled it out from my storage chest and I handed it to her. She looked at it with wonderment, like she was seeing it for the first time.

    I looked at her examining the cube. None of the faces were matching, it had not been solved.

    My mind drifted as she played with the cube. “Hope.” What a name. There seemed so little hope in the world, our world was dying. Humanity as it’s best. We couldn’t leave well enough alone and instead we meddled where we shouldn’t have. The result was devastating. Now we had to fight for survival, each day a massive struggle to find enough food or just to keep yourself moving.

    Yet somehow my family somehow managed to keep a sense of humor about the dire situation. They truly were the epitome of making the best of a bad situation. Sometimes I found it infuriating yet somehow they managed to help lift my spirits despite my best efforts to be depressed.

    “Hope! Look!” Ursa called out excitedly.

    The cube was solved. I don’t know how, despite the missing squares you could clearly see that the same colors were on each side. I grinned from ear to ear. If a six year old could solve a broken rubik’s cube maybe anything was possible. Maybe there was “Hope.”

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