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January 2019 Writers Challenge

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  • 06 Jan 2019 8:39 PM
    Reply # 6986440 on 6982533
    Janine Sellers

    Michael, that's funny!  About the dog that only bites salesmen. The picture prompt announcing the January challenge had me up half the night! The next day, I began to write and found out late the half-gallon of milk in the fridge was sour made a mental note and then forgot to buy more anyway. I still remember the first rejection letter I got from an agent for a short story. “I was drawn in and by the ending you lost me” type of message but his handwriting told me that these folks are no different. Their pants are wrinkled and ready for the wash. Michael and Sherri, your stories are simply wonderful! Write first. Wash, shop, eat later.


  • 06 Jan 2019 7:25 PM
    Reply # 6986325 on 6982533
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Beautiful Janine, you bring us into your world and it's lovely. 

  • 06 Jan 2019 6:34 PM
    Reply # 6986243 on 6982533


    I enjoyed reading your piece. The dialogue is believable (so you need more of it). And I enjoy horses and dogs, which go together like cheese and wine. Many barns keep barn dogs to protect the horses from both two and four legged varmints. Around here, barn owners are especially wary of raccoons which carry the EDM disease. This is also a long-standing literary device, such as “the dog that didn’t bark” in Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze.”

    One of my friends had an Australian Sheep Dog which didn’t work out well when she was young because she wanted to “herd” the horses – but she was quick enough to duck kicks and she soon learned better. Also, she didn’t like strangers and even bit one of the kids in the neighborhood (who had no business in the pasture in the first place). One day I was riding in the arena when two “meat vendors” pulled up in a van. You know, the ones who say that they have a great deal on a box of beef because some other customer had reneged on an order. The dog growled at them when they got out to talk to me, and one of them asked if she bit. I replied, “She only bites salesmen” and with that, they got in their van and left.

    One of my colleagues moved to Panama after he retired. He and his wife had visited the country many times over the years, and they spent the year before the move learning Spanish with a computer application.

    When I first started shopping manuscripts to agents, I got very similar responses from those who bothered to send more than a form letter. One described my first three chapters as a “word dump” (like a computer dump) and another said reading them was like taking a shot of straight vodka. They said that there is no need to introduce all of the characters and all the back-stories in the first few chapters.

    Your story was a wonderful tale that fitted the prompt well. The book will be a very interesting read.

  • 06 Jan 2019 2:50 PM
    Reply # 6986064 on 6982533
    Janine Sellers

    A Life of Less

    “Becky! She’s here! She’s beautiful! A stark white star on her forehead. I named her Furious. Mother and foal are fine,” said Bob.

    “Great news. Why Furious?”

    “Because she’s going to be fast and furious! In two years she’ll win, I tell you. Wait and see!  Got to run. The vet’s here. I wanted you to be first to know. Did you enjoy your sandwich? Call us when you get there! Thanks again for coming all this way, Angel. Cindy is asleep now.”

    Becky’s thoughts wandered from race horses to her new life. Funny how a lonesome stretch of highway helps you to focus with utmost clarity. This was the first time she had made the trip to Arizona without Steve. Bob needed her help on the farm immediately when Cindy fell ill. This time they decided that Steve should stay home with the dogs. The U.S. state road stretched for miles. Life was full of possibilities. Her new life. The old. Dad’s horse farm in Arizona is the only life she had known. After Dad died, she met and married Steve, a retired banker. She had asked Steve to join her on the farm. His dogs came, too. They were a package deal. Steve raised purebred border collies. The dogs and horses, unfortunately, did not mix.

    Becky dropped her right hand from the steering wheel and reached for Macgregor’s nose, her finger tracing the scar left where Dolly kicked Mac in the head two years ago, nearly killing him. Steve and Becky’s relationship went into a deep freeze after that happened. They fought constantly. It lasted about a year. Then it ended. The fighting stopped at about the same time Mac sashayed his way into Becky’s heart.  

    Long story, Becky and Steve knew they had to move and began to consider an unorthodox future. The energy and money invested in the family business would be redirected, with the blessing of her only brother, Bob, and his wife, Cindy. They planned carefully for a new home . . . in Mexico. During the process of vacationing at various vistas, Becky realized each of them liked the rhythm and feel of Mexico.

    An arduous process, the intentional case for a life of less was complete. Finally. Never again deal with traffic, crowded parking lots and cheap shopping malls. Coats, hats, gloves, and other things, too, were ditched with glee. It was a functional move. Very economical. Congruent with their new lifestyle. A smaller, less cluttered home, chic, even: the same thing she thought about her new economy hatchback. Her final major purchase, she hoped, was a pair of e-bikes. The complaining knees sometimes needed a boost on hills.

    Becky began to dwell on healthy-ish Mexican food.  Un-Americanized, out-of-this-world delicious. Oh my, those wonderful fried plantains, kickin’ enchiladas, cheesy onion quesadillas. Famished, she stopped on the side of the road for a bite of sandwich. She took a swallow from her travel mug and dialed Steve. Left a voicemail. Hey. The doctor released Bob’s wife from the hospital. The operation went well. I’m six, seven hours from home. Love you. See you soon.

    Becky and Steve had been vacationing in Mexico for six straight years and on a recent trip discovered a small coastal city. Its cheerful, modern design offered many conveniences like a drugstore and a decent grocery store. The hospital was highly rated, with good doctors. There were like-minded people to bond with. Ways to connect. A free, private online network for newcomer issues, sharing experiences, focusing on goals, weathering culture shock. Early on, having explored a different ocean-side resort town, they learned that they enjoyed helping others with similar goals. So they purchased a modest home with some land, near the city, where Steve could continue raising border collies. Steve enjoyed looking after the dogs. Currently they had ten. Steve’s care was impeccable. Becky loved the rascals, smart and entertaining with their Frisbee-catching tricks.


    At the border to Mexico she stopped the car, rolled down the window, and handed the security officer her documents. Soon, she would trade hard work for sea breezes. Though she loved the horses, and the big sky, like a splendid blue and white dome overhead. Riding Dolly had been her favorite pastime. She liked being spellbound in the noiseless prairie.

    Before the move, Bob made Becky promise.

    “You must visit. At least twice a year. The cabin’s yours.”

    Family and a second home. Twelve hundred miles separated their new home from the old. It’s a peculiar lifestyle, yet it’s easy. Like giving up marshmallows for marshmallow cream, she thought. Marshmallow cream from a jar tastes just as good. Swapping steaming hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows floating on top for marshmallow cream atop of a scoop of chocolate ice cream was a fair trade. Swapping the horse farm in Arizona for a hacienda in Mexico was a fair trade, also. Thankfully, Bob’s wife, Cindy, was doing much better than expected after emergency surgery, and now, the long drive was nearly over. Tomorrow she would go back to tutoring in math and teaching English.

    “Visiting how long?,” asked the border officer.

    It was a rote question that received an unexpected answer.

    “Headed home,” Becky replied.

    Mac sniffed the air excitedly. He knew. Almost there. He began to pace from side to side. Have faith, Becky said to herself. Remember that the place where you find kindness always comes back to you, although it is not always the same place where you first invested it. Their new horizon began to come into focus. As she spotted the ocean she remembered her father’s ashes tucked in the afghan zipped inside its matching wool carrying case in the trunk of her car. To keep him warm. Becky’s hunger was intense. She believed hunger helped her stay alert. When I get home I’m going to make some mac and cheese, she decided. Steve didn’t like mac and cheese. All the more for Mac and me.


  • 06 Jan 2019 12:31 PM
    Reply # 6985955 on 6982533
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Oh Michael, I'm trying to reply but still wiping my eyes. This was a beautiful story. Such a short, simple and sweet story filled with so much, I do not know how you did it but it was fabulous. Thank you for sharing your talent. 

  • 06 Jan 2019 12:25 PM
    Reply # 6985951 on 6982533
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Running at Sunset

    A possible scene for Titanium Blue

    The setting sun bathed the land in shades of rose. Jenna loved this time of day. She’d forgotten how peaceful it felt to stretch her legs and push her body, breathing in the cool, crisp autumn air. The holidays would soon be upon them and she might not have another chance to run like this. She missed running.

    After working at the café and juggling being a single mom, most nights it was all she could do to stay awake past Toby’s bedtime. She lengthened her stride, pouring out the tension and stress of the past weeks. Tar was back. Her heart stuttered in her chest and she blinked back tears. She wasn’t fooling anyone with her denials, especially not herself. Jenna was still in love with her husband. Why did love have to hurt so much? When did I become a coward? He’d battled his addiction to pain medicine. She could see in his clear topaz eyes that he wasn’t using.

    When her husband had returned from Afghanistan minus his lower leg, he’d shut her out. He’d almost pushed her out the door. I should have stayed and fought, she thought, listening to the tap of her feet on the pavement. She focused on landing lightly on her toes, barely letting her heel touch before pushing off again. Pine and cedar mingled with the heavy dew bringing the scent of the river, briny and laden with the threat of rain. The smell of the marshlands a unique essence she couldn’t describe, a combination of mud and brackish water, life and death, the ancient past and the future. She ran down the lane to the marina, filling her lungs with the life-giving force of the Pamlico. Steps, heavy and consistent behind her, alarmed her, turning she sighed in relief and longing as her husband ran towards her.

              “You’re running again?” She stared down at his space-age looking leg.

              Tar nodded, running in place beside her. “The new leg is designed for running—titanium.”

              She smiled and fell into step beside him. “Are you going to run in the Veteran’s Day Five K?”

              Tar darted a glance her way. “I didn’t know there was one.”

              Jenna nodded, her pony tail brushing against her neck like a lover’s caress, her cheeks pinkened with desire and she was thankful for the glow of the setting sun staining everything with its rosy tint. “The town uses it to raise money for the Veteran’s Memorial in the park and the Veteran’s brunch.”

              Tar’s dark brow raised, and a smile hovered on his handsome face. “Another of Dana’s projects?”

              Jenna nodded. “She’s roped me into helping but I told her I wanted to run. I swear that girl could talk a grizzly bear into giving piggy back rides.”

              Tar snorted. “I’ve managed to stay under her radar.”

              Jenna laughed an idea coming to mind. “She’d love to honor some of the local veterans…”

              Tar shook his head.

              Before he could protest, she said, “It wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe you and some of your buddies would start the run?”

              “Are you talking about wounded vets?” There was a harshness in his voice.

              “No, not just. I think it would be great to have each era represented. My dad and some of the older guys are talking about walking. They don’t want to be up in front because they know they’ll be slower. If you have some guys that are runners, it would be great if they could start the run…” her voice trailed off.

              Tar visibly relaxed, letting go of the chip on his shoulder. Jenna let out the breath she’d been holding unaware she’d been doing so. Desire and fear, love and anger, all warred inside her. They’d been the perfect couple before he’d lost his leg. At least, she and all their friends had thought so. She blinked back tears aware of the strain of the past few minutes.

              “I’ll ask some of the guys I know,” Tar’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts. “It would be an honor to lead the run.”

              Jenna stared at him. Her attention off the road, she stumbled. Tar’s big, callused hands kept her from falling on her face.

              “Whoa, be careful.”

              Resuming her pace, Jenna found her voice. “Thanks, for catching me and thanks…”

              “You know I’m putting myself in Dana sights,” he said shaking his head. “A smart Marine knows, you should never volunteer for a dangerous mission.”

              Jenna frowned. “Is there such a thing as a smart Marine?”

              He growled.

              Jenna increased her speed.

              Laughing, Tar chased her.

              As the sun set deepened from pink to purple, Jenna became aware of her own deepening feelings. Could she risk loving this man again? As they ran in companionable silence, she let the thought seep into her heart like the cool, damp air into her lungs. Maybe they deserved a second chance.

    Last modified: 06 Jan 2019 7:20 PM | Sherri Hollister (Administrator)
  • 04 Jan 2019 6:57 PM
    Reply # 6984125 on 6982533

    Christmas Eve on the Road

    As the gas needle dipped towards “E”, Linda began to regret her impulsive decision to drive to her parents' home on Christmas Eve. She had already pulled off at two exits only to find all of the service stations closed early for the holiday.

    Then as she sat at a stoplight, a car pulled up beside her and tooted the horn. When she cracked her window, the driver yelled, “All your taillights are out!”

    She nodded her head and yelled, “Thank you!” In an empty store parking lot, she got out to discover that the other driver had been right. She thought about calling for roadside assistance, but suspected that open repair shops would be as scarce as open gas stations.

    She wedged a flashlight in the back window to alert following drivers and pulled back onto the side-road where she finally sighted a lighted sign. Maybe she could buy gas there and even find someone to fix her taillights – if they hadn’t just forgotten to turn off the lights when they closed-up.

    Slowly she pulled into the station, feeling relief at the 'open' sign flashing in the window, and eased up to the pumps. She could see someone moving around inside as she got out, and then she noticed the sign taped to the old fashioned pump: “Pay Inside.”

    “Howdy, can I help you?” the old man asked her as she walked through the d door.

    “I need to fill-up,” Linda said, but then she froze at the sign taped up on the cash register: “Cash Only.” Below it was a novelty sign: “In God we trust, but all others pay cash.”

    “I only have about five dollars in cash,” she said. “But I do have a debit card.”

    The old man shook his head. “I don’t take cards because the bank charges too much to process them; I only take cash.”

    At last the cascading problems overwhelmed her and she began to cry. Linda turned her back to the man as she tried to regain her composure; her sobs shook her body and filled the silence of the night.

    “Can you pay me later?” the old man asked.

    In amazement, Linda turned around. “Yes, but I don’t live around here and I’m not coming back through until the day after Christmas.”

    “No matter,” the old man replied. “You seem like a nice girl.”

    With that said, he pushed past her to the door and shuffled toward her car intent on pumping the gas. Linda hurried after him.

    “I can pump the gas,” she said.

    “Nope,” he said. “I run a full-service station.”

    When he had finished, Linda followed him back into the station where he moved behind the counter to ring-up the sale. She tried to hand him her last few dollars, but he just shook his head and laid the cash register receipt on the counter.

    He printed “IOU” in big letters at the bottom and handed the pen to Linda. “Just sign your name.”

    “Don’t you want to see my ID?” Linda asked in astonishment.

    “Nope,” he said. “Either you’re trustworthy or you’re not. And I think you are.”

    As she signed the receipt, her other problem leaped to mind. It almost seemed unappreciative to ask for more help, but she really needed taillights to drive safely.

    “My taillights are out. Would you possibly know how to fix them?”

    “Maybe,” he said. “Depends on the cause.”

    Again she followed him outside into the cold air, but this time he opened the passenger-side door and got down on his knees to peer under the dashboard. After a couple of anxious minutes, he rose to his feet holding a tiny glass tube between his thumb and forefinger.

    “This fuse is dark,” he said, holding it up for her to see. “It’s just a blown fuse.”

    “Do you sell fuses?” she asked.

    “Nope,” he said. “But I know something that'll work for a while.”

    She followed him back into the store where he took a package of chewing gum off a counter display.

    “Want some gum?” he asked while pulling out a stick.

    As she shook her head in bewilderment, he unwrapped the gum, plopped it in his mouth, and sauntered back toward her car with the wrapper still in hand. Kneeing down again, he poked his head back under her dashboard for a minute and then stood up.

    “Try your lights now,” he said.

    She turned on her lights and to her amazement, they shone brightly.

    “How did you do that?” she asked.

    “I used Juicy Fruit,” the old man said with a twinkle in his eye. “The tinfoil will carry juice. Get it?”

    She smiled at his joke, feeling tremendous relief that her problems were solved.

    “It’ll get you down the road,” he said, “but get a proper fuse as soon as you can.”

    Laughing with joy, she threw her arms wide and hugged the old man. Slowly he put his arms around her and returned the embrace.

    “I don’t know how to thank you enough,” Linda said.

    “It’s nothing,” he said. “You remind me of my daughter who was about your age when cancer carried her off. But someday I’ll see her again, and my wife too.”

    Still waving, Linda drove back toward the interstate. She drove home the day after Christmas and turned off the highway to pay her bill. She was surprised that the service station was not lighted; it appeared deserted with a hand-written sign in the door. It read, “Closed due to death of proprietor.”

    Last modified: 17 Apr 2019 4:52 PM | Michael Worthington
  • 03 Jan 2019 6:18 PM
    Message # 6982533
    Jim Keen (Administrator)

    The long road home, the road to new beginnings or just a lovely drive at sunset, what story will you tell? One thousand words or less, tell us a tale! 

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