THE LAVENDER PEONY

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month simply: spring flowers. This tale takes a darker twist on that theme and comes to you from Val Muller, author of the YA reboot The Scarred Letter—fighting for the truth in a world that lives a lie.

 

The Lavender Peony

By Val Muller

 

Maude Stevenson hated parent-teacher conferences. It seemed teachers wanted to meet about everything these days. She dreaded the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month—conference afternoons, when the teachers cleared satanic little slots in their schedules to call in parents to address the misbehaviors of their children. Not to mention the need for two afternoons of daycare.

The sitter had cancelled, so Rose would just have to come along. “What’s this about, Rose?” Maude asked her daughter.

Rose sat in the back seat, mixing a concoction in a paper cup. She’d been playing in the back yard since school let out, and Maude allowed her to take along the concoction of ground leaves she’d made. “I don’t know, Mommy.” Rose shrugged and then looked out the window, her second-grade mind already distracted by spring’s burgeoning flowers.

“Did you hit someone? Say something rude? Did you forget your homework or cheat on a test?”

Rose shook her head. “I don’t know what this is about, Mommy. I try to be a good girl.”

Maude sighed and pulled into the school parking lot. The clock on the dashboard blinked 2:43. The meeting was for 2:50. Somehow Mrs. Spencer had the conferences timed to the minute like that. 2:50 exactly.

As she got out of her car seat, Rose asked her mother, “Do I have time to pick a peony from the school garden?”

“Are you allowed to pick peonies from the school garden?” Maude asked.

Rose shrugged. “No one will miss just one flower.”

Maude looked at the clock. What else were they going to do for the next seven minutes? “Alright,” she sighed.

Inside, Maude knocked on Mrs. Spencer’s door. A smile greeted her. “Just two minutes,” Mrs. Spencer announced from behind her desk.

Maude looked at her watch. 2:48. Really, now! Maude craned her neck to peek into the classroom. It was empty, otherwise. Rose was busy playing with her peony, which now sat in the paper cup, chanting to the flower. To be a kid again—and be able to lose all sense of time to imagination. Her mind too tired to entertain itself, Maude checked out the artwork lining the hallway. The children had been given a coloring page with spring flowers. Some of them also featured animals—frogs, deer, chicks, bunnies.

“Honey, where’s yours?” Maude asked.

Rose shrugged. “Mrs. Spencer didn’t want to hang it up, I guess.”

Maude didn’t have time to respond. Mrs. Spencer called her in. Inside, the woman sat behind her large desk. She motioned to two chairs on the opposite side. Each chair was meant for a second-grader. Rose sat, her legs comfortably resting on the floor. Maude sat, her knees angled up awkwardly. Her hands hung nearly to the floor.

Mrs. Spencer seemed not to notice.

“I’ve called you in,” she said, without further introduction, “because of some concerns I had for Rose’s flower story.”

“Her flower story?” Maude asked.

Mrs. Spencer kept that same smile. It had all the semblances of caring and warmth, though it was missing those qualities in actuality. The teacher’s eyes reflected that same mannequin-like quality. Maude shivered. “You must have seen them in the hallway. I hung all the appropriate stories out there.” She held up a blank sheet. It contained the outline of a rose garden with an owl perched overhead. She flipped it over. A series of blank lines graced the back side.

“The children were to color the picture and then write a narrative about what is happening in the picture.”

“A narrative?”

Mrs. Spencer smirked. “You know—a story. Some children wrote about a gardener. Others wrote about helping animals or saving the environment by planting more greenery—you know, to offset carbon footprints. All stellar examples of stories.”

“And I take it my Rose’s story was a less than stellar example?”

The teacher’s smile faded. “Mrs. Stevenson, I had to hold myself back from contacting School Counselling about this little tale.” She opened her desk drawer and slapped a sheet of paper onto the desk. On the bottom corner was drawn a red frowny face.

“What on earth could Rose have written about that got you so upset?” Maude asked. She looked at her daughter, and Rose offered a knowing smile. Maude raised an eyebrow.

“This story of hers—The Lavender Peony—is about a flower that—” She glanced toward the door and then lowered her voice—“kills people.”

Maude bit her tongue to keep from laughing. “Just a child’s imagination, I’m sure.”

“Mrs. Stevenson, the level of detail is alarming. She’s got potions in here—lists of ingredients I’d never heard of. I had to Google some of these. Wolfsbane and hemlock. It’s witchcraft, I tell you. There’s got to be somewhere she learned of all this. In the story, the main character makes a potion and spreads it on a flower, and the flower has to thus obey commands. And the main character instructs the flower to kill people. There are three murders in this story, Mrs. Stevenson. Three. Little Rose over there could be the next school shooter if we don’t watch out.”

Maude felt the humor drain from her face. “Mrs. Spencer, I’m sorry that my daughter’s story offended you, but to compare a little girl with a vivid imagination—to compare that to a school shooter is beyond asinine. It’s insulting! What should we do, call the Inquisition, and then the police? Or should we just send her to a shrink? Are flowers now considered a weapon? You know, Mrs. Spencer, I thought long and hard about whether to homeschool Rose, as I did last year, and now I’m beginning to regret my decision to send her to public school. I’d like to talk to your principal.”

The panic registered on Mrs. Spencer’s face immediately. “Let’s not be hasty here, Mrs. Stevenson. Perhaps there was just a misunderstanding.”

Maude allowed her eyes to travel deliberately from the paper on the desk to the hallway. Knowingly, Mrs. Spencer nodded, took four pieces of tape from her desk, and shuffled out to the hallway. Maude stayed seated and watched her hang Rose’s flower story prominently above the rest.

Then she turned to her daughter. “I told you, Rose, not to let out the secret recipes.”

Rose shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I thought she’d think it fictional.”

Maude shook her head. “You never know who you can trust, Rose. This better be the last time.”

Rose puckered her lips, holding up the peony. “Shall I?”

Maude nodded. Rose stood slowly and placed the peony in the center of Mrs. Spencer’s desk, bits of the leafy concoction clinging to it.

 

The lavender flower caught the light from the classroom window as Mrs. Spencer watched her two guests exit the room. It was only after they left that she noticed the flower sitting there rather audaciously—as if it had its own personality—a peace offering from a little girl that nonetheless sent shivers down the teacher’s spine long after its pedals had withered and the offending Rose had been promoted to the third grade.

 

The Spot Writers–our members:

 RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie:https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Tom Robson: https://robsonswritings.wordpress.com/

 

 

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SPRING FLOWERS

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s contribution comes from RC Bonitz, author of DANGEROUS DECISIONS and A BLANKET FOR HER HEART. The prompt for this month is “Spring Flowers”.

 

Dangerous Decisions by RC Bonitz

www.Amazon.com

 

SPRING FLOWERS

 

 

Spring flowers. Little blue crocus’ popping up in lawn and gardens. Or are they purple? My age has brought on color blindness, or perhaps it’s due to sixty-nine years of diabetes, whatever, I can’t tell you whether something is truly blue. We’ve got yellow flowers popping up though too. I had the name a few minutes ago but have lost that too. And pansies, we planted a bunch of them the other day. Love the brilliant splashes of color. Unfortunately, rabbits love them too. The whole bed of pansies disappeared overnight.

 

Lots of things are disappearing lately. The arctic ice, calm weather (have you noticed how much stronger winds are these days?), various kinds of animals that need cooler temperatures to survive, just to name a few. It’s a good thing mankind is united in its efforts to minimize the warming of the atmosphere.

 

Oh, of course we are. Buying cars that generate six hundred horsepower, which undoubtedly burn gobs of gas. Producing such cars, well of course GM has to make big profits. I use that as an example but the disease if quite widespread. Electric companies in America that lobby to keep burning polluting coal, oil companies that drill new wells instead of moving themselves into alternate forms of energy, industries throughout China that pollute so much people need to be breathe through masks. And we have politicians who do nothing but call each other names.

 

How much longer will we have Spring flowers? Will our grandchildren see them? Will they even see a season called Spring?

 

 

 

DANGEROUS DECISIONS is available now. I hope you enjoy it. RC Bonitz

AMAZON

 

 

The Spot Writers- our members

 

RC Bonitz

rcbonitz.com

 

Val Muller

http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

 

Catherine A. MacKenzie

http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

 

Tom Robson

 

Blog pending

 

 

 

 

 

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JUST BEATHE

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for February is to begin your story with “Just breathe and count to ten…”
This week’s flash fiction, “Just Breathe,” comes to you from Cathy MacKenzie. Check out her Facebook page, OUT OF THE CAVE [and the call for submissions (payment of $10 if accepted) for a horror anthology for teens].
~*~
Just Breathe
“Just breathe.”
“But I can’t. It’s so hard…the stuff going in my mouth—”
“Try, please try. I need you to survive.”
“I want to, too. You think I want to die?”
“Breathe. Just breathe. Count to ten.”
“I can’t count to ten.”
“Come on. One, two, three, four….”
“I counted to three. No more breath—”
“Breathe.”
“Ah, I did. You hear me?”
“Yes, you did well. Another. And another. Keep going. One breath. Two breath.”
“I can’t.”
“What did I tell you? Breathe. One—”
“What makes you queen of all shit?”
“Just breathe, sweetie. One—”
“No more. Stop. I can’t.”
“Please. I don’t want to lose you.”
Silence.
“Please. For me?”
Silence.
“You there?”
“I’m here.”
“You took a breath, then.”
“I did.”
“You stole it!”
“I did?”
“Well, yes. You said you were done, so you stole it from someone.”
“No, I’d never steal.”
“You’re still there, right?”
“Yeah.”
“And you said you had no more breaths, right?”
“Yeah.”
“So you stole. If you had no breath left, then you stole.”
“No….”
~*~
The Spot Writers–our members:
RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie:https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: https://robsonswritings.wordpress.com/

 

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JUST BREATHE

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s contribution comes from RC Bonitz, author of DANGEROUS DECISIONS, which was released in September. The prompt for this month is “Just breathe and count to ten.”.

Dangerous Decisions by RC Bonitz
http://www.Amazon.com

JUST BREATHE

The door at Shea Security Services stood ajar when Meg O’Hara arrived for work. She eased it open a smidge and gasped at the chaos inside. Files, her office chair, pictures from the walls, even the artificial flowers from her desk, everything lay scattered on the floor.
“Just breathe and count to ten,” she said aloud and took a step into the office. “Anybody here?” she called and stood with a hand on the door, ready to flee if she heard the slightest flicker of a response. Not a whisper of a sound reached her ears.
Mike Shea’s office door was open too. She peeked inside and almost fainted. Mike lay face down on his desk, unmoving. Retreating to her desk, she dialed 911.

Hours later, as she made dinner in her apartment she reviewed the events of the day in her mind. Police had swarmed over the office, asked her eight zillion questions, most of which she couldn’t answer. They’d taken fingerprints everywhere, and basically left her in a state of mind as chaotic as the office was. Somebody had killed Mike and torn the office apart looking for something. That much was obvious. But, had they found whatever it was they’d been looking for?

Meg poured herself a glass of wine and shivered at the thought that stole into her head. What if they hadn’t found it? What would they do next?

The doorbell rang. She made sure the safety chain was on and peered through the peep hole. Somebody in a suit and tie. Probably a cop with more questions?
“Who is it?” she called.
“Police. Detctive Hanson.”
“Just a minute.”
She removed the chain. Unlocked the door and opened it cautiously. Meg saw only one thing. The barrel of the gun pointing at her.
DANGEROUS DECISIONS is available now. I hope you enjoy it. RC Bonitz
AMAZON
The Spot Writers- our members

RC Bonitz
rcbonitz.com

Val Muller
http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie
http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Tom Robson

Blog pending

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Service

Service.

He opened the back door, took off his boots, walked through to the kitchen and there she was, hiding behind her mother who was cradling the baby, Dolly.

He’d only stopped for a couple of jars at the Miners Arms in Billy Row. That wasn’t much of a delay, but Vera had got home, walking the six mile journey from Crook, before him. His instinct was to put the fourteen year old over his knee and give her a good thrashing. Before he could make his move to pull her from behind Emma’s chair, his wife said, “Slow thisen down a bit, Tom. We’ve got it sorted. She’s going back.”

“That’s if Mrs Milburn will take her. Stupid girl might have lost me one of my gardening jobs as well by running away. If tha’s not packed thi bags our Vera, Thou’d best do it now. We’re walking back there today. D’you hear me?”

Vera cowered as she pushed past her father then ran upstairs to the room she shared with four of her sisters.

“Div’n that girl know how hard it is to find work around here. The pits laying miners off. No factory work for girls and there’s fewer families can afford to employ servants. Not that I believe in that, but now she’s out of school our Vera needs to work, even if all that’s available is slaving away for some rich lady.” Tom Oliphant ranted at his wife as she nursed the youngest and, she hoped, their last. Doreen was their tenth.

Emma knew that Vera might have ruined the opportunity to work for Mrs Milburn, one of the colliery owners wives. She feared what her volatile husband might do to Vera if the situation could not be fixed

“Sit down Tom!’ she urged. “I know you want to walk her back there today. There’s still enough daylight. Can I tell you what happened?”

Tom interrupted. “She were fine when I left, and so was Mrs Milburn. Our Vera spoke up well for hersen. Told Mrs Milburn all the things she does around here to help you cook, clean and care for the bairns. She wanted her to start work right way and I was going back with Vera’s belongings tomorrow. What did that gormless daughter of ours do to mess things up after I’d left? Has she cost me one of my gardening jobs with her feckless behaviour? How could she do a thing like that?

“Vera’s nervous face edged round the door from the hallway. ‘I am sorry, father. But as soon as you left that Mrs Milburn was horrible. Gave me a long list of things that needed doing, and then the cook wanted me to help her. And when Mrs Milburn caught me peeling potatoes instead of doing the work she’d set for me, she hit me with a broom and chased me out of the kitchen. She was screaming at me. I were crying as I were cleaning out the fireplaces in t’ bedrooms. I wanted to come home.When she checked up on me again, she said she expected me to work faster than this. When she went away, so did I. I ran back here.”

Her father cut off her elaborate explanation. “We’re working class, Vera. As long as there’s upper class controlling the money we have to do as they tell us. That’s life in the nineteen twenties. There’s talk of protest marches and hunger strikes to bring about change. But it won’t happen today, lass. Time for you to go say you’re sorry and hope she takes you back. And say it as if you mean it, just like I have to lie to those thieving sods all the time.

“I am sorry, father. If she’ll give me another chance I’ll do whatever she tells me.” said the contrite daughter.

“Trouble is, our kid, you have to do it even though you hate doing it. P’raps she’ll be a good mistress. And I know the cook, Mrs Charlton is a good sort.” Now go say your goodbyes again. I’ll carry your bag the six mile walk over the top to Crook.” complained Tom.

“And six back!” his wife chipped in. “But I bet you’ll find a pub or three to visit on the return trip. And send our Elsie in. She’s my big help now our Vera’s a working lass! I’ve made you a sandwich cos you won’t be here for tea. Now ger on, the pair of you before it’s dark.

Father and daughter set off from Tow Law over the fields and moors by Castle Bank, picking up the road, as daylight failed, through Sunniside, Billy Row and Rodimoor to the Milburn’s house.

Mrs Milburn greeted father and daughter with an icy aloofness which was melted by Vera’s tears and sobbed apology. She pleaded to be given another chance at the maid’s position her father had begged for his oldest. The lady relented and offered one final chance.

Vera Oliphant took the offer but hated her job and all the others for the ten years she was in service between leaving school in 1926 and marrying ten years later.

Nobody is quite sure what hour Tom Robson staggered home that night, but it was long after 10:30pm, “last orders” at the final pub he refreshed himself at on the twenty four miles he walked that day.

And Vera found it strange having a bed, and bedroom all to herself, after her first day at work.

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Consequence

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for February is to use the following in a story: “How could she (or he) do a thing like that?” (Inspiration came to Cathy as a result of a recent birth; no, not mine!)
This week’s flash fiction comes to you from Cathy MacKenzie. Check out her new Facebook page OUT OF THE CAVE (and the call for submissions for a horror anthology for teens).
~*~
Consequence
Nathan, rubbing his forehead, sways to and fro. “How could she do a thing like that?”
“I don’t know. Why in the world would she do that?” His problems aren’t my problems, so I don’t know why he’s asking me.
“You think I’m terrible, don’t you?”
“Not at all.” I don’t usually lie.
“But I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
The colour of his face alternates with blotches of red and white. “I…I don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t understand.” I sigh at his silence. “What’s not to understand? Pretty clear to me. You penetrated, you enjoyed the moment, and now there’s a consequence.”
At least I assumed he enjoyed himself.
~*~
The Spot Writers–our members:
RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie:https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: Blog pending

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STORMBORN

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s contribution comes from Val Muller, author of the kidlit mystery series Corgi Capers. Speaking of kids, Val just had one (!), and the story of her birth during an epic blizzard is one for the ages. She’s using this month’s prompt (“how could she do a thing like that?”) to tell the partial tale of the storm baby.

Stormborn

By Val Muller

“How could she do a thing like that? Is the baby really sending me into labor during the blizzard?” I clenched my fist against a coming wave of pain. “I need to call the doctor again.” I held the phone against my ear and eyed my unfamiliar surroundings. There I was, sitting on the floor in the bathroom of the apartment where I was staying—a master suite recently vacated by my friend’s college-aged son.

“Okay…” I could hear the panic in my husband’s voice, even through the phone. I imagined the look furrowed on his brow. “Okay,” he said again. That one word disguised a whole glossary of worry.

Just an hour ago, we’d had a much more pleasant conversation. He’d told me about his day—spent digging the house out from under the more than three feet of snow that had fallen thus far. I was partly glad that I’d chosen to stay with a friend in the city, away from the boonies where we lived. Not that I’d have been much help clearing snow at almost nine months pregnant. Not that I even would have attempted to help for fear of going into labor during the storm.

Instead, I’d spent the day watching TV and movies in a friend’s apartment—a friend who lived in the city, at the intersection of two emergency snow routes. You know, just in case. And yet, fate and winter seemed to be conspiring.

Silence deafened us over the phone line.

“I—I think I might be in labor,” I whispered.

“You think? You would know, though, wouldn’t you?” he asked. He sounded flat. Too flat, like he was trying to hide the emotion from his voice. What was he hiding? Worry? Disappointment?

I laughed. For months, I’d been saying I’d probably be one of those women who didn’t realize they were in labor until the baby was practically there. My pain tolerance had always been high, and despite everyone telling me that contractions were impossible to miss, I had my doubts.

“Do they still feel like cramps?” my husband asked. “Like they did this morning?”

“Yes,” I said. “But worse.” I paused. “And they’re coming in waves.”

“Oh.” He sighed. “But we were just at the doctor’s. What did he say? You had a five percent chance of delivering the baby during the blizzard. He said this would be a February baby, not a January one.”

I winced against more pain. “I’d better call.”

There was much I wanted to say, but there wasn’t time. How long would it take for 911 responders to get to me? I’d just seen a news story that with the exception of a woman who dropped dead while shoveling, all 100+ calls for hospitalization had all made it safely to the hospital during the blizzard.

The silence on the other end of the line was terrible. It screamed that my husband was afraid of missing the birth of his first child. But the pain reminded me there was no time for sentimentality. This was time for action. I hung up the phone.

My friend was in the living room, blissfully watching TV, unaware of my personal and painful struggle in the next room over. A few minutes later, after a quick call to the doctor, I stepped into the living room with a nervous laugh. My friend looked up from the television.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“The doctor said I need to call 911 and get to the hospital,” I managed before doubling over with a painful contraction.

“Wow, really?” She picked up the phone, and her eyes bulged out. Though we both knew this was a possibility—after all, that’s why I decided to stay with her in the city rather than stay with my husband in the country—we doubted it would come to this.

And yet, here we were.

After the call to 911, the evening took on a surreal quality. Maybe it was the pain, or maybe it was too close to midnight after a week of fitful sleeps and little appetite. But as the firemen entered the living room—one, two, three, four, seven, more…—my mind flashed with a delirious thought. I imagined the firemen entering the room to music, almost like the Thunder From Down Under show I’d seen advertised while visiting Las Vegas. There they were, suspenders and gear shining in the living room’s fluorescent lighting.

Several of the firemen and EMS workers introduced themselves to me, but everything blurred. I answered the same medical questions over and over again while my mind entertained itself with its Vegas-style show, thus disguising the worsening pain. One of the responders escorted me through the freshly-dug path to an awaiting heavy-duty SUV, which they needed to get me to the ambulance that was waiting on one of the main roads.

The ambulance ride was bumpy—the roads were at least passable, but barely. After getting stuck and circumventing abandoned cars, the ambulance finally made it to the hospital with worsening contractions that were only two minutes apart. The last thing I remember asking the responders on the ambulance was whether I should tell my husband to try to get to the hospital from the boonies. They warned me not to—that they had been hearing calls for side-of-the-road rescues all night, and even the best consumer-grade SUVs were getting stuck. He would miss the birth, but at least he would be safe.

What can I say? Worse things could have happened.

It was a long night, but at just before 7 in the morning, the sun came up and filled the delivery room with a golden light almost tangible, like magical liquid floating on the air. The sky cleared, and the horrible blizzard of 2016 was done. Golden sun shone against bright blue sky made more beautiful by contrast of the stark white blanket the snow had left behind. And something else had emerged that night: my daughter.

It was a long, rough night—but well worth it in the end.


 

The Spot Writers–our members:

RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Tom Robson: Blog pending

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