Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Flash Fiction Fun -- CONTEST!

Anyone ready for a fun challenge?

Then join me in this Flash Fiction Fun Contest. While I love to post my own stories for people to read, my larger goal for this blog is to help promote the work of other writers. Toward that end, I am offering this contest.

Your mission? Write a story of 300 words or less. Oh, and make sure you use the following three words in your piece: trees, purple, and glockenspiel. Yes. Glockenspiel.

You have from now until Friday March 5th at midnight, EST to submit your masterpiece.

Joining me to judge, will be Misha Crews, whose debut novel, Homesong was published in 2008. The judging criteria: 1 - 5 points will be given for Plot, Pace, Characters, Dialogue, and Descriptive Narrative. AND I’ll give 2 bonus points to anyone who signs up to receive my blog posts by email! (mention it when you email your entry)

I’ll announce and post the winning entry on Monday March 8th, then post each of the other stories entered over the course of the week. Sound like fun? I hope so.

PLEASE DO NOT submit your stories in the comments section. Email them to: and write CONTEST in the subject line. Additionally, if you give me a short 2 -3 sentence bio and website or blogsite addresses, I’ll add them to the end of your posted story.

I’m very excited to read the entries, so let’s get this ball rolling!

Start writing!


Misha Crews lives and works in Northern Virginia. While she has made her living in the past writing ad copy, her joy is in writing fiction. Her debut novel, Homesong, is the story of a small town: its lies and truths, its beginnings and endings. It's about proud secrets, unrestrained joy, and the old adage that you may leave your home, but it never really leaves you. Her next novel, Still Waters is due out later this year. You can learn more about Misha and her novels at

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm a Guest Blogger

Head on over to author Lisa Leibow's blog,Fodder for Fiction and read my guest blog today, "Monkeying Around." On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lisa lets writers tell their tales of inspiration. Find out what compelled me to write my own novel, Take the Monkeys and Run.


Lisa Lipkind Leibow is the author of Double Out and Back, published by Red Rose Publishing and available now. Learn more about Lisa and her debut novel at

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trauma in Happyville by Karen Cantwell

Today, over at Julie Jordan's blog, A Place for Writers, she has announced the winner of her ABC Story writing contest. The rules of the contest: write a 26 sentence short story -- the first sentence starts with the letter A and each sentence after must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. I had so much fun with this exercise. You can read my entry below.

For a fun time, everyone should to pop over to Julie's site and read the winning entry, "Quest for the Dress" by Michelle Frank, as well as the other very imaginative and often funny stories. Julie has a great blog going there.

And now, for . . .

Trauma in Happyville
A terrible thing happened to Ethel on her way to church.

Between Main Street and Second Avenue, two small women wearing berets and ponchos appeared out of nowhere.

Carrying AK rifles and smoking French cigarettes, they looked oddly out of place in Ethel’s small town of Happyville.

“Darn if you don’t look oddly out of place in this small town,” she said to the women.

“Everybody’s got a right to be anywheres,” replied the dark haired one.

Forgetting that service would be starting in just minutes, Ethel felt compelled to continue the conversation.

“Give me one of those fine French cigarettes, would you?”

Heartily, the women laughed.

“I don’t know what is so funny,” Ethel said, pulling her sagging panty hose up to a more comfortable position.

“Just, you don’t look they type,” said the light haired one.

Kicking a small stone with her sensible black shoe, she pondered the comment.

Laughter rang out from a nearby building where young boys and girls played happily.

“Many people misjudge me,” Ethel said finally.

No one was going to get Ethel down on this fine day.

“Our time has come,” said the dark haired one.

Puzzled, Ethel cocked her head and gripped her pocketbook tighter.

“Queer one, you are,” said the light haired one.

“Really, I don’t think it is me that is queer,” she answered.

“Should we do it now, or later?” asked one woman of the other.

Time ticked by while silence loomed between the three.

Under a veil of panic, Ethel considered her options.

“Vipers,” said the light haired one finally.

“What?” asked Ethel

“Xenon Vipers,” the woman said.

“Yes, I see now.”

Zowie, went the AKs.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Taming the Hulk (Part 3) by Karen Cantwell

(continued from yesterday's post . . .)

While the girls padded around the house collecting blankets and pillows and changing out of leotards, I grabbed a few items of my own and snuck them into a large brown paper bag. A Ziplock baggie finished off my list of necessary items.

At the front door, loaded down with pillows and blankets, the girls waited. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were concerned their mother might be one step away from Loony Bin Central.

I opened the Ziplock baggie and held it out. “First, turn over all cell phones.” Callie gave me her I’m-a-teenager-and-too-cool-for-this roll of the eyes, but slipped it in the baggie anyway.

“Thank you. Now, anything electronic that plays music, video games, adds, subtracts, multiplies, downloads an “app,” pretends to be a dog, cat or alien pet from a distant dying planet.”

The baggie filled to capacity as the girls pulled items from pockets I didn’t know existed. I zipped it up and laid it aside.

“Now for the adventure. Everyone out and follow me.” I didn’t even wait for the questions and quizzical looks. I picked up my mysterious brown paper bag and marched to the backyard. The air was dry and warm. Prime for what I had planned.

I loved my backyard. The thick green lawn stretched gracefully from the house until it met up with a line of trees that encircled the house on every side. It was a major selling point when we bought the house – a large yard for the kids to run and play, private for special family times and also wonderful for entertaining. Yet we rarely even saw it anymore. Howard, mowed it religiously every Saturday, treated it with fertilizer and weed killer, then forgot about it until the next weekend. It was kind of sad, really. So well cared for, yet oddly neglected.

The girls arrived slowly, very confused, but they arrived.

“Can you lay out the blanket, Callie?”

“This is our adventure? The backyard?”

“Please – I really think you’ll like this.”

Reluctantly she laid out the used-once-only quilted picnic blanket. I moved to the center, put down the bag and sat my rumpus down.

“Come on girls. Sit.” I patted the blanket.

Bethany and Amber sat first, hugging their pillows, joined by Callie who sat on hers and hugged her knees. Ever so slowly, I pulled my surprise out of the paper bag. The girls stared, wide-eyed. They were speechless.

“What’s that?” Amber asked, breaking the awed silence.

“I know what those are – those are cheese balls,” answered Bethany. “Ashley Masters gets them in her lunch every day.”

“Correct,” I said opening the large cellophane bag. “These are cheese balls. They’re made from over-processed corn-like products, artificial colors, artificial flavorings, and MSG. None of which is good for you and probably causes cancer in laboratory rats if you feed them enough. The beauty of the cheese ball is that it’s smaller than its cousin, the cheese curl, and therefore, pops effortlessly into the mouth, just so.” I munched on the crunchy prize, savoring its junk-food goodness.

“And you’re going to let us eat them?” Bethany asked cautiously.

“Go for it.”

All three girls smiled and grabbed for the bag. Within seconds, they looked like chipmunks, their cheeks bulging while they chewed. I pulled out a second bag and joined them in the munch-a-thon.

After a few minutes, I passed around cans of soda. “No junk food is complete without two thousand grams of sugar water to wash it down with.” I gulped with pleasure. “Isn’t this the life?”

“Where did you get this stuff?” Cheese powder spewed from Bethany’s mouth as she talked.

Sheepishly, I had to admit that I kept a stash of my favorite junk food hidden deep in my bedroom closet, partaking of the delicacies only after they were all asleep or at friends’ houses. I thought the girls would be mad, but they just laughed.

“Is this supper?” Callie asked after a long swig on her drink.

“Sure. Why not?”

She looked at me oddly, then smiled. “Cool.”

“And what do we do after this?” Bethany asked.

“That’s the best part. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Amber beamed. “Boy, Bethany, I like your homework a whole lot. I can’t wait until I’m a fourth grader.”

Without caring about the clock, we lay on our blanket, heads on our pillows, watching the sun filter through green tree leaves, sparkling and dancing and it sank in the western sky. Yellows turned to golds, turned to blues turned to purples, and soon we were counting fire flies in the dark. We talked about our dreams, about fairies and leprechauns, whether trees can feel pain, what life would be like if we never grew up, and if it was really true that cats and dogs only see in black and white.

We held hands, rubbed backs and took turns braiding each other’s hair. I learned that Bethany had a crush on Max Higgins, Callie thought her Japanese teacher was “kind of cute” and very smart, and Amber thought boys were “icky.” The girls admitted they all hated ballet, but Bethany thought singing lessons would be fun. We told stupid knock, knock jokes and laughed so hard that soda came out our noses.

If the phone rang, we never heard it.

If the Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorist threat level, we didn’t know. We didn’t care.

Life was good. Life was perfect. Hulk was long gone.

And when Bethany turned in her homework assignment, she had only one answer to one survey question.

“My mom’s idea of the perfect day is eating cheese balls in our backyard until the sun goes down.”

The very next day I called our old, less famous pediatrician who gladly gave us a timely appointment. Then I called Elite Academy of Dance and told them we wouldn’t be returning for any ballet classes. The fact that they wouldn’t issue a refund didn’t even register on my Richter scale. I had a long and calm talk with my husband, who agreed to less work and more family time. And that oddly neglected backyard – we spend hours out there now.

In retrospect, I realized something important. The antidote to a Hulk attack wasn’t the cheese balls at all. It was what the cheese balls represented: love and fun.

Simple ingredients really.

After all, what is life if love isn’t fun?

Just ask the Hulk.

The End.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taming the Hulk (Part 2) by Karen Cantwell

(continued from yesterday's post . . .)

I rubbed my head again and closed my eyes. My perfect day. Today was not a perfect day. It was a nightmarish day. Thinking back though, so many days were like today. Running from lesson to lesson and tutor to doctor to orthodontist. There was always something and it was always important. Ballet was important for coordination and motor control – their pediatrician told me so. And piano lessons were critical for the learning process – their teacher told me so. Or maybe it was the child psychiatrist on the Today Show. Who knew anymore? With so many “experts” out there, it was hard to keep track.

Then there was Amber. She was two points under the national average on her pre-reading skills test so the tutor was imperative or she could be left behind eating the dust of millions of gifted kindergartners out there tearing through Harry Potter.

And I had my organic cooking class, “Cook Healthy, Raise Healthy Kids.” Twice a week I barely made it to class on time to learn the value of feeding my children chemical-free foods rich in nutrients. I thought my new dishes were quite yummy, but the girls . . . they weren’t so enamored. Once, I caught Amber sneaking over to her friend Penny’s house for hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.

There were just so many things to know in this parenting game – so many things I had to do right, or it would all go wrong and they’d end up homeless, cancer-ridden drug addicts begging for pennies on the corner of Despair Street and Loser Lane.

“Mommy! Callie called me an itchy shoe!”

I opened my eyes to find Amber two inches from my face.

“Shichimenchoo you dope. Not itchy shoe.” Callie joined Bethany and me for a sit-down at the kitchen table. Her bent posture and grim face indicating her teenage displeasure with the world in general. A sophomore in high school, she loved confusing us all with foreign vocabulary words, courtesy her new favorite class, Japanese I.

“Translation please.” I rubbed my temples. Hulk wanted out.

“Turkey. I called her a turkey. She stole my new purse and put bugs in it.”

Amber’s saucer eyes signified her innocence. “Not bugs – butterflies. At least they’ll be butterflies one day. Probaally”

“Okay, quiet everybody. I need a minute to think. I’m helping Bethany with her homework. Then if we high-tail it, we can still catch thirty minutes of ballet.”

“I have homework too!” Amber crawled up in my lap and started poking my nose with her chubby little fingers.

“You are such a little freak show,” Callie sneered.

“I’m supposed to count something in nature, so I chosed to count the freckles on Mommy’s face. Now I need to start over. You broke my consummation.”

“Concentration, dip brain.”


My blood pressure was escalating second by second. I didn’t want Hulk to show himself, but I didn’t know if I could stop him. “Callie. Please, let her count.”
As Amber slowly and meticulously touched and counted brown spots on my face, I watched hers. Her clear, perfect skin, just beginning to be speckled by the dots she inherited from me. Her bright, blue eyes shimmered as if they radiated light of their own. Her pink, pouty lips were perfect by all accounts. I marveled at her sweet, warm breath on my face – still a child’s breath, untouched by the ravages of time. I realized that it had been weeks, maybe even months, God forbid years, since I’d really looked at my sweet baby. A wave of calm blew through me and for a moment, Hulk receded.

“ . . . fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five . . . Fifty-five! You have fifty-five freckles on your face.” Amber leaned back, smiling proudly at her accomplishment.

I pulled her in and kissed a soft cheek, then hugged her tight.

Callie sat across from me, her face propped up by her hand. No smile on her clear, lovely face, no sense of joy.

Bethany, a thing of beauty in her own right, was next to me was glowering under a dark cloud of annoyance. She wanted an answer to her survey question.

What had I done to my children? To me? To our family? In my frantic need to do everything “right” and make their lives perfect, we had all ceased to be happy. We were scurrying around like rats in a maze, living by someone else’s rules. And nothing was perfect.

I looked at my watch. If we jumped in the car that very minute and I ignored all posted speed limits, we could make it to ballet and still get twenty dollars worth of lesson. I could still proudly tell the doctor that the girls get exercise every week and announce to neighboring mothers that my girls have never missed a ballet lesson at the Elite Academy of Dance. Ever. Hulk would have to appear to make that happen, and the girls would go to bed miserable, having seen Mom at her worst. Again.

Or . . . in what can only be described as a flash of brilliance, I got a better idea.

“Girls,” I announced. “Change of plans.”

“What does that mean?” asked Amber.

“We’re scrapping ballet. Callie, be the sweetheart I know you can be and get the picnic blanket out of the upstairs closet.”

She raised an eyebrow. “We’re going on a picnic?”

“Of sorts.”

Bethany did not look pleased. “I need to get this homework done.”

“This is your homework. Trust me. You’ll love it. And everyone bring pillows. Lots of pillows.”

Amber wars liking this game. “Can I wear my pajamas?”

“Wear whatever you want. Meet me at the front door in five minutes.”

(to be continued. Conclusion will be posted tomorrow)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Taming the Hulk (Part 1) by Karen Cantwell

Mothers can relate to The Incredible Hulk.

We all have those gentle Bruce Banner moments where our lives and children are calm, enriching and fulfilling. Birds sing on our shoulder while we bake cookies and our well-mannered kids sip lemonade on the front porch. Life is good.

On the flip side are the moments that initiate the Hulk sequence. Kids fight over the remote control while the dog relieves himself on the new carpet.
Simultaneously, the brutal rainstorm outside reveals more holes in the already-leaky-roof and little Johnny’s teacher is calling to ask why he hasn’t turned in any homework for two months. Mothers lose control during those darker moments and the thrashing green monster is unleashed. It’s not a pretty sight, but it happens to the best of us. In fact, if any mother ever tells you she’s never had a Hulk moment – she’s lying.

My name is Barbara Marr and I am a mother who understands the Hulk phenomenon. I have been known to Hulk-out. But one frustrating day, not too long ago, I stumbled upon an unlikely antidote: cheese balls.

At 5:25 p.m. on that fateful day, I had one headache, two doctor’s visits to reschedule, three daughters giving me the evil eye, four piles of clean laundry screaming to be folded, and five minutes to get to ballet class which was twenty minutes across town. Husband Howard had called to tell me he would be working late for the twentieth night in a row. My pulse was increasing exponentially and the Hulk countdown had begun. My veins were turning green.

“I don’t want to go to ballet today!” wailed my usually good natured Amber, her blazing red curls accentuating her current temperament.

“Those lessons are expensive, young lady – you’re going. I was dollars away from having to sell a kidney to pay for them.” I pointed to the stairs. “Go get your bag.”

I picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. “We’ll go as soon as I reschedule these appointments.”

Amber crossed her arms across her chest, stuck out her lip and glared me down before turning to stomp away.

A woman answered after three rings.

“Schmenck, Schmenck, and Yang Pediatrics, can I help you?”

“This is Barbara Marr. My daughters, Bethany and Callie had appointments with Dr. Yang at four o’clock. You’re not going to believe this – it sounds crazy, I know – but I couldn’t find my car keys for over an hour. I turned the house upside down. That’s why we missed those appointments. I have them now though – the keys that is.” I ended with a chuckle hoping to add some levity to an otherwise gruesome tale. “Can I resche . . .”

“I confirmed those appointments myself yesterday, Mrs. Marr. You should have mentioned then that you would be unable to keep them today.”

This woman obviously didn’t understand my situation. The Hulk doesn’t like to be misunderstood. “No, I couldn’t find my—“

“Our next available appointment is October 20th.”

“But that’s . . .” I counted on my fingers. “ . . . five months away!”

“I can put you on our waiting list.”

I sucked down a deep cleansing breath to hold the Hulk at bay. “But they need physical exams before they can go to summer camp. I have to turn the forms in next week.”

“I can put you on your waiting list.”

“You think I’m lying. I can tell you think I’m lying, but it’s the truth. You should have seen me tearing the house apart looking for those keys. I finally found them in the freezer next to the peanut butter.”

Bethany, my ten year old plopped down in the chair in front of me, ballet bag over her shoulder, pen in one hand and notebook in the other. She leaned patiently against the kitchen table. Meanwhile I kept fighting with the Nazi receptionist to secure appointments sometime sooner than the next solar eclipse.

My voice was starting to shake. “I was a freaked out lunatic. Here, my daughter will tell you.” I shoved the receiver in her face. “Tell her, Bethany.”

“She was a freaked out lunatic.”

“It’s true. I would never tell my daughter to lie for me. I need your help. I’m begging you.”

“Would you like those appointments on October 20th?’

“No, you see, October is AFTER summer. We need the exams BEFORE summer camp. Isn’t there anything you can do for me?”

“I can put you on our waiting list.”

Schmenk, Schmenk and Yang were celebrity pediatricians. Women got on a waiting list to be in their practice before conceiving. Northern Virginia Monthly ran an exclusive five page article exalting their medical brilliance and business savvy. Supposedly they were the best in the area. Personally, I didn’t see much difference from our other pediatrician. I mean, they gave the same shots and the same advice. It’s not like they were handing out designer antibiotics. But I had pulled some tricky political strings to get in with these people and I wasn’t going to lose my prime status now by flipping out and upsetting the staunch gate keeper.

“Yes, thank you. You’re so kind.” I hung up the phone and squeezed my head like a melon trying to relieve the constant throb.

“Mom, I need you to answer a survey question for me – it’s my homework.”

Dropping my posterior in the chair next to hers, I peeked at my watch before laying my head on the table. We were now officially late for ballet lessons.

“They’re still giving homework?” I asked. “School’s almost over.”

“Mrs. Pratt says she’ll give homework right up till the last day. She says we have to constantly be learning because soon we’ll have SATs to take and that could make or break our choice of college which could affect our entire future.”

“But you’re only in the fourth grade.”

“Mom, stay focused. What’s your idea of the perfect day?”

“That’s the survey question? Nothing about hypotenuses or the Big Bang Theory?”

“Mom . . .”

“Okay, give me a minute.”

(to be continued in tomorrow's post)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stay Tuned!

Starting tomorrow, I will be posting my first Barbara Marr short story, “Taming the Hulk.”

Soccer mom and aspiring movie reviewer, Barbara Marr made her first appearance in my novel Monkeys in My Trees which was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest for 2009. Since that time, I have revised and renamed the original novel.

So while I seek representation and publication for the newest version now titled, Take the Monkeys and Run, I have started writing a series of Barbara Marr short stories.

Please join me this week, while I post the first story in three separate parts – one each day.

In “Taming the Hulk,” a frazzled Barbara deals with the stress of parenting in the modern age.

Here’s a preview:

Mothers can relate to The Incredible Hulk.

We all have those gentle Bruce Banner moments where our lives and children are calm, enriching and fulfilling. Birds sing on our shoulder while we bake cookies and our well-mannered kids sip lemonade on the front porch. Life is good.

On the flip side are the moments that initiate the Hulk sequence. Kids fight over the remote control while the dog relieves himself on the new carpet. Simultaneously, the brutal rainstorm outside reveals more holes in the already-leaky-roof and little Johnny’s teacher is calling to ask why he hasn’t turned in any homework for two months. Mothers lose control during those darker moments and the thrashing green monster is unleashed. It’s not a pretty sight, but it happens to the best of us. In fact, if any mother ever tells you she’s never had a Hulk moment – she’s lying.

My name is Barbara Marr and I am a mother who understands the Hulk phenomenon. I have been known to Hulk-out. But one frustrating day, not too long ago, I stumbled upon an unlikely antidote: cheese balls.


If you want to find out more about how cheese balls saved Barbara’s life, tune in tomorrow for all of “Taming the Hulk” Part 1.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In the Forest of My Dream by LB Gschwandtner

In the forest of my dream grows a little evergreen, whose tiny spikes of needle hair reach out to grasp the new spring air. My dream takes shapes that grow and shift and all at once my form appears as if by magic old in years, trodding on the leaf strewn path, my arms outreaching toward the light that showers down upon us all, creatures living by our wits.

In the forest of my dream, fearsome demons lurk and wait, tall as oaks and fast as snakes, they hiss and spit and bare their fangs. I am anxious I admit, afraid of what they’ll do to me, afraid of what they’ll say of me, afraid of being overwhelmed, I scream to no one in my dream. When I wake in my own bed, damp and nervous, out of breath, I find it’s true, the scream I hear, it is my voice that fills the room. Where is the forest of my dream? Not here at least, not in this space.

In the forest of my dream, as real as any wooded glade, palpable and full of fright, at times a truly blessed realm of refuge taken from the storm, I walk through life so delicate, unfolding in the dappled light, with ferns and Mayapple and over the hill, Dutchman’s britches I see them still, in the forest of my dream, where time stands still and rushes round, making sleep a busy zone, where rest eludes me for one night, while dreaming takes me far afield.

In the forest of my dream, when I again return to sleep, a cat appears in silent stalk. A tiny baby bird it seems, has fallen from a nest on high, and helpless on a little knoll, wobbles and chirps for me to hear. I want to lift it from this floor but when I try my feet are stuck like two great boulders on a cliff and while I pull and twist about, the cat slinks forward toward her prey. And then from up above the trees a bird appears, with wings unfurled, and razor beak about to strike, talons open for a fight, in the forest of my dream, where creatures never play for real but where they tell me what I feel.

In the forest of my dream, the bird is gone and so the cat, curls up against my leg and sleeps, purring like a rumbling truck, as if she never left my side, nor looked upon a baby chick as if it were a bowl of cream, in the forest of my dream.

When morning comes and I arise, my cat is really by my side, and out the window I can see, a forest where the rain has come, and sprinkled dewdrops one by one, so all that slumbered these past months, can now begin to bloom anew. And what dreams do they have this spring? I wonder if as they grow old, eternity will treat them well, if in the forest of my dream, as I begin to say goodbye to all the creatures of the earth, as seasons pass and come again, the forest dream will live again, or will there come a day too soon, when all the forests big and small shall melt away and finally fall.

L B Gschwandtner is Editor-in-Chief of a business magazine.

Her writing has been recognized with awards in the 2004 and 2006 Writer’s Digest – short story mainstream literary category and the 2007 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. Her website,, showcases he own work as well as providing short story contests for anyone interested in entering. L B is currently working on a novel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sherman's Purpose by Karen Cantwell

Coffee. Sorry excuse for a beverage, thought Sherman Foster, staring into the empty can. Stuff stank up the house, made his nose itch and his stomach turn.

Resealing the empty container with its plastic lid and shoving it to the back of the counter, Sherman snickered, pleased with himself that he had purposely let the coffee run out. He’d show Horace. Make him real mad, he would. Predictably, Horace would soon yell from his room. “Sherman! Hey, Sherm! Can ya bring me a cup a coffee? My rheumatiz is actin’ up.”

“Heh, heh,” cackled Sherman to himself. “Ain’t no coffee ta-day, Horace ol’ boy. Guess you’ll just have some o’ that caffeine withdrawal, ‘cuz I ain’t goin’ out in this weather. Sure enough, I ain’t gonna walk half a mile to the Seven Ee-leven, just to get you some stinkin’ coffee.”

Sherman shuffled slowly on the yellow linoleum floor that, in its heyday, had been the color of soft, speckled cream. For a man his age, a trip from the fridge to the counter was a major undertaking. An arduous ordeal.

Steam blossomed invitingly from the bowl of oatmeal in his hands, stimulating his saliva glands, tempting his taste buds. But halfway to the table he remembered the honey.

“Damn!” grumbled Sherman to the quiet, friendless kitchen. “Can’t eat no bowl of oatmeal without honey.”

A mouse on the floor might have heard the scritch-scritching of Sherman’s cheap slippers (courtesy The Salvation Army) scuffing the floor as he moved back to the counter where the honey bear bottle colonized with the hen salt shaker and rooster pepper shaker next to the ramshackle gas stove – the same place they’d resided all the years Sherman knew.

Finally, Sherman’s bony bottom made contact with the seat of the tippy chair at the small round table. Hunched over the chipped ceramic bowl, holding the bear upside down over the oatmeal, Sherman waited for the honey to fall. He had no choice but to wait. The arthritis made it near impossible to squeeze even the tiniest bit.

Before the honey came, Sherman sighed. He took a peek behind him, down the hallway. “Damn!” he mumbled. “I got oatmeal and I got honey. Horace may be a pain in my ass, but he ain’t got no coffee.” He shook his head. “Damn, stinkin’ coffee.”

Flipping the bear back upright, he set it onto the table-top with a thump. He looked down the hall, sighed one more time, then rose from the chair slow as a sloth and began the long, laborious ritual of bundling up for a cold, even more laborious walk to the Seven Ee-leven.

“Hey there, Sherm!” Nancy bellowed from behind the counter. She smiled so broadly that her chubby cheeks pushed her eyes nearly half closed.

“Damn, Nanc, you look like a crazy China-woman when you smile like that. Anyone ever tell ya that?”

“Why yes, Sherm,” she laughed. “You, as a matter of fact.”

“Then why you still do it?”

“To give you sumthin’ to complain about.”

She patted her stomach when she talked and didn’t stop smiling. It was Nancy’s way. Evidently, she didn’t care if she looked like a crazy China-woman or not.

“So what can we get ya today, Sherm?”

“Can o’ Folgers,” Sherman answered, shuffling in the same direction as always.

“For Horace?” she asked.

“Who else? I told ya a thousand times, I can’t stand the smell of it, much less the taste. Stuff rots your gut.” He had made a successful trip to the coffee aisle, picked a can off the shelf and returned to Nancy’s register, where he began the slow motion effort of opening his tattered coin purse. “It’ll probably kill him,” said Sherman, counting out quarters, dimes and nickels one at a time, onto the cold counter, “if the laziness don’t first. He should be walkin’ here himself – get up off his feet ever once in a while. He’s just an idiotic old fart. Oughta put him in a home. Let someone else take care of him.”

“You love your brother, Sherman Foster. I know ya do.” Nancy was getting that sad look on her face again that bothered Sherman. Sure enough, he didn’t like the China-woman look, but that sad-as-a-lost-puppy look was even spookier. Someone really should have a talk with that woman.

He clinked a final coin onto the counter. “That enough, Nanc?”

She counted out the coins which totaled a dollar fifty-three. The coffee cost three dollars and ninety-nine cents, not including tax.

“That’s enough Sherm,” she said tenderly. “You be good now. See ya tomorrow?”

“Not if I can help it! This oughta last him least a week for cryin’ out loud,” moaned Sherman, making his tortoise-like way to the door.

“Right. Well, say ‘Hey’ to Paula when you see her,” said Nancy who then turned her attention to another customer.

Sherman shook his head and wondered to himself. Paula? Who’s Paula?
Snowflakes had started to fall – monstrously luscious snowflakes, floating to the ground like the feathers of angels wings. Once outside, Sherman stopped and looked to the sky. “Snow. Who’s gonna shovel this crap? Sure ain’t gonna be that lazy bum, Horace.”

A young girl stood next to him looking skyward, eye shining. “I love the snow,” she whispered.

Grumbling and pointing his head to the sidewalk he began the long shuffle back to the house where he and his brother had spent years growing from boys to men, so long, long ago.

He passed the big field where they played cops and robbers, and where in winter, they would sail like the wind down the heaven-kissing hill on toboggans. That was when snow was a dream, not a nightmare.

He passed the cemetery where they buried Mother, and then Father, who just didn’t want to live without her no more.

He passed Pearl O’Leary’s house – the woman who broke his heart. Of course, Pearl didn’t live there no more, but her grand-daughter did, and every once in a while, when she visited the girl, she would stop in and say “Hey!” to Sherman and Horace. She always complimented Sherman on how kind he was to take care of Horace the way he did, bein’ like a nurse and all. “You’re a good man, Sherman,” she’d say.

“Ach – he’s a bum. Oughta put him in a home.”

“You ain’t foolin’ me,” she’d answer, “You love your brother, Sherman. I know it.”
Back in his house, which wasn’t much warmer than the air outside, Sherman shook off the snow, hung his ratty coat on its hook, laid his hat and gloves carefully on the radiator nearby, then made his arthritic way to the coffee pot on the stove.

“Hey, Horace!” Sherman shouted down the hall. “You’ll have your stinkin’ coffee soon! Don’t go yellin’ fer, it ‘cuz I don’t wanna hear yer caterwallin’.”
Dog-tired from his grueling walk, Sherman decided to have a sit on the sofa in the living room. Take some weight off his feet for just a few minutes – just while the coffee perked up. As happened on most days, he laid his head down and drifted off.

When Paula came at her usual time, she found a familiar scene – open can of coffee on the counter, a pot percolating furiously over the flame of the single functioning burner left on the stove, and Uncle Sherman, asleep on the living room couch.

She took the red can, opened the small door of the pantry, and placed it next to the others that filled the four lined shelves. She counted them. Twenty-one. Twenty-one cans of Folgers. She threw away the empty can, but knew that miraculously, she would find it on the counter when she returned the next day.

After cleaning up she covered Uncle Sherman with the quilt and waited. When he woke up, she would sit and tell him again. Tell him that Uncle Horace had passed peacefully in his sleep nearly a month ago now. She would ask Uncle Sherman, didn’t he remember? Didn’t he remember finding Horace in bed that morning, and the lovely funeral when they buried him next to Uncle Fred and Aunt Mimi? Didn’t he remember?

Finally, Sherman would shake his head and say that he did. He did remember. He would sit weeping on the couch, his crippled hands cupping his shaking head.

“Why?” he would ask. “Now what’m I gonna do?”

Then he’d curl up in a ball, and sleep again.

Paula would come back. She would come back every day and clean that ancient and tarnished coffee pot. After all, it was his purpose. Making coffee for the brother he loved.

Everyone who knew Sherman knew the truth. That those two were more than brothers -- they were best friends. And they knew that despite his cranky grumbling, Sherman Foster really loved Horace all the years that he had lived.

Loved him more than a child loves the sight of new falling snow.


Beautiful Lady, Beautiful Hat by Linda M. Spear

I never would have met her except that I stood behind her in line, waiting to pay for shoes. She was a good half foot taller than I and the hat the she wore gave her inches more in height.

Since I noticed the hat and not the woman from the back, I longed to see how well it appeared from the front, so I asked her.

“Ma’am, I love your hat,” I said. Since we stood in line waiting to pay for shoes, she didn’t know I was addressing her. So I tapped her shoulder, reaching up to tentatively to get her attention.

She turned around and looked down at me with confusion. She was even more beautiful than the hat, from the front as well as from behind.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said and added, “I just wanted to know where you got your hat. I love it.”

Her confusion turned to pleasant surprise and she touched the brim of the wide and tall hat that was woven with khaki and black straw, with a wide black grosgrain ribbon that surrounded the interior diameter. With the hat that provided a shadow over her eyes, she didn’t seem to need sunglasses.

Yet she continued to look quizzically at me before she answered. I was somewhat confused by the fact that she didn’t respond immediately, but I guess she was still startled by my question. Then I thought to myself, since nobody ever asks me where I get my clothing or accessories, I probably would have been just as surprised.

“I got it in Italy,” she said without affect. Well, clearly, I wasn’t going there in the immediate future, so I didn’t ask her in what town she found her treasure.

What was I to say next? All I could think of was, “It’s truly distinctive and I think it looks lovely on you.”

So what did this tall woman do in return? She took her hat off and placed it on my head. That’s when I really got confused. What was I supposed to do now? Look for a mirror? Ask her how it looked on me? Be uncomfortable about the fact that someone else’s hat was on my head?

She made the decision for me and gently pushed me in the direction of a full length mirror, yards away. I stepped in front of it as the others around us watched with bored detachment. Did they wonder if I would have the nerve to take my old place in line when I was done gazing at myself while I was adorned in a stranger’s hat?

How odd, I thought. I started this scenario because I loved that hat on her, but on my shorter, less elegant body the hat did not improve my style. And I went to tell her so, but by that time, she was at the counter paying for her shoes.

Because it was a Saturday and the line had filled up, getting directly through to the counter without appearing to “cut in” was tough. But just as I made it to where she stood, the lady had completed her purchase and walked out of the store.

Then the trek to reach her became more difficult. I had to give my “ready to purchase” shoes to someone at the counter to hold for me so I could run out of the store to catch up the lady who owned the hat. But the other patrons assumed I was trying to barge ahead to pay for my shoes and they started to argue and push me.

It took many minutes of unnecessary prattle back and forth to ensure these folks that I was just placing my shoes on the counter so I could catch up with the woman who owned the hat.

By the time I ran out of the store to find her, she was long gone. Gamely, I walked back inside, grabbed the shoes I intended to buy and went to the end of the line. I thought perhaps she’d come back while I stood there; her hat still rested on my head. Those who had aggressively belittled me for my apparent intrusion were happy to see me behind them as they made their purchases. But by the time I reached the cashier, the lady who owned the hat had not reappeared.

The only thing I could think of was to ask for a manager to give me advice regarding the return of the woman’s hat. People behind me in line were seething like the ones before because I now held them up as I waited to speak to the person in charge.

When the manager appeared some minutes later, she suggested that we could identify her by her credit card if we could remember what shoes she bought.
That became impossible since I never looked at the shoes, only her hat. Even if she had paid in credit, we wouldn’t have been able to identify her since the clerks at the counter never saw her in the hat. The only thing the manager could suggest was that I leave the hat with her to be placed in the store’s lost and found.

So I took the hat off my head, knowing it did not flatter me, even though it was just beautiful—especially on the woman who owned it—and reluctantly gave it to the manager. Then, with more and more people behind me becoming more and more agitated because I had held them up, I paid for my shoes and left.

I walked out of the store, head down with a mixture of discouragement and sadness. Somehow I felt as though I had held the woman’s hat hostage and I knew that she would not expect to see it again on her head, where it belonged.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the woman who owned that hat by my side. She said, “I know you loved my hat, but I came back to claim it.”

Without a thought, I hugged her and with garbled glee, I told her that I had tried to return her hat before she left the store. She stood there, in all her beauty, even without the hat and I could see her relax with the knowledge that I had made all the effort to ensure she’d see her hat again.

We walked back to the store with her arm around my shoulder and as we approached the counter, she asked to see the manager. This time, no one seemed to object. In fact, people stared at us in shock. When the manager spotted us, she paled and immediately ran to the back of the store to retrieve the hat.

When she returned, she told us both how happy she was that the she could restore the hat to its rightful owner. “I’m sorry Ms. Owens for the problem,” she said beseechingly.

How did she know the woman’s name now if she didn’t know it, beforehand? The woman said that it was quite alright because everything had worked out well and that we had met again in the parking lot and sorted out the whole episode.

As Ms. Owens and I walked out together, she asked me, “How did you like my hat on your head?” And I told her the truth. “Some hats are made for some people’s heads and some aren’t. Your hat was not made for mine.” But then I asked her, “How did she know your name, Ms. Owens?”

The woman laughed, and as she put her hat back on her head she said, “My real name is Dana Owens and my credit card is in that name, but most people know me as Queen Latifah.”



Linda Spear is an author and a journalist with 30 years of communications experience. She is a veteran journalist for The New York Times where she reported primarily on evolving health and human interest issues that affect our culture.
She is also the co-author of “Kids and Sports,” written with Eric Small, M.D., and several other ghosted books with doctors.
Her first novel, I Know You by Heart, can be purchased on

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Karma Kills (Part 2) by Karen Cantwell

Tuesday stifled a gasp with her hand. Her heart pounded, her temples throbbed. She barely noticed how badly her hands were shaking when she snatched up the yellowed piece of paper, quickly hiding it away in her sweater pocket. Frantically, she scanned her surroundings. Across the aisle, Markie and Jenna chatted behind the Clinique counter engrossed in a girlfriend gab-fest. They looked ridiculous, but not guilty.

“Do I need to get a manager to help move this transaction along?” sneered her customer.

Tuesday peeked around the tall display that hid the grumbling woman from her view.

“Did you see someone?” she asked the frowny lady.


“Behind this counter. Did you see someone come behind here?”

“I haven’t even seen you for the last five minutes. Do I need to find a manager?”

The floor under Tuesday went wavy. She grabbed the counter for support. “No. Please.” Tuesday was unusually rattled. “I’ll ring you up.” She processed the transaction, slowly but surely, shaky hands and all. Finally, she handed a bag and receipt to the woman and took a deep breath while her mind raced. Should she call the police? Would these notes constitute a threat to her life? She decided to call her lawyer right away. Sort this out. Her break wouldn’t be for another hour, but she didn’t care. She had an emergency. Grabbing her purse and cell phone, she turned right into the chest of her department manager.

Calista Sams was easily four inches taller than Tuesday even before she slipped into her four inch spikey heels. That put Tuesday’s eyeballs just about even with Calista’s bountiful bosom. Tuesday knew Calista’s boobs better than she knew Calista. In fact, she wouldn’t be able to accurately report the color of Calista’s eyes, if asked. Brown? Blue? Who knew? She’d bet dollars to donuts though, that Calista the Colossal wore a thirty-six double-D.

“Calista,” mumbled Tuesday, “I didn’t see you there.”

“Apparently you didn’t see your customer either.” Calista probably wasn’t smiling – Tuesday couldn’t tell. Her breasts seemed more angry than usual, however. Tuesday’s problem with Calista wasn’t shared by most at Bergen’s. Calista was well liked by others, considered to be a kind and understanding boss. She did not seem to care for Tuesday, though. Women rarely did.

“No, no, I did,” Tuesday stammered, “I just finished ringing her up.” The floor was giving way underneath her feet again, and the room started to spin. “I’m just . . .”

“West, are you okay?”

“I’m just . . . no, no. I think I’m going to be sick.”

Calista put her hand on her hip. “Honestly. If it’s not one thing with you, it’s another.” She looked Tuesday up and down. “I need you here today, West. The new shipment will be here any minute and we need those displays up.”


“Karma Kills.”

“What?” Tuesday felt faint, gripping the counter for her life.

“Karma Kills.” Calista was rolling her eyes. “The new scent. Haven’t you seen these?” She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. The very same size and color as the notes Tuesday had been finding. Calista held it up to Tuesday’s nose as if to make a point. She noted that it smelled lightly of citrus and lilies. Very nice.

“You were supposed to be promoting this all week, passing them out with your sales. So go take a break, then get back here and get to work.”

Tuesday considered her boss’ words. No, she realized with sudden clarity. She needed a less stressful job.

“I quit,” she said, taking her things. “Don’t worry – it’s not you, it’s me. You're a good person, Calista.”

The very next day, Tuesday called her lawyer, told him to draw up those divorce papers quickly. She wanted nothing from George, not a dime. Then she asked if he had need for full-time help in his office. A position with good pay and good benefits.

He didn’t, but he knew someone who did.

That’s how Tuesday West started a new life.

And she had a new favorite perfume: Karma Kills.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Espresso Dreams by Adele Annesi

He lets go the collar of his coat and opens the café door. Conversation thrums the air and the smell of dark roast scents the steam rising from behind the counter. He stands in line and orders a single shot, then finds a barstool by the window. He buries his face in the oversize cup, its shape funneling the aroma of earth. He thinks again of summer, a week on the Adriatic and mornings with her. He inhales, then drains the cup. A woman, slender and dirty blonde, smiles. He rises to leave, then stops at her table. "Have I seen you before?" They chat and laugh, the invite there in a yellow fleck of her hazel eyes. He begins another question, then pauses. What would tomorrow be with her? He smiles. "I'll see you again." He rises, smiles again. In his car, he calculates the time and makes the call. "Ciao, caro," she answers. He tallies the time until spring.

Adele Annesi is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in 34th Parallel, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Tertulia Magazine and Trillium. She contributed to The Circle and the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid, and her short fiction appeared in an anthology for Fairfield University. Adele won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and teaches writing workshops. Visit her at Word for Words and Adele M. Annesi.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Karma Kills (Part 1) by Karen Cantwell

Tuesday West was a marry-er by trade.

By the very nature of how Tuesday made her living, she had racked up a list of enemies, but that had never bothered her. Then she found the first note. Nothing much to worry about, she convinced herself. A child’s prank.

Then she found a second and a third, exactly the same as the first. Suddenly, the men she had done wrong loomed large in her mind’s eye and for the first time in her life, she was actually scared.

There had been five of them. Husbands. Skinny John was the first. Then Chubby John. He wasn’t really chubby, just not as skinny as Skinny John, and she needed a way to distinguish them.

Don came nicely on the heels of Chubby John and provided her with a second house, mortgage-free. Of the five, he was her favorite. Modestly handsome and fit. Good sense of humor. If love had been on her agenda, she might have considered it with Don.

Lonny was a loser, plain and simple (hence the nickname Loser Lonny) and a complete waste of her time. She had misjudged his financial state of affairs and only broke even on that transaction. Admittedly the worst year and a half of her life.

Finally, there was George. Technically speaking, George was not an ex. Not yet. This caused Tuesday to wonder.

“Could you move this along a little faster please, miss?” A woman’s voice broke her trance. “I have more important things to do than stand here waiting for you while you contemplate your navel.”

Brushing stray blonde strands from her face, Tuesday looked across the perfume counter of Bergen’s department store. The sixty-something, thin-lipped customer stared her down with beady eyes.

“Yes, ma’am.” Like it or not, Tuesday had to wait on the woman and keep some pretense of trying to give good service. Kneeling behind the counter she fumbled in search of the small white box of Elizabeth Taylor’s latest scent. Her shaking hands knocked boxes over, strewing them across the floor.

While she made her living by marrying, then divorcing men, Tuesday had learned early on that keeping ordinary, every day jobs was essential to a smooth, successful process of extracting the biggest settlement possible. First, and most importantly, while in the middle of a divorce, it was imperative to hold a part-time, low paying job. Divorce after divorce, this was the advice of her many and varied lawyers. They all looked different – the lawyers that was – with different names and different habits, but their message was always the same: play weak, act the victim, look like you’re suffering, and the pay-off will be sweet.

Sweat formed on her forehead and her hair stuck to her face while boxes lay scattered all around her feet, but finally, Tuesday had the right box in her hand.

“Yes!” she breathed quietly to herself, standing up and coming face to face with the irritated customer, who didn’t break a smile.

“Will that be all?” Tuesday asked the plump, grumpy lady. She looked at the woman’s ring finger. A monstrous diamond on a thick platinum band cut deep into doughy flesh. Likely, Tuesday thought, there was a husband who could easily be stolen. But Tuesday didn’t steal men who were already married. That was too much work, and she would be splitting the profits. Not her style.

“Please, just ring it up and get me out of this hell hole,” the woman answered.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Tip-toeing her way around perfume boxes and rounding the corner of a tall display, Tuesday carried the small package to the register to ring up the sale and get the grumpy, dried up old hag out of her hair.

Note number four lay in wait for her on the register. It was identical to the previous three. Scrawled in red-as-blood ink on torn parchment, the words silently screamed at her: KARMA KILLS.

(Stay tuned for more of Karma Kills)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Little Red Boots by Karen Cantwell

Geraldine Hinkle would be meeting her maker any day. The doctor said it could be weeks, but Geraldine knew better.

Leaning one frail hip against the wooden counter of Watson’s Western Wear, and rubbing a hand over her bald head, Geraldine didn’t think about dying.

“Can I hold one?” Her coarse voice was weak.

The lanky man behind the counter waited a few beats before responding. “Beauties, ain’t they? Hand crafted, ever inch. Three thousand dollar pair a boots right there.” He scratched his crotch.

“Are ya gonna let me hold one or are ya gonna just stand there all day playin’ with yer balls?”

The lanky man frowned. His long arm extended toward the shelf as he issued a warning. “Don’t think about runnin’ off with this. I got a gun.”

Geraldine’s spontaneous laugh quickly turned into a wet, spittle cough. That was the funniest thing she’d heard all week. Damn funny, this bony man.

By the time her coughing fit had subsided, the boot stood proudly on the counter. Geraldine picked it up with both hands, gently caressing the fine, silver snakeskin foot.

“That there’s the belly skin of a python come from Thailand.” The man nearly scratched his crotch again, but stopped mid-air. He scratched his left butt cheek instead.

Turning the boot on its side, Geraldine traced the intricate detail. Turquoise blue waves under a yellow sun stitched and painted on soft brown leather. She closed her eyes and remembered.

Waves crashing on hard sand. A young girl laughing. The laughing girl was running back and forth along the sand, her little red boots carrying her effortlessly. Her red skirt and vest fluttering with the wind. A tiny cowgirl frolicking on the shore as a coral sun dropped toward the sea like a colossal balloon pulled down by an invisible string. Sky the color of rainbow sherbet. Orange, pink, yellow.

A man swooped up from behind the laughing girl and threw her high into the air. “Who’s mah little hedgehog?” he said catching her in his strong, safe arms. The laughing girl laughed harder. “Geri is, Daddy! Geri!”
Geraldine’s sides hurt with the remembering.

Her heart ached with the longing. The rainbow sherbet sunset and little red boots.
Geraldine had lived a long, hard life, drinkin’ way too much drink and smokin’ way too much smoke. Good memories – they were far and few between.

The lanky man blew a hard breath, waking Geraldine from her reverie.

“I’ll take ‘em.” Geraldine smiled.

The man scratched his five o’clock shadow. “You got three thousand dollars, lady?”

Geraldine coughed into her elbow before answering. “First, I wanna thank ya fer callin’ me a lady. Been a long time since someone’s been so kind. Second off . . .” she pulled a wad of bills out of her jeans pocket. “. . . money – you can’t take it with ya, like they say. But these boots, they can go with me to the grave. I’d like to wear ‘em now, if you don’t mind.”

With his bony fingers, the man counted the bills. When he was satisfied, he put the other boot on the counter then watched as she slipped each boot on like a knife slicin’ into warm butter.

Invigorated with energy she hadn’t felt in weeks, Geraldine slapped the counter and hooted, “Hot damn! Like they was made for mah feet!”

A hint of a smile on his pointed face, the man held up the wad of money as he slid his way to the cash register. “This here’s over four thousand dollars. I’d say you got some change comin’.”

The shop door opened, triggering a tiny bell. A small girl bounded in followed by her mother who tried to grab a chubby hand before it could break something.

Seeing the girl, Geraldine turned to the man. “You got little red boots?”


“Fer girls. Little red cowgirl boots. Maybe a skirt and vest too?”

“Yeh. We got somethin’ like that.”

“See that girl gets the sweetest little cowgirl suit and boots she desires. Same for every little girl that walks through those doors until the money’s gone.”

“That’s a kindly gesture.”

She shrugged. “Maybe they’ll bring her good memories when she needs ‘em.”

Geraldine’s boots clopped on the wooden floors as she left Watson’s Western Wear. She looked up at the sign above the door that said, Come Back Now, Y’Hear?
With a laugh and a cough, she answered, “Not in this body, I ain’t.”

The End.