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IN TWO MINDS ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast #67  asked that we use JUNE in the setting AND the picture below:

For this story, the fabulous Bill Kirton and I are at it again!

You’ll recall I joined forces with Bill on two other shows:  “The Wrong Shoes” and Selfie Love.”

“In Two Minds” came together quickly, and we think it’s one of our best stories to date. I wrote parts 1 & 3, and Bill penned 2 & 4. There was no discussion of plot or characters prior to writing each part. We simply played off each other’s segment.

The title (Bill’s idea) is just as it implies, an exploration of two minds, evident in both the story and our collaboration.

Listen to Bill and me reading the story here.

You can also learn all the latest from the Facebook page for the Wordcount Podcast. Please LIKE the page if you get a chance. I know R.B. would love to have more people on the show. It’s a great way to hone your writing chops and be part of a supportive group of authors.

Thank you and hope you enjoy the story!

flourish

I hate crowds, but here I am at one of the busiest places in New York on a June afternoon. The Jones Beach Theatre kicks off the summer with a free concert featuring famous musicians, and some not so famous. Though it is never confirmed, rumours swirl that music agents dot the crowd in search of fresh talent. The concert attracts musicians from all across the country and goes on for the entire day. It’s believed that catching the attention of one influential agent amongst 15,000 concertgoers is still a better odd at success than uploading a viral Youtube video.

I would not be here if it were not for James. He and I have just started seeing each other; it’s our third date. His teenage son is in a band that will play here today. Given the chaotic start, I imagine their band won’t appear until the second half of the show.

It’s only noon, and it’s sweltering.

Greasy people in shorts and tank tops, smelling of coconut scented lotion, are in constant motion around me. We are seated in the middle of a row where twenty-somethings shuffle by us to get to the end of the aisle or to their seats. They carry trays of beer and snacks. I stand every time someone passes in front of me, not to give them room, but to avoid having them touch me.

My germaphobia is on high alert.

“You all right, Maggie?” James touches my arm lightly as I sit down again. “You must be hot in that long sleeve blouse.”

I shake my head. A bead of sweat pools at my hairline, but I dab it before it rolls down my face. “No, no … I’m fine.” It’s a lie of course, but I like James. I’m willing to tough it out for a few hours with him here.

He leans toward me and brushes a sticky strand of hair from my cheek. “You’re such a good sport for coming out here with me today, especially in this heat.” He smiles in a way that makes my stomach drop a little. “How about I go buy you a souvenir T-shirt?” he says. “I’m sure it will be a lot cooler than what you’re wearing.”

I am hot, and only getting hotter. I suddenly feel heat rush to my face. “Thank you, James, but I won’t be able to wear it anyway.”

“Why not?”

“It’s … it’s the formaldehyde. They use it to treat new materials, so I never wear anything new unless I wash it first.”

James furrows his brow as he looks at me. 

Have I offended him?

+++

Bizarre creatures, women. Necessary, essential even, but so hard to fathom. There’s not much I like more than putting on a fresh, brand new shirt. Does that mean I’ve got a thing for formaldehyde? Poor Maggie. She’s sitting there, obviously uncomfortable from the heat, but it’s more than that. It’s the people. I sort of knew it from how I first met her. In a library of all places. Who the hell goes to libraries nowadays? Well, obviously Maggie does. I was there to look up something for Cal. He’s written a couple of new songs for the band which they think could be their breakthrough. I have to admit the lyrics are pretty impressive but he said there was something missing from the second one. He’d been a bit ambitious, tried threading different sets of references together and wanted to get Norse myths into it. He’d looked online but hadn’t found anything extreme enough – he wanted weird hybrid creatures, the things that popped out when Gods had sex with humans – so I said I’d check the stacks in the university library. And there she was – not in the main building, but at a single table tucked away in a corner of the stack. Little halo of sunlight around her hair, stunningly beautiful – so much so that you’d expect her to be gliding about where there were others to admire her. But no, she was in a near empty building, reading quietly amongst dust and volumes that were rarely opened.

She’s an enigma. OK, we’re still new to one another but at least she’s here. I really thought she’d say no when I invited her to come. I mean, The Jones Beach Theatre? First concert of the summer? Hardly the place for someone who’s agoraphobic. But she’s here. That’s a positive, right? But can anything come of it really? I can’t help feeling I’m invading her space. When I brushed back her hair then, she flinched. Only slightly, a conditioned reflex. She smiled to hide it, but it was there. And yet we’ve kissed, I’ve held her. Nothing much more yet and I’m trying not to rush things, but if she always needs to stay in that cocoon of hers, well…

God, the noise. That’s the trouble with these things – most of the stuff onstage is derivative. Tribute bands without admitting it. The present lot are probably copying Spinal Tap, with the amps set to 11. I’ll be glad when Cal’s set’s over. I won’t look for him. His mum’s here somewhere so she’ll probably find him and embarrass him in front of the band. Maggie and I will just find somewhere quiet. Yes, quiet would be good.

+++

I’m relieved when James takes my hand and brushes his lips over the fingertips. Despite the heat, a shiver runs down my spine.

He is unlike the others. James is gentle and considerate, and when I’m with him, I feel like what I imagine a normal woman would feel like. I can only owe this to him being a father. He cares about more than just himself. I sensed that when he approached me at the library where we first met. He immediately apologized for disturbing me and sat in a poorly lit area so he would not infringe on my space. I felt bad for him, trying to read in the dark like that. When I gestured for him to sit closer to the window and the light, closer to me, he almost seemed reluctant to do so, but he did.

I always fall for the shy, quiet types.

It’s been two years since Mike, even if I’m reminded of him every time I walk by the overgrown flowerbed in my backyard. The patch of wild flowers is hidden behind my wood shed, a dilapidated structure used to store garden equipment, along with leftover cans of paints and cleaners. I repainted that garage with three coats of oil paint. The smell was awful, but for a time, it masked the odour of the body.

It was with Mike that I learned everything I needed to know about formaldehyde. Mike turned out to be an abusive drunk after our initial honeymoon phase. My biggest mistake was inviting him to live with me after only a few months. He must have been on his best behaviour before then because he changed immediately after moving in. From the moment he came home after work, he drank beer and hardly moved from the couch in front of the TV. Next came the hard liquor, soon followed by his violent fits of rage.

Ten drops of methanol added to his scotch over three nights was all it took. The chemical metabolized into formaldehyde inside his body and led to respiratory failure. Mike’s asthma sped up his demise. The hardest part was keeping his body in the shed while I dug up the flowerbed.

But James is not Mike. He’s different from the rest. He’s not a loner. He has people who depend on him. That will make it difficult for me to fall back into old patterns.

The others are gone now, in the past. James is my future.

I palm his face and offer a sweet smile. “I’m just being silly,” I say, “Of course, you can buy me a T-shirt. I’d love to have one as a reminder of our day.”

“Excellent!” he says. A grin lifts the corners of James’ big, brown eyes. He appears genuinely pleased.

+++

You know, maybe I’m seeing problems where none exist. As I’ve said, we’ve kissed, touched, and she’s here beside me. Even in this heat, she’s still looking great. I couldn’t resist kissing her hand. And she let me, even smiled. It was magical – her and me, a little oasis of quiet in the din. And she touched my cheek, trailed her fingers over my lips. No recoils, no flinching. Maybe it’s my imagination again. It’s just that she seems so fragile, vulnerable. That’s so bloody attractive nowadays, when women’s sexuality has become so … well, aggressive. She’s probably just shy. I’m going to get her that T-shirt but I don’t want to leave her alone here with all these strangers around her. We’ll get it after Cal’s set.

I can’t help feeling sort of special that she’s let me get this close. It seems like a real date, the first. The other two we’ve had so far were fine but there was a distance. We were feeling our way – both of us. You know, I even think she may be a virgin. I know it’s unlikely. I mean she’s well into her thirties, but there’s that mystery about her, that otherness. Makes me want to protect her. I know, I know – typical male fantasy, macho crap, but I can’t help it. It’s that fragility. When I was at her place for dinner, it was almost a parody of the single female. The place was immaculate, the kitchen spotless. She’s a wonderful cook. The meal wasn’t at all fussy and yet the flavours were superb, but she blushed when I said so, waved away the compliment and said something about adding chorizo oil at the last minute.

But she’s no handyman – the garden, the shed, they’re just embarrassing really. It’s a nice place, lots of potential, but it needs a bit of TLC. The shed ought to come down. Apart from the state it’s in, it’s right at the front, hiding the bit of garden that’s got the most potential. The central flowerbed’s a disaster. All around the edge she’s got delphiniums, lavatera, hollyhocks, foxgloves – that sort of thing. It’s like a wall of flowers and, in the middle, where you can hardly see them, there are phlox, Californian poppies and peonies. It needs a man’s touch. I’m toying with the idea of surprising her. She has a graphics conference in Massachusetts next month. I’m thinking of giving the garden a make-over while she’s away. Put up a new shed, fix the trellis at the side of the house. Most of all dig over and replant that bed.

That’s for later, though. For now, I’ll just sit with the beautiful Maggie and watch my own kid, whose nappies I used to change, excite these thousands of people with his music. Life doesn’t get much better.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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THE COTTAGE LIFE ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use April in the setting AND the picture below, taken by friend and fellow writer, Bill Kirton.

My story inspiration

I write a lot about women, loneliness, and murder. They are themes that haunt me daily as I work on my current trilogy. For a short story, however, it’s not practical to squeeze in too many ideas; it can become convoluted. For “The Cottage Life,” murder is not a central theme, but an ambiguous by-product. I hope you like how it turned out.

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 65 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

flourish

Spring in this part of the world could hardly be called warm. The snow has melted due to monsoon-like rains, but it’s left a chill in the air. The dewy, mild temperatures normally associated with this time of year are buried along with the crocuses.

My fingers tap against the steering wheel as I grip more tightly than necessary. Classical music intended to soothe begins to irritate me. I turn off the radio, preferring quiet. The four-hour drive outside of the city gives me time to reflect on last April. The cues from family and friends indicate they think I’m still grieving.

I wear my mask well.

A year ago, I lived with my husband, Mike, in a small cottage on a lakefront property. The house wasn’t much to look at, compared to other homes on the lake, but the land it sat on was worth a great deal. All the lakefront homes within five miles of where we lived had appreciated two, three, four times over the last decade. We held on to our investment despite numerous offers to sell from greedy realtors and other interested buyers. I knew that if I was patient, the real estate market would work in my favour.

I put up a fight initially when my husband suggested we sell our suburban bungalow in the city. He brought up the subject as we sat down for dinner one night, a home-cooked meal of steak and potatoes, fresh baked garlic bread, and a side of green beans.

“Come on, Beth,” he said. “We don’t take advantage of half the things the city offers. Let’s sell while the market is hot and use the profits to winterize the cottage. That way, we can live up north all year round.” He slathered more butter on his bread, his fourth slice.

“How about our friends?” My brows furrowed.

“Our friends will just have to make a trip to visit us. They love coming to the cottage in the summer. Everyone hibernates during the winter, so what’s the difference if we live here or at the cottage?”

“I suppose so …,” I said, “But we’d have to downsize. The cottage is tiny.”

“So, we downsize.” Mike cut into his fatty steak and swallowed the piece, barely chewing it. “Besides, we’ve finally finished paying off our debts. Why carry the expenses of two properties? We can only live in one place at a time, anyway.”

Yes, we had finished paying off our debts, but what he neglected to say, was that they were his debts, not mine. Months earlier, we made the final payment on a loan that was used to pay off legal fees from an investment that had gone sour. That was after I cashed out my retirement savings to offset the bills. I resented using my funds to pay off his mistake, but we were married. What was his was mine, and that included his debts.

“I don’t know about selling,” I said. “It’s a big change at this stage in our lives.”

Mike finished off his steak and potatoes. The beans on his plate remained untouched. “Sure, it’s a change, but you’re always saying we need to be open-minded, so I’m taking a page from your book.”

I sighed. “How much do you think we can get for this place?”

My husband burped and wiped a napkin over his double chin. “I’ll call Bob tomorrow and ask him. What’s for dessert?”

+++

Living in a cottage highlighted the issues in our marriage. The problems existed before, but the self-imposed isolation magnified it all the more. Mike loved sports, so he spent most days glued to the television. It amazed me how he could seamlessly change the channel from hockey to football to basketball. It was endless. I would putter around the six hundred square foot space doing odd jobs, reading when the TV wasn’t on full blast, and cooking. The biggest part of my day was preparing Mike’s meals.

And so we lived in that cottage, though lived would be too strong a word. Existed might be a better word. Or rather, coexisted. If Mike and I said a hundred words between us during our waking hours, that would be an interactive day. We tolerated each other, but that was it. After nearly forty years of marriage, should I expect more?

When an agent offered us $1.5 million for our cottage after we were there less than a year, Mike suggested we sell.

“We’re still settling in here and now you want to sell? And where are we going to go?” I said.

“With that much money, we can go anywhere. How about Southwest Florida? You know Murray and Betty love it in Fort Myers.”

“I’d rather die here than move to Florida with all of those blue-haired ladies. All they do is wait for their 5 PM buffets. I wouldn’t fit in with them.”

Mike must have heard the annoyance in my voice. He grabbed the converter and switched on the TV, didn’t even look at me as he spoke. “You know, you’ve never fit in with my friends’ wives. You think you’re better than them because you’re a vegetarian?”

“What?” I shouted. “That’s ridiculous!”

“Is it? We hardly ever get invited for dinners because they’re all worried about what you can’t eat. You need to eat more, Beth!”

That was one of our last conversations before Mike dropped dead of a heart attack a few weeks later. The doctor said his lack of activity and overeating was a lethal combination. You may say I killed him slowly with my cooking. You may say that, but it wasn’t against the law to make sure my husband ate well.

+++

I pull up to the unmarked area where there is a clearing of conifers that offer light and shade in varying degrees. There are large rocks nearby, but they won’t be a problem to remove.

I step out of the car and breathe in the crisp, fresh air. The sun streams through the canopy of trees, and I tilt my head toward a warm ray of light. A few minutes later, the sound of snapping twigs draws my attention down the hill. A tall man approaches, carrying a folder. “Beth?”

I recognize his face from his realty listings. “Nice to meet you, Jim.”

He shakes my hand firmly. “I parked below,” he says, pointing in the general direction from where he came. “I thought to check out the surrounding area for you. You never know what might offer you the best view.”

“Yes, of course. This is very different from Lake Mishog, where I sold my old cottage,” I say.

Jim looks at me with empathy in his eyes. “True, and I’m sorry to hear about your husband.”

I nod, but say nothing.

“Well, you won’t be disappointed here,” Jim says, as if to reassure me I made the right decision. “This area is underdeveloped and a much better deal than anything you will find on Lake Mishog. You can build the cottage of your dreams here.”

I lower my gaze. “I’m looking forward to it,” I say.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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SELFIE LOVE ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for R.B. Wood’s FIRST Word Count Podcast of 2017 asked that we use January in the setting AND the picture below:

wcpc 62 prompt

And … I didn’t write the story on my own.

You may recall I collaborated with Bill Kirton, the esteemed Scottish author for a story titled: “The Wrong Shoes.” That was already two years ago!

Since then, Bill and I have wanted to write together again, and we’ve done it. Hopefully, we will do it again this year.

This story is written in two different voices as an e-mail exchange. Bill started it, and we went from there. Neither of us knew where the other was going. It was both fun and a challenge to write this saucy tale. You can learn more about the process on Bill’s blog.

I’m excited to write for R.B. Wood’s podcast again. The new year brings with it many creative opportunities, and I look forward to sharing my writing with you.

Enjoy “Selfie Love.” You can listen to Bill and me reading the story on episode 62 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

eden and bill selfie love

flourish

Sorry, Laura, I don’t get it. I mean, it’s been, what, 2 months? And not a word. Then suddenly, you send this. The photo. I know, I know, we said no commitment, no follow-ups. And that was right. I knew there’d be hell to pay with Alice if she knew. I mean, wives get understandably pissed off with that sort of thing. You made it pretty clear it’d be the same with your Tom. They wouldn’t understand. Of course they wouldn’t. I get all that, but I don’t know, I thought we’d at least keep in touch somehow. But not like this. An email, no words, just this attachment. What the hell’s it mean?

At first, I thought it was maybe just your way of saying you remembered a great night, a great way to start the year. Just the two of us, the house by the water. But I don’t remember us taking a shot like this. There were much better views. I mean, when the tide’s out like that, the estuary’s… well, just mud. Then I remembered, we did take some shots from here, but we were just fooling around. They were all selfies. So I looked through them. Great memories, certainly. You look as gorgeous as ever. And we’re both grinning like idiots. But then it struck me that one of them was taken from exactly that point on the road, the same point as the one you sent. Not just approximately, but exactly there. The single phone wire top right, the rail bottom left, the angle… If it was just a shot of the view, it’s a helluva coincidence.

But it’s not a coincidence, is it? It’s the selfie. You’ve just photoshopped us out of it. Used bits of the other shots to paste over us. And you’ve done a helluva good job. But why? Is it a fancy way of saying it won’t happen again? No more nights or weekends? I want to believe you sent it for good reasons, not scary ones. So humour me, will you? Remember, I have a very small brain, so I need things spelled out for me. What’s it mean? Please.

Love and lots of our kisses

Ross.

*****

Ross,

You’re right. This is a strange way to reconnect … and I’m sorry.

I had this email in my “Drafts” for days. Frustration, more than anything made me finally hit the send button. Now, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d had the courage not to follow up as we’d agreed. I hate myself for my weakness.

This cryptic photo is the umpteenth iteration of this email, started more than a week ago. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trying to find the right words, and in the end, there were no words. I thought the picture would explain it better.

I had hoped you would understand. You were always in tune with my moods, even in the beginning when we were only speaking through emails and messaging. It’s why I originally agreed to Skype. What we had is something I’ve never had with any other man.

I’m saying this not because I blame you. Our time together brought me more happiness than I’ve had in my marriage in years, but now … I’m being punished. How fucking selfish of me for pursuing my own needs!

Oh Ross, don’t you see? If only I could erase us from that freezing day in January as easily as I photo-shopped us out of the picture, I would.

Forget about me. Forget about us.

Be the stronger one, and don’t contact me again. Please.

*****

Laura,

I’m sorry if you thought the long gap meant that asking me to be strong had worked. No chance, I’m afraid. No, it’s the same as it was for you. Different versions of this email have come and gone. The first one came out of panic, anger, said all sorts of despicable things that would have guaranteed it was over – you and me, I mean. Then the pathetic self-pity kicked in and I was pleading, begging – a completely unlovable, cowardly wimp. Thank God I didn’t send them. I hope I’ll be able to keep all that in check this time because I need to understand why. I can’t get past that word. Why? Why? Why? It just keeps on eating at me.

I’ve re-read your note so many times I could probably recite it from memory, but there’s so much of it I don’t understand. That January night seems decades away so maybe my recollections are skewed, but I don’t remember agreeing that there wouldn’t be any more. We were a bit quiet at the end but I thought that was because the weekend was over and we’d be going our separate ways – but not forever. I’m obviously not always in tune with your moods as much as you say. I certainly didn’t pick up on that one. Maybe I only ever saw what I wanted to see. You said yourself that us being together brought you happiness. It did. That’s what I saw.

You know, I thought I was joking about having a small brain but trying to decipher your email makes me think it’s probably true. In different circumstances, we’d have thought the symbolism of erasing a couple from a selfie was brilliant, but not when it’s us. God, we’ve been so careful, even with one another. Remember how we resisted that word ‘love’ for so long. Joked about it only being lust. Love was dangerous, threatened everything. But we were just fooling ourselves. In the end, it had to be said. And it was true. Still is. And part of the deal was that we’d only let ourselves say it as long as no one else was hurt by it. It’s been hard sometimes to hide it, but we’ve managed it. None of our friends suspect anything. It’s not going to be nearly as easy hiding the ache there’ll be if we do stop.

I’m just rambling. I don’t know what to say, how to convince you. You say you’re being punished – how? What’s punishing you? Who’s punishing you?

Sweet Laura, I don’t want to be the one who makes you miserable. If the problem is things I’ve said or done, tell me please. If the only way to take away the hurt is to say goodbye, I’ll say it. I won’t like it, but I’ll say it. Remember when I told you about that bit from Byron? I wasn’t being a pseud or pretentious. I meant it. It was something I read at school. I must have been 16, maybe 17, and it summed up exactly what I wanted. And it’s what I had, have with you.

Oh that the desert were my dwelling place

With one fair spirit for my minister.

Then I could quite forget the human race

And, hating no one, love but only her.

Corny? Maybe. Melodramatic, yeah, probably. But that’s what you are – my one fair spirit.

If you don’t reply, I’ll know it’s finished. I won’t write again, won’t ask any more questions or be so bloody needy. But I’ll never forget you.

All, yes, all my love.

Ross.

*****

Oh Ross …

I haven’t been able to stop crying since I got your note. I’ve told my husband I’ve come down with a bad cold. Thankfully, he doesn’t suspect otherwise. Truth is, I can’t dislodge you from my heart, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Until I read your email, I was barely functioning.

When I wrote to you, I was so confused. I didn’t see another option but to end it with us. I’m in a difficult place, but my tears haven’t all been sad ones. Reading your words gave me joy as well, especially the part where you said you still love me. Secretly, I must’ve hoped you would write back even though I asked you not to. I also love the piece from Byron. You see Ross, you do know me, even better than I know myself these days.

I’m so sorry I caused you pain. I never intended to. I just hurt so much after coming back from our weekend. With you, I discovered what it was like to feel true happiness. Our time together was bliss, and I’m still shocked that we managed to meet. We went from emailing one another to Skype to finally spending the night together. How many people get such an opportunity, and how many actually take it?

And though I’ve always believed that we should want what we have, I couldn’t resist you … so here we are.

You once asked me why I never called your wife by her name. I don’t think I ever responded, but I’d like to tell you now. The reason is because she and I don’t have a relationship. She’s your wife. If I were to use her name, it would bring her to life in my head, as if she were connected to me somehow, which she isn’t. And that goes for my husband as well. I never mention his name when I talk to you.

We’ve been so careful to keep our spouses and friends outside the world we’ve created. It’s just been the two of us … until now.

I waited as long as I did before I sent my first email because I had to be sure.

Ross, I’m pregnant with our child.

*****

OK darling, I haven’t given it enough time to think this through but I can imagine how anxious you are to know my reaction. Don’t worry, it’s good. More than good, it’s bloody brilliant. But that’s just the beginning. We can’t do this through emails. We need to be together to talk about it, back at the house by the river. Now, or as soon as you can make it.

You didn’t say what you thought about it. Hard to, really, there are so many obstacles in the way now. I think there might have been a time, when I was a lot younger, when this would’ve scared the hell out of me. I don’t like to think of what I might have done. Now, though… Well, I just hope we want the same thing, but I’ll go along with whatever you decide. It’s your body.

It won’t be easy, untangling ourselves from the lives we’ve lived so far, but we can do it. We have to. I feel bad, very bad, about how it’ll hit Alice and Tom. There’s no way round that. It’s not like erasing them from a selfie. So much for not hurting anybody. But we’ll make it as easy as we can for them. In the end, love’s such a selfish thing, but it’s also a gift, the best thing in the world. And we have it, and now there’s a chance I’ll have not just one, but two fair spirits. We can make it. We can make it.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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THE WRONG SHOES ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

I’ve always written a story on my own for RB Wood’s podcast, but this time, I collaborated with Scottish writer, Bill Kirton, also a Word Count podcast regular. Last year, Bill suggested we join forces for a story, and since I adore him and his writing, it wasn’t a question of whether we would do it or not, just a matter of when. 

We decided to team up for the first Word Count episode of 2015 and dedicate it to RB, who celebrated his milestone 50th birthday at the end of December. Happy Birthday, Richard, many many more! 

The story was written in four parts, with Bill and me each writing two sections. Bill penned a wonderful post about the process on his blog, so hop over and read it. It’s a great summary of what we did in case you want to collaborate on a project with another writer.

You can hear Bill and me read “The Wrong Shoes” on: Episode #45 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt for this podcast was to use these three words in the story: Frozen. Whisky. Time.

me and bill for wcpc

flourish

The playground of the elementary school, which Jackie crossed on her way to the bus stop, or to anywhere for that matter, had turned into an ice rink. Normally a carpet of grass, it quickly froze after the temperature dropped to minus twenty following a night of freezing rain. The grounds had become a dangerous place for unsuspecting pedestrians.

It was the weekend, and she was at her local until closing time. She’d had one too many, as was her habit most Saturday nights. Leaving the bar, she had to walk across the schoolyard to get to her apartment building. She’d done the trip a thousand times, even when drunk, and made it home without any problems, but that night … she fell. The advantage of having had too much to drink was she fell limp and boneless, like a rag doll. There was no resistance, which meant no broken bones anyway. She was lucky in that sense. Instead, she had stumbled and dropped face down on the frozen ground.

When she came to, she heard voices and an instinct warned her to keep quiet. She smelled cigarette smoke and soon murmurs formed hushed words. The voices were male, with at least three of them from what she could tell as the conversation ping-ponged above her.

“Darren, how about we take her to your place? No one will see us there.”

“Are you crazy? I may live in the basement, but my mom would kill me! She hears everything.”

“Steve, you still have access to that empty warehouse on Merton Street?”

Jackie’s entire body heated up beneath her goose-down coat. Even her face, painfully pressed against the ice, turned fire-poker hot.

She was in big trouble.

***

They say fear or trauma sobers you up quite quickly. They’re wrong. Her mind was still cloudy, slow. Even as she’d downed that last whisky, a double, she knew she was already way over any sensible limits. It wasn’t just her words she was slurring, it was her thoughts, too. So she lay there, trying to clear her head, trying to understand the plans being made by the voices.

“How the hell are we going to get her to Merton Street?”

“Carry her. Drag her. She’s pissed.”

“So what?”

“Well, Saturday night, innit? Everybody’s pissed, staggering about. We’ll just look like all the rest.”

The one called Steve wasn’t convinced.

“It’s too far. She might come round. Start screaming. How about the school? Maybe we could find a door open round the back, a window.”

Silence. Then “Yeah, Okay,” and other muffled sounds of agreement.

As two of them grabbed her arms and hoisted her to her feet, she knew she had to do something. In the school, even if they were stupid enough to let her scream, no-one would hear. Somehow, she had to stay where there might be others around, people who might hear her, save her. She shook her head and forced out a laugh.

“Aw thanks, guys,” she said. “I was bloody freezing down there.”

It silenced them, gave her a tiny advantage. She stammered on, her mind racing.

“I need to be in my bed. Cuddled up. Warm. Don’t suppose you could help me home, could you? It’s not far.”

She saw them looking at one another, uncertain. But smiles were creeping into two of the three faces. She nodded her head vaguely in the direction of her apartment building.

“Other side of the school,” she said. “Just there. Ground floor.”

The one on her right said “Anybody there to look after you?”

The cold was helping to clear her head.

“No,” she said. “Just me.”

“Bingo,” he said, and they set off through the darkness of the slippery playground.

***

Steve hated this. He didn’t want to be here. He had only suggested using the school with the hope they wouldn’t be able to get in, that the cold would eventually deter them, and they’d leave the girl alone. He wanted no part in what his friends had in mind. It turned his stomach to even hear them chat her up, trying to make her feel at ease, no doubt.

“Good thing we came along,” Darren said, his arm around her waist. His six-foot-two frame towered over her. “We’ll take care of you, honey, don’t you worry.”

“Oh yeah,” snorted Kenny, supporting her on the other side. “We’re your knights in shining armour!” He turned to look behind him. “Hey, Steve, keep up, will ya? We’re all gonna get nice and warm real soon.”

Steve bowed his head so he didn’t have to meet Kenny’s eyes. “Yeah … I’m coming …”

It was then he noticed the girl’s shoes. Even while propped up by Darren and Kenny, she teetered along like a child wearing ice skates for the first time. No wonder she fell. She wore the wrong type of shoes for this weather—the heel much too high, the material too thin. There was no support at all. His younger sister had the exact same pair. She had also fallen, fractured her wrist. For the past week, she’d cried with the pain, night after night. Kept Steve awake, hearing those sobs from her room. Made her sound so … lonely. And now here was another lonely, silly woman, out getting pissed all on her own, nobody waiting for her at home. He speeded up, overtook the others and turned to face them.

“Listen guys, we can’t.”

“What?” said Kenny.

“Her,” said Steve. “We can’t.”

“Why not? Look at the state of her.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Steve. “She’s pissed. It’d be like shagging a side of beef.”

“Cheeky bugger,” Jackie said. “You gay or something?”

Her voice was loud, penetrating, and coarse. Kenny hoisted her higher against him. The sudden pressure must have brought on a wave of nausea because she gagged and threw up on the path. Darren and Kenny let go of her and stepped away. She staggered but managed to stay upright.

“See?” said Steve. “D’you want to go home stinking of that? What d’you think your mom would say then, Darren?”

“Hey, gay boy, listen up,” said Jackie, sounding as if there might be more where that just came from. “Nothing wrong with me. I bet you’re talking about that HIV test. Am I right?”

Steve just looked at her.

“Am I right?” she said again, louder, almost aggressive. But, as she spoke, he saw something else in her eyes. Not aggression: a stare, fear, a plea for help.

“You are, aren’t you,” she said. “Bloody Angela’s been tweeting it. Well, she’s lying. It was negative. Right? The test. Negative.”

“What’s she on about?” said Darren, staying well clear of her.

She turned to him.

“Chlamydia, that’s all it was. Bloody Chlamydia.”

“See what I mean, guys,” said Steve. “We can’t.”

Darren and Kenny looked at each other, then back at Jackie. Darren spat on the ground.

“Slag,” he said, and started walking back the way they’d come. Kenny reached out a hand, grabbed her breast, squeezed hard then turned away to follow his friend.

Jackie watched Kenny and Darren disappear into the darkness. She pulled her jacket more tightly around her chest, wincing as her fingers touched against her breast. She turned back and looked at Steve. The fear was still there and tears were beginning to form.

“Thanks,” she said, her fingers gently probing her bruised flesh. “I … I don’t know what to say.”

Steve shook his head and said, “Buy some decent shoes.”

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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BOOKMARK ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #44 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt for this podcast was to use these three words in the story: Woman. Book. Fall. 

*  *  *  *

The woman marched slowly on a busy city street. From behind her, you might think she was trying to avoid the sidewalk cracks, but that wasn’t the case. She wasn’t looking at the sidewalk. She acknowledged no one, kept her head down, her strides steady and deliberate.

“Excuse me!” a passerby said. He brushed by her in a huff, swinging his briefcase and almost hitting a child on his way to school.

Though aware of the rush hour traffic noise and joggers zooming by in the opposite direction, everything was peripheral to the mystery novel cradled in her hands. It was the latest book from international bestselling Scottish author, Bill Kirton. His new releases were almost impossible to get in North America until they had been out for almost six months in the UK. She couldn’t wait that long. A friend in England had been able to pre-order it directly from the publisher and mail it to her. It cost her nearly thirty dollars for the postage, but it was totally worth it.

She didn’t read e-books, otherwise it would’ve been a less expensive hobby. She was old school that way, didn’t even own a cell phone. Reading as she walked the ten blocks to and from work every day gave her some exercise, though her leisurely pace was hardly much of a work-out. That wasn’t so important, anyway. The main reason was it gave her time to read. At work, she would be sitting all day on the phone selling life insurance. With all her calls monitored, she didn’t even dare sneak in a few pages. And by the time she got home, the kids and her husband would demand her undivided attention.

No … as long as the weather permitted, this was the only time she had for herself to read.

At the intersection with a throng of pedestrians, she bookmarked her page and waited for the traffic light to change. After the opposing signal flashed amber, a countdown started from ten. A teenager beside her ran across the street when he saw an opening. She gasped and shook her head at his impatience. Why would anyone put their life in danger to cross the street five seconds before everyone else? What difference could it possibly make, she wondered. Even when the light turned green, she made sure the cars were fully stopped before stepping off the curb. Unlike the cell phone users who talked or texted while crossing the road, her attention was always on the cars.

After stepping up on the other side of the street, she eyed a clear path in front of her and cracked open the book again. From here until her office, there would be less people shuffling beside her. It was mainly a boulevard of residential town homes and high rises. She quickly scanned the page and re-positioned her eyes to where she left off, certain the climax of the story was only a chapter or two away. Who was the killer? She had three suspects in mind but could not be sure. In another eight to ten pages though, she would need to stop, but she wanted the mystery to last. If she timed it just right, she’d be able to finish the remainder of the book tonight. That gave her something to look forward to for her walk home.

Something hard bounced off her backpack and crashed to the ground. The impact of the object hitting her sent her stumbling forward. Her book flew out of her hands and skidded under a parked car. She fell to one knee and steadied herself, then whipped around to see what had struck her. A shattered device on the sidewalk next to broken glass seemed the likely culprit. It looked like a tablet of some kind, a Kindle perhaps, maybe an iPad.

Several people were stopped on the street. She caught the stunned look of a young man with his eyes skyward, and then he yelled at her with a horrified expression.

“Lady, watch out!”

 * * * *

6:00 PM News Update

In what appeared as a freak accident, two women lost their lives this morning on Condo Row. A resident fell from her balcony and struck a pedestrian below. Both were killed instantly.

Condo owner and husband of the deceased said his wife was reading outside their unit when she dropped her e-reader over the balcony. She reached out to grab it and lost her balance, falling from their penthouse on the twenty-eighth floor.

Coincidentally, the bystander was distracted reading the same book and did not hear warnings to get out of the way.

In a strange turn of events since this news story broke, Bill Kirton’s novel, Sudden Impact, the book both women were reading prior to their deaths, set a record by topping all bestseller lists in the UK. According to the publisher, it is now being fast-tracked for release in North America.

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

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Filed under Short Stories & Poetry

I am interviewed by author Bill Kirton Part 2 (@carver22)

Bill Kirton

Website | Twitter @carver22 | Facebook

Bill’s books on Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

* * * *

Last week, Scottish author and friend, Bill Kirton posted Part 1 of his interview with me called The Canadian Angle.

Now you can read Part 2 here.

Do come by and say hello 😉

~ eden

**

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Filed under Eden's Guest Blogs & Interviews, Stranger at Sunset

I am interviewed by author Bill Kirton Part 1 (@carver22)

Bill Kirton

Website | Twitter @carver22 | Facebook

Bill’s books on Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

* * * *

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Scottish author and friend, Bill Kirton. He posted part one this week and questioned my writing from a Canadian angle. Come by and leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 😉

You can read Bill’s interview of me (part 1) here.

~ eden

**

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Filed under Eden's Guest Blogs & Interviews, Stranger at Sunset

Read an Exchange with Author Bill Kirton (@carver22)

Bill Kirton and I met via RB Wood’s Word Count Podcast a few years ago.

How time flies. Bill is fun to know, and he’s a terrific writer and storyteller.

Please find out more about this talented man, and his wicked, dry sense of humour. Continue reading

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Filed under Author & Artist Interviews