Take Care

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I sit in the creaking nylon-web lawn chair and wrap both hands around my coffee mug. Arlo comes up beside and lays down on his blanket. I watch the ripples on the water flicker with the light of the rising sun. and the reflection of an eagle circling overhead, waiting for expanding rings on the surface.

I’m content. A feeling which has eluded me for too long. After months of Rayna telling me to take better care of myself, the proverbial straw broke like the earth splitting in two. That’s when everything changed.

It started at work. I got back from lunch a few minutes late. My boss pointed one of his passive-aggressive comments in my direction. I threw my notebook at him, then my chair. On my escorted walk to the front door, I blew a little kiss to the receptionist. Colour drained from her face. She knew that I knew, and now I didn’t have any reason to hide it.

With each step toward my car, I became lighter. The warmth from the sun soaked into my skin. I smiled for no reason. I exited the parking lot with the windows down and the stereo cranked. The immediate instinct was to turn right at the lights, like I had every weekday for the last seven years. Instead, I pushed down on the turn signal lever, and with the green, went in the opposite direction.

I drove backroads for hours, taking corners too fast for fun, not because I had somewhere to be. I’d wave to horses and moo at cows as I passed. At a three-way stop, I let the car idle and stared at the tinge of warm colour along the flat horizon. My phone buzzed in the cup holder.

The boys are getting together for a pint, you in?

I stared at the screen like the words were foreign. I swiped to open the messenger app.

I am.

Gravel spit and the back end kicked out as I turned in the intersection and pointed toward the city.

A spot opened in front of the pub as I drove up. My dust covered car stood out in the sea of shiny paint. Not that I cared. Inside, I headed to the back corner and the usual table. Raff raised his glass to me. Carter nodded. Jonathon didn’t notice me. He was telling a story about last night’s conquest.

At the end of the table, I took the glass out of Raff’s hand and poured the amber liquid over his head. As Jonathan’s story trailed off and his eyes went wide, I cracked his jaw. I shook my hand out and patted Carter on the back. “Find better friends.” The reactions of the people around me failed to register as I walked out the door.

By the time I pulled up at home, the sun was minutes away from setting. Rayna sat on the front steps with her arms crossed, and her lips pinched tight enough they disappeared.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Out with the guys.”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

I shrugged. “By the sounds of it, you already know.”

“How could you get fired? And why did you punch Jon?”

“Well, technically I quit. And Jonathon is a dick, I should have done it years ago.” I walked past her into the house. Arlo met me in the porch, doing his little dance and wagging his tail. Rayna followed along, nattering at me. Talked the whole way through me packing my bag and replacing my dress clothes with jeans and a t-shirt. On my way to the garage, I dropped my key fob and cell phone on the kitchen table. I pressed the button to open the big door and walked down to the cool concrete.

Rayna stood in the doorway. Arlo sat beside her with his ears perked. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

I pulled the cover off dad’s old truck. I focused on how the dim light played off of the chrome and followed the swaying body lines. “I’m taking care of myself.”

“You’re ruining your life is what you’re doing.”

“Doesn’t feel that way to me.” I opened the passenger side of the truck, tossed my bag on the footwell, and patted my thigh. “Come on, Arlo.”

Arlo cocked his head, then bounded down the steps and up into the truck. Behind the wheel I flipped down the visor and a set of keys fell into my hand. I spread the ring out. One key for the ignition, one for the gas cap, and one for the cabin up north.

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Photo by Haeden Kolb on Unsplash

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New Website Alert!

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My new website is now live! I’d be excited if you’d check it out. Along with it comes a new and improved blog, and links to my current and future projects.

http://www.ShaneKroetsch.com

I have more news coming soon. You can subscribe for updates on the new site, or follow me on Twitter or Instagram. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Chocolate

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The aftermath of dinner service covered every available flat surface. Saute pans had been stacked up on one side of the range top. Smoke from the broiler billowed and twisted under the harsh fluorescent hood lights, the temperature maxed to burn off bits of meat and fat.

Sam piled up empty containers and food stained utensils to move them to the dish pit. On the way back he slipped on the red clay tile floor where a bowl of soup had been dropped and not cleaned up properly. Sam stretched an arm out, looking for purchase, but only managed to bump the faucet on the bain-marie as he crashed down to his knees.

He stood with a groan, pushed the faucet back, then swore to himself. Chef was warming chocolate for the dessert course. The bowl was now half full with water. Sam swore to himself again. It was ruined. He wiped his hands on his apron, then ran to the back storage room to find more.

 

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Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

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This started as a prompt from a writing group that I attend put on by the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. We were asked to write down ten things about chocolate. I did, but also had a scene come to mind from my previous life as a chef, so I used it to write this piece. Another aspect to the prompt was a scene building map, this is something I’m going to go into more later, but I can see how it helped bring this to life and I’ve added it to my writers toolbox.

Now to some not so good news. I hate breaking promises, but unfortunately I will have to today. The plan was to have my new website ready to launch this week, but it’s just not there yet. For the sake of what I have going on in my life at the moment, like finishing William for the CBC Short Story Prize, developing the first of a series of three books we’re launching in the spring, and that I am likely starting a new job next week, I am pushing the launch back to November 1, 2019. This is a big deal for me, and I want to do it right. I’ll also be relaunching my social media presence, or maybe just having more of a focus on it, and I’ll have details on a new collection of short stories that you can get for free in December. So, long story short, the freight train isn’t really slowing down, the journey takes a little longer to complete sometimes than you think.

Speaking of social media, in case you didn’t know, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram. Maybe see you there?

 

William

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William rocked forward in his seat as the horse’s footfalls slowed and the streetcar came to a stop. He lowered himself down to the dirt road and waited. When the streetcar pulled away, he shuffled across Yonge Street and headed east along Upper Gerrard.

With the noise and confusion far behind him, William slowed his pace. He focused on the rows of narrow brick houses. Some had their curtains drawn, others let in what dreary daylight was available. One had the window glass on the main level pushed open, letting the smell of cooking vegetables waft down the street.

William left the sidewalk and limped up to one of the brown painted doors. He leaned a hand against the frame and looked to the window beside. An old woman sat in a plain chair with a pressed wood back. She worked two knitting needles in slow and precise movements. William faced forward and lifted a key from his pocket. He set it in the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open.

He stopped in the doorway of the parlour and removed his hat. His landlady set her knitting on her lap and looked up over the frames of her glasses.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Doyle.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Summerhayes.”

“I trust your journey was successful?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Your leg acting up again?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Mrs. Summerhayes pursed her lips and returned to her task. William turned, reached out for the banister, and eased himself down the stairs to his room.

 

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Image by Verone Solilo

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William was my response piece from this years Voice & Vision collaboration. 15 artists and 15 writers are paired together and tasked to create something unique based on each other’s work. You can learn more about my contribution and a lot of other amazing artists and writers here.

I was very fortunate to be paired with Verone Solilo this year, when I saw her piece, Victorian Row, I fell in love instantly. You can see more of Verone’s work here, I look forward to seeing Victorian Row hanging on my wall very soon.

I had more to share with William’s story, so I’m developing a larger piece to submit to this year’s CBC Short Story Prize. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Life has been busy this week, and on top of it I’ve got a bit of a cold slowing me down. That means all the exciting news I have for you gets pushed back another week. Only one more week though, I promise. Stay tuned!

 

A Very Short Story About a Fence Post

Another day and the sun rises, like it has countless times before. A spider crawls out from the crack that runs to my top. It strings a thread down to the highest line of rusty barbed wire reaching out in line with the ditch. Soon a perfect web glistens in the sun, awaiting something that looks like breakfast.

The cows are out early. I notice the fat one eyeing me up. It ambles over, its mouth grinding back and forth with a stray blade of grass sticking out one side and drool cascading down the other. I look for any sign of intelligence in its wide, dark, eyes, but once again find nothing. I think it’s going to pass me by, but I’m wrong. It turns and¾Oh no, not the ass end.

I’m nearly ripped from the ground as it pushes a massive thigh back and forth across me. On the field side I’ve lost most of the dried lichen that took years to build up, and I’m becoming smooth and irregular in shape. The others say it’s not a problem, but I hear them snicker when they think I’m not paying attention.

Stupid cow. I can’t wait until she’s taken off in the big long trailer like the rest of them. Then I can get some peace and quiet, for a few months at least.

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At a recent writing session, we were asked to write for 10 minutes about an inanimate object. This isn’t something I normally enjoy, mostly because I don’t think I do it well, but then the image of the cow rubbing up against a screaming fence post came to mind and here we are.

In case you missed it, I have a big announcement coming soon. Very, very soon. Websites and newsletters and books, oh my! Stay tuned.

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Most Important Things

The most important things are the hardest things to say. That would be why I’m sitting here staring at my hands while you talk about your day. I nod and try to smile. I even ask a question or two to keep things moving, but it’s for no other reason.

I’m trying to work up the courage to tell you any one of the things that should have been mentioned long before. That I want you to take your sunglasses off so I can see your eyes, or that you have a drop of ketchup on the end of your nose.

What I really want to say is that I’m confused and scared. I feel the need to remind you that I love you and I don’t want you to move four hours away. That maybe we can find a way to make it all work out, here, together. We could, I know it, if only you felt the same way that I do.

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This story came from a quote by Stephen King that I was given as a writing prompt recently. You can see the full version here. To be honest, the quote is something that has been with me for a lot of years, I’ve had it written down in one form or another since I was a lot younger than I am now. It resonates, I suppose you could say.

I hope you’re not too depressed now, because I want you to be excited about something that I will have ready to show the world in a few weeks time. I’m building a brand new website. Writing My Way Out of Here has served me well, but it’s time for the next step. I have some new features planned, and some exclusive content if you’re willing to sign up for my monthly newsletter. I’ve also been working hard on writing, and have a few new books scheduled for the new year. By a few, I mean four, and I’m nervous and excited and maybe a little terrified. Here comes the freight train! That’s me by the way…

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Smile

“Smile,” Thea said.

My hands clenched tight enough that I could feel my pulse. The heat from the horse’s breath washed over my neck and made me shiver. When it shifted a foot behind me, I almost had a bowel movement.

“Come on, get in a little closer.”

I didn’t move. I couldn’t. “Just take the picture. Please?”

Thea grumbled and set her eye at the viewfinder. She turned knobs and pressed buttons. I bit my lip and looked to the pen across the way, at the small flock of sheep that had recently been sheered. They milled about and chewed at the air. I counted them to distract myself. Maybe if it had put me to sleep it wouldn’t have been the worst thing.

I heard the click of the shutter and ran to Thea’s side. She watched me for a moment and frowned. “You alright? You look a little green.”

“I’m fine,” I said. I stretched out my hands and looked at the indents my fingernails had made. “Maybe we can go in for lunch now? I think the sun is getting to me.”

 

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Hello friends. I wanted to take a quick minute to let you know that I have some big news coming soon. A new website with new features, a newsletter with content you won’t find anywhere else, and books. An ambitious amount of books. I hope you stay tuned.

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Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Beyond the Divide: Part 27

Liz leaned back and stretched her legs out in front of her. She looked up into the sunshine, it was warm on her face. Birds chirped and flew from tree to tree in the park behind her. A butterfly flew along the sidewalk in front of her. Liz tracked it as it bobbed up and down and out of sight.

For no specific reason, she felt content.

Evie sat down on the bench and folded her hands on her lap. “Hello, Liz.”

A narrow smile formed on Liz’s lips. “Hey, Evie.”

“You seem to be in a good mood.”

“I am.”

Evie looked away. “I am happy for you.”

Liz turned to Evie and her smile faded. “What’s going on?”

Evie shrugged and faced forward. “I have much on my mind.”

“Okay.”

“You made quick work of the hound, I hear.”

“I did. I’m surprised you didn’t stick around.”

“I would only have been a distraction. I was and am confident in your abilities.”

“Thank you?”

Evie looked at Liz from the corner of her eye. “Do not be that way. You are special. There are not many who can do what you do.”

“Oh? What is it that I do then?”

“Face the darkness and win.” Evie swept her hand in front of her. “Not go crazy in all of this.”

“I didn’t know that was a big deal.”

“It is a much bigger than you know.”

Liz nodded and looked to the tips of her toes. “Okay.”

“Would you do it again? If you could?”

Liz shrugged. “Sure.”

“It is an important role to play. To provide balance.”

Liz twisted in her seat and leaned an elbow on the arm of the bench. She looked to Evie and waited.

“You might expect a flowery speech, or for me to explain in minute detail the reasons for my decision. If so, I will have to apologize in advance.” Evie pulled at her skirt and smoothed it with her hand. “It is time for me to move on. It has been time for a long while now, but I felt I had to wait until there was someone who could take my place.”

Liz pulled her legs in and straightened her back. “Does that mean you want an answer right now?”

Evie stared, but did not speak.

“Right.” Liz faced forward and ran her hands down the tops of her thighs. “Okay. I’m in.”

“Are you sure?”

Liz nodded.

Evie lowered her gaze and gripped the edge of the bench. “Thank you.”

“So that’s it then?” Liz said.

“It is,” Evie said.

“I hope it works out for you, whatever comes next.”

“It will, I have no doubt. It will be an interesting journey, finding myself again.”

“Good.” Liz looked up the road in front of them. “Listen, I’m not the best at goodbyes, and I should be going anyway. I need to see Mark.”

“Absolutely.”

Liz and Evie stood together. Evie moved in close and wrapped her arms around Liz’s waist.

Liz smiled and set her arms over Evie’s shoulders. “Bye, Evie.”

Evie stepped back. She attempted a smile. “Goodbye, Liz.”

 

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Image by Kaleigh Kanary

 

 

99 Words #33 – The Safebreaker’s Daughter

Her daddy worked with the Overton crew. Best safecracker on the west coast is what they said. It was like a magic trick. He did it all by feel. Never left a mark.

She worked the same way, except it wasn’t money she was after. When she’d touch you, it would last just long enough. She’d look at you, and you’d forget about anything else. Before you realised what happened, it’d be too late.

Her daddy always told her that if you’re gonna do something, do it right. What she knew how to do, was break a man’s heart.

 

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This piece is in response to the August 29 Flash Fiction Challenge from The Carrot Ranch.

August 29, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!

August 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

Photo by Gabriel Wasylko on Unsplash

 

 

 

Beyond the Divide: Part 26

“Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air!”

Sonja lowered her gun. She looked from Mark to Christopher. The flashing lights and shouting disoriented her. Thoughts of what her future looked like ran through her mind and tears formed in her eyes. Sonja let out a sharp breath and then raised her gun toward the flashing lights. Three sharp pops sounded over the melee, and Sonja fell to the ground.

 

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Image by Kaleigh Kanary