Daily off-the-cuff writing, prompted by photos provided by Leger in 15 For 15 Contest
This journal contains daily writing, prompted by photo images in Leger~ 's "15 for 15 Contest --- Closed" . The purpose of the contest is to inspire daily writing and to stretch and exercise your writing muscles. Off-the-cuff writing is raw, non-polished work, but I do my best to incorporate proper grammar and punctuation.
Each entry represents only fifteen minutes of writing, although it's my practice to carry around the photo prompt in my mind's eye for some time, turning scene ideas over in my head, so that I have some direction before I sit down to type.
The specific writer's muscle I plan to flex the most often during this round is Voice/Deepening the POV. Your feedback will help me evaluate me success.
~ Enjoy! ~
|“How are we doing, Scottie?” Miss Bradshaw asked as she slowed her pace alongside the line of fourth graders shuffling off the bus.
Scottie scowled at her and shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked. “Scottie’s a baby name,” he shot back. “My name’s Scott.” He relished the flush that crept up her stupid happy face. He was sick of her asking him how he was, doting on him like he was a kindergartener, or something. Yesterday was the first day he’d been back to school since the accident, and he thought the teachers would pick him up and rock him on their laps, if he’d let them. He figured today would be better because of the field trip, but he guessed now he’d been wrong.
Tyler Rampey, walking in front of him, looked back over his shoulder, but as soon as his eyes met Scottie’s, his head snapped forward. None of Scottie’s friends would look at him. It was like they were scared of him. What were they afraid of? Did they think talking to him would curse them, make their fathers die too?
Cindy Hamilton broke ranks and ran back from her place nearer the front of the line. As she fell into step next to him, Scottie felt his cheeks go red.
“Hi,” she said.
“What do you want?” Scottie scolded. His stomach twisted in knots as she slunk away. He watched the white part down the back of her pig-tailed head disappear inside the museum doors up ahead, and several moments later he was inside too.
The exotic amphibian exhibit would have been fun, if his dad were here. Dad was supposed to be chaperoning. His class followed the teachers along the glass cases on the left wall; Scottie wandered to the right. There in a case were two tree frogs, one large and one small, side-by-side, hanging on a branch.
“Hey Scottie! It’s great to see you, sport!”
Scottie swung his head around, looking for who spoke. No one was nearby, and the voice was spookily familiar. He leaned closer, his forehead grazing the glass, and stared at the larger frog. “Dad?” he said, his voice barely audible.
“I’m so sorry, sport. Really, really sorry.”
Scottie’s eyes grew big and round, then he narrowed them. “You left us,” Scottie whispered.
“I know. I don’t call the shots, bud. I wish it were different, but it isn’t. I love you though. And I know you can be strong. You’re the man in the family now.”
“I’m can’t be a man! I don’t have any experience!” The glass fogged up as he hissed the words. He wanted to punch the glass.
“You have some, now. And don’t worry. Remember when I bought you your first ball mitt? You couldn’t catch for shit.”
“It’s okay, you’re a man now, remember. Listen, go easy on the people who want to help you through this. They’re trying. And another thing, look out for the jerk in the red cap. He’s up to no good.”
Scottie saw a man crossing the room, coming towards him. When he looked back, the small frog was gone. He stared at the big frog, and suddenly it said, “You’re okay, Scott.” But it was Scottie's own voice he heard.
“Hey, cool frogs, huh?” the guy in the cap said, sidling up.
“Fuck off,” Scott spat, and he walked off to find Cindy Hamilton.
|The worn planks creaked beneath my sandals as a breeze blew in across the water. There were six of us waiting on the end of the wharf, as instructed. I spotted a sea gull crying high overheard, and the urge passed through me to leap for it. My heart raced when I realized how close I’d actually come to jumping out, over the water.
A murmur rose around me and I followed the others' gaze to a boat making its way around the curve of the shore. It was packed solid with people.
A man behind me said, to no one in particular, “Where do you suppose we’re going?”
I looked over my shoulder at him. He stared at the approaching boat, pulling as he did so at the whiskers growing thick along his upper lip.
The woman next to him purred, “I don’t know, but how I hate the idea of getting on that boat.”
She turned her startling green eyes on me, and I nodded. I’d never been a fan of the water, either. I shuddered at the thought of dipping even one toe into the brownish stuff. Thank goodness we were to be fetched on the pier, instead of down on the beach where I may have risked getting wet. I chose to ignore the way the boat sagged as it neared, weighed down by the mass of passengers, its deck only a foot or so above the water line.
As the boat bumped the wharf, hands reached to help me aboard. I sucked in my breath until I was safely over the threshold and pressed against the throng. I looked up and into the eyes of the blue-robed elder, the one who’d meditated with everyone in my village. The one whose instructions I now followed. The one who’d chosen me to come.
Our stop had evidently been the last, and we reached our destination thirty minutes later. I was relieved to see an island with a newly constructed pier of glossy wood and brightly colored flag at full-staff. Someone behind me spoke, but another growled fiercely and silenced the first. The elder disembarked, his blue cape billowing around him, and he turned to face us.
“Welcome to Haven Resort. The proprietors enlisted my help in rectifying a grave situation, and you have been chosen to come fulfill an important mission. Your innate qualifications, you see, are needed.”
As I listened, I rounded my shoulders forward and then drew them back, elongating my neck and enjoying the stretch. I glanced to my right. The woman with gorgeous green eyes looked bored. The elder went on.
“This is a small, private island. The resort has, unfortunately, been closed down due to an infestation of vermin, namely mice. I combed the coastal villages, searching for those of you who, in past lives, were feline." A smile crept across his face. "I believe you’ll enjoy your stay here.”
Movement caught my attention along the palm fronds at the edge of the beach, and I heard a faint rustling carried on the breeze. My muscles tensed. I wanted off this boat.
|Dominic stared into the dancing flame in the middle of the patio table, his half-eaten steak cold and forgotten. A bug sizzled in the zapper. Natalie’s voice nudged him back from wherever he’d drifted off to.
“Were you briefed this time? Of did they just throw you into a scenario with no preparation again?”
How would he have made it this far without his sweet Natalie? When he’d been on the beat, he knew how terrified she was each day he walked out the door, though her smile was a valiant veil. Now, he was among forty other officers up for chief, and the race was tight. Her support was pulling him through as the leadership aptitude tests got harder and harder.
“Yeah,” he said softly, “I walked into the diner down on 5th street, and there was Bradford waiting on me.”
“The District Chief?”
“The same. So he doesn’t shake my hand or anything. Just tells me we have a situation. Terrorist threat. An anonymous tip came in, some bullshit about a biochemical attack. He didn’t give me more than that, just points at the back door where someone had set out my SWAT gear.”
“Well, at least you had more to go on than the last time,” Natalie said with an encouraging half-smile.
She had a point there. Three days ago, Chief Jackson summoned him the minute he’d entered the precinct. Said he’d been needed in interrogation room B. The second he’d opened the door, this rail-thin junkie had flown out of her seat and thrown herself at him, screaming about police brutality and the giant purple rats the cops had left in the room with her to wait with. He’d had to subdue her, using all the strategies he’d learned from the time he was a rookie to that very minute. It’d been a success, but he’d come away with a pair of gashes left by her fingernails raking his face, and severely rattled nerves.
The actress hired by the station to play the junkie had apologized over and over for his injury. He knew she’d had to be convincing, but jesus…
Dominic straightened his back, pushing his dinner plate further away, and relaxed back into the chair. “I had an idea of what was going on, but as I pulled on my vest, I heard shooting out the back. I ran out, and there were a couple of officers, rifles out, aiming at this cat walking across the grass.”
Natalie’s eyebrows raised. “Did you say a cat?”
“Yeah. And I don’t recognize the officers, so I don’t know if they’re cops or actors. But they’re shouting at me while they crouch towards this cat. ‘I’m taking it down, chief! Give the order! Give me the order!’ I didn’t know whether the guns were real, Nat. Sometimes they are, but the ammo isn’t. Other times…”
“Jeez,” she said, shaking her head.
“So I’m about to give them the go-ahead to waste this fucking cat, and all of a sudden this little girl starts screaming, “Mittens! Mittens!’” Dominic’s voice raised a couple octaves to mimic her voice. It sounded pathetic to his ear.
“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take her sweet face, those tears.” Dominic dug into the corners of his eyes with a thumb and forefinger.
Natalie stood and hugged him. He composed himself, and then pulled away. “Oh yeah. Afterwards, the little girl’s mom gave me these.” He handed Natalie a pair of theater tickets. “She’s playing Annie, and I guarantee she’s gonna bring down the house.”
|I stare into my eyes in the mirror, but all I see is the photograph of my mother shoved in the corner of the mirror's frame. In my peripheral vision, she seems to be moving, swaying her hips in slow figure eights of seduction. I shift my eyes to it, and she freezes, arms stretched over her head, her body’s curves exaggerated. The photo is old; Mom could have been my age in it. The photographer had captured her during some performance, in some city, during some tour. I don’t even remember when I came to possess it. It feels like I’ve always had it.
I can’t think of my mother without chords of emotion tangling up in my heart, threatening to choke me. She was a loving woman, angelic even. I remember the way she sang softly to me when I had the chicken pox, to keep my mind off wanting to tear at my itchy skin. I have memories of us lying on a blanket in the shade of a tree in the park, tickling each other until our laughter lost its sound and we gasped for breath. Or the summer nights neither of us could sleep, and we’d crawl out the upstairs window and lie on the hot roof, counting stars.
But the little voice in my head reprimands my nostalgia. The mornings were too numerous to count when I’d wake up in my pink frilly bed and stumble to the kitchen, dragging my teddy bear by the arm, to silence broken only by the ticking of the clock over the sink. No smell of coffee brewing. No boxes of cereal laid out on the table for a little girl to choose from. No sign of an adult anywhere.
Or the late night jam sessions and long-haired musicians with scary tattoos across shaved skulls and free range of the house. I’d cowered in the shadows of the stairwell, listening to the sound of glasses clinking and smelling various perfumed smokes, wafting together in a haze. I learned curse words I knew where vile even at that young age. And when I wanted Mom to tuck me in bed, she’d stare at me, with black eyes that should have been blue, as if she didn’t recognize me.
More often than not, she didn’t recognize me.
A knock at the door startles me and I look away from the photo of Mom. In the mirror, I see the door behind me open and Ted stick in his head.
“You’re on in five.”
I thank him and he closes the door. I go to stand, but my head spins and I put a hand on the dressing table to steady myself. The other hand strays to my still-flat tummy, rests on the course sequined material. I wait for it to pass, but it doesn't. I glance once more at Mom as I turn and rush to the toilet.
|An overwhelming sense of déjà-vu tickled my imagination the moment our flat-bottom boat floated into the tunnel. Maybe the damp yet metallic smell triggered it; I can’t say for sure. My eyes roved the walls, taking in the craggy formations. I stared over the edge, into the unsettling calm of the river’s surface. I could see my round face, my long straight hair reflected in its blue depths.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything the tour guide was saying. His commentary sounded enthusiastic, but the echo of his voice ricocheted off the rock walls and pock-marked ceiling, further disorienting me. But as we navigated a deep curve and the boat entered a cave of cathedral proportions, I was struck dumb with the visions.
My heart raced; sweat broke out across my body as I saw myself, but it was not myself. I was thin and dark-skinned. My hands were bound behind me. I struggled but the men around me in the wooden skiff held me fast.
Voices. Words in a language I can’t decipher shouting at me. I shake my head, sending black ringlets across my eyes. I look up as we pass next to an immense stalactite. Through my teary eyes it looks like a waterfall, frozen in time. An uproar of those cryptic voices. A decision has been made. Hands fall on my throat, trying to snatch the heavy necklace of hammered brass around my neck. Don’t touch my necklace! My scream can’t force its way past the rag in my mouth. A shirtless man stops him. More arguing. Another decision. Then, I’m lifted by my shoulders and tossed. Icy water everywhere. I try to hold my breath. Struggle to free my hands. Can’t. Must. Breath.
“Jennifer? Jenn? Are you all right?”
I blinked a few times and realized I was staring into Greg’s eyes. We were still in the cave, the tour guide was still talking. I drew deep breaths, trying to catch my breath. Greg took my hand.
“God, Jenn, you’re shaking. Do you feel sick?”
“No, no. I’m…” I looked around, feeling frantic, my eyes falling on a rock formation resembling cascading water. My heart raced anew. I looked into Greg’s eyes. “I...just a panic attack, I guess.”
“Well, try to relax, sweetie. Enjoy the tour. The guide was just talking about the skeleton archeologists uncovered at the bottom of the lake in this room, back in the 1800s. The person was definitely murdered. Her hands were tied behind her. She was wearing this crazy tribal-looking necklace…”
|Please accept our apologies for frightening you upon our arrival
Understand, we're tirelessly working to decode your language, tear down the barriers
We look forward to collaborating once we can communicate. Cast aside your fears!
Come now, those weapons are wholly unnecessary; we wish you no ill will -- but
In a forced dual we will defend ourselves. Please, hear our plea! For
Peace and its infinite potential are impossible when fear provokes war.
|Nora’s fingertips grazed the silky fabric on the bed. Grasping the nylon tank top, she straightened, then hyper-extended her back just enough to lay the shirt on her chest and fold it properly. Her nose twitched, and she stiffened.
She’d smelled Bradley’s sour scent before she heard him enter the doorway behind her. Laying the folded tank in the suitcase before her, she said, “No use sneaking up. I know you’re there.”
Willing her hand to steady, she reached for another fistful of clothing. A zipper jingled from the heavy fabric. Hoodie. She felt along the garment to locate the sleeves, and then laid it -- arms open wide -- across the suitcase. She imagined herself like that, living in the hoodie’s pose, embracing life. Her heart raced at the thought.
As Nora brought one sleeve across to fold the jacket in half, the weight of Bradley’s hand suddenly fell on her arm, fingers closing on Nora’s wrist with an iron grip. She jumped and winced, cowering.
He shook her. “I don’t remember telling you I said it was okay to go.”
His hot, ashtray breath chilled the beads of sweat that’d sprung across her upper lip. She pulled to free her arm but he yanked hard, jerking her forward. Pain shot up the inside to her armpit.
“Let her go.”
Nora’s head snapped in the direction of the doorway and her brother’s voice. The vice released her, and she stumbled against the bed.
“Who the hell do you think you are, Ron?” Bradley spat. “You can’t just waltz into my friggin’ house.”
“It’s my sister’s house too. She asked me to come up and help her with her packing.” Ron returned Bradley’s glare for two beats before he walked to Nora and kissed her cheek. “You ready to go?" he asked softly. Nora heard a smile enter his voice as he went on. "I’ve been waiting six months for you to cash in my birthday present to you.”
“What kind of a friggin' idiot takes a blind person rafting?” Bradley said with a sneer.
Ron snapped the suitcase shut and offered Nora his elbow. As she took it, he said, “I guess this kind does.”
The next afternoon, adrenalin pumping through her veins with a ferocity she’d never known, Nora grasped Ron’s hand as they stumbled out of the raft.
“That was fucking amazing!” Nora screeched. Her laughter melded with the sound of the bubbling river rushing through the canyon they’d just descended.
Ron hugged her. “See little sis, you can do anything you set your mind to. Your only handicap all these years hasn’t been your eyes.”
Nora stepped back and drew in a deep breath. Slowly, she reached her arms wide open, tilting her chin so the sun warmed the whole of her face. “When we get back to the hotel, make the call,” she said.
“Good,” Ron said. “My secretary has the papers drawn up. He’ll be served tomorrow.
|Jack Kensington updated the insurance policy months ago, the same week he’d had shelves installed in the panic room for all the family photo albums and financial papers. The wait since hadn’t been easy, but he was a smart man. Shark smart. And he was a master of self-discipline. That’s how he’d made it to the top of the financial game so quickly. Playing his hedge fund cards right, leaving no eyebrow-raising evidence behind. Replace all divots.
Now, stage two of his plan was in motion.
He’d said, to reassure his staff when the house of cards began to come down, “Destiny is what you make of it.” Damn good words to live by. He’d repeated that mantra each time he’d had to let another one go. It was just him and his secretary left, but the company was still afloat. All he needed now was some capital…and they were going to take the house anyways.
He’d kissed his wife on the cheek and put her in a cab two days before. The spa out in Arizona was pricey, but you have to spend money to make money. Then yesterday, he’d scheduled lawn service, and chatted with the mowers as his cabby loaded his suitcases in the taxi. They’d waved good-bye and wished him good luck on his out-of-town meeting.
Despite all his planning, he’d still felt a surge of relief when the home security company called his cell phone at midnight, reporting the fire. If there was one thing he’d learned in his life, it was to control the X-factor before the unexpected caused problems. But the sympathetic voice told him the house was reportedly fully engulfed. He was so sorry. Jack choked back a false sob as he thanked the security representative and closed his phone. He smiled in the darkness of his hotel room. No glitches, so far.
His phone rang again, and his wife’s cell number appeared on the screen. He answered in the same emotional voice he’d used with the security guy.
“Cheryl! Oh God…did security call you, too?”
Her voice was laced with hysteria. He swallowed his guilt, told himself he had their whole life to make it up to her.
“Brook—I can’t – won’t answer – phone…”
“What are you---?”
“Home – from school --wanted to surprise us, didn’t know…” Cheryl’s sobs drowned her words.
Jack’s world tilted, and in a voice totally different from the one he’d used with the security man, he screamed, “NOOOooooo!”
|Maria felt the shudder of her sister’s silent sobs as Francesca’s body pressed against her arm. Mama was speaking to them both, but her voice seemed distant, lost to the din of the busy railway platform. Maria should be listening harder, stowing into the compartments of her mind Mama’s fervent warnings to be careful and her advice for the trip overseas, but she just too excited to concentrate. And besides, Francesca was listening well enough for the both of them.
She turned her head to the right, seeing a man in a patched overcoat shout to a conductor near the platform. Lifting her chin, she looked past his head to a trio of men stood smoking in a circle, laughing boisterously as they bantered. What would people sound like in America? Would she understand them? A half-smile touched the side of her mouth. She would pick up English easily enough. She was a natural. It’d only taken one afternoon to teach herself the one sentence she could say fluently. And besides, surely people spoke Italian in America. So many from their village alone had emigrated already. Her stomach fluttered with excitement for her new life beginning today.
The train whistle blew, and Fransesca’s sobs became audible. Mama pushed her older daughter from an embrace and held her by the shoulders. “Take care of each other,” she pleaded.
Maria picked up her small suitcase with rusted hinges. It was light although all her earthly possessions were packed inside. Mama and Papa wrapped their arms around her shoulders. She closed her eyes and drank in the lavender scent that rose from their freshly laundered church cloths, sacrilegiously donned on a Thursday.
The whistle blew again and steam billowed out from beneath the massive train. Maria turned her bright eyes on her parents and said, in perfect English, “See you soon!”
Mama collapsed into Papa’s arms as the girls disappeared into the train.
|“You have to be resourceful, son. Life is going to throw left curves at you. It’s a mathematical certainty. You’ve got to be ready for anything, whether it’s down on Wall Street where I work, or out here on a dude ranch.” Charles lifted his baseball cap and ran a manicured hand through the sweat on his forehead. “Take right now, for example,” he continued, replacing the cap. “We could sit here waiting for the others to come find us, or we could use the resources at hand and get ourselves back to the ranch on our own.”
“Whatever you say, Dad,” Greg said, with barely concealed sarcasm, from the saddle of his horse.
John knelt in the grass beside Charles, worry etched on his face. “I don’t know, Charles,” John whispered. “It’s going to be dark soon. Didn’t they say coyotes hunt at this time of day?”
Charles chuckled, a smug grin on his face. “Look around you, John. You think a coyote’s going to bother us? Now listen up, Greg,” he called over his shoulder. “You have a watch on, right?”
“Yeah, it’s the one Mom gave me for Christmas.”
Charles got the message between those words, and he set his jaw. “Don’t use that tone with me, young man. Maybe your mother allows you to talk like that to her, but if you lived with me…”
“You don’t want me to live with you.”
John put up his hands. “Just—would you get on with your clever idea to get us out of here?”
Charles narrowed his eyes at John, then lifted his chin. “Our predicament is easily solved. We know we headed out on the trails east of the ranch, correct? So we need to go west. Now--”
“Son! If you’d close your mouth once in a while and open your ears, you might just learn something useful.”
Greg shifted in the saddle and the horse under him whinnied, making John jump. Charles grasped a handful of tall prairie grass.
“See, I’ll just braid these grasses together to make a thick plait. With it, we’ll make a sun dial.”
“But Dad, my watch--”
Charles stood quickly, his sudden movement spooking the horses. “Yes, son, I know you have a watch. I’m not trying to find out what time it is!” He took a deep breath, then went on in a more controlled voice. “Since we know what time it is, this little grass-braid sun dial will help us determine which way is north.”
John was nodding, clearly impressed and relieved, but Greg piped up again. “Can I say something, please.”
Charles rounded his shoulders, a pained look on his face. “If you must.”
“My watch has a compass on it.”