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A short story by Eric J. Gates
The cabins invited solitude, introspection, thoughtfulness, creativity. More than a writing workshop, this was a temporary retreat, somewhere to hide, somewhere to cut themselves off from the all-consuming demands of society and family. Yes, somewhere to retreat…
The location was sandwiched between the Shenandoah and George Washington National Parks. Idyllic quiet for meditation and creation. Trees, birds, weekend cabins… and the occasional bear.
The twenty-five apprentice writers had been warned of the bear’s presence in the area by the workshop’s hosts. Over the years, many from the Richmond area, and from further afar, had built weekend cabins in the area. The combination of human presence, albeit occasional, and dense forestation had stimulated the interest of the local wildlife. The latter was not really a problem, as long as the visitors followed the common-sense rules. First and foremost was food. Leftovers they were to humans; an easy treat to Ursus americanus. A calorific catch compared with what was available in nature. No hunting involved. No expensive energy expended. With the long winter on the horizon, it was never too late to start hoarding fat reserves, after all practice makes perfect, and human throwaways always tasted sweet.
One wag from the workshop had even christened it Yoga Bear, given the inclusion of right-brain meditation techniques into the retreat’s program. Fear, respect, for one of nature’s most persistent predators had not been a consideration for most. This was Disneyland with real animals, after all. A chance to commune with successful authors and learn their secrets. The potential encounter of the Ursus kind, mental images of a porkpie hat-wearing cartoon bear, muzzle streaked with honey and cake crumbs, only served to stimulate ‘little gray cells’.
Day one, the welcome wine and cheese went well. Bonhomie triumphed. The meet and greet was an interesting sounding board for all. That incontrollable pursuit, that irresistible peccadillo indulged by humans during first-time encounters with their fellows ran rampant, though unvoiced. Labelling! Attaching generic adjectives. Pigeonholing. Classification. Characterization, as the new authors would call it.
The Pasty-faced man, overweight, overloud, became The Bore. Always capitalized in their minds. No one aware of the massive heart attack, the redirected life plan bringing him here in the hope of removing stress from his life, and thus sidestepping another cardiac event.
The rake-thin girl with the bird-like stare and fixation on jogging; Birdy. The head-shaven, solidly built, thirty-something guy who spoke so quietly you had to lean in to hear, abrasive personality, not a good mixer; Mr. Clean, because of his passing resemblance to the advertising meme. And so on.
An innocent game… for some.
Day two: the start of the work schedule,
…and the first death.
One of the early-risers, Birdy, found the mangled corpse just off a path used for her daybreak jog. The buzzing flies had alerted her to the partly hidden scene. Back in her native New York, the morning jog in Central Park only offered danger from a twisted ankle, or an errant mugger. Here, some other predator had done a number on a fellow attendee.
The State cops and Park Rangers were mystified. Yoga bear had never exhibited this behavior before. How the aspiring author had met such a violent demise, while others slept soundly, was a mystery. There had been no screams, yells, sounds of danger from beneath the morning mist trapped in the treetops. Just blood-soaked earth, gore, disfigurement …and plenty of tracks. Claw marks on trees, the ground, and, above all, on the body.
Had it merely been a case of wrong time, wrong place, wrong bear, as the cops speculated? Misadventure was the favorite. A lesson to be learned for the remaining retreat participants.
A vote was taken; the workshop would continue. The writers, led by the vehement argument of the quietly spoken stocky guy at the back, opted not to deny themselves their workshop even after the unfortunate death of their co-attendee. They had found an oasis far from the mundane, the incomprehension, the interruptions, the exigent world outside. This attempt, by Yoga, to impose the harsh here-and-now, to drag them from their musings, would not be tolerated!
The bear, the death, the unfortunate incident as it rapidly became called, was fodder now. Some feverishly jotted grisly details in notebooks for future use. Others, more mercenary, went back to their rooms to pen stories of mauling beneath massive trunks, their imaginations supplying the macabre minutiae their notebooks lacked.
Day three, another body.
Another attendee, crumpled in death on one of the pathways between the cabins after a headcount showed a missing quill. A chance encounter with Yoga? No one alive could know. It was The Bore, generating more interest in death than in life.
The same cops. An attendant Medical Examiner spoke of a massive coronary. Evidence in the form of a medical alert card on the oldest member of the workshop, attested to a couple of prior visits to the ER. Meds, discovered in his cabin, backing up the theory. Something, perhaps happenstance, had led to the demise of another workshop member’s ambitions to use writing as a calming influence in his lifestyle. Unfulfilled expectations; not a phrase for a death certificate.
However, as the State cops remarked, two deaths in as many days was cause for concern. The grizzly may have been responsible for the first of these, and might have contributed to the second. Was Yoga targeting people? Not unheard of, if cubs were involved. The Park Rangers stated, as far as they knew, Yoga, the name had stuck, was a male, so a lethal maternal instinct was not in play. They suggested the workshop be cancelled.
Sturdy-man again led the protests. Misadventure and chance were logic’s worst enemies. The organizers decided to continue. Precautions were taken. All outdoor activities were transferred to the safety of the large cabin, and strolls, jogs, walks and anything external to four walls was discouraged. In a sense, the workshop had become a retreat of a different sort.
Day four. The last, planned full day.
Another absence amongst the aspiring.
All gathered in the largest cabin and awaited the cops. The missing woman, her confessed dreams filled with best sellers populating bookshelves for the millions of Young Adult fans she hoped to find. A macabre equilibrium, evidenced when her corpse was found floating in a large, uncovered water tank behind the cabin. No signs of foul play. No bear claws embedding the body. A few scrapes on nearby trees though. Yoga was once more an Ursus of Interest.
Drowned. Why she had been in the tank, fully clothed, was left for active imaginations to throw out theories. A refuge perhaps from an unintended encounter with nature? A slip on the slime coating the bottom? A foul footing following fright, fearful of becoming another victim of Yoga’s wrath?
The organizers were adamant. The bear had won. The workshop would close its doors after a final meeting.
“This last session will bring a close to the workshop,” announced Organizer Judith. “We will hold a three-minute silence for the loss of our fellow writers, retrieve our belongings, then wait for the State Troopers to escort us out. Fiona, do you have anything to add?”
She sat down, her place before assumed by their celebrity author guest.
“I had intended to talk about ‘the Writer’s Journey’ today. How our passage through life, our gathering of experience, could fuel our work. It’s strange, looking at what has happened these last few days. Judith and I were remarking how the three who perished had shown such great promise in their writing. They also had that natural stubbornness needed to turn talent into a successful profession. They were possibly the most obvious candidates to get the most from this workshop…”
“…and yet they’re dead! Where does that leave the rest of us?” Harsh words from the stocky man, Mr. Clean, seated in the back.
“Jarrod, it is Jarrod, isn’t it? Well, we are all survivors, I guess. What happened… it could have been any of us…”
A deep thudding from the solid wooden door caused all to jump.
Judith rose and peeked through the curtained window before opening the door to the State Troopers.
“Is everyone here?” demanded the senior officer.
A quick glance around the room.
“Yes, why? Has something happened?”
“The Park Rangers have just contacted us. They have found Yoga, the bear. It had been trapped and killed at least a week ago. Its paws had been hacked off…”
Fiona was the first to articulate a conclusion.
“So if Yoga was out of the picture… the deaths…”
“Exactly,” said the senior cop.
The Writer’s Journey, almost two years later. Ha! he thought. Now that was a cliché if ever there was one. Almost as bad as too many adverbs. Survival of the fittest would be more accurate. Cancel the competition, the potential threats. That’s how to be a winner. His new hobby had presented a great challenge. Too many minds, too many words. How could he compete? Easy. His writer’s journey. Remove the opposition as early as he could. Use the creativity of the writer’s mind to plot an outcome, shifting suspicion onto a third party. He had envisioned network news interviews as one of the shocked survivors; a solid launch to his new career. Not that the old one, that of the psychopathic serial killer, had been entirely forgotten. No, it just had a new focus.
The stocky man suppressed a smile.
“And who should I dedicate this to?” He looked up at the expectant face of the owlish woman standing before the desk.
“Janine. Can you put ‘with all my love’?” A giggle.
He morphed a grimace into a grin.
“Ooh. That’s an unusual pen.”
Jarrod looked at the instrument in his hand, his fingertips caressing the bone.
“Yes, it is. I had it specially made. Use it at all my book signings now. It’s something of a good luck charm. It was a bear claw…”
Writer’s Bearings © Eric J. Gates 2019, all rights reserved
The Authors who blog together
Taking turns, we bring you interesting, fun stories and useful posts, every Friday.
The members of this gang are caring, loving, funny, thoughtful, and smart, yet we could be vicious, revengeful, violent, and malicious as well.
But luckily, only in our minds when we plot our fiction stories.
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A short fiction story by Erika M Szabo
“Grandma is here!” Sara, a cute eight-year-old girl in fairy costume shouted when she heard a car pulling into the driveway.
“Grandma you came!” Sara hugged her grandmother as soon as she stepped through the door.
“I wouldn’t miss trick or treat with you for the whole world.”
Sara pulled back and examined the old lady’s outfit. “Grandma, you always dress as a witch every Halloween. Why don’t you put on a different costume?”
“Because I’m a witch,” her grandma replied with a wink and shot a mischievous smile at her daughter who stood by the stove.
“Sara, go put on your sparkly shoes while I talk to your grandma,” Mandy shooed her little fairy out of the kitchen and turned to her mother. “Mom, there are three this year. The first one is a savage man who lives at 21 Mayberry Street. He’s been beating his wife and children in his drunken rages for years and the poor woman is afraid to leave him because he threatened to kill her and the children if she ever leaves him.”
“Got it,” the old lady nodded with a serious expression on her wrinkled face.
Mandy continued, “The next one is the shifty lawyer at 13 Viola Street. She twists and turns the law and uses dirty tricks to defend her clients. A rich child molester is free because of her. They both deserve punishment. My heart goes out to that little girl. She’s Sarah’s age and…” Mandy shivered. “I can’t even… He must be stopped, mom! He lives at 52 Madison Street in the big mansion.”
“Indeed, they do deserve what's coming to them,” her mother exclaimed and put on a bright smile as she heard Sara running down the stairs. Are you ready, pumpkin?”
“Let’s go, Grandma,” Sarah grabbed the old lady’s hand and pulled her toward the front door. “We don’t want to miss the best candy!”
The next day as the woman opened the front door at 21 Mayberry street, she wondered where her no-good husband could be. She covered her bruised face and winced in pain. He didn’t come home last night. She thought feeling worried. Probably he drank too much and sleeping it off somewhere. I hope he’ll be sober by the time he gets home; he doesn’t get too angry with me when he’s sober.
She picked up the newspaper and as she straightened up, she spotted a large, rotting pumpkin on the bottom step. “How did this get here? It's rotten already,” she mumbled. She picked up the heavy pumpkin and carried it to the compost box in the back.
A tiny, angry voice came from the pumpkin, “Put me down, you stupid woman! It’s me, don’t you see? I’m gonna kill you, I will!”
But the woman didn’t hear the voice and as the pumpkin hit the pile of rotting vegetables in the box, it exploded into hundreds of little pieces.
The cruel man still absent two days later, she filed a missing person’s report. But she and her children didn’t miss him, at all. Deep down she hoped he would never be found.
The lawyer who lived at 13 Viola Street had a court case the next day. She had everything prepared to confuse the jurors, but the first words came out her mouth was, “My client is guilty as hell.”
She stood there feeling horrified as everyone in the courtroom cheered. From that moment on, the woman couldn’t tell a lie. She lost all her clients, and nobody would hire her again. She couldn't hold any job because she kept insulting everyone, so she lived the rest of her life alone, miserable, and bitter.
The pervert at 52 Madison Street had an awful Halloween night. He kept hearing the cries of the children he assaulted, in his mind. The words that the anguished mother of his last victim shouted at him when the "not guilty" verdict was announced, cut into his brain like a sharp knife, over and over. You deserve to rot in hell for what you did! You deserve to rot in hell for what you did!
The cries relentlessly echoed in his mind, day, and night. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and couldn’t find a minute of peace. Days later he drove his Mercedes into a large tree at high speed. Did he finally find peace in death? Who knows? Just like in prison, maybe even the hardest criminals in hell hate child molesters.
A few days later Mandy’s mom stopped for a short visit. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Mom, everything is as it should be,” Mandy said, smiling.
“You know, I’m getting too old, it’s time for you to continue the family’s Hollows Eve Magic tradition," the old lady announced handing her gnarly wand to her daughter. “Next year you go trick or treating, and I’ll stay home to hand out candy.”
Watch out for evil people meeting the fate they deserve, just a few days after next Halloween.
Maybe the vigilante witch lives in your neighborhood. Or, Maybe Miss Karma is righting wrongs. We never know...
I am a poet, I have been writing as long as I can remember (and, according to my sisters even before that). In my early years, I was treated to the rhymes of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss and I was enthralled. I love them both and have been influenced by them in my writing.
You would think I would always have wanted to read poetry since I wrote it. Well, that is not the case at all. In grade school, we were exposed to poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I was not impressed, and when the teachers told us what the poems supposedly were saying...I was totally lost. I did not like the style they wrote in and what I thought they said was not even close to what I was supposed to be seeing. By the time I had to read the poems about "How do I love thee" and "Lovely as a Tree" I had learned to memorize what the teacher said was happening. Subsequently, I began avoiding any poetry that I was not ordered to read.
Luckily for me, when I entered high school, I had a wonderful English teacher. Mr. Hagberg was different than any of my previous teachers. He taught us what a poem meant was what it made you feel or think. He said it did not really matter what the poet was thinking at the time it was written. We were encouraged to read and explain how a poem affected us and why we felt that way. There were NO WRONG ANSWERS! The door to enjoying other poets was swung open for me!
My first love in high school was the writings of William Blake. Being a big fan of all the large cats, "The Tyger" was the lure that captured me. I could visualize the creator as he blended so much beauty and grace with enormous strength and unbridled viciousness. When it referred to "The Lamb", I went to read it and noticed how he wrote gently, completely opposite of this poem. For me, the imagery was tangible and realistic. The dual nature of the creator made evident just by the descriptions of two of his creatures.
Blake's influence on me did not stop there. Many of his poems reflected the world before his eyes. "London" had me walking the streets of England in the late 1700s. I saw the dismal living conditions, felt the despair. His obvious references to funerals in connection to situations that would have been considered blessings to the rich, instilled in my soul the anguish felt by the lowly citizens.
While writing this I have come to realize that I write like him. Both of us write what we see and feel, without concern for the social norms. We speak from our hearts and souls. Truth is truth, no matter how messy or how much pain it creates when faced.
© Cindy J. Smith
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It has been a long run with many authors participating in the OAG blog with 792 interesting blog posts since 2017. The blog had 379,998 visitors who left 1248 comments.
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