Something Amiss

for sale

A pungent smell hit the real estate agent and young couple upon opening the door of the modest home. Ms. Nichols rushed through the entryway to open a window in hopes the room would air out before her customers entered. She wanted to make this sale, as no other prospective buyers had inquired about the low-end property. These folks might be her only chance.

Her sales instinct kicked in, and she tried to downplay the odor. “My, my … it’s a little stuffy in here,” she commented in her flurry to raise another window. The husband covered his nose and mouth and muttered sarcastically, “Damn, more than a little. What is that stench?” His wife elbowed his ribs and quickly shushed him.

The scene startled Nichols. Appalled the house had been left in this condition, she wished the owner had warned her. His seeming desperation to list the property apparently overshadowed its preparation. From a professional standpoint, this showing presented a worst-case scenario.

Beyond being clean, a seller should always keep the place in its most pristine condition. The staging was all wrong. Mr. Blackwell should’ve made his house as nice as possible, maybe even bake cookies or burn a candle to create a homey atmosphere. A pleasant showing experience. Maybe he was single and had no one to help him ready it for viewing.

Instead, a mystery stench overwhelmed the visitors upon their arrival. Quite a fatal mistake. If Blackwell truly wanted to sell, he had to insure all was in order before he left home. No phone call, no forewarning. Nothing.

Ms. Nichols blushed, giggled nervously, and thought to herself, “How could he miss this?” She speculated a dead mouse under the refrigerator had gone undetected.

She issued the couple to other rooms – quickly – as no one wished to prolong their exit. All three covered their noses and mouths upon re-entering the front room. The real estate agent continued to ruminate over the situation and made half-hearted apologies as they left. She saw the pair shaking their heads in disgust or confusion, she couldn’t tell which, as they got in their car and sped away.

Her own head wagged side to side in consternation at the seller’s negligence. She fanned her face and took out her phone to check her voicemail, thinking he may have left an explanatory message. She assumed this must be the first time he’d sold a home and didn’t know what to do. Surely it was inexperience or ignorance on his part.

He knew the truth. The fact of the matter was he hoped to unload the property before anyone discovered what he’d hidden under the living room floor. Blackwell recently moved the couch to cover a spot where he sawed through the hardwood and sub-flooring. He’d hastily stored his late wife’s remains there after he stabbed her to death one week prior.

Panic drove the man to act on impulse and immediately put the house on the market. Leaving in such a rush, he hadn’t considered how to cover up remnants of such an act, this being his first foray into criminal behavior.

Time was of the essence. He had to get out of town before anyone noticed his missus, a so-called homemaker, was missing. Maybe he’d sell the house “as is” and have the company simply wire him the money. Obviously, the murderer hadn’t put much thought into the consequences of his actions.

The phone in Blackwell’s pocket jingled. He saw the real estate agent’s number pop up on the read-out and thought, “Bloody hell, she’s annoying. I might just have to do something about her, too.”


The Studio 30+ prompt “he knew the truth” was originally from Kenneth. Studio30

(image: Huffington Post)


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I called Cameron to come get me when my car didn’t start the morning we were to be married. No way was I going to take a taxi in my full-skirted dress. My best friend, Kristine swore him seeing my dress before the ceremony was a bad idea. She told us, “Don’t you dare do that. It’s supposed to be bad luck.” We didn’t think the superstition would get us in trouble, but  basically Kristine cursed us.

That woman never opened an umbrella inside, avoided ladders and black cats at all costs, and constantly knocked on wood. She believed all those old stories her grandmother told her as a kid. She even had bottles sticking up from stunted limbs on a dead tree in her backyard to ward off evil spirits. I laughed at her silly beliefs every time I heard the glass clinking together outside her kitchen window.

That was back when we were friends. Without being especially maudlin, the rest of my story must be told.

Kristine loosely predicted my demise. Cameron picked me up in his fully restored ‘67 Ford Mustang that we meant to drive away from the reception and take on our honeymoon. It was such a beautiful car – a dark moss green convertible. He loved that car, but I hated how he drove it.

The change in plans threw off the schedule, so we were running late. Cameron put “the pedal to the metal,” as usual. He always drove too fast in the ‘Stang. That last big curve on the way into town is what ended it all, my life anyway.

The top was down, so the wind was whipping my freshly coiffed hair. I reached to grab a hat out of the back seat in hopes of salvaging my hairstyle. Layers of toile in my gown flew about, and errant material caught in Cameron’s sunglasses. It blocked his eyes from the road and ultimately caused the crash that killed me. My ejection from the car coincidentally took his new $300 Versace shades with me. He never found them, and I can’t say that I’m sorry.

My dress was ruined, too. I couldn’t even be buried in it.

To be blunt, I think Kristine jinxed me.

She was at the hospital to console Cameron after my death. She comforted him and nursed him back to health. I know her methods, so I wasn’t surprised when they fell in love so quickly. He’s such a tool.

The ceremony was in Vegas, what there was of it. I’d hardly call a drive-through chapel a proper location for a wedding service, though. The Mustang was totaled, so it took place in Kristine’s car instead.

I bet she even carried the rabbit’s foot keychain from her grandmother for “something old.” Maybe her luck will run out if she didn’t find something borrowed or blue. I can only hope.


The Studio 30+ writing prompt “supposed to be bad luck” came from Joe at Mostly Harmless Drivel.



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Quite a “Good Morning!”


The last thing I want to do when I wake up — or get home from work, or do housework, or come in from outside — is find a tiny present from my cat on the floor/bed/kitchen chair. Realizing the hazards that go along with pet ownership, those ugly little gifts never cease to surprise me. Especially when I have yet to put in my contact lenses and don’t think before I reach down to pick them up off the carpet. Those slimy hairballs still shock me.

My cats are getting old, and I regularly take them to the vet. They’re generally in good health. Some feline ailments are common with age, though, just like with people. So I’m conscious of their behavior, eating habits, and fluid intake and output. I am aware of changes in their litter box, as gross as that may seem to non-cat-owners and haters.

They’re my responsibility, after all. I took on their care when “rescuing” them and accepted the inevitability of hairy furniture and clothing. With time, I even got used to waking up with whiskers brushing my face and beady eyes staring into my soul as a hungry alarm clock. Their purr’s cadence on my chest became a comfort, and they give me so much more than I give them.

I have to remember how much I love them when it’s time to “shave the couch” if I’m hosting book club. When I find the potato chip bag ripped open on the kitchen floor, I tell myself to just clean it up. The same goes for coming home to the trash knocked over and coffee grounds spread across the linoleum. My little girl cat must think she still lives on the streets and must scrounge for her supper.

They didn’t ask to come live with me. I brought outside cats inside my home. So when the boy cat bumps his head against my arm, cries for more to eat, and then yawns his bad breath on me, I remind myself I asked for it. I’ve been an animal lover all my life.

My parents were animal people. Mom let us have cats in the house and taught us to care for them. My dad raised dogs, cats, horses, chickens, goats, and pigs on the farm. My parents brought us up to love animals, and I hope I’m doing the same for my son.

He adores our cats, although he’s still a bit intimated by the dog. As his responsibility for their care increases, so does his general compassion. I hope that capacity extends to people, which our world so desperately needs from children.

Maybe he’ll even help clean up the hairballs one day.


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via allthecolor on Flickr

For Maggie, making a trip to the store for baby supplies wasn’t all the other new mothers cracked it up to be. Finding a place to park was easy enough, as at least two front rows were reserved for expectant mothers. Wise marketers made access simple to lure women in and tempt them to buy the same old, same old.

Inside the double glass doors, Maggie may have stepped back into the ‘50s for all she could tell. A cotton candy machine could’ve exploded, splashing the clothing with saccharine pink and sky blue. “Here we go again,” she said. “Why is everything for babies sold as such a stereotype?”

She didn’t want to select clothes by gender … lace and frills for little girls or animals and mechanical motifs for the boys. Maggie resisted making her selections based on such a backward categorization. Lady bugs and footballs in abundance. She just wanted to get some cute baby things. Registering for gifts here meant “snips and snails and puppy dog tails,” all the old tripe from the past.

Guilty feelings crossed her mind at being so greedy as to hand-pick what friends and relatives should buy the baby. Much like begging for shower gifts. She felt a tinge of shame at taking advantage of their generosity.

An electronic scanner clutched in her clammy palm, Maggie half-heartedly waved the device at random objects. A hooded bath towel here, burp pads there, all with the same themes decorating the garb. Her heart just wasn’t in it.

Maggie considered going the generic green and yellow route. “Better to stay on the safe side,” she thought. She and her husband refused to find out the baby’s sex via a sonogram or answer intrusive inquiries about it. People were surprised at their own lack of curiosity. She wanted to tell the busy-bodies to go work for the Big Baby Boootie business chain and help put every newborn into a feminine or masculine pigeon hole.

She rounded the corner to the aisle with the registry kiosk and had a mild moment of panic. What would they name the child? Jordan, Taylor, Jayden, Morgan – a list of androgynous choices came to mind. The registry monitor loomed large in front of her, vaguely representing the first choices she’d make for her progeny in a world where so much was determined by arbitrary X and Y chromosomes.

The moment had come to enter her choices for “Baby Thompson” into the computer, but she had only a few measly items scanned into the system – some plain white onsies and drab cream-colored sleepers that would leave nosy people guessing. She felt helpless against the force of how society pits “girls against boys” from birth. Maggie nodded her head and resolved, “Luvs and Huggies it is.”

*A prompt from Studio 30+ this week was, “Here we go again.” Studio30


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A great escape

autumn newbie

A tiny frog hides in the center.

Creativity. Butt in seat. 10,000 words. Quieten your inner critic.

My bullet points of consideration from a weekend surrounded by creative people.

Participating in this retreat didn’t necessarily mean their abilities rubbed off on me. There was much to learn, though, especially about confidence. Self-assuredness differs from bravado, even though it’s a subtle delineation. I got to soak in all the atmosphere and information over the weekend at a Creative Retreat in a secluded valley alongside the Jack’s Fork River in southeastern Missouri.

Bunker Hill defines the concept of “backwoods.” Our creative purpose didn’t suffer from any pre-conceived stereotype of that concept, though. What the resort may lack in refinement is more than made up for in tranquility.

The participants consisted mainly of educators, a sage lot whose collective expertise I might normally find intimidating. A facilitator took us through brainstorming exercises meant to overcome “writer’s block,” which my cousin defines as when writers’ imaginary friends stop talking to us. I found the groupthink process enlightening and hope the insight gained helps keep my fingers active at this keyboard, no matter how much work I have ahead of me.

A critique of my as-yet unedited novel provided productive, if not somewhat overwhelming, feedback. The learned advisors’ suggestion to start over induced an automatic gag-reflex, although I was able to quickly recover. The book does need more action, dialogue is not my strong suit, and the details in my head should sometimes stay there instead of the page.

There’s definitely much left to do on it. The beauty of the setting softened the blow of their words. Constructive criticism will help me grow, and my fragile ego won’t crumble. Thirty years now after the first time I was told, I have yet to accept how much my skin still needs to thicken.

My hands shook slightly while I read some of my work during the “open mic,” that old self-conscious feeling never quite defeated, with so many seemingly wiser listeners in the silent room. We had a great weekend. Other participants sought the same solace my sister and I did … a break in the routine with an aim of bettering our craft. We met fun people whose brief company we enjoyed and learned along the way.

Ghost stories told around a beach-front campfire that night rekindled Girl Scout and church camp memories but luckily eluded my dreams while in Old Cabin 3, rumored to be haunted but unspecifically so. Only acorns fell on the roof from massive oaks overhead, and no crazed lunatics scratched on the shingles or window panes. We survived that legend.

What a great way to spend a short get-away by the river. The lazy current pulled the fallen leaves away softly, nature fading summer but renewing our spirits. It made me want to write even more. Self-doubt be damned.


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Come to the cabaret

cabaret The show was in town for a short run, so Curtis knew they had to get there fast. Rumor had it the acts were a “don’t miss,” so he wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. The exhibit’s description stole him but also left him skeptical.

How could all those oddities be shown in one place and still be considered legal? Really, daredevils who chew broken glass and eat fire to a heavily-tattooed woman over six feet tall who spins plates on something stuck in her … anatomy?

It sounded like one hell of the freak show. He said, “If it costs that much on the weekend, then how much is Thursday?” Curtis figured that night kicks off the weekend anyway, but he always looked for a cheapskate chance to save a few bucks back for more beer. But this would be no ordinary burlesque.

As the last of his friends pulled the curtains closed behind him, Curtis squinted to see better as the tent darkened. A single spotlight illuminated a breathtaking, bare-chested beauty suspended above the crowd with her legs entwined in ribbons as she ascended to the lofty heights above them, their mouths agape in astonishment.

Her striped bustier reached only to the tops of her ribs, a toile tutu ringing its bottom stopped short of covering her nether regions. She began to spin above their heads.

Curtis exclaimed, “It’s going to be a fantastic night, boys!” Delighted, he pulled a camera from inside his vest and pointed it up at the aerial maiden’s areolas, a salacious smile spreading across his face. A muscle-bound bouncer appeared at the instant the flash illuminated the structure’s interior. He promptly reminded Curtis of the show’s ground rules and proceeded to smash the camera into bits. There’d be no evidence to roil the police if the houseman could help it.

The man barely noticed, his eyes transfixed to the big top’s ceiling. He couldn’t imagine the grand finale. A fabulous show, indeed.

*written in memory of a Bindlestiff Family Cirkus performance in Morgantown, WV long ago (also see and in anticipation of the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show on October 8th.

I missed the gargleblaster deadline this week, so I thought I try a little moonshine instead.

cabaret girl image:

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Tit for tat – #WriteWithUs

Pam M. via Flickr

Pam M. via Flickr

Lowell was anxious to get married again but claimed, “I don’t wanna put my heart back out there to get filleted another time.” As the old saying goes, third time’s a charm.

He blamed those first two wives for clobbering his pride along with his bank account. Meeting them at church proved no guarantee of their sincerity. Who could blame them? They saw him coming.

Lowell is gullible, an easy mark. He always sets his expectations too high. I love to spoil them.

We met at a roadside diner out by the truck stop. His latest route came through that week, and I just happened to be working an overnight. One glance in his direction, and he was hooked. No pun intended.

Marrying Lowell gave me the perfect setup for my business. I’m the boss now. No more hard nights for me.

The girls only come by when Lowell goes back on the road. As much money as they make, they all have the latest phone, so they text me before delivering payment. My cut is big enough to keep me in a new Camaro and the latest styles they get in down at The Buckle. Who says those clothes are too young for me? You’re only as old as you feel, and I look damn good. Better than most of my girls.

Many have had black eyes, broken noses. I’m better to them than that. No rough stuff. Their customers neither. Their protection is covered. They give me my part of the take, and I’ll send ‘em over to the plastic surgeon in Raleigh to get fixed up. Maybe even get ‘em a new set of chompers.

I don’t put up with no drugs, though. If they’re druggin,’ they’re out! That’s what led ’em to get their teeth knocked out in the first place. Either the rat poison that’s in it, or actin’ the fool while they’re on it. Who’d put that crap up their nose?

If I treat ‘em right, keep ‘em in a decent place, they got no reason to get high. Least not to make it through the night. I treat ‘em decent. I love to spoil them, too.

Now Lowell’s a different story. He deserves what he gets. Told me the other day, “Shana, you better do me right, gal.” Hell, I’m the best thing ever happened to that man. Cook him a nice supper when he’s home and listen to him run his mouth.

It’s only one night a month. Viagra doesn’t work for the man, so I don’t have to work either.

I know better than believing the stories he says about them first two women. See, the waitress at the truck stop cafe warned me about him before he came in the door. Said he’d run off the first two with his boring personality. He said it was love gone wrong … they took him for all he was worth, ran around on him. That’s when he went on the road.

All those years on my back came to a stop when I saw him head in to pay for his gas. Took nothing to win him over. Maybe he fell for my pretty smile. I think it was my perky bosom. It’s my own, too. Didn’t even make him buy me a new set.

Wonder what the silly schlub would do if he knew ol’ Tony Jones next door sure likes looking at ‘em when he’s gone. I even let him look for free.


Nonamedufus provided this week’s writing prompt, I love to spoil them,

for this fictional piece. Studio30


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On Repeat


Every time I start to chance –

to let you back in and trust –

what you said before still echoes in my ear.

Taunting me, warning me,

not to believe it again.

Why fall for the nonsense

of trying to love you?

You say what you think I want to hear,

then rescind your promise,

and the cycle replays once more.


*This week’s prompt was echoes from Joanne at Opal Reflections.


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Lost in the Dust Jacket

Arthur Rackham from "The Old Woman in the Wood," fairy tale number 123 by the Brothers Grimm

Arthur Rackham from “The Old Woman in the Wood,” fairy tale number 123 by the Brothers Grimm

“I’ve come to love the silence.” She whispered the statement to no one in particular, as seeking solace had recently become her favorite past time. Her words trickled out into the ether and greeted nothingness.

Longing for a new beginning, she searched for solitude between the covers. Only through the pages of never-ending words did she find peace and tranquility. She heard the sounds in her mind, in her soul, preempting the noise of the world. Stories from the outside space were too personal, too intrusive, too raw, too true.

Narrative absorption softened the blow of her own situation. Fantasy swelled within her mind and closed out the awfulness of reality.

A story enveloped her. She felt each character’s embrace, its fingertips gently lingering a moment longer than what felt comfortable but encasing her in safety. She let the moment swallow her. No chance of being forgotten when you’re rooted to the ground.

Other voices called her to rejoin them, asked that she come back to the here and now. Her family wanted her home and needed her to be a part of them. They wouldn’t let her slip away into oblivion.

The girl forced herself into a thinly-veiled metamorphosis, one where she could easily slide back and forth between the states. She acquiesced to stay in the present but only if she could rejoin her characters from time to time. They pulled her back to Maycomb, Narnia, Limerick, Little Rock, Sussex, and West Table — where she only had to worry about their fates and not her own.



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2014 Women Challenge self-reminder

Women ChallengeValentina issued the 2014 Women Challenge and I am bumped it up to Wonder Woman this year in planning to read 20 or more titles written by female authors. My count stands at only ten, so I need to put my cape and gold bracelets on and read!  

Titles read so far:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3) by Margaret Atwood

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Pigs in Heaven (Greer Family #2) by Barbara Kingsolver

Molly by Sandra White

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (reviewed here)

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story by Ingrid Ricks

And I’m currently reading:

TMI Mom: Oversharing My Life by Heather Davis

The pick for my book club next month is The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. It sounds a little like chick lit, but I’ve been assured it is much more than that. My “to be read” list also includes a new title being released by Margaret Atwood, Stone Mattress, some Virginia Woolf, and other great female writers, so I’m confident in my ability to meet Valentina’s challenge. I’m not scared!

It’s not too late – you can join, too! Link up and share your titles to support female authors.


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