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This is my entry into Stevie Turner’s Short Story Competition for February. Here is the info if you would like to enter. Why not give it a go.  https://steviet3.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/share-your-short-story-february-2/

photo from Pixabay

Ghosts in the Attic

by Darlene Foster

The attic above the barn sits empty. Some say it is haunted. Others say it is cursed.

The room is possessed with many stories.

When Jim and Alice bought the farm, they decided the attic would be a perfect place for the farm help to live. So they purchased some paint and fixed it up. Then they placed an ad in the local paper seeking someone who enjoyed working with horses.

Mature, buxom Gladys responded first. They showed her the spotless attic room smelling of fresh paint and polished linoleum. Gladys took the job and moved in the next day – with her seven cats. Alice warned Gladys to keep the cats confined to the barn. This was after they jumped up on the picnic table and ate the cream cheese dip she had put out for her croquet party guests. Gladys worked hard and knew her way around horses but had her own ideas about how to do things. After several disagreements with Jim, she packed her meager belongings and left, cats in tow. She left a note tacked to the barn door with a forwarding address to send her last pay cheque.

Gladys seemed unfamiliar with the concept of a litter box. Alice scrubbed the once pristine room thoroughly. Disgusted, she left the doors and windows open for days to get rid of the acrid smell of cat pee. Alice believed she could still smell it years later.

The next ad included, ‘No pets allowed’. Joy, a university student with a love of horses, became the second resident. Young and eager, she did a good job. A light shone from the attic late into the night while she studied. Occasionally a young man spent the night. Jim and Alice didn’t mind. Better than cats. One day Joy told them she was sorry but had decided to move into town with her boyfriend, to be closer to the university.

The attic didn’t take much cleaning. Although the wax on the floor caused Alice to shudder at the thought of candles burning in such a flammable structure.

Against his wife’s advice, Jim hired a writer with a bushy beard. Alice didn’t trust men with bushy beards, or writers. The man slept until noon every day and did only the basics of the job. Days went by without fresh food and water for the animals. He was soon asked to leave. The attic smelled like a biker bar. Crumpled pieces of paper mixed with stale crumbs and tin foil TV dinner containers littered the floor. They took two truckloads of empty wine and liquor bottles to the recycling depot.

Alice didn’t say anything but had that smug ‘I told you so’ look on her face.

Two women in cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and fancy boots drove into the yard one summer afternoon. Jo and Jean had been in the rodeo circuit for a time and knew a thing about horses. They told great stories sitting around the picnic table with Jim and Alice, sharing a cup of tea. One day, Jo approached the house in tears. Jean had left in the middle of the night. Jo sobbed uncontrollably and said she didn’t know how she could go on without Jean. Alice made her a cup of chamomile tea and tried to calm her down. She had never seen anyone so upset. Two days later Alice called the paramedics when she found Jo in the attic, passed out in a pool of her own blood. Alice and Jim hired someone to clean up the attic.

A couple in their forties showed up in a pickup truck with the job posting in hand. The wife, a meek little thing who made no eye contact, let her husband do the talking. He convinced Jim he was capable. Jim gave him the job.
Alice had a funny feeling. “She looks like a battered wife.”
“You watch too much Oprah.” Jim shook his head and walked away.
Things went well. The chores got done and the couple kept to themselves. Jim decided they were the best yet. Perhaps Alice should admit she was wrong.

One peaceful, sunny day while Alice washed dishes, she looked out the kitchen window and detected someone hiding behind the big apple tree. Sure enough, it was a man – with a gun. Alice tensed. Another man behind the car shed placed a megaphone to his mouth. “This is the police. Come out with your hands raised and no one will get hurt.”

The husband emerged from behind the barn and ran toward his truck. The police officers moved faster and seconds later he was in handcuffs. Alice never imagined she would witness an arrest in her own back yard. She needed more than a cup of tea to calm her down.

The plain-clothed police officers explained they received an anonymous call to the farm. The husband, known to them, had two previous charges of assault. After they took him away, Alice made her way up to the attic. The wife held her head and rocked back and forth, moaning. Her swollen right eye was turning an ominous purple. Alice offered to call an ambulance but the woman insisted she would be all right until her sister came to pick her up. Alice couldn’t stop shaking for days. Jim refused to talk about it.

Alice took over the hiring process.

Characters of all sorts paraded in and out of that attic over the years. Eventually, Jim and Alice got fed up and moved back to the city. Except for a few items left behind, the attic has stood empty ever since.

A chipped bookcase, holding dusty paperbacks waiting to be read, leans against one wall. A beaten up trunk remains in a dark corner; one item too many to be allowed on the next journey. A moth-eaten blanket, an assortment of old newspapers and a cowboy belt rest inside. A rusty, wrought iron headboard covered in spider webs, holds secrets of amorous nights and lonely days. Extreme happiness and deep sorrow ooze through the faded walls. A poster of Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’ hangs lopsided on one wall surveying the scene with wide-eyed wonder, and silently shrieks.

On windy, rainy nights, some say they hear sobbing. Others say they hear hideous laughter. Children say the attic in the barn is haunted. But don’t children always say that?

photo from Pixabay

It’s good to try writing something different from time to time.

This is my entry in Stevie Turner’s November short-story competition. Let me know what you think. Why not send in one of your own.

https://steviet3.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/share-your-short-story-november/

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The Special Date

Decision made, she laid out her clothes and applied two coats of a subtle shade of melon nail polish to each fingernail and toenail with meticulous detail. Retiring early, the mirror reflected a well-rested woman the following morning. This pleased her. It was important that she look her best for this date.

A girl needs to get her beauty sleep you know, she could hear her mother say.

What would Mother think about this date? Did it matter? Mother passed away many years ago. Why did she still feel the need for her mother’s approval? Was it because she didn’t get it as a young girl, trying so hard to please?

She returned to the mirror and stopped thinking about such things while she dabbed ivory concealer under her eyes and on various spots on her face.

Get rid of those dark circles and spider veins, and ten years will be erased, she assured herself. Like an artist putting the finishing touches to a masterpiece, she applied the rest of her makeup. She needed to look perfect.

Would he appreciate the effort? she wondered while slipping on her new black underwear; bikini panties and a lace push up bra. She glanced at the full-length mirror. Not many women her age could wear this stuff and look good. She kept her body toned by working out regularly and she watched her diet for the most part. She looked closer, noticed a few bulges here and there, and planned to forgo dessert in the future. Although, she was sure he wouldn’t mind.

She stepped into the slinky little black dress with ease, pulled up the zipper in the back and took another look in the mirror. The cleavage looked inviting. Perhaps it was a bit much though. She didn’t want to send out the wrong message. She reached for her favourite silk scarf and tied it loosely around her neck. The black, grey and melon swirls complemented her nail polish. Pleased with the result, she smiled at the reflection in the mirror.

A giddy feeling came over her, making her feel like a school girl. Perhaps she should have a drink, or better still, something light to eat. There was no point being nervous. It will be all right, she reassured herself. She nibbled on a piece of Brie on a slice of a baguette topped with a chunk of cantaloupe while sipping a small glass of chardonnay.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou,” she murmured to herself.

She looked in the mirror once more to fix her hair and felt a burning sensation in her chest. Her breath started to come in short gasps. The recognizable signs of panic began to take over.

I can’t go through with this. What will people think, what will they say?

She wanted to stay home, go back to bed and forget everything. Those old enemies, tears, were about to revisit her.

“Stop it!” she shouted out loud at the confused image in the mirror.

When are you going to stop worrying about what other people think, you stupid woman? 

She managed to pull herself together in time to save her makeup from running. What was she thinking? She certainly didn’t have time to redo it. All she had to do was look lovely, say the right things and keep cool for a couple of hours, and it would soon be over. She reminded herself that she was doing this for him and he was special.

After running a brush through her nutmeg coloured hair, she applied a light coat of hairspray to the bob. She liked the colour of her hair and refreshed the roots every four weeks. She could not understand women who let their hair go grey and grinned when she thought of women not much older than herself with shades of pink and blue-grey hair. They would bury her with nutmeg coloured hair.

She lined her lips with a pencil to make them look fuller and filled them in with lipstick, a melon shade to match the nail polish and scarf. Taking the new, long black jacket off the hanger, she slipped it on over her short dress. It was well tailored and fit her toned body perfectly. He was sure to be impressed.

Something simple but elegant would be the best choice for jewellery. She rummaged through her jewellery box and found a small pair of black pearl earrings that would do the trick. She tried a couple of pins on the lapel of the jacket but nothing looked right, not the butterfly or the cat or the rose. Time was running out. She slammed the lid of the jewellery box as she decided not to wear a pin.

The limousine arrived to pick her up. A quick spray of her favourite perfume before she slipped on her black patent pumps and she was ready. Making her way downstairs, she felt faint and grasped the railing for support. Would she be able to do this? She had never done anything like this before. She took one last look in the hallway mirror, smiled faintly and took a deep breath. She could do this. He was worth it.

Heads turned as an attractive woman walked into the funeral service to say goodbye to the only man she had ever loved; her husband of the past forty years.

 

 

 

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the recent Amanda in New Mexico giveaway. And a huge thank you to all of you who shared and promoted it. It was fun and using Raflecopter made it very easy and fair. I was pleased that there were so many entries that I had Raflecopter pick two winners. So drum roll, please…

The two winners of a copy of Amanda in New Mexico-Ghosts in the Wind are –

Lynn Davidson 
Bette A. Stevens 

Congratulations to both of you. I have contacted you via email.

Book cover Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind by author Darlene Foster

Amanda in New Mexico-Ghosts in the Wind is available at most bookstores, although it may need to be ordered in, and online on the following sites

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.co.uk

Kobo

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family! There is so much to be thankful for. Among many other things, I am thankful for the followers of my blog.

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In Canada, picking a pumpkin is as important as picking a Christmas tree. The trick is to find a sincere pumpkin patch.

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Watch this space, there may be more giveaways!

Book cover Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind by author Darlene Foster

To celebrate the one year launch of Amanda in Mexico-Ghosts in the Wind and just in time for Halloween, I am giving away a copy. Your choice of a print or digital copy if you live in Canada, US or the UK. If you live anywhere else, the prize will be a digital copy.  Simply fill in the Rafflecopter form below. The contest is from September 30th to October 7th, 2018.

Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit an ancient and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past. Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps the Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest adventure of Amanda’s travels.

This is what one reviewer had to say about Amanda in New Mexico.

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind finds student Amanda Ross on a school trip in Taos, New Mexico. While there, her classmate Cleo thinks she sees ghosts. Amanda feels anxious too, sensing that something or someone is watching her. An engaging adventure ensues during their visit to the Land of Enchantment in this sixth book in the fun and educational series for early middle-grade readers. 5/5 Literary Soiree

Click here to enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!!

I am sooo pleased to announce that my story, As The Crow Flies, won runner-up in the September short story contest run by Stevie Turner. Check out the winning story, it is so good, and all the other wonderful entries.

Stevie Turner

Thanks to everybody who submitted their lovely stories this month.  It was hard to pick a winner and runner up, but here goes:

The winner for September is Kelly Wallace-Artieri with her rather touching story ‘I Rang the Bell’.

https://www.kellyartieri.com/single-post/2018/09/16/I-Rang-the-Bell

Congratulations Kelly, you can use this laurel on your website:

SHORT STORY LAUREL WINNER SEP 2018

And the runner-up is Darlene Foster with her horror story ‘As the Crow Flies’:

 https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2018/09/26/as-the-crow-flies/

Congratulations Darlene, and here’s your laurel to use:

SHORT STORY LAUREL RUNNER UP SEP 2018

Do check out all the other great submissions below.  I enjoyed reading them all:

 

Lady Pamela Rose – Petals in the  Wind:  http://achronicalofhope.com/2018/09/03/petals-in-the-wind/

 

Lilly Orchid – Of Dreams and Flying Things:  https://inthesilenceoftheday.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/of-dreams-and-flying-things/comment-page-1/#comment-41

  

Merchant Writes Again – Lips don’t Lie:  https://merchantwritesagain.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/lips-dont-lie/comment-page-1/#comment-518

 

Patrick Walts – With New Eyes:  https://patrickwaltsfiction.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/with-new-eyes/  

 

Phil Huston –  Evan Who?  https://philh52.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/evan-who/ 

 

Robert Kirkendall – The Hill:  https://robertkirkendall.com/2014/10/17/the-hill/comment-page-1/#comment-765  

 

Tallis Steelyard – Sometimes One…

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Stevie Turner is running another short story competition for the month of September over on her blog. The deadline is September 27, so there are still a few more days to enter so why not give it a try and submit something. Here are the details.

This is my entry.

Inge's Denmark photo

photo by Inge Bessmann Norris

As the Crow Flies

by Darlene Foster

A multitude of crows sprang from the misty marshland like bullets fired from a Winchester rifle. Their sorrowful caws fell on deaf ears. The smell of death rose with their nefarious wings as they vanished into the low-lying, ominous clouds.

Leasha absently followed the familiar path. She could have walked it with her eyes closed like she did when she was a child. When she danced happily along the path she loved so much, making up stories in her head and believing her handsome prince would come around a corner any minute.

Before her mother went missing and her father went mad. Before her brothers went to college and her sister moved to the States. She alone remained on the home farm tucked in among the fenlands.

Someone had to be there in case Mother returned.

She looked up at the darkening sky to see crows swarming. She ducked as they whooshed over her. Never before had she seen so many at one time. Trying to recall the collective term for crows, she bent down again, holding her hands over her head as they zoomed by once more.

The crows flew into the marsh, landing in a cluster. Leasha stared at the black mass with raised eyebrows. A whiff of decay drifted her way. She left the path and crept closer.

Feeling her way in the soggy bog, her heart thundered and her breath caught in her throat. She was never allowed off the path. But the crows summoned her.

The crows shrieked louder. The dank, fetid smell grew stronger. She drew nearer.

Images of her mother flashed before her. That last day. Her mother at the sink washing the breakfast dishes, so pretty in her red and white checked shirt-waist dress. Leasha shook her head to erase the image from her mind. It hurt too much.

“I’m going for a walk,” she shouted as she skipped out the door.

“Be careful and stay on the path,” her mother warned, as always.

“Don’t worry. I will.”

She got caught in a sudden rain shower and found refuge by a large rock. When she arrived home everyone was waiting for her. Everyone but her mother. Her lovely mother who had gone to look for her but never came back.

Leasha squeezed her eyes shut and brushed a tear from her cheek. She opened her eyes and saw it. A piece of red and white checked cloth in the beak of a wicked crow.

“Where did you get that?” she shouted as she stumbled after the pilferer, her water laden hiking boots heavy and cumbersome.

She fell face first in the slimy mud. She reached for the reeds to hoist herself up. They parted revealing the myriad of crows. Crows resting on bones. Bones partially covered with a grimy ripped red and white dress.

Leasha choked back a scream.

Mother had returned as she knew she would.

She remembered the term.

A murder of crows.

 

 

Stevie Turner has invited all writers to enter her short story competition for January. I would suggest you give it a go. Enter at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/share-your-short-story-january-2018/

This is my entry. Let me know what you think.

Solar Eclipse 

by Darlene Foster

Audrey rolled out of bed, looked out the window and decided this day would be her last. She saw no point in going on. Her life had become abysmal.

No one called except telemarketers and people taking surveys. As if her opinion counted. No one ever stopped in for a visit either. Many of her friends were dead; the others had gradually disappeared from her life.

A dish with mouldy cat food sat in the corner. How long had the cat been dead? How long had she been so unhappy? She had lost track of time.

Loneliness engulfed her and left a crater in her heart.

She pulled apart the curtains and peered out her kitchen window. The rain continued to pour down like it had for months, or so it seemed. Audrey couldn’t remember the sun anymore. The sun had disappeared like her friends.
When did her life change? How did it happen? She recalled that once she laughed, and sang, and danced. The sun used to shine. That was a different person – another life.

It grew darker outside. Audrey shivered and let the curtains drop.

Was it after Charlie died? That was a tough time. She felt sad back then and cried a lot. Her friends rallied around her, took her out, kept her busy. She concentrated on her job as an employment counsellor, helping others find work. She got through it. Life carried on.

She cleared a corner of the dining room table laden with newspapers, dirty dishes and used tissues. After pouring herself a bowl of cereal, she opened the fridge. The smell of rotten vegetables and stale bread wafted out as she searched for the milk carton. The light in the fridge burnt out a while ago. Three drops of milk dribbled from the container. So much for that. She certainly wasn’t going out for more. Why bother eating anyway if she wasn’t going to be around for much longer.

No point in getting dressed either. Nothing fit. She looked down at the stained nightgown she had been wearing for weeks. A threadbare housecoat that refused to close in front, covered her heavy body. Where did this body come from? Clearly, it was not hers. She ran her hands through her greasy, grey hair. When did she stop colouring it? What did it matter?

Perhaps it was after she retired. Was that when her life went to shit? When the sun went into hiding? She spent the last few years submerged in a virtual fog.

She lumbered to the mailbox in fuzzy slippers. Nothing of interest ever came but checking the mailbox was a habit. Her spotted hand shook as she inserted the key. The door swung open and a multitude of flyers tumbled out. She left them on the floor of the apartment lobby. Someone else could pick them up and throw them away. Someone who was going to be around tomorrow. She began to close the miniature door.

A flash of colour caught her eye. The blue was so bright it hurt her eyes. Like someone had suddenly turned on the overhead light while she watched TV in the dark. She squeezed her eyes tight and then opened them again. The patch of blue remained and beckoned like a neon light outside a downtown bar.

She reached in and pulled out the small rectangular object. What´s this? A postcard? She studied the picture of dazzling-blue water and a clear blue sky. A lone palm tree overlooked the scene and a white sailboat floated in the sun. Sun! She thought she would never see the sun again. Her frozen body began to feel warmth.

Audrey turned over the card.

The unexpected jolt of colour was from her old friend and coworker, Lillian, one of the disappeared who moved to Spain a few years ago. She was inviting Audrey to come to Spain and spend some time with her.

Audrey returned to her apartment, blew the dust off the neglected computer and turned it on. She checked her savings account. Charlie left her a decent amount of money that she barely touched. She had almost forgotten about it.

She placed the postcard on the mantle, took a shower, pulled on jogging pants and a sweatshirt, applied some makeup and ventured outside. After calling in at the travel agent where she bought a ticket to Spain, she purchased a new housecoat, some clothes that fit and milk for the next day’s breakfast. She cleaned the apartment and threw out the cat dish, food and all.

The rain stopped and the sun emerged from behind a cloud.

Her last day could wait.

 


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