Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Collector

Jodi needed more badges. She already had her Knots, her Woodcraft, her Homemaker and her Sewing badges. But that wasn’t enough. The other girls in her troop had so many badges that their sleeves were overflowing. She just had to catch up! But how?

Looking out her window at the snow-covered back yard on McLynn Avenue in Montreal, she suddenly realized that she could do a 2-fer. She could get her Winter Survival Crafts badge and her Hiking badge all in one, simply by tramping through the woods on Mount Royal and having a cookout in the snow. Come to think of it, she could earn her Orienteering badge at the same time. And, if she could convince her kid sister to come along, she might even wangle her Baby Sitting badge. A 4-fer! Not bad for a single Saturday outing.

Fortunately, eight-year old Babs was so stunned to be invited to share an adventure with her 'big sister' that she didn’t think of objecting to being dragged through the woods on a cold winter day. Jodi proposed her plan to her troop leader, Captain Maude, who agreed to the ambitious agenda, and arranged to meet the girls at the scenic overlook at 3:00 the following Saturday, to formally attest to Jodi's accomplishments.

Saturday morning, Mom filled a large thermos with hot cocoa, which Jodi fitted into her knapsack beside the packages of hot dogs, buns, chips, condiments, matches and aluminum foil. Jodi's Dad dropped the girls off at their starting point, and the adventure began. The hiking route ran along a well-marked winding path from Beaver Lake, which was halfway up the mountain, through an open field and into the woods. It took only a half hour before the whining started. “Jodi, I’m cold,” she heard from Babs, who was dragging along behind her. “And I gotta pee.

It was a short detour to the public restrooms, where Babs took a minute to undo her snowsuit, two minutes to take care of business, and ten minutes to suit back up. “C’mon, Sis,” Jodi urged. “We’re behind schedule. We need to be at the top of the hill in an hour so that we can have our picnic before Captain Maude gets there.

I’m going as fast as I can. This snow is so deep, an' it’s getting inside my boots.” Jodi could hear her sister’s tears close to the surface. Just try to walk where I’ve walked,” she suggested, not unkindly, as she turned around to see poor Babs struggling through thigh-deep snow. “If you put your feet where mine were, you won’t sink in so far.

But I’m COLD!

You’ll get warm as soon as we start walking up that hill.” Jodi pointed ahead at the path, that was starting to climb into the woods.

I’ll never make it. I want to go home NOW! I WANT MOMMY!” Babs cried, her streaming tears freezing into miniature stalactites as they drooled down her red cheeks.

Mom and Dad are meeting us at the top of the hill - at the scenic overlook - along with Captain Maude,” Jodi assured her, asking herself whether this 4-fer had been such a good idea after all. “Let’s stop a couple of minutes and have some cocoa - it’ll warm you up.

Mollified by the cocoa and the few minutes rest, Babs fell back into line behind Jodi. After what seemed like hours to the eight-year old, they reached the hilltop. “Now for our campfire,” Jodi said, as opened her knapsack and reached inside.

But, there’s snow all over the place. How’re you gonna make a fire in the snow? I’m hungry an' I’m cold an' you can’t make a fire in the snow. You were fooling me about the fire. I’m gonna tell Mommy on you. You made me come all this way and there’s no fire to cook the hot dogs and I WANNA GO HOME NOW!

Oh, shush,” Jodi exclaimed, more than a little exasperated, a piece of aluminum foil and box of matches in her hands. "Let's gather some sticks. I’ll make a fire. You’ll see!

Still grumbling, Babs helped Jodi gather wood. Carefully, Jodi unfolded a piece of aluminum foil and placed it on top of the snow. Then she removed a sheet of newspaper from her knapsack, crumbled it and placed it on the foil. She used some of the small twigs to build a tepee around the ball of newspaper, and built up small log walls around the tepee.

What are you doing?” Babs asked, intrigued in spite of herself. “You said you were making a fire, but that looks like doll houses made out of sticks.

Just watch and learn,” Jodi proclaimed in her smuggest ‘big sister’ tone, as she struck a match and held the flame to the paper.

The crumbled newspaper caught and sent its flames through the tepee, setting fire to the small sticks. As the tepee began to burn, Jodi carefully pushed the log walls closer to the flames, feeding the fire with larger and larger pieces of wood. Soon, the fire was hot enough to dry Babs’ tears and to burn the hot dogs to a crisp - the best way to eat hot dogs on a cold winter day.

Did you girls have a good time?

Jodi and Babs turned to see Mom and Dad, with Captain Maude standing beside them. Oh, yes,” Babs replied breathlessly. “This was fun. Can we do it again tomorrow?

2013© Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this story was a winter experience.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Treasure Hunt

Brenda struggled mightily with the rusty hinges and warped wood of the door that was leaning against the basement wall, as Jodi watched from a safe distance. There was no way that she was going to touch it - the door was enveloped with layers of cobwebs, spun by several dozen generations of spiders. Jodi hated spiders!

I don’t know why you’re messing with that filthy old thing,” Jodi exclaimed. "It’s just a door. All you’re going to see behind it is a wall.” At last, the door yielded reluctantly to Brenda’s persistent efforts. To the amazement of both girls, instead of opening onto the basement wall against which it appeared to be leaning, the door swung wide to reveal a tunnel.

Brenda and Jodi peered together through the doorway. They looked at each other, shrugged to mask their mutual fears, and stepped cautiously, hand-in-hand, into the unknown. The tunnel was very civilized. Though it exuded a slightly musty odor, it was clean and had no cobwebs - much to Jodi’s relief. The floor was paved with flagstones, the walls were polished marble, and the ceiling emitted a gentle, pulsating luminosity, as though from a massive congregation of fireflies.

The girls walked for what seemed like hours. “I’m getting thirsty,” Jodi complained. “And, I’m hungry, too. Doesn’t this tunnel ever end?

No sooner had she spoken than the straight tunnel began to curve - first to the right, then to the left. The girls stopped suddenly when a series of sharp curves delivered them to a fork in the tunnel. By now, they had lost all sense of direction. Neither of them knew where they were or which way to turn. Both paths looked identical; both routes beckoned. How to choose?

They stood silently, in their indecision. “Let’s go left,” Brenda said, just as Jodi exclaimed “Let’s go right.” The left arm of the tunnel seemed to pulsate more rapidly in response to the girls' voices, and Jodi yielded to Brenda’s instinct. Soon, they came to a splintered old door. Tentatively, Brenda touched it with one finger. The door swung open, to reveal a basement filled with stacks of junk -

  • an old trunk
  • a broken baby stroller
  • torn picture albums
  • a bicycle with the handlebars missing
  • several full bags of miscellaneous trash

They were home!

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this piece was "spring cleaning."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

In A Fog

Bob and Lily had a long-standing date for Valentine’s Day, and he always brought roses. He rang the doorbell and waited. No answer. “Damn the fog!” he thought. “This must be the right house.” He rang again. “Just come on in,” a voice called out. “It’s open.

Bob walked into the vestibule and looked around. Lily had redecorated since he had last been inside her house. He didn’t think it had been that long, but she always was efficient.

Sorry I’m taking so long,” the voice called out. “My zipper is stuck. Can you come up and help?” Gee, that didn’t sound like Lily, Bob told himself. Maybe she has a cold?

He walked to the foot of the staircase, still holding the bouquet, and started up the stairs. “I’m on my way. Be there in a sec.” Suddenly, he heard a soft rustle coming from above. He looked up, startled.

What the …..?” he sputtered. “Who are you and where’s Lily?

I’m Maureen. Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my house?” she riposted angrily. “Are you Tom?

Tom? Who’s Tom? What have you done with Lily?

Lily? Who the hell is Lily? I’m Maureen. This is my home, and I’m expecting Tom. I met him on Facebook, and we have a date for tonight.

"Um... I guess this isn't 1225 Maple?" Bob ventured.

No, this is 1225 Sycamore. Maple is one block over.

Bob reddened in embarrassment, mumbled an apology, and turned to go.

Wait,” Maureen said, her voice perceptibly more welcoming as she slowly walked downstairs, the fingers of her hand tickling the banister. She reached the foot of the staircase, and held out her hand invitingly. “Let’s start over. My name’s Maureen.

Bob took her right hand and pressed it to his lips. “And I’m Bob.

Those are beautiful roses,” she whispered. “Won’t you have a seat in the living room while I put them in water?

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this piece was a picture of a young man standing at the foot of a staircase, staring up at a beautiful woman who was smiling enigmatically down at him.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Quest

It was a typical January day - minus 20ºF. A good day for indoor chores like dusting furniture, washing floors or scrubbing the shower.

Marcia had stripped to her underwear and was kneeling inside the white-tiled shower stall. She was attacking the grey-brown grout with a plastic ‘Scrubby’ sponge and some cleanser, trying to restore the original pristine white color of the grout lines. It was a painstaking process, but what else was there to do on a January day in Winnipeg?

Marcia had been at her task for about an hour when she paused to admire her progress. One wall done - just two more walls and the shower floor to go. She’d be finished in time to prepare dinner. She moistened her Scrubby, shook the can of cleanser, and was about to start on the second wall when she realized that the can was empty. Oh well, better get the spare can, she thought. Fortunately, no one could see into her apartment, which was on the 14th floor of the tallest building in the neighborhood.

Paddling barefoot to the kitchen cupboard where her cleaning supplies resided between their occasional outings, Marcia reached for a virgin can of cleanser. But the spare can that she knew (or thought she knew) to be in the cupboard could not be found. Then she remembered. Only the week before, a neighbor asked to 'borrow' some cleanser and Bob, her accommodating husband, handed over their last unopened can. Unfortunately, she didn’t know which neighbor had kidnapped her cleanser.

Sighing, Marcia dressed and prepared to track down the errant cleanser. Most likely, it had come to rest at one of the other units on her floor. She knocked at apartment 1401. No answer. Apartments 1403 and 1404, likewise. Finally, her knock at 1405 brought results. “Oh yes, dearie,” silver-haired Mrs. Stickley replied with a gentle smile as she rested her hand on Marcia’s forearm. “That was so nice of your Bob to give me the cleanser. I used some and then that sweet Mr. Selby in apartment 1208 asked if he could borrow it. You know - that nice old man who is hard of hearing. No, I don’t know his phone number. But he’s almost always home. Why, he told me only last week...

Marcia escaped from Mrs. Stickley’s tender but insistent grasp, and rode the elevator down to the 12th floor. After five minutes of progressively louder knocks, Mr. Selby finally opened his door a crack and peered out. “What's that you said? The cloister? Oh, the cleanser? Yes, I remember now. Mrs. Stickley said that she didn’t need it back, so I gave the rest to Mrs. Pewarchuk in 705.

One hour later, after following a trail that led from Mrs. Pewarchuk in 705, to Mr. Soames in 1002, and thence to Mlle. Lefebvre in 306, Marcia arrived, tired but victorious, back at her own door. As she reached into her pocket for the key, her air of triumph transformed into frustration. She turned abruptly, rode the elevator down to the lobby and rang for the superintendent. “I’ve locked myself out of my apartment,” Marcia growled into the intercom speaker. “Could you please come up to 1402 and open the door?

Ya, OK,” a tinny voice crackled back at her. “I be there soon soon.

In no time at all - only a half hour or so - Marcia reentered her apartment, clutching her cleanser. She undressed, walked back into the shower stall, wet her Scrubby, shook the can and stared in disbelief. Not even a single white grain on the sponge! Just then, the phone rang. She raced to answer, almost slipping on the bathroom floor in her haste.

Hello, honey,” she heard Bob say. “How’s your day going?

Dear,” she replied, “you don’t want to hear about it!

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this piece of fiction was "You don't want to hear about it."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Murder At The Marriott

Toby and George had just settled down to bed. This was the family’s first winter vacation together and the boys were loving every minute of it. “Now go right to sleep,” Mom admonished. “Dad and I are going to the supper club in the hotel lobby. Call the desk if you need anything.

The boys were sound asleep within minutes - a full day of skiing at Aspen will do that - and all was peaceful, until …

What was that?” eight-year-old Toby exclaimed. “What was that noise? Are you awake, George? Did you hear it? George, wake up! I’m scared!

George sat up groggily and looked around. Then he heard it - the unmistakable sound of rapidly approaching sirens. “Mom, Dad, wake up,” he called. “Don't you hear the sirens? What’s going on?

There was no answer from the other side of the room. George sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. The clock read 2:00 am. His parents’ bed was empty; the blanket corners still turned down invitingly, and the hotel’s signature chocolate mints lying undisturbed on the pillows. He and Toby were alone in the room.

I’m scared, George,” Toby said again, his lower lip trembling noticeably. “I want Mom and Dad. Where are they? Why aren’t they here?

George thought for a moment, then picked up the receiver and dialed the front desk. “Hello? Is that the desk? My name is George. My brother and I are all alone in room 725. We’re looking for our Mom and Dad. Can you find them? I think they went to some club in the hotel. It’s real late, and Toby - that's my brother - he heard some strange noises and he’s scared.

Sorry. Can’t leave the desk,” was the abrupt reply from the anonymous functionary. “There’s been some trouble in the lobby and we all have to stay put. The police are here. Just stay in your room. You’ll be safe enough there.

George hung up the phone, his complexion pale enough to do justice to a ghost. “We’re getting dressed and going downstairs,” he announced to Toby. “That desk guy was useless. We’ll find Mom and Dad ourselves.

Minutes later, they were in the elevator. As they were about to step out into the lobby, they were stopped by a uniformed officer, who glared down at them. “And who might you be?” the officer demanded. 

We’re looking for our Mom and Dad, sir,” George stammered. “They shoulda been back in our room hours ago. We heard a noise and were scared, and that man at the desk told us that the police were here. We were too scared to stay in the room by ourselves, and we gotta know what's happened to our Mom and Dad.

Just then, Toby ducked under the outstretched arms of the officer and ran towards a disheveled woman with a large red stain on the front of her dress. He flung himself into his mother’s arms. “Where were you?” he sobbed. “What happened to you? Are you all right? We heard strange noises and sirens and you weren’t in the room and the guy at the desk wouldn’t help and we got scared and we came to find you.

The officer sighed. “Well, that tears it,” he said in disgust. “Next time you folks volunteer to be the victims for a murder mystery supper club, kindly leave your kids at home.”

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this story was a photograph of a ski lodge in the Colorado Rockies.