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Goodbye WEGO Health Challenge, Hello Blogathon

In April I participated in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I published a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

I am now participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I first started Running For Autism a little over two years ago, my blogging was an airy-fairy kind of affair. My original intent was for this to primarily be a running blog, but it morphed very quickly into far more than that. Running is such an important part of who I am, and it is frequently difficult to squeeze it in with all of the other responsibilities I have, and I found impossible to write about it without adding the context of my life. For example, how could I write about running to raise funds for autism without trying to raise some awareness about the impact of autism on my life?

And so my subject matter started expanding to include posts about parenting and autism. As my wedding day approached and I started feeling the typical angst of a bride-to-be, my blog became a place for me to vent about my stress and toss around ideas for how to plan a wedding that both of my children could be fully involved in. At some point I started to try my hand at fiction in the Indie Ink writing challenges. A little while after that, I felt a little glimmer of bravery that allowed me to tentatively start discussing my struggles with depression.

Even as I cast my net of topics wider and grew my audience, I found it difficult to prioritize my blogging. I have a lot on my plate. I am a wife and mother. I have a child with autism. I have a full-time job outside of the home that involves two hours of commuting each day. I help my husband with his business and take care of making sure bills are paid and taxes are filed. I run. I have a commitment to write three articles a week for an ezine.

Inevitably, blogging took a back seat to all of this, and I was posting once or twice a week if I was lucky.

When WEGO Health sent me an email inviting me to participate in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to see it through to completion. I mean, we were talking about a blog post every day for a month. In the end I signed up, spurred on by the fact that the challenge coincided with Autism Awareness Month. This seemed like a great opportunity not only to give my writing a boost, but to spread the word about autism and offer some hope and encouragement to parents feeling overwhelmed by a newly acquired diagnosis.

We have now reached the end of what turned out to be a very successful challenge. The prompts that were provided offered new ways for me to think about the health focuses that matter most to me – autism, mental health and running. I had to really dig deep and be honest with myself and with the world – or at least, the corner of the world that reads my blog. I had some moments of soul-searching, and I found myself addressing questions that I’ve never had the courage to ask before.

There were two days on which the prompts just couldn’t work for me. Try as I might, I could not get past the writer’s block. The challenge rules allowed two “get out of post free” days, but I was loathe to use them. Instead, I turned to the list of bonus prompts that were provided just for occasions like that. As a result, I published a post every day in April.

Through this challenge, I gained some new readers, and some great new blogs to follow. I read some incredible stories of courage and perseverance. So many aspects of health were covered in this challenge: diabetes, cancer, mental illness, special needs parenting, and so many others.

When you read so many stories of people fighting to survive, going to the ends of the earth for their children, and using their own painful experiences to help their fellow man, it really gives you renewed faith in the awesomeness of humankind.

Thank you to WEGO Health for putting this challenge out there. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for taking me on journeys that I could never have otherwise imagined. And thank you to everyone who reads my blog, who leaves comments or clicks the “like” button, or who shares my posts on Facebook or Twitter. It means a lot to me to know that my voice is being heard.

I am compiling a list of fellow bloggers who took the challenge, and when my new website is launched, they will be on the blogroll.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariareyesmcdavis/2890706354/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Taking Care Of Mom: A Story Of Survival

I don’t usually take calls on my cell phone during meetings, least of all calls from numbers that I do not recognize.

Answer the phone, said a little voice in my head. It was the same little voice that has guided me many times in the past, the little voice that I always listen to, because when I don’t, I regret it.

I excused myself from the meeting and answered the phone.

To my surprise, it was the lady at the pharmacy down the road from my parents’ house. My mother had come in to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, and while she was there she had started complaining of abdominal pain. Could I please come and get her and take her to a doctor right away?

Bear in mind that this happened in a country that did not have 9-1-1. I was definitely a better and faster bet than the local ambulance service.

I made the fifteen-minute drive to the pharmacy in about eight minutes, only to find that my mother was not there.

“I’m sorry,” said the lady at the pharmacy. “We couldn’t wait. Your mother really needed to see the doctor immediately, so Michael drove her.”

I didn’t know who Michael was, but that was the least of my worries. I thanked the lady and drove to the doctor’s office. I was ushered into the consulting room immediately, and Michael – who turned out to be a kindly delivery man – was free to leave.

My mother was lying on the examination table writhing in pain. Her body was burning up with an ever-climbing fever and her face was the colour of paper. The doctor, who I had known for years and who had always, up until this moment, been completely unflappable, was trying everything she could. Although she was displaying an admirable calmness, I could see undercurrents of desperation.

An ambulance had been summonsed. It arrived and ferried my mother off to the hospital, with me following in my car.

At some point during all of this chaos I got in touch with my dad and my brother, who were out of town on separate business trips. While I took care of admission paperwork at the hospital, they were trying to get themselves onto last-minute flights home.

With the admin taken care of, all I could do was wait. I discovered that hospital waiting areas are every bit as bleak and depressing as movies make them out to be. After what felt like hours, the doctor came out to see me. The bad news was that my mother had an infection so severe that her kidneys were failing. The good news was that the fever was under control and the pain was being managed. I was allowed to go in to see my mother. She looked dreadful, but with the pain and fever taken care of, she was at least able to talk a little.

She was very afraid – and who wouldn’t be? I was terrified myself but trying hard not to show it. The doctor came back into the room and gave my mother some milky-looking medicine. She sipped the cloudy colloid as I gave her assurances that she was OK, she would be OK, the doctors were taking care of her.

I’m not sure when my dad and brother arrived. All I know is that at some point, they faded into the hustle and bustle as people entered and left the room, trying to get my mother’s body to work the way it was supposed to.

This story has a good ending. My mother recovered and thankfully she is in good health.

On some dreaded day – hopefully a long way in the future – I will lose my mom, because no-one lives forever.

But I am eternally grateful to whatever powers prevail that that day, Mom stayed with us.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Cedar challenged me with “She sips the cloudy colloid. ” and I challenged Leo with “Tell a story that makes a lot of use of contrasts, like light/dark, big/small etc.”

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A Father, A Daughter, And Cricket

April 2005

It is a mild Saturday morning and I am home alone with my son. I am enormously tired: I put this down to the fact that I am newly pregnant and my body is devoting all of its energy to the growing of a new human being.

My 18-month old son is curled up on the couch with me, and we are watching TV. He has no interest in the kid’s programs, so I am flicking through the channels in search of something good.

Unexpectedly, I come across coverage of a One Day International cricket match between South Africa and England. This is a surprise because Canada is not big on cricket, despite the fact that many of its immigrants come from cricket-playing nations.

Delighted, I settle in to watch. I start describing the rules of cricket to my son and he listens intently, as if he knows exactly what I am talking about. Or perhaps he just realizes that he’s a captive audience.

The South African fielder throws the ball towards the stumps and the batsman is run out. Instantly, I am taken back to a summers’ day long ago, when my father took me to my first-ever cricket match.

February, 1992

I was 22 years old, and having gone away to university for a few years, I was now back living with my parents. I walked into the living room one day to find Dad yelling at the TV, calling someone a “damned idiot”. I looked at the screen: cricket. A sport that had never managed to grab my interest, mostly because I had never paid any attention to it. I always thought it seemed unnecessarily complicated.

On this particular day, for whatever reason, I didn’t simply tune out. I stared at the screen and asked Dad, “How does this game work, anyway?”

And Dad, thrilled to have a pupil, explained the game to me as it unfolded. By the end of that day, I was hooked. The intricacies and strategizing of the game suited my personality perfectly. The numbers geek in me loved the mathematical formulas and equations that came part-and-parcel with the commentary.

And so, when Dad offered to take me to a match the following weekend – a one-day provincial match – I eagerly accepted.

To say that the day was exciting would be a big understatement. By lunchtime on the day of the match, I completely understood why Dad got so passionate about this sport.

It was a riveting match – one of those where you cannot tell until the very last ball is bowled who will be victorious.

It’s the most basic cricket equation. Six runs to win with one over to go, and one wicket in hand. Simply translated: a run had to be scored off of each of the six remaining balls in the match, and a single mistake would mean defeat for the batting team.

It came right down to the wire. One run needed to win. One ball left to be bowled. One very shaky-looking batsman standing at the wicket. It could go either way.

Dad and I, who had spent a wonderful day together, just the two of us, held our breath and watched.

The bowler measured out his run-up, paused, and started loping back towards the batsman. He exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, and the ball flew through the air. The batsman swung and missed, and the ball went sailing past him and hit the wicket so hard that the middle stump broke.

And so the team that Dad and I had  been rooting for lost by the narrowest of margins. It was an incredibly exciting day, and now that Dad is no longer with us, it is a father-daughter memory that I will treasure forever.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Allyson challenged me with “Take the opening line from the book you’re reading. Use that somewhere in the middle of your piece.” and I challenged Jester Queen with “Tell us about an event that forces you to abandon a belief that’s been with you all your life.”

The book I am reading is a wonderfully humourous mix of fact and fiction called “What I Love About Cricket”, written by Sandy Balfour. It opens with the following sentence: “It’s the most basic cricket equation.”

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Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)

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The Final Rose

I am at the top of the hill with the humans. The rain that threatened earlier has held off and the sun has come out. I can feel the warmth touching me lightly. The humans cannot see me, but it’s not their fault. They feel my presence, but they do not realize that I still have a physical form, albeit one that has almost faded completely. If they were looking intently through one of the shafts of sunlight, they might just be able to make me out. But even if they could, they might not realize it was me.

I was a human myself until very recently, although my memory of that time is fading fast. I know that this place, and these people, were somehow important to me, but I do not know what my name was or how I left my human form.

One of the humans is talking while the others listen. Some kind of water is leaking out of their eyes. I detect a great deal of sadness in the group and I somehow feel that it has something to do with me. I wish I could comfort them, but I instinctively know that they must find their comfort from one another.

Now the humans are taking turns to take a gray powdery substance out of a little wooden box and scatter it to the winds. I feel a very strong connection with that substance, as strong as the connection I felt a couple of days ago when I saw the body I used to inhabit. Two of the humans are climbing out onto a ledge holding the box. One of them pours the rest of the gray powder under a tree, and the other reverently places the box beside a rock.

What a strange ritual. My memory has dissipated too much for me to understand it, but even though I cannot be seen, I feel as if I am a central element in what is happening.

The humans are starting to make their way down the hill, some more quickly than others. Unseen, I flit between them and among them, catching snippets of conversation as I go. They are taking care of each other, the humans are, making sure everyone gets down the hill safely. I see a woman taking off her hat and tenderly placing it onto the head of an older woman to shield her from the hot sun. I sense a lot of distance among this group. Some of the humans have come from far, far away. Some of them have not seen each other for a long time. Even though my sense of who they are is so vague, I feel unsurpassable happiness at the sight of them together, leaning on one another, supporting one another.

With me in tow, the humans reach a house, and a jolt of crystal-clear memory pierces me. This was my home when I was a human. I lived here for a long, long time. As I look at the woman who had received the hat coming down the hill, the word “sister” floats into my consciousness, along with a sense that we spent a lot of time together in this house. A sense of loss emanates from all of the humans, but none so much as this woman who was my sister. I hope she will be OK. I think she will. Everyone seems to be rallying around her.

The woman who had given my sister the hat wanders off into the garden. I decide to go with her. She walks slowly, stopping now and then to smell a flower or look around her. She cannot see me, but I feel that she knows I am there. I float along beside her for a while, looking at her face that seems to be lined with sadness and her shoulders that slump under the weight of regret. Regret for what, I don’t know.

I feel that I have to give her something, some kind of comfort, but since I left my human form, I have been unable to communicate with the humans. I drift away, in search of some way to leave a message.

I find myself standing among some rose bushes. All of the flowers on them are dead, and for some reason that makes me very sad. These roses must have meant something to me.

All of a sudden, I know what I have to do.

I embrace one of the dead roses, enveloping every part of it with my being. I infuse it with my energy, and I become one with the flower as the petals start to fill with colour.

When the human comes around the corner moments later, she stops as she sees a single red rose in the rose garden. She approaches me and gently touches one of my petals. She inhales deeply as the sweet scent of the flower fills the air.

She knows it’s me. I can tell from the way she stands looking at me for a long time, and from the way she lovingly says goodbye before she turns and walks away.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, kgwaite challenged me with “Write a story from the perspective of someone just entering or just about to leave earth (or life).” and I challenged Eric Limer with “Write a story in which social media is the main driving force.”

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Beautiful Disaster: A Love Story

When Kathy first met Howard, she didn’t like him very much. She had met him on the Internet, and they had always gotten along great during their online chats. But the second she met him in person, she knew that the chemistry was not right. In spite of herself, she said yes when he asked her to be his girlfriend the third time they went out.

The attraction isn’t always there in the beginning, she rationalized.

The truth was that she was lonely. She had moved into the city six months previously and she didn’t know anyone. She had yet to make any real friends and she was desperate for a human connection. She knew this relationship wouldn’t last, but she thought it would keep away the loneliness for a while.

Kathy’s quest to avoid loneliness would turn out to be very costly. Howard slowly sucked her into a web of manipulation and control. He alienated her from the small amount of social contact that she had, took her for weekends away and “forgot” to bring his credit card to pay the hotels, and forced her into sexual games that she did not feel comfortable with.

One day, Kathy arrived at Howard’s weirdly sterile apartment to find another woman there. When he introduced the woman as his wife, Kathy staggered back in shock. She’d had no idea he was married. He’d always claimed to be divorced.

By the time Kathy left that night, she had discovered that Howard shared everything with his wife. Everything. Including his girlfriends. She limped to her car, broken and humiliated, and wondered about going to the police station.

What would she tell them, though? Hello, officer. I’ve just been raped by the man I’ve been having consensual sex with for the last four months, and his wife. Kathy had not even known until this day that it was possible for a woman to be raped by another woman.

She decided not to go to the police. They wouldn’t believe her. They would laugh at her and she would feel even more ashamed than she already did. She pointed her car towards home and started to drive. What a disaster this had been. She would never use online dating again.

All of a sudden, Kathy was overcome by tears. Great big wrenching sobs that shook her entire body and blinded her vision. She pulled over to the side of the road, lurched out of her car, and stumbled into the park. She sat on a bench and hugged herself tight as she wept. Thank God it was late enough for the park to be empty. If there were people around she would have been making a real spectacle of herself.

She buried her head in her hands and tried to breathe deeply to calm down. She needed to get out of this park and into the safety of her apartment. She needed to lock herself away from the world and wash this nightmarish day from her body.

A shuffling sound made her look up in alarm. A man was standing a few feet away, keeping his distance and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, as if he could smell her fear. “It’s just that I heard you crying. I wanted to see if I could help. I’m Frank, by the way. My name is Frank.”

He stopped talking abruptly and moved a little closer, staring into her eyes. He peered at her intently, as if he had just had a revelation.

“I hope you don’t mind if I say this,” he said hesitantly. “But you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Kathy stared back at him. In that instant, through the layers of her pain, she saw her future in this shy, gentle man.

Yes, Howard had set her on a path of disaster. But it was a disaster that had led her to be in this place, at this time, having a chance encounter with the man who would become her destiny.

It was a beautiful disaster.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, k~ challenged me with “Beautiful disaster” and I challenged Jason Hughes with “Chasing rainbows”

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Countdown

first halfmarathon medal

Three minutes… Will it begin? Or end?

I shift nervously from foot to foot as I look at the crowd around me. The vibe here is immense. I feel like the collective energy created by these twenty thousand people could lift me up and carry me. I have not slept for a week in anticipation of this day, but that does not matter. Standing here, it is impossible to feel tired.

Two and a half minutes… Will these 13.1 miles make me or break me?

It all started six months ago with an email. A local autism centre was entering a team into this race. Was I interested in joining, to raise funds for autism services? My first reaction was: You must be joking. At the time I was tipping the scales at almost two hundred pounds, which was a lot for a woman whose pre-pregnancy weight had been 130 pounds. I had let myself go to seed following the birth of my younger son. Exercise was a four-letter word to me. I found it impossible to lift myself out of the post-partum depression I was still suffering from for long enough to walk to the mailbox and back. And now these people wanted me to run a race?

Two minutes… Will this race be the fruition of all my efforts? Or will it make me slink back into depression?

I deleted the email, but its contents pulled at a thread in my mind. I was in very bad shape, both mentally and physically. It was clear that I needed some impetus to get myself sorted out. Could this be it? Did I finally have the right reason to get up and do something? Would this venture even be possible?

One and a half minutes… Will I have the strength to go the distance? Or will I give up and not finish the race?

I recovered the email from my Deleted Items folder. If I decided to join the team, I could choose a distance. I ruled out the marathon – it would definitely be too much. I considered the 5 kilometre run, but somehow this did not seem to be enough. If I was actually going to do this, I wanted it to be a real challenge. I’ve never been one for doing things in moderation. Either I don’t do it at all, or I go all out. Abruptly, I checked my thinking. Was I seriously thinking of attempting the half-marathon? Was I crazy?

One minute… Will this endeavour cement my newfound love of running? Or will it make me toss my running shoes into the back of the closet forever?

My thoughts drifted to my older son. My beautiful boy with autism, so loving and full of promise. He could go so far and accomplish so much, but he would need help along the way. He would need services and social supports and programs, all of which cost money. The autism centre was hoping to raise funds to finance exactly the kinds of programs that are needed by kids with autism. I could be doing this for my son.

Thirty seconds… Do we proactively give our kids the best possible chances to overcome their challenges? Or do we just sit back and hope for the best?

Just like that, the thread in my mind – the one that the email had been gently pulling at – unravelled. I knew what I had to do. I pulled out my calendar and looked up a few online training programs. I worked out that in six months, I just about had time to train for a half-marathon. I signed up and got to work. And now here I was at the start line, fifty pounds lighter, and although not exactly fleet of foot, at least capable of running for a couple of hours.

The starter’s siren goes off and the crowd surges forward. As I cross the start line, I put a picture of my son in my head and run from the heart.

(Postscript: I finished that first half-marathon in almost two and a half hours. I remember the lump in my throat as I crossed the finish line and the tears that sprang to my eyes when I received my finisher’s medal. Every step of that race was dedicated to my son. Since then, I have done two more half-marathons for autism, and this year I will be doing it again. In my three autism runs to date, I have raised about $1500 for the Geneva Centre for Autism. My sons – the child with autism and his loving, caring brother – are my inspiration. I would run to the ends of the earth for them.)

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Shauntelle challenged me with "Write a story that begins "Three minutes. Will it begin? Or end?"" and I challenged Head Ant with "Write a story that includes the following: a dreamcatcher; red high-heeled boots; a broken wine glass."

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The Man On The Train

By the time I got onto the train I was exhausted. I’d been up until almost midnight finishing my packing, and when I’d woken up I’d forgotten where I’d packed my passport. The cab had been late and there had been an accident on the highway. I had made it to the train station with seconds to spare.

I  was so tired it hurt. As the train started pulling out of the station I relaxed gratefully into my seat and closed my eyes. I was almost asleep when I became aware of movement near me. I opened my eyes to see an old man sitting down opposite me. He was tall and skinny with long white hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. As I said good morning to him, he stared at me in a disconcerting way. I closed my eyes again.

A couple of minutes later I opened my eyes to see the old man still staring at me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

He kept staring at me in silence – the kind of silence that gets louder and louder with each passing second.

All of a sudden, he spoke in a deep Southern accent that I really had concentrate on to understand him. What he said took me completely by surprise.

“My maw was making gravy for the chicken when my paw died.”

“Oh,” I said hesitantly. Then, because I felt that I had to, I asked, “What happened?”

“Well,” he said, in his peculiar gravelly voice. “I was just a boy then. I just come in from the fields with Paw. The chicken and the potatoes and all was already done, and Maw had the gravy in this jug, beatin’ it with a wooden spoon like she was trying to punish it.

“All’s a sudden, the dog barks outside, right outside the window. Maw gets a fright and drops the jug. The jug bounces on the counter, and gravy goes everywhere. Some of it splatters on the cat that’s sittin’ on top of the ’fridgerator. The cat gets a fright and jumps right onto Paw’s back. And Paw is spinning round and around, tryin’ to get the cat off his back. He loses his footin’, topples over and hits his head on the corner of the stove – one of them old cast-iron stoves. By the time he hit the floor he was a goner.”

As he finished the story, the old man buried his face in his hands. I felt a stab of compassion for him. What a terrible thing for a young boy to witness. But then the old man looked up again and I realized he was laughing.

“It was the most ridic’lous sight,” he said, slapping his knee with mirth. “My old man, drunk as a lord, spinning around with a cat on his back. Butt-ugly cat it was too!”

The old man was laughing so hard that he was choking and wheezing, and tears were streaming from his bright blue eyes.

“Wow,” I said, genuinely taken with the story. And then, because I’d been watching Murder Mysteries while packing the previous night, I asked, “What did the police say when they came? Did they believe you and your Mom when you told them what happened?”

“Well now,” the old man whispered conspiratorially as he leaned forward. “We never actually called the ’thorities. We couldn’t, you see. Far as everyone in town was concerned, Paw had already been dead for years.

“You see, he had one of them fancy life insurance things. So when we was down on our luck one year, he burned out his tractor and Maw reported him missing. Last seen drivin’ off in the tractor, that’s what she told the sheriff. They didn’t have no fancy ways to prove nothin’ back then, so they just assumed he was dead. Maw got a pile of cash and Paw just stayed hidden. No-one ever came to see us, so as long as Paw was in the house or on his fields, we was OK.”

“So when he died, what did you do with – um – you know, him?” I asked. This story was unreal.

“Down past the apple trees, there was a big clump of dogwood trees, belonging to the neighbours. There was all kinds of bushes and plants growing under the trees. The bush was so thick under there, it was like a jungle. When I needed someplace to hide as a boy, I’d go there. No grown person could get in through all of those bushes and trees and stuff.

“We waited until nightfall, then Maw helped me put Paw on the wheelbarrow. He kept fallin’ off, but finally we got him to that clump of bushes and trees. We got Paw off that wheelbarrow, and I climbed in under them bushes.  Maw pushed, I pulled, and we got him in there. No-one would ever find him there.”

The old man paused. He seemed to be immensely proud of his story. Clearly, his conscience was not bothered by things like insurance fraud and the concealment of human remains.

“But what if your neighbours decided to cut down the trees?” I blurted out, suddenly worried on behalf of the small boy from long ago.

“Why would they do that?” asked the old man, incredulously. “If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?”

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, pamela challenged me with "If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?" and I challenged Seeking Elevation with "In the Canadian city of Toronto, it is illegal to drag a dead horse down the street before midnight. Tell a story – real or fictional – about how this law came to be."

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The Getaway

“Do you not like the salmon, dear?” The matronly old lady bustled around my table, refilling my water glass and clearing away the unused place setting opposite me.

“Oh no, it’s lovely,” I assured her. “I just had a long drive from the city. I’m a little tired.”

The old lady smiled in understanding and moved away. I picked up my fork and poked at the salmon. What had  they done to it? Parts of it were burnt, other parts were so undercooked that they were rubbery and transparent. I put down my fork and took a bite of my bread instead. It was stale, but I didn’t see any mouldy bits and I was feeling faint from hunger.

The old couple who ran this place were so kind, so eager to please. They had fallen over themselves to make me feel welcome. At one point, the old gent had quite literally fallen over himself.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell them their food was inedible. They would have been far too upset. Maybe the chef was just having an off-day.

After dinner I went out (“Just going exploring,” I chirped cheerfully to the old lady, who was now at the front desk.) I bought a sandwich from the local deli and ate it on a bench overlooking the sea. The man at the deli laughed heartily when I told him where I was staying. Apparently, most people who stayed at the small seaside inn ended up there, desperate for food.

Back at the inn, I took a shower and got ready for bed. It didn’t matter that much that the water was cold. It was invigorating, and I did get a blast of scalding heat whenever someone anywhere in the building flushed a toilet. Maybe I would talk to the old man tomorrow and ask if there was some knack to controlling the water temperature.

It took me a long time to go to sleep. The mattress was hard and lumpy, and every time the wind blew outside, the windows rattled alarmingly. Character, I told myself. This place has character.

At about five in the morning I gave up on sleep and decided on a seaside run. I quickly threw on running clothes, glancing around the room as I did so. At least there weren’t any bugs. I always seemed to hear stories of people staying in posh hotels with good food and hot water, and finding bugs.

Ready for my run, I left the room and started making my way down the stairs. There was an elevator here, but I thought that attempting to use it would be pushing my luck.

When I’d gone down half a flight of stairs, I heard two people whispering on the landing below me. That was odd, at this time of the morning. Something about the tone of the whispers made me hide myself behind an enormous frondy plant in a small alcove.

Snippets of the conversation reached me.

“…will find out…not even a real hotel…”

“…know we need the hotel…cover for…police”

My jaw dropped in surprise. From what I could hear, it seemed that the hotel was just a cover for some illegal activity. That would explain why this place was so bad, but what on earth were they doing here? And wasn’t it risky to be doing it in a place where some hotel guest could stumble upon it? It hadn’t taken me long to overhear something – but then again, the owners probably weren’t expecting their guests to be creeping down the stairs at five in the morning.

When the sounds of the whispering started drifting away, I crept out from behind my plant and followed the two people – it turned out to be the old couple! – as discreetly as I could. I just had to find out what was going on. I felt mildly ridiculous, like Nancy Drew, but my curiosity got the better of me.

The old couple went down several flights of stairs, all the way to a large basement. When they opened the door and flicked on the lights, I could not believe my eyes. There before me, was an enormous collection of machines, all seemingly printing vast quantities of money.

What would I do with this information? Would I shop this lovely old couple to the police? Or would I tell them what I had seen?

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Hannah Pratt, who gave me this prompt: You are on a weekend getaway at a secluded place. The food is terrible. The accommodations are awful. However, the staff is so endearing that you do not find it in yourself to complain.
I challenged Cheney with the prompt: You are trapped in an elevator, and realize that the only other person in it is someone who was recently reported missing in mysterious circumstances.

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The End Of Days

Laura might have been dying, but she wasn’t stupid. She chuckled inwardly as she listened to Peter and Holly talk in hushed tones at her bedside. Along with everyone else, they assumed that because she was non-responsive, she couldn’t hear or comprehend anything that was going on. She could not see anymore, and that put her at a dreadful disadvantage, but her hearing was just as keen as it had ever been.

Laura was 93 years old and cancer had been eating away at her body for over a year now. As soon as she had been given the deadly diagnosis, she had checked herself into this private nursing home. Peter and Holly had vigorously opposed this move, saying that she would be better off staying with them. They had made her read articles and statistics about how badly sick old ladies were treated in nursing homes, but she was having none of it. Peter and Holly – her son and her daughter-in-law – did not care about her. They just cared about her money, and they wanted to protect their inheritance.

It was no secret that Laura was a woman of means. She had always had a knack for managing finances. She had known when to take risks and when to be conservative, when to save and when to spend. Over the years, her wealth had grown slowly but steadily, with only the occasional minor setback. She had planned it all just for this eventuality. She did not care about big houses or expensive cars, but she had always known that she would want to spend her final days in a place where she would have her own private doctors and a bed with the best linen money could buy. This place cost an absolute fortune – hence the disapproval of her so-called family – but where she was going next, she wouldn’t need her money.

It was funny how Peter and Holly had ignored her for the last twenty years, only to conveniently reappear in her life when it became apparent that her death was imminent. Peter was her only surviving family: Emily had been cruelly taken by ovarian cancer twelve years ago, and Frankie had only been twelve when the drunk driver had slammed into him while he was riding his bike. Laura’s husband was long gone, and so were her sisters. She didn’t have anyone else to leave her money to, really. But she loathed the idea of her greedy son and his greedier wife getting their hands on it. They had always had more regard for her wealth than for the person she was. It saddened her to think that she had raised a man who expected the world to provide for him without giving anything in return.

Now, as she lay listening to their chatter, she knew that her time on this planet was very close to being at an end. She didn’t mind. She had lived a good life. She had been happy and she thought she had treated her fellow man in a way that would guarantee her entrance into Heaven, if such a place existed. She was ready to move on.

Peter was going to get the surprise of his life when she died and her will was read. He knew that he was the only person his mother would logically leave her fortune to. She wasn’t the eccentric type who would leave everything to a cat shelter, like the woman in the newspaper article a few weeks ago. But little did he know that the money would come with conditions, that he would have to prove his worth as a human being before he saw a dime of it.

Laura’s son might be 56 years old, but she didn’t think it was ever too late to teach him some values. If the promise of money was what it would take to make him give something to the world instead of taking all the time, then so be it.

It’s never too late, she thought, moments before she died. It’s never too late to be a good human being.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Niqui, who gave me this prompt: "Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first." – Mark Twain
I challenged Michael with the prompt: "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." (Douglas Adams)