Word Number One – Prosperity

For those of you that haven’t read my last post, I have chosen five words to focus on this year instead of resolutions.  The first of those words is prosperity.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  We all want prosperity don’t we?  We all see things in the world we want.  Why does it seem to come so much more naturally to some people?  My husband Chris is one of those people.  He dropped out of college after three years and went to work at a factory so he could build a race car.  He then went to work at an equipment rental company a couple of years before we got married.  He started out as what they called the “Wash boy.”  Within about three and a half years he had made outside salesman.  He makes about three times what I made at my highest paying accounting job.  I’m the one with the college degree.  I’m the one that always obsessed about grades, and yet Chris has always excelled far above me.  A fact that has often left me wondering why.

Despite Chris’s stellar income, It always feels like money is tight.  For years I attributed this to Chris’s love of man toys.  You know, cars, performance parts, expensive trucks despite having a company truck, a big house etc, etc. etc.  Chris’s attitude towards money has always been to just get what you want and if you need more money than you go make more.  I attribute this to his growing up in a financially comfortable environment.  His parents weren’t rich, but they were never lacking for anything.  They didn’t worry about tires going flat or furnaces going out.

I, did not grow up in such an environment.  When I was five we lived in a crude shelter that my father made out of plywood that I’m pretty sure he “borrowed” from the job-sites he worked on.  We had no running water and our only source of electricity was an extension cord running from my grandparents single-wide next door.  I was too young at the time to realize how poor we were, but by age nine, I had started worrying about money.  It’s no wonder that I have issues in this area.

I used to attribute our tight finances to the fact that Chris spends too much.  Lately, I’ve been wondering if I have it wrong.  I can’t believe I just put that in writing.  Thank God Chris doesn’t read my blog.  I can promise you I would never live that one down.  Seriously though, I’ve been questioning some of my beliefs and my belief that responsibility for our money issue belonged on Chris’s shoulders was a strong one.  But now I’m thinking it’s possible that it may be mine.  What if the fact that I always approach our finances from a lack mentality has something to do with it?  Every time we get a little extra, I tend to spend it on things the kids are going to need, but don’t necessarily need yet.  I’m afraid we won’t have the money when they do need it.  I always approach paying the bills from a place of fear.

When the twins started kindergarten last fall Chris wanted me to go back to work and yet I’m still home.  I want to make money doing what I love and I don’t love accounting.  Fear again.  There are other jobs out there that don’t require accounting, but I told myself I can’t have any of them because I lack the experience, the education etc.  The truth is I look at the world as if the possibility of failure lurks around every corner.  I spent months setting up a membership site and as of yet not one person has joined.  It’s not that it couldn’t be an awesome space for writers to come together.  I have trouble with the ask.  I have trouble feeling worthy of the ask.  It’s only fifteen dollars a month.  Most people spend more on Starbucks.  I definitely spend more on Starbucks.  After a week of being snowed in, a Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato would be really good right about now.  In spite of this fact, it’s still hard.  This is a big thing I’m going to have to defeat in order to bring the prosperity I desire.

Brooke Castillo talks about how people worry about money because they believe that it comes from outside of themselves when actually it comes from within.  The first time I heard her say it, it scared the shit out of me.  I knew that it meant actually going out and showing up in the world and putting myself out there.  I’m going to be honest.  Just the idea makes me want to curl up in the fetal position on my office floor and hide.

If you don’t have customers, it’s because you need to ask people to be your customers and not get discouraged when people say no.  That is the wisdom I am faced with.  Sounds terrible doesn’t it.  It’s really just a matter of math.  If you ask 100 people to be your customers, about 10% will say yes and 90% will say no.  I haven’t personally asked one person.  I’ve ran Facebook ads that didn’t work and then promptly gave up.  I know I’m not the only one.  Just a tiny taste of rejection is enough to send most people running.  The primal fears kick in.  If I do the math, I need about 150 people to say yes.  That means I would have to ask 1500 people.  Holy shit.  That sounds excruciating.  I’m going to have to do it anyway if I want this year to be different.

So here’s what I’ve been doing in January. I’m running a Kickstarter campaign and I’ve reached out to someone about ghostwriting a book.  I’m also in the process of re-branding my other book. I knew at the time I first put it out that the title wasn’t right for the book.  I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I ignored it.  It’s almost like I wanted to fail.  My brain wanted to prove it to myself that my lack of worth was well founded.  I refuse to do it anymore.  I’m developing an actual marketing campaign and I’m going to reach out to influencers before I relaunch my book.  I’m going to do it right this time instead of the proverbial pissing in the wind that felt much safer last year.

If you too have been living in fear, it’s time to stop.  Otherwise we are going to wake up in a nursing home one day and wish we had done things differently.  I don’t want the regrets so I have to conquer the fears.  Don’t wait friends.  We only get this one chance.  I want to finish my book, Stealing The Amber Room this year.  I’d like to go to Europe to do research.  I’d like to write a bunch more books and go on trips doing research for those.  Doesn’t that sound awesome?  I’d like to ghostwrite books for people about topics that interest me and I’d like to make a bunch of awesome writer friends on my membership site.  That’s the goal.  That’s why I chose prosperity.

What do you want today and what’s holding you back?  What will you choose?

 

A New Way to do The New Year

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We’ve all done it.  You know what it I’m going to say, don’t cha?  Yep, I’m talking about resolutions.  How many of you have made resolutions and then promptly forgot ’em?  Or worse, you make a serious attempt, only to lose your mojo around mid-February.  At least, that’s when I notice the parking lots at the gym start to thin down.  Not that my ass is in one mind you.  It’s cold out.

Most of you, by the time you get to be my age stop making resolutions altogether because you just make yourself feel bad when you aren’t able to change the things you want to change.  That would be me.  I started to rethink resolutions a few years ago.

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I didn’t want to give up doing the New Year’s thang altogether.  There is a part of me that loves the idea of a fresh new year.  It’s like a pretty new piece of blank stationary.  Writers love pretty stationary.  And pens.  I have a very nice pen that my husband won for hitting a sales goal.  I promptly stole it while he was celebrating.  He was so drunk, he didn’t notice.  True story.

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Okay, I got sidetracked by pretty paper and perfect ink pens with just the right weight.  Sorry, they’re like catnip for writers.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the new year.  First, I quit making resolutions and set goals for myself instead.  This worked better.  I hit a few goals and felt invigorated, but I still wasn’t quite there yet.  Then, the other day, I was Reading “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins.  For those of you that don’t know me, I am an avid reader of self-help books.  And books on writing. And fiction, of course.  Who doesn’t love fiction?   I have about 55 books in my Kindle and I set my new goal on Goodreads for 52 books this year.  If you are ever trying to find a good book to read, you can find plenty of suggestions on my blog or friend me on Goodreads.

Anyway, in this awesome book, Tony mentions a discovery he made about words.  Apparently the words you use in everyday conversation when referring to your life have an effect on how you feel about your life.  If you want to change your life, you just have to change your words.  I don’t know about you, but this idea blew my mind.  Could it really be that simple?  If I start peppering my conversations with the word fabulous, will I feel fabulous?

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I’m feeling fabulous already.  I decided that not only did I need to test out this idea, but I needed to do it on a grand scale.  Why?  That’s just who I am baby.  Amber likes to go overboard.  That’s how I roll.  I decided to choose five words.  I could have chosen like a hundred, but my life coach Brooke Castillo talks about constraining your focus.  That’s a hard one for me obviously.  I have twins for crying out loud.  I couldn’t even have babies one at a time.

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Yep.  Those are really my twins.  Are they cute or what?  Even without the bangs that their big sister cut off like a week before picture day. I tease my son that he is going to be an underwear model one day.

As I was saying, I chose five words that I wanted to epitomize 2018.  Not the year I think I will have based on past experience.  No.  I’m talking about the year I want to have.  The kind of year I dream about in those rare dreams when you wake up smiling because you were so happy.  You know, like I’m a size six and I’m wearing a stunning designer evening gown and Steven Spielberg is hounding me about movie rights while a hot English actor is dragging me onto the dance floor.  That kind of dream.  Don’t tell Chris.  Shhh.  Our secret.

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So what are the words/phrases I have chosen?  Drum roll please.  They are as follows:

Prosperity

Adventure

Legacy

Willingness to Fail

Fun

 

There they are.  That is the year I want to have.  What kind of year do you want?

Why I Write

So you dream of being a writer? At least, I assume that you do or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog posting. Perhaps, like me, you dreamed of getting a degree in creative writing, but chickened out and trekked down the safer path. In my case, I got an accounting degree instead.

I’m going to share something with you here. Most subjects in school came naturally to me, except one. It was math. I struggled to break a B, starting in the fourth grade. At times, I got a C, which for any of you other perfectionist first-borns out there, you know that missing the honor roll by a small margin is enough to chap your ass. For years, my self-esteem was marred by this one cursed subject. Stupid, I know. This is my teenage self we are talking about. I wanted acceptance. I wanted to feel worthy and being smart was my ticket to getting what I longed for deep inside. Because of arithmetic, it alluded me. I didn’t feel smart because I wasn’t good at everything and I deeply believed that I should excel in everything. Other girls wanted to be cheerleaders or make a sports team. I dreamed of being Valedictorian. Yes, I am a nerd. You probably already figured that out, but I’m a straight shooter, so there it is. Anyway, we had seven valedictorians the year I graduated. I won’t tell you what year it was, but I will tell you that I wasn’t one of them.

So why in God’s name, did I then turn around and choose a major that focused on my Achilles heel. I discovered it yesterday in a book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Have. It’s because my social-self was resisting my essential self. My essential self (a.k.a. my true self) wanted to be a writer or a history teacher or a social worker, but my social-self wanted the acceptance of the people closest to me. My then-boyfriend, now-husband Chris didn’t like the sound of any of my career choices. We’ve all heard of the starving artist and teachers, and social workers aren’t known for making the big bucks. Chris wanted me to make a good living. Actually, he wanted me to make an exceptional living. The kicker is that without the elusive sense of worth the money was never going to come. Especially as an accountant. I always felt like an imposter when I was doing accounting. It’s a struggle to be something you’re not. It takes away all of your energy. Doing other people’s taxes makes me feel like I am slowly dying. I guess, if you think about it, we are all slowly marching towards death, but I don’t notice the gradual crawl towards being worm grub until I’m staring at a 1040.

You might be feeling a bit of outrage right now. You may be thinking that I should have told Chris to kiss my ass. I can’t say that I disagree, but you have to understand that he had the best of intentions. He wanted me to do something stable and being a writer doesn’t sound like a safe option. Most of us have family members like this. They mean well. They want to protect us. They think they are saving us from the fall. After all, the reality isn’t kind. The world is a cold, hard place and the sooner you accept it, the better. To this day, I cringe when people ask me how my hobby is going.

Okay, so the amount of money that I have earned so far is technically within the hobby range, but I refuse to give up. Why? You know what my relatives are thinking. That’s a lot of work to put into something to make a mere pittance in return.

I’ve had to fight my inner critic just to get words on the page. I’ve had to face fears of persecution by society at large when I hit the publish button. Fears I didn’t expect to feel until they were right there in my face staring back at me.  My book has swear words in it, I thought. What is my mother-in-law going to say?  In case you are wondering, she said, “She was disappointed in me.”  It kind of stung, but Fuck it.  It’s my life after all.  It was a long hard road just to publish one book, and now, I am working on another. I’m getting ready to send it to the editor and spend a decent chunk of change that I might never see in return, and yet I persist.

Here is why. I write because I feel cranky and out of balance if I don’t. I write because it’s my air. It’s my North Star, and I have to follow it even if I never receive the critical acclaim of Stephen King or manage to eke out a living. I spent years waiting for the people close to permit me to do what I love, and it never came, so I had to stand firm and give myself permission. If you long to write, then write. Doing anything, for the sheer love of doing it, is worth it.  Don’t worry about what your parents will say or your spouse or your kids or your mother-in-law. Know your why and follow your North Star. If you still need permission, then I give it to you now. Go chase your star. Seriously, like now. Right now. What are you waiting for?

How to outline a novel or can you teach an old dog new tricks part 2?

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Update on my wiener dog Buddy: He refuses to Shih Tzu in the litter box.  He seems to think it’s quicksand and that I’m some sort of evil villain hell bent on sending him to his doom.  Insert maniacal laughter here…  I’m giving up.  Perhaps the guy I saw on shark tank the other night that invented the automatic pad-roller thingy will have his invention at Wal-Mart soon and I can buy it.  That brings us to our next order of business, outlining a novel.  In my last installment, I covered the first three steps.  Now I’m going to give you the next one and it’s a biggie.  Drum roll please.  Characterization.

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You should have a general idea of what your story is about and who your characters are.  It’s time to refine and add detail.  It’s time to do character sketches on all of your main characters – Who is this person? Think very carefully because this is going to be very important. What your character wants should be the driving force behind the story.  It makes the the difference between writing a page turner people can’t put down and gee I wonder what’s on Netflix. What are their circumstances? What kind of conditions do they live in? What obstacles are they facing?  Don’t just focus on generalizations.  Dig deep.  Based on your macro outline, what kind of person would be the most fun to transplant into these circumstances.  You don’t want them to be a perfect fit to their surroundings.  Give them something to struggle against.  For example: If their parents are difficult then don’t make your character strong and unaffected.  Make him timid and weak or better yet, kill the parents.  Hey, Disney does it in every movie.  In Big Hero 6, they killed the parents and the brother.  I’m amazed the poor aunt survived, but hey, it pulled you in didn’t it.  It worked on me.  Not that I cried or anything.  Okay, okay, maybe just a little.  Animated films get to me.  I admit it.  Back to the point of characterization, though.  There is some very good information on how to accomplish kick ass characters in 90 Days to Your Novel.  No, Sarah Domet doesn’t say kick ass.  That’s just me being colorful.  If you are interested, there should be a link to Amazon at the bottom of this page.  If not, it’s not a requirement.  If you are like me, then you probably have a shelf full of books on writing.  Pull out one on characterization and go to town.  Let me know how you are progressing at thewritedestination@gmail.com.

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If your really stuck, turn on the t.v. and see what jumps out at you.  Borrow bits and pieces from historic figures.  Expedition Unknown is great for that.  Okay, I just really love this show.  When I grow up, I’m totally getting a job on Josh’s crew.  Why?  Because it looks awesome.  But then, I love history.  I’m a nerd that way.  Shhhhh.  Don’t tell anyone.

 

My New Critique Forum – Creatives Academy

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I am so excited to introduce you to my brand new forum.  I call it Creatives Academy.  I have been in the writing game for a few years now and finding a critique group that really works has been difficult, so I decided to create my own.  I want to foster an environment of creativity as well as collaboration.  I want it to be part critique group, part mastermind and part support group for the difficult times, before you hit it big. Think of it as an online cocktail party for introverts.  Did anyone else just shiver at the mention of a cocktail party?  This will be different though.  This will be ours.  I want to put you in groups by genre so that you only get critiqued by people who know and like the genre you write in.  It just makes sense.  If your into sci-fi or dystopian or steampunk then you don’t want to critique romance.  Am I right?  There are a few things you should know before signing up though.

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  1. I have a humming bird brain! 

My mind likes to flit around from one beautiful thought to another.  Sometimes it gets off track, but eventually it comes back around.  A certain amount of tolerance is necessary.

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2.  I swear.

I have a bit of a potty mouth.  I actually enjoy swearing.  I love the color and punch that the occasional swear word adds like shit or damn.  Occasionally I drop the f-bomb, but I usually refer to it as the f, dash, dash, dash word or some such abbreviation.  It’s my own personal brand of panache.  If you do not like swearing, that’s okay.  My mother-in-law recently lectured me because my book has swear words and she said she was very disappointed.  I love her anyway.  Not as much as I did before, but I still love her somewhat, which brings me to number three.

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3.  My wickedly dry sense of humor.

How does this photo depict dry humor?  It doesn’t really, but I thought it was super cute.  I get distracted by cute puppies (See, hummingbird brain.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)  Anyway, my sense of humor is dryer than stale, sourdough bread.  If you’re not into that or swearing or my meandering brain, then this probably isn’t the forum for you.  If you are looking for a community of like-minded, mildly swearing introverts that are out to take the publishing world and succeed no matter what, then get in on the ground floor of something awesome.  I may have a hummingbird brain, but it has flitted around so much that I am well versed on a lot of writing topics to help out my fellow creatives.  I have a wealth of knowledge on creative topics and quotes from The Princess Bride.  I’ve learned to use it to my advantage.  Seriously, join today.  What are you waiting for?  I want to help you.  Help me, help you.  Did I just careen off into Jerry McGuire.  Possibly, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Join the cocktail party for introverts!

 

Vote for Reader’s Choice Award

Hello fellow creatives!  My short story Falling In Love is published in short fiction break and I need your help to win the reader’s choice award. There are a lot of stories with similar titles as the contest theme was falling in love so please be sure to choose the one by Amber Meyer. Big thanks and happy writing.

Click to vote

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Excerpt Falling In Love

Thomas looked around at the sage green walls. The soothing color did little to ease his nerves. There was a piece of framed art on the east wall. A piano with a vase full of flowers on top. He’d stared at it a million times, dissecting every inch. No good. His eyes drifted back to Rhonda. Her veins so purple and swollen from over use of an IV that the shock of seeing them never wore off. Two long years she’d been lying there. The doctors rarely came. If they did, it was at night after he’d gone home. Of course, he’d heard of cases where people just woke up. Helpful friends were always sharing the story of someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, who’d heard of a miracle. Some such bullshit. It was clear to him that it was over. Clear to everyone, but Rhonda’s mother Alvera. The woman had hope, and she was washed in the blood of the spirit. She led weekly prayer vigils at church, and each day seemed more certain that her only child would be returned to her. Thomas admired her faith, but his hopes of having Rhonda back had receded as quickly as the tide. He wanted to believe. He envied her hope.
Mostly these days, he came to the hospital out of obligation. Obligation or guilt or a mixture of the two. A sudden chipper voice snapped him out of his somber thoughts. It contradicted his emotions with such intensity, it felt like trying to look at the sun. He turned with the intention of scowling at the new nurse, but thought different when he saw the flowing red hair cascading down her shoulders. He blinked twice to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. She was beautiful. Really beautiful. A stunning kind of sexuality sizzled in every movement she made.
The beautiful nurse walked up to Rhonda’s bedside and took her pulse with a frown. Thomas studied her face. His gaze slid slowly down. She turned to meet his eyes with a pouty-lipped expression. Kind of like a child with a broken toy.
“How long?” She said.
“Two years,” he said.
“Oh dear. You poor thing,” she said as she walked around the bed and gave him a big hug. Her hair smelled like fresh peaches. He didn’t want her to let go. It had been so long. She walked back around and picked up the chart.
“This is my last round of the day,” she said. “No harm in taking a few extra minutes.” Her hair fell gently on the chart in front of her as she studied it with her stunning blue eyes. “Tsk. Tsk. So sad. A car accident.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said with a shrug. “On her way to meet her mother at church.”
“Oh,” she said. “Was she a good Christian?”
“Devout,” said Thomas. “A much better person than I.” He added giving her a hungry look.
“I see,” she said walking to the door and peeking out. “My shift is up. How about I buy you a drink? You’ve been through a tough time.”
“Really?” He said, not believing his luck.
“Sure,” she whispered. “Meet me at Smitty’s, across the street, in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes,” he repeated, still in disbelief. “Wait about ten minutes and then leave,” she said. “Technically I could get in trouble for seeing a patient’s husband after hours.” She smiled and waved as she walked out the door.
His heart pounded and his ears buzzed with excitement as did other parts of him that hadn’t been awakened in a long time. Long before Rhonda’s accident. Rhonda had always had very definite ideas about how their bedroom activities should be conducted. Come to think of it, she’d had definite ideas about how he should do everything. What few things Rhonda didn’t have an opinion on, Alvera did and no qualms about letting them be known. He stared at the clock. Nine more minutes. He got up and walked to the window. He longed to open the window and let in some fresh air, but it was an old hospital and there were bars on the windows. Rumor had it there used to be an asylum on this floor and they did it to keep the patients from jumping. It was probably good in a way. More than once he stared out window and felt like taking the plunge. But today was not one of those days. Six more minutes passed and he could see her cross the street. She’d changed into a little black dress, but he was certain it was her. He started to pace like a panther in a cage. The minutes dragged. Finally, it was time. He walked to the door and flicked out the light.
“Thomas,” said a voice from behind….

Read the rest at Short Fiction Break.

Voting ends on Tuesday, September 12th at midnight pacific time.

Vote now!

 

My Stephen King inspired short story "The Robbery", Part I

I have tackled a project of massive proportions this time.  To imitate the work of a fellow author.  And not just any author, but one of the greats and someone still breathing.  There is always that tiny stab of fear in the heart of a writer that their work will not be received by the world.  My fears are magnified by mental pictures of the actual Stephen King reading my obscure blog and shaking his head in disgust.  In my mind he’s wearing a smoking jacket and puffing on a pipe like Hugh Hefner.  Don’t ask me why.  Who knows where my mind comes up with this shit.  With that, I shall dive off the proverbial cliff.  I’m bringing this story to you in serial form.  Your thoughts and comments are much appreciated.

The Robbery, Part I

“Yeah sure.  I’d love to go out,” Annabeth Reynolds said.  His face erupted in a smile.  He knew he should say something, but all he could do was grin and nod like an idiot.  She stared at him.  Her gaze was intense and kind of magical.  Just like an actress from an old black and white movie like his grandma made him watch with her on Tuesday nights.

“I like Chinese food,” she offered.

“How about Mandarin Garden?” He stammered out.  It was the only Chinese place in town.

“Sounds good.  Pick me up at 6:30?”

He nodded and grinned some more and she turned to walk away throwing him one last sidelong glance with a wave.

The next day, he quivered with excitement.  His brain was on fire with anticipation as he tried to run errands.  A girl like Annabeth had never given him the time of day before.  Not until word got around that he’d been accepted into the pre-med program at Brown University.  Now Jack Trimble wasn’t a nerdy loser anymore.  He was going places.  And to most girls in town, that made him a potential ticket out of this shithole.  Sure, he had a long road of study and hard work a head, but it beat the hell out of spending his life working at the snack factory or pumping gas at the Stop-N-Go.  Those were the most promising choices if you stayed in Chesterfield.  And that’s if you were lucky.

He backed out of the parking space at Mark’s Finer Foods.  He always went shopping for Nana on Friday’s after school.  Since the knee replacement anyway.  He heard the ding of his cell phone that signaled he had a text.  He reached for the phone, but it had fallen between the console and the seat in his mom’s Ford Windstar.  He dug furiously between the seat as he raced across the parking lot.  It was probably Annabeth or Nana.  He was running a little late.  He had to pick up a few extra things for tonight.  Nana wouldn’t be happy, but oh well.  He looked down.  The message was from Annabeth.  About tonight…

A sudden thud jolted him so hard his jaw slammed shut.  A crunch of metal as something hit the hood and then fell to the pavement.  Oh God.  What just happened?  A Dog.  Let it be a dog.  His hands shook so violently, he could barely pull the handle.  He finally stumbled out.  People were gathering around now.  Everyone stared at something in stunned horror.  All he could see was yellow hair with a red ribbon.  He didn’t want to see, but he couldn’t stop moving.  He had to know.  He crept toward the limp form on the ground.  He could see her face now.  Her mouth half open as if she meant to scream.  The body twisted at an odd angle.  The eyes looked up at him, but they were vacant.  He knew immediately that she was dead and that his life was over.

My Poe inspired Piece

Can Albert grant his father’s dying wish in time? 
My Father’s Final Wish

 
It looked like the eye of a lazy Cyclops peering at me as I crested the hill. I froze in my boots for a moment as a chill ran the length of my soul. I crept with caution down the steep incline, toward, The Gates of Hell. At least, that’s what the locals called it. I’d spent my entire life nestled on a hill not far from its humble location, but I had never dared enter.  I forced myself with all the courage I could muster to step inside. All trepidation, I cast aside with my goal set firmly in my mind. I could feel the cave’s cool breath on my skin as I stepped inside that most monstrous of earthly openings. “It’s just a cave,” I said to myself out loud. Just an opening in the earth’s skin. Nothing at all to be afraid of.  
Do you think me weak because my heart was pricked with terror at a simple caving expedition? Well, it is with good reason I fear this place. It is where my brother met his untimely end three years prior. He left on a caving adventure and was never heard from again, and my father’s health has deteriorated ever since until he became confined to his bed.  Yesterday, he took my hand and presented his plea.  If I could just ascertain my brother’s fate, then and only then, he proclaimed would he be able to die in peace. Rumors still circulate that my brother ran off to seek his fortune elsewhere, and it caused my father unbearable grief. 
My mother pleaded for me to stay. She’d lost one son. She shan’t lose another or her poor mother’s heart would not recover. However, I found the calling too strong, and I considered it my duty to grant my father this final wish.  It was under these circumstances that I found myself in this eerie place. I switched on my lantern, and it peeled back the darkness in a blanket of light. It was at this moment that I found myself longing for the noises of the busy city, and the comfort that they bring. The only sound now was the tap, tap, tap of my careful footsteps and the beating of my own heart. It was pounding deep within my bosom, and it throbbed in my ears. 
            Time had no place there, and I lost all concept of it. I could feel the dampness settling onto my skin, and I was starting to tremble at the chill. Just a little further, I told myself. Keep going. It was at this moment that I made a grand error. I let my mind wander for a moment to ponder my miserable state, and I wasn’t paying attention. It was then that I slipped and fell into a crevice and became quite stuck. The lantern on my helmet busted in the fall, and the light was gone. The precious light extinguished forever. Terror wrapped around me like a funeral shroud. I didn’t bring a spare. “Dear God,” I said to myself. “Why didn’t I bring a spare?” Worse still my boot was lodged, and I could not move it. The cave was going to claim another victim. I cried out until my voice was hoarse. There was no point.  The cave had been roped off after my brother’s disappearance as it was deemed unsafe. No one was coming to help me. 
Hours passed and I found all my energy depleted and my hope all but gone.  I accepted my fate began to ponder it. Was this punishment for the awful condition of my spirit? Deep down, I am a wretched soul that has nursed the most horrible of thoughts. You see. I always hated my brother. Yes, I know that it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I hated him. I hated his adventurous nature and all of his good looks. His very existence made me feel small from the time that we were boys. He teased me all the days of our childhood. 
“Come along Odd Albert,” he’d say to me at school, and all the other children would laugh as I ran along behind. 
“Eat your dinner Oddball,” I’d hear as we sat at the table or “Good night weirdo.” 
One night I had a bad dream and crept down the stairs to the study where my father always sat smoking his pipe, and my mother would tend to her sewing. I wanted comfort, as children do, but before I reached the doorway, I heard their voices rise in dispute. 
“Albert is never going to amount to anything,” my father said, puffing his old pipe with fury. 
“Albert will be fine,” my mother defended. “He just needs encouragement.” 
“You coddle him too much,” my father said with a grunt. “It’s not good for a boy to cling to his mother’s skirt all the time. He should be more like his brother.” 
I’d heard enough and rushed back to my room, the bad dream long forgotten as a new pain welled up in my chest and it didn’t get much better as I got older. The taunts ceased as we matured, but I always felt like a burden. I watched my brother blossom into a handsome young man. A man whom the girls feigned over. A man who was going places. Much better places. I started to consider him the sole source of all my grief. I would always pale in comparison. I wanted, needed an escape. And with this respite, I could reinvent myself. I started to dream about the man I could be if only delivered from my brother’s cursed grasp. 
So you see, I had a right to hate him. I really did. And it was for this reason that the loathing took root in my heart like a nasty vine. I loathed him the way you do, a rat or a snake or some other vermin. My love and all the brotherly affections that I had as a toddler disintegrated. When he went missing, my mother’s heart was broken, and I wept for her sake, but not for my own. I watched my father fade into poor health and old age at the loss of the son, he most treasured.  
It was under these aggrieved circumstances that I began to prosper. People were kind to me because of my loss, and I secretly delighted in it. I made friendships at college and began to thrive. With Edgar gone, I was free to take his place. I stood taller. I smiled more, and everything changed. I even managed to obtain a decent post at a law firm right after graduation. My life was infinitely better and yet while facing my own end, I was haunted by nagging guilt. Guilt that my success came at such a hefty price. I began to wonder things I had never dared. If I had been a better man, could I have liked my brother or maybe even loved him? Was he really such a bad fellow or had it all been a product of my private insecurities? 
These thoughts preyed upon my mind like vultures and wouldn’t let me rest in what should have been my final hours. The past kept replaying in the landscape of my mind. I could, at last, see the love in my parents’ eyes and my father’s pride at the man I had become. My chest swelled with pain at the thought of letting him down. My father’s final request would be a disaster. This would, no doubt, be the end of him.  
So there I was, wedged with no hope of escape, when suddenly I saw a light. A glorious glow from above. I called out with everything I could muster, and suddenly I felt a hand. I could not see his face for the light of his headlamp blinding me and his grip was cold as death, but it filled me with relief, and I held onto it in desperation. 
“Thank God you’re here. I’m stuck,” I cried out. “My boot is wedged in tight.” 
“Wriggle your foot and see if you can slide it out of the boot,” called the voice. I pulled with all my might, but couldn’t move it. 
“It won’t budge,” I said.  
“Can you reach the laces,” the man said.  
“Shine the light down so I can see,” I replied. I then wiggled back and forth and my arm loosened a little, but I still could not reach my boot. 
“Use this,” the man said handing down a walking stick. I gripped the stick, and I used it to pinch the end of the lace against the surface of the rock, and I dragged it carefully along. It took at least twenty minutes of careful manipulations, but once they were freed from the hooks that held them around my ankle, I felt the tension on my foot release. 
“I think I’ve got it,” I called, handing up the stick and with that, the man pulled me up out of what I had presumed would be my coffin. 
“I can’t thank you enough,” I said giving him a hearty pat upon the back. 
“I’m glad I could help,” he said pointing down the corridor, back the way I had come hours before. I tried to make out his features, but each time the light blinded me, so I turned my attention to what was ahead of me for fear of another mishap. The man didn’t initiate any conversation. He didn’t give his name or ask what I was doing there. He didn’t explain why he was wandering around in a cave, and I sensed that I shouldn’t ask. I tried to make small talk, but he just nodded, so I prattled on about how grateful I was and about my family, and the girl whom I was seeing all the way to the mouth of the cave.  
“There you are Albert,” he said, handing me a flashlight. “Now you are back where you began.”  
It was well into the evening and quite dark, and I was grateful for the flashlight. I flicked it on and looked out towards the hill I had made my way down that morning. It was the most glorious sight. I turned to express my gratitude one last time, but he was gone. There wasn’t a sign of him anywhere.   
“Where did you go?” I called out, but only my echo answered. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention, and I shoved it out of my mind, as I went racing up the hill. My one foot ached from walking in only a sock, but adrenaline propelled me forward. I burst into the front door of my parent’s home, and my mother dove on me kissing my face. A policeman stood up to greet me and then excused himself to call off the gathering of a search party.  I sat down the flashlight and hugged my mother tight. I launched into an explanation of my ordeal and how I had been rescued by the mysterious stranger. 
“I shouldnever have asked you to go,” my father choked out as I walked into his room. I sat upon his sick bed and put my arms around him and wept.  I went to sleep a grateful man. It wasn’t until the next morning that I noticed it. I came down the stairs for breakfast, and I glimpsed the flashlight on the table and picked it up to examine it in the daylight. There on the side, scribbled in his familiar penmanship, were the words, ‘Property of Edgar Stalling’. This was my brother’s flashlight. The same one he must have entered the cave with three years prior. A tightness wrapped around my heart as the realization crept down my spine. The question of my brother’s fate was answered.  My father could go to his grave in peace.

A Dickensian Tale by Amber Meyer

There was a tiny knock upon the door followed by a larger, heavier knock. Bailywick wrinkled his brow and pushed aside the payroll papers he had been working on. He approached the door with caution. It was rare that another human being ever encroached upon the solitude his personal residence offered. It was for this reason; he so often brought work home with him and labored in the lamplight at the sensible oak table that sat in his study. He peeked through the thick draperies and saw on his front porch, a gentleman and a small boy he judged to be around six years of age.

“Go away,” he roared, without opening the door. “There’ll be no charity found for you here.”

“Please Mr. Bumble. I have urgent personal business to discuss,” came a voice from the other side.

“Why bring a little lad with you to discuss business with me? Clearly, he is a tool you use to draw sympathy from your patrons and encourage them to donate more to your cause. I say again, go away.”

“This lad is your nephew,” said the voice on the other side taking on more than a hint of agitation. Bailywick pondered this new information and all of its potential implications and grudgingly opened the door, upon which action the man rushed in without invitation; the small boy and a great gust of December fast upon his heels.

“Thank you,” said the man turning to face him, “For your gracious invitation.” His voice was laced with sarcasm dipped in venom. Despite the acidity of his manner, the boy clung to him practically hiding beneath the man’s waistcoat. “As I was saying,” he continued, thrusting the boy forth, “This is your nephew Peter Clark. My name is Alexander Lawson. I am tasked with the handling of orphans in the case of an estate.”

Mr. Lawson was dressed as well as he spoke. He was wearing a pair of sleek leather gloves that glistened in the lamplight. Lawson was a man of professionalism and efficiency and had Bailywick ever bothered to ask his superiors; he would have heard testaments to Lawson’s ability at his chosen occupation.

Bailywick lifted his lamp to take a closer look at the boy. He had still not ruled out the possibility of robbers. He made a mental note as to the location of his blunderbuss and his purse. Just two fortnights ago, he had heard of a stagecoach robbery that had been attempted with the use of a young boy as bait. Both undesirables had been shot by the veteran stagecoach driver and had limped off into the night with the boy on their heels.

Even children could not be trusted anymore. He surveyed the boy carefully and drew in a deep inhale of breath. The boy was a much younger reflection of himself. The resemblance was undeniable. He’d never laid eyes on the youth, but he no longer doubted the truth of the man’s statement.

“Whose?” He whispered.

“Your sister Ruth’s I’m afraid,” said Mr. Lawson.

“Ruth died in childbirth,” Bailywick said a twisting pain of old grief for the loss of his twin, wiggling in his chest.

“Yes, but Peter here survived. His father has been raising him alone until he recently passed as I’m sure you are well aware. His other relatives are all unable to manage the care of a child. Three of your siblings are in the poor house as we speak.”

“Balderdash,” Bailywick said with a sneer. “Ruth’s husband has a brother that could…”

“Had a brother,” Lawson retorted. “Both Peter’s father and his brother perished recently under mysterious circumstances.”

“You can’t expect me to raise him?” Bailywick said raising his furry brows with an almost pleading expression.

“It is your duty,” Lawson said.

“That’s what orphanages are for,” Bailywick said, indignant that such a man as this should dare preach to him about duty. He voice exited his throat louder than he intended. At this the boy returned to the safety of Lawson’s coattails, only his eyes visible as they peeked back.

“The orphanages here are currently full,” Lawson returned. “I can send a letter up to London to see about placing him there, but until then, he is your responsibility.”

“I see,” Bailywick said meeting Lawson’s frigid stare with an icy glare of his own design. “Send your letter then. I expect to hear back from you soon.”

With that, Lawson nodded and removed himself from Peter’s grasp and Bailywick’s lodging with nare another word spoken.

Peter blinked, but did not cry and Bailywick considered this fact with quiet gratitude.

“Are you hungry?” Bailywick grumbled. “I have some stew.”

Peter nodded without lifting his eyes from the floor. He was wringing his hat with nervous energy, but was otherwise quiet and polite.

Bailywick led him to the dining room table. He placed some thick volumes on a chair and the boy climbed up with a smile. Bailywick then pushed in his chair and fetched them both a steaming bowl of stew which he laid upon the table with a “Clunk!”. The boy jumped a little, but wasted no time dipping his spoon into the piping hot dish. He gave his laden spoonfull two puffs of his thin, little breath and then shoved the entire spoonful in his mouth. Bailywick opened his mouth to exclaim that it was too hot for the boy to conduct his meal in this fashion, but he shut it again when the boy repeated the process with energetic determination.

Bailywick turned up the lamp so that he could conduct a more proper examination of the boy without notice. Peter was thin and his hair disheveled and overgrown. His clothes were tattered and covered in the general filth associated with the lower class. It was a state that Bailywick remembered well, having been born himself in a workhouse and he shuddered at the uninvited remembrance of what had been shoved to the back of his mind, where it cracked the whip, which drove Bailywick Bumble ever onward and away from his poor early existence.

The boy proceeded to scrape the bottom of the bowl with his spoon. It made a small noise as he did so and he glanced up and braced himself as if about to suffer a blow.

“Would you like some more?” Bailywick said. The boy nodded politely as if he had been offered something of little consequence, but his eyes looked desperate. Bailywick ladled out another bowl and started to sit it in front of the youth and then stopped for a moment. He watched a tear run down the boys cheek as if he thought his prize about to be taken as part of some sick sport.

“Slower this time,” Bailywick said softening, before setting the bowl down. He gave Peter a gentle pat on the back and the boy looked up at him with a glow of admiration.

When he smiled, he looked like any other boy and without the dirt, Bailywick supposed a rather attractive youth at that.

“Have you had any schooling?” Bailywick said, dipping into his own stew.

“A little,” the boy said not looking up from the golden mixture before him.

“You should have finished your first year by now.”

“I don’t go all the time sir,” he said with a sheepish glance. “My father needed my help sometimes.”

“I see,” said Bailywick raising a bushy brow.

“It made you happy to miss your lessons, I suppose.”

“Oh no sir,” Peter said looking up at him and putting down his spoon for the first time. “I really enjoyed school. I rather missed it most of the time and I begged to go, but as father insisted he needed me and all, I just couldn’t. Mrs. Pettigrew really was lovely about it though. She never complained or made me feel bad. I always swore I’d make it up to her and she’d smile and sneak me a piece of candy.”

“A piece of candy?”

“Yes, the most delightful butterscotch. It’s the only candy I’ve ever tasted. Do you think they have teachers like her in London?” Peter said hopeful.

“I highly doubt it,” Bailywick said, not wanting to give the boy unreasonable expectations, but then regretting it the moment he saw Peter’s crestfallen expression.

“That’s alright,” Peter said. “I can at least tell her good-bye before I go. Can’t I? Just once?”

“You will have to attend school until Mr. Lawson finds you a permanent situation. I will send you to Mrs. Pettigrew first thing in the morning,” Bailywick said. Peter smiled again and a happy tear slid down his cheek and Bailywick fought an angry gnawing in his stomach.

Peter was a mirror of himself some twenty-five years ago. Bailywick Bumble was a successful man by anyone’s standard. He owned three mills and they ran with the efficiency of a Swedish timepiece and churned out money, but he oft wondered what he could have accomplished if he’d been born into better circumstances. He could have owned ten mills, twenty even. What could Peter do with the right tutelage? He resigned himself to discuss it with Mrs. Pettigrew. He needed to a clearer picture as to Peter’s aptitude before he did anything further with the idea that was beginning to take shape inside his breast.

The next morning, Bailywick Bumble awoke before daybreak and was surprised to find Peter seated at the table with his hands politely crossed. He was clean, mostly clean and he was wearing what Bailywick surmised to be his best clothing although it was still quite shabby.

“Good morning sir,” Peter said.

“Good morning,” Bumble grumbled, still rubbing his eyes. “I’m glad you’re up early. We have some things to take care of before school.”

“Yes sir,” Peter said. Bailywick then turned his attention to preparing breakfast. Mrs. Juniper was hired to keep the house and cook most of his meals, but today was her day off. Normally he prepared porridge for himself on these days, but just yesterday he had decided to treat himself with the purchase of bacon and eggs and he cooked both now in an iron skillet, still in his bedclothes and slippers. Peter’s face resembled the angels captured in stained glass at the church on Barnaby Street as he sat patiently waiting. Bailywick sat a heaping plate down in front of Peter with three eggs and three slices of bacon and a whole roll. It was much more than a boy his size should be able to eat. Peter looked up at him, his eyes pleading for permission.

“Go on,” Bailywick said. “We have much to do.”

Peter lifted his fork and dug into the eggs with enthusiasm. Bailywick saw a tear of joy run down the boys cheek as he took a careful bite of the bacon and chewed it like it was the last morsel he would ever receive. “This is the best breakfast I have ever had,” the boy said. “Thank you sir. Thank you very much.” Then, without wasting another breath he made the rest of his breakfast disappear without so much as a trace.

“You’re welcome,” Bailywick said. He couldn’t help but smile to himself as his dipped his own fork in the yolk and smeared it around with his bread. As soon as breakfast was concluded, they bustled out in the wicked wintry cold. Peter stomped along behind, following quite literally in Bailywick’s footsteps. They trudged all the way to town. By the time they trumped into the clothing store, Bailywick’s cheeks had a rosy red glow as did the top of Peter’s ears. Bailywick sent Peter back with the shop owner to take his measurements.

“How long will it be before my order is filled,” said Bailywick.

“I’m three weeks out right now due to Christmas,” the tailer replied.

“Get it done before Christmas and I will be sure to reward you,” Bailywick said, patting his purse to make clear his point.

“Yes sir,” said the shop keeper with a glint of surprise. The trudged back out into a blinding wind. Peter led the way now. They were close to the school house and he new the way from here, his youthful enthusiasm making his way.

“Good morning, Peter,” Mrs. Pettigrew greeted them as they entered. “Is this your father?”

“No ma’am,” Peter said. “This is my Uncle Bailywick Bumble. He’s the best Uncle a boy ever had.”

“I don’t doubt it,” replied Mrs. Pettigrew with a radiance that only a woman in her gentle condition could maintain.

Bailywick was slightly taken aback by her swollen abdomen. It was somehow not at all what he had expected. He proceeded cautiously. “May I speak with you privately for just a moment,” he said. “I promise not to take up to much of your time.”

“Certainly,” she said. “Peter, why don’t you go take that empty seat right up front?”

Peter bobbed his head with joy. “Fare thee well Uncle. I will see you when school is out,” he said, rushing to his seat with all of the self-control that a six year old boy could be expected to muster.

“He is a delightful boy,” Mrs. Pettigrew said, closing the classroom door. “I do hope that he will be in school more often.”

“His father recently passed,” Bailywick began, clearing his throat. “And he was brought to my door.”

“How kind of you to take him in,” Mrs. Pettigrew said. “I’m so glad. He is such a good boy. Always a joy to have in class, he is.”

“Is he a very good student?” Bailywick ventured, unsure of how to broach the matter at hand.

“Oh yes,” she said. “He is very bright. Catches on so quickly to all manner of things. I dare say he’s one of the brightest students I have ever had. Such a shame the way his education has been conducted. I’m sure that a man such as yourself will not let that continue,” She said. “You will know how to take care of a bright boy like Peter and give him a decent way in life.”

“Yes,” he said. “About that. I was just wondering as you seem to be so close to Peter, much closer than I, well, I just wondered if there is any way that you could oversee his upbringing? I’d pay for his keep of course.” Bailywick stared at his feet and twisted his hat like a school boy that had misbehaved and was busy figuring out an apology.

“Oh Mr. Bumble,” said Mrs. Pettigrew. “I wish that I was able. I’m about to have number eight and we just haven’t any more room. Besides, a boy like Peter would do better under a wise man of business. You could teach him so much and he would make such a fine heir for a bachelor.” Bailywick glanced up at her. Her eyes were still gentle and kind without the least bit of judgment in them.

“Of course,” Bailywick said, shuffling his feet. “I was just worried about him growing up without the love of a mother, you know. I think he is quite fond of you. My poor sister Ruth would have loved him so, if she had just had the chance.”

“That’s very kind of you Mr. Bumble,” she said. “I’m sure that Peter will grow up to be a fine young man.”

“I’m certain that you are correct,” Bailywick said, tipping his hat and walking away. Being a man of business, Bailywick Bumble was a master of difficult negotiations and he knew when he had been beaten. Mrs. Pettigrew was kind and had a face that hailed all the sweetness of the virgin Mary, but she was as artful a dodger as he’d ever witnessed.

Outside, he found a stagecoach to carry him to the mill. He stepped inside and wrapped his jacket tightly around his ever expanding waistline. He took a small flask out of his pocket and sipped a bit of brandy to warm up his blood and clear his mind. As they approached the mill, he looked at it in the distance. It was a fine mill, as fine a mill as any a man had ever owned and Mrs. Pettigrew’s words about an heir echoed in his mind.

He shoved it out of his mind and busied himself with the work of the day. He was surprised when his office door opened shortly after lunch and Mr. Lawson breezed in with scarcely a knock. Bailywick’s shoulders tightened at the sight of him.

“Your back rather sooner than expected,” Bailywick said not bothering to get up.

“I gave the matter my utmost attention as you requested,” Lawson said with a sniff.

“You found a nice place for the boy?” Bailywick said putting his pen down. He held his breath.

“Most certainly,” he said. “I found him an apprenticeship.”

“An apprenticeship,” Bailywick said feeling himself relax. “That sounds promising. What trade would the lad be learning.”

“He will be training as a chimney-sweep,” Lawson said taking a seat and peeling off his gloves. He pulled some papers out of his pocket and slid them across the large oak desk.

“Chimney-sweep?” Bailywick roared.

“He’s an orphan of lowly stock,” Lawson said. “You can’t afford to be choosy.”

“But a chimney-sweep,” Bailywick said. “He’s a very bright boy. He could learn most any trade. I dare say he could be a doctor or a lawyer. I would be more than happy to help pay for his education.”

“His father died in the commission of a stagecoach robbery. You won’t find any doctors or lawyers who want to take in the son of a known criminal. I was lucky to find this. Just sign the papers and I will be on my way.”

Bailywick picked up the papers and tried to read them, but the words blurred. He got up from the table and walked across the room stopping in front of the hearth to warm himself. He looked down at them again. The words youth and chimney-sweep printed in deep black swirly handwriting stared back at him and he tossed the papers into the fireplace in disgust.

“In God’s name,” Lawson said jumping out of his chair. “Those will have to be rewritten now.”

“No,” Bailywick said. “I have changed my mind. I will be keeping the boy.”

“Are you quite sure,” Lawson said.

“Yes. Quite certain of it. I’m sorry to have caused you trouble,” he said sitting back down behind the desk.

“Well then,” Lawson said. “Here are the papers I was going to have Mr. Lacy sign. If you will sign these naming Peter as your dependent, then I will take my leave of you.”

Bailywick Bumble pulled out his pen and signed the new papers with a smile.

“A Merry Christmas to you,” Lawson said as he collected them an bustled back out into the December snow. A smile alighted upon his face as soon as he exited the mill.

“And a very merry Christmas Peter,” he whispered under his breath. “A very Merry Christmas indeed.” He couldn’t help laugh to himself as there had never been a chimney-sweep. Mr. Lawson, as you have been told, was indeed very good at his job.