Finding Inspiration


Writing often is a solitary calling, especially in winter months. You’d think I’d flourish when confined indoors with plenty of free time to devote to my passion. Instead, my mind hibernates, shuts down, and refuses to unveil any hint of creativity. Even the ink in my pen coagulates when cold winds blow.

During the other seasons, I have a fantastic (monthly) writing club, Saturday Writers, (saturdaywriters.org) to encourage me with contests, open mic nights, and amazing guest speakers, but they cease meeting for a couple of months, just when I need them the most.

Unfortunately, weather, health issues, and holiday commitments tend to cancel many of the biweekly critique group meetings, leaving a void in my face-to-face writing support system. Thank goodness for email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. I want and need to see the person’s face light up when a particular phrase I’ve written hits the mark or pay attention when a frown appears letting me know I need to rework a story.

My husband and daughter tend to tolerate my obsession for storytelling, and on rare occasions they provide a nod of approval after being urged to read something I’ve scripted. I get it. Writing doesn’t excite everyone. I try not to take it personally, but it would be refreshing to have one of them ask “What are you working on?” or even better, “I’d like to read that when you’re ready.”

Of course, showing interests goes both ways. Hubby likes sports, especially wrestling, and the weather and gardening. He spends many hours on-line reading about upcoming matches, baseball trades, and the daily forecast. I try not to half-listen when he shares his recent finds, but there are times when my attention fades.

My daughter loves cooking, basket weaving and shopping on-line, especially for shoes and purses. My purse selection is limited to two at any given time, one that’s worn and tattered and the one I bought to replace it. We do share the hobby of basket weaving. She’s an experienced weaver with a basement full of reeds, handles and patterns. She made this amazing basket one Saturday while I piddled with two simple ones.


I’m still an advance beginner. All of my supplies fit in a duffle bag.

My daughter’s also a speed reader and while she will read whatever I send her, her comments are normally limited to pointing out my mistakes.

I’ve found a rather simple, possibly sneaky, way of gaining their attention and giving them a reason to care. We do share some common interests such as nature, humor and a loveable dog named Hammie.

Personal anecdotes and yarns often become part of my short stories. Before I publish anything that involves my family, I make them read it and give their approval. Sometimes they provide a different version based on their memory of the event or they might remind me of another humorous tale.

Now that spring has arrived, my inspiration blossoms like the lovely ornamental cherry tree in my side yard.

 I’ve still not identified its exact variety, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s twisted, gnarled trunk and snowy white canopy bring me joy and signal a fresh start. The ink in my pen flows again.

Life Preservers


Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left thousands of people homeless and in desperate need of assistance. Well deserved attention was given to the humanitarian efforts by those who helped provide food, clothing, shelters and money to the victims.

The heroes who saved and sheltered thousands of animals during these tragic times deserve a round of applause, too. Thank you, wherever you are.

Here is a short story I wrote after a flood some years ago in Missouri. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Life Preservers

 

River Rats. That’s the name for people who live near the river, refusing to give in to the unpredictable vengeance of Mother Nature that sometimes makes life challenging. My master, Jessie, is a river rat. Not sure what that makes me, but I live with him along the Mississippi near a dam in Missouri. His house sits on stilts as tall as some of the nearby trees. I’m Clyde, a yellow lab who lives in a large kennel next to Jessie, but on the ground…well most of the time, anyway.

Living by the river is fun for the most part. Jessie takes me along when he hunts because I can pick up the scent of other animals faster with my keen nose. When I spot something, I chase it until it runs into a bush or a corner and can’t get out. Sometimes they get away, but most of the time Jessie takes it from there. I do other things too, like protecting Jessie by warning him if something seems out of the ordinary. One time, I even saved his life by fighting a water moccasin that snuck out of the rocks by the boat dock. Jessie gave me some extra treats after that and patted my head, which I really liked.

I’m an outside dog. Jessie doesn’t let me in his house, but in the evening as the sun goes down, I get to pounce up the stairs and sit on the porch while we watch these big boats, think they’re called barges. They shine their bright lights to the right and left as they inch forward toward the dam. Jessie doesn’t care for it when they shine the lights on us. He gets mad and yells at them, but they still do it anyway.

Winter’s ok because I get to go hunting. Spring used to be my favorite time because there are more things to sniff, like rabbits and field mice. Last year changed that. Mother Nature forgot to turn off the faucet. Once the rain started, it didn’t stop. Days turned into weeks and the continuous pelting began to irritate me. I had to eat fast or else my food would float in water and get mushy. I hate that. I also missed our special time together on the porch and the extra treat he gave me before putting me back in my kennel when it got dark.

I never shirked my duties though. I kept an eye out for strangers but no one came over the levee. Seemed all the animals had run off to higher ground, even the birds were gone. No stray cats, no deer. The only movement came from Jessie as he loaded the lawn mower and other things onto a flatbed trailer. I wondered what was up.

The next morning, Jessie filled my bowl with food and patted my head. My tail wagged as fast as my heart beat. I loved it when he petted me. Made me feel good all over. But the feeling quickly passed when he said, “Take it easy buddy.” He got in his truck and drove off, over the levee. I whined for a while, but decided it wouldn’t do any good as no one could hear me.

The rain never stopped and I watched the river’s edge creep closer and closer to my cage. I sniffed every inch of the cage trying to find an opening, then I jumped up and down trying to unlock the gate to get out. I started to panic, barking and pacing continuously, but every time I moved, the kennel weaved up and down making me lose my footing. What the heck? My whole kennel was floating, just like when Jessie takes me fishing.

 

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Just before dark, I saw some movement on the levee. I barked again hoping Jessie had come back for me. It was him and my tail wagged anxiously as he climbed into a boat. He glanced at me, but kept on paddling toward his house, then went up the stairs, dragging a long rope, one end attached to his boat and the other he tied to the porch railing, way at the top. That’s when I began to worry.

The water kept rising and so did my kennel. I tried to stay awake to keep watch but sometime during the night, I dozed off. The next morning a noise startled me awake. I barked, to warn my master just as a large tree branch smacked into my cage. I shook off my slumber and gave another yelp, hoping Jessie would come get me.

Waves tossed my cage up and down and the sudden movement made me stumble. I almost laughed (yes, dogs can laugh), thinking I looked like Jessie when he drinks too many brown bottles, but the seriousness of the situation worried me. I adjusted my footing and paced around the kennel, proud of the balancing skill I learned while riding in our boat.

Hours later, I heard a door shut and Jessie walked halfway down the stairs where the river greeted him and pulled on the rope until the boat was near enough for him to get into it. I watched anxiously as he rowed next to my kennel and unhooked the latch. I stuck my head out trying to get into the boat with him, but he blocked my path.

“Stay,” he commanded as he cleaned out some of the mess in the kennel. Lots of leaves and branches and other stuff I won’t mention covered the floor.

“Kinda scary, huh? You’ll be ok.”

“Scary as hell” I wanted to shout, but could only whimper in reply. He rubbed my ears and then gave me some more food from the large tin can in the corner of the cage.

“This should hold you ‘till I can get back. Gonna be a long ride. Hang in there.”

I had no idea what he meant by that, but I tried again to get past him and into the boat. Surely he’d take me with him. It wasn’t fun being out here all by myself.

“Sorry, Clyde. You have to stay here.”

That didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t have much choice as he closed the door, then paddled toward the levee. My eyes blurred as I watched my best friend fade from sight.

Later that day, the rain slowed to a drizzle and I walked around the cage trying to work out some of the aching in my legs. I noticed the pads on my paws were getting sore too, so I went into my house and rested. Darkness crept in and my cage continued to rise.

It’d been a long time since I’d seen Jessie or any other creature. Something must have happened to Jessie or he would have come back for me. Hunger made my belly grumble and I remembered the food in the can. Pushing the lid with my nose didn’t work, so I jumped on the can and it fell over, popping the lid off. The food spilled all over. Thankful to be able to eat, I scarfed down as much as I could because I knew the rain water would turn the rest into mush soon.

My body twitched and ached more every day. It got harder to stand up and walk around. I hated the musty smells, even myself. Yuck. I forced myself to sniff around the cage for something to eat. Everything was gone, even the mushy stuff and still no Jessie. Maybe he was hurt. Maybe he needed me.

The water level no longer rose, but it wasn’t going down either. I stared at the levee and decided I might be able to paddle to it, if only I could get out of the kennel. Maybe Jessie was on the other side waiting for me.

The next few hours, I jumped and nudged my nose and teeth at the latch with no success. Worn out from trying to get the gate open, I laid down and fell asleep. Another large branch slammed into my kennel and startled me awake. As I walked around inspecting the damage, I saw a break in the metal links and with renewed spirits, I chewed and pawed until the hole was big enough to escape.

Without food, I wouldn’t last much longer. The decision was made and with one last look around my kennel, I squeezed my body through the opening and made my way into the water. The cold, swift current grabbed me and dragged me away from the levee and the safety of my kennel. Oh, no! What did I do? I paddled furiously trying to get back but within seconds, my doghouse faded from view. I wondered if I’d ever see dry land again, or my buddy.

Exhausted from trying to fight the current, I held my head high, trying to stay above water, and floated with the current. The cold water made my legs stiffen and cramp. My head kept going under and the river threatened to take my last breath, but I fought back with everything I had left. Just then, a large branch floated close enough for me to snag it with my mouth and I managed to get one paw over it, then the other.

After a while, the current slowed and the branch, with me still hanging on it, moved toward the bank and became lodged near a boat dock. I decided I’d had enough of the water ride and managed to pull myself up onto the platform. Tired, but determined to get back home, I climbed one concrete step, legs wobbling, then a second. Near the top, I collapsed, completely spent, but happy to be out of the water. I closed my eyes, trying to slow my breathing as my chest heaved up and down.

***

“Oh my, you poor thing. Where’d you come from?”

The unfamiliar voice stirred me from my sleep. I opened my eyes, yet couldn’t find the strength to lift my head.

“Harold! Come help.”

“What’s wrong Gladys?” a male voice called in the distance.

“It’s a dog. Bring a blanket and help me get him into the house.”

Into the house? Are they’re going to take me into their house?

Harold appeared with a large blanket and wrapped it around my wet fur. I tried to lick his hand in appreciation.

“I think it’s Clyde, Jessie’s dog. I bet that fool left him in his kennel all this time.”

“Oh Harold, do you think so? With all the rain and flooding for weeks on end? How could he do that to a dog?”

“I asked him about Clyde two weeks ago when I saw him in town getting groceries. He told me he was doing fine in his kennel and to mind my own business. Harold reached in the pocket of his bibbed overalls and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his eyes and dabbing his nose. “I should have gone to check on him myself, but that fool might have shot me for trespassing.”

“That’s horrible, just horrible. You poor dog. You deserve better than that.”

“You’re safe now buddy. Let’s get you in the house and dry you off. We’ll find something good for you to eat and you’ll be up and about in no time.”

Harold grunted as he lifted me and then carried me into his living room, placing me on the warm, soft rug. Gladys appeared with a bowl of water some scraps of meat in her hand.

“Sorry, Clyde. You’ll have to eat table food until we can get into town.”

My eyes widened when I saw what was in her hand. Bacon!

This must be Heaven. I think I’m going to like it here.

The Finishing Touch


This is one of my favorite fiction short stories I’ve written. It features our grand dog as a hero. I hope you enjoy it.

The Finishing Touch

LaptopComputer Finally, I’m going to finish my novel. The thought danced in my head as I packed the last few items in a suitcase. The tattered manuscript, with all its scribbled edges and sticky notes, was already stuffed in a padded pouch with my laptop. Food for a week, essential chocolate and wine stash included, were secured in the oversized cooler. The plan was simple. No television, no internet access, no interruptions. Just me and the computer. Oh, and one sixty-five pound grand dog, Hammie.

Convincing my husband that I could survive alone for a few days in our daughter’s summer home in Missouri at the Lake of the Ozarks required a plan of action. I memorized the exact procedure for turning on and off the water source and for operating the heating unit. Short of using flash cards, I demonstrated on paper that I could recognize and eliminate (or avoid) venomous snakes and spiders. Emergency phone numbers were entered into my speed dial and I promised to call him every evening reassuring him I hadn’t been murdered by a stranger lurking in the woods. At first I rejected his insistence that I take our daughter’s black lab with me. An unspoken sense of insecurity made me agree.hammyA

I appreciated his concerns and knew he would worry until I returned, but my desire to accomplish a task started years earlier pressed me forward. “Our forty-four years of marriage have been a blessing,” I reasoned with my spouse, “but a week of independence to complete my first novel is a necessity.” He didn’t share my passion for writing, but he respected it.
Splashes of crimson dappled the nearly bare hills, the result of nibbling cold fronts that visited the area the past few weeks. I made a brief pit stop in Kingdom City to stretch my legs and empty my bladder. Of course my four-legged friend needed to do the same. As he stopped and sniffed every few feet, I laughed, remembering my daughter’s warning that he’d want to check his “pee mail” too.

Back on the road, I sang along with Willie Nelson as he strummed his guitar to On The Road Again. Hammie stared out the window. I swear he shook his head as if to remind me I can’t carry a note. Too bad. My car, my rules. Soon, the billboards boasted the many venues near Bagnell Dam, my exit. The sparsely populated countryside reminded me of cherished excursions in my grandpa’s ‘57 Ford Fairlane. The blacktop road twisted and turned for the next twenty minutes. I slowed to a crawl at the last turn where the tree covered road narrowed to one lane. At the crest of a hill, I made a sharp left onto the graveled driveway where the red wood A-frame, greeted me.

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I turned off the engine and set the parking brake. Leaves blanketed the ground all the way down the steep hill to the water’s edge. No cars or neighbors were visible at the other few cabins that shared the remote cove. “Looks like we got the place to ourselves, Hammie.” His tail wagged approval as I attached his leash and helped him leap from the car. He tugged hard, ready to romp. “You can’t run free until I set up the wireless fence. Sorry buddy. With the door key in one hand and the lead in the other, I unlocked the door and entered my sanctuary.

First order of business was kicking up the heat. I pulled up the shades on the dozen windows that enclosed the Florida room to allow sun to filter in. “You’ll have to wait inside while I unpack the car.” Hammie whined and showed me his best pitiful look. “Save the guilt. It doesn’t work on me, remember?” As if he understood my announcement, he sauntered into the sun room.

Three trips to the car finished the task and I decided it was time for a break for both of us. I filled Hammie’s bowl with water and tucked a dog treat in my pocket, a bribe in case it was needed later to get him back inside. After flipping the switch on the wireless contraption, I picked up the second collar and slipped it in place. Long ago I resolved that I’d never fully understand how the machine knew how far a ninety-foot circumference was and how it could relate it to an animal. “Time to breathe in a little of this country air, buddy.” Hammie’s tail wag and pitiful moan as he nudged his nose on the door handle summed it up perfectly. I grabbed a bottle of water before heading to the deck.

The lake’s water near the dock was low and still, stirring only when an acorn dropped from a nearby tree where a squirrel packed away its final stash for the winter. Hints of late afternoon sun filtered through the towering oaks that still clenched some of their vegetation, perhaps as a cloak in anticipation of the deep cold inching closer by the hour. Leaves rustled beneath the elevated cabin as Hammie explored within his allotted space. I leaned on the railing and listened to the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker interrupted, or perhaps accompanied by, the chirp of a cardinal warning others that company had arrived.

The temperature dipped quickly as the sun slowly disappeared. “Think it’s time to go in Ham.” A flash of the biscuit brought him running. Two crunches and the treat disappeared. “How about dinner? You getting hungry? Me too.”

After we ate, I closed all the shades and headed to the bedroom to read for a while. Hammie joined me, circling around and plopping down, then pressing his back into my side. I smiled and stroked his shiny coat. With the added warmth and enhanced sense of security, I sent a silent “thank you” to my husband.

###

We settled into a routine over the next few days with the majority of time devoted to my novel. Whenever Hammie wasn’t exploring the enticing animal scents in his designated circle, he curled up at my side with his backend toward me to show his true feelings. His deep sighs made me laugh. I guessed even dogs get bored with my writing.

So far, my plan had come together with only minor interruptions. The final chapter neared completion, yet I was distracted by something. I put the laptop in sleep mode and stood up. Perhaps the tedious attention required to complete the edits or maybe the isolation from human contact was taking its toll, but the continuous hammering by a visiting woodpecker wore on my nerves. I took my cell phone and Hammie onto the deck and searched near the roof for the enemy. I located his head pounding on the side of the cabin. A Pileated Woodpecker, one not often seen back home. My irritation turned to awe.

The sharp red crest and white underwing color of the crow-sized bird deserved to be captured, at least on my phone so I could show hubby upon my return. I needed to get the best angle. “What do you think Ham?” I swear he shook his head no. Ignoring his warning, I contemplated my move. Common sense stepped aside for the risk-taker I had become and I pushed the wooden lawn chair close to the edge of the deck. With the phone in my pocket, I worked my way higher, placing one foot on the top of the chair and the other on the hand railing, steadying myself by gripping the side of the cabin with both hands.
Perfect, I thought, as I focused in on the knocker. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on how to balance myself with both hands working the phone’s camera. I tapped the screen, pleased with the result for a nanosecond, until my foot slipped off the railing. My head crashed against the redwood railing, sending stars and instant pain. I plummeted down the fifteen foot drop to the ground, landing on my already injured skull. I screamed as unbearable pain split my skull and sent me into a blackened state.

###

“Honey. Honey, please wake up.”
The whisper of the faded plea stirred in a distant corner of my mind. The pain. Oh, the pain. Why so much pain? I struggled to raise my hand to message my temple, but something weighed my arm down.

“Babe, I’m here.”

I struggled to open my eyes, feeling caught between stages as if coming out of a dream. Where am I? Who’s calling me? As the fog in my brain dissipated, the stabbing leg pain intensified, then my arm joined forces with the excruciating headache. I twisted and how could turned trying to escape the torture.

“Honey, I’ll get the nurse. Hold on.”

The voice traveled closer then faded as I sensed the release of warmth from my hand. Something heavy warmed my left leg. Think, I urged myself. Flashes of memory interrupted the agonizing battle inside my body. Footsteps, rushing around the room, unfamiliar voices shouting commands to each other.
“I thought we’d lost you.” The voice that called me honey choked.

Think harder. People tugging on an arm, tape ripping, alarms. I hear alarms. I’ve heard those before, many times, but where? “Nooo!” This time I heard my own shout as the voices faded away, my futile attempts to stop the drugs from sending me back to the dark place.

###

Six weeks later, with my discharge papers signed, hubby wheeled me to the car. A metal contraption kept my neck in place while my left leg and right arm had progressed to temporary casts. My eyes grew moist as I neared the car. My daughter smiled from behind the wheel. Hammie anxiously bounced up and down in the back seat. An unexpected and welcomed sight.

My husband helped me make the painful transition from chair to car, and then settled into a back seat driver position. The dog wiggled and squirmed until he managed to gently place his nose on my shoulder, the rest of him pressed in the gap between the seats.

“I thought you might like a visit from your buddy. He visited you a few times while you were in the medically induced coma.”

“I felt his heavy body snug against mine, but I thought it was my imagination.” I stroked his furry head in appreciation. My recollection of the accident was limited to memories before the fall. Some things continued to puzzle me, like how my husband got the call after I fell. I glanced at him and started to ask again, but not wanting to test his already frayed patience. He read my thoughts and shook his head.

“Look, I’ve told you everything I know. You’re phone flew out of your hand when you fell and somehow it dialed me. I heard the screams and the continuous bark and knew something bad had happened, so I called the emergency number you left with me.”

Hammie’s eyes met mine and I studied his face for the answer and nodded. “You were right. I shouldn’t have tried it. But how did the phone dial itself?”

The black lab’s lip curled upward.

“That’s his “Elvis” smirk.” My daughter’s laughter filled the air.
“Guess it will be his little secret.” But silently I knew.

My husband’s hand extended toward me, a grin on his face as he handed me the phone. “Great picture of the woodpecker.”

Smiles optional


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My bark echoes loudly through the room as I bound
My mind’s stuck on playing with the ball I have found
We don’t speak the same language, my best friend and I
Yet he tosses the round thing and off I do fly

After four or five runs, he says “that’s enough”
Then we’ll wrestle around ’till I come on too rough
I give him that look with my pitiful eyes
My request for a treat he so often buys

He offers me comfort at the end of his bed
And for now I’m content to rest my poor head
He loves me, I know it, I ponder a while
With our paws touching slightly I break into a smile

I imagine he’s dreaming of our next game of catch
When he awakes I’ll be ready for the match
A man and his dog, best friends for life
If I could only convince him there’s no need for a wife.

Thanks to my husband for allowing me to share his photo.