Category Archives: Novella

Epilogue: Zephyr, A Caress: The Abysmal Dollhouse (AtoZ Blog Challenge)

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** New Readers to this challenge: This is a serialized, continuous work. Please start with the first piece, Abysmally Yours. The AtoZ Blog Challenge began April 1st; ends April 30th. Please check back on Monday, May 7th, for my Final Reflections. Thank you.

zephyr

Epilogue: Zephyr, A Caress

The Abysmal Dollhouse

Grief lasts as long as it will last. There is no timetable when it should end, no scale for how deep it should be. Nothing to say grief won’t return. It is its own living thing, and it either eats away at you or strengthen your resolve to go on, to mourn, to let go.

The Shopkeeper embraced hers as an inner sore: on the outside, she presented herself as was her norm. A freshly starched white buttoned blouse, the top button fastened, her fingers assuring her of this fact. She smoothed down the black fabric of her ankle-length skirt. Putting on her apron, she winced, tying it a touch too tight. She left it as it was, as she had done every time since…

In the many weeks since the incident, the Shopkeeper took her time getting to know all the new dollhouses. They appeared, without ceremony, taking residence in the places of the ones that had been destroyed. Malcanisen remained by her side as she ambled about. She still found some of the debris scattered in the most unlikely of places around the shoppe; but, once found, they simply faded away once she wasn’t looking.

This new crop of minature replicas had wants and needs, just as the previous tenants of her shoppe had. When the opportunities presented themselves, they murmured the same “mine, mine, mine” as the ones now absent. But, things were not status quo as before. Far away enough that it brought something new to the Shopkeeper: worry.

There was a balance shift with the new: more unhappiness, more anger, more depravity. These dollhouses outnumbered those that exuded more peaceful memories and needs. The Shopkeeper did not like this new shift at all. Yet, there was little she could do about the denizens about her. Only another upheaval could, hopefully, tip the balance in the other direction, creating a more harmonious setting.

What she could do, she did. Once she had the feel of the new she began to rearrange the placement of the houses. The darker abodes were situated near lighter natured dollhouses; when she could cluster them, she did. There was a stabilizing effect for a short while, but distinct grumblings permeated the shoppe after the first reshuffling. Twice more she shifted locations around the shoppe; on this third try, the houses seemed to accept their lots. The Shopkeeper was pleased, but not entirely happy.

The window display took on a whole new life. A magnificent replica of the Castle of Goeie Hoop stood there, majestic in scope, taking the whole of the display space. Many called out for their due when the new door chimes tinkled; sometimes many hushes from the Shopkeeper was needed to silence them. Occasionally, when she was at her counter, waiting, sounds of gunfire could be heard. The Shopkeeper would look over with a scowl; the noise ceased. Always.

She had begun to avoid the Conservatoire d’épouvante Maison De Poupée best she could. The Wall of Skulls underwent a thorough cleansing of what had been displayed before. All forty-two specimens were new, with new nameplate labels. She had glanced at them early on, missing a few, especially Sigurd. She felt them all yearning to tell their stories, their need overwhelming. It disturbed her deeply; she kept it locked, a drastic change in her dusting duties.

It was one skull in particular that had her in knots. While she was privy to some ghastly knowledge from many in her care, there was that one: she wasn’t ready for it, wasn’t sure if she would ever be ready to hear the telling of this one’s tale.

The label only read “Child.”

Duster in hand, she busied herself around the shoppe, doing her best not to glance towards the empty far corner.

*** *** ***

The soldier only vaguely remembered the incident. He had a new scar that was painful if he placed any real weight on it. He had no concrete awareness of how he got this scar or even the when or the where. All he knew was it ached at times, and was only one of many scars all over his body. He carried it like the others.

There was a stiffness in his right hand, the outer two digits especially. His EMT buddy said it was probably a bad case of Trigger Finger since they sometimes get locked into a bent position. He was able to release them, so he didn’t bother checking out a doctor for it.

“Look, Tom. A Zayat ahead. I could use a rest stop.” His companion, Mary, tired easily, but he was more than fine with that. Her recovery from her stabbings was labeled a miracle by the nurses that tended her. His EMT buddy thought so too, having read Mary’s charts, even though he wasn’t supposed to.

Tom had awakened one day at the hospital, sitting by Mary’s side, no idea how he had gotten there. He remembered tracking Mary’s assailant, and that was it. The next thing, he’s by her side, an aching scar, stiff right hand, and an awake Mary staring at him. Her smile filled her face when she saw he was awake.

The nurses had told her all about the guy who had brought her in, most likely saving her life. They said he sat by her side more days than they kept count, talking to her comatose form, keeping on eye on her while she was out. He disappeared for a bit, and they all thought he had given up hope, but-surprise-he was back, and just after she, also, was back.

They talked for a long time, first about her attack and the aftermath. Mary was upset that her assailant had not been found, but was also relieved that there had been no further sightings or attacks. Tom was a reassuring presence for her, and she wound up being the same for him.

After her discharge, they got closer. Close enough to the point that he easily asked her to come with him: he needed to travel, come to some peace in his being with the loss of his brothers, and the guilt he still felt for falling asleep while on sentry. She agreed, without a second’s thought.

The Zayat was simple but more than sufficient, as all the others they had stumbled upon. They rested, found fresh food and water, and stayed for a few of the religious occasions that happened around them. Mary had an idea that Tom readily agreed to: they were given permission to stay and help tend this particular Zayat, for the time being, keeping it clean, helping with any chores that needed doing, and welcoming other travelers seeking shelter.

Their lives, for the time being, was enriched by this Zayat, the Jivitandana Sangha, and they enriched it, finding peace and love.

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The Shopkeeper was resting in her back room, fresh scone devoured, a second cup of tea steaming by her side on the table. She had closed her eyes, leaning into her padded chair. Malcanisen was at her feet; on her feet, more accurately, snoring away. Cleaning around the shoppe, tending to those who entered, the houses that wanted: it all still left a hole in the whole affair.

She had thought with the death of the murderer, the vengeance sought and achieved, that she would be released from her binding. As the Unfolding Doll seemed to have been. There had been nothing left of it from the fire that consumed Muirhouse and its woodshed. There had been no shimmering from the far corner, now less shadow filled than it had ever been. She was left, and it was gone, and the pain in her heart was so severe at times, the grief that subsided but rose again, and again.

Something prevented her from moving on. She racked her memory of everything that happened after that night at the Carousel, her then grief turning into a burning pledge of hatred and revenge. Promises made, from her and…promises made, but not kept, it seems, for her.

Collecting herself, she began to breathe in deeply, hold the breath, and let it out slowly. She continued this, calming herself into a single path of breath. It eased through her, a wind of her own making. It carried out a host of inner turmoil, a monsoon of sadness. She rested for a long time.

Until.

She came awake instantly. The Shopkeeper wasn’t sure if she had dreamed it, or…but, no, there it was, slight but there. A tap, tap, tapping…and it was near, so near.

Malcanisen bounded out of the back room. The Shopkeeper jumped out of her chair and ran through the threshold into the shoppe. Stopping suddenly by her counter, she looked around the entire area, looking under, behind, around; no one was there. Malcanisen sat down, eyes on her.  Tears that she thought she had been finished shedding started to well up once again as her heart shattered once again.

Until.

She glanced down. On the top of her counter was a knife. Long and sharp looking, it had a sheen that caught the light in the shoppe and sent spiraling of colors into the air, a prism of steel. She took hold of the hilt of the blade and brought it up, level with her heart, and held it there.

Looking in the far corner, it was again clouded in the deepest, darkest shadow.

And it was unfolding.

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The AtoZ Blog Challenge

Here we are: the end of this year’s AtoZ Blog Challenge. During the month of April 2018, the challenge required that we write 26 posts, starting with the letter A on April 1st and ending with Z on Monday, April 30th. On Monday, May 7th,  there will be a reflection post that will wrap up this experience, for me as well as my readers. If you travel back to the main page of the AtoZ Blog Challenge, you’ll find other blogs that participated. Many, I’m sure, will pique your interest, as many did mine.

On May 7th, all of the participants of the AtoZ Challenge are asked to post a reflection on the month’s process: afterthoughts, explanations, frustrations/elations, and whatever else may come to mind.

****After you read the Z post on Monday, April 30th, I will be asking YOU for questions, ponderings, or suggestions you might still have. I found a number of editorial mistakes when I copied and pasted the stories into a Word file (thank you, Grammarly) and already did some (minor) editing. So, if you’ve been with me all along, or just finding your way into The Abysmal Dollhouse, April 30th will be a good time to pose what’s on your mind. I will do my best to answer/address all on the reflection (mentioned above).

Any queries must be posted by Friday, March 4th.

As to what happens next with Tale Spinning &/or The Abysmal Dollhouse…time will tell.

Thanks for reading along.

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Zenith of All Things (A to Z Blog Challenge)

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**To start from the very beginning: From the Case Files of Inspector Khazarian Rovas

**To read the first parts of this story line:  X-Folders and Yesterday’s Sorrows

Zenith

“Zenith of All Things”

The Case Files of Inspector Khazarian Rovas

Khazarian Rovas, ex police Inspector, awoke in the hospital with a splitting headache, woozy and disoriented for a moment. Knowing only he was laying down, Rovas raised his head. Bad move, as more pain shot through his head. Putting his head back down was almost as painful as when he raised it. The room was dark, the only light in the room was either emanating from the machinery near his head or seeping in from outside his room. Looking the other way he saw Berrak, sleeping, in a chair.

He coughed when he tried to call her name. She woke and immediately came to his side.

“Hi,” she said, running a hand through his hair on the left side. She saw him wince and moved her hand. “Would you like some water?”

Zarian nodded. He sipped some, started coughing again, drank some more. Berrak put it down and moved the chair closer. She left the room only to return with a nurse a few moments later. Berrak refused to leave as the nurse brought in her cart and  turned on all the lights. She took all his vitals down, entered everything into her computer, and asked her questions. She didn’t stay any longer than she had to, which suited both Zarian and Berrak.

Berrak walked over to the light switches, turning all but the light by the bathroom off. Closing the door, she sat down and took Zarian’s hand.

“Obviously I got hurt, but I don’t remember how.”

“What do you remember?”

“Peters had a knife up to one of the children’s throat. He nicked her with it. Is she all right?”

“Yes she is. They all are,” she squeezed his hand.

“Good. Peters put down his knife, picked up his rifle, and aimed it at me. He lost seconds when he tossed…”

“Aemilie. She’s 13.”

“He tossed Aemilie away and brought the rifle up. He knew the recoil: one handed and nothing to brace with, he’d have little to no chance. As it is, he got off two shots before I beaned him.

I had that moment between the tossing the girl and his training his sites on me to barely dodge the first bullet. As I went down I reached for a fairly hefty crystal candy dish…could I have some more water?”

Berrak brought the straw to his lips. He motioned it away after a few sips.

“I tossed the dish as hard as I could. It hit him in the chest with a satisfying thud. Peters staggered. I got to him as fast as I could, going for his knife. I turned…I turned…dammit, I don’t know what happened next.”

“I do, Zarian. The mother, Mrs. Frasier, told us what happened. She was cringing on the couch, trying to protect her children with her body, but she saw you throw her dish at Peters. Mrs. Frasier -Caroline- said as you grabbed the knife and turned, Peters fired one more time. He…clipped you on the side of the head, there.”

“Ah, that’s why the pain there.”

“Yes. It was a nasty looking wound. I thought you were dead when the police let me in. So much blood.” Berrak stopped, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“And…?”

“And you fell, knife in both hands. You fell down on Peters, driving the knife into his chest. The police found you on top of him, blood all over the floor. Yes, before you ask, he’s dead.”

She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it. He moved it out of her grip and cupped her face, sliding his thumb over her chin, her mouth.

“It’s over, Berrak. I wished he could have stood trial and rotted in jail, but…it’s over.”

She nodded, closing her eyes as his hand cupped her cheek.

She stayed all night by his side.

*****

EPILOGUE

Many hospital visitors later, they both returned home. Gil and Jill had organized a small “Welcome Home” party. Rovas was not a fan of surprise parties, but this one he tolerated with grace. Jill had brought Sara, her daughter. Tina, who had nicely recovered from her ordeal with Peters, brought a date.  Chief Inspector Oliver Dole was there, with his wife, as well as other friends from the force. Even Maggie and Pearl, who kept refusing the people food the others tried to slip her. Maggie allowed Pearl her treats. He was content with this crowd, but then the doorbell rang one more time.

The Palmonts arrived, all three children in tow. Berrak had gone to the door, ushered them in, and called Rovas over. They gathered around him, the parents shaking his hand. He got hugs from both Janice and April. The three of them shared some tears; the girls hugged Berrak as well, then went into the living room: they had noticed Sara.

Rovas’s arm was tugged on. It was Gerald. He beckoned to him with his finger. Rovas stooped down a little. Gerald went close to his ear, saying, almost in a whisper:”Thank you for stopping…him.” Rovas got another hug. He returned this just as fiercely.

Rovas sat on the couch, a cup of perfect coffee in his hand, made by Berrak, of course. Dole came over. He was congratulating and chastising him in the same breath, until his wife smacked him on the arm and made him promise to behave. This brought a round of laughs from all, more so from those who worked with him daily. Rovas was glad, later, that he kept to his promise.

Gil, with Jill in hand, came over and sat with Rovas. Berrak was talking with Tina and her plus one, Samuel. They went over to join Zarian.

As they sat, Gil hit himself in the head, smiling. “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t…well, yes I can. It’s not like nothing else has been happening.”

“What, Gil?” asked Rovas.

Gil turned and looked at Tina. “I think we’ve found the man who killed…um…your friends,” he said, pointedly not looking at Samuel.

“He knows, Gil.” She took Samuel’s’ hands in hers. “Go on.”

“Well, while Inspector…um…Zarian,” he changed after a look from Rovas. “While he was recuperating, one of my inquiries into this Vic character came to my desk. In one of the books we found from the…woman of the house…there were numerous booking for a VG. So, I started searches for anyone named Vic or Victor with a surname starting with G. I finally got a hit, and I think it’s him. It took long enough, but…”

“And…?” Berrak asked, pushing Gil along.

“If this is the guy, his name is Victor Gilbride. I found him in the mental ward. Scarily, he was in the same high level ward that Peters had escaped from.” Gil shook his head.

“Victor had been in another…house…when he was arrested. He was with two girls and got rough with them. He left teeth marks, pretty bad ones, on one of the girls. They screamed, he was getting more violent, the madame threw the door open and tassed him.”

“Good for her. I wish Lily had one.”

“Yes, well, once he was in police custody, Victor went a little bat crazy.”

Everyone groaned.

“Yes, well…when they searched his home, they found more equipment like was left at the scene of the murders. Victor didn’t confess so much as relished his telling of why he did such a disgusting thing.”

“Gil, he drank the blood?” Rovas asked.

“Yes, and he got good and sick from it. Victor really thought he was a vampire- wait, I know, but according to the docs this is a syndrome. He was planning to do it again, he said. His biting was a kind of foreplay for him. The madame said she knew he did it, but it had been more restrained before that night.”

“Oh. Oh…wow. I just…I’m not really sure how I feel, Gil. Thank you.” Tina got up, nudged Jill slightly, and gave Gil a hug. She went back to sit by Samuel. “He’s not on the streets. Wow.”

They all smiled and relaxed.

The evening wound up early. Everyone knew Zarian needed his rest. They didn’t linger very long. He got many hugs and pats on the back, and some kisses on the cheek from Jill, Tina, and Janice, the oldest of the Palmont girls. Gerald stood in the doorway, looked him in the eye, and waved. Rovas waved back.

Alone, the two settled on their couch.

“I will clean up tomorrow, Zarian. I’m tired, and I know you are as well. It’s in your eyes.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. “All this horror is done with, now. I think I could sleep for a week.”

Zarian stroked her hair, closing his eyes, relaxing with her on the couch.

“Come,” she said after waking up from dozing off. “Bed time, for both of us.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Let’s go up.”

He took her hand as they both levered themselves off the couch. She turned off the light in the room and made their way to the stairs. Rovas stopped for a moment, looking into his darkened study, out the window.

Rovas noticed a silhouette of a man briskly walking away from their house, down the street, hands in his pockets, head cast down, fading down the street horizon.

He smiled, looked at Berrak, and headed upstairs for some much needed sleep.

The End

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Well, that’s it…for now? I’m not sure if I’ll return to this or not. There are a few other story lines I like (Devil’s Diary; The Kitsune Mochi; The Abysmal Dollhouse) that I’d like to re-explore, as well as an idea for a novel that has been floating around the vast emptiness of my mind, one that sets foot in the urban paranormal vein. I need a couple of days off of just vegging. Then…we’ll see.

I’m supposed to have a Reflection Post up sometime in May, say the Masters of the A to Z. I will get to that, and announce the date as soon as I firm it down.
There is still plenty of time to check out blogs from the A to Z Blog Challenge. Click on the banner below. It will take you to their home page. Or, click HERE to go to the A to Z Challenge list.

As to the Blogging from A to Z challenge, I’ll let the words of Arlee Bird (founder of said challenge) tell you what this is all about:

The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 4 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day.

The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends.

Thank you for coming by. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, mistakes and all. As I said awhile back, I consider this my “First Draft”, which kinda sorta means I might pull this out and rework it a bit down the road.

Anyone want to be my editor? Beta Reader? Cannoli maker?

Comments, likes, and outpouring of love and gratitude is always welcome.  🙂

 

A to Z: The Complete Swan Rise Series

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Open House: Trespassers Welcome

Swan Rise Apartments went out like an exploding lamb; it came in like a sleeping lion… but the building, and its inhabitants, did not always remain so. They lived lives that were hungry, playful, sleepy, lusty, fearful, agitated and on the prowl; they reared their young, and did what they needed to survive in this vertical village.

Welcome to… Swan Rise Apartments

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…and so, the story unfolds. 26 interlocking stories set in the world of Swan Rise Apartments, all written for the A to Z Challenge that ran throughout April 2012.

You’ll find links to all the stories below; each one stands alone, but many have roots and connections in other chapters.  As a whole, it tells a story of the lives that swirl around apartment building life.

Each Sunday, I’ll re-post these links in case you missed any and for your ease in finding them.

The stories will remain up only for the month of May. As of June 1st, I will be taking all of the stories down from Tale Spinning so I can work on a larger second draft of the work. Some of the earlier pieces need fleshing out, and discoveries I made along the way need their roots dug deeply in the beginnings.

May 30th will be your last chance to read, and comment, on these stories. Hopefully, you’ll eventually hold an expanded version in your hands.

Comments are always welcome no matter when you read the story.

Week #1: A to G

All, Tumbling Down

Basement Boogie

Children in the Hall

Doggie Doings

Equivocation Elite

Fire(escape)

Ground, Breaking

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Week #2: H to M

Holidays, Haunts and Hearts

Imaginings of Love

Jung, @Heart

Kindred Spheres

Laundry Room Mafia

Mrs. Beatty

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Week #3: N to S

Not What They Seem

One Man’s Ceiling…

Pollination in the Parking Lot

Quack, Quack

Retraction of Gravity

Super, My Super

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Week #4: T to Z

Thieving Ways

Underneath It All

Vertically Challenged

Weather Man, Oh

Xanthippe

Yeah…Life Goes On…

Zenith: Arising

Zenith: Arising (#AtoZChallenge)

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The A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to ALL the previous stories, CLICK HERE

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Goodbye…

The wrecking ball wrecked, the explosives exploded, and all the debris was carted away. Stone, bricks, glass, wood, metal piping, aluminum, copper, brass, steel, plastics, rubber hoses, cables and…among the detritus there were also bits and pieces of lives mixed in: slivers of dolls and toys; charred papers that once were whole books,  someone’s thesis or love letters, wills, documents, pictures; cloth that, in some pieces, you could see patterns that illuminated a sun dress or once expensive curtains; some bones, those of the pets that were never found. So much life mired in destruction.

Swan Rise Apartments was no more; really, it hadn’t been for months. The property was condemned: the damage from the explosion and fires were too great. Part of the foundation was in shambles. Inferior piping was found to run through the remaining section of the building, and some of the landings were precarious in any hope of their holding up. The majority of the building inhabitants were not allowed to retrieve their belongings. They all settled, out of court.

Swan Rise fell in November of 2005.

That winter was fierce, and building anything was held off for months as ice storms and heavy snows blanketed the area. There was also litigation for wrongful deaths, finger pointing, bribes not paid, fines not paid, union disputes, haggling over bids, and planning…lots of planning. The real estate was too valuable to leave an empty lot.

Construction began in the early fall of 2006.

The wild life that floated up and down Swan River ignored all the doings. They lived too far away to be inconvenienced beyond the initial blasts. They’d fly over for the morsels that were tossed from workers meals, carelessly done so in the already made squalor. The birds let their presence be known in a number of different ways, many times being cursed out by a construction worker who was “hit.”

For close to two years the area morphed from gravel, dirt, weeds, and the past into a new edifice of metal, concrete and glass. Swan River Road was bustling with traffic, the sprouting of other buildings and businesses growing substantially from 1960. New construction always brought gawkers around, rubberneckers ogled the cranes bringing girders to be placed, and the welding and gluing and mortaring and tarring  brought things to a standstill all too often, much to the chagrin of the other inhabited area.

2008, and a new renamed building was erected, zoned for two extra floors, standing seven stories tall. Taking far longer than anticipated, the building management was chomping at the bit for all the lost revenue. They made it a condo, and had nice down-payments in the bank for all of the apartments by the time the construction was complete. There was a waiting list, and would continue to be one in the years ahead.

The tenants of Mallards Crossing Condominium moved into their new residences.

Hello…

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Author’s Note:

April 2012 comes to a close and this year’s AtoZ Challenge with it. 26 posts about Swan Rise Apartments and its residents. 24 stories; two poems (one free form; one sonnet).

If you were wondering, I wrote 18,032 words during the month; if you add in The Whistler is Dead, it is 18,493 words in length. Not too shabby.

Please note that these stories will be left up only through May 2012.

I will then take them offline as of June 1st, as I plan to put this whole thing through an editors pen and a second “draft.”Quite a lot of the early ones need some fleshing out, especially the two poem posts, so I hope  to bring it over 25,000 words; more, if I get really ambitious.

From there, it will be query letter time.  If an agent or publisher only sees this as tainted goods (already published) then I WILL go the self publishing route, but there will be a lot that was never intended for the AtoZ that I had in mind and little to no time to write. The reaction on the comments and in emails has been so positive that I’d be silly to let this just lie here solely on a blog.

Thank you to all of my readers. You’ve been my “beta” testers, my writing cohort, as I’ve explored this story as you have: day by day. I made many discoveries along the way, and very few of the original titles I “planned” out remained. I never knew there was a murder in the building until I wrote it into one of the stories, a throw-away line that had a life unto itself. Mrs. Beatty was only a small dot to me when I wrote the first story: she became a loved character to many of you (and me as well). So many others in the building took on more weight (Amy came out of nowhere, and I’m glad she did), and a few will get some expansions when I work on this over the summer months.

A big Thank You goes to Lisa Vooght for being my sounding board, playing editor and  finding some of my outright mistakes, and for all of her support. She is an amazing writer in her own right and you should check out her creative fiction blog, Flash Fiction.

I also want to thank Arlee Bird (founder of the blog fest: click on the logo heading this blog post to go to their site) and his co-hosts for running this and giving over 1500 bloggers a chance to spread their wings (and go a little crazy in the process).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of interwoven tales. This was both tiring and exciting for me as a writer.

Comments are always welcome, no matter when you read the stories.

Did you have a favorite of the 26? I’d like to know which one(s) were for you and why.

That’s always a big help and a blessing for a writer: feedback.

Thanks all!!!

Stuart

Xanthippe (#AtoZChallenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE

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“This is what I can tell you, Detectives. First, she was poisoned. The effects were wearing off and are definitely older than the bludgeoning. The victim was stabbed next, twice in the abdomen, the softer tissue. From the blue tint of her lips, she was still alive when her pillow was finally used for suffocation. Someone wanted this woman dead.”

Detectives Dibny and Wayne,  investigating Doris Bertram’s murder, looked at each other. Dibny wanted to say that this was just overkill, but the look on Wayne’s face held him back. They thanked the forensics doc and headed upstairs to their desks: Wayne to look over the notes he’d already gone over a close to a dozen times that day alone; Dibny to find out what his wife packed him for lunch.

The notes were the same each time Wayne looked: no forced entry; door found ajar; fire escape gate was unlocked and wide open; a variety of fingerprints from tenants and family here and there (not a compulsive cleaner, which Wayne cursed at: it only added to his headache); women’s footprints in the blood of the victim-same size as the victim, and about fifteen others in the building, as well as her youngest daughter; no blood splatter to be found on any clothing; no prints on either murder weapon used-wiped clean; no fibers found; etc. etc. etc….

…that all led to a great big pile of nada. The detective threw the folder together, dumped it on the corner of his desk, and went out for lunch.

This was one case he never got to close. Retired now, it bothered him occasionally, especially when he reminisced while visiting Dibny’s grave.

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Doris Bertram, late of Swan Rise Apartments, ex-president of the Tenants Association, was mourned by her two grown children (the oldest more then the younger, truth be told) and an assortment of friends and neighbors. Two people in the building were glad she was gone; one of the two not happy about the method, but in the long run, happy nonetheless.

Patty smiled a lot in the days after Doris was found. Being reinstated as president only matched her glee. In the end, she just found this exciting, and wound up using it to push through a lot of “extras” for the building. Each change she sought and won was a victory for her, and Doris’ murder helped her achieve more than she had previously. When she went out (without Mrs. Beatty), which she did often, she’d offer a silent toast to Doris, not in good wishes at all.

Mrs. Beatty was saddened by the murder, and made more fearful. Since her husband had died, she grew more and more afraid, and this was the “straw that broke the cake” (she could never remember adages as they were supposed to be).  She had thought someone had been in her apartment: some clothing was missing, as well as the embroidered handkerchief that David had made for her. Now she was sure of it, and after the meeting she needed extra fortification, visiting the Frolicking Lamb and then making arrangements to have heavy duty dead bolts put on her door and to replace the two door locks she already had.

*****

Dragana had replaced her husbands keys exactly where he left them, exactly where he had left them every night since they had moved in and he took “this stinking job.” He was snoring away as usual, beer vapors expelled with each “sqoink” he made. She stood over him, the dim shine of the moon and street and parking lot lights illuminating him through the slats of the window blinds. The shadows sliced him into pieces, and Dragana wished she hated him more than she loved him or needed him.

In the morning, the building was abuzz with Mrs. Beatty’s finding a door ajar, and then finding the dead Doris. Andres was put off balance, and he glanced at his wife out of the corner of his eye throughout the day. She ordered him out of her hair, doing more odd jobs for her this day than normal, and he did it with tail between his legs. She batted the cigar out of his mouth, stomped on it, and for once he just turned and walked away.

“Sleep with MY husband? You bitch!” ran through Dragana’s mind, taking away the small satisfied smile that occasionally crept onto her face. Patty came out of the elevator at one point and saw the change in Dragana’s face. Their eyes locked, and Patty was the one to break contact this time. She also stayed out of Andre’s way after this, not really knowing why but knowing it was the smart thing to do.

Dragana sat in her overstuffed chair, watching the shopping network, ordering a few things she did not need. She waited the day to see if she had made any mistakes, but the detectives only questioned her about seeing anyone hanging around the building who should not be there and if she knew anyone who had a grudge against “the victim.” Dragana brought up the prostitute that had been seen in the lot that the police did nothing about, and that Patty hated her and Mrs. Beatty was her stooge in all things.

She had planned this for awhile, finding out about her bastard husband and “that bitch” by overhearing some of the gossip from the Laundry Room Mafia. They “shushed” when they did find her listening, but it had been too late.

She had gone on an out of state shopping trip, buying a skin tight full body cat suit (cash). On the same trip, she stopped at a surgical supply store and purchased a number of items that she did not need and three that she did: sterile gloves and covering for her head/hair and shoes.  Later that night she saw Mrs. Beatty and Patty leave; she “borrowed” the building keys, went into Mrs. Beatty’s apartment, and since they were just about the same size, took shoes, a pair of pants, a blouse, and at the last minute, the embroidered handkerchief. Patty was larger than Dragana, and as much as she hoped to pin this on her, it would not have been smart.

Andres had come in, smelling of sex, but went and took a shower before she had a chance to accuse him. He drank three beers and went to sleep, dead to the world. Dragana put on the cat suit and then put Mrs. Beatty’s clothes on over that. Going up the stairway, she waited at the top landing until all the dog walkers were in for the night. She put the surgical items on, took out the master set of keys, and opened Doris’s door…for the second time that day.

Earlier in the day she had been inside,  when Doris was “entertaining” her husband in his workshop. She had put some rat poison in some of the open beverage containers in the fridge. Enough to get her sick and woozy; not enough, she hoped, to kill her, yet.

Doris was staggering, hand on her stomach, and fell to her knees. She clutched herself, thinking she had food poisoning, and groaning so much she did not hear Dragana unlock the door, enter and close it behind her. She opened her eyes in time to see the Buddha being lifted, then swung towards her head.

Dragana had blood on her, but the energy she used to lift the heavy statue, and the jitters she felt, drained her from using it a second time. A second time she needed, obviously to her, as Doris was still alive. Dragana went into the kitchen and took a knife out of the teak block on the counter. Straddling over her, Dragana plunged the knife into her stomach twice. The blood spray sickened her, but still Doris would not die.

Reaching over to the couch, Dragana took one of the chintz pillows and put it over the pleading lips she hated so much. It didn’t take much pressure (Dragana was not doing well herself) to push the pillow down. Finally…finally, Doris was gone.

Dragana stood up, stepped in the blood, and walked over to the window in the living room that had the fire escape. She opened the window and the grate that Doris never locked, and climbed out. She almost cried out when she saw a figure below her: “that idiot Weather Man!” but she stood stock still. It was then she also noticed the bloody footprints. She took off the shoe covering and carefully reentered the apartment, leaving the window and gate wide open.

Making her way far around the body, Dragana opened the front door and crept out, leaving it ajar so as not to make any more noise then was needed. She went down the stairs to the basement and took off all of Mrs. Beatty’s clothes. Using her husband’s keys, she opened the elevator door (the elevator was on the 4th floor and had been for awhile) and went down the rungs to the shaft’s floor.

There was the black plastic bag she had left earlier. Using Mrs. Beatty’s handkerchief, she wiped off as much blood as she could, trying to make sure nothing would leak onto her when she undressed. All of the purloined materials went into the bag; the bag went underneath the oily trash her husband was supposed to clean up, but never did (and never would).  She set fire to the surgical items, a rotten burning smell that just intermingled with the garbage, and scattered the melted pieces around the base.

Cat suited, she made her way quickly to her apartment, removed it and wadded it into a ball, tossing it to the back of her walk-in closet that was already brimming with clothing.

Naked, she sat on the edge of her bed and shook.

Weather Man, Oh (AtoZ Challenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE

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The Weather Man rode the elevator with a daily proclamation, the steel enforced walls girding him the fortitude to meet the day. When he first moved into the building with his wife and dog, it was always a “Fine day to you!”, a tip of his hat, and a gaze that never faltered. He and his moved about, coming and going at all times of the day, seemingly living to just enter or disembark and greet all encountered.

“Oh, it’s cold outside.”

“Oh, the rain is coming.”

“Oh, it’s Summer now.”

His walking shoes were seldom replaced for boots; only on the muckiest of days. Dark pants, plaid or plain shirt, and padded elbow jackets were his uniform, and only a parka covered that during the height of the winter months. Never a cross mien, never an unkind word, but you’d know about the weather of the day, wanting it or not, as he passed you by.

When his dog was alive, they were as one. Quiet, looking forward, a quick comment, and then out with a nod. The two would wander the streets, up and down the road, crossing the avenues, into the grassy plains. And walk…the two would walk. Returning only delayed the inevitable: they’d be out again, sooner than later, with the same report of mother nature being extolled if you ran across them in their outings.

Then the dog passed onto the hereafter, and The Weather Man seemed lost. Rarely venturing out with his wife to begin with, he now was a solitary figure following the same pathways he and his friend always took. At first there was a jingling upon his arrival or departure from the Otis contrivance; a slight tinkle as his hand reached into his jacket pocket. Soon that mystery was solved, as The Weather Man wound his dog’s leash and tags around his right hand and wrist, openly, and made no mention of it.

If an accident occurred on the parkway, The Weather Man would wander over and stare. Up and down the road he’d go, looking at the destruction from as many angles as he could, as if studying it for later use. Hands in his pockets, he’d then meander away from the building for hours on end.

He was seen, often, at The Frolicking Lamb, keeping his head down as he nursed his dark lager. The Weather Man always sat with his back against the wall, at the rear of the pub, and most said they always felt one eye on them when he was around, but they could never be certain. It was said that Frank, Ted and Ardel, who had newly came over from the emerald isles, were seen walking into the Lamb but went running out after noticing him there. They wouldn’t talk about it, and that was all there was to that.

It was also said that, on clear nights,  The Weather Man would climb out onto the fire escape of Swan Rise and climb to the top. There he would sit, with a scrap of paper, short nub of a pencil, and the leash bound to him like skin. Notes would be made, a code he had known before but now was finding it slip away. A flash of light would startle him, but it was only a high beam reflected off low lying fog, and he’d return to trying to recall what he was good at, once.

The Weather Man forgot, and in his forgetting he let go of the past: all his crimes (as said by some; heroic duty, as said by others), all his loves, all his cares, but the weather.

“Oh, it is still cold out.”

Vertically Challenged (AtoZ Challenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE

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Amy slipped the lock then snuck out onto the roof. One A.M., and she was still flying. Three acceptance letters in one day, with her prime choice school the last one she opened but the one she wanted most. She wedged a book she hated (“War and Peace”) between the door and jamb so she wouldn’t get locked on the roof. Then she wrestled the door stop cinder block onto the mostly closed door to prevent anyone opening it easily. She wanted some alone time, just her and the night sky, with whatever stars and moonlight that would shine through on this cloudy but warm evening.

Amy unfurled the quilt she brought with her, took off her sandals and knapsack, and stood in the middle of the blanket her grandmother made for her, a long time ago.

“Boston..Here I Come!” she shouted, in a very thrilled hushed voice. It was 1:00 a.m., after all, and she wanted no intrusions as she celebrated. Getting into the school she dreamed about was a chance for freedom, both musically and personally. While things had definitely gotten better with her mother, Amy still wanted to just be away. Needed to just be away.

Laying down on the comforter, she folded her hands behind her head and stared at the night sky. She quieted herself down, listening to the thumps of her excited heartbeat, and tried to match the rhythms with her breaths. Clouds passed her by, and the Earth turned, shifting the placements of the stars above. Sighing, Amy lifted herself up on her elbows, pulled over her knapsack, and took out the bottle of wine she “liberated” from her mom’s stash.

Uncorking was a struggle that caused her to giggle, and grunt a bit in the effort as well. The cork popped out and Amy told it to “shhhhhhh,” giggling as she took a swig from the opened red. It felt good going down, and while this was only the third wine she’d ever had, she deemed it “The Best Ever!”

It was half empty when she decided to take off her clothes and Moon Bathe. She’d never done anything like this before, and…well, “Why not?” she thought.  She was laughing, shushing herself as she removed her shorts and tee shirt, and then  got really quiet when, resolve at hand (well, the bottle had been in hand up to this point; she gently put it down), she undid her bra and then took off her panties. She covered her breasts with her right arm and covered “down there” with her left hand and then looked around to see if anyone could see her. This caused her to get a fit of the giggles that she had a hard time stopping.

Plopping down on the quilt, hurting her tush in the process, Amy buried her head in her raised knees until she both stopped the giggling and calmed down from the slight anxiety she felt. Resting her turned head in such a way, she got a glimpse of night, and it relaxed her, and her breathing returned to normal, and the beating of her heart was an accompaniment she was used to.

Amy stretched out, wading the knapsack up and using it as a pillow, and felt at peace…and a little bit naughty. She finished the wine in spurts, and as the hour drifted along, and then passed on towards three, Amy redressed slowly, her striptease now in reverse. Clothed, Amy again laid down, fluffed out the makeshift pillow, and closed her eyes.

Sleep came to her as her eyelashes met,  a kiss good night, pleasant dreams, pleasant future to come.

Unbeknownst to Amy, at 1:00 A.M. at Swan Rise Apartments…

Lev was on his terrace, eye glued to this telescope, searching the heavens, but not remembering who he was searching for…

Frank was looking out his window, apartment lights off, watching Meredith being kissed and held tightly by a man…

Doris, woozy, was trying to ward off her attacker, and fell when she was struck in the head by her own Buddha…

Marc was in bed, staring out the bedroom windows at the moon, a hand on Sean’s stomach as he snored….

Mrs. Beatty was dreaming of David, her beloved, and called out his name three times…

…and, if she had really looked, Amy would have seen The Weather Man sitting on the roof by the fire escape, his back to the wall, facing away from her, with his head tilted up to the same night views. If he had turned around, he would have seen Amy, but he did not when she arrived; he did not when she undressed, nor when she dressed, nor while she slept. The Weather Man just sat, head raised to the skies…

He was looking for a sign.

Underneath It All (AtoZ Challenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE

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Head bashed in, stabbed, poisoned and suffocated: enough ways to kill many people, but someone wanted Doris Bertram really, really dead. She had lived in 5F, and it was the Elevator Incident that fired her up to run for President of the Tenants Committee against Patty. That was her first mistake; the last was that she actually won.

Doris came to live in Swan Rise during the second wave, when some of the original tenants moved out, or on. A widow at an early age, Doris never remarried, content to bring up her two brats children by herself and running her office department with a firm hand. She skirted around the Laundry Room Mafia by breaking bread and becoming friendly with Dorothy “Dotty” Bregano,  Capo de Tutti Lavanderia, the leader of the laundry room. She ingratiated herself with every super that came along by “over tipping” them for each and every job done in her apartment (and for always offering that super’s favorite beer or spirit while he “worked”).  She’d had many of the building children in her residence at one time or the other, play dates with her two as they fought and challenged their way to the top of their respective power chains. All of those parents had Doris in for drinks and parties.

Doris played the long game, and she played it well. She and Patty had an understanding: they stood outside of each others influences, never having any true altercations over the years. They would greet each other when passing, wish the other a day’s grace, but never once did they sit down for a chat, a tea, or anything resembling a friendship. For Doris, she was glad someone took charge of the building. The majority of the changes sought, while mainly benefiting Patty outright or her vanity, suited Doris as well.

Then, the elevator finally gave up the ghost and was down for over a month. Patty took complaints to the building management, but living on the second floor did not inconvenience her like it did Doris, who lived three more long floors up. Doris was fired up, stirring up anyone she met coming or going. It helped that Dotty passed along her passion to anyone  who came across the Capo’s path as well, and the laundry room became a twirling mass of revolt. It wasn’t easy bringing laundry up and down the stairs, and Patty’s nonchalance about it all was infuriating. She had hers picked up and delivered, never using, or really caring, about the convenience in the building.

What Doris discovered, and what sent her into a tail spin and on her kamikaze way, was what was actually holding up the elevator repairs: Patty had convinced the building management that while they were replacing the motor that burned out, they might as well “fix up” the interior box with a drop ceiling, piped in muzak, and faux paneling to add to the new control works. All bells and whistles that no one else cared about, but in Patty and the owners eyes (who saw higher rents), presentation was everything.

Doris fumed, and got most of the residents fuming, and soon she was running the tenants association. Patty was out, and Mrs. Beatty with her: Mrs. Beatty’s services were “no long needed”, Doris “politely” told her. In two weeks Doris made a huge stink and  got things moving, much to Patty’s chagrin. The elevator had a completion date posted, and she got the building owners to stick to it. She also was moving onto other areas that had been neglected: fire sprinklers and video security. All of the tenants were amazed at what was happening in such a short time. All but Patty, and Mrs. Beatty.

At the end of Dori’s second week reign, Patty took Mrs. Beatty to The Frolicking Lamb, an Irish pub a few avenues away. Mrs. Beatty would nurse a half pint of bitters through the evening while Patty ordered the first of many a pint of Black and Tan. The two of them commiserated over their ousting. Well, Patty pontificated rather loudly and rudely (witnesses heard her scream out “…bitch needs to die!” a few times, but they hadn’t interceded); Mrs. Beatty listened, nodded, and shed a few modest sighs.  Mrs. Beatty had to help Patty back to the building: she called a cab to take them to Swan Rise, and then she had to help lug Patty to her apartment, put her to bed, and then lock up.

This came out in the police investigation the next day, after Doris Bertram’s door was found open and Doris was found D.O.A. The open door led to a lot of property of the victim ransacked; things smashed and upturned, jewelry and assorted “good” things missing (as per her oldest daughter), and the window to the fire escape open wide, with the gate unlocked. A statue of Buddha was used to bash in Dori’s head, and one of Doris’s own knives was used to stab her. This was found in the butcher block knife holder in her newly refurbished kitchen, put back in its place. While it seemed that there was an intruder, after questioning the building residents, some in the building fell under suspicion.

Frank was a suspect, simply because of his being Frank. The Weather Man was looked at, but dismissed early on as being “addled but safe.” Andres and his wife were looked at, as well as a few others. The Laundry Room Mafia all had different opinions on who would have killed “poor, poor Doris”.  Dotty was the most distraught, and while she took refuge in Dry Vermouth and Gin, she cast her gaze upon Doris’s rival, and let the police know.

Patty had been a prime suspect, and her doings were scrutinized up and down and left and right. One key sticking point for a detective was Patty’s reading material in the home and from library circulation: murder mysteries and Real Life Crime Stories. Patty said she that was just the genres she enjoyed reading. Somehow a local reporter got a hold of that information. The headlines screamed “Suspect in Gruesome Murder A Serial Killer Follower!” and assorted other juicy titles in a similar vein.

In the end, nothing was conclusive on the residents looked at or the possible outside offenders who preyed on the neighborhood. The case remained open, and eventually became cold.

Patty was reinstated as the President, with Mrs. Beatty by her side. The first thing Patty pushed through were the surveillance cameras so “nothing like this can ever happen again!” she exclaimed. Mrs. Beatty nodded as she recorded the minutes and kept her head down.

After the meeting that night, Mrs. Beatty returned to The Frolicking Lamb and ordered a full pint of bitters. When it arrived, she lifted her glass, closed her eyes in prayer, and did not nurse her drink that time. She had another, which was very unlike her.

Years later, when the gas line exploded, the building was searched for clues to the cause, and later for structural damages to all the systems. An insurance agent would come across clothing that was buried in oil muck at the bottom of the elevator shaft: pants, blouse and woman’s shoes. The agent shrugged her shoulders and didn’t look strongly enough to find the blood splatter still somewhat discernible. Nor did she pay any mind to the embroidered handkerchief, as the initials VJB were obscured by old, soaked in dried blood.

Retraction of Gravity (#AtoZChallenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE)

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The inhabitants of Swan Rise Apartments carried the weight of their lives with them. Some  soared in moments of true elation, ecstasy, flights of fancy, but otherwise they were grounded through the daily realities. Others rarely ever rose above a situation. They’d trod through the days, milling around and about and passing by all the other tenants. The building was a center of gravity, keeping them in place from 1960 to 2005.

No…not all of them.

As the children grew, their universe expanded. As it expanded, they moved faster and faster away, seeking to fly off on their own and leave the parental orbit they’ve circled around. Eventually they acquired their own gravity force and rarely returned; too many seemed to have anti-gravity packs on them, with a time limit attached that says “Stay and hold back on  your life,  or move on.”

Then there are the divorces, those that stay after the dissolution of vows, those that leave. How many hearts can be broken in forty-five years? Until an explosion sent all the residents adrift in space, many homes lost their centers, the things that brought them together, holding them in place. Their collective dissolved, and the energy used to keep them in place was exhausted.

A growing number seemed to just be passing by. They settled for a short stay and left little to no trace of their moving on. This happened more and more as the years passed; the attraction and hold of the building fading, flinging out the new, holding onto the old.

Many did grow old in Swan Rise. Many left in the way most don’t like to talk about.

The dead…

So many, as the years passed by; tiny notices by the mail boxes, relating in only a few words the release of another from the grounds. With the eventual removal of that paper on the wall, the last tie was severed for many. When the Whistler died, and then soon after his wife, there was a hollow wind passing through the ground floor that many felt. Others were more fleeting. The one murder in the building held for a long time through the whispers, fears, and for one, relief.

Gone, the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, grandparent, a number who lived a life alone, pets…so many pets. All those no longer earth bound.

Miraculously, no child died in the living history of Swan Rise. That grief was spared, until the explosion.

The foundation kept the building secure in place; the bricks, wood, plaster, glass, metals, ceramics gave it heft to hug the world it became for the many. Carpets and flooring were laid, furnishings and decor placed, and residents made their apartment a home. It had a mass that attracted them, mutually intense.

The building kept its own gravity, until parts of it were hurled away in a horrible blast and brought down to Earth by a greater force.

Quack, Quack (#AtoZChallenge)

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Welcome to the A to Z Challenge : 26 Stories during the month of April

Welcome to… The Apartment Building: Swan Rise

(For Links to the previous stories, CLICK HERE)

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The trickling of Swan River ran for miles. In some places it opened up wide, creating lake-like conditions, before it would narrow out again as it meandered from North to South. Along the course of this waterway ducks, geese, swans and other fowl took  residence. Most would leave during the winter months, their snow bird trek for warmer climes part of their nature. Over the years, with weather fronts changing, there would be times small flocks would not leave, making the river their home year round. This soon became the true barometer for many of the Swan Rise Apartments residents: when all the birds flew south, they knew they were in for a very cold, most likely very snowy, winter.

The river ran to lake size just opposite of Swan Rise complex; many apartments had views that overlooked it. A walking/bike riding path had been laid down years ago, with wooden and stone foot path bridges connecting the two sides at the narrower parts. Benches were placed at intervals along the way, and there were spaces to sit and have a picnic during the warmer times, which some hardier souls did even though they had to deal with territorial geese and their leavings.

Families and couples strolled, joggers jogged, and assorted wheeled instruments moved around the edges of the water, but never owned it. Swan River was the province of  the wild life, and life, death, love and hostilities were played out here in full view.

A scene from an early spring:

The numbers of ducks and geese have increased, and there is constant flow of swimmers, drifters and those folding their heads into their wings for sleep while others keep watch. Pairs are seen more than not: the bright green or blue colored heads of the drakes are bobbing along, overseeing their hen, their mate, she of varying shades of browns. She is the one you hear, the “quack quack” we associate them with, far lighter then the heavier honking of the geese, and very different from the swans, who have yet to return.

Large groups are swimming around various parts, many by the bridges when humans are by, hoping for food.

Not all, though. The center of the body of the river is empty. By the West bank is a drake, green headed; by the East bank, a hen, a mottled light brown. Whatever signal is given, whatever the prompt, they both turn towards each other in unison. Their speed is matched at they swim towards each other, the echoes of their movements played out in the otherwise still waters. They meet almost exactly in the middle, a slow turn around each other. She vocalizes twice during this do-SE-do. With the sun reflecting around them, they swim off together, she in the lead, he watchful and close behind, as they join the larger groups to the north.

Two different viewings of the same scene:

(1) Lev sat in his apartment most days looking out the window; days when the weather was nice he’d sit on his terrace. After his wife died, his son tried to get him to move, but Lev had no need to move, yet. Knowing his father’s penchant for star gazing, Seth bought him a telescope years ago. Lev used it some nights, as was intended; during the daytime, he’d watch the river life when he could.

It happened that he was focused at the right time, witnessing the coming together on the water. Transfixed from start to finish, in what really amounted to not a lot of time, Lev was brought to tears. He brought his head away from the scope, sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He felt it was just like that, with himself and Anna. Both survivors of the camps, set free but adrift after liberation, at almost opposite ends of a muddled land…yet, they found each other, and swam towards and around  together, until she died, a little more than two years ago.

Lev sat remembering, anguish mixed in with all of the happy memories they shared. After a time, he got up and went inside. Lev called Seth, asking if he would come over that evening. “Bring the family,” he asked.

(2) Amy was four years old and loved the park. She loved feeding the birds, chasing he birds (although repeatedly told not to), throwing sticks in the water, running and spending days like this with her mommy and daddy. They were holding hands while they watched her scamper, warning her when she got too close to an edge.

“Looky!” she called out, pointing, and the three of them stood transfixed, in their own ways, watching the ritual taking place before them.

Amy clapped her hands and yelled “YAY!” when the ducks swam away; she then did a little dance as she scampered along the path.

Stephen and Kattie, her parents, followed after, hugging each other, and both had wistful smiles plastered on their faces. They met up with Amy, who had scooted ahead, to the foot bridge. Amy was looking over the edge, on tippy toes, trying to find the pair of ducks among all the others milling about.

Stephen surprised them both, and himself (in all honesty), when he took Kattie’s hand and got down on one knee.

“Will you marry  me?” he asked, eyes twinkling.

 “We already are, silly.”

“I know. I’d do it again…will you marry me?”

“Say ‘YES’ Mommy” someone shouted.

She hesitated, heart skipping a beat. “Yes,” she finally said, and was swooped up in a hug/kiss by both her husband and her daughter.

Two quacks, among others, could be heard.

Ducks Swimming