A Loving Proposal

I’m going to take my cue from one of Agatha Christie’s novels as my response to today’s Word Press daily prompt. She had such an interesting way with words. And I love her characters’ names!

Swindolthwarp’s Surprise

Amos stood in the hallway watching the young woman hurry down the staircase. Always bustling around, this young lady. Always seemed to know where she was going and why. He liked that. And she was a pretty young thing. His old ticker skipped a beat.

As she passed him in the hall he caught her arm with the hook of his cane. “You. Miss Whats-your name-again?”

“Arthur. Miss Vivian Arthur.”

“Arthur. Yes. Good English name.” Amos drew her closer and wrapped his fingers around her arm. Nice bit of flesh she had, too. Not like some of the scrawny old birds throwing themselves at him lately. “I’d like to have a word with you.”

“Certainly, Sir. Are you wanting your tea already? I should start with dinner preparations soon.”

She took a step backward and he gripped her arm even tighter. “Never mind the tea, girl. I have something important to discuss. Something very personal. Come with me.” He tenderly pulled her into his study. “I’ve been watching you ever since you showed up — has it been a month already? I’ve see what an industrious sort you are. And not a waster, either.”

“Thank you, Mr Swindolthwarp.”

He leered at her lovingly. “To you I may seem like a poor old man, but I assure you, there’s more to me than meets the eye. I’m a lot more robust than my sons think. I’m not about to drop dead and leave them every penny like they wish.”

“No, I’m sure not, Mr Swindolthwarp. You seem quite robust yet.” She looked down at the hand that was clutching her arm.

“I try not to let on, but I do have quite a bit saved up, actually. I could look after you very well. You wouldn’t have to be a char anymore and work so hard every day. Mind you, I wouldn’t hire another cook, since you’re so capable. Having you doing the meals has suited my digestion to a turn. Once we’re married…”

“Married!” Vivian’s eyes opened wide and she turned pale, but quickly regained her composure. “Well. I never expected…”

“Surprised you, did I?” Amos chuckled with delight. “I’ve grown quite fond of you, you know. My wife, may she rest in peace, was okay, but an insipid sort. Not a lively thing like you. I think you could add some real zest to my life.”

“Whatever would your sons say, Mr Swindolthwarp? I fear they would resent me if I…er…if they thought…”

“Who cares what they say? They can go climb the Himalayas for all I care.” He pounded his cane on the floor twice to emphasize his point. “Right now they’re waiting for me to die so they can get their hands on my money and waste it all. But I can see you’re sensible. You won’t be tossing my life savings to the four winds.”

There came a sudden sparkle in her eye. “So this means no honeymoon on the Riviera?”

“Riviera!” The word made Amos gasp and sputter.

Vivian, alarmed, patted his back. “Oh, dear! Are you all right, Sir?”

One last cough and Amos replied, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t fuss. I hate it when people fuss. But, my word! The Riviera. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“You’re quite right,” she replied, her eyes taking in the threadbare carpet, faded wallpaper and the draperies that must have hung on these study windows for thirty years at least. “The money would be far better put into home improvements.”

“I knew you were a practical girl! Think about what I’ve said. You and I could make a delightful match. And I’m not too old, you know…” He ogled her amorously. “There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the hearth. We could have a nice little family.”

He saw the hint of a smile flicker on her lips and took it she was delighted at the prospect.

She pulled away from him. “This is all very sudden. I shall have to give this more thought, Mr Swindolthwarp.”

He reluctantly released his loving grip on her arm. “You do that, girl. Remember, if you’re willing to take care of me, I’m willing to take care of you.”

“Thank you, Sir. This is so kind of you. I must start the dinner.” And she dashed off to the kitchen.

Amos chuckled again. He’d bowled the girl right over. But she’d come round, he was sure. Maybe by his 73nd birthday he’d be a married man again. And his sons could go jump off the cliffs of Dover if they didn’t like it.

Winnie’s Views

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot. This photo has been donated for use in Friday Fictioneers only and must not be used for any other purpose without express permission of the owner.

My contribution this week to Friday Fictioneers, a group graciously hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, open for anyone who wishes to contribute a hundred-word story in response to the prompt picture.

Winnie’s View

Winnie frowned. “Deplorable view.”

“You didn’t want a spectacular view. You asked for the cheapest room,” Raylene reminded her. “Anyway, we’re not staring out that window all day, we’re touring historic Tallahassee. We’ll see gorgeous views aplenty.”

“That travel agent said it never snows in Florida and the day we arrive they get snow squalls. False advertising. However will we manage?”

“We’re used to snow. What a pretty orchid!”

Winnie sniffed. “Plain white. Goes with the cheapest room, likely.”

“Come, let’s order our breakfast. Don’t want to keep the others waiting.”

“It’s starting to drizzle. Wish I’d brought my umbrella.”

“We’ve Got Your Back”

antique-car-al-forbes

Photo courtesy of Al Forbes

He heard the ocean roar, felt the wind, smelled the sea air. He waved to his brother, who’d just loaded up that old car he’d bought, then winced as his nephew pinched his arm. “Car, Car.”

Pierce shook him hard and Carson opened his eyes.

“Hey, Car, where you been?” Pierce shouted over the whump-whump of a chopper lifting off. Carson jerked, instinctively grabbing his rifle.

Norstrom snorted. “Stateside. Where we all wanna be.”

“Guess I zoned out,” Carson admitted, watching two women in burkas sifting through some rubble.

Pierce squeezed his shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy. We had your back.”

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My response to today’s prompt has been influenced by the book I just finished reading: Rescuing Finley by Dan Walsh. An excellent book! Chris Seger, a US marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan, suffered severely from PTSD. Finley was a shelter dog trained to work with ex-marines like Chris and Amy was the prisoner who trained him. All three of them had their future redeemed because of this program.

Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for sponsoring the Friday Ficitoneers and to Al Forbes for the prompt picture. This photo is copyright and may only be used in connection with this prompt, or with permission of the owner.

A Whiff of Smoke

snowy-lane-rail-fence“Even if Mason did walk down this lane, you can’t see anything now, the way it’s drifted in.” Rick shouted over the snowmobile’s engine. “Anyway, there’s nothing at the end but that old homesteader’s shack. I don’t see much point in us going in there.”

Jerry, lifting his snowmobile helmet visor, leaned toward Rick and said. “Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope of finding him alive at all. At -25 with a 65-klicks-an-hour wind he would have died of exposure in minutes.”

“Crazy fool should have stayed in his car. He knows this country, these March storms.”

“He’d had a few too many at the bar, so he wasn’t apt to be thinking so clear when his car hit the ditch back there. He probably fell and got buried by snow.”

Rick gritted his teeth. “That server’s going to be held responsible for this guy’s death. He should have never let a drunk leave the bar.”

“But he claims he warned them — and Mason promised he wasn’t driving. The guy with Mason said he was the DD — and he was sober — so the server let them go.”

“So why wasn’t he? They get in a scrap in the parking lot and now we won’t be finding Mason until the snow melts in spring.”

Jerry lifted his head. “Hey, Rick. Do you smell something?”

Rick sniffed the air. “No. Wait… yeah, I am getting a whiff of something.”

“Wood smoke?” Jerry sniffed again. “And not far away.” The two men gunned their snowmobile motors and zipped down the old lane.

The afternoon new carried the miraculous rescue story. Mason Horwich wandered away from his vehicle in a storm and managed to follow an old lane into an abandoned farmyard. Thanks to a supply of firewood the previous owner had stacked up against his shack and Horwich finding the matches the farmer had stored in a glass jar to stay dry, the thirty-year-old father of four was now safely at home with his family.

“I’m so thankful to be alive,” Horwich was quoted as saying as his children clustered around him. “I don’t deserve this.”

He especially thanked his rescuers, Jerry and Rick, who’d gone for shovels and dug him out of the old shack where he’d taken shelter. Mrs Horwich told reporters she’d been praying all morning, fearing the worst and had wept with relief when she got word that he’d been found.

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Word Press daily prompt: exposure

A Counselor’s Toughest Job

Her eyes still fixed on the computer screen, Barb frowned and reached for the jangling phone. She had to leave for her meeting in half an hour and this was the third phone call. When would she ever get their monthly budget laid out if people kept interrupting her.

She glanced at the Caller ID screen, then sat up straight in her chair. The County Police wouldn’t be calling to pass the time of day. She pressed the Talk button, averting her eyes from the distracting screen. “Hey, Tammy. What’s up?”

“We need your counseling skills, Barb. A 19-year-old girl went missing from River Bend College yesterday. One of the teachers says she saw this girl walking in the parking lot around 11:30 am, likely going to her car, but she hasn’t made it home. Her family’s contacted everyone she knows and no one’s seen her. Now they’re frantic.”

“I would be, too. Any leads?”

“Not yet, but we’ve got a number of officers out searching the local hangouts around town, vacant lots, the side roads, abandoned buildings. And we’ve notified the boys from Forestry in case she’s wandered into the national park and gotten stranded.”

Barb raised her eyebrows. “Stranded?”

“That’s the word we’re using now. We can always hope she’s lost herself somewhere, or has holed up with a friend. But the family could really use your counseling skills right now. Will you talk to them, go over the “what ifs”? Try to keep them upbeat and hopeful, but prepare them…just in case…” Tammy’s words trailed off.

She voiced our worst fears. “There are fifty-four paroled sex offenders classed as “apt to re-offend” within a two-hundred mile radius of RBC and we’ve got officers checking on them all.”

Barb grimaced as she thought of her own children going to and from school every day. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Let me grab a pen and jot down the address.”

She shut down her accounting program. Her family budget woes had just evaporated.

Re: Missing Ferrari

Christine's Reflections

Mrs Carmine Incendia
988 Perplex Place
Perdue, AZ

Dear Madam,

Your letter of complaint arrived with the incoming post this morning and was immediately drawn to my attention. I can well believe that you were almost inconsolable on finding that the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle you purchased from us was incomplete.

As head supervisor in the packaging department it is my duty to ensure that none of our customers are inconvenienced in this manner. And may I assure you that the highest standards of quality control are exercised in our factory, far above — really quite incomparable — to other manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles and games.

As your letter has informed us, the box arrived at your home in good order with the pieces correctly sealed in their plastic bag. So any deficiency — if there be one — might possibly be due to some incompetence on our factory floor. It…

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Gone Someday

The Boat Builder’s Escape

Matt stuck the small painted boat under his t-shirt so no one could see it and ran the five blocks to the 20th Street bridge. He was hoping Mom wouldn’t happen to come looking for him. He knew he’d get a good smack upside the head if she didn’t find him busy with the job she’d given him.

Seeing no one else around, the eight-year-old boy hurried to the middle and the bridge and pulled out the boat he’d made. He looked down at the stream not far below. Spring flood waters had swelled the narrow river and were hurrying it along to the forks where it would join another a hundred miles away.

He took a last look at the boat he’d made. Okay, it was nothing special, but he’d shaped and painted it himself. He’d screwed a metal plate on the bottom to keep it right-side up and painted a sailor on the deck. Now he gazed soberly at the little sailor’s face. “I can’t go off and see the world, but you can.” He held the boat over the rail of the bridge and dropped it into the water. As he watched the current carry it away, he murmured, “I can’t run away, but you can.”

He turned around and trudged back home, hoping there might be something in the house to eat.

He slipped into the kitchen quietly so his mother wouldn’t hear him and opened a few cupboard doors, looking for some cereal or a piece of bread to ease his hunger pangs. He was peering into the fridge when his mother suddenly grabbed his arm in a painful grip and yanked him away.

“There you are, you lazy little brat. Where’ve you been? You were supposed to clean up the garage and when I looked you were nowhere to be seen. And where did those paint cans come from? Have you been messing around with paint? All I need for you to get your clothes all splattered.”

“I’m starving, Mom. Just let me grab something to eat and I’ll go clean up.”

She gave him a good shake. “I’ll starve you, you empty-headed little loafer!” She threw him against the side door. “Now get back out there and Do something!”

boy-in-small-boatMatt’s eyes filled with tears as he walked back to the garage. The pain deep inside threatened to choke him. But then he thought of his little boat and smiled. It had gotten away. Someday he would, too.

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Since the Daily Press prompt for today is someday, I thought I’d repost this small fiction story. It was originally posted October 29, 2016

Jack Miner’s Discovery

rail-yard-ceayr3
Photo courtesy C E Ayr

Friday Fictioneers — for details about this group, see Rochelle’s blog.

My response to this photo may be WAY off from the general scene. However, I did see a Canadian grain hopper car in this picture, which reminded me of an incident Jack Miner related in his book, Jack Miner and the Birds, copyright 1923. Read this book years ago, so am retelling the episode as I remember it.

Solomon says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard…” One could also take a tip from these ambitious field mice.

In the northern Ontario woods Jack and his fellow hunters made camp one autumn afternoon. Needing firewood, they felled a towering dead pine. Halfway up the trunk they discovered a field mouse nest with a quart of wheat cached inside.

Puzzled, Jack set down his axe and looked around. Where on earth… Ah!

Several miles north they’d seen rails. Grain cars from the prairies, carrying wheat bound for Thunder Bay terminals, bumped over rough spots. Kernels sifted through cracks, falling onto the tracks. These industrious mice were making that trip day after day, stocking their larder for the winter ahead.

Partners In Crime

Written originally for Friday Fictioneers and posted on christinegoodnough.com

“I hid it in the old mill,” his note read. “Found a crack upstairs near that huge cog. No ‘eyes’ to watch me.”

She searched desperately, sensing her time running out. Rotten luck that the old lady recognized him in the lineup, but at least he’d managed to stash her wallet before they arrested him for assault.

Examining the floor and walls for a crevice big enough to hide a wallet, yet small enough to conceal one, she jumped when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs.

One of the curators appeared. “Lost your way, miss? We locked up fifteen minutes ago. Sorry, I thought everyone was out.”

~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning Wanda was standing at the museum doors five minutes before the place opened. As soon as the curator unlocked them she stepped inside, ready with her story.

“I … I must have dropped my cell phone here yesterday. I was walking around up by that big wheel and… and I took it out to check the time.” Wanda took a deep breath, hoping her nervousness wouldn’t give her away.

“I was sure I… had just…put it back in its special pocket and…and I…it must have slid out somehow. I didn’t have it when I got home. I’d like to…to just run up and look around. I’m sure it’s…

Wanda froze as her cell phone, from its usually pocket in her purse, started playing the tune to “Somebody’s Fool.” She turned a bright pink, silently berating herself. Why didn’t I think this might happen?

The curator looked at her in surprise. “It appears…”

“Oh, no. Not really,” she gasped. “I…like…uh… I borrowed my friend’s phone. Like, just in case I needed to call…uh… In case I didn’t find my wallet and…you know…needed stop credit cards…”

“I’m sorry. I’m not getting this. Did you lose your wallet, too?”

The temperature in the room shot up ten degrees. Maybe twenty. She gave herself a good mental slap, took another deep breath, and tried to save face. “Oh, dear. Now I’m getting mixed up. No, It was my phone, not my wallet. I’ll just be a minute looking for it.”

The curator eyed her a moment, looking as stern as the ancient mill owners whose portraits hung on the wall. Maybe he wondered if it was safe to allow her around those huge gears alone. Finally he nodded. “Go ahead. If you were standing on the landing maybe the sweeper found it last night. I’ll check in the office.”

“Oh, thank you so much.” Wanda turned and wasted no time getting up the stairs. Frantically she scanned the walls and the big wheel.

Thank goodness this part doesn’t have any security cameras, she thought. Not like the main lobby. I guess that’s why Nick stashed it here. A minute later she spotted something dark in a crack.

She was reaching for it when the curator appeared at the top of the stairs. “I had a thought, miss.” “If you use your friend’s phone and dial your own number your phone will ring and you’ll find it in a jiff.”

Wanda gritted her teeth. Isn’t it wonderful how helpful people could be when you wanted them to just beat it and leave you alone? But the museum curator stood there waiting for her to try out his bright idea, so what could she do? On an impulse, she dialed Nick’s number, knowing he was in jail and couldn’t answer.

“Hi. Sorry Nick isn’t home right now.” The voice definitely belonged to some young female. “I’ll be seeing him shortly. Can I take a message?”

“Hello? Who is this?” Nick’s going to hear about this chick answering his phone, Wanda thought. And what does she mean about seeing him shortly? Is she going to visit him in jail?

“My name’s Emmy. I’m Nick’s…um…friend. Can I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Wanda.”

“Wanda?”

“Nick’s girlfriend, Wanda.” She clenched her fists. Nick is definitely going to answer some questions when I see him again.

Aware that the curator was frowning at her, she whispered, “Sorry. I pushed the wrong redial. On my friend’s phone,” she added. He didn’t look impressed.

Emmy seemed to be in shock. “Nick’s…uh…girlfriend?”

“Nick’s fiancée.” Wanda almost shouted it into the phone. “He has mentioned me, surely.”

The curator rolled his eyes and headed down the stairs.

“No!” Wanda caught the sizzle in Emmy’s voice. “He never told me about you at all. Honest. The cheating rat!”

“You got that right.” Wanda jabbed the OFF button and stuffed the phone in her pocket. Just wait til I get my hands on you, Nick. You’re toast!

Quickly Wanda grabbed for the wallet. Nick had told her the old lady had just cashed her pension check, so likely there’d be a couple hundred dollars in her purse. She kind of felt sorry for the woman, a senior and all, but she needed the money herself. Badly. Her rent was due tomorrow. She sighed. What a life!

Once outside, she found a bench in a secluded spot and opened the wallet. “Two five dollar bills. That’s all! All this mess for two measly fives,” she squawked. She fumed for a moment, then pondered her options.

I’ve had it, she decided. I really was a fool to get mixed up with all this. Nick is history. She grabbed her cell phone and pushed a button.

The voice at the other end said a hesitant “Hello?”

“Hi, Mom. I’ve just learned a really important lesson in life.”

“Oh? And that is…?”

“Crime doesn’t pay. And being with Nick really doesn’t pay. I’m through with Nick and his wild schemes.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say that. We’ve been praying you’d come to your senses and see him for what he is.”

“Mom… Do you think you and Dad could…would…let me move back home for a few months. Just until I get my life straightened around?”

“Oh, Wanda. Yes. We’ll gladly help you. Just come anytime you’re ready.”

Thanks so much, Mom. See you in a bit.”

Wanda hung up and searched through the stolen wallet for ID. She had one important stop to make before she headed home.

Job Satisfaction

Thanksgiving Day:

Along with the other men in the family, Conlin headed for the living room after the feast. With a deep sigh of contentment, he plopped into his recliner as his brothers and brother-in-law began discussing the perks of their respective jobs. Phil, his younger brother, had been promoted to district manager back in August and chattered enthusiastically about his new position.

Conlin could have put in a few comments about his own job — he was happy enough doing what he did in Human Resources and could tell a few tales out of school — but today he didn’t feel much like talking. Maybe he was too full of turkey and trimmings?

No, that wasn’t the whole picture. At the moment Conlin was sated physically and more or less content with his life, his home, his job. Yet he sensed a void but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He brushed the feeling aside, flipped up his footrest and leaned back. Totally comfortable now, he listened to the others until their voices became a fading drone and his eyes closed.

In a dream he saw a long road that stretched before him as far as he could see, with neither curve or hill to vary the route. My path through life, he thought, nice and easy.

Too easy. Same old, mile after mile, day after day.

Next he was running on a treadmill, round and round, like the gerbils he and his boys had watched at the pet store. They made that wheel spin, but they got nowhere. What a life! Anything would be better than this, he thought. Suddenly he spotted an open door on the side of cage. Yes! He jumped up, grabbed the frame and threw himself through the door. Then he was free falling… The sensation made him jerk.

Phil’s voice penetrated his dream. “Dozing off, brother? Too much food?”

Conlin lowered the footrest. “I guess so. Had a dream — you know those ones where you feel yourself falling?”

“Yeah. Wonder what causes those?”

Conlin was awake now, listening to the conversation, but the dream remained in the back of his mind. He saw himself trudging along the road, then running in the treadmill, going round and round, getting nowhere. Did the dream mean anything? Was his subconscious mind trying to send him a message?

Two days later:

Conlin drove his son to the hardware store the Saturday after Thanksgiving so Tyson could pick up paint and nails to finish his birdhouse. As he stood beside the hardware store counter waiting for Tyson to collect everything he needed, another fellow came along and set four identical light fixtures on the counter.

Conlin nudged his arm. “Hey, Larry. Good to see you. What are you up to?”

The man turned toward him. “Conlin, old buddy. How are you?”

“I’m good. And yourself? Are you doing some renovations at your place?”

“Actually, these are going to be for our new club house. A couple of other guys and I have been concerned about the youth in the low-rent housing in the next subdivision. They have no place to hang out, and you know how it is…a lot of single moms…very few male mentors…drug peddlers and gangs looking for recruits. We figure the boys might need a hand if they’re going to stay out of trouble, maybe a supervised place where they can go after school.”

“Sounds like quite an undertaking.”

“Maybe. We can’t save the world, but we decided to do what we could and half a dozen other guys have offered some volunteer time every week. So we chipped in and got us a small abandoned garage on a paved lot. We’ll fix it up, maybe put up some hoops for basketball, that kind of thing. A lot of these boys have been shifted around from school to school, too, and need help with the basic subjects. Come to think of it, you were always a whiz at school. Maybe you’d be willing to put in a few hours now and then?”

Conlin hesitated. It seemed like a worthwhile project — and it would definitely be a new adventure for him. “Tell you what. I’ll come around and have a look at what you’re doing, then we’ll see.”

Almost a year later:

Conlin’s stomach growled as he leaned over the boy studying the textbook. He glanced at his watch. Supper should have been half an hour ago — no wonder he was hungry.

When his stomach growled again, Manny looked up and grinned. “Better fill it up soon, Mr C, or it’s gonna eat ya alive.”

Conlin mussed the lad’s hair and grinned. “I’ll survive somehow. You’re almost done, Manny. Just finish this page and I’ll drive you home.”

“Sure.” Manny got busy on the last few math problems and five minutes later closed his textbook. “All done.”

“Great, buddy! Let’s go home.”

“Thanks for staying and helping me, Mr C. I really appreciate this,” the boy said as he opened the car door.

Conlin climbed behind the wheel. “Glad to do it. You’re worth it, you know.” Manny gave him a huge smile in response.

As he drove Manny home he remembered. “Hey! Thanksgiving is next week. Is your family doing anything special?”

“Maybe going to my grandma’s,” the boy replied. “I hope so, anyway. She knows how to make great mashed potatoes and gravy. Mom’s are always lumpy and her gravy’s like glue.”

“If that doesn’t work out, let me know. Your family’s welcome to join us.” He gave Manny a big wink. “My wife makes good mashed potatoes and gravy, too.”

Conlin dropped Manny off and headed for his own home. His stomach growled again as he turned the next corner. His mind went back to last Thanksgiving Day, to the void he’d felt and the dream he’d had. He may have the same day job, but he’d escaped the treadmill. Yeah, he thought, glancing at his watch again, I may be late for supper sometimes, but life’s a lot more satisfying now.

Word Press Daily prompt: Sated