Iceberg Season

Back in August, I wrote my first story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. At the time, my only hope was to survive the first cut…I never expected to make it to the finals!

There are just twenty-five of us left, and we were all handed the same assignment:



OBJECT: Lighter

This is my final story. Results will be posted around January 7. Wish me luck!

imageICEBERG SEASON (a short story by Corrie Adams)

We arrive in Twillingate, Newfoundland, just after dark. I want to see the icebergs right away but Mom says we have to wait until morning and tells me not to even think about arguing.

Mom drives the rental car to a house with a sign on the lawn that says “Thelma’s B&B”, and arranges for us to share a room. There are two beds. Mom lies on the one by the window. Her eyes are closed.

I don’t like this house, and I tell her so; it smells like tuna fish and the sheets look scratchy. Mom says I need to consider the “big picture”. I glance around the room and point to the painting that’s hanging on the wall above the dresser.

“That picture?” I ask. It is a red lighthouse on a rocky shore. I don’t know what this has to do with the smell or the sheets.

“Never mind, Dylan,” she says. “Just go to sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll see icebergs.”

I turn out the light, lie down on the other bed, and breathe through my mouth so I don’t have to smell the tuna fish. I try to distract myself by thinking about the density of pure ice in relation to that of sea water. And eventually, I drift off.

In the morning, weak sunlight shines through the sheer curtains. Mom snores softly across the room. I look at the clock, and wait for the numbers to say 7:00. Finally, it happens.

I slip from my bed and stand staring down at Mom. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. The floorboards creak. I do it again. And again. And again.

“Good morning, Dylan,” Mom says.

“Are we going to see the icebergs now?” I ask.

“Why don’t we get dressed and have breakfast, first?” she says.

Mom used to have brown hair. It was long and always smelled like coconuts. She has a bald head now, and she covers it with hats or scarves. I miss the smell of coconuts, but not the tickly, spider web feeling on my cheek when she bent down to kiss me.

Today’s scarf is red and the ends hang long, down her back. “You look like a pirate, Mom,” I tell her.

“Perfect,” she says. “Because we’re going on a boat ride.”

I feel a smile stretch across my face. It’s iceberg season, and I’m here.

After breakfast, Mom drives us to the harbour. I study the horizon, while she talks to a man who has a boat. I squint, blurring the blues and greys of the water and the sky together. Wanting to see towering, white spires. Trying not to worry when I don’t.

We wait to board the fishing boat. Mom plays with her lighter. The flick-flick sound the lighter’s metal wheel makes when it spins hurts my ears. She doesn’t smoke cigarettes anymore, but she still carries the Zippo in her pocket. I try not to ask her why, because she always says “I don’t know, Dylan. Why not?” and I’m never sure how to answer that question.

Finally, it’s time. The captain leads us to his boat, and makes us put on life jackets. Mom’s legs are wobbly today. She takes his arm and he helps her to a seat. Then he turns to me.

“Your mother says icebergs are a special interest of yours, Dylan.”

“The word iceberg comes from the Dutch ijsberg, literally meaning ice mountain,” I tell him. I read that on Wikipedia.

“So I heard, once,” he says. “All right, let’s go.”

Just four minutes out of the harbour, I spot a flash of white in the distance and point. “Iceberg!”

We pull alongside it, but not too close. The captain explains that we have to keep a safe distance away.

“Equal to the length of the iceberg, or twice its height, whichever is greater,” I say. He nods.

The ocean is the colour of brand new jeans. Waves splash against the side of the iceberg, slide along smooth edges, and recede. I can’t look away. The towering chunk of ice is a hundred different shades of white, with streaks of blue running through it in places. The sight is beautiful and scary, and so overwhelming that I lose my words.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of red: Mom’s headscarf, twisting in the wind. She takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. Together, we look out at the incredible mountain of ice in the ocean before us.

“Is it everything you dreamed it would be, Dylan?” she asks. I want to tell her thank you. I want to laugh and dance and hug her tight. I want to tell her about the length-to-height ratio of tabular icebergs. Instead, I just nod my head. She will know what I mean.

This still, perfect moment is broken when a pair of birds takes flight, leaving the glistening chunk of ice behind.

“Watch, now,” the captain calls. And then it happens.

Shards of ice break off along the tallest part of the iceberg and splash down into the choppy water below. Over the wind and the waves, over the sound of the boat’s engine, I can hear the iceberg dying. My eyes fill with tears.

The creaks and groans grow louder, come faster. Until, at last, all that’s left of the iceberg slips beneath the water and breaks apart.

I turn to look at Mom. Her face is pale under her red scarf. For a minute, I think I smell coconuts. Then the scent, like the iceberg, is gone.

“I love you, Dylan,” she says. “Happy birthday.”

And I laugh, because my birthday is still months away.

photo credit: Rita Willaert via photopin cc

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Waiting for Granddad

As some of you know, I have been participating in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. This past weekend, I received my third assignment; I had 48 hours to write a ghost story, set in a gas station, that included a dunce cap.

I found this assignment to be the most challenging yet. Partly because I’ve never written a ghost story in my life. Partly because dunce cap? In a gas station?!? But mostly because blowing this one means that I won’t make it to the finals.

So the pressure was on, and I’m not sure I’ll pull enough points to advance. But I’m proud of myself for making it this far, and will definitely take part in this competition in the future.


(A short story by Corrie Adams)

When granddad’s car blew a tire on the way back home, Benjamin was upset about the delay. He missed his mom; she never told him he was a bad seed or made him do detention. Granddad didn’t work at the school anymore, but he still made Benjamin call him Principal Green. Also, there were The Lessons.

Granddad said their lessons were secret, and not to tell mom. “Only bad boys tell,” he said. “You’re not a bad boy, are you, Benjamin?”

Benjamin knew what happened to bad boys; he’d learned that on his first day at granddad’s house. His cheeks grew hot when he remembered how he was made to stand in the corner, naked except for the dunce cap granddad slapped on his head. And though many days had passed, Benjamin could still feel the sting of the wooden ruler on his bare skin.

No, he wouldn’t tell.

A tow truck brought them to a lonely gas station; it was the only sign of civilization on an otherwise deserted stretch of road. Granddad talked with the mechanic while Benjamin sat on a rickety bench, trying to figure out if he liked the smell of the place. It was a gasoline-and-machines type of smell, strong but not completely unpleasant.

He closed his eyes; he could taste to the smell better that way, and he hadn’t quite made up his mind about it. But a shivery feeling interrupted his wondering, so he opened his eyes again. There was a strange-looking boy sitting on the bench beside him. He was staring. It gave Benjamin the creeps.

Benjamin tried pretending not to notice the boy; maybe he’d grow bored and go away. When that didn’t work, Benjamin decided to try a different approach.

“I’m waiting for my granddad,” he said, gesturing across the shop toward the men.

“Me, too,” said the boy. Benjamin thought this was a pretty dumb thing to say. He decided the boy must be a bad seed and that he should steer clear.

“Can I walk around outside?” Benjamin called out. Granddad waved a hand in a shoo-shoo motion. Benjamin jumped up from the bench and headed outside to explore.

The gas station was pretty run-down. There was only one pump, and it looked old, like something out of the movies. The office and the garage were old too. The buildings seemed tired; the walls slumped a little, like they didn’t have much strength left, and Benjamin secretly hoped they’d choose now to give up completely, while granddad was somewhere deep inside.

Behind the buildings, there was a bunch of rusty, old cars. None of them had wheels, and one didn’t even have doors. Benjamin decided to take a closer look, careful to avoid the shards of broken glass that littered the ground. His sneakers made a wonderful crunch-crunch sound in the gravel, the sun was warm on his skin, and the gasoline smelled sweet. Benjamin decided he was glad that granddad’s car had broken down and brought them here. What an adventure!

Benjamin approached the car with no doors. He glanced back over his shoulder to make sure granddad wasn’t looking, and then he climbed inside. He grasped the cracked steering wheel with both hands and made some growly engine sounds. He imagined himself in a car chase; the cops were right on his heels. He was so caught up in this fantasy, he could practically hear the sirens.

“Will you help me?”

Benjamin jumped, then looked around. The strange boy was in the passenger seat beside him.

“Why’d you sneak up on me like that?” Benjamin yelled. His heart was bang-banging in his chest and he felt icy cold all over.

“Will you help me?” the boy repeated.

“I told you, I’m just waiting for my granddad. When the tire’s fixed, he’s going to take me home.”

“And I told you: I’m waiting for him, too. Will you give him a message for me?”

Benjamin shrugged.

“Tell Principal Green that Graham Parker is watching.”

Benjamin slipped out of the car and ran back to the garage, dodging the lonely gas pump with its snake-like hose. He didn’t stop running until, huffing and puffing, he reached granddad’s side.

“What’s the matter with you, boy?” granddad demanded.


“Then calm down. This is not a school yard playground.”

“Graham Parker said to tell you that he’s watching,” Benjamin whispered.

“What did you say?”

“I said, Graham Parker…”

Granddad grabbed Benjamin by the shoulders and glared down at him. His face went red, then white, then red again. The rest of Benjamin’s words got stuck in his throat.

“Who told you to say that?” granddad hissed.

Benjamin looked around, caught sight of the boy, and pointed. “He did.”

Granddad slapped Benjamin on the face. “Don’t tell stories, boy. Your mother warned me you might tell lies like this. I said I wouldn’t tolerate it, and I won’t, do you hear me? Bad boys get punished.”

Benjamin looked to the other boy for help. It was his fault granddad was angry, not Benjamin’s. Graham Parker looked sad. He held Benjamin’s gaze for a moment, then turned and walked away. Benjamin’s eyes blurred with tears; when he wiped them away, the boy had disappeared.

The mechanic chose that moment to announce the repairs were done. Granddad released Benjamin and stomped off toward the car. Benjamin followed without a word. He didn’t want any more lessons; he just wanted to go home.

Granddad paid the mechanic, then opened his car door. But instead of sliding behind the wheel, he stood, frozen, staring inside the vehicle. Curious, Benjamin craned his neck to peer around granddad’s bulk. He saw a dunce cap, sitting on the driver’s seat, and heard a whisper in his ear: “Thank you.”

When Benjamin whirled around, nobody was there. But somehow, he knew there would be no more lessons. Granddad drove him the rest of the way home in silence. His teaching days were done; Graham Parker was watching.

photo credit: Pete Zarria via photopin cc

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This summer, Chatelaine Magazine held a personal essay contest. I submitted a piece, crossed my fingers, and waited. Today, I learned that my piece – one of over 700 entries – was not chosen by their judges.

That’s okay. I still like it, anyway. So it won’t be published in the glossy pages of what is arguably Canada’s biggest woman’s magazine. That’s okay, I will share it with you here, instead.

liamQUIRKY – a true story, by Corrie Adams

It starts with Meet the Teacher night, at the beginning of first grade.

Gap-toothed, lisping little people pull their parents through a brightly coloured room, leading them to tiny tables and chairs that may not be up to the challenge grown-up bodies present. My son tugs me along too, and I struggle to squeeze through narrow spaces, to keep up.

When we reach his desk, I perch upon a blue plastic chair with tennis ball feet and admire the scraps of paper Liam presents to me: a construction paper turkey, a stick-figure family portrait, a book that’s all about him.

Next, we wander the perimeter of the room. I ask him about the art on the walls, and we try to find something with his name on it. Most of the other kids ignore him, but a few call out “Hi, Liam!” as we shuffle by. He glances in their direction, but barely. He mutters something that might be a greeting and twitches his hand in a sort-of wave. I’m shy too, but not like this. I ache for him.

When our tour of the classroom is complete, Liam sits down in the reading corner with a book while I watch for the teacher; her red hair makes her easy to locate in the crowd. Finally, she is beside us. She greets Liam, turns to me and smiles.

“How are things going so far?” I ask, inclining my head toward my son.

“Good,” Mrs. Teacher replies. “Liam is a bright little boy.”

We talk about his strengths: an excellent vocabulary, strong patterning skills, and artistic ability. My shoulders loosen a little.

“I’m so glad to hear he’s doing well,” I say. “I was a little worried about the transition from kindergarten to grade one. I know he can be a little quirky sometimes, and he had some developmental delays when he was younger. We worked with an Early Interventionist in JK.”

“Did your EI suggest pursuing an Asperger’s diagnosis?” Mrs. Teacher asks. Casual, like she’s just asked me if Liam were right-handed. I feel like I’ve been slapped.

“No,” I say. I can feel my heart beating, heavy and fast. “You think Liam has Asperger’s?”

“I think it’s something you should look into. The symptoms are there.”

The room is too full of people, too warm. I can’t quite catch my breath. She talks about how Liam fixates on things, to the point of obsession. She talks about his literal-mindedness, and his social difficulties.

“Thank you,” I say, which is a completely ridiculous response because I don’t feel thankful at all. “I’ll contact his pediatrician.”

She smiles, tells us to have a great weekend. She moves on to the next family, apparently unaware that she’s just blown a hole through mine.

“Let’s go home, sweetie,” I say, ruffling my son’s hair. He looks up at me and I search his face for clues. His brown eyes meet mine; he smiles and reaches for my hand. My eyes prickle with tears I refuse to shed. I blink, swallow, and smile back. He doesn’t notice; he’s already turned away.

On the walk home, he chatters non-stop. His tongue is loosened the minute he steps out of the school and we are alone. The quiet, awkward boy is left behind. Labels are, too. This is Liam. This is my son. Nothing has changed, even though it feels like it. But I realize he is going to need more from me and I resolve to love him harder.

The tone for the year is set: Liam needs help and it’s my job to get it for him. This should be easy — who wants to see a child fail? — but it turns out that it’s not easy at all. He isn’t a behaviour problem, and academically, he is keeping up. Other children present bigger challenges, I’m told. They are disruptive in class, they use their hands instead of their words. My son smiles, almost all the time. Subtext: my son is not considered a priority.

But he is my priority, so I email and I phone and I follow up. Doctor appointments, questionnaires and professional evaluations follow, but slowly. Who knew that it would take so many people and so much effort, just to get him on the wait list for a psychological assessment?

Sometimes, a well-meaning acquaintance will tell me that Liam is “just being a boy”, that he is a “late bloomer” and I shouldn’t worry because everything will be fine, he will outgrow it. Sometimes I even let myself believe that these things are true, but never for too long.

I make my own observations, constantly measuring him against mental checklists that I’ve built from the results of my never-ending Google searches. Inability to recognize and appropriately respond to social cues and body language. Difficulty identifying emotions in others. Trouble making eye contact. Obsessive interest in one particular subject. Rigidly adheres to routines. Literal interpretations. It worries me, how many checkmarks I’m handing out.

The lists help in other ways though; they help me to understand him. Before, I always assumed Liam was purposely being difficult, that he was intentionally misunderstanding my instructions. But I’m beginning to see that it’s not a conscious choice on his part; he simply processes information differently than other kids because that’s the way his brain works. So when we get home at the end of the day and I tell him “Please empty your school bag”, all I can do is laugh when he turns it upside down at my feet, shakes everything out onto the floor and then, smiling proudly, hands me his empty backpack. He’s done exactly what I’ve asked, after all. Literally.

Grade one draws to a close. It’s been a year of too few birthday party invitations and too many notes home from his teacher, but I’m trying not to dwell on the negatives. It is the end of the year, and we’ve made it through to the other side.

I consider it a small yet meaningful victory that we’ve completed all of the required preliminary steps and are now officially “in the system”, awaiting an assessment and diagnosis. I’m still not sure exactly what that will do for us. I only know we need help and this is the first step toward getting it.

It is too soon to celebrate, however. Final report cards are sent home and receiving Liam’s is like taking a punch to the gut. It knocks me down and robs me of my breath. Every sentence reminds me of what Liam is not, of what he can’t do…and it’s like Meet the Teacher night, all over again.

“Liam needs reminders to use class time appropriately…He is inconsistent in using appropriate behaviours…”

“Liam needs support to manage time well when working on activities…”

“Liam follows instructions with assistance…he needs to persevere and make an effort when responding to new challenges…”

“Liam is inconsistent in taking responsibility for his behaviours. He needs support and reminders to use appropriate behaviours more consistently. He is not always willing to use feedback from peers and teachers to improve his work..”

My hand shakes a little, and my eyes fill with tears. I read through the comments as fast as I can, hoping that if I rush, it will be like ripping off a bandage: a quick, sharp pain that’s soon forgotten. But it’s not like that at all. Hours later, the ache remains, and I lie awake most of the night, imagining every type of horrible future possible for a little boy who is different. Quirky.

The next morning, I’m tired and cranky after my mostly sleepless night. Thankfully, Liam manages his morning routine without issue. As a reward, I decide to surprise him, and download his latest favourite song: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I plug my iPod into the car stereo, press play, and we listen as I take him to school for the last day of grade one. I peek in the rear view mirror to catch his reaction and I am immediately rewarded for my efforts. His eyes widen in surprise and then a big, blissful smile spreads across his face. He sings along with the chorus: “Because I’m happy…”

And, do you know something? He is.

It suddenly dawns on me: this whole year, I’ve been focusing on all the things that are going wrong and in the process, I lost sight of everything that is going right. Liam is a six-year-old boy who loves watching Pokemon and building cities out of the cast-offs he finds in our recycling bin. He is full of noise and energy and love. He is happy. This is what really matters.

As we drive down the road with our own personal soundtrack filling our ears and our hearts, I think about how, if our life was a movie, the credits would be rolling right now. The audience would leave us here, while we still have a journey ahead of us, but they would feel good about it, optimistic. Because every life has challenges, and everybody struggles sometimes. But if we love each other and help each other — and if we’re happy — then things will turn out okay in the end. Even if we’re quirky.

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Sleeping Giant

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was taking part in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge, and shared my first entry, called Defective.

I was very excited to learn that this story placed third in my group, giving me 13 points so far.

This past weekend, we were assigned our next 48-hour, 1000-word story challenge, with a new genre, location, and object. Along with the rest of my group, I was required to write an Action/Adventure tale that takes place at a volcano, and includes a bird’s nest.

I was a little worried by this assignment. Did “action/adventure” require a muscle-bound hero doing daring deeds? Because that’s not my thing. At all.

I spent Saturday morning researching volcanoes, trying not to freak out. Eventually, an idea came to me and I ran with it. I like the story that I ended up with, even though there isn’t a muscle-bound hero to be found. Hopefully the judges do, too.




(A short story by Corrie Adams)

The sky is the colour of morning glories – a shade of blue so rarely seen in the heavens, I decide this day must be a gift, made especially for me. It is cloudless and vast, the edges trimmed by crimson-tipped trees; I could almost drown in those dizzying depths. I feel an insistent, instinctual pull. I belong there.

My children slumber in the shadows behind me. They dream with the mountain, safe in his arms. “I won’t be missed,” I whisper to the trees. And so I slip away, free.

The day’s beauty restores me. It feels wonderful to stretch muscles that have grown stiff from staying home so long. But all too soon, my reverie is interrupted by the urgent roar of thunder.

But wait. Thunder? From an empty sky?

I turn to look at the mountain — the sleeping giant lying across the horizon behind me. Its upper reaches are lost within a roiling cloud of smoke. Without warning, the giant has awoken, and he is angry.

Iron fingers of shock grip me in a tightly clenched fist. My heart stops beating, my blood no longer flows. Helpless, I watch the cloud spread, shrouding the slopes with a sinister speed. All thoughts are wiped from my mind but one: The children.

I struggle against the phantom fingers that restrain me. Blood flow resumes, painfully rushing through my veins, as forceful and unstoppable as the river crashing through the rocky rapids near my home. My heart pounds out a message, over and over again. The children. The children. The children. They need me, and I am not there.

Conflicting urges war within me. One commands me to flee, to save myself. I am ashamed, and shove all thoughts of my own safety aside. I strike out for home, toward the centre of my universe. I am a mother; in the end, I have no other choice.

The surface of the mountain is cloaked with thick smoke, seething like a swarming anthill seen from afar. The cloud of ash rises up before me, blocking out the sun. The day has ceased to exist and I am thrust into an artificial night. Hot air pushes against me, attempting to turn me away. I cry out in wordless agony, but I carry on.

The mountain continues to grumble and groan. The trees around me quiver, leaves rustling in the hot breeze. I continue my ascent, seeking shelter beneath their arms as debris and rock fall from the sky like hail stones. I manage to avoid the largest missiles, but I don’t escape completely unscathed. I am battered and bruised; I am a hundred points of pain where pebbles and other bits of rubble have struck me.

Suddenly, the world tilts sideways and I’m lying on the ground. The grey skies press down upon me; I’m dizzy and weak and I close my eyes. Just for a moment. And I drift.

Warm sunshine wraps the world in a soft, golden glow. I vaguely recall being frightened, but the memory is as elusive as dandelion fluff, and I make no effort to chase it. It’s peaceful here. I can rest. I feel the stress drain from my body; I take a deep, relaxing breath…

…and I’m choking on thick air.

My eyes open to a world of dark ash and bright pain. The lure of the dream is strong and I know that it would be easy to return there, but my children need me, and that impulse is stronger.

I lean against a tree trunk for support and try to get my bearings. I’ve traveled through this forest countless times and thought I was intimately acquainted with every tree. But the fury of the mountain has turned the once familiar landscape into a nightmare. Ash falls from the sky blizzard-fast, covering me. Blinding me. The sky is now my enemy and I am lost.

I hear screams in the distance. Logically, I know that it is not my children’s voices on the wind. But it sounds so much like a call for me, for Mama, that I’m driven to follow it. I shake my head to clear the soot from my eyes and I start forward once more.

An ancient sense, one almost forgotten, tells me I’m close now. In this mad landscape, I trust it more than anything else. Perhaps it is my imagination, but the dense cloud seems to be lifting. My field of vision expands ever so slightly and I study my surroundings, looking for familiar landmarks.

There, up that rise! I see the Lightning Tree, a leafless, blackened sentinel that stands guard near my home. I rush forward, hardly daring to hope.

Those dead, bare branches offer no sanctuary. But just beyond this one, there is another tree, green and strong. And there, in its arms, is my home.

I swoop down into the dust-covered foliage, heading for the crooked notch that holds my dreams. I find my nest, and within it, three indistinct lumps, buried deep in ash. The children.

I nudge the first lump free, tenderly brushing the smooth surface of the egg clean. I bring it close to my body and listen. The answering silence breaks my heart. This child is gone.

I free the second egg. I pull it into the contours of my body, envelope it with my life force and wait for a response. I wait and wait. There is nothing.

All but destroyed, I turn to the third egg, the smallest of the trio. Expecting nothing, I am ready to dismiss this possibility too, and prepare to turn away. Perhaps I will just close my eyes and return to the sun-drenched forest of my dreams.

In my grief, I nearly miss the slight tremble that signals new life within. My heart soars, all is not lost. I am a mother, still.

photo credit: Storm Crypt via photopin cc

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It takes courage…


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

-e.e. cummings



photo credit: OakleyOriginals via photopin cc

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It’s like chasing butterflies…


“It’s like chasing butterflies and trying not to crush them.”

– Robin Hobb, on writing

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I am one of the participants in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge. That means that, this past Friday at 11:59pm, I received a challenge which included a genre, a location, and an object and then I had 48 hours to write a 1000-word short story.

Did I mention that I was camping on a non-electric site with my family this weekend? Well, despite this potential roadblock, I retrieved my assignment via my cell phone and then spent the entire weekend obsessing over it. When I arrived home around noon on Sunday, I still had NOTHING. But, I managed to pull something together at the last minute and submitted my first story to the challenge.

My task? Write a fantasy story set in a factory that includes mention of a dozen eggs. What follows is the story that I ended up with. I don’t think I’ve ever written a fantasy story before — what a fabulous experience, to be pushed to work so quickly and so far out of my regular comfort zone! Perhaps it’s not an award-winning tale, but I’m proud of myself for taking the plunge and participating. I can’t wait to see what the next challenge will bring!

FairyDEFECTIVE (A short story by Corrie Adams)

“Ugh, my feet are killing me,” Cheryl said. “I should know better than to wear new shoes to work.”

Her partner on the assembly line, a snooty new girl called Donella, said nothing. Bitch, Cheryl thought. Too good to talk to me, I guess. She glanced up at the woman across from her. She was pretty enough, Cheryl grudgingly admitted. Pretty, except for those unfortunate ears of hers: too large and slightly pointed at the tips.

Donella was focused on the conveyor belt between them, looking for quality control issues from further up the line. She wasn’t very good at it, in Cheryl’s opinion. The tiny Faerie Fay dolls that passed between them had to be perfect, from the full head of brushable, blonde hair and the perfectly painted on face, to the silver gown and the gauzy wings. Donella didn’t seem able to recognize the most obvious irregularities and Cheryl had to work twice as hard to pick up the slack. It wasn’t fair and it was cutting into Cheryl’s KPIs. She’d already complained twice, and if something wasn’t done about Donella’s poor performance soon, she was going to file a grievance with her union rep; she’d been clear on that point at her last meeting with the foreman, too.

The headache behind Cheryl’s eyes pulsed in time with the throbbing hum of the equipment around her. One day, she was going to get out of this place. It was only supposed to be a temporary job, but it had been five years since she’d signed on at the Faerie Fay Toy Factory. Five years spent staring at that impish doll face, looking for failures. It had gotten to the point that she searched for defects everywhere now. And damn it if they weren’t easy to find, once you knew how to look.

It was their busy season at the factory. Through the lead-up to Christmas, the demand for Faerie Fay dolls skyrocketed, and their tiny bodies streamed by her in an endless blur. The fluorescent lighting hurt her eyes, the droning machinery hurt her head, and she was convinced that spending hours hunched over the assembly line was ruining her posture. Cheryl didn’t think she could take it much longer.

Her mental inventory of complaints was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the foreman, Larry. His bristling, black unibrow and perpetual frown gave her the creeps but she smiled at him anyway. It couldn’t hurt.

“All right ladies, listen up!” Larry shouted. “We’re behind schedule by almost ten thousand units this week. We’re going to need some overtime.”

The parade of dolls continued to march before her. Cheryl pulled out one that was missing her wings and shifted gingerly from foot to foot. She was certain that at this point, she had blisters on top of her blisters. How would she survive another two or three hours? She peeked across the line at Donella. Now there’s someone who seems fresh enough, Cheryl thought. Even near the end of an eight-hour shift, her makeup hadn’t smeared a bit, and not so much as a single strand of her long, dark hair had slipped loose from her ponytail. What if…

Cheryl momentarily took her eyes off the river of fairies flowing in front of her and met Larry’s gaze. She inclined her head toward her partner and raised an eyebrow. She hoped he took the hint.

“Sandy, Michelle, Nancy, and…”

Say her name, say her name, say her name, Cheryl silently prayed.


“Yes!” Cheryl whispered, under her breath. Donella looked up at her and frowned. Cheryl grinned and shrugged her shoulders. The only thing she wanted was a hot shower and a strong drink, and Larry was calling for overtime. It was every woman for herself, as far as she was concerned.

The buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the regular shift. The machines slowed, and then stopped. The girls that pulled the OT shift would start the line up again after their dinner break. The rest of them were free to go, including Cheryl.

“See you later, Donella!” she called as she joined the group of women heading for the door.

Once home, Cheryl groaned with pleasure as she slipped her shoes from swollen feet. She had stopped on the way for a dozen eggs and a brick of cheese, planning on whipping up an omelette for her dinner, but the thought of cooking seemed like too much work. Instead, she poured herself a glass of wine and collapsed on the sofa with a sigh. Every aching muscle in her body was grateful.

She turned on the television, flipped through the channels until she came across The Wizard of Oz, and settled in to watch Dorothy on her travels along the yellow brick road. She was on her third glass of Merlot and Dorothy was just clicking her ruby slippers together when a sudden knock made Cheryl jump.

Who on earth could that be? she wondered, glancing at the clock. She crossed her apartment and peered through the peep-hole in the door.


“Let me in please, Cheryl. I need to see you.”

Cheryl opened the door. “Listen, Donella. It’s not my fault that you got stuck with the OT shift…”

Donella reached out and grasped Cheryl’s shoulders and then leaned in, as though for a kiss. Cheryl’s eyes popped wide and she opened her mouth, but before she could say a word, Donella gently blew into Cheryl’s face. The air shimmered for a moment, as though charged with electricity. Cheryl stiffened, and then froze. Her body shrank rapidly until she was no more than five inches tall, lying at Donella’s feet.

Donella stooped, retrieved the tiny figure and studied its crooked plastic smile, tangled hair and faded housecoat.

Defective, she thought. This one would never fit with the rest of her collection. On her way out of the building, she dropped the reject into the trash and then disappeared into the night.

photo credit: maikel_nai via photopin cc

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Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas…



“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

– Orson Scott Card





photo credit: Andrea Costa Creative via photopin cc

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I am irritated by my own writing…


“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.”

– Gustave Flaubert



photo credit: Flооd via photopin cc

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Five Diversions…

I have a confession to make. When it comes to writing, I have a very well-developed procrastination habit. Writing is hard work, no doubt about it. But I find that the hardest part of writing is putting my butt in the chair and getting down to business. Like so many others, my life is jam-packed with a million and one things to do. I have a family, a full time job, and friends — all require a big chunk of my time. So my free hours, my writing hours, must be protected at all costs. Sadly, I am not always successful.

I tend to work best when I have deadlines and limited time available. If I clear several hours and tell myself that I’m going to spend the time writing, I often find myself doing something else. Here are five diversions that are sure to eat up my free time, if  I let them.

fb_icon_325x3251. Facebook. I know that I’m not alone here. I tell myself that I’ll just pop on to update my status or message a friend….and then, before I know what’s happened, I’ve done a quiz to find out which classic novel best describes my life, looked at several photos featuring sloths, and engaged in a rousing debate with a stranger on someone’s post about parenting techniques.

2. LOST. Netflix has the entire series available! The best part is my son watches with me, so this is always time well-spent. Plus, I can easily convince myself that it’s practically research — the characters are so well-developed that this show could almost be considered a workshop all by itself. You believe me, don’t you…?

3. Reading books about writing. The secret to a productive writing life is sure to be found in the pages of the very next book on the craft that I come across…right? Yeah, okay. I know I’m kidding myself. I have learned many valuable lessons through the years this way (see this post for a list of my favourite writing books), but sometimes you have to draw the line and do the work.

4. Research. I like reference books, too. I own many types of dictionaries (standard, visual, slang, names, etc.), several different thesauri, books of quotations, books on the origin of words and phrases, guides on handwriting analysis, atlases, volumes on which birds can be found in North America and the types of mushrooms that grow in Southern Ontario, and so on. Sometimes I’ll be working on a project and realize that I need to know the exact type of tree that my main character might expect to find outside his bedroom window in British Columbia, or what day of the week March the sixteenth fell on in 1987. When this happens, it’s game over. I pluck a few likely books from the shelves, and jump from fact to anecdote to concept. It’s the intellectual equivalent to the Sunday drive and suddenly, I’m meandering down paths just for the pretty scenery.

5. This blog. Imagine a map of my brain. One quadrant is labeled Procrastination Centre. Now picture a big, red dot…right in the middle of that area. Beside the dot, there should be a label where you find these words: YOU ARE HERE

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