Antique vase 537 words FCA

Fine dust rose from the wooden box as Daryl opened it. He unwrapped the shreds of heavy cloth from around the object. It was a tall, slender vase, packed well, much better than the usual junk he and his step brother, Mark bought sight unseen from storage compartments.

Buying the storage containers became the only tangential link between the two who were on different trajectories through life.

Money from the units floated enough to barely manage Mark’s heroin habit. Daryl scraped the money together for rent on the exhausted bungalow he shared with their mother and bought her meds with the extra cash. It was hit or miss but it maintained the thin trail of blood between them.

“A couple of moth-eaten kimonas.  Junk,” Mark swore, rifling through the box.

“Could we have them cleaned? Some people like to display them like on the wall. God, they stink.” He watched Mark shake out the heavy, patterned silk. They had been beautiful once

“Maybe, who knows.  We can try. What have you got?”

“Porcelain, old but it’s got a crack.”

“Can’t catch a break,” Mark breathed out. He raked his knuckles across his eyes.”I won’t have enough money from this to make my week.”

“Looks like I’ll be selling some plasma this week,” Daryl said. Did it make him happy that Mark couldn’t get his fix this week? Daryl tried to bridge the chasm between them but his empathy stopped short. There were treatment options.

“I can’t even do that. Who saves a vase with a crack in it?” He turned the fine thing over in his hands. Daryl saw a tear drip from his cheek.

“The crack is supposed to be filled with gold or something precious,” Daryl told him, taking the vase. “To heal a rift between two people, diametrically joined.”

“Stop your crap,” Mark scratched at one thin dry arm. “You don’t know what it is like. I don’t want to be this way.”

“Yeah, bad life choices. Let’s go see what we can get for this junk at that resale place next to the treatment facility.” Daryl rewrapped the vase while Mark scooped up the musty kimonas.

“You know I love you anyway, right?” Daryl slung an arm around his brother, pulling the gap between them closed.

“Man, that’s gotta be tough. All the things I’ve done. I stole from you guys, got involved with mugging someone. Just crappy stuff you and mom don’t deserve.” Mark shook his head and pulled closer to his brother, closing the last breath of space between them.

Mark stopped in front of the resale store and piled the kimonas on Daryl’s arm. “Here you take them. I’m going this way,” Mark pointed to the treatment center. “Maybe this time it will take. Use the money for mom.”

Daryl watched as Mark disappeared behind the glass door. He brought the vase and the kimonas to the resale guy.

“Wow this is really rare, the crack on this vase is filled with ruby or something.” The proprietor said, “This should go to auction at one of the big houses. I got a guy I can call,” he rushed off to find the number.

Daryl wiped a tear from his eye.

WEP 1000 words FCA. Footprints

When the first ones crawled out of the bog, they looked more like miniature lizards than dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. No one was sure what was the catalyst that pushed all the microbes together and gave them life but they were cute and made you laugh with their antics, like colorful chickens.

Conservative media made a big deal out of finding a new species. Climate change was for losers. Meanwhile, here in Wisconsin the water table was rising and the crops were tending more towards rice than corn. We take what God gives us around these parts and we’re grateful.

So we kept right on pumping hydrocarbons into the atmosphere and then evolution did a fast break and the next new thing to leave its birdlike footprints in the muck was not so cute. They had wings, leathery and shiny like something out of a night terror that makes you pee your sheets. And teeth. Sweet Mother of God, rows of vicious, flesh ripping teeth. Where the small ones were adorable goofs, the big ones were sleek with an air of menace.

The bigger ones hunted down the little guys with terrifying pack mentality. Strewn guts covered the roads, blood soaking into the wet soil. The smell of rot clung to the ground, carrying a thick cloud of putrification everywhere. We started wearing little white masks, like they do in Japan.

They didn’t seem to much notice humans, at first but as the smaller dinosaurs learned to duck and cover whenever a shadow touched them, people began to find their dogs and cats missing. As the flyers ran out of easy prey, their black shiny eyes started looking at us. Really looking.

Everyone found a reason to stay inside around that time and hoped the military would get off its big old behind and save us. And they tried. You had to give ‘em that. But once they realized we were trying to kill them they decided to kill us right back. And they were better at it than we were by a long ways. They slaughtered the army of conventional warfare like it was choir practice. Soon, our military was battered and scattered like wheat chaff on the wind.

Just when things looked like we ought to be kissing our collective sweet hinnies goodbye, we got the word through the church calling tree. The Colonel wanted everyone in a pew on Sunday. There’s only one service here and you better be there or they go right on saving souls without you.

The Colonel grew up here, out in eastern Wisconsin, shooting and trapping and generally honing his sites on anything to kill the boredom.

On that bright sunny Sunday, the First Lutheran Church of God was packed with people in urgent need of saving. Even the Jewish guys who had an art store in town came. For the homily, the Colonel and the pastor stood up. After a moment the pastor sat as the Colonel stared him down and took the pulpit.

He looked out over us and he waited. Fans stopped waving, babies stopped fussing, until there was a hole of silence we waited for him to fill.

“These abominations have to be stopped. They threaten to take over our world, make it their own. I’ve word that a new, larger species has been discovered. Or maybe it’s better to say they’ve discovered us and are spreading rapidly. My sources say this emerging threat will be here in two weeks at the most. Now, I don’t know about you, neighbor, but I’ve never fancied being part of someone else’s food chain. No one’s taking my land from me and I’m not much on running, neither.“ There was scattered laughter at the very thought.

“What’s left of our troops is in retreat as we speak. Our military doesn’t train soldiers to shoot, it trains them to pull the trigger and hopes for the best. Most soldiers not only can’t hit the broadside of a cow at ten paces but are too petrified in actual combat to even pull the trigger.

“These creatures can be taken out by a headshot. A direct hit on something the size of a baseball.” He let that sink in for a spell.

“I spent my youth here in plinking squirrels at 25 yards or tapping a rabbit on the run. I know many of you share my enthusiasm. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that some of the best shots in Wisconsin are right here in these pews.” People’s heads bobbed because it was true.

“Now I personally think it was a mistake when our country asked us to turn in our guns when they passed the No Death on Our Streets law, couple of years ago. I also know that like me, you’ve all got one good gun you’ve designated as a family heirloom to keep at home for protection. Well, I for one, hope you kept plenty of ammo for that firearm.

“I’m saying now’s the time to clean that gun. We survived the Holy Trump Wars and by God, we’ll survive these things.” He slammed both hands on the sides of the pulpit and leaned in toward us and no one even breathed.

“Maybe we can’t defeat them. Maybe there’re too many of them and too few of us, but we’ll damn sure show the world how to make those things think twice before they set a claw in Wisconsin.

“We take care of our own problems. Why? Because that’s what we do. And I say, we take care of this mess before it gets any worse.”

And he walked out down the center aisle. And people rose and followed just like the ushers had dismissed them, row by row. And I marched right out with them and I’ll be there tomorrow, by God I will, shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors and kin. So, if you find this, you’ll know either how it started or how it ended.

WEP Horrible Harvest. 999 words FCA by Dixie Jo Jarchow

Timothy scratched at the deep, loose soil of Nyulos with the toe of his dusty boot. The pale blue soil floated for a moment in the light gravity and then settled down into a perfectly flat profile.  The blue gray soil stretched as far as he could see, punctuated by short, waving copses of darker shimmery grass, like whiskers that he’d missed shaving.

The horizon of the planet stretched unfeatured and round like rising dough in front of his tired eyes. The company told them there were other farms on the planet, hundreds of them if the promo stuff was right, but he’d never seen evidence of another homestead. 

When he thought about Kate, he smiled. She was prickly and easily aggravated but when he saw the play of the starlight in her auburn hair, something in his chest squeezed tight. She kept her hair short to avoid the mites that nested in longer locks, but he loved running his rough hands through the brownish red stubble, her dark eyebrows a punctuation to her intent, heart shaped face.

Shimmering blue gazelle-like creatures ran the surface of the planet in vast herds that merged and unmerged kaleidescopically. Huge clouds of dust heralded their arrival, hanging suspended for a moment and then smoothing out after they passed.

The gazelles lived for a season, as far as Timothy could tell,  never ate anything and died emaciated. They ran, driven, their entire short existence.  When they couldn’t run anymore, they collapsed and died. The dead hulls dried in the arid land and then disappeared into the homogenous soil without leaving any residue.

The round blue sands pulled them in. They were there, then they weren’t.

He remembered Kate’s exultation when she’d finally trapped one. It had a little bit of meat on it, so it must have been young. She butchered it with abandon, the shimmering hide dissolving into the pebbly soil as she skinned it. She seared the meat on a small cooking stove. The juices flowing clear in the fire. She even tried it first, popping a sizzling bit into her mouth and moaning with the joy of it.

The children, raised on food bars, tore into the heavily seasoned stringy meat. There was enough for a mouthful for each of them. And for the first time, Timothy felt there might be a way to succeed on this strange blue planet.

The hot meat melted in his mouth with an odd metallic aftertaste. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had meat, probably some rat back in the Wisco-Illini province that he’d snared  and cooked in secret. Most of the animals on earth died out in the ever-rising heat. Just some rodents and other small mammals kept their populations up but anything bigger died out. 

The writing on the wall said colonization was the only way for mankind to survive. And so they sent people out with enough supplies to last a couple of years, to habitable planets that seemed like they should support life.  The idea was, if they sent enough people, mankind would get lucky and survive. It was a one way ticket to Paradise or Perdition. 

An hour after eating, the entire family was violently, viciously ill. They’d throw up over and over, settling into dry heaves after the pale meat erupted, undigested. 

The children’s tight stomachs visibly spasming for hours, until finally bringing up blood and hunks of pink intestines.

His son, Brae, a mature eleven year old had wiped the blood off his mouth and said, “It was worth it,” smiling at his horrified mother.  His younger daughter Jen, eight, rocked back and forth with her stuffed doll, tears running down her face, silently, a streak of bright red trailing her cheek when the spasms stopped.

They’d died in the early morning hours. His Kate lasting till midday murmuring over and over again how sorry she was. He could almost feel their soft cheeks against his stubble, their bright, clear eyes staring up at him in terror and resignation.

A solitary hot tear pushed through the fine blue dust on his face. His empty stomach twisted into a knot and he hunkered over with the agony of it, a residue of the tainted meat he’d eaten. He wished it had killed him too. Maybe he’d just start walking and see if he would make it to any of the other settlements.

He picked up some of the perfectly round soil of the planet and let it slip through his cracked, dry fingers. He’d done everything he could, everything they asked of him. Why didn’t his crops grow? Other things grew; the grasses, the gazelles. There had to be some reason to it. The company threw people on habitable planets and hoped for the best. There just hadn’t been time to do more.

Guidance from the company had been sparse to non-existent. They encouraged him to be self sufficient and use his resources to be successful and self sufficient. The crops were engineered to seek water from the soil. Light was abundant and the nutrients were present. Plants should grow, he just couldn’t force them to no matter what he tried. And now, what was the point?

He walked, tired and dusty through the soft soil. It seemed to move to accommodate his boots and then flow back in to fill the voids.

A feeling of wellbeing grew as he walked, finally arriving at the graves of his wife and children. He gasped. Pale blue shoots broke through the surface of the soil over where their bodies lay. The plants seemed to grow before his eyes, stretching towards the sun, waving in the soft breeze.

He fell to his knees and wept. The planet tugged urgently at his knees and the tops of his shoes. Timothy sobbed and lay down between his wife and children’s burial sites. He closed his eyes against the harsh sun.

The planet pulled him under the soft blue sand gently and inexorably.

WEP contest 1000 words

Times Remembered

My parents were not to be trifled with.  Father’s family was old world Italian. He was the first generation born here and only spoke English, although he understood Italian just fine when grandma was yelling at him. He worked hard as a plumber every day in other people’s dirt and grime and drank one Strohs beer each night. I was embarrassed that he got undressed on the porch at the end of the day, leaving his soiled clothes for my mother. 

We watched Perry Mason and the Black Hawks most evenings. He wasn’t like the other fathers who were thin and wore suits. He boxed when he was younger  and won Golden Gloves. His pinky would have worn a size 13 ring, if he had worn such things. He was huge and strong like the centerbeam of our house.

Mother managed the house and some rental properties. Dinner was on the table at half past five every single night and there was always meat, a vegetable, and white Wonder bread. God help you if you were late. No one ever tested those dangerous waters. 

She was fiercely protective of her four daughters although she didn’t like children. She was part Cherokee and lost family on the Trail of Tears and you really didn’t want to cross her. When a counselor at school missed a deadline so I wasn’t eligible for the Rhodes Scholar, she about tore the place down. When my sister’s mother in law to be called her a nigger because of her dark, native american skin, my mother wrote a blistering letter to their pastor.

Communication wasn’t big in our house. He and mother spoke with looks that seemed to slide away from us like bacon grease on a hot day. You could never tell what they were saying exactly but you knew thoughts had passed.

Our family had a falling out with the Catholic church before I was born even though my grandmothers’ parish priest was to become Pope John Paul the second.  Whatever the Catholic church did, it must have been bad and my parents weren’t putting up with it. We became occasional Methodists.

I was bred to be independent and I fought to get a job even though mother told me school was my job.  I was tired of having one pair of stiff blue jeans at the beginning of each school year for a wardrobe. I felt poor and I hated wearing the clothes she made. She was a gifted seamstress. She made mine and each of my sister’s wedding dresses and she would make suits that looked like they were bought. I didn’t appreciate her skill till I got older and she was gone.

 As kids, we ran feral during the day until dinner. One day when I was twelve, I ran home crying and shaking. My mother, turned away from the potatoes and said, “What?”

“Some guy was playing with us.”

The wooden spoon moved to more of a clubbing position. “What do you mean, ‘playing’?” This was before Mr. Stranger Danger.

“I was with Jean at the playground and some older guy came. He was smoking and throwing lit cigarettes down the slide at us.  I ran but Jean thought it was funny and stayed to smoke with him.”

Jean was a sophisticated 14. She was everything I wanted to be: tall with long blond hair, colt like legs with an attractive overbite that made her seem like she was smiling all the time.

My mother resumed stirring. Late that night, the police came and we found out Jean didn’t make it home. I was interviewed barely awake, sitting between my Mother and Father and I remember waves of anger cycling off my parents.

Jean was returned home after three days but I wasn’t allowed to see her. The family moved away and I never saw her again or found out what happened.

A few weeks after they left, something woke me up in the dark hours before dawn. Someone was rummaging in our garage. I crept to my window and peeked out. 

My father’s huge silhouette came out and looked around as if sniffing the air. The hum of neighborhood air conditioners buzzed through the night and people turned the porch light out when they went to bed back then. He came out with a loaded wheelbarrow. In the shadow from the scant moonlight I could see it was heavy.

He wheeled it out to the vacant property he owned next door. He’d always meant to build a house on it but the village blocked him because the church adjacent wanted it. He dumped whatever it was into a deep hole he’d dug earlier in the day with his backhoe. He hand shovelled the volume of dirt back in and planted a peach tree he’d purchased, on top. I would never eat the fruit from that tree.

He came back, took off his work clothes outside like usual and sat down at the kitchen table in his underwear. My mother greeted him with a beer and they talked so quietly I couldn’t hear. At the time, I remember being amazed he was up past 9 pm on a work night.

When he died, I claimed the red wheelbarrow. It was more rusted than red and the handles gave me splinters, but I’m kind of a tool gal and I figured it would be safe with me. And, it turns out, useful.

I have a beautiful granddaughter who loves gymnastics. None of the parents care too much when the coach hugs and pets the girls, but I feel the streak of violence from my Italian and Cherokee heritage vibrate like the low string on a guitar. The instincts that made me run when I was 12 are still intact. 

I’m old now and not as strong as my father, but I can still manage to slide my new peach tree into the shallow hole. Mother and Father would be so proud.

A Refuge for Rosanna!

Recently, I got the opportunity to interview regency author Susan Karsten who has a new book out, A Refuge for Rosanna. It was a great read and I highly recommend it. Here’s the interview.

I became a writer of Regency fiction long after I became an avid reader of Regency romance fiction.  I love the genre because of its usually gentle and intelligent nature. The language, social mores, historical events, and fashions are also aspects that appeal to me.

When I am working on a book, writing time is constrained or shaped by my other responsibilities, so I have to be flexible. I am not one to stay up until all hours just to squeeze in word count.  Ideally, however, I like to write in the mornings, after getting a few household matters taken care of (like putting a load of laundry in the machine). The place I write is at a desk in my home’s formal living room.

The many Regency novels I have read certainly give me a lot of inspiration due to the fact that when I sit down to write my own Regency romance fiction, the words flow. I guess you could say I am steeped in the genre.  I have used snippets of real life romances to add details to the love stories of my characters

The third book in the Honors Point Series, An Escape for Ellie,  is waiting in the wings. Since there’s such a lot of time from completing a book to the day it’s published and out in the world, I have explored some other genres with my writing in the meantime.

I do not have a regular day job, but I have worked several part time and temporary jobs since my children have launched.

I started writing about 8 or 9 years ago and my friends have been super excited about it. The readers among them are fascinated by the whole process of writing a book, and they ask a lot of good questions.  Some of my friends make jokes about me becoming rich and famous, and I just try to bring them down to earth. That tells me that they have a high opinion of writers and writing, even though the reality is much more work and rejection, mixed in with small successes.

According to one of my recent reader reviews, you might not be able to put it down!  But overall, my readers like historical romance and historical fiction. Reading one of my Regency romances is like stepping into the past, and having a whole story world come alive on the pages. You’ll be rooting for the hero and heroine to make it to love’s altar. You’ll cringe when the badmen appear to be about to win. You’ll swoon with the intensity of leashed passion. Basically, you’ll read my books because you love a good story

Readers might get a chuckle to know that my son had to correct my fight scenes. “Mom, nobleman would never hit from behind or punch someone in the stomach, they’d only go for the face and head!” I had to be instructed also that the hero in my first book was crying too much (he was recovering from a beating and out of his head, but I took out the tears).

As you read my novels, you’ll notice that some of my characters are people of Christian faith, but don’t worry, the stories are fun, and full of life and good humor.


Susan Karsten lives in a small Wisconsin town, is the wife of a real estate broker, mother of three (two married, one engaged), and grandmother of three. Her hobbies include fitness, quilting, and reading.

Her interest in writing developed while in college where she earned a BS degree in Home Economics (Apparel Design & Manufacturing), with a minor in Speech.

With child-rearing days at an end, Susan now invests time in fiction writing. With four contracted Regency historical romances, a humorous chapter book, and a cozy mystery complete, she is working on an Amish Romance with a twist.

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The Caged Bird full critique WEP 999 words

by Dixie Jo Jarchow

Kayla walked to the corner store and bought him cigarettes.

She winced as she inhaled too deeply. He’d really kicked her hard last night. He’d brought over one of his friends and they’d been partying. Kayla still had a booming headache from it. Then, his friend tried to kiss her. She’d pushed him away. He reeked of tobacco and motor oil.

“It’s okay, Kayla,” Russell pushed her towards the guy. “I don’t mind.”

But she just couldn’t. She hid in the bathroom and the man eventually left, disgusted. When she came out, Russell threw her on the floor. He stood over her like a giant. Then, he’d pulled back his leg and kicked her hard enough to knock the breath from her lungs. Not just once, but a bunch of times.

“I owe him a lot of money, Kayla, and we gotta pay him one way or another. It’s not like you’re a virgin or anything.” He left then, slamming the door, It rattled in its frame in the same terrified rhythm as her heart.

Kayla turned the corner and saw a group of boys in the alley, throwing stones at something. The pain in her ribs forgotten, she ran.

“Stop it. What are you doing?” She yelled.

Their circle opened, fear and shame mixed on their round faces.

“Oh, you wicked, wicked beasts,” she ran forward and picked up the large bird, unmindful of its sharp beak or razor like claws. Black as the deepest shadow with one cauled eye, the bird was exhausted.

“It’s a raven. They’re bad luck,” one boy called after her.

“It’s a crow, you jerk,” she retorted bundling the unresisting bird into her plastic grocery bag on top of the cigarettes.

She got back to the apartment and gently spread the bird’s wings. “You’re a beauty, ain’t you. The purple dances in the sunlight on your feathers. Don’t look like anything’s broken. Maybe you’re just tired,”

She put an empty shoe box on the wide ledge of the only window in their apartment. The old fashioned window opened in the center like doors and were Kayla’s favorite part of the apartment. She poured a tiny bit of milk into the lid of a jar and soaked some stale bread in it. The crow ate, keeping his good eye fixed on her.

“Maybe Russell will let me keep you for a pet. Would you like that? You and me, besties?” She giggled when the bird cocked his head, as if listening to her. He seemed content to rest in the box.

The door banged open and Russell stood glaring at her. He had a black, swollen eye and a bruise that ran from his broken nose to his chin. Clots of blood edged his nostrils and he breathed heavily through his mouth. He closed the door softly and Kayla began to shake.

“I took a beating because of you, girl.” He said quietly, taking off his worn leather belt.

“For me?” Kayla’s thoughts darted unfocused. What had she done? Was it the boys in the alley?

“If you’d screwed Josh, even once, maybe just a blow job, this wouldna happened, but no, you didn’t want to,” he made his voice a falsetto, mocking her. “We’ll see if I can beat some sense into your stupid head, you cow. Then, next time he comes around, you do what I tell you.”

Kayla stared mesmerized by the full arc of the swing but when the belt hit her, tearing the tender flesh along her back, a buzzsaw rang through her head. The pain blossomed through her growing larger and larger. Wetness pooled around her feet, was it blood or had she peed herself? Her eyes rolled back in her head and she tensed for the next blow.

PLastic rustled, “Thanks for the smokes, babe.” He lit up.


“What the fuck is that?” He roared. The crow moved his body to look at Kayla and then at Russell. “Are you some little pet of Kayla’s? Did I say you would have a filthy bird?” He sucked on the cigarette, making the tip glow and moved toward the bird, holding the lit end like a stick.

“Stop it. It can’t fly!” She screamed.

“No? Let’s help it then.” Russell picked up the box and bird and threw them as far as he would out of the window. They both strained to watch the box as it plummeted to the street, but before it hit, the crow burst out, powerful sweeps of its wings gaining altitude.

Russell turned his back to the window, and plugged the smoke back in his mouth. “See, all better.”

The back of his head exploded with black feathers, hair and blood. The impact dropped him to all fours. He rolled over moaning and clutching the back of his head. There was blood on his hands when he pulled them away. Kayla’s teeth chattered in her mouth and she fought to keep air moving in and out of her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused.

Then the screaming began, bouncing off the walls and reverberating through the tiny room. The sound amplified to a wailing crescendo then cut off in an abrupt silence.

Kayla heard the clicking of claws on the sill.

She opened her eyes. The room had been painted spatter red and bits of flesh adhered to the rough walls. Russell lay on his back on the floor, his face a pulped mess of bloody holes. His intestines glistened from a gaping cavity in his abdomen.

Russell lay on the floor, his face a mass of ragged holes. A sheet of blood crept across the floor toward Kayla.

“Caw!” The bird looked at her once, cocking its head and leapt from the sill, caught a thermal and floated away from the world, never looking back.

Kayla crawled over to the body and curled up with her arms around it in the spreading blood.