Category Archives: writing

The Jewel Box by D. Jarchow Full Critique

There once was a sultan who ruled a prosperous happy land. His people’s fields flourished and he felt it was time to take a wife. Or two. The first wife he chose because she was the best cook in the kingdom.

“I must have my comforts,” he declared. And Cook Wife, whipped up a glorious feast of delicacies for him. After a year, he chose a second wife with broad hips and generous bosoms.

“She will bear me many fine sons,” he declared, And the Childbearing Wife produced a new son every year for ten years. But then, her womb dried up as a tree finishes its cycle of bearing fruit,

“She looks like a map that has been creased once too many times.” He complained but then, an answer came to him.

“I’ll build her a palace and she will stay there all the rest of her days so I won’t have to look at her homely face and sagging breast.

She bragged to the Cook Wife, “Look how much the sultan values me, you stupid cow. While you labor in the hot kitchen, he has built a glorious tribute to me!” And the Cook Wife bent her head, her eyes smoldering like hot coals.

The building was perfection itself. The gleaming white quartzite sparkled and the rare copper gleamed in the sunlight.

The sultan brought her to the building and showed her the rooms and passages.

“It’s beautiful and I shall fill it with exquisite things! Thank you, my sultan!” She bowed to him and he hit her a devastating blow on her head with a bust of herself, ending her life.

“He called out to the crowds outside. “She slipped on the stairs. My sorrow fills these rooms.” He tore at his clothing and declared a week of mourning and held feasts to commemorate the sons she gave him.

A month later, he married a tiny beauty from a far part of his kingdom. She had flashing dark eyes and soft hair that swirled past her round bottom. Her toes were like the petals of a flower at the end of long shapely legs. Her voice was that of a child and indeed, if not for her generous bosom, one might take her for one. But a peasant’s practicality hid behind her feathery lashes.

It was said to be the custom of her tribe to put jewels in their nether regions to increase a man’s pleasure. But no one said what it did for the woman.

The Cook Wife redoubled her efforts to create delicious meals for the Sultan after the death of the Childbearing wife. She saw to his every comfort and took over running parts of the kingdom that were tiresome to him. He began to have stomach problems, not unusual in a man who has denied himself nothing. He picked at the cook’s offerings and she despaired.

One day, the Beauty came to the Cook. She stalked around the kitchen like a tigress over her kill. Finally, she stood before the Cook, slim arms crossing her ample bosom,

“Old woman, the sultan nears his end. He has no need of rich foods anymore. His seed is dry as well and rarely can he do more than admire my jewel box.”

“You are no one’s fool,” the Cook Wife nodded. And they both pondered the custom of cremating wives alive after the sultans died.

“Something must be done.” The Beauty muttered and walked to the herb garden. “I know this plant: Poor Woman’s Nightshade. We use it to help with sleep.”

The next day, she sent the fastest rider in the stable back to the distant hills of her home with a list. She spent the day pacing and worrying. The rider dragged a lathered horse back to the stable and the Beauty rushed out to meet it, tearing the package away from the rider.

“What are you doing?” Asked the sultan.

“I’m going to make you a delicacy from my land, from the cocoa bean. Once you try it, you’ll forever want it.”

“I have a wonderful cook but even she cannot make my appetite come alive again.”

“But she can’t make what I’m making, Just wait.”

The sultan patted her bottom. “I think I’ll nap.”

She watched him waddle painfully away.

She ground the beans into a feathery powder, adding liberally of the Poor woman’s Nightshade. She spun the sugar as she danced in the candle light and crafted her delicacy.

In the pale dawn, she bathed and scented her body with fragrant flowers. She had her servants thread more flowers through her long hair. She draped her body in fabric as thin and silky as the web of an orb spider and found the sultan.

“Your beauty shines like the silver moon. I despair that I can only admire your beauty.” She bowed gracefully and presented him with a dark shiny square on a silver platter. “I made this for you.”

The sultan studied the woman before him and the square of dark chocolate she offered. He pulled her to him and shoved the sticky thing into her mouth. She tried to scream but the air was denied her. Her body jerked with spasms and yellow foam slid out of her mouth, mixing with espresso ganache icing. He thrust her limp body away and wiped his hands on his robes.

The next day, the sultan kept a cloth to his face to hide his grieving but everyone could hear the tortured sobs. Cook Wife made a small bowl of his favorite soup, as his appetite was small in grief.

After just three delicious spoonfuls, his heart seized and he died. The Cook Wife buried him next to the Beautiful Wife in a lovely ceremony. She pulled the remaining Nightshade from the herb garden and brushed over the fine soil as if nothing had ever grown there. And then the Cook Wife, whose name was Arlene ruled the land for a 100 years.

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WEP February challenge: 28 days

Full critique By Dixie Jo Jarchow

“Hey what’s this?” Jeva grabbed a piece of glistening dark green leaf from the platter and popped it into his mouth. The crunch was satisfying.

“Kale. I baked it with olive oil and garlic. Isn’t it delish?” Marinta dimpled. “I had a taste for it”

“It’s great. I can’t stop eating it.” Jeva pushed another crisp onto his tongue, savoring the spices and residual oil on the chip. “We should have it more often.”

“Did you see the latest? They’re calling it the Purge day 27.” Marinta said, scooping a generous amount of kale onto his plate.

“What species committed suicide yesterday? It’s kind of hard to care after almost thirty days of this,” Jeva complained and reached for more kale.“Was it mackerels?”

“No that was Tuesday. Ugly fish.”

“Oh, yesterday it was beavers. They just jumped into streams and rivers all over the world and drowned themselves. They say it won’t affect much industry though. The environmentalists are up in arms.”

“Aren’t they always? Ever since this purge thing started they don’t listen to the government. It’s just a normal cycle. The government understands this stuff. The earth is purging itself of toxins through animals and fish. They eat the toxic stuff that is stored in plants and then kill themselves. It makes perfect sense. The earth has been through this cycle before.”

“I was listening to the news…” started Marinta.

“Fake news,” Jeva muttered around the wad of kale in his mouth. “You should know better than to watch that crap.”

“I know but it just happened to be on before my talk show. They had a scientist on who tested the beavers and said they had really high levels of toxic chemicals. Like, out of this world high levels. It drove the animals nuts or something. No one really understands it.”

“Then it is probably good they died.” Jeva took a piece of salt encrusted kale off Marinta’s plate. “See, it all works out.”

She swatted away his hand. “Not really. When they decompose, all the toxins go into the water where they died. Like the stuff from the whales went into the sand and the heavy metals in the beavers goes into the water.”

“Have you lost weight?” Mahinta was still lovely but he barely listened to her anymore. Hard to take someone seriously who had three pinterest boards on thigh exercises.

“I think this is important,” Mahinta pouted.

“Is there more of this kale? I can’t stop eating it.”

“No, that’s the last. I was planning on getting more at the farmers market today.”

“While Alric is at the birthday party, we can hit the market. It’d be a nice way to spend the day.”

“Funny that I never liked kale. Now, I can’t get enough of it.”

A thunderous pounding came from the stairway. Alric, their ten year old son, glared from under a shock of black hair. “What’s this?” He pointed at her plate.

“Take out your earbuds. It’s kale. Try it, it’s delicious. If you don’t want it, I’ll take yours.” His father said.

Jeva and Mahinta held their breath as he chose the smallest piece and chewed it.

“I like this.” He shoved another forkful into his mouth.

“We need more,” Jeva eyed the disappearing kale and licked his lips. “Let’s go now, before the party.”

“There isn’t any more?” Alric frowned at his mother. “I’m starving. Let’s go.” He got up and slid bare feet into his shoes.

“Have you got Robert’s present?” His mother grabbed an empty shopping sack and her purse. “We can drop you on the way back.”

Alaric slid a slim hand into his back pocket and pulled out a shiny gift card for a video game store. “Ready to go.” He left and Jeva hurried Mahinta out to the car.

Jeva revved the motor and drove over the limit to get to the market in the center of town. “Way to put the hammer down, dad.” Alaric gave his dad a grin and they fist bumped across the seat. Mahinta rolled her dark eyes.

“Let’s find the kale,” his father left his door open in his haste to get to the market. Mahinta paused, looking at the door as if she might say something but then hurried to join the throng heading towards Main Street.

In the main street of the market, a makeshift table of planks and saw horses had been cobbled together by the vendors. Heaping piles of kale sat on it, some cooked and steaming but most raw. Both sides of the trough were packed with people stuffing kale into their mouths, one handful after another.

Jeva shoved into a small space between two people and Alaric slid under his elbow. Jeva snarled but then his eyes softened and he allowed the boy to stay sheltered under him, eating. Mahinta was able to squeeze into an area just a few people down.

The sound of teeth clicking and molars grinding was the only sound on the fine summer Saturday, the twenty eighth day of the Purge.

“Hey, Robert,” Alaric called across the trough, “here’s your birthday present.” And he threw the silver card across the narrow wooden plank.

Robert looked up, eyes glazed at his best friend.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it to your party,” Alaric said around a mouthful of kale.

“I’m not either.” Robert stared at the card laying on the fresh kale and continued eating.

As the kale grew sparse, people looked at each other. Jeva searched for any missed bits of kale on the filthy ground but it had all been picked over by the smaller kids.

He turned toward the sea, could hear the sound of moving water beconning over the silence of the market.

Everyone moved towards the sea en masse. Jeva pushed Alaric but whether it was to guide him or move him out of the way was unclear. Mahinta fell in behind her husband as they marched towards the sea.

WEP Ribbons and Candles full critique

WEP contest Dixie Jo Jarchow FC. Full critique 983 words

“Your offer is appreciated, Ryan. We admire your resolve to make a difference but we have selected other candidates to be featured in the Ribbons For Cancer calendar.” Ryan tossed the letter across the table to his mother. “I guess I don’t have that “cute” cancer look they’re searching for. No sense in applying for next year.” He stalked to his room.

“Ryan!” His mother sobbed. All she did was cry. At least he’d tried to make a difference with the 13 years he’d been alloted.

“I should gone with my own calendar.  Only problem is it would be a half year calendar by the time I’m done,” he muttered, looking at the corkboard wall of refusal letters.

He’d written the FBI body farm, teaching hospitals even the Children’s museum and no one wanted his cancer ridden corpse. No takers.

“I just want to make some kind of difference before I die. Even the organ donor people said no.”

“You’ve made a difference to me,” his mother stood in the doorway, sniffling. The ache inside him felt like a hollowed out pumpkin. Thirteen years on this Earth and nothing to show for it.

“You got another letter.” She held out the slim envelope to him. Maybe one of the testing labs he’d written to could use his tissues for research. Ryan snatched the letter and tore it open.

“Crap. Eighth grade birthday party. Lame.” Ryan tossed it aside. He had more important things to do with the time he had left. He just had to figure out what.

His mother picked up the invitation. “You should go. Enjoy yourself. Maybe a new idea will come to you. You could make a friend.” Her lips were pursed so tight, he wondered her lips weren’t bleeding.

“It’s a pity invite,” he scoffed.

“So what? Maybe you’ll touch someone’s life while you’re there.” She stabbed a pin through the invite, attaching it onto the wall. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to have some fun. Just be careful, you know what the doctor said.”

Ryan glanced at the invitation. A Halloween party. Should he go as “cured”?  Be careful. The doctor had explained it in gruesome detail.

“Ryan, you have a rare side effect of cancer, hemophilia. Do you know what that is?” The eyes peered over his dirty glasses at Ryan as if he were an interesting bug.

“Yeah, if I get cut, I bleed to death.”

“Not just that,” the doctor said with enthusiasm. “If you hit your head or your hand too hard, there can be catastrophic internal bleeding. If you cut yourself, chances are you’ll be okay if it is shallow. Deeper, definitely call 911, let them know your condition.” He smiled at Ryan as if he wasn’t dying.

“Maybe I’ll go.” He told his mom just to get her off his back. Her smile rewarded him. “I think I actually know this kid.”*****

“Here, we spiked the punch.” Jerry handed him a plastic cup. “Oh wait, you can have stuff like that, right?”

“Yeah,” Ryan sipped the pink drink, grimacing at the bitter taste. “Uck”

“Vodka’s an acquired taste,” Jerry smacked him on the back.

Ryan winced, thinking about internal bleeding. Dying at a party would be more interesting than laying in hospice.

He sipped the drink again. What would happen when it mixed with all the other crap the doctors had him taking? It burned his throat and his head spun, but not unpleasantly.

Jerry slipped away into the crowd. Ryan watched him. He knocked on a door. A bedroom door? It cracked and Ryan could see the room was lit by candles, a girl he knew peeked out and then admitted Jerry. Ryan knocked gently on the door. Jerry opened the door a crack. “Hey Ryan.”

“What’s going on?”

Ryan glanced back and then opened the door to admit him. “We’re an edgy group. You know?”

“No, what does edgy mean?” Ryan said looking around the dim room. No one met his eye.

“We’re cutters, Ryan,” the girl whose name he couldn’t recall said to him.

“Cutters?”

“We cut ourselves,” Jerry took Ryan’s arm and drew him into the candle-lit glow of the room. The door shut behind him.

“Jesus, why?” Ryan asked. He looked at the proffered arm of the girl and saw the parallel slices that marched up her arm like stitches.

“It feels good.” She told him. He watched in a horror of fascination as she took a new razor blade and drew it across her arm, above the crook. She hissed and closed her eyes as the blood seeped out of the inch long cut.

“Is this healthy at all?” Ryan wondered aloud.

The girl shrugged her thin shoulders. “We like it. It isn’t that bad. Not as bad as smoking. Nobody’s forcing you to.” She turned away.

Ryan felt an invisible curtain fall between him and the group of cutters. They bent over their arms and busied themselves with slicing their tender flesh open.

Ryan turned away. It was wrong, it revolted him but what could he do about it?

Make a difference, he thought grimly. He would make a difference.

“Give me the razor,” he said quietly.

“Dude!” Jerry patted him on the back. “One of us.” Murmurs of welcome ran the room and the girl handed him a new razor blade, unwrapping it for him.

Ryan caught the light with the razor and made several deep slices across his arm.

“Whoa, try one at a time. Savor them,” she told him.

He savored them, the cuts, the ribbons of blood reflecting the candlelight. He savored his life dripping away in the darkness. Maybe his sacrifice would shock them, make them stop this destructive behavior. He hoped his story would outlive him.

He heard the screams as if in a dream.

Anita Klumpers Has a New book Out!

book

Dinah loves Christmas. She loves history, the old Wagner House, and the elderly women working to preserve its heritage. She loves almost everything except Mick Wagner, her childhood nemesis.
But if they want to save the Wagner House and solve a mystery that’s been hiding in the attic for almost eighty years, they’ll have to join forces. And they have to do it quickly, before one of them dies trying.

author

 

Bio:
Anita Klumpers is Midwest born and bred, except for a brief and exhilarating few years in Denver when she was small. She received a teaching degree sometime in the previous millennium and used it mostly to homeschool her three sons. These days Anita chases her grandchildren around, waving books at them and suggesting everyone cuddle up for a good story.
Good stories are her passion, especially if they are well-written, have a dose of humor, just a tickle of romance, and a decidedly non-gory mystery. On the other hand, she lists “Frankenstein” and “Fahrenheit 451” as two of her favorite books. Go figure.
Creating skits was Anita’s first foray into writing. Always up for a challenge and a reason to postpone defrosting the freezer, she tried her hand at a full-length novel. It only took five years, but she did it!
Daily (honestly) she marvels at how much she loves coffee and her husband; her family, friends and church. Even more, she is astonished at how much she is loved by her Lord and Savior.
Her blog is “The Tuesday Prude” ( https://thetuesdayprude.com/) and she’s had two books published by Pelican/Prism Books (“Winter Watch” and “Hounded.”)
“Christmas Passed” is due December 2018 and “Buttonholed” is contracted with Pelican/Prism Books.

 

Amazon:

Barnes and Noble:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-passed-anita-klumpers/1129760586?ean=9781522398110

WEP October Contest Theme “Voodoo” any feedback welcome!

Chickens don’t do it for me. By Dixie Jo Jarchow

One after another, through the dark swamp, the few of the faithful slid into his hut like shadows passing the bright moon. Could the Hougan help her son? Could the Hougan ease the pain? Should they move or stay, Hougan? His once bright golden eyes, the mark of the High Priest, had faded to the pale yellow of a peeled potato.

He did what he could for those few who sought him out in the old ways, comforting the people who still kept to the sacred path.

He didn’t do all that much, he admitted to himself as he half listened to the man before him. His role was mostly to give advice. The powerful magik that was the cornerstone of their religion was in short supply for the poor, The younger people ignored him and made their own way without the comfort of Voodoo.

The pain of age crawled down his back and he wondered what the people would do when he was gone. Would they travel to the larger port city for a Hougan? It would be expensive and he doubted any other priest would accept their meager offerings as he did. During the day, he worked the fields as any other man did to make his living. He supposed it was hard to see him sweating under the beating sun and then imagine him as a conduit of the powerful magik during the full moon.

The man before him grew silent. It was time.

With a quick practiced motion, he twisted the chicken’s neck from its body.

The old man in front of him shook as the blood spattered his face. Not the slight vibration of a chill but the bone shaking rattle of the believer. He left a few coins and slipped out with the chicken. Supper tomorrow, the Hougan thought.

He waited but no one claimed the spot. That must be it for tonight. It was good; he was tired.

The Hougan sighed and began the laborious process of getting up. Pain was eating him from the inside. It could be put at bay only so long before it took him. He wouldn’t have to worry about a successor for long. It was sad but not many would be disappointed.

The old ways were slipping away like the shadow of a bird high in the sky.

A cloud walked past the moon, plunging the hut into darkness. The Hougan paused, waiting for it to pass but the moonlight did not return and a dark mountain in the form of a man with burning eyes appeared in the seat. The Hougan could see precious metals glinting on his gleaming arms and legs.

“Are you a true believer?” The voice like the scraping of stones.

“I am,” he whispered, a tear jerked down his face.

The man pulled two smokes out of the darkness and handed one to the Hougan. “So few really do believe.”

The Hougan’s hand shook as the thing lit both smokes and handed one to him. The sweet smoke curled around them. The Hougan’s consciousness began to float like fine ash as the powerful drug took hold of him.

“What we need,” it drew in the smoke, but never released it, he noticed, “Is a new, powerful Hougan. Someone to bring the sacrifices back and restore respect to its proper level.” He leaned towards the Hougan and the air compressed between them. Fear clutched at the Hougan’s chest and his breath wheezed.

“I do miss a good sacrifice,” his laughter was like a rumbling storm before the rain. “Chickens just don’t do it for me.”

The Hougan thought about his life as he floated above his seated body. He’d had a good woman who bore him a daughter but no sons. “My daughter,” he whispered.

“Yes, the one who ran away. I’ve kept a watch on her for you. She’s one of my favorites. You’d like to see her one more time and know that she’s fine? I can do that for you, for one of my true believers.” The thing nodded. “She’s everything we could have hoped for.”

A cold wind ripped through the hut. Not the wonderful cool breeze in a stifling heat but a searing cold rapier that bit the skin.

“Why, here she is now.”

Another darkness moved through the door. Slim and quick with long swirling hair the color of night. The Hougan wept as he caught a glimpse of her fierce golden eyes and ebony face just as the knife plunged down.

Deadlines, baby

Okay, I missed the August WEP contest deadline but I’ll get better. They have more contests, like the October one that is either Voodoo or Deja Vu. I have found to be frequently telling my tribe that I need deadlines to write, so this site is perfect for me.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup.com. I just need that terror of the deadline to keep actively writing. Join me, o lazy ones.

They also have an anthology contest

Change of Heart for WEP August Challenge

The sound was unmistakable. Even though Tali never heard a car hit a person before, she knew what it was. She turned as one small gym shoe, white as a sunflower seed, arced into the air. The tiny, boneless body windmilled after the shoe. The child had been behind her in the crosswalk.

It could have been Tali, a few seconds earlier, walking home from high school with her heavy book bag. Just stupid luck it was the next kid. Another proof that her life was worth something. The good Lord intended her to make a difference. Maybe be a physician like that woman in the movie in class today.

The little sista was almost sure dead. She should go check, though. Before she would make her legs move, the squealing of metal tore the air as the car hit an SUV.

A man’s body rammed through the windshield like a spear and landed on the sidewalk right in front of her, almost on her shoe. A long ragged gash in his chest filled with blood and Talia’s vision narrowed to a point while her stomach flipped. She gritted her teeth and shook herself. Maybe this was the Lord’s test to see if she could be a doctor.

The man’s chest had a deep fissure from the collarbone to the belly button. His guts glistened and pieces of white bone were scattered through the hole like dice. The seam filled endlessly with blood. He was probably gonna die but she would maybe keep him alive until the ambulance came.

She knelt in the broken glass and pressed her hands together as if in prayer, on either side of the rift to close the opening. The blood bubbled up like warm bread dough pushing through her brown fingers. The shattered glass from the windshield bit into her knees, but she kept pressure on to hold the two ragged edges of the wound together.

People gathered and established their own periphery on the grass on the other side of the smoking car. Probably didn’t want to get involved in anyone else’s business. People were like that and that was okay. Being a hero wasn’t for everyone. Blood covered her hands, but she kept on the pressure.

Everyone stood there, stupid, but not her. If she was meant to be a physician, this would be the moment that decided her future for her. Her arms ached with the strain of keeping the pressure on. Whatever she became, gonna get there by hard work and scholarships. Not gonna get a baby in her like some of the girls. She wasn’t having any of what those boys were selling. She’d had enough to last a lifetime. Yeah, her brown eyes were nice and her hair was soft. It was gonna take more than sugar to derail her life. She’d had a rough enough start without adding to it.

At seven Tali was in charge of herself while her mama slept from second shift at the grocery and third cleaning hotel rooms part time.

A dark man with a whispery voice like crinkling paper, lived down the street and had a nose for children who weren’t under anyone’s watch. He’d found her fast enough and told her he’d kill her if she told. Those three years were a nightmare she relived every night of her life.

He’d disappeared one day when she was ten. It was her best birthday present ever even if it weren’t on her birthday. Was it only five years ago? Tali never told anyone, not even her mama. What could anyone do to fix it? Now, she was old enough she could help herself.

The blood from the man’s chest seemed to be slowing. Tali wondered what was wrong inside his body. Was it his heart? The sweat ran into her eyes as she struggled to keep him alive.

She’d vowed to make a difference in someone’s life, the way she always prayed someone would appear back then to rescue her. Saving this guy would be the start of making her mark in the world.

She pushed all her weight into keeping his wound closed, heard him grunt in pain.

“Hold on, help is coming,” Tali muttered. Sirens wailed in the distance.

“Thank you,” the man whispered.

That voice. Tali’s hand slipped off him in the blood. Her breath caught deep in her gut and she couldn’t hear anything as if her ears were muffled in a pillow. The searing pain in her chest brought her right back to being seven years old. His voice, that whispering rasp, was in her nightmares every night. The shaking began and she couldn’t keep her hands still. Blood flowed out of his wound like a river overflowing its banks.

Tali took a deep breath. She wasn’t that girl anymore, vowed to never be afraid like that again. She wiped her bloody hands on the clean sleeve of his shirt and stood up. Maybe her gift was to make it so no little girl had to be afraid like that. She brushed the glass off of the knees of her jeans.

Maybe he deserved to live for some reason in God’s big plan. Wasn’t her call. God would save him, if she wanted to. She was just a kid walking home from school. He’d cut that little sista’s life short and put a sliver of terror right through her heart that she’d never get out.

Making a difference in the world was important, Tali picked up her heavy backpack. Not everyone could be a hero. Only those who were strong. She was strong, she realized. Strong enough to make the hard choice and do the right thing. 951 words.