Ponderings from a Procrastinating Prognosticator

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

What If?

Posted by samatwitch on September 18, 2020

As a writer, I’m always asking what if? It’s the basis for most fiction writers that I know, whether they’re writing romance, suspense, murder, spy, science fiction, fantasy or any other genre. During this time of pandemic, I’ve been pondering a lot of things. I decided to do a 100 day writing challenge, writing a poem a day for 100 days. The poems quickly became ponderings. I wrote them on index cards, usually both sides, and occasionally using more than one card. On Day 45 (May 22nd), I became whimsical rather than philosophical and this was what I wrote.

What if Mary’s little lamb had been black as coal? Would it still have followed her everywhere she went?

What if Miss Muffet (why so formal?) had made friends with the spider instead of running away?

What if Jill had walked down the hill and kept the pail of water for which they had laboured? Did Jack undergo the correct protocol for concussion?

What if Jack Sprat decided to eat some fat. Would he and his wife (whose name was Joan Cole, it turns out) fight over the bacon? (I didn’t realise that what we learn is only the first verse of a very long poem. https://youtu.be/7Cv2OtlrH3o )

What about nimble Jack, jumping over a candlestick? Why? Was it a dare from friends? Maybe one of the challenges we see young people doing today and posting online.

And then there was Little Jack Horner who was greedy, messy and a braggart. He stuck his thumb into his Christmas pudding and then bragged that he was a good boy.

Also, what’s with all the Jacks anyway? Were there no other names available?

What’s with the cow jumping over the Moon? What would make her think of doing such a thing? And why did the spoon run away with the plate? Wouldn’t a bowl have been more compatible?

Then there’s Mary who was quite contrary and yet managed to grow a beautiful garden in spite of it. (My mother used to call me Mary, Mary, quite contrary when I was young and she was frustrated. 🙂 )

I may have more of these at a future date.

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Posted by samatwitch on April 26, 2012

I wrote this for a short story contest earlier this year.  I had a really good opening few pages but had to scrap it all because it was a short story contest, not a novel!  So this was written in the last few hours before the deadline and posted to the contest with one minute to go!  It’s not great, but it is mine.


Molly braced herself, then stared defiantly at the boy who had done everything possible to make her life miserable since she and her parents had moved to this small town three months ago.  Gerald and his friend Lewis delighted in tormenting their classmates, especially the girls, but for a few minutes she had the upper hand.

She was enjoying being the helper for the school photographer, even though it mostly consisted of standing beside him and acting as a focus for the students he was shooting.  Somehow it seemed to relax them to see another student in the gym where the photos were taken.  Nobody would call Molly intimidating; she was small for her age, with blonde hair and delicate features.  Along with her shy demeanour, those attributes meant she was usually ignored, except by the bullies in the school.  She smoothed her fingers over the small bottle in her pocket that she carried with her at all times.

The photographer had chosen Molly deliberately – not just to relax the other students, but to help Molly overcome her shyness.   He had seen how Gerald had pinched her and kneed her in the back while they were posing for their class picture and decided to do something about it.

Now he had Gerald in front of him, squirming around in the chair as the photographer readied his equipment.

“Sit still, please, Gerald,” he requested pleasantly.  “I want to make sure I have the perfect shot so your parents will be pleased.”

“My Ma’s not going to pay for any old pictures of me,” the young boy said, “I don’t know why I’m even here.”

“Because everyone is having their pictures taken individually this week and then your mother can decide whether or not she wants to purchase them.”

Finally the photographer seemed happy with his arrangements, staring through the lens for what seemed to Molly to be a long time before finally snapping the picture.

“Thank you, Gerald,” the photographer said quietly.  “You may go back to your group now and send in the next person.”

Gerald seemed to stumble a bit as he got up, but then he walked stiffly out the door.

A few minutes went by and no other child appeared

“Molly, could you go and ask the next child in line to come in, please?”

Molly went to the door and looked out.  The line-up of children were waiting, some patiently, others fidgeting, Lewis as usual trying to intimidate his classmates.

“Andrea, you’re next,” said Molly to her friend who was standing at the front of the line.

“Didn’t Gerald tell you to come in?” she asked as they crossed the gymnasium floor.

“No, he didn’t say anything.  His eyes were weird and he just walked by all of us without hitting or pinching or anything,” she replied.

“Probably the flash affected his eyes,” said the photographer, overhearing as they drew near.  “Some people react badly.  As for not hitting or pinching, I would think that’s a good thing.  He shouldn’t be doing that at any time.  That’s something that should stop right now and I know just what to do about it.”

“Oh, no,” cried Andrea. “If he finds out I said anything, he’ll be worse than ever.”

“Nonsense,” said the photographer.  “That kind of behaviour must stop immediately, but don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him that you said anything.  I’d already seen his bullying for myself.”

Andrea settled down and the photographer seemed to be quite happy with the picture he took of her and the rest of the students that afternoon.

“Is there a student missing, Molly?” he asked. “My list says 32 students but I’ve only taken 31 pictures.”

“Lewis didn’t come in,” she replied. “He was in the line-up earlier but Mrs. Anderson said he left to see what happened to Gerald and he didn’t come back.  They’re best friends.”

Just then Mrs. Anderson bustled in.  “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.  I was looking for our last straggler, but it seems Lewis felt he needed to make sure his friend Gerald got home safely.  He didn’t seem well when he left.”

“No problem,” said the photographer, “I’ll be here all week taking pictures of the other classes.  We can just slip him in during one of the other sessions.  After all, it’s very important he get his picture taken just like all the other children.”

“Yes, I’ll see that he does.”  Mrs. Anderson flitted out the door.  “Molly,” she called back, “you can leave now; it’s three o’clock.”

Molly walked home slowly, thinking about all the things that had happened today.  Who would have thought this morning that the day would have ended so well?  And she was going to be the photographer’s assistant all week.  He had asked Mrs. Anderson and she’d said yes.

Passing by the park, Molly caught a glimpse of Gerald and Lewis standing, huddled together by the swings.  She walked faster, hoping to avoid a confrontation, but they didn’t even seem to notice her.  It looked as if Lewis was doing all the talking for once, but she wasn’t taking any chances.

The next morning when she arrived in class, Gerald was absent.  Lewis was in his regular seat but he looked lost without his constant companion.  Just before the bell rang, Lewis stalked over to Molly.

“What did that photographer do to Gerald yesterday?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” said Molly. “He just took his picture.”

“Well, Gerald was in there longer than anyone else and he wasn’t the same when he came out. His eyes weren’t right and he was just different.  Last night he wanted to go hunting!”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” muttered Molly, somewhat surprised at her bravery.

“With his bare hands?”  Lewis slid over to his seat just as Mrs. Anderson entered the class.

“Molly, you can head down to the gym to help the photographer with one of the other grades today,” she said.

Over the next two days, as Molly stood beside the photographer, she heard whispers and mutters from some of the other classes about Gerald.  Everyone seemed to have a story about what had happened to him.  Some people had actually seen him and said he just stared right through them.  Reports of students’ pets going missing were also circulating throughout the school.  Some people were blaming the latter on Gerald and his strange behaviour.

“Nonsense,” scoffed the photographer when he overheard a couple of students discussing the latest rumours.  “Gerald is probably home with the ‘flu.  As for the animals going missing, it’s probably a coyote or raccoon, maybe even a cougar.  Now one of you come in for your picture.”

“Molly,” the photographer asked at the end of the next day, “Has Lewis been behaving?”

“No, he’s worse than ever.”

“Hmm.  Well, make sure he comes in for his picture tomorrow.  It’s my last day here.”

“I’m not sure he’ll come,” said Molly.  “He thinks you have something to do with why Gerald is acting strange.”

“Really?” the photographer asked in exasperation. “It’s not as if I’m stealing souls!”

Molly looked startled.  “Why did you say that?”

“Some cultures believe that taking one’s picture steals that person’s soul.  We know it’s not true, of course.  Nobody can steal a soul.”  He laughed softly.

“Oh, of course not,” Molly said unsurely. “That would be ridiculous.”

“Absolutely.  You don’t think I did anything to Gerald, do you, Molly?”

“Oh, no,” she was quick to reply. “I didn’t see you do anything and I was here all the time.”

“Good.  I’ll see you tomorrow then – and don’t forget to add Lewis to the list.”

When Molly got home, her parents were speaking to each other in the living room in the low voices that always seemed to be a preface to moving to a new town and school.  She had so hoped that this one would be the last.  In spite of Gerald and Lewis, she was enjoying her time here and had even made a friend, Andrea.

She overheard her name and the words “bullying” and “hurting”.  She heard her mother say that they needed to protect her.

Molly quietly opened the kitchen door and then let it shut firmly.  The conversation in the living room cut off abruptly and her parents came into the kitchen.

“How was your day?” asked her mother as she helped Molly off with her coat.

“It was good,” she answered.  “I’m still helping the photographer.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

“Why are you home so early, Daddy?”

Her father glanced at his wife.  “Oh, I just came home to discuss a few things with your mother and take my two favourite girls out for dinner.”

“We’re not moving again, are we?” Molly asked apprehensively.

“Maybe.  It’s not settled yet, Molly, but we may have to move.”

“I don’t want to move! I like it here.”  Molly crossed her arms defiantly.

“We’ll give it a few days and see what happens.  It may turn out that we can stay.”

“Oh, please, please,” begged Molly, running to her father to give him a hug.  Her parents exchanged looks over her head.

“We’ll see.  In the meantime, why don’t you run upstairs and wash up so we can go out for dinner?”

“Okay.”  She ran off cheerfully.

Her mother looked after her.  “It would be a shame if we had to move again, just when she’s getting settled and making friends.”

“If the bullying continues, we’ll have no choice.”


“I know,” sighed her mother as she left the room.

“You seem to be a little quiet today, Molly,” the photographer said the next day. “Are you tired of being my assistant already?”

“Oh, no.  It’s just that my parents are talking about moving again and I want to stay here.”

“Does your father get transferred often?”

“No, he works for himself so he can work anywhere.  It’s just that they don’t like it when I’m bullied so we move.”

“There must be a better solution than that,” said the photographer.  “Running away isn’t the answer.  You must stand up to the bullies and not let them get away with it.”

“Yes, but that’s really hard to do when you’re small like I am and there’s two of them.”

“Gerald seems to have changed his behaviour.  Maybe we can persuade Lewis to do the same.”

“I think that would be a great idea,” beamed Molly.  “Then we can stay here.”

“Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  Why don’t we get Lewis in next?”

“I’ll go and get him out of class.”  Molly almost bounced out the door, while the photographer adjusted his camera.

A few minutes later she was back with a reluctant Lewis in tow.

“Here he is.”

“Welcome, Lewis,” said the photographer. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“I don’t wanna have my picture taken.  My parents won’t buy it anyway.” He struck a defiant pose.

“Nonsense, I’m sure your parents will love it, so please sit down and behave as if you are a properly brought up young man for once, not someone raised by wild animals.  Come to think of it, wild animals probably treat other animals much better than you have been treating your schoolmates.  Bullying is unacceptable and you need to stop before something terrible happens to you.”

“Yeah, what are you going to do about it?  The same thing you did to Gerald?” As he said those words, Lewis seemed to shrink a bit and his eyes darted to the door.

“I did nothing to Gerald and I wish you would stop spreading stories that I did.  I saw Gerald back at school today and he seemed fine.”

“That’s because you didn’t know him before.  He’s totally different – quiet and just walks from class to class by himself.”

“Sounds like an improvement to me, young man.  Maybe you should do the same.”  The photographer finished adjusting his lens and looked at Lewis.  “Please sit up straight and look straight at Molly.”

Molly stared back at the young man intently, with a slight smile on her face, the fingers of her right hand clasped around the smooth object in her pocket.  Lewis couldn’t tear his eyes away, not even when the flash went off.  The photographer dismissed him without looking up from his camera, but did look over at Molly as Lewis slowly left the gym.

“I hope that’s the end of his bullying tactics, Molly.  I think he just needed someone to point out how wrong his behaviour was.”

“I’m sure you’re right, sir.”  Molly said as she smiled slightly.  “I think he’s learned his lesson.”

“Thank you for being such a good assistant this week, Molly,” said the photographer.  “If I don’t see you again, I hope your life goes much more smoothly from now on.”

“It will, I can feel it,” said Molly.  “Thank you for giving me the chance to help.”

As she left the gym to head back to class, she saw Gerald and Lewis standing in the hallway.  She noticed that Lewis now had the same blank stare as Gerald and neither of them made a move towards her as she walked by.  She waved at them gaily and continued on her way.

Entering her room at home, she took the small bottle from her skirt pocket, swirled the black contents and placed it on the shelf next to a similar one.

“There,” she said with satisfaction, “no more bullying from either of you. You’re souls are safe with me.”

Posted in Writing - Short Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Writing: The Magic Ring

Posted by samatwitch on February 26, 2012

Apparently, February 26th is National Tell A Fairy Tale Day in the United States, so I thought I’d celebrate in this corner of Canada by posting one of mine. 😉

This started as a short story written for my Children’s Lit class.  The requirements were that it had to start with “Once”, although it didn’t have to be Once Upon a Time; end with “After”, although it didn’t have to be Happily Ever After; the story had to include the colour green, a talking animal and a magic amulet of some sort.  (My original story did end with “after” and not Happily Ever, but I have since expanded this as the beginning of a possible book.  You may recognise Brenna from “Frog For Rent”.)


“Once you cross the bridge into the woods, you will no longer be under out protection, Brenna,” said the Queen to her daughter.  “We can watch you through our magic mirror, but by the time we reach you, it could be too late.  Wear this ring, and guard it carefully.  If you need help, twist the green stone three times in a counter-clockwise direction and help will come to you.  But remember, only use it when absolutely necessary, as there is a limit to how much magic one person is allowed to use on a quest.”

“Thank you, Mother”, said Brenna,  “and thank you, Father, for the basket of food and the bottle of water.”

“The food and water have been spelled so that you will never run out of either no matter how long your journey lasts, Brenna,” replied the King.  “The folded square of material in the bottom of the basket will open to become a safe tent for you to sleep in at night.  Be careful, my daughter.”

“Don’t worry, Mother, Father,” said Brenna, her eyes dancing in anticipation of her great adventure, “I have Samantha to protect me, don’t I, Samantha?”

Samantha, her tawny and black fur sparkling in the summer sun and her whiskers pointing straight out, looked up and purred her answer, “Always, Brenna.”

And so their adventure began.  Brenna, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the King and Queen, accompanied by her ever-faithful talking cat, Samantha, set out to find her childhood playmate, Trevor.  He had left his home several weeks before, and nobody had heard anything from or about him since.

As they traveled along the path towards the woods, Brenna and Samantha talked about how they would find Trevor.  Samantha could smell his scent, even though it had been weeks since Trevor had traveled this way.  Brenna’s talent was being able to communicate with animals, even if they weren’t magical like Samantha.  Brenna knew Trevor had been going to the neighboring country to seek his fortune, but he had promised to send word when he arrived and she had heard nothing.   That was not at all like Trevor.

All too soon Samantha and Brenna reached the bridge, on the other side of which lay the unknown forest.  Cautiously they walked across, knowing Brenna’s parents could no longer protect them.  They were truly on their own now.

Brenna and Samantha continued along the path, going deeper and deeper into the dark woods.  The farther they walked, the thicker the trees and the closer together they grew, until the two companions had barely enough room to walk on the path.

Startled by a sound behind her, Brenna turned around, only then noticing that the path disappeared as soon as they took a step forward.  It was a one-way path, never a good sign.

Finally the trees seemed to be a little less dense and, in the space of a few minutes, they stepped into a clearing, in the middle of which was a pretty little cottage.  Samantha warned Brenna not to go inside, but when the princess asked her cat if Trevor had done so, Samantha had to admit that he had.  That decided Brenna.

At first she knocked gently on the door, but there was no answer.  Brenna knocked harder.  When there was still no answer, she opened the door and entered the small house.  Everything inside was dainty and pretty, but it was evident that Trevor was not there now.  When Brenna and Samantha turned to leave, however, they discovered the door had disappeared and none of the windows opened.  They were trapped!

Brenna started to explore the cottage more thoroughly and came across a small door, just big enough for her to walk through.  Even though Samantha did her best to discourage her, Brenna stepped over the sill.  Immediately, the door closed behind her, and Brenna found herself in a large, dark corridor, filled with an unpleasant odor.  Having no other choice, Brenna held her breath as much as she could and, accompanied by her faithful cat, she followed the tunnel for a long way before it opened up into a very large cavern.

Her eyes went immediately to a cage hanging on the far side of the room, and she gave a cry of dismay as she recognized Trevor trapped inside.

At the sound of her voice, Trevor looked up in alarm, “Go back, Brenna, go back.  This cave belongs to an ogre who has been keeping me captive and trying to fatten me up for a meal.  I’ve been hiding most of the food and feeding it to the rats whenever the ogre goes out, eating only enough to keep my strength up.  But I’m afraid he’s losing patience and is going to eat me anyway.  Go back before he sees you!”

Just then the ground shuddered and rocks rumbled.  It was too late, the ogre was on his way back into the cave.  Brenna tried to hide, but although the ogre’s eyesight wasn’t very good, his sense of smell was excellent.  Before you could say, “Abracadabra”, the ogre and plucked Brenna from behind the chair where she was trying to hide and popped her into a cage identical to Trevor’s.

“Please, Mr. Ogre,” said Brenna, “please let us go.  We’re really not good to eat.  We’re tough and our muscles will get caught in your teeth.  How about some tasty bread and cheese from by basket?”

“Bread and cheese,” scoffed the ogre, “I want a nice juicy snack, and you look just about the right size.  You’re sure not big enough for a whole meal.”

“That’s right, I’m not,” said Brenna bravely, “but I can help you find all kinds of lovely food that you’ve probably never tried before.”

“Like what?” asked the ogre, becoming curious.

“Like nuts and berries, and honey and … oh, all kinds of delicious things.”

“I’ve never tried any of those things,” said the ogre.  “But I’m sure they’re not as tasty as a young lady such as yourself.”

“Oh, but they are,” replied Brenna, “even more so.  I told you, I’m tough and not very tasty at all.  Why don’t you at least try some of these things?  If you don’t like them, you can still eat us later.”

“Brenna!” cried Trevor, “What are you saying?”

“Don’t worry, Trevor, Mr. Ogre will like the new food so much, he won’t even want to eat us.”

“I hope so.”  Trevor was not convinced, but he knew how determined Brenna could be.  “I hope you have a backup plan.”

“I do,” she whispered, rubbing the green stone of her magic ring.

Posted in Writing - Novels | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by samatwitch on January 12, 2012

Samantha had a special place in my heart, not just because we were together for 22 years, but because she was very special – and I brought her halfway across the country.  She liked to travel with me – by train or plane or car – as long as she could be with me, she put up with the rigors of travel.


That cosy ball of fur curled up beside me
Twitches slightly in a dream
What kind of dreams do cats have, I wonder?
Chasing mice? Pouncing on toys? Eating catnip?
Or is she dreaming impossible dreams?
Wondering what it would be like
To soar like a bird, scamper like a mouse,
Or dart here and there like a dragonfly?
Could it be she’s dreaming of the kittens
She’s never had nor never will?
Or what life would be like with someone else?
Who can tell what dreams a cat has?
Who will ever know?
But when I move, she opens one eye
And purrs when I pet her,
Seemingly content with the life she lives.


Soft tread of furry paws
Lightly touching the floor,
A faint ring from the bell around her neck,
Then a questioning ‘mrreoow’
As she looks for me,
Even before going to her food dishes.

Always she wants to be near me,
Following me around the house,
More like a dog than a cat,
Then indignant if I trip over her.

Her long silky tabby-striped hair
Needs to be brushed every day,
And she purrs as I hold her on my lap;
Unlike nail-clipping time,
Which started out as a war
For the first few years,
When I had to be covered from head to toe,
Including thick suede gloves.
But as she grew older, she mellowed,
Until it is quick and painless for both of us.

Round green eyes look into mine
And she winks at me.

This is Samantha, whom I taught to sit
In both of Canada’s official languages.
Samantha, who always reacted
To the fridge door being opened,
Right up to the end.
Samantha, who comforted me whenever I cried,
Even if it was because she was sick.
Samantha, who at 21, struggled
To return to health after a stroke and succeeded.
Samantha, who at 22, looked at me
With those round green eyes
And asked me to let her go
And I did.

Posted in Writing - Poems | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »


Posted by samatwitch on December 24, 2011

This is the last of my past group challenges (we have one coming up in January). It was for Christmas and had to contain the words turkey, cinnamon and spaceship.  As usual, I put them all in the first paragraph. 😉


“You turkey!” Cinnamon slammed her hand on the table next to Sage.  “In the name of the goddess, why would you buy a spaceship?  It’s not as if we can leave this planet.”

Sage waited for Cinnamon’s anger to abate.  She could erupt like one of the volcanoes on Absinthe, but she calmed down a lot faster – and with much less damage – usually.

“It’s just a small one, Cinnamon.  It was in the used ‘ship lot I pass on my way to work.  It hadn’t sold for so long, they marked it down really low.”

“It’s red!”

“Well, that way it can be seen in any weather and other ‘ships will avoid it.”

“Oh, I’m sure the other ‘ships will avoid it, alright.  It looks as if it will fall right out of the sky in front of them.”

“Nonsense, it has a great engine in it.  It’s only ‘ships with Capissen 38 engines that do that.”

“You hope.”  Cinnamon sounded resigned.  Good, that meant she was starting to come around.  “I guess we might as well keep it; I’m sure the dealers have taken your money and run by now anyway.  Face it, Sage, they saw you coming a light year away!  That ‘ship is nothing but a bucket of bolts.  Does it even fly at all?”

“It will,” Sage replied, “I just need to tinker with it a bit.  I don’t think anyone’s looked after it for years.”

Cinnamon shook her head, but she was smiling.  You had to love a man who was confident in his ability to fix anything.  And his confidence was not misplaced.  Sage had yet to meet a machine he couldn’t improve.

“Let me know when it’s ready for a test run,” she said with resignation.

“Of course.”  Sage smiled at her knowingly.  “I wouldn’t go up without my favourite test pilot.  The trouble with you is you’re so used to those big spaceliners that you fly, that you don’t appreciate the little ‘ships anymore.”

“I appreciate anything that actually flies,”  Cinnamon stated, “and I haven’t see this one do that yet.”

“It will,” Sage promised, “I’ll have it in the air before the Christmas celebrations.”

Christmas was one of those quaint customs that had come to the outer planets with the original settlers, but its roots were lost in the light years and centuries of the past.  Nobody Sage knew remembered little more than just before the end of the year there was a celebration with lights and lots of food.  Legend had it that an old fat man in a red suit flew around the planet delivering presents to children, all in one night.  Since they had both been brought up on Coriander, he and Cinnamon had never experienced such a tradition, but Sage was a realist, as well as a mechanic and he knew there was no possible way that any spacecraft could accomplish such a feat.  True, Pegasus wasn’t a very big planet, but facts were facts: to visit every child on the planet would have taken many more hours than were available in a single night.

Sage spent every spare moment he had on his little red spaceship, tinkering, tuning and replacing parts.  One of the perks of being the city’s (and, truth be told, planet’s) best spaceship mechanics was that he was able to get parts at a discount, sometimes even free.  He always knew when a ‘ship was being sold for scrap but still had parts that were salvageable.  His affinity to make a ‘ship fly when everyone else had given up on it was legendary.

Finally, he was ready.  Sage called Cinnamon out to the shipport to go for a test flight.

“You cut that close,” she grinned.

“I said I’d have it ready before the Christmas celebrations and I do,” Sage protested.

“The afternoon before.”

“Do you want to go for a ride or not?” he asked.

“Of course.  Are you flying or am I?”

“I’ll do the test run.” Sage decided.  “Hop in.”

Off they went, soaring up in the low clouds.  Cinnamon had to hand it to Sage once again.  Her husband sure knew how to make a spaceship fly as it probably had never flown before.   It handled well, seeming to avoid obstacles even before Sage was aware of them – and he was a good pilot.  Not as good as Cinnamon, of course, but who was?

After having put the ship through all the tests he could think of, Sage turned to go home and was astounded to realize how far they had traveled in such a short time.  He and Cinnamon had been so absorbed in putting the ship through its paces, they hadn’t paid much attention to the distance they’d covered.

Now they realized they were on the other side of the planet, heading home at a great rate.

“Wow,” said Cinnamon, impressed, “you really got some speed out of the old bucket of bolts.”

They returned home without incident, parking the shiny red spaceship in the yard next to all the other ‘ships Sage was working on.

Before they could enter their house, they were interrupted by their neighbour.  They’d never seen Sandy looking so excited and anxious.  Of course, they hadn’t known him that long and they had hardly seen him at all over the last month, but he had always seemed very happy and calm.

“Where did you get that spaceship?” he demanded without even waiting for a ‘hello’.

“In the used ‘ship lot on the other side of town,” replied Sage, puzzled.

“I’ve been looking all over for him,” Sandy exclaimed.  “He was stolen last year right after Christmas and I looked everywhere.  I finally thought I would have to manage without him this year but I didn’t think I could, especially with this fog rolling in.”

Sage looked out and sure enough, a thick fog was starting to blanket the city.

“What are you talking about, Sandy?” he asked.  “I bought the ‘ship legally.  I have the papers…”

“I don’t care about the papers.”  Sandy brushed that aside.  “I just need Rudy for tonight.”

Sage was getting a little impatient.  Maybe his neighbour wasn’t quite as stable as they had thought.

Cinnamon joined the conversation.  “Who’s Rudy and what do you want with our spaceship.”

“Rudy is my red spaceship and I need him to help me deliver presents to children all over the world tonight.  I must leave now or I won’t get to all the children.  I’ll have him back by morning.”

Sage and Cinnamon exchanged looks.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s the night before Christmas.  I’m Sandy Close and I deliver presents to all the children on the planet before sunrise.  Rudy is my guiding ship.  He can see through fog and rain and has the speed that I need to guide my sleigh.”

Cinnamon and Sage looked at their neighbour, astounded.

“You really do that?”  wondered Sage.

“Yes, yes,” Sandy answered impatiently, “but I need to leave right away.  May I borrow Rudy tonight?  I promise I’ll bring him back tomorrow and you can ask me any questions you want.”

Sage looked at Cinnamon.  “We did find it strange that the ‘ship went as far and as fast as it did on our test run.”

“I know, but what he’s saying just isn’t possible scientifically.”

“Of course, it isn’t,” Sandy agreed.  “It’s not science, it’s magic.  But even magic has rules and I only have so many hours to fulfill my duty.”

“Fine,” shrugged Cinnamon.  “But if that ‘ship isn’t back in our yard by tomorrow morning, we will be calling the authorities.”

“Thank you, thank you, good neighbours.”  Sandy shook their hands enthusiastically.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that, he let out a piercing whistle and bounded across the street to where a strange contraption awaited.  It was big enough for Sandy and a huge red sack that perched on the back and had eight four-legged creatures with horns attached to it.  In answer to the whistle, Sage’s newest acquisition had flown across the street and now hovered in front of the animals.  With another whistle, it took off, followed by the animals and the open spacecraft, which were now flying through the air.  Circling his astounded neighbours, Sandy Close yelled down to them, “Merry Christmas, Cinnamon and Sage, and have a good night.”

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Posted by samatwitch on December 14, 2011

Another group writing challenge, this was for Hallowe’en 2006.  A fire had damaged a local newspaper office and the challenge was to come up with an explanation for that.  Here’s mine.


“Hey mister, you okay?”

The man lying on the ground couldn’t make out the words, but he instinctively tried to reach the voice.  He stretched out his left hand as far as he could and tried to turn in the direction of the voice.

“Please, help me.”  The man’s voice was so weak as to be almost non-existent.  “I need help.”

Gravel crunched under cautious footsteps as Walter neared the outstretched man.

“Hey, mister,” said a voice near his head, “do you need some help?”

“Need help,” the man repeated.

Walter jumped and looked down as he felt something brush his ankle.  The man was reaching out with his hand.

“Please,” he whispered, “. . .  call . . .  doctor . . . warn her.”

“I’ll run home and call 911,” Walter suggested.

“No, no, not the police.”  The man was so agitated, he struggled to sit up, only to fall back limply.

Walter looked apprehensively at the man.  He couldn’t see any blood or wounds anywhere, but the man certainly didn’t look well.   Maybe he had fallen and hurt his head.  He remembered his mother waking him up periodically when he’d had a concussion during a hockey practice.

“Mister,” he asked quietly, “where do you hurt?  Is it your head?”

“Unnh,” groaned the man.

Walter persisted, “What’s your name?”

“Robin . . . Seven.”

“Robin Seven?  Okay, Mr. Seven…”

“Just Robin,” said the man.

“Okay, Robin, I think you better try to stay awake until the ambulance gets here.  You don’t look so good.”

“No ambulance.”  The man became agitated again.  “Call doctor.”

“I don’t have a phone.  The hospital can call your doctor.”

“No, no.”  This time Mr. Seven managed to raise himself up slightly.  With great difficulty, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and  pulled out what must be the world’s smallest cell phone.  He pressed one button but even that effort seemed to be too much for him and he collapsed onto the hard ground, the device rolling out of his hand.

Walter looked at him anxiously and hoped someone would come by soon.  He was off the main roads, but surely somebody would drive by on their way to work.  He had the day off because his teachers were on a course, but it was a Thursday after all.

Walter was sure the man – Robin – wasn’t getting any better lying on the cold damp road, but he didn’t want to move him.  Walter walked around the man to pick up his phone.  Even though it was a dull February day, light was beginning to filter through the trees lining the road and when Walter picked up the object, it was clear that this wasn’t any kind of cell phone that he had ever seen.  He put it back in the man’s pocket, noting a smoky smell when he bent over.  As he straightened, his hand touched the man’s arm beneath his sleeve and he found Robin’s skin to be cool.  Walter wished he had a blanket.  Maybe he should take off his jacket and put it on top of the man.

Just then he heard a thumping sound and he looked up to see a helicopter about to land on the road in front of him.

The helicopter landed and two men, looking very much like the man lying on the ground, jumped out, followed more slowly by an older woman in a white coat.  They all looked as surprised to see Walter as he was to see them.

“He was talking to me a few minutes ago,” he offered.

Three heads swivelled towards him.

“What did he say?” barked the woman.

“Just that his name was Robin Seven and he wanted me to call his doctor.  I don’t have a phone, but I think he called someone on his.”

The three people exchanged looks.

“Anything else?”

“No, he couldn’t tell me where he was hurt, but there’s no blood that I can see,” replied Walter, relieved that help had arrived and yet feeling as if something was not quite right.  Why were they standing asking him questions when the man obviously needed medical attention?

As if she could hear Walter’s thoughts, the woman looked down at Robin and murmured, “You have served us well, Seven.”

Turning to the other two men, she motioned to the man on the ground, “Four, Nine, please take him back to the helicopter.”

The two younger men picked up Robin, one at his head and one taking his feet.

Walter stared in astonishment and growing anger.  He’d watched enough medical shows on TV in his young life to know that something was very wrong.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Who are you?  Where’s the stretcher or your medical bags?”

The woman shook her head slowly.

“I am Dr. Rudolph.  I created the Robin series.”

“Robin series?  What are you talking about?”  Walter felt as if he were in a dream.  What was going on?

“The Robin series of robots,” the doctor explained patiently.  “ROBIN stands for ROBotic INtelligence.  I have created artificial life so that I could place the ROBINS in positions of authority at various CanWest media.  ROBIN 7 was placed at the North Shore News, but his position was compromised when the staff there started going through their archived material for their 35th anniversary and someone realised that he hadn’t aged at all in the last twenty years.  He had to get rid of the evidence and set the building on fire.  Unfortunately, he must have overloaded his circuitry and only made it this far before he collapsed.  With the damage, we couldn’t track him until he pressed the button on his old-fashioned homing device.  But now he’ll be taken home and recycled.”

Walter’s eyes were near to popping.  He had so many questions he thought his head would explode, including the nagging feeling that the doctor shouldn’t be telling him this.

He managed to stammer, “Why?  Why would you put robots at newspapers?”

“Oh,  not just at newspapers, at TV stations, too.  It’s the only way to control what news people hear.  Unfortunately, somehow I wasn’t able to get the ROBINs situated at all the news media, just CanWest and its subsidiaries, but that was a good start – they own most of the news sources around here anyway.”  The doctor shrugged and then started towards Walter.

Walter started to run but he had been so absorbed in what the doctor was saying that he hadn’t noticed the other two men – robots, too, he guessed – coming up behind him.  They grabbed him by the arms while the doctor approached with a needle which she inserted into Walter’s neck.

“Just a pinch, boy, and then you will remember nothing of this conversation.  You won’t be aware of us at all and you will return home with memories of a pleasant morning walk.”

Walter started walking in the direction of his home, oblivious to the helicopter taking off behind him.  When he entered the house, his mother asked, “Anything exciting happen on your walk, Walter?”

“No,” he answered at he went into the living room to turn on the news.

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Posted by samatwitch on December 8, 2011

I wrote this a couple of months after the death of my youngest cat, Miss Molly.  I can’t believe it’s been that long, but then Tija is 16 1/2 now and I acquired her a few months after this.  Miss Molly brought much joy into my life even though she was with us a short time.


On September 16, 1994,  I came home to my apartment after a wonderful warm, sunny day out of town, to discover two messages on my answering machine.  The voice was that of an unfamiliar woman.  In a sympathetic tone, she identified herself and told me she had my cat, it had been hit by a car and she was sorry, but it was dead.  The second message was from the same woman who told me not to worry about how late I got home, but to phone them whatever time it was.  Since my two older cats had greeted me on my arrival, I knew that it was my youngest, two and a half year old Miss Molly – my “wee little Miss Molly” as I often called her – and the tears began to flow.

She wasn’t really that small, she just appeared so.  She was actually taller than her mother Matilda, although slimmer, and bigger than my oldest cat, Samantha.  But there was something about Miss Molly that always made me think of her as “wee”.  Perhaps it was her large green eyes, which made her pointed face appear smaller, or just the fact that she was still very kittenish.  Or maybe it was because she was a gift I had never expected and I still have vivid memories of her as a newborn kitten, especially when she was ten days old and I had to feed her with an eye dropper when Matilda took off for the day.

That was the day Samantha officially met the yet-to-be named kitten.  After 16 years of being the centre of attention in our household, Samantha had not taken kindly to Matilda’s unexpected intrusion into our lives and her subsequent adoption of us.  Consequently, Samantha was noticeably wary of this small black and white wriggling object, no bigger than the length of my hand, yet one whose scent designated her “cat”.

I had had Samantha spayed at six months as I did with Miss Molly, but Matilda was already pregnant when she decided to stay with us.   Miss Molly was the only one of the four kittens to survive and I had decided to keep her.

I called Gayle, the woman who had left the message, and her husband Michael came over immediately, carrying Miss Molly, wrapped in a towel in a square rubber basin.  I stood on the top step of my apartment building, in front of a neighbour I had never met, weeping over the lifeless body of my youngest cat.  It was ten o’clock at night and I didn’t know what to do next.  Michael said my neighbours who lived in the house across the street had offered to help me in the morning with whatever arrangements I wished to make.  He pushed back the towel from Miss Molly’s face, but advised me not to turn her over as the other side of her head and her eye were damaged quite badly.  I thanked him and took her inside.

When I entered the apartment, the other two cats immediately sensed something was wrong.  I put the basin on the floor and let them look at her.  Matilda, who had seen one of her kittens die and the other two disappear (they had to be put to sleep), took one look and sniff and jumped back from the container.  But Samantha kept bending closer, finally reaching out a paw as if to move the too-still body of her young companion.  After all, Miss Molly was hardly ever totally still.  She had a seemingly endless supply of energy, always on the go.  My most often-used expression with regards to her was, “Where did Miss Molly go now?”  Although very affectionate, she did not really liked to be picked up and cuddled, usually squirming free in 30 seconds or less.  However, twice in what turned out to be the last week of her life she had actually jumped up on my legs, while I was reclining on the sofa with Samantha on my shoulder, and stretched out for a long nap.

I phoned long distance to one of my closest friends .  As soon as she heard my voice, she asked what was wrong and was it Samantha?  With Samantha being 19, her death would not have been unexpected.  I explained that it was Miss Molly and my friend sympathized with me over the phone, letting me talk and cry.

After a long night, in which I spent a lot of time just stroking Miss Molly’s face and paw, I realized that her body was now stiff and the essence that had made her my “wee little Miss Molly” had really left.  I held her on my lap in the basin and called the other two to come near.  Samantha sat on the arm of the chair beside me, Matilda on the floor – close, but with her back to us.  I sang – or tried to – a couple of my favourite hymns and said a prayer of thankfulness for the unexpected joy and love Miss Molly had brought to all of us during her young life.  Just as I finished, Theresa phoned from across the street to ask me if I was ready to make a decision about what to do with the body.  She and Maureen drove me to the SPCA where, for $15, they cremated the body.

The next day Theresa and Maureen came over with flowers and a beautiful card to make sure I was okay.  They explained how Michael had found Miss Molly in the middle of the road in front of their house, while walking his dog and, ignoring the blood, picked her up and took her home.  He and his wife, Gayle, had called Theresa and Maureen (who are nurses) to see if they could help, but Maureen assured me that Miss Molly must have died instantly and, thanks to Michael, she was not run over afterwards.  Gayle had stroked Miss Molly into a more natural position and wrapped her in the towel.   I shall always be grateful for having such caring neighbours who made such a difficult and painful situation a little bit easier.

I had three days to grieve before I returned to work, but even there it was made more bearable because of the caring and support shown and expressed by almost every one I work with.  Most have cats of their own or had at one time, and most of them have gone through similar experiences.  And most of them had heard of Miss Molly, while quite a few had seen pictures of her.  Nobody laughed at me for caring so much about a cat or belittled the grief and loss I felt.  I truly feel blessed to have been so fortunate as to have friends, family (my sister and her family in the Kootenays sent me hugs over the phone), neighbours, and co-workers who empathized with me and, for those who knew her, grieved with me.

The pain is not so constant now and I look at the many pictures I have of her.  (She was not only photogenic but seemed to love having her picture taken.)  I think about her high-pitched, and sometimes quite demanding, meow – which sounded much like the woman’s cry in the opening sequence of “Mystery”.  I think about how she tried to effect a fierce growl when she didn’t want anyone near her when she had brought home a mouse, or worse, a bird, but the noise she made was so un-fierce that I was always hard-pressed not to laugh even when I was scolding her.  I think of how I tried to stop her crossing the road but, short of locking her in the apartment all the time, which I was not willing to do, I had to live with the knowledge that she liked to cross not just one, but two busy streets to find a quiet yard where she could relax and run around without fear of being chased herself.  I think of how she would follow me as far as the alley, across the street and half a block from home, when I was on my way to work, and cry so piteously (or so it sounded) that I could hear her over a block away.

I remember how she liked to snuggle under the covers with me, or lie on my arm at night.  I remember the time I woke up and found a small pink nose pressed against mine and two big green eyes staring at me, while a small paw gently batted my face to wake me up.  I remember how she would jump up onto the bathroom counter as soon as I started to brush my teeth and try to get her head between my arm and my face.  There are still tears when I think of Miss Molly and her shortened life, but there are smiles when I remember the joy with which she lived, and I do not, for one moment, regret loving her.

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Posted by samatwitch on December 7, 2011

This is actually an academic paper that I wrote for a third-year English class when I went back to finish my degree a few years ago.  I got 90% on the paper and my professor said the missing 10% was because I had left out a step!  I didn’t include the bibliography/references.

“Words are flashlights upon our thoughts.”  So says Joseph T. Shipley in his introduction to The Origins of English Words.  If this is so, perhaps we can illuminate some of the thoughts of our ancestors by studying the history of our modern words and their meanings, past and present.  Take a word like heart, for instance.  We are aware of some of the associated words, which have “heart” as the root, and most people know the connection with the Greek word for heart, kard-ia, but there are other words which are not so recognizable as being related.  Some of these are from the Latin root cor, or cordis and are less easy to identify as being from the same family.

All of these words come from the Indo-European root *ker-dhe.  Latin and Greek kept the initial voiceless stop,│ k│, while Germanic languages moved the voiceless stop to a voiceless fricative, thus │ h│.  The IE aspirated voiceless stop ‘dh’ became a voiced stop│ d│ for all these languages, but Germanic went one step further, changing the voiced stop│ d│ to a voiceless stop│ t│.  These Germanic changes are part of what is known as Grimm’s Law.

The word heart itself has undergone numerous changes in spelling, not just from the Indo-European to Latin to West Germanic to English, but from Old English to Modern English.  From the eleventh to thirteenth century, the word was usually spelled heorte, as it appears in Lamb’s Homer in 1175: “we sulen habben ure heorte and habben godne ileafe to ure drighten.”  The spelling changed to herte sometime in the thirteenth century, appearing also as harte from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth.  The latter was probably a result of the early modern English sound change from ‘e + r + 1 consonant’ to a sound, and sometimes spelling, change to ‘a + r + 1 consonant’. From the fourteenth to seventeenth century, the word was also spelled without the final “e”, which was, by this time period, silent; but from the sixteenth century onwards, the word can be found in the form we use now, heart.  As late as the seventeenth century, however, the word appeared in Scotland spelled hairt.

Heart has many meanings today, including a reference to a “heart” shape or referring to the physical organ, but the most common uses of the word still seem to revolve around feeling and emotion.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives this as one of the archaic or even obsolete definitions:  “Considered as the centre of vital functions: the seat of life, the vital part or principle; hence in some phrases = life”.
Perhaps our modern generation would find that to be out-dated, but the standard definitions are very similar:
1.    As the seat of feeling, understanding and thought.
2.    The seat of one’s inmost thoughts and secret feelings; one’s inmost being, the depths of the soul; the soul; the spirit.
3.    The seat of emotions generally; the emotional nature, as distinguished from the intellectual nature placed in the head.
4.    More particularly, the seat of love or affection.
5.    The seat of courage; hence, courage, spirit.
6.    The source of ardour, enthusiasm or energy.
7.    The moral sense, conscience.
8.    The innermost or central part of anything; the centre, middle.
Oxford English Dictionary, 1989

This last definition is particularly interesting, as it seems to relate to our word core, meaning essentially the same thing – the centre, middle, or innermost part.  It is suggested in one etymological dictionary that it probably comes from the same Latin cor.  This seems to be substantiated by the fact that several other Indo-European languages have cognates with this Latin word, which indicate a connection between their words for “middle” and “heart”.  In some cases, the word is the same, while in others, the two words thus defined are very similar.

We may not equate the heart with life, but we certainly seem to imbue it with everything that makes life worth living; our emotions, spirits, even our souls.  Perhaps that is why we adopted the Greek cognate kard-  to describe the biological and medical object that is our physical heart.  Thus we have cardiology, “pertaining to the heart, anatomically, physiologically, or pathologically” (OED, 1989), and its family of derivatives, cardiac (arrest); electrocardiogram, etc.  Another definition of cardiac is “pertaining to or affected with disease of the heart” (OED, 1989).  Contrast this with the above definitions and notice the heart is always referred to in positive statements.

Certainly, some of the compound words we have made using heart are negative, such as heartache or heartbroken, but the meaning of the root remains the same.  That especially holds true in the case of words such as hearty or heartily.  Both these words denote strength and kindly feelings in large doses.  The exception to this is dishearten, which includes the Latin prefix dis-, meaning negation, separation, apart or away from.  Whereas hearty and heartily are ways of expressing what is in one’s heart, dishearten denotes something that is done to one, depriving of “heart”, making despondent, as illustrated by this quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “No man should possesse him with any appearance of feare, lest hee, by shewing it, should dishearten his Army”.

Although we use the Germanic root, heart, for countless compound words or phrases to explain our feelings, and the Greek root for the biological descriptions, we use the Latin cognate, cor, as the basis for many other words which describe both feelings and manner, as well as the state between two or more people or things.

Our word cordate, meaning “heart-shaped”, comes from the Latin word cordātus, meaning wise or prudent.  A word that is in much more common use, however, is cordial, meaning “of or belonging to the heart; of the heart as the seat of feeling, affection, etc.; warm and friendly in manner” (OED, 1989).  This word is often used as a synonym for hearty, and comes from cordate plus the suffix -ial.  Like heartily, cordially can also be used in a negative sense, thus “I dislike him cordially (or heartily)” meaning with strong emotion.  The word cordial, used as a noun, refers to a sweet beverage, often with some alcoholic content, but it is a beverage which “invigorates the heart and stimulates the circulation” (OED, 1989).
Another, less often used word, is misericordia, which sounds like it should denote negative feelings, but actually means to have compassion or mercy, coming from the Latin miser (wretched) and cor (heart).

Many of the words based on the Latin cor, like misericordia, actually come to us via the French, rather than directly from Latin.  Such a word is courage.  Coming over from central France in the 14th century with the second wave of French influence on the English language, the word was then more frequently spelled corage in both France and England.  Our most common modern meaning for courage is “That quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking; bravery, boldness, valour” (OED, 1989).  But when we look back further, we find a now-obsolete meaning which links the relationship to its Latin root: “The heart as the seat of feeling, thought, etc.; spirit, mind, disposition, nature” (OED, 1989).  Compare that to definition #2 above, and one can see that at some point in our past, the words heart and courage must have been almost interchangeable.  Now we seem to have separated these words into two different meanings but, looking at definition #5, we still see courage as coming from the heart.

In the fifteenth century, the French gave us two other words connected with courage, which we have brought into common usage.  These are encourage and discourage.  Again, though they came into English from France, both the root and the prefixes are from Latin.  En- means ‘at or near’ and therefore the literal meaning of the word is to bring courage to someone else;  “to inspire with courage, animate, inspirit” (OED, 1989).  We use it in a much looser sense today, bringing hope or even renewed energy to another.

Discourage, of course, means the opposite: “To deprive of courage, confidence or moral energy; to lessen the courage of; to dishearten, dispirit…” (OED, 1989).  It is interesting to note that, although heart and courage no longer are synonyms, dishearten and discourage still are.

To me, the most fascinating group of words to come into the English language from the Latin cor or cordis also came via the French, starting to appear in Middle English in the 13th century.  These words – accord, concord, discord, record, and chord – have more in common than their spelling and their common origins.

The first three words are easily seen to be related.  Indeed, accord and concord can be used as synonyms, although accord is in more common usage.  In Old French and early Modern English, accord was spelled with only one “c”, but by the fifteenth century the spelling became consistent with the Latin accordā-re.  The ac- prefix was the same as an ad- prefix, meaning “to”, giving rise to the literal meaning of accord as bringing heart to heart, thus reconciling oneself or others, or agreeing.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives several meanings, among them “reconciliation, agreement, harmony, concurrence of opinion, will or action, consent” (OED, 1989).  The definition for concord is very similar: “Agreement between persons; concurrence in feeling or opinion; harmony, accord” (OED, 1989).  The prefix con-, meaning with, thus leads to the literal meaning of ‘hearts agreeing’.  Concord gives rise to a further word, concordance, for which one meaning is “The fact of agreeing or being concordant; agreement or harmony” (OED, 1989).  It follows, then that discord is the lack of agreement or harmony, specifically between persons.

The verb record takes a bit more thought to see why it belongs with this family. The prefix re-, meaning back, added to cord, gives us ‘bringing back to mind or heart’, i.e. to remember, or to learn by heart.  Record as a noun, however, is an English word which the French have taken back as a loan word! (Klein, 1967).

There does not seem to be a clear consensus with regard to the etymology of the word chord.  Klein states that it is an abbreviation of accord, the difference in spelling a result of confusion with the word chord which means the ‘string of an instrument’.  Partridge, on the other hand, does not really offer an opinion about where it comes from.

However, the Oxford English Dictionary offers these two current meanings:
1.    A combination of two “according” or harmonious notes sounded together, a concord.
2.    A combination, concordant or discordant, of 3 or more simultaneous notes according to the rules of harmony; rarely of two notes only.
(OED, 1989)
From this definition, it is hard to believe the words are not related, since every word in the group is defined in some way by using the word ‘harmony’.

More evidence for this etymology can be found in the obsolete definitions of this group of words.  Accord once meant “to compose, sing or play (something) in harmony…”, and  record  “to sing of or about (something); to render in song”.  Musically, concord still can be defined as “[a] combination of notes which is in itself satisfactory to the ear, requiring no resolution or following chord”, while discord, as one would expect, means the opposite: “Disagreement or want of harmony between 2 or more musical notes sounded together; dissonance”.  And an obsolete meaning of chord was “Agreement of musical sounds” (OED, 1989).

In the late seventeenth century, William Cowper, in “The Task”, wrote “…Some chord in unison with what we hear Is touch’d within us, and the heart replies”.  Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, on the other side of the ocean, Edgar Allan Poe expressed similar thoughts: “There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which can not be touched without emotion” (The Masque of the Red Death).

In the late 1800’s, Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan, in the anguish of dealing with his brother’s death, put music to words written by Adelaide Anne Procter.  The beautiful song which resulted, “The Lost Chord”, epitomizes music, both words and notes, which comes from the heart.  Proctor refers to the chord as “[seeming to be] the harmonious echo From our discordant life”, which “came from the soul of the organ, And enter’d into mine”.

Although the Oxford English Dictionary does not mention music directly with regards to heart, a definition which includes “the depths of the soul” seems to indicate a connection.  Where else would the world’s greatest music come from, if not the composer’s heart?


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Posted by samatwitch on December 3, 2011


Softly my thoughts drift around me,
Riding the thermals of my mind.
First one soars into view,
My mind’s eye following it out of sight
Until distracted by a new thought.
Sometimes several cluster nearby,
Seeming to struggle for attention.
My mind jumps from one to another,
Never staying long enough to catch a firm hold,
Reaching out for one and finding nothing but air.
Finally I find one within my grasp.
I hold on tight,
Slowly examining it from every angle
Until I know it inside out.
Then I let it go,
To drift away until another day.

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Posted by samatwitch on November 29, 2011

I wrote this for a local newspaper contest, where you had to include the words I put in the first sentence.  The whole thing came to me as I was at work and when I finished for the day, I sat down at the computer and typed it out in about half an hour.  I knew it wasn’t really the type of story the contest liked, but I entered it anyway and after the contest, I entered it into a national short story contest where it made it to the finals.  The first judge really liked it; the second not so much. 😉


“I had no idea the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar.  Did you, Dave?”

When she didn’t receive an answer, Claire looked up from the large atlas she was consulting to find the last two letters for the crossword puzzle she was working on.  She could just see the top of Dave’s straight brown hair as he slouched on the sofa watching another car race on TV.

“Dave, did you hear me?  Did you know the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar?

A grunt that sounded vaguely affirmative answered her this time.  Claire tucked her long blonde hair behind her ear and studied the atlas once more.

“How on earth did you know that?”

“I must have read it somewhere,” came the mumbled reply.

“But where?  I don’t remember ever reading anything about Mongolia since whatever we took in geography in school and I certainly don’t remember the capital.”

“What difference does it make where I read it?”  Dave was clearly impatient.
“I’m just curious.  You know how exotic places fascinate me.”

“Nothing exotic about Mongolia.  It’s cold and dry and barren – very unfriendly.” Dave spoke absently, his concentration on the coloured blurs that were the race cars.  “ At least that’s what I’ve heard,”  he tacked on.

Curious, Claire stared at him.  “You sound as if you’ve been there.”

Another mumble from the couch.

Claire got up from the table and walked around the couch to plant herself firmly in front of Dave.

“Claire, move, I can’t see the race.  They’re down to the last 20 laps.”

“I don’t care about the stupid race.  I want to know why you never told me you’d been to Mongolia.”

“I didn’t say that I had.”

“You practically did.  Have you been to Mongolia?”

“Yes, if you must know, I have.  Now will you move so I can see the end of the race.”

“No.”  Claire stood firm.  “I want to know why you never told me you’d been to Mongolia.”

“It never came up.  Now will you please move?”

“What do you mean, it never came up?  We’ve known each other five years, we’ve lived together for four, you know how much I want to travel to foreign countries and you never once told me you’d been to Mongolia?”  Claire’s voice rose with her agitation.  “How could you not tell me?”

“Could we discuss this later?  I want to see the end of the race.”  Dave leaned around Claire trying to get a glimpse of the TV.

“No, we can’t discuss it later.  It’s already later.  I can’t believe you never told me this.  What else haven’t you told me?  Where else have you been?  And why is it such a big secret?”

“Look, I haven’t told you everything I did in the 30-odd years before we met and I don’t expect you to tell me everything, either.  I don’t see what the big deal is.  There’s nothing special about Mongolia.”

“Then why you were there?”

“Okay, if you let me watch the end of this race, I’ll tell you later.  In the meantime, you should calm down.  It’s no big deal.”

“Fine.  Watch the end of the damn  race.  I’ll be in the bedroom when it’s finished.”  Claire stomped out of the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her.

Dave’s eyes narrowed as he watched her leave.  He thought hard for a moment, nodded, then went back to watching the race.

Ten minutes later, the race ended.  Dave sat for a few more minutes, considering how to appease Claire’s curiosity and anger.  The anger he could deal with – he’d dealt with it before.  But her curiosity was something else.  There wasn’t really anything he was able to tell her that would satisfy her and she would just keep nagging at him until he slipped up somehow.  Look at how much trouble he was already in, just because he hadn’t paid enough attention when she had been talking to him.  He knew better than to let his guard down like that.

Dave heard the bedroom door open.  He turned off the TV and glanced down the hall.

“Claire,” he called, “how about I fix you a special drink before we talk?  Maybe it will relax you and we can talk calmly about this.”

“I’m perfectly calm,”  Claire said indignantly.  “I just don’t understand why you never thought to tell me that you’d been to an exotic country like Mongolia.”

“I keep telling you – there’s nothing exotic about Mongolia.  It was cold, that’s all.”

“Dave, “ Claire said with exaggerated patience, “I find anywhere outside North America exciting.  And Mongolia: Genghis Khan, nomads, the steppes, caught between Russia and China.  How can that not be exotic?”

“See, you know more about it that I do.  There isn’t anything I can tell you that you can’t find out in books or on the Internet.”

“How can you say that?”  Claire burst out.  “You were there.  You must remember something about the way the country smelled, what their food was like, what the people were like – if they were friendly or hostile.  I can’t learn that from books or the Internet.  Were you in the country or did you get to any cities?”

“What difference does it make?  I wasn’t even there very long.  Just in and out in a few days.”

“Well, what were you doing there?  If it was so ordinary and forgettable, why were you even there in the first place?”

That was the question Dave had dreaded.  Now what could he say?  Claire wasn’t one to stand for evasions.  She’d just keep asking questions until he gave in.

“Oh, I just wanted to see what it was like.”  Dave was deliberately offhand, hoping Claire would stop asking questions before she got into big trouble.  No such luck.

“And what was it like?”

“I told you!  It was cold and dry and barren.”

“There must have been something else.”  Claire was clearly exasperated with him but wouldn’t give up.  “Why would you go halfway around the world to a country like Mongolia for no reason?”

“I didn’t need a reason.  I just wanted to travel to another country.  It’s not a crime, you know.”

“I never said it was…”

“Well, you’re making me feel like a criminal.”  Taking the offensive was usually a good strategy.  Not this time.

“Don’t be silly.  I just want to know all the details.  Did you travel alone?”

“What difference does it make?  Can’t you let it be?  It was no big deal.”

“It is a big deal.  You’ve been keeping this a secret from me for years and I want to know why.”

“Fine.  I was in the USSR and figured while I was there, I’d wander into Mongolia to see what it was like.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t stay.  End of story.”  Dave hoped that would be the end of it.  He was running out of patience and ideas.

“What were you doing in the USSR?  It must have been a few years ago, if it was still the USSR.”  Claire was trying make sense of the whole conversation, but the more Dave told her, the less she felt she knew – of his experiences and of him.

“It was.  I was there because my family is originally from northern Russia.”  It wouldn’t hurt to give her that much.  After all, almost everyone in this country came from somewhere else.

“Northern Russia!  Do you mean Siberia?”  Claire was even more astounded.

“Yeah, somewhere around there.”  He shrugged carelessly.  “I was younger and thought it would be interesting to see where my family came from and while I was there I went to Mongolia.  Are you satisfied now?”

“No, I’m not.  Everything you say just makes me more curious.”  Dave had been afraid of that.

“Dave, I’ve asked you about your family and all you say is that they’re all dead.  You never mentioned where they were from or that you had been to Russia to find your roots.  Whenever I asked you where you got your dark eyes and high cheekbones, you just shrugged it off.  It’s obvious they come from your Slavic heritage.  Why the big mystery?”

Dave rolled his eyes.  “There is no mystery.  I just don’t like to talk about myself or my family.  It was fine with you yesterday, why can’t it be fine today?”

Claire just stared at him.  “I just don’t understand why there is all this secrecy between us.  It’s not like you were a spy or something.”  A brief flicker in his eyes made Claire gasp.  “That’s it, isn’t it?  You were a spy.”  She looked at him in shock and disbelief, as she sank into a kitchen chair.

“For Pete’s sake, Claire, don’t get carried away.  Why would you think I was a spy?”  Dave was becoming desperate.

“It’s the only thing that makes any sense:  why you never told me your family was from Russia, or that you’d been to Mongolia.  You were sent there, weren’t you?  That’s why you were there and never talk about it.”  All the pieces seemed to be coming together, yet the whole picture remained unbelievable.  She was an ordinary person, Dave was an ordinary person – a bit secretive, maybe – but he had a normal job, worked out regularly, went to the movies and loved car racing.  How could he possibly be a spy?

Dave could see the wheels turning in Claire’s head and knew what her next question would be – which side was he on?  He watched her silently for a minute, then made his decision.

“Why don’t I make you some special herbal tea I have?  It was the one thing I did like about Mongolia and I had some shipped in.  It will calm you down and then, if you promise not to tell anyone – and I mean anyone – I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Claire just nodded.  She was still trying to assimilate what she knew already and wasn’t sure if she was prepared for more, but if he was willing to tell her, she would listen.

While Dave filled the kettle and plugged it in, Claire continued to sit in stunned silence, staring at the man in front of her who had suddenly become a complete stranger.  Everything she thought she knew about him was now suspect.

Dave glanced at Claire as he reached behind the seldom used glasses on the top shelf for a small bag of herbal leaves.  He added a few to the teapot, paused and added a few more.  “It’s a long time since I’ve made this mixture, so I hope it turns out.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Claire roused herself to say.  “What is it?”

“I don’t know for sure.  I was given the ingredients and told how to make it, but I haven’t actually had it myself.  I did see it’s calming effects on others, however.”

“I don’t know if I need to be calmed.  I seem to be very calm,” Claire stated.

“Yes, you are now, but I want you calm when I tell you the whole story.”  As he talked, Dave reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a small packet of dried herbs.

“Where on earth did you get that?” asked Claire.

“I had it sent to me recently.  I didn’t want you to use it accidentally.  It’s expensive and it doesn’t taste good unless mixed with the first herbs.  I thought that was the safest place to put it.”

“Meaning, I never go under the sink to get cleaning supplies,” Claire said sarcastically.

“No, I didn’t mean that,” Dave assured her.

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?  I clean the bathroom in exchange for you cleaning the kitchen.  Works for me.”  Claire was returning to her usual feisty self.

“And it works for me.  We have a good arrangement.  I don’t like to think of anything upsetting that.”

“Is that all you can think of – upsetting our ‘arrangement’?”  Claire was back.  “I thought we lived together because we cared about each other.  I didn’t realize it was just a convenient arrangement.  Maybe you’re hiding from something or someone.”  Her voice took on an accusatory tone.

Dave didn’t answer until he had poured a cup of the steaming brew for Claire and put it in front of her.

“Here, drink that while I’m telling you the whole story.”  He poured a cup for himself and sat down across the table from her.  He watched as she took a sip.  “What do you think, Claire?  The next hot product on the market?”
“It’s not bad.”  Claire sounded surprised.  “Very light, but with a different fragrance. ”  She took another sip, then looked at him expectantly.  “So, what’s the story?  Are you a spy?”

Dave watched her carefully before replying.  “You must promise not to tell anyone anything I tell you.  Not only your life and mine could be in danger, but many others as well.”

“Aren’t you being just a little melodramatic, Dave?  After all, you’ve been living here for several years and nothing unusual has ever occurred – not that I’ve known about anyway.  Although, given the current circumstances, I may not be the best judge.”  Claire took another sip.

“No, you’re right, Claire, nothing unusual has happened in the last few years, and I’d like it to stay that way.  I’m not what you would call retired, it’s more like I’m inactive at the moment.  With the political situation such as it is in Europe and Asia, they don’t need me and my talents right now.”

“Who’s they and what are your talents?”

“They are the KGB or perhaps I should say the former KGB.  They’re not really gone, just gone underground.  And my talents are that I can speak Russian fluently and pass as a citizen of Russia or many other Slavic countries.  I can slip in and out and plant rumours that can bring down governments or stir up turmoil.  By the time I went to Mongolia, however, the people had already decided to become a democracy.  Tired of being pushed around by the USSR and China, I guess.”

While he was talking, Dave watched Claire closely.  The tea seemed to be working.  Her breathing had slowed and her whole body was lax.

“I was sent to the States to be educated, so I could pass as an American.  That way no one ever questioned why I turned up where I did.”  He paused and watched dispassionately as Claire slumped to the table, a final look of surprise on her face.  Noting the unfinished crossword puzzle, he reached over her lifeless body to fill in the final two letters.

“I’m sorry, Claire.  You should never have found out that the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar.”

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