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FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

TIA LYNN'S MIDNIGHT RIDE



Mrs. Claus smiled, as she tied a blue sash on the dress of a life-size doll. “Rifkin! Mifkin!” she called.

Two elves came running.

“I’ve just finished this one,” Mrs. Claus told them. “Her name is Tia Lynn, a special order for a little girl in Kansas. Could you pack her up and take her to the sleigh? Careful now!”

The doll’s eyes closed when Rifkin placed her in a satin-lined box. He fitted the clear plastic lid, and Mifkin pasted a label on top: “For Payton.”

They carried Tia Lynn to the loading dock, where more elves were buckling reindeer harnesses, with much jingling and jangling of silver bells.

Rifkin and Mifkin eased the box into the last empty spot, right up front by the driver’s seat. Dancer and Prancer stamped their hooves, eager to start their flight around the world.

“Ho, ho, ho! Time to go!” Santa boomed.

He kissed Mrs. Claus goodbye. He tested the lamp on Rudolph’s nose. Then he swung his jolly, red-suited self into the sleigh, and with a flick of the reins the journey began.

Tia Lynn felt snug and safe in her corner next to Santa’s boot. But she couldn’t help wondering how long this ride might last. And who was this little girl called Payton, in Kansas? What was she like?

Turning south, away from the North Pole toward Greenland, the sleigh soared high in the night sky. Every time they came to a town, and found a house where one or more children lived, Santa commanded the reindeer to dip down, down, until they landed on the roof.

Tia Lynn could not tell what countries they visited. No one had taught her any languages yet, apart from Elfish. But at one rooftop, she heard children’s voices from a bedroom below. They spoke a kind of English, so Polly Ann guessed they were in Britain. Here the sun would rise six hours earlier than in the Central Zone of the United Sates, where Payton lived.

Santa checked his list once, twice. As he slid down the chimney with his sack, Tia Lynn hoped the kids would stop talking, and pretend to be asleep—or they might end up with coal instead of presents.

Up, up, and away! The silver bells jingled, as the sleigh streaked over the Atlantic Ocean. Tia Lynn’s eyes stayed shut throughout the trip—until a sudden jolt flipped her box upright, and they sprang open.

Through the clear plastic lid, she saw a full moon, and millions of stars. What a spectacular sight! What a magical night!

Santa Claus chuckled. “Ho, ho, ho! We just missed a meteor!”

He steered the reindeer on a steady course, until the Rocky Mountains loomed alarmingly close. The sleigh wobbled, making the doll fall on her back. Again, she could see nothing.

She must have dozed off, because the next thing Tia Lynn knew, Santa was whistling, “Home, home on the Range, where the deer and the antelope play.”

Kansas! Finally!

By now, the British kids would be opening their presents, but out here on the prairie it was only midnight.

Tia Lynn felt the sleigh plummet down to the roof of a two-story farmhouse. Santa checked his list once more and filled his sack with toys, setting her at the very top. He dropped into the wide, brick chimney.

Inside the house, he stood Tia Lynn under a sparkling Christmas tree. He gobbled up two cookies, slurped a glass of milk, pocketed a carrot for Rudolph, and disappeared into the night.

All Tia Lynn could do now was stand wide-eyed in her plastic box, and wait. And wait.
A rooster crowed. Sunlight spilled between the curtains. Feet pattered down the stairs. Then a girl with polka-dot pajamas and curly hair appeared in the doorway. Was this Payton?

The girl stared at the doll through the plastic lid. A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Oh, Tia Lynn,” she whispered. “You’re just what I asked for!” She went on talking, as she removed the lid and hugged the doll. “I didn’t know if Santa would find my house. Besides, I didn’t think I’d been good enough this year.”

Payton smoothed the blue dress. Then she tried out all the moving parts—arms, legs, neck, and eyes. Tia Lynn could walk, or she could sit, whatever Payton wanted her to do. They were going to have so much fun together.

Readers, the rest of the story is up you. What adventures can you imagine for Tia Lynn and Payton?

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[This story placed 2nd in the Kansas Authors Club Region 3 writing contest 2017.] Read More 
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Curse of the Dampeners

PRAIRIE WRITERS ASSIGNMENT, APRIL 2017 - HAZEL JEAN SPIRE


CURSE OF THE DAMPENERS

Jean loved to write. Jean lived to write.

That was before the voices began.

From the time she discovered the power of words, essays and stories poured from Jean’s pencil, earning stars of red, blue, even gold, from her teachers. Hearing of Jean’s prolific output, Mr. Carter walked across the playground to lend her a book with a turquoise cover— Let’s Write a Story—about how to become an author!

A dream was born. Poetry flowed from Jean’s fountain pen, and found a place in the school magazine. But then the Dream Dampeners moved in: insidious, naysaying voices that cramped her style for decades to follow.

"Those whimsical tales might suffice for grade school, but this is College."

"Your syntax is all wrong."

"Will you ever get paid for this?"

"Boys don’t like stories about girls."

"You can’t get your foot in the door without an agent."

"An agent won’t take on a writer without a platform."

"Your zip code is too obscure. You must move to New York City."

When she was not writing, Jean loved to draw. Jean lived to draw.

That was before the voices began.

In grade school, her stories were embellished with colored pencil scenes, which Miss Cassell allowed Jean to outline with Indian ink in her secret cubby behind the 5th grade classroom. With the encouragement of Mum, Dad, and Miss Wheeler, she entered her seascapes in the Baptist Festival.

That was before the Negatories took root: niggling questions as to whether Jean was wasting her time.

"What good is art to you?"

"Artist is such a pretentious word."

"I could show you someone with REAL talent."

For a while, these ruthless intruders drove out all hopes of success in the arts, either visual or literary. So many of them took up residence that she could no longer pinpoint the source or validity of the voices. People who knew what they were talking about, or those who knew nothing? Her own deep-seated insecurity, or sheer laziness?

At each stage of life, with each relocation, Jean’s passions resurfaced. She would dust off her sketchbook, buy a new journal, and seek out kindred spirits. In due course, she learned how—and where—to prepare manuscripts to submission and paintings for exhibition.

That was before the voices returned—with a vengeance.

"Rhyme doesn’t sell."

"Kids want to read about today’s time, not history."

"Memoirs by unknowns are hard to sell."

"Agents only take on young authors, for career-long relationships."

"Top houses want attractive faces on their book jackets."

"Never write without an outline."

"You don’t have an art degree, or backing from prestigious galleries."

"Editors are looking for a something fresh, something edgy."

"This is too quirky, too controversial."

"Cozy stories are passé."

Jean took the hurdles in her stride. She decorated her gigantic trash can with rejection letters, and won a string of awards.

The Dampeners and the Negatories went on murmuring.

"It’s a local contest, not a Pulitzer Prize."

"There were only five entries."

"Sure, you sold a painting, but only to someone who knows you."

Eventually, Jean racked up credits with magazines.

"Just Sunday school take-home papers and regional rags," the voices countered.

Finally, three years after signing a contract, Jean’s first middle-grade mystery came out. Now would the voices let up? Not a chance.

"One spouse and two friends make a poor showing at a book event."

"Did you see the lines round the block for that other author?"

"Your little paperback will get lost among the hefty stacks of the latest Harry Potter."

"Chain bookstores won’t place works by small presses, and Indies are going out of business."

Nevertheless, Jean kept writing--and painting. She invited the voices of Discernment to take up lodging instead. She acknowledged the truths about mergers and budget cuts, with gratitude for the emergence of self-publishing options.

She did it for the adventure, finding her place in the fellowship of writers and artists, who graciously shared the benefit of their experience. In due course, Jean would do the same for the students following in her footsteps. Read More 

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THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

Here is a sneak preview from my current project, Volume II of stories by my late father, L. R. Longhurst. This one, typical of his wry tales with a twist, was published by London Opinion in 1952.

THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

In the waiting-room adjoining the sales manager’s office sat twenty alert, hawk-eyed ambitious men. Tall and suave men, short and cocky men, thin and waspish men, plump and genial men. Each designed to a different blueprint. But all breathing in a superior brand of oxygen.

“Wanted,” the advertisement had pleaded, “Chief Salesman at £1,000 per annum. Must possess initiative and imagination. Live man. Corpses need not apply.”

At length the sales manager’s secretary popped her pretty head into the waiting-room, and promptly withdrew to put on her Wellington boots. In such an electric atmosphere some form of insulation was called for.

Entering again, she told Applicant No. 1 that the boss would see him now. No. 1 entered the holy of holies with all the assurance of one who in his time had sold as many combs to bald-headed men as he had deckchairs to people with no gardens.

Application No. 2 reckoned he could sell umbrellas in California; No. 3, sunshades in Manchester.

Likewise, Nos. 4 to 20 inclusive were all self-confessed best sellers.

The manager buzzed for his secretary. “I’m darned if I know which one to choose,” he admitted. “They’re all good.”

“Why not give them the direction test?”

“Good idea!” exclaimed the sales manager, for many a smooth talker had stumbled over that.

“Now then,” he snapped, as No.1 was re-ushered into the office, “how would you get to the Town Hall from here?”

The applicant scratched his head, for about the first time in his life lost for words.

“Er—you take the first left and second right. No, I’m a liar; it’s the first right, second left. Then at the crossroads you take a 99 bus. Or is it a 66 tram?”

To give force to his halting remarks he waved his arms about like a Boy Scout practising semaphore. The manager was unimpressed. “Send in No. 2.”

No. 2 got to the Town Hall with the aid of a piece of paper on which he drew a map that was Town and Country Planning at its most futuristic. It might possibly have led the reader into the river; certainly not to the Town Hall.

No. 3 indulged in a bout of ums and ahs, with some hand-waving thrown in. He would have made an admirable windmill but a poor Town Hall director.

By the time it got round to No. 19 the unhappy applicants were practically standing on their heads in a misguided effort to trace a route to the Town Hall. The sales manager himself opened the door to let out No. 19.

Taken by surprise, No.20 was jet-propelled into the office, the crouching-to-the-keyhole position having given him extra momentum. The manager frowned at the would-be salesman, but was secretly pleased. Here at least was a man with initiative!

“I won’t ask you to direct me to the Town Hall,” he said cunningly. “Tell me how to get to Mill Street.”

Pausing only momentarily, No. 20 rattled off: “First-right-second-left-over-the-bridge.” The words staccatoed like a machine gun working overtime. “Then- take-the-left-fork, cross-at-the-lights, then-second-left.”

The speaker didn’t need to use his hands; they were firmly entrenched in his trousers pockets.

No. 20 got the job. He was a man with initiative and imagination. There was no such place as Mill Street in the locality. Read More 
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2 POEMS ON FATHERHOOD

I may have posted these before, but now is a good time to share again, between Father's Day and Dad's death anniversary. It just occurred to me that he would have been 100 this year!
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A POCKETFUL OF PENNIES

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head.

© Hazel Spire
Homeward Tracks 2004
First published in a Christian Writers booklet, UK
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MUSICIAN, CHIEF REPORTER, DAD (after Whitman)

O father, my mentor, our crossing’s nearly done,
Taking my widowed mother home to the Island.
I twenty-two, she forty-four, you fifty-five:
Don’t you love poetic irony? The rain that kept
Fishers ashore lashes the ferry windows.
We sit below in the crowded tea bar,
Tourists’ voices grating on our ears.
Stop! Wait! How can the world
Go on its merry way
When Dad lies on a mortuary slab?

Captain of our family, for you the organ groans
As we gather in your name, bright floral tributes
Filling Bob’s black Daimler. “We’ll do our best job
For you,” he says in gentle local brogue.
“Can’t be early for his own funeral,” quips his son.
“Drive around the block another time.” You’d
Appreciate the humor, you who ran for trains and buses.
The crematory mechanism judders, transporting you
Behind red velvet curtains. No! Too soon!

O father, writer, friend, you could not swim, but strolled
Along the pier at night reciting Shakespeare to the waves.
For you the gulls are keening as the sea keeps rolling in.
When the paper is put to bed this week, the press
Will run again. But stop—the chief reporter’s dead.
Did you who taught the Girls’ Brigade to triple-tongue
Hear a bugle call from distant shores?
My brothers still play soccer, but long legs
That showed them dribble, kick, and GOAL
Have crossed the line to our eternal home.


© Hazel Spire
Tapestry of Time, 2006 Read More 

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2 POEMS FOR EASTER

A REASON TO HOPE

Hand-knitted blankets for refugee shelters;
Free surgery for a child born blind;
Snowdrops trembling in frozen gardens;
An enemy’s handshake, a peace treaty signed:
Bright threads of hope in an age of confusion
Woven together with love, to bind
Each broken heart; in the depth of winter
Hints that spring must not be far behind.

But what of the darkness no candle can conquer,
When prophets are silent for hundreds of years,
Death and despair stalk the earth hand in hand
And a cry goes up that nobody hears?
It takes faith to grasp an invisible rope:
Believers pray, while the skeptic sneers.
All Nature groans, until in silver clouds
The Prince of Peace appears.

THE RISING OF THE SON

The pale, scented lilies of Gethsemane
Were bending low beside the Kidron brook,
When heavy-hearted followers from Bethany
Approached the tomb with myrrh, afraid to look.

An angel bright said, “Meet your Friend in Galilee.
Here you’ll find no mortal man’s remains.”
The lilies raised their trumpet heads triumphantly,
For Jesus Christ had shattered Satan’s chains!

From Homeward Tracks ~ © Hazel Spire 2003 Read More 
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