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Hard Places

Hard PlacesHard places are universally known. The teacher put on the spot by a parent; the childhood friend who died too young; the ailing family member; the medical condition that won’t go away; roadblocks and stream-blocks; abandoned buildings and glimpses of earlier struggles.

Yet circumstances such as these have a rock — a way through the hard place. It might be the support of a colleague or pure determination to get through. It might be a way to remember or a way to honor what has passed. This week, writers looked for connections. We might not control the hard places we are in, but we can find connection.

Connection is the monthly theme for a group of writers and bloggers who gather to overcome hard places and connect with one another in compassion. These stories are part of the May collection from 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion and are based on the May 13, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.

Connection in a Hard Place by Irene Waters

Natasha dreamed of death. These visions were always pleasant unlike the bombs that fell around her, killing all in their path. Except her. She who longed to die seemed immune to the terror surrounding her. All her family were dead. Her lover too had died, beheaded. They had forced her to watch. Now, except when dreams of death lulled her, the nightmare never left. The latest bomb left her scrabbling at the rubble to reach the trapped cry below. She pulled the unharmed baby to her and connected her to her breast. She smiled as the milk flowed again.

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A Game by Mercy.James.

Rock  Paper  Scissors

Scissors cut paper. Rock smashes scissors. Paper weighs upon both.

Who wins?

None exists without the other – each complimentary – a serving of needs met – sometimes left wanting – as reliable as the waxing and waning moon, sitting in crescent left or right-faced.

Does not paper come from the earth? From trees that are deeply rooted in soil, rock and nutrient infused. And silver – precious metal – it too comes from the earth, lying in rock’s embrace.

What matters in the end – now – we realize connection is absolute truth – no room for control over elements in purity – nature’s way.

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A Dawn Concert by Jeanne Lombardo

Four a.m. The pain a staccato knock. No going back to sleep. She pushed up on gnarled hands, scooted, let the sharp ache push her into the wheelchair.

She followed the grooves in the carpet, pushed past the girls’ rooms, imagined their young bodies. They looked like her, thirty years ago, before the arthritis made a crippled birch of her.

She parked at the kitchen table. No coffee until Dan rose to percolate it. She waited.

At last a pale lemony light washed through the window. The familiar room emerged. And the concert began.

The robins never forsook her.

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United With a Song by Kate Spencer

She sat on a log hugging her knees, smiling softly as she gazed at the campsite community seated around the blazing fire. Some were chatting quietly; others were busy roasting marshmallows.

She nodded to her husband who leisurely reach behind him and pulled out the worn guitar. He tinkered with the strings and began strumming an old familiar ballad.

Slowly he started singing, the lyrics filled with love and sorrow, longing and hope. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she raised her own voice, joining her husband. Gradually everyone joined in – united with a song.

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Fiona Meets the Universe by Ula Humienik

Fiona felt alone and small under the twinkling of the universe and sweeps of the Milky Way. She’d never seen the night sky living in the city all her life. Tears made rivulets on her cheeks.

She remembered her last conversation with her sister.

“Dad never meant to hurt us,” Nina said.

“But he did. He hurt me. I can’t trust men, I’m afraid of them.”

“You have to forgive him.”

“I can’t,” Fiona said as she ran off. They hadn’t spoken since.

She looked up at the expansive sky and imagined each star a soul watching over her.

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The Friend Inside by Sarrah J. Woods

A sudden breeze rose up and ruffled Maggie’s hair as she gazed over the valley. The wind was changing inside her, too.

Loneliness had become her straightjacket in the past year. The more desperately she struggled to make friends in this unfriendly town, the more isolated she felt.

Now she was giving up. Aloneness had won.

But, somehow, this decision only lightened and sweetened the silence that had oppressed her for so long.

“I’ll keep trying to make friends,” she said, “but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my own company. I will become my own friend.”

Her heart smiled.

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House of Thorns by A. R. Amore

Nesting in the back are a pair of cardinals. They’ve chosen the most evil of shrubs, a dark red demon laced with poisoned oblong pellet sized berries and black tipped briars. The bold male roots in empty planters on the deck for building materials while the duller female scuttles in and out of the shrub seemingly unscathed, her beak filled with a gathering of grass or twig or twine. Like any couple, they visited and revisited, no doubt debating merits and drawbacks. Flitting in and out, despite the risk of harm, they nestle hopeful in their house of thorns.

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Little Boy Lost by Sherri Matthews

I saw him, that little boy. His back turned to me, holding the hand of a man leading him further into the crowd.

I recognised his saggy blue jeans and the curl of his boy-short, soft brown hair.

Don’t go, oh God, please don’t go.

Then the boy, hearing my silent cries and knowing my love turned back, and his brown eyes locked into mine.

He tugged at the man’s hand, but the man held too tight and kept walking.

Mummy!

Gone. Just like that.

Now my boy is a man and I hug him with everything I have.

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Just a Soul by Ruchira Khanna

Jane was pensive, yet persistent as she was staring at the pen.

Took a deep breath, blinked a couple of times.

“I am not the body. I am not even the mind,” she chanted as she disinfected a small area of her thigh and placed her pen over it.

Clicked the pen, and the pain was intense. Her eyes were moist by the ache.

She waited for the syringe fluid to enter her body, while she continued her chant, “I am not the body. I am not even the mind.”

Released the pen, and wiped the drop of blood.

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Brown by Norah Colvin

She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.

Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.

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Selfish Devotion by Rebecca Patajac

Fist clenched, Warrick scribbled signatures across paperwork. His wife, face pale, breathed hard on a hoverbed. She looked worse with each day.

Labouring took a greater toll.

She screamed before the relieved laughter and a nurse placed their child in her arms.

Warrick relinquished the papers and nodded.
The nurse reclaimed the newborn.

His wife turned her head to him, eyes trained on their child, “Warrick? What’ve you done?”

Men guided the hoverbed to a cryo-chamber.

She screamed, “No! I want my baby!”

Warrick steeled himself, muttering, “should’ve had the treatments.” He left the child. “I’ll find a cure.”

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Mentoring the Gaps by Roger Shipp

“Mr. Raycomb, you are needed in the office.”

Having just left the office, I wondered why I was needed to return.

“Come on in. Push the door shut.”

I do so. With stomach and thoughts intermingling… I’m wondering why the sudden closed door conference with our new principal.

“Steven’s mother is on the phone. She has asked, what I feel is a very unusual request.”

I gasp. I immediately know what has happened.

He presses speaker-phone.

“Hello, Ms. Jackson.” My faltering voice answers.

“I can’t tell him it’s returned. I won’t win this one. Will you tell him? Please!”

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For Chris – The Rock by Susan Zutautas

I have a rock I keep upon my window ledge that is my connection to you
They were handed out at your funeral so we had something to hang onto
It sits in sunshine almost every day
I pray your pain has left and gone away
Young children should never die so young
Your life had just begun
You are and always will be Garth’s best friend
For the rest of eternity
We talk about you after all these years
Remembering your courage, showing no fear
Until we meet again one day

You are in our hearts Chris Jackson

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The Yellow Rose of Kennedy by Deborah Lee

It feels subterranean inside the ruined cabin. Dust motes eddy in the beam of light fingering through the glassless window. This gold-panner’s squat has long been picked clean of souvenirs. Fine dirt like powder covers the floor. Smell of decay and old scat.

Outside again, he is brought up short. Growing hard against the cracked and weathered wood under the window is a vibrant green rosebush, blooms at once shy and defiant in this wilderness. Not wild; deliberate.

Who planted it? A woman, in a mining camp? A cultured forty-niner? That is the story he would like to hear.

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Aunt Gloria by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert called, ‘She’s taken a turn for the worse. Her cancer is back.’

Mary dreaded visiting. Letting herself in, Gloria’s call was as usual cheery. But her face was grey. She saw Mary looking. ‘Cheekbones like Garbo. About time.’

Mary wept and felt guilty that it was Gloria comforting her. ‘Who will I talk to?’

‘Paul’s a rock. Rupert too…’

Mary shook her off.

‘God’s still here.’

‘I don’t believe in him anymore.’

Gloria put a hand on Mary’s stomach. ‘I’m here, every time you need me. Just talk, dear and we’ll be listening.’

‘I’ll try. Both of you.’

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The Power of Science by Larry La Forge

Ed stared at the weathered concrete wall still standing behind the Science Hall patio. His mind drifted back nearly five decades.

A power outage had sent the class outside. Ed sat on the wall facing the professor. A cute coed plopped down next to Ed—it was the only spot left.

“This stuff’s impossible,” she said.

“Tell me about it,” Ed replied as he mimicked the current assignment: Calculate the magnetic flux density of a parallel plate capacitor when completely submerged in a homogeneous isotropic dielectric.

They agreed to try to figure it out together.

Her name was Edna.

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New Friends by Ruth Irwin

First day at this school. She had been to many schools before, but not long enough to settle in and make friends. Small for her age, very thin, unkempt hair, stained ill-fitting clothes and battered shoes revealed that this six year old had been doing it tough. She remained aloof at recess, watching the other children as they played in already formed friendships. She wondered how long she might be at this school and if she would have friends. Then she saw an out-stretched hand and a smiling face saying “come and play with me”. How could she resist?

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The Rock by Sarah Brentyn

“It’s cool that you don’t say stupid shit like ‘How do you feel about that’ or whatever.” She grabbed a grey rock from its shelf and examined it.

“Well,” he swiveled in his chair, “glad to hear that. But I do need you to talk to me.”

She turned the rock over in her hand, “Okay. I’ll talk. You have this like professional office with expensive leather couches and shit then there’s this ugly, little rock. Seems out of place.”

“It’s special.”

“Why?”

“My father gave it to me. He died last year. You think it’s ugly?”

“Not anymore.”

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The Portal by Ann Edall-Robson

A welcome familiarity reached out as she stood in the doorway.

The aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying coming from the old wood stove. The quiet murmur of voices around the kitchen table, interrupted by intermittent laughter.

Through the curtain-free window, the hand hewn log barn stands silhouetted against the early morning sky. A stoic soldier offering shelter and sanctuary while scrutinizing the activity beneath its massive structure.

There was no doubt within her soul. These old abandoned buildings were the portal to the inception of life. The premonitions would be answered. Finally, she had arrived home.

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Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Revenge fantasies kept me warm in bed. She’d lose her job; she’d crash her car; some thief would take her precious ring. The news infused my heart with joy. Let her learn how it feels to lose a husband.

The kids, though, mine and theirs, would lose a father.

I made a casserole, seasoned with rosemary, his all-time favourite. Thought I’d leave it on the doorstep, but the door opened before I could nip away. I took no pleasure from seeing her so unkempt. She opened her arms. We wept on each other’s shoulders. Soon we’d both be ex-wives.

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River Ganges by Kalpana Solsi

And she tried desperately to hold his deliberate loosening grip, the diamond

ring slipped off and remained in his cupped palm, as she saw his sinister smile

before the foaming Ganges sucked the bride into the river-bed.

After the last rites, he sat, staring at the diamond ring.

Horror was largely writ on his face as he saw a hand with the wedding ring,

rising above the rapid Ganges water-current. His feet gave away as he

couldn’t resist her strong grip dragging him.

“In life and in death together”, the wedding vow, he remembered.

A watery grave they had.

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A Chink in Her Armor by Sarah Unsicker

“We are concerned, Mama,” Kate said. “You spend too much time alone. I found a widow’s support group that might help you …”

“I don’t need a support group,” Cecilia said.

“You need friends.”

“John’s been gone too long. My pain is stale.”

“Pain doesn’t go stale, Mama. It fades away, and yours hasn’t.”

Cecilia sighed dramatically. “I’m going up to bed. You know where the door is to leave.”

Before she had time to answer, she heard the stairs squeak as her mother climbed up to her bedroom.

For the first time, Kate’s arrows had pierced Mama’s armor.

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Indomitable by Pat Cummings

The racetrack surges with imperative: we must return. Each mile upstream also means climbing a body-length vertically, darting past the rocks, and the other racers. Our run has the ultimate prize, but there is no call to win. There is only the urgent invitation of the water upstream.

Closer and closer we come to the finish. Suddenly the water almost disappears. The final lap is a tight tunnel, already full of racers. Has someone already won?

No, there is one more obstacle, a leap to a tighter passage. I alone make it home, one salmon of thousands hatched here.

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The Rock by Charli Mills

A contact rock. Yin and yang. Feldspar and…?

Ramona frowned, retrieving the smooth river rock from beneath a wild rosebush in the west pasture. It felt heavy, familiar. She closed her eyes, willing recollection. Running water. Yes! She and Vic riding to the grotto, up the creek, metallic horse-shoes clanging on rocks this size. Vic, off his horse, reaching elbow deep into the water.

“Look, Ro, a contact rock.”

Her eyes fluttered open. Why did her memories have holes? She cradled the rock to her chest, willing herself to remember the twins. This rock was connected to them somehow.

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Bugle Boy by Pete Fanning

They found his bugle amongst the bodies. A few of the survivors recounted of how fourteen-year-old Eli had charged right into the line of fire and dragged three soldiers to safety, only to return and man the cannon as confederates advanced on his position.

When Eli awoke his chest ached. Nearby, a soldier screamed out in agony. He watched through blurry eyes as a bandaged Colonel limped over and laid his mangled bugle beside what was left of his family’s songbook. Eli grimaced, studying the musket ball embedded in its pages.

Those rebels were going to pay for that.

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Ministering by Paula Moyer

“Thou art Peter … upon this rock I will build my church.” When Jean heard these words – like most Baptists – she remembered what Simon did that caused Jesus to rename him: he declared his faith.

The rock was more than Peter.

Now Jean sat in her house with her little kids, five days after her husband had moved out.

The phone rang. “Jean, it’s Lynn.” Her cousin, a rock in her own right. “I’m here for you.”

Thirty minutes on the phone.

Lynn showed her faith by enacting a passage from a letter of Paul’s: Bear one another’s burdens.

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May 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 13On a warm May evening, we sat around a glass-top patio table, and looked at rocks. Two budding geologists had reduced Wyoming’s cache of minerals by several buckets. They displayed the best of their month-long field study, and I was as eager as a child watching a parade.

My eyes flitted from a large quartz crystal face to a pile of fossilized dinosaur bones to three geodes that looked like caveman golf balls of sandy stone. It was my birthday and the following day one geology student was to marry the other  — my daughter and the son of Rough Writer, Paula Moyer.

Below the deck on a trampoline, my other daughter bounced a series of unending back handsprings. My future son-in-law explained to my son the forces that created the slickened granite that he held; a chunk of rock that had a polished edge of mottled black and green like petrified snakeskin. My daughter pointed out garnet crystals to me in a chunk of granite with large pink feldspar crystals.

I’m rock crazy, and that evening, nearly six years ago was transcendent.

How was I to know that the three young children who followed me through Montana creek beds and mountainsides would all grow up connected to that experience? My eldest is a trained geologist and environmental journalist; my middlest is a rock climber and white-water rafter; and my youngest is a cross-country runner. All are outdoors enthusiasts.

Hunting rocks outdoors still thrills me, and you can follow my latest rock adventure at “What’s This?” on Elmira Pond Spotter.

Rocks are grounding. After all, they form the foundation of the world upon which we live. We use rock to build, crystals to communicate and metals as currency. The Bible even has 59 verses about God, the Rock — And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer (Psalm 78:35).

When we are in hard places, we often seek to find connection. I find mine outdoors, sitting upon a rock in the middle of a creek beneath the sun. Some might focus on the water; others meditate; and like me, many find peace in knowing God.

My best friend, my sister of the heart, my muddy buddy is in a hard place.

Let me tell you about Kate. We met our first day of classes at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. We were both “older than average” students with the same flaky adviser who didn’t even show up that day, which put us both in a pickle. We connected immediately, muddy buddies crafted from the same layer of clay. And so did our kids. Her two teens became role models to my three grammar-school aged children. We shared holidays, frustrations and life’s joys.

Kate and I were both writing majors and we set the English Department on its ear with our combined curiosity and enthusiasm. Some professors joked that they would have to split us up in class. Could we help that we actually loved to write and found medieval literature fascinating? We were the only two students from our department to each write an honors thesis.

Like slickened granite, we were a force of nature.

Our paths parted physically after graduation. Kate stayed in Montana and I moved to the Midwest. Hard times. I dreamed of the day I could move back and I relished each visit we had. Finally, I did move back, though I overshot Helena by six hours.

Kate has had hard times that would rock most people to their core. In the midst of living as full-time caretaker to both aging parents with dementia and working as an English teacher for a Catholic school, she developed cancer. Life spiraled. Hard times took her through losing first her father, then her mother. After kicking cancer it came back. She kicked it again.

Six weeks ago Kate was hospitalized. This time the cancer is aggressive and prevents her from eating. While I’m out here in Elmira lighting up the barbeque, my my muddy buddy is subsisting on ice chips, Popsicles and IV fluid. You’d think my friend would be crushed in the hardest place of all — facing death.

Yet Kate has a great gift. Faith. Her faith is unshakeable built on the Rock, and she leads her loved ones down this path. She wrote to us last night, and she was the comforter. She’s unafraid and beautiful in her faith. My son responded that she was brave and that he loved her. She wrote in return, “Love you too. How brave is it to let God be in charge? The ultimate prayer is ‘Jesus I trust in you.'”

Her hard place; her rock.

I stare at my granites and crystals and ponder what this all means. My connection to my friend feels stronger than ever. To be connected is to be certain that things happen for a reason. We were certain to become heart-friends. Connection is the May theme for #1000 Voices Speak. While bloggers around the world will write out its meaning, my friend is living her final days in the ultimate connection to a higher power, a higher purpose.

Hard places shape what is next. In the grotto at Grouse Creek, my geologists showed me a flow of quartz that pushed up through basalt. I witness where basalt once bent to liquified quartz and created an s-curve. Forces more powerful than the trivial control we have in life.

Perhaps we are not meant to live in control, but in connection.

May 13, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection. It could be a prisoner who discovers friendship; a cedar that grows from a crack in a cliff; an abandoned dog rescued by a homeless teen. Maybe it is a reconciliation or connecting with students during a turbulent time. Is the hard place part of something larger in the scope of a character’s development? Or is it a plot twist?

Respond by May 19, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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The Rock by Charli Mills

A contact rock. Yin and yang. Feldspar and…?

Ramona frowned, retrieving the smooth river rock from beneath a wild rosebush in the west pasture. It felt heavy, familiar. She closed her eyes, willing recollection. Running water. Yes! She and Vic riding to the grotto, up the creek, metallic horse-shoes clanging on rocks this size. Vic, off his horse, reaching elbow deep into the water.

“Look, Ro, a contact rock.”

Her eyes fluttered open. Why did her memories have holes? She cradled the rock to her chest, willing herself to remember the twins. This rock was connected to them somehow.

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