Category Archives: Personal Articles

The Dark Creature Passes, Part III

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.


Part Three: The Discourse and an Announcement 

by Karen R. Sanderson

The multi-storied stone monstrosity sat on a knoll, surrounded by dark leafless trees and knotted twisting vines. On either end of the structure was a large cupola, each a room in itself. Even during gray daylight, the manor house was dim and somewhat vague in its shape. At night, it appeared as an overgrown and ominous shadow. 

Cruckshank pulled open a wide wooden door leading into the kitchen. Gleaming copper pots hung still on racks above the scarred island. In an alcove, a diminutive table with its one chair was tidy and sat waiting for breakfast. A wrought iron wood stove hulked silently. Striking a match, he lit a tapered candle to guide his way through to the library. Though he’d walked this particular path thousands of times, it was his habit to have the candle. 

The old man shambled through cavernous hallways and through the central entryway on his march toward the library. Each rough stone wall boasted enormous woven tapestries. Portraits of lost souls in various stages of death and agony, life-sized and framed in shining gilt, observed the old man’s progress. 

He passed the central staircase, the landing of which would support a miner’s cottage. The wide stairs were heavily carpeted in lush burgundy wool so that footfalls were but a whisper. Overlooking the stairs and landing was a mammoth stained glass insert the size of a barn. Dark hues of the blood-colored glass panes whistled with the ghostly wind. 

The candle’s flame was blown out by an onerous breath curling down from the upper floors. Old Cruck stopped and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The glow from under the library door beckoned him, and he walked toward it. 

Old Cruck lifted a misshapen hand and delivered two raps on the door to the library; he waited a couple of heartbeats and then entered. Without a word to the Dark Creature seated next to the fire, Cruckshank approached the carved and heavy mahogany sideboard. Picking up the glass decanter, he poured two glasses of Gautier brandy. The antiquated snifters were as large as a child’s head. The sparkling glass reflected the amber glow of the fire. Cruckshank shuffled toward the hearth and placed a snifter on the end table at his companion’s elbow. He settled into place on his side of the fire. Cruckshank remarked on the hearth. 

“You could put a team of horses in there, easy.” Old Cruck took a sip from his snifter. 

“You have gotten old my friend. When did this happen?” said the Dark Creature. 

“Hmph. It’s been happening for the last 67 years, sir,” Cruckshank said. 

“Sixty-seven years it’s been? You are then, what, 84?”  

Cruckshank nodded. A prickly tingling presented itself in the old man’s stomach and snaked its way across his chest and arms

Why these odd questions? These were quite uncommon inquiries coming from the Dark Creature. 

“Are you dismissing me, sir?” 

“Ghosts and tortured souls, no! Just making observations…conversation.” 

Cruckshank relaxed somewhat, though the aura in the library seemed to have grown more gloomy. The Creature across the carpet from him had bowed his head. After several moments, Cruckshank wondered if he had fallen asleep. 

Cruckshank cleared his throat softly. “I am getting rather worn out, I suppose. Consigning souls to their fates, all the time here buried in snow and breathing frigid air. So cold, constantly. It can be somewhat lonely all day while you are gone, sir. I’m a mere mortal after all.”

“Yes, lonely, I suppose.” There was another pause in the discourse, more comfortable this time.

 A knot in a log on the fire cracked like a shot from a Miquelet pistol. Strengthening winds pushed stiffened branches against the glass of the window, it’s screeching muted somewhat by the heavy brocade draperies. Cruckshank straightened his lapels, pulling and tucking his coat tails beneath his legs. The brandy and the warmth of the raging fire were making his sagging eyelids feel leaden.  

“You don’t feel like sharing your stories tonight, sir?” 

“Perhaps you could tell me a story or two, Cruck.” 

“Me? Tell you stories, sir? Oh.” This was quite odd; actually had never happened in all their 67 years together. “Well, let’s see. That disgusting soul who shot the constable – he was quite sorry and tried to blame his upbringing and his besotted father. Quite a temper he had himself! Pah! Then there was that awful man who preyed on weak, lost children – he was sobbing when I put the flame to him – much like a child himself! Then there was that woman – ” 

“Cruckshank, I will retire.” 

Cruckshank mistook his intent – he thought the Dark Creature was ready for his slumber. The Creature’s posture slumped. Cruckshank felt a bit disconcerted. The Creature seemed to be melting into the deep pit of the velvet chair, one hand limp by his side. The other hand rested on the end table, near his snifter. His features seemed to have softened and sagged, too. 

“Ah, yes, of course, sir. I’ve already locked up.” Cruckshank rose from his chair and stood still, hands at his sides. 

“No, you do not understand. I am done, finished.” 

“What…” Cruckshank stood still, his mouth agape. Disturbing thoughts invaded his mind; I’m being let go, I’m done, I’ll get the match put to my box now. 

 Before the old man could gather more thoughts to speak, the Dark Creature continued. 

“And you have been tasked as my replacement.” 

Cruckshank’s knees started to buckle; he took one staggering step backwards, dropping into his chair. His heart was beating like a hammer on an anvil, veins in his head throbbed. His surprise was absolute and complete. And then he had a thought that made him smile.

“Will I be young again, sir? A young man of 17?” Now his eyes sparkled in the flickering flames emanating from the hearth. 

“Yes, Cruck. You will be renewed, refreshed, you will again be 17 years old. Just as you came to me.” 

The Dark Creature and the old man settled into a comfortable silence. Their opposing faces were a visual disagreement. The Creature frowned, the old man grinned. 

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The Dark Creature Passes, Part II

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.


The Dark Creature Ruminates

By Karen R. Sanderson

 


I think of my 200-plus years, coming to an end. I’ve left Cruckshank at the barn to deal with my collection of souls. He has no idea this was my last trip. I’m retiring, perhaps to the South of France or Tuscany. Or Portland, Maine! Any place without the putrid smell of brimstone would serve me well. How I have come to detest that ghastly stink. 

Once tonight’s souls are dealt with, Cruckshank will join me in the darkened library. We will repose in front of a roiling, hearty fire for a warm brandy and the discourse of the evening’s events. How he loves to listen to the tales of my night’s wanderings and soul-gathering.

I was distressed to see how the old sot appeared this evening. From outside the muted glow of the barn light, I could see him huddled with a rotted blanket pulled around his shoulders. He’s gotten old; I think he must be nearly 80 now. Coming to me as a young man of 17, he was full of vigor and intensity. His face reflects each year with a crinkle and crease. His hands have become knotted like twisted branches, his posture now bowed. 

The approval on my retirement has been delivered, and tonight I need to tell ole Cruck he’s done as Despatcher of Souls. I am sad that I must tell him this, sad that we will no longer share these affable nights together. I will retire, and he will replace me among the Collectors. His mind and his body will be reborn. He will be young again, and young for as long as he wishes. He will have endless days of rest, and endless nights, as each collection and his memories will line up like rail carriages attached to a locomotive. 

My time as a Collector is done, as is my time as an immortal. I’m giving it up. I wonder if Cruck will be pleased at his promotion. Does he imagine immortality, the perks of superior health and vitality? Has he ever considered such an empyrean existence? 

I ruminate on the humans, the souls amassed at their end – they get to their final days and ask for more time, more time! I, who have had an overabundance of time, have grown fatigued by it. And eventually, I too will pass on, and my soul will be collected. 

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Bring peace to the holiday tug of war

Bring Peace to The Holiday Tug Of War

NOTE: Written years ago with only the Christmas holidays in mind, I am now more aware that many families celebrate many different holidays during this time of year. I think this article speaks to all families, all holidays, and the stress young marrieds and many couples feel during this time of the year. 

Holidays of yore

When I was in my twenties and a new mom, I spent many a holiday-season hour on the road. First, an hour in the car driving to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas Day, my husband and I would pack up the car and the toddler and drive to my mom’s house in the morning and on to my sister-in-law’s house in the afternoon. 

Not the holiday I dreamed of

After the holiday, I was wiped out and angry. Every year I vowed the next year would be different. I was not having the Christmas I truly wanted, and I was frustrated. But, I didn’t know how to talk to my spouse about my holiday dreams – I wanted to start our own traditions, in our own home. 

Why do we run run run?

But why do we do this? Why do we run-run-run during the holidays? According to Kim Leatherdale, a licensed counselor and therapist in Oldwick, New Jersey, women are naturally pleasers. We want everyone to be happy; we want everything to run smoothly. As a result, we rarely get to relax and enjoy the holiday as we want. And we rarely have the opportunity to form our own family traditions. Many of us have not had the Christmas we dreamed about since we started our own family and succumbed to all the family pressure. 

The holidays are coming! 

Talking about holiday dreams and preferences is not something most couples discuss before a relationship develops or even after you say the “I do’s.” But as the holidays approach, you hear little snippets about what others continue to take for granted. Your mother-in-law might hint about the menu for her Christmas brunch or you might overhear your mom on the phone with your sister planning the Christmas Eve dinner. 

Talk now

If you hope to put your own stamp on the holidays, now is the time to discuss holiday plans with your spouse. Decide on a time to sit down and talk about it – just the two of you – before the invitations and expectations start to pile up. 

Communicate – As Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Wexford, PA, says, don’t imagine that your spouse is a mind reader. Sit down and talk about what you liked and did not like about last year’s holiday, what’s important and not important. Be willing to listen and compromise. Be open to each other’s ideas of how to handle the holidays, from demanding relatives to demanding schedules. 

Start your own traditions – When you are living at home with mom and dad, that’s your “bubble.” Once you are married, that should be the most important relationship. You need to move your bubble to surround you and your spouse. If you want to start new traditions in your own home with your spouse, do it.  

Tune in to the kids – Be aware of your children’s needs and desires, within reason. If your teen daughter wants to see her BFF on Christmas Day, allow an opportunity for that to happen. Invite the BFF to visit on Christmas Day and talk to her parents ahead of time. 

Be aware of feelings – Kim Leatherdale suggests you be aware of others’ feelings but don’t feel responsible for them. Understand that your mother-in-law may be upset with this new plan, but you are not responsible for making her happy – she is. And once you and your spouse decide on a plan, sit down with the families and discuss it together. 

Take turns – Has the holiday schedule of visiting been a little lopsided? More time with one family or the other? Decide to take turns – this year we go to your mom’s house for Christmas Eve, next year we go to my mom’s for Christmas Eve. And every year we spend Christmas Day at home!

De-stress the day – Wake up, grab the mug of coffee, relax and open gifts, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Ask visitors to drop in after 12:00 (or at a time designated by you), and ask them to bring a covered dish like a brunch casserole, a crock pot of chili, or a pan of lasagna or enchiladas. And why not use paper plates? You are de-stressing your holiday – don’t ratchet it back up by having to cook and clean all day. If you must cook the big turkey, do just that and ask everyone else to bring the extras.

Recession adjustment – Are you feeling the pinch from recession or a lost income? Perhaps it’s time to start a tradition of having a family gift-giving pool or purchase gifts just for family members under a certain age. Or use this time to teach children compassion – collect the money usually used for gifts and make a contribution to a local charity. Or collect the kids’ old toys no longer used and give them to a homeless or women’s shelter. 

Have a sourpuss? 

I polled about 30 people – young and old, parents and children, husbands and wives. Fifty percent of the responders to my survey said they felt pressure from a spouse more than anyone else. I found a handful of responders had family members who sulked because they weren’t getting their own way. Again – you are not responsible for that person’s feelings. If it’s necessary to spend part of a day with that sulky person, have an out – plan to go for a walk or to the park for an hour or plan a visit to the local science center or museum (check ahead for holiday hours!). 

Complications from divorce 

After a divorce, you need to be even more flexible, especially where children are concerned. Add to that a new blended family or additional in-laws, and you need to learn to bend before you break. I celebrated many holidays and birthdays a week before or a few days after the actual date on the calendar. I would remind myself that it’s not the date that’s important, it’s the people I spend time with. Don’t push and pull your parents or children into knots just so you can have the same Christmas morning that you’ve had for the last twenty years. 

Communication and a little forethought is all you need to plan a dream holiday. And may all your holiday dreams come true. 

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“The Garden” – Part IV

The Gardener


Squeee! 

Oh goodness, I need to oil those hinges. Every time I open the screen door, I scare away all the birds! Oh wait, there’s a couple of Cardinals up in the maple tree. Isn’t that nice: they’ve built a nest, started a home. That male Cardinal, snuggled up next to his lady, looks like they are smooching. Those Blue Jays are so raucous! Must they be so noisy? 

Hush now! 

What a lovely day, not too hot, not too chilly. I just love the spring. The sun is bright and so warm. Don’t want to get a burn, so it’s the shade for me. I’ll just sit here in my rickety lawn chair and nurture my first iced tea of the day. Ah! I really do need to pick up a new chair. My butt’s gonna bust through this thing any day. 

Oh, Hummingbirds! I should have brought my camera out with me, darn it. They are so beautiful – all those shiny colors. They look like feathered jewels. 

Vrtt! Here they are. Vrtt! There they go.


Those silly Yellow Finches, how do they do that, hang upside down and eat? Like tiny circus acrobats. I’ve never seen any other bird hang like that. I hope those Crows over there don’t bother them. It looks like they are waiting around for some big bird announcement. The Crows, they can be a bother, always shooing and flappity-flapping their wings at the others. 

Darn it – look at that bird bath. And I just scrubbed it yesterday! Ah well. And the feeder, too – nearly empty! And look at the suet. It’s nearly gone already! Piggy birdies. Unless the squirrels are getting up there…. 

My garden, so quiet and peaceful. No traffic noises from the highway, no grandkids under foot. It’s almost too quiet. 

Twe-whoo, twe-whoo. The lady Cardinal looks at me funny – cocking her head – when I whistle. I wonder if she understands me. 

1:15…20 minutes until the ball game. Hey, that tickles—what is…? Aw, a Lady Bug. I’ll just put her on this little tea rose over here. Gently, gently, Lois. There ya go little lady! How precious, her little fluttery wings. 

Oh! A Praying Mantis! They take my breath! Look at her sitting there on that leaf, so regal, like she thinks she’s a queen. I wonder if she’s after those moths. Ew, Spiders on the trellis. Well, they serve a purpose too, I ‘spose. All these bugs, running about, so busy busy busy. 

Are those Cockroaches?! Ah!

Agnes, bring me the bug spray! Quick! Odd, it looks like that Cockroach over at the compost is wearing a grass skirt! Now why would a Cockroach need a grass skirt? 

You’re losing it, Lois. 

Oh dear, what’s with this brown spot? And all these bits of shell? Guess I’ll have to seed that. Hmm, seed, burlap, couple’a nails to hold down the burlap. Need to pull out the hose…. 

Lois! The game’s started! 

The Gardner and her grandson, circa 1981

This four part “The Garden” was written with my Mother, Lois, foremost in my mind. She was the guiding light in my life. With her and my Aunt Agnes (“Ang”), they created a happy home. She was loved. Mom loved family, the bugs, the birds, her garden, and baseball. And she loved the written word.

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