Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pocketful of Hope - ACFW Colorado Flash Fiction Entry

The flash fiction contest at ACFW Colorado begins with three prompts:

Opening Sentence: There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father.

Non-Sequitor: She found the diamond bracelet in the back seat of the car.

Last Word: the tear in her dress.

And one month later, it ends with no more than 1,000 words weaving them into a story. Better leisure mental gymnastics than the New York Times crossword!

Here's what I made of them.


There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father. Instead of killing him. Or herself. I expected after her prison years, she’d shove him in – wheelchair and all. I’ve often replayed the accident with the ending I’ve longed for – Dad rolling over the lip of the deep pool, sliding into the hungry river beyond. Last time I saw Miss Gerstein, dear old Dad was coolly tipping her in the deep end, figuratively of course. The police called it a suicide attempt. They never did figure out what really happened, but I knew. Still, what could I have said? I the ten-year-old son of the chauffer, and she the governess.


Miss Gerstein had left Lord Albert and me wrestling with fractions, while she went on an errand for Lady Carlisle, but we had shadowed her like T.E. Lawrence’s Arab scouts. As she burst into the estate’s garage, we heard a slam, then a cascade of little pops like a ratchet wrench twirling. A man’s muffled oath. A single pearl rolled into view. The door closed swiftly. We crouched below the window.

“So sorry! I’ll just …”


“Whaaat? This is Lady Carlisle’s! Martin!”

We had to see. Through the grimy glass, a diamond earring winked as it swung from the lip of the workbench drawer my father tried to block from view. Rising like an avenging angel from a hail of grounded pearls, our beautiful Miss Gerstein displayed the distinctive diamond clasp. My father turned, crowbar upraised. Miss Gerstein flung out a prohibiting hand.

I remember it like a flashbulb still, frozen colorless against the dusty sunshaft. My memory shatters on that image, fragmenting to flashes of motion, echoes of conversation.

“Wait, Martin!.....blood, too?”

…”never blackmail…” My father hunched, tense.

“Take them back. I’ll never tell…my word…Otherwise…” Miss Gerstein’s hand gentling, pitying. My father slowly nodding, an odd, calculating look in his eye.

Two bent backs, harvesting the pearls. A flash in my father’s hand by her pocket as he opens her car door. A miniature comet arcing through her back window. Rumble of the garage door. Oily smoke from Miss Gerstein’s shabby Mini. Two boys running for the safety of arithmetic.

Later that afternoon, Lord Carlisle leaned into the school room. “A word, Miss Gerstein,” he held the door open.

Surprise and sorrow washed across her face as she glimpsed my father flanked by two police officers in the hallway. I glanced out the window. A policewoman searched Miss Gerstein’s car. She found a diamond bracelet in the back seat.

“No, Miss Gerstein! Please…” I lunged for her hand. Missed, but tore open her pocket. The diamond earrings from my father’s drawer shimmered to the floor, sparkling like tears. As my hand spun her toward me, her heel came down hard on one earring. The ‘diamond’ splintered. All the air, all the color drained out of the room.

From a far country I heard Lord Carlisle, “A thief – and a forger! Get her away from my son!”

It took a hundred years for the cruel curve of my father’s smile to register as understanding, then fear on Miss Gerstein’s face. They were leading her away in handcuffs. I looked from my hand to her torn dress, overcome with dread and shame. She looked back at us as long as she could, trying to smile, trying to signal something. We couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t hear.

We watched the brief interrogation from the schoolroom window. Miss Gerstein shook her head decisively. We strained to hear.

“Where’s the money, Miss Gerstein?”

The stream was a diamond bracelet beyond the car, filling the languid pool before pouring over the cement rim into the river that bounded the estate.

“I don’t know! I don’t know anything! You’ve got to believe me! Have I ever lied or mislead you before?” Her voice broke on the question.

“Apparently, your whole life is a lie, Miss Gerstein. If that is your real name!” That from my father.

“I would not have believed it, but I saw it. Lady Carlisle and I have trusted you …our son.”

“Now you’ve stolen his son’s heart and his inheritance, too,” my father snarled.

“And you!” Miss Gerstein faced him squarely, “You have stolen all I had - my good name.” She broke from the police escort and flung herself into the pool, rolling over and over toward the river spillway.

We were screaming, “Handcuffs! She’ll drown!” but no one heard us over the pandemonium in the courtyard.

“Can’t let her escape!” my father dove after her. We saw him arc deep, then go absolutely still.


Broke his neck. After that day, we all parted to our separate prisons. Lord Carlisle sank to relative poverty, caring for the fraud he thought had tried to save his fortune. Dad, banished to a paralyzed body, extended his own little hell to anyone who came close. Lord Albert & I were sent to boarding school. Even graduating to adult life did nothing to lance the diamond-hard pocket of darkness where I perpetually tear Miss Gerstein’s dress. Miss Gerstein. I never did learn where they sent her.

Now here she was, a miracle. Silvering around the edges. Bestowing the kiss of peace on her traitor, as if his treachery never had defined her like it did the rest of us.

She turned to me, “There’s something I’ve wanted to say to you ever since that last day.” She reached for my wretched hand. I couldn’t meet her eye.

“Thank you. You were the only one who tried to help me.”

“I tore your dress! I let them all see! I was his accomplice!”

“Never! I knew you.”

“But if only I had kept still, you never…”

She ripped my darkness like a searchlight. “…never would have known how much you loved me! That memory sustained me through all these years.”

Color. Breath. Freedom! Stony guilt spilling out like false diamonds. I laughed. Laughed! She forgave the tear in her dress.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Readers' Choice Winner(s)

Well the votes are in - from all over the place. I'm sorry to report that you were no help at all! ;D Out of four choices, you voted in a three-way tie for first place. *Sigh* So I will just rely on your helpful comments to make these better.

Today's installment is Episode 1 of the web-series thriller, Favorite Haunts.

Favorite Haunts


Kim Anderson

All rights reserved to the author. 2010.

Mother-Lode Media


Seventeen-year-old LEXI stands on her front porch, checking her wayfinding gear. She looks up, noting the surveillance cameras at the corner of the house and on the light pole down the street. There is absolutely no one on the street. She scrolls through various screens on her cell phone, showing the nanny-cam views of the interior and exterior of her house. LEXI sees herself in the porch shot. She takes a step casually and disappears from the nanny-cam screen.


(Nodding with satisfaction)

I’m in the zone!

She frowns, scrolling through the screens again.


Where is he?


(grinning from the bush beside the porch)

I’m in the zone, too!

Twelve-year-old TROY is loaded with hiking gear, all ready to go.


You weren’t thinking of leaving without me?!


No, just worried about being off the grid too long.


(nodding sympathetically)

Yeah. Dad will go all renegade on us. Do you think we should wait til after the evening sweep?


No, we’ll lose the light. We’d better hurry.

They begin to walk away from the house, under a tree that screens them from the cameras. They flip their cell phones to screens that show maps of camera angles along their street, and navigate a course that leaves them out of camera sight. As they walk they converse.


Don’t worry. I’ve been working on a project that will allow us to be gone as long as we want without tipping Dad off.





LEXI thumbs off the camera-plot map on her cell phone to play a nanny-cam recording of herself studying, then one of herself making dinner.


That only works for you!

LEXI snaps down to a recording of TROY playing a video game.


If Dad sees that for hours, I’ll still get killed! Maybe we should just file for a hiking permit like everybody else.


Relax! I’ve got lots more. I just need a few more cuts and I’ll be able to patch it into the security cams on a loop I can control from here. Besides, you know we’d never get one without a "responsible adult" on the request.

She taps her cell phone. They have arrived at the end of the street. Pavement is locked off at the entrance to a hiking trailhead. The sibs hesitate, peering into the trees. TROY still has the camera-plot map up. The display shows a solid barrier of camera-coverage lighting up the edge of the forest for as far as the display shows.



Remember when Mom used to bring us here and we thought it was a game walking single file in her footsteps?


(nods, trying to be brave)

I miss Mom....It’s like all the air went out with her.


Yeah, the accident changed everything....(she gathers herself) I hope it didn’t change the song.

They stand in the last camera-free zone and whistle a 3 or 4 note signal. They look at their cell phone maps. Nothing changes.


Maybe we weren’t loud enough to trip the jammer.

They try again. This time the camera coverage blinks off their cell phone maps. They sigh with relief and start running.


A law-enforcement office bristling with computer monitors. It is lit only by the many computer screens. One monitor has a blinking light and and irritating claxton sounds in time to the blink. The officer manning the monitor swings around in her chair to call her supervisor.


Sir! Surveillance perimeter breach: sector 5!


(Leaning in to look at SAM’s display, reaches down to adjust the view.)

That’s right down the street from my house!

We see the same display the kids were seeing on their cell phones.


Shall I arm the perimeter lasers?

Cut to LEXI and TROY slamming a button on an electrical device in a plastic bucket buried under a fallen log. They collapse in relief.

The blinking light on the police monitor goes off. The display is back to normal. We see the two officers’ faces peering at the screen.


Probably just a wildlife bogey. Curfew is in 30 minutes. No lasers. Post Sector 5 sweep officers early, and make sure they go door to door tonight.


TROY and LEXI are circling a huge, live tree, searching for something that isn’t there. A dead tree has fallen against the tree, lodging solidly with the upper part of the dead tree resting in the crook of a large branch of the living.


The web entry said it was gone...


Maybe some fool left food inside and a coon got to it.

LEXI leans against the living tree, her shoulder just under an arrow pointing up crudely scratched into the trunk.


(pointing at the arrow)

Things might be looking up!

They look up and see a squirrel’s nest just about where the dead tree connects with the living. TROY scrambles up the dead tree, using its branches as ladder-rungs.


Whoa! Amazing!


What! What is it?


A new improved cache - but it isn’t our placer.

He lowers an ammo box down by a pulley which has been anchored to the tree in the squirrel’s nest.


Hey! This nest is big enough for me! Kinda pointy, though...Waaaiit! This isn’t a squirrel’s nest. Just looks like it. There’s a platform. A man-made platform!


Get back down here! This is weird!

TROY comes to look into the box with LEXI. They start to unload it.


Our old logbook. Two self-charging flashlights. Two MREs. Two space blankets (she pauses significantly) non-reflective.


Are you thinking it?


Resistance...But why here? Our placer coordinates are still out there.


Yeah? Someone reported that cache missing or damaged. Check the logbook.

They open the book to the last page. A string tied to the spine of the book swings free.


Our signature stamp is gone.


(pointing to the last page)

It was here just two weeks ago. Look! And....


It’s...Mom’s...signature stamp and a rubbing of her forest geo-coin.



Mom!...We saw her...

We see in memory, a small plane taking off. Then close-ups of flames, emergency vehicles, flashing lights. We hear sirens, screams.

Suddenly we realize the sirens are in the present. The sibs are frantically re-packing the ammo box. LEXI tears the last page of the logbook out, stuffing it into her shirt.



Early sweeps!


(climbing the tree)

Hurry! Tie it on! Hurry!

They hoist the box to the squirrel’s nest. And race for home.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Becoming Bardic

Cancer has given me the opportunity to re-invent life. I've always wanted to write fiction. It used to be that people understood when an argument was well-made and would be persuaded by reason. Not any more. Now people need a story. They are persuaded by personal connection and emotion. They need a bard, not a lawyer.

I've had fun this spring and summer working on the lyrics for my second daughter's musical tribute to American service men and women. See the progress on the project at 21 Gun Salute. In the course of researching for the lyrics, I've been able to interview some wonderful vets, read some fascinating military bios and even some heart-stopping poetry penned by our warriors and their families. Now I'm ready to tell other sorts of stories.

Trying to decide which to write first.
The mystery: A Levite detective in an ancient city of refuge must find the real human trafficking culprits before they dissolve King David's precarious reign into civil war.
The fantasy: Renowned inventor Daedelus discovers that his inventions for sinister King Minos have destabilized both the foundations of Atlantis and his own son's sanity.
The action-thriller: In an America groaning under an oppressive regime, a young man is drawn into a web of intrigue when he begins to find in his geo-caches messages from his dead mother.

What would you most like to read?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Frankenstein and the Illustrated Woman

Well, radiation has been a funny thing. It has changed my perspective on a couple of deeply-held prejudices. Take tattoos. I always swore I'd never have a tattoo. But I'm coming out of radiation with not one but FOUR. OK, they are in places that never see the sun and the radiation techs use them to line me up in the laser grid so that I get blasted in the right place every time. So I'm not exactly the Illustrated Woman. Still, the tech who gave me my first tattoo swears it is a butterfly. I can't see it myself - really - I'll have to take his word for it.

And then there is the idea that modern science has done away with the old Frankenstein lab model. Every day, I climb onto a completely flat, completely rigid table which lifts me up through a laser grid somewhere near the ceiling into the mechanical embrace of this slowly spinnable robot armed with every kind and speed of lightning. Stacked all around the edges of the lab are weird impressions of life-sized body parts. Some pressed into distressed plastic molds. Others just suggested by Lucite curves: put your elbow here, grab this post and drape your neck over this roll. The creepiest ones are mesh busts that fit over the head like the Man in the Iron Mask.

Instead of crowing, "It's aliiiive!" every morning, the techs chirpily tell you to lie absolutely still. One day I had a cough, so I was sucking on a cough lozenge. My tech asked if I could stop moving so much. Not the coughing - the sucking. Catch 22! Luckily, they have a high-tech device to help prevent you from feeling like you're going to fall right off their little bench: the toe rubber band. I am not kidding! Before your head locks down into its mold, the techs have your toes tucked into this industrial strength rubber band. Actually, that's the most comfortable part of radiation.

I am happy to report that I have taken my last trip on that Frankensteinian elevator! I have had only minor blistering, which is already beginning to heal. The much-feared fatigue is just now rolling in. Sort of a delayed reaction. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and trouble staying awake when I do. My physical therapist tells me that I should expect some relief on that front in about two weeks - maybe a month. Resuming my exercise regimen next week should help.

Meanwhile, our Lord and my children are making sure that I have plenty of reasons to get up in the morning. I am directing the dramatization of Mendelsohnn's Elijah at church next week. (Check it out here! ) Petra has been back and forth between here and Stockton, working with me on the libretto for her musical tribute to American servicemen and women, 21 Gun Salute. Chloe graduated from DU with great fanfare, and is moving to LA next week to pursue a post-graduate program out of Pepperdine University in film producing. Robert will soon finish his Eagle Scout rank, and is working on his lines (sometimes with me) for Petruccio in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

It's good to remember that when our capacity for enduring pain is expanded, so is our capacity for entering into joy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


These days when people ask me how I feel, I have to stop and take inventory. It's that already-but-not-yet thing. Already better, but not yet well. I am glad to report that the chemo toxins are noticeably decreasing, although not in a straight line. I no longer have to steam my eyes open every morning, even though my eyes still sting and water. My hands and face only burn in the evenings, and they never peel. And there is a sort of peach fuzz on top of my head. On the other hand, my fingernails are falling off.

Radiation has begun, and is much easier to tolerate than chemo. I have only had a couple of days when I felt so exhausted that I thought I couldn't move – and that didn't last all day. Though it was kinda spectacular when I fell asleep at work – during a phone call. Luckily my boss laughed.

Those episodes have been a merciful indicator of things to come. At church, I am working on a production of Mendelssohn's Elijah, which is going up in mid-June near the end of the radiation treatment. Now I understand what it means that I will experience a debilitating level of weariness most of the time. So I'm able to view my work on Elijah as more of an exercise in equipping others and less of an opportunity to direct.

This weekend, the Lord surprised me with a scholarship to the Christian Writers’ Conference in Estes Park. Respite, fellowship and hope for future usefulness! His kindness and your continued prayer strengthen me for this last nasty phase of treatment.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unity of the Body

Zac Hicks has an intriguing analysis of the value of using the Common Lectionary as an aid to Bible study and worship. He rightly points out that this is one tool of the Holy Spirit to knit the scattered bones of the church back together as so many read, study, pray and worship around the same texts week by week.

It is also a way to be joined together in ordering our time, all of us dancing to the same delight in the same celebrations throughout the year; all of us pacing to the measure of His work rather than to the commemorations of our various States or to purely personal memorials and agendas.

I have been working on a cycle of daily Bible studies based on the daily readings from the Lectionary. The set for Lent is complete, and will soon be available for personal or group study. Below is a sample lesson. I'd love to hear your comments. Is it clear? Easy to use? Does it draw out the themes that echo among the Old and New Testament readings for the day?

Thursday: Beloved Enemies


Ps. 35, 148; Romans 11:25-36; Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Discussion & Study

1. What point does Moses emphasize about the Law in Deut. 30:11 – 14?

2. Where does David turn for justice when he is oppressed, according to Ps. 35?

3. Who were David’s most painful enemies according to Ps 35:12 - 17?

4. On what basis does he make his plea? Why can he expect God to take up his case?

5. Who had become the enemies of God’s people in Paul’s day (Rom 11:28)?


Our worst enemies are the ones we helped and trusted. The ones we counted as friends or family. David’s anguish is increased by the nearness of his enemies. But in his pain, he does not take matters into his own hands.

David pictures himself in the Court of Heaven. He asks for the Judge to plead his cause on the basis of His covenant, and proceeds to give evidence of his oppressors’ abuse of that covenant. He lays before God, his complaint and trusts in God’s justice and mercy. He calls for God’s punishment on the wicked and His defense of the righteous, but David understands that, particularly in the case of once-friend enemies, he himself might not know who the wicked are. “Judge me,” he says.

God knows not only the outward violations, but the inward ones as well. He knows the particular wounds and rottenness in the oppressor’s heart. He is the only one who can truly mete out justice. But God’s purposes in His justice go far beyond simple retribution. His justice not only gives the wicked his just desserts and the oppressed relief, but it produces restoration of the offender.

Israel in Paul’s day had become the enemy in God’s bosom and the God-fearing Gentiles had taken David’s place. Paul exhorts these Gentile converts to take up David’s wisdom. For God is not merely shaming and confounding covenant-breakers, but He is preparing an unprecedented union as well. Because of God’s rejection of Israel, both Israel and non-Israel know the wrath of God, so that those physical descendants of Abraham and those spiritual descendants of Abraham who fear God will be unified by their experience of God’s grace.

They will all be Israel together, beyond all pettiness, beyond all betrayal, beyond all pain.

Does one near you oppress you? Do not seek revenge. Lay your complaint before God, who is just beyond Justice. His grace will not gloss over wickedness; will not merely excuse the destroyer. But His justice will produce real healing and real unity.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Burning Questions

So I've just completed the last cycle of the bad-boy chemo drugs. I'm looking forward now to a week of getting ahead of the damage they have done to healthy tissues as well as cancerous ones. My naturopath said this week that it's the patients who feel the effects of chemo the most who seem to have the lowest recurrence rates. I certainly hope he's right in my case!

Tomorrow, I'll begin the Herceptin and Avastin infusions alone. They aren't the ones causing all the awful side effects. And I don't have to prepare for them with a several-day fast. The Monday after that, I'll begin radiation - every day for 6 - 7 weeks.

So the burning questions are: How will that hit me - will I tan, burn or glow in the dark? Will I lose ALL my fingernails in the wake of chemo? How soon will there be life after naptime? and...(cheesy organ chord)did all this work?

Really, only time will tell.

So today, I'm celebrating the no-fasting zone by having dinner at the Olive Garden.


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