Return to Sender

This week, Week 28, at More Odds than Ends, I was gifted with the following prompt from ‘nother Mike. He always comes up with intriguing prompts. The envelope had no return address, and held only some dried flower petals. After letting it rattle around in my brain for a few days (OK, almost a week), I figured out a way to put it into the ongoing saga of the freelance cursebreaker, Jack McKnight. If you want to catch up, the previous installment is here, and the entire series is here.


Jack returned to the living room to find Rob turning an envelope over in his hands.

“What’s that?” Jack asked, setting his notes down on the table.

“I don’t know. I just found it in my pocket,” Rob sounded puzzled.

“Is it something you shoved into your pocket right before you answered the door?” Jack could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

“Nooo…should I open it? It’s sealed.” Rob looked up from the envelope and held Jack’s gaze.

Jack glanced back at Monica and the others. His wife seemed to feel his eyes on her and turned her head in time to catch his eye. Jack gave a small sideways gesture with his head toward the kitchen. She raised one eyebrow and turned back to her sister-in-law and niece.

“Let’s go into the kitchen and get some hot chocolate…kicked up for us,” she winked at Julia as she herded everybody, including the dogs, into the kitchen.

Jack turned back to Rob. “Let’s put that in a circle and check it before we try anything,” he murmured.

Rob nodded and the two men moved into Jack’s office. Jack pulled the throw rug off the circle he had created with inlay in the wood floor and placed the envelope in the center of the circle. He raised the shielding around the circle and nodded to Rob. His brother-in-law closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. Jack switched over to magesight as well. Both men stared at the legal-sized envelope for a minute or so.

Jack glanced up at Rob. “I don’t see anything off, do you?”

“No, I don’t. I guess let’s see what’s inside,” Rob still sounded wary.

“I’ll open it. Regardless of what it is, it’s probably not keyed to me, so my opening it shouldn’t trigger anything that we may have missed,” Jack responded.

“Okay. Good idea. I’ll keep an eye out,” Rob said.

Jack lowered the shields around the circle and picked up the envelope. Nothing happened so he stood up and backed away from the circle. He turned the envelope over, carefully slid his thumb under the seal, and opened it. Jack pulled the envelope open wider and looked inside. He turned it upside down over his hand. Several dried rose petals fell into his palm.

“What are those?” Rob stared at the petals.

“Dried rose petals. Does that mean anything to you?”

“I do use them for some things. But I haven’t ordered any in a while…I get them from…oh, hell,” Rob raised his eyes to Jack. “I get them from Miranda Hawley, another witch. I remember her saying something about Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe…about…rivalries?” His voice rose on the last word turning the statement into a question.

“Oh, hell is right. Somehow you got in the middle of a rivalry. I’m going to check in with my other clients and see if they did any business with Miranda Hawley,” Jack sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was get between pissed off witches. But there had already been one death. He couldn’t, in good conscience, ignore this.


I’m getting an inkling of where this story is going. I promise, once I do, I will be writing the whole thing out and turning it into a book. My prompt, The massive thunderstorm brings rain, hail…and a small creature (you decide what) to your doorstep. What is it and what are you going to do? went to Cedar Sanderson. I have a feeling she’ll figure out a way to work it into The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack.

In the meantime, if you’d like to join our jolly little prompt-writing crew, just head on over to More Odds Than Ends. Everything you need to know on how to join in the fun is right there.

Image by Frank Magdelyns from Pixabay

Odd Prompts – Week 24

It’s been a busy and somewhat chaotic week to ten days. I missed last week’s prompt for a variety of reasons, and almost missed this week’s (here I am Tuesday morning writing it. Last week I started cleaning out my office at work. We’ll finish that up on Friday. Seventeen years at this university. Twenty years as a faculty member. Definitely the end of an era for me. But, Having mostly shed the office, my last physical tie to the university, I finally feel like I can give my full attention to writing. It’s a relief and nervous-making. No more excuses. All the time in the world to write. So, write!

Since I missed last week altogether, I didn’t get a prompt assigned to me. So, for this week’s prompt, Week 24 at More Odds Than Ends, I used a spare: In the back seat of the bus, there was a huddled pile of clothing. Then it moved… This led me back to Jack McKnight and the string of dolls and dogs that keeps showing up at his house. Who is cursing these people, magic workers, into all these dolls and why? What is the connection between these individuals? Why does every doll come with a dog? I have no more clue than Jack does. I’ll be sitting down today and tomorrow to try to figure it out. In the meantime, it taking the bus can bring interesting adventures and maybe one was meant to take the bus that day:


Jack grimaced as he moved toward the back of the bus. There was a reason he didn’t like public transportation. Too many people treated the buses they were meant to be destroyed. Seriously. A pile of clothing on the back seat? Who the hell leaves clothing on a bus?

He shuffled back trying to make room for the people crowding on behind him. Not only public transportation, but public transportation at rush hour. The fun just never ended. He was mildly grateful that there was an empty seat, even if it was next to the pile of abandoned clothing. Truthfully, it was probably available because it was next to the pile of clothing. He had a long ride ahead of him and a seat, even a less than desirable one, made it a bit more bearable. He sat back and pulled his book out of his backpack.

A small movement at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. Did the pile just move? Jack glanced around at the other passengers. Nobody seemed to have noticed. Or, more likely, they were purposefully ignoring the pile.

The last few weeks had involved a series of cursed dolls showing up at his office, so Jack didn’t put anything past the universe these days. He turned to look at the pile. Yep. Did it again. Shit. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and gingerly picked up the piece of clothing closest to him and pulled it back. A small black nose poked out of the pile followed by a pair of dark brown eyes and the rest of the small Jack Russel terrier. The dog gazed soulfully at Jack and whined softly. Oh, for…Jack picked up the rest of the clothing and sure enough there was a doll lying next to the dog.

As he shifted through the rest of the clothing pile it occurred to him that the clothes were clean and lying in a pattern that suggested their owner had simply vanished like somebody in a story about the Rapture. Had this person been cursed while on the bus?? The dog whined again. Jack dug into his backpack and emptied out the plastic grocery bag. He put the clothes into the bag and stuffed them into his backpack. Then he picked up the doll and put it in on top of the bag of clothes. He carefully closed the backpack leaving an opening through which he could see the doll’s face. He still wasn’t completely sure that the person stuck in the doll needed air, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

The dog was wearing a harness with a leash attached. The harness had a small metal name tag that read “Sampson.”

“Okay, Sampson. We’ll figure this out and take care of things. I promise. I guess I was supposed to take this bus home,” he picked Sampson up and put the little dog on his lap. Curse-breaker and dog settled in for the rest of the trip home.


Looking for a fun challenge? Head on over to More Odds Than Ends (MOTE) and pick up a spare prompt! Have a prompt to contribute? Submit it to oddprompts at gmail dot com. If you contribute a prompt you will receive one assigned to you. It’s a creative and fun way to challenge yourself.

Good vibrations

As the shutdown grinds on, I am finding more and more impetus for writing. Of course, it helps that the semester is over and I have time now. Week 21 of More Odds Than Ends promises to give us interesting stories. Mike Barker (again) got the prompt I sent in: You come home from a long day at work and plop down on the couch with a beer. The cat looks up and says, “Hey, can I have one too?” My prompt this week came from Cedar Sanderson: The vibrations of the plucked notes ring through flesh and bone. I had to let this percolate for a while before something came to me. And, what showed up was another vignette in what appears to be an ongoing story of the freelance curse-breaker Jack McKnight.


They stared at the object on the porch. Jack swore under his breath as he stared at the doll figurine that contained his brother-in-law, his wife, and their daughter. The dogs whined as Captain tried to comfort them.

Monica took a deep breath and looked up at Jack. “Honey? Jack? What are we going to do?” Her eyes were shiny with tears.

“I’m not sure yet. But I promise you. We’ll get them out safely. I promise.” He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

Monica nodded. She bent down, carefully picked up the figurine and walked into the house. The big Newfoundland and small Chihuahua gave identical brief wags of their tails while Captain gazed at Jack.

“I know boy. I know. We’ll figure it out. We will.” He knew he was trying to convince himself more than the big German Shepherd. He waved at all three dogs.

“Come on, guys. Let’s get you some food and water while we work on this puzzle.” Captain bumped noses with Bruno, the Newfie, and bent down to do the same to Ralphie, the brown Chihuahua. They all trailed behind Jack as he went back into the house and headed for the kitchen.

A couple of hours later, Jack looked up from his books and papers. He rubbed his hands across his face and sat back in the chair. That just might work…Monica will have to play the music, but it just might work.

He stood up and stretched. Captain got up from the dog bed in the corner of Jack’s office. Jack picked up the book he had been reading and opened the door that led into the main part of the house. Monica was sitting in the living room watching TV. Or at least, the TV was on and Monica was sitting on the sofa. Ralphie was curled up in her lap, and Bruno lay on the cushions next to her. The figurine stood on the coffee table in front of them. Monica looked up as Jack came in.

“I think I’ve got something, honey,” Jack sat down next to her and gave Ralphie a pat on the head. Captain sat at Jack’s feet.

“What? Can I help?” Monica asked.

“Yes. In fact, you’ll have to do most of the work since you’re the musician in this family,” he smiled, trying to soothe her fears.

“What? What do you mean?” She sat up and looked at him.

“I’ve been digging around. After what happened before…” He looked down at Captain and gave him a pat. “I wanted to see if there was another way to undo a curse like this. I found something. It’s music. That’s where you come in. I need you to play some very precise measures on your violin. And, not with the bow. They have to be plucked notes.”

“What? Sorry. This is a lot to take in. What do you mean precise measures?”

“Well, there are very specific instructions in one text. It doesn’t look complicated, but it’s precise. Here, I’ll show you,” he opened the book and passed it over to Monica.

She stared down at the page he indicated. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s not that complicated. I can do that.” She gazed up at him. “Do you really think it will work?”

“Yes, I do. I really do,” he answered softly.

“Okay. Let’s do this.” She gently picked up Ralphie and put him on the cushion next to Bruno and stood up.

She came back into the living room carrying her violin. “Give me the book. I need to see the music.”

Jack passed the book over and moved to set up the working circle. He carefully picked up the figurine and put it in the center of the circle.

Turning to the dogs, he said, “I need you guys to stay there on the couch. Captain, you, too. Get up there.” Captain cocked his head but turned and jumped up onto the sofa. “Good boys.”

He looked over at Monica. “Are you ready, babe?”

“Yeah. Let’s just start.”

“Okay. Start playing.”

Hesitantly at first, but with greater confidence, the notes flowed from Monica’s violin. Jack stepped in to the circle and walked counter-clockwise around the figurine, starting at North and pausing to mark each point of the compass. As he returned to North, the music reached a crescendo and the air grew hazy around the figurine.

Monica kept playing and Jack repeated his circuit. The second time he reached North the haze over the figurine was thicker and there seemed to be movement within the haze. Monica reached the final crescendo and brought the music to an abrupt stop. Jack held his breath.

The haze seemed to shiver and coalesce before suddenly breaking apart to reveal three people standing together in the pose created by the figurine. They stared around like people coming out of a dream.

Jack quickly scuffed a break in the circle as Monica dropped the violin onto a chair and started toward the little group.

“Uncle Jack? What happened?” Sophie gazed up at him. A loud woof sounded from the sofa as Bruno jumped off and dashed over to Sophie, slobbering all over her. She giggled and hugged the big dog around the neck. Ralphie was close on his heels and jumped into the arms of Julia, Monica’s sister-in-law, yapping and furiously licking her face.

“What the hell happened?” Rob, Monica’s brother, looked between Jack and Monica. “I could feel music, literally feel it, vibrating in my bones. What did you do?”

Monica gave him a hug. “Just freed you from a curse. No big deal,” she laughed in relief.


Need some inspiration for your writing? Or want to try your hand at writing? Head on over to More Odds Than Ends. Responses can be long or short or visual…whatever you come up with. Didn’t send in a prompt? There are always spares from which you can pick and choose. The key is to have fun!

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The beach fixes everything

Prompt time! This is Week 20 of Odd Prompts. This one comes from my own wanderings on the Oregon coast thanks to a friend of mine who owns a house in a small town out there. Sadly, due to the Wuhan flu madness we won’t be able to get to Oregon this year so I will miss my beach wanderings. Sigh.

My prompt came from Mike Barker: When she held the seashell to her ear, first she heard the crashing waves, then the songs the mermaids sing, and then… a timid little voice said, “Mommy? I want to go home now?”

The prompt I sent went to Kat Ross.

The Beach Fixes Everything

The waves crashed against the beach and Maria sighed with happiness. She loved the beach. The sound of the waves was soothing, the far distant horizon promised unending adventure (even if she didn’t venture over it), and the cool water washing over her feet smoothed away all her worries, stress, and fears.

She wandered down the beach watching her footprints appear and disappear in the wet sand. Tiny, glass-like jellyfish were scattered about and she was careful not to step on any of them although she was pretty sure they just oozed further into the sand if she did. Every now and then she paused in her wanderings and bent down to pick up a particularly interesting shell or rock. Once in a while she was lucky enough to find a piece of sea glass to add to her collection.

It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, so there were not a lot of people out. Locals and their dogs were almost permanent fixtures, but the tourists were more likely to be in town wandering through the shops. Maria felt incredibly grateful that she was able to make this trip once a year. If not for the generosity of her friend Sinead it would not be possible. Sinead owned a house in this small coastal town, a house she planned on retiring to one day, and Sinead let Maria stay in the house when she came out to the coast.

She continued on down the beach kicking the water as she walked and getting lost in the sound of the waves. A white bump in the darker, damp sand ahead of her signaled a buried shell and she altered her wandering path to dig it up. It turned out to be a giant conch shell, unusual for this area. In a burst of whimsy, she held the shell up to her ear listening for the distant sound of the ocean.

As she listened and drifted away on the soothing sounds in the shell, she fancied she heard mermaids singing in the sighing of the ocean. Entranced, she gazed out at line where the sky met the ocean and simply listened. A small tug on her hand interrupted her musings.

“Mommy? Can we go home now? I’m tired,” a timid little voice said.

Maria looked down at her daughter and smiled.

“Of course, mija. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we’d walked so long and so far.”

“You like the beach a lot, don’t you Mommy?” Lena said.

“Yes, mija, I do. I like it very much.”

“I do too, Mommy. I want to be a mermaid when I grow up.”

“That’s great, baby. I love that idea. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come back and find a mermaid for you to talk to about what it’s like.”

“Really? That would be fun! How do we find a mermaid?” Lena’s voice rose in excitement.

“I’m not sure, sweetie, but we can come back tomorrow and figure it out!” Maria laughed.

She bent down and swung the child up into her arms and headed back up the beach to the house. There were still three more days for walking on the beach. And, perhaps, finding a mermaid.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Strange Days, Indeed

It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 weeks since Cedar started the whole More Odds than Ends weekly prompts. This week, my prompt went to Mike Barker: “So, he found a dead body when he was wakeboarding off of Jersey.” I was the recipient of Fiona Grey’s prompt: You’re at a drive-up diner, eating your meal, when up next to you sidles a bison. She gives you a polite nod, and orders a cheeseburger. This was a fun exercise in imagination. I really like both reading and writing the mixing of every day life with magical or supernatural beings and/or occurrences. So, here for your reading pleasure, my (very) short take:


It had been something of a tiring and strange day when I pulled up to the order window. My brain made a decision without consulting me and I turned in at the classic drive-in diner. I realize that fast food is probably not the best end-of-day stress reliever, but screw that.

This was my favorite place to go for a cheeseburger and fries. It was the last of a dying breed, the drive-up diner. They even have servers on roller skates who brought your food out to you. I always felt like I’d traveled back to a more relaxed time when I came here. I rolled down my window and pushed the button.

The speaker crackled. “Hi! Welcome to Dave’s Drive-In Diner! What can I get ya?”

“Hi. Bacon cheeseburger and loaded fries, please. And, a large chocolate milkshake. Thanks!” What? It’d been a long, strange, tiring day. I’ve earned that milkshake.

About five minutes later, the 19-year old server glided up to the car and deftly attached the tray to my window. “Here you are! Do you need anything else?”

“Nope, I’m good. Thanks!” I was already salivating at the sight of the cheeseburger.

I picked up the burger and was getting ready to take a big bite when movement in the next spot caught my eye. I froze with the cheeseburger part-way in my mouth. What the hell?

A huge bison was standing at the speaker. Yes, a bison. I was still staring when the humongous head swung around and gave me a polite nod before turning back to the speaker. I clearly heard the chirpy welcome spiel coming out of the speaker.

That was followed by a low rumbling sound, but I know I heard the words “cheeseburger” and “fries.”

The bison ordered a cheeseburger?? The chirpy voice on the other end of the speaker didn’t hesitate. I couldn’t wait to see what happened when the server came out with the tray. I finally took my first bite of my own cheeseburger.

Another five minutes and the server glided out of the main building toward the bison. There was absolutely no sign of surprise or shock. I was the one looking shocked…if anybody had happened to glance my way. The server was pushing one of those catering carts with the cheeseburger and fries sitting on top.

The bison was apparently a regular customer? I took a long sip of my milkshake. It was as delicious as it looked. I glanced back over at the bison and got a wink and a nod before she lowered her head and tucked in to her own cheeseburger.

I shrugged and nodded back. Yep. Strange day. But the milkshake is divine.


Thanks for reading and please join us at More Odds than Ends for weekly prompt fun. You can submit a prompt to or drop by the web page to pick up a spare prompt. The “rules” such as they are are on the main page. Come throw out a prompt response or two!

Old keys

The Week 2 of Odd prompts found me sorting through a coffee can of old keys. I’m traveling with my students and this has been a welcome change.


Old Keys

I pulled the can off of the top shelf in the garage. The left side of the two-car garage had been my dad’s workshop/home appliance repair area. He’d spent hours and days puttering around out here, in all kinds of weather, at almost all hours of the day. If mom hadn’t insisted he get some sleep, and preferably in their bed, I truly believe he would have slept out here as well. Now I was cleaning it out along with the rest of the house so it could be sold.

The can was heavy and there was a metallic rattle when it shifted. Probably a bunch of screws and nails. All saved “just in case.” Dad never threw anything away because, according to him, you never knew when you might need it. He wasn’t really a hoarder, except when it came to screws, nuts, bolts, washers, and nails. I’d already found about 10 coffee cans full of all of those. This was probably one more.

I peered into the rusted Folger’s coffee can. Holy crap. It was filled with keys. Keys! Not just a couple dozen or so (something I would expect to find in a house that had been lived in for almost 50 years), but almost a full coffee can’s worth. Did any of these work on the current locks? Knowing dad, they probably worked on the original locks for the house.

“Michael! Where are you?” My wife’s voice came through the door that went into the house from the garage.

“Out here, in the garage. You gotta see this!” I yelled back, staring into the Folger’s can.

Jenna appeared in the doorway. “What did you find?”

I simply handed over the coffee can. “What am I supposed to do with these?”

“Wow. That’s a hella lot of keys. Can’t you just throw them out?” Jenna looked up at me.

“I suppose. But…something tells me I have to go through them just to be sure. Who knows what dad put in there. Besides, some of them might go to the current locks in the house. I’d feel better knowing we accounted for them all.”

I took the can back and followed Jenna back into the house and went through to the kitchen. I unceremoniously dumped the keys out on the kitchen table.

Jenna started sorting through them. “A lot of these look the same. Why don’t we start there? Find your keys to the house. We can compare them and see if any of these are house keys.” She pulled out a chair and got to work sorting keys.

Thank God for my wife. If I’d been alone, I would have simply stared at the pile on the table. I had mostly made it through the weeks after my parent’s deaths because of her. She took care of all the practical stuff and just told me where to go. And I went. The police to deal with the aftermath of the accident, the hospital to see them and be there when the machines were unplugged, the funeral home. Everything. She handled it all and pointed me in the right direction. Now she was helping me do something as mundane as sort keys. How did I get so lucky?

“Michael. What could this possibly go to?” Jenna was holding up an antique key with a fanciful design on the handle end.

I stared at the key. “That looks like it might actually open that bottom drawer in the old dresser in their bedroom. I have no idea what could be in there, but why don’t we try it?” I took the key from her and headed into the master bedroom.

I had to stop at the door and take a deep breath. I hadn’t touched this room yet. I couldn’t bring myself to go through their clothes, my mother’s jewelry, anything. In this room, their room, they were still alive. I pushed down a sob and felt Jenna’s hand on the small of my back.

She gave me a hug. “I know. Let’s just see if the key fits and then go back to the kitchen. It’s probably something your dad found and couldn’t throw away. It is a beautiful key.”

I nodded and moved into the room toward the dresser that sat next to the window. I don’t know that it would qualify as an antique, but it was old. And damn if it didn’t look like the key was made for that bottom drawer.

I knelt down in front of the dresser, put the key in the keyhole, and slowly turned it. A soft click and a small release of pressure told me it did indeed unlock the drawer. I glanced over at Jenna who had knelt on the floor next to me. She smiled at me and made a “go on” gesture with her hand. I pulled open the drawer not knowing what to expect.

“Holy shit!”

“Oh, my God!”

Jenna and I yelled simultaneously. The drawer was filled, filled, top to bottom, front to back, side to side with $100 bills. There had to be close to a million dollars or more in that dresser drawer. In cash.

“Michael, look!” Jenna’s hand was shaking as she pointed to a white envelope sitting in the middle on top of all the cash. She picked up the envelope, glanced at it and handed it to me. Her eyes were wide.

The envelope was addressed to me. I tore it open and pulled out the single sheet of paper inside.

Seeing my father’s crabbed handwriting made me tear up again.

Dear Michael,

Congratulations. You found the key and figured out where it fit. This is your real inheritance. I didn’t want to put it in with the other investments even though it might have made more that way. Do with this as you see fit, although I wouldn’t spend it all in one place. That makes the IRS suspicious and you know how I feel about them.

I had to laugh. My father’s dislike of the IRS was a legend in the extended family.

There’s $1,750,000 in here. It’s all yours, son. I love you.


P.S. Your mother says she loves you too.

Water dripped onto the paper. I took the Kleenex offered by Jenna and wiped off my tears.

“Well, Dad. You finally did it. I’m speechless.” I looked up to the heavens and laughed.


This was actually kinda fun to write. My father was not like this in terms of fixer upper coffee cans full of screws, and he didn’t have a workshop in the garage. But for some reason he was front and center while I was writing this.