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Into the Woods is the title and theme for this assortment of short stories, poems, essays, music, and one walking meditation. Each piece is unique in tone and genre and the result is that the collection captures the fascinating, frightening, fun, healing, and fantastical wonder of time spent in the woods. The twenty-six contributors who attend Mindful Writers Retreats in the mountains of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, are donating one hundred percent of the proceeds to support the research and work of The Children’s Heart Foundation.

 

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Book Excerpts

Short Story

TRAIN WRECK
by Kathleen Shoop

 

Ellie Trumbull squinted out the window of the Uber, gripping the door handle. The car swerved and bounced up the long driveway leading to the retreat center where the courts had sent Ellie for punishment. She grabbed her stomach to stave off nausea, but when it began to launch itself she smacked the driver’s arm. He slowed and stopped. Ellie pulled the handle, and tumbled out of the door onto all fours, heaving.
She gasped for breath, dizzied. Voices sounded as she struggled to stand. She focused on the group heading toward her: two women, a man, and several children who simply bolted past her, their squealing laughter filling the air.
A graceful woman with gray, bunned hair and dark skin approached. She took Ellie’s arm and pulled her close, leading her into a building. “Welcome. I’m Vera.”
“I’m Alice.” A stout woman with platinum spiked hair followed along.
A lanky man with hair so perfect it looked plastic picked up Ellie’s duffel bag. “I’m Brandon. Your husband’ll send the rest of your luggage shortly.”
Ellie grunted. They led her upstairs. Brandon rushed ahead to open a door. Ellie shuffled inside.
“Your room,” he said. “I’ll set your bag here.”
Ellie looked over her shoulder to see him smiling, as he’d been doing since she arrived. “Thanks, Guy Smiley.”
“What?”
She ignored his question, held onto one of the top bunks and surveyed the space. Three large windows at the end of the room and three sets of bunks with plastic mattresses belted the perimeter.
Ellie collapsed onto a bed.
“Plastic makes it easy to clean,” Vera said.
“Shut those.” Ellie shook her hand at the windows.
The woman sighed, closed the curtains and lowered the blind that covered the center pane. She lifted Ellie’s feet off the floor and swung them onto the bed. “Housekeeping’ll make up the bed in a little bit.”
“Fine,” Ellie groaned.
Vera loosened Ellie’s shoelaces.
Ellie snatched her feet away. “I’m fine.”
Vera backed away, her large hands flailing for a moment before she tucked them against her belly. “Our healing circle begins in an hour.”
Ellie turned away and balled up. Leave me alone.
And a few seconds later the door clicked shut.
***
Giggling children and the sound of feet running down the hallway outside Room 2 woke Ellie. Her mouth was desert dry, so she headed downstairs to the great room where she saw a kitchen area. With the kids gone, the silence felt good.
Ellie startled at the sight of Alice, Vera, and Guy Smiley sitting around an island. Guy Smiley poured coffee. Healing circle.
“Ellie,” he said. “Welcome.”
Vera sliced banana bread. The scent threatened Ellie’s stoic facade. A smile tugged her lips, but she tucked away the fleeting happy sensation, hid it where it wouldn’t remind her how Maggie’s face would light up when she bit into her favorite treat.
Alice clomped her feet onto the coffee table. Vera batted them away and pushed the banana bread toward Ellie.
She looked away.
“I’ll take hers,” said Alice.
“I’d like to begin,” Vera said, her voice gentle and melodic. “The healing circle guides us into continued acceptance and strengthens our endurance as we grow through the pain that comes with losing a child. Each of us understands the daily shock of waking and realizing our lives will never be the same. So how do we go on?”
Guy Smiley sipped coffee. “Feels good to be with everyone.”
“Each time we meet I do better back home,” Vera said.
“Same,” Alice said.
“We hope you’ll find our group helpful, Ellie,” Vera said.
When Ellie didn’t respond the others went around describing how they lost their child. Ellie blocked out every word, rubbing her temples. Her own pain was enough. She wasn’t about to invite theirs inside. Her gaze strayed to the kids outside, the game of tag that left them breathless, rolling down the hill and out of sight. How lucky they were.
“Ellie?” Alice asked. Ellie turned her gaze back to see Alice glaring.
“It’ll help,” sweet Vera said. “To share.”
Guy Smiley slid forward in his seat, fingers steepled. “Change brings…blah, blah … comfort, healing…” He droned on and on and finally Ellie’s mind snapped back to what he first said.
Change?” Ellie said.
He nodded. They all did.
Ellie’s anger surged. She wiped spittle from her lip. “I don’twantchange. I feel Maggie more now than I ever did… before she died I couldn’t wait to get to work, or girls’ night out or go away with my husband. My daughter… difficult from the day she was born… is dead. I’ll never sit with you people thinking about change and eating stinking banana bread.”
She stood and stomped away.
“She don’t want help,” Alice said.
“But her husband…” Brandon said.
Ellie got farther away, unable to hear what they said. Her husband? He was finished with her. She jogged to her room and crashed onto the mattress that housekeeping hadn’t yet returned to make. She covered her face and held back tears. With balled fists she tried to resist.
But she couldn’t.
Up off the bed, Ellie dug through her duffel and found it. Vodka. Cap unscrewed, she gulped, washing away the scent of banana bread, the thought that she’d never again see Maggie’s smile when she took a bite of it.

 

***
Short Story
EIRA
by Wende Dikec
The lights went out, and Eira held her breath, waiting for the emergency generator to work. It started with a shudder and a horrific crunching noise, but at least it continued to function.
She closed her eyes, feeling the fear in her chest ease when she heard the comforting sound of the humming engine. She couldn’t bear the thought of being left cold and alone in the dark.
Tugging her pale, blond hair into a ponytail, she pulled her ragged wool cardigan tightly across her body and walked over to the window of Alexander House, a grand name for such a Spartan hunting cabin, to peek outside. She waited for the sun to come up, looking out the dirty glass pane, and continued to stare out the window long after the sun rose in the sky. She didn’t know why she bothered. She saw nothing outside except the same white expanse she’d seen every day for the last five lonely months.
Eira opened the door to grab some wood from the pile for her fire, her body flinching from the chill of the icy wind. She had enough wood to last a few more weeks, and then she’d have to make the dangerous trip into the forest to chop more. She dreaded it, but not as much as she dreaded living without the generator. If she rationed carefully, she’d have enough fuel for another month, but she wasn’t sure what she’d do after that. She hadn’t planned on being stranded for such a long time. Spring should have arrived almost two months ago.
She blinked in surprise when she saw a figure moving toward her house, struggling in the waist deep snow. Eira squinted against the harsh sunlight reflecting off the white landscape, trying to make out if the approaching form was human or animal, friend or foe, but she could see very little at this distance. She stumbled back into her warm little house, and reached for her heavy coat. She quickly slipped on her snowshoes before grabbing her gun, a nervous sense of excitement building inside her. If it was a person, it would be the first human being she’d seen in months. If it was an animal, she’d shoot it and have food for a week. And if it was one of the strange ones, the creatures that were no longer human yet not completely animal, she’d kill it without remorse and leave its carcass for the hungry bears to find.
She waited on her front porch, her gun ready as it came closer. It looked human, bundled under layers of heavy clothing, but she wasn’t taking any chances.
“Who are you?” she asked, her voice echoing in the quiet wilderness.
The figure stopped moving and looked directly at her. She could see a dark beard covering the skin exposed beneath protective ski goggles. It was a man.
“My name is Ben,” he said, his voice sounding scratchy and strange, as if it hadn’t been used in a long time. “I saw the smoke from your fire. Can I come in and warm up?”

Eira paused, considering his request. He seemed human enough, but it was a risk. He could steal her food, hurt her, or take her precious fuel. She weighed her options quickly. Loneliness won out over caution, but she wasn’t stupid. She clenched her gun as she waved him in.

***
Poem
FOREST BATHING
by Martha Swiss
I am alone in this place that is alive, anticipating the gift before me.
I open it slowly, with grateful breath, footsteps and heartbeats,
then thankfully sink into the purifying molecules of chlorophyll and humus.
I bask, now able to sense the purpose of ferns, snakeroot, noble trees and the creek that tumbles past my feet.
Crayfish pay me no mind in their muddy caverns.
Trees skyrocket overhead, on a mission.
Chipmunks skitter through leaf litter
and a kingfisher pounds its teal wings heading upstream.
I am dwarfed by the hillside vaulting from the floodplain. Boulders and saplings cling to its spine.
I am free to bathe here in clarified cells of cambium, xylem and phloem.
I wring my sponge in the generosity of flora.
The stream’s effervescence cleanses the tangled energy seeping from my pores.
I celebrate my fresh spirit with a confetti of scarlet, orange and yellow leaves that bob on the breast of the creek
as silently,
the trees disrobe.
***
Short Story
LIGHT OF THE MOON
by Ramona DeFelice Long


After three weeks in jail, Mama asked me to talk to Judge Rousseau about getting her some decent food to eat.
Mon Dieu,I am wasting away,” Mama said from her cell. Behind her, the narrow cot was covered with a quilt from home, and on top of the wooden crate she used as a table was a kerosene lamp on a doily. She’d left a half played game of solitaire spread over the doily. Where she got playing cards, I didn’t know. The Bible that had been on the pillow was nowhere to be seen.
She showed me her bowl of half-eaten stew. I think it was stew. “That old cow Lorraine Badeaux is poisoning me.”
“Hush, Mama,” I said. “Mrs. Badeaux is doing no such thing.”
Mama pressed her face between the bars. Her eyebrows and cheeks lifted up. That, plus the pounds she’d lost eating jail food and all the naps she took out of boredom, made her look as young as me. Trust Mama to turn getting arrested into getting prettier.
“Geneva,cher, just go ask him,” Mama wheedled. “That sheriff can hardly look at this slop. He passes me my plate and runs away. Or maybe he believes I’ll bewitch him, too.”
I begged her not to joke about that.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “And pour l’amour de Dieu, when you go see the judge, don’t wear what you got on. You look like a blind nun dressed you.”
“Mama—”
“Your hair’s all right, but get you some lipstick and rouge and use it. Judge Rousseau is old, but he ain’t dead.”
No, he wasn’t, but his brother-in-law was, and that’s why Mama’s bail was set high as the moon. But explaining that to her was like talking to a tree stump.
I said I had to leave. I was Mama’s only visitor, and she was bitter. Where was our family? Where were her friends? She was lonely and felt forsaken. I never told her that, at home, nobody came to visit me either, and I had not even murdered anybody.
Most days she begged me to stay, but tonight she told me to get on home. I suppose she thought I had a busy evening ahead tarting myself up before going to see the judge.
***
When the young deputy was on duty, he sat in a chair five feet away from Mama’s cell, as if he thought I’d help my mother escape by slipping a bolt cutter under my dress—a dress fit for a convent, indeed, because my teacher contract said I had to “act and keep my person modestly.” I worried every day I’d be fired over Mama’s scandal.
Sheriff Reyes usually sat in his office up front and read the newspaper. When my visiting time was over, he always asked, “Things all right, Miss Geneva?”
I answered, “Yes, Sheriff, thank you,” except for the time or two when Mama asked for a warmer shawl or the quilt off her bed.
Once, horrifyingly, I had to say I needed to come right back; when he frowned, I whispered that Mama needed some womanly things. He let me into her cell with a paper sack that he did not inspect. Had I been wily, I could have slipped her anything—a pistol, liquor, tonic from Madame Velda—but wily was Mama’s way, not mine. The sheriff trusted me. If you can’t trust a twenty-year-old spinster schoolteacher who dresses as modestly as a nun, you have faith in no one.
Tonight, Sheriff Reyes stood at the window. The kerosene lamp on his desk lit him up from behind: tall, broad-shouldered, brown hair cut short but still wavy. On one of those shoulders was the scar from a shell that blew him out of the sniper’s nest he’d sat in for three days, picking off Germans but never giving away his position. I’d read that in the Bossier City newspaper, when he’d come home a hero after the war ended.
He turned around and said, “Your mother’s right. Mrs. Badeaux can’t cook.”
I didn’t speak; he was also very handsome.

***
 
into the woods SQ teaser

 

Mindful Writers Retreat Authors 
Many of the writers who contributed to the anthology. 
The retreats happen at Ligonier camp and conference center in Ligonier, PA. Tenth retreat is coming up this fall!


Twenty-six Mindful Writers Retreat Authors contributed to Into the Woods. The group consists of bestsellers, award-winners, first-time authors, seasoned veterans, poets, memoirists, essayists, musicians, journalists, novelists, and short story writers who are traditionally, self and hybrid published. At Mindful Writers Retreats the labels don’t create a hierarchy, but instead reveal the richness of those who attend. Every single writer contributes to the magic and the fun that results from meditation, walking in the woods, and hour upon hour of mindful writing.

 

Authors in alphabetical order:
Lorraine Bonzelet
Wende Dikec
Teresa Futrick
Selah Gray
Hilary Hauck
Michele Zirkle
Eileen Enwright Hodgetts
Larry Ivkovich
Lori M. Jones
Kimberly Kurth-Gray
Laura Lovic-Lindsay
Ramona DeFelice Long
MaryAlice Meli
Gail Oare
Sher Pensiero
Kim Pierson
Cara Reinard
James Robinson, Jr.
Larry Schardt
Linda K. Schmitmeyer
Carol Schoenig
Kathleen Shoop
Martha Swiss
Amy Walter
Madhu Bazaz Wangu
Denise Weaver
Many of the writers who contributed to the anthology. 
The retreats happen at Ligonier camp and conference center in Ligonier, PA. Tenth retreat is coming up this fall!
Find the Mindful Writers Retreat Series on Facebook HERE

 

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