Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 10, & Doors Writing Challenge & the Kitten is Named!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Image courtesy Chris Graham
Image courtesy Chris Graham

Welcome back, everyone.  Three is certainly my number today.  As you know, this is one of my “three things” style pantser serials.  So of course, there are three random reader things driving the story. Beyond the three random reader things, I’ve tied this post to three other types of things.  First of all, to Dan Antion’s Thursday Doors Writing Challenge.  Secondly, I’ve just caught you reading — because it’s Get Caught Reading month! Then finally…

The kitten is named

I know that I’m jumping around with this intro, but then so is the kitten.  On April 26, I did a Name the Kitten post asking everyone to offer names for a uniquely magical kitten who came into this serial. No doubt some were disappointed when the kitten didn’t get her name in the previous episode, but the story didn’t reach the right scene. Plus, I was still deciding.  The name that fit the combination of the kitten, the story, and the characters who would name her was suggested by two readers — although not in the same language.  John W. Howel suggested it in English.  Bruce Antion offered the German version.  What name?  … … … Spike!

The Thursday Doors Writing Challenge offers many wonderful “doors” images for writers to choose as inspiration.  In this episode the otherworldly pigs were going to need to encounter something/one… very dangerous.  When I saw a photo from Brenda at Thoughts of a Wanderer, despite the sunny photo, I suddenly knew the who, what, and how of that scene. That’s when this episode became part of the challenge.

Chris Graham, the Story Reading Ape has often partnered with me to support Get Caught Reading.  He sent the terrific “portrait” above as an illustration for today’s post.  He also supplied this episode’s three things:  Shimmer, Tombstone, and Calico.

If you missed the previous episode, then click here.

Atonement in Zugzwang

Episode 10

CGI image by Teagan
CGI image by Teagan

The last orange slashes of sunset faded into the purple of evenfall.  Deme and Honeybell picked their way through a thicket of hardwoods at the farthest edge of town.

The two otherworldly pigs paused respectfully when they reached what had once been one of the earliest homesteads of Atonement.  It was from a time when families often buried their dead on their own property.  The buildings had long since become dust, but a few scattered gravestones remained.

Deme’s mind, however, was on a different part of the town.

She described to Honeybell what she had previously seen from a high vantage point.  Deme had noticed that wherever Moccus took Salty Riley’s body, a subtle shimmer covered the land.  The glow made a wedge shape from the broader track where the body had been, leading into the center point of Atonement, Tennessee.  She imagined it as a wheel, with one of the areas between the spokes filled in with that magical glow.

The two pigs continued to snuffle through the trees and underbrush of the old place.  With each step, Deme was surer that Moccus intended to take Salty’s body all the way around the circuit of the town.

“Honeybell, it’s likely that something in Salty’s body is renewing the magic of the boundary,” Deme began, trying in vain to piece together the random facts she had uncovered.  “But why is it weak in the first place?” Deme paused for breath, but Honeybell remained silent.

“Also, as you know, Honeybell, the barber pole is missing,” Deme continued, voicing facts that her friend already knew, but it helped Deme think.  “When the barber pole rotates clockwise, it renews the barrier that surrounds Atonement.  That magic is what prevents the especially harmful races of supernatural beings from entering this town, but if the pole is made to turn counterclockwise, it creates an opening in the protective circle.”

“So…” Deme went on. “Has someone made it turn counterclockwise, weakening the barrier?”

“I’m not sure, Deme.  Although, I think if the barber pole had been turned, things would be a lot worse than the boundary weakening.  I think that maybe, the pole has stopped rotating, and that’s letting the boundary get weak,” Honeybell speculated sagely.

Seville, Spain. Photo credit Brenda at Thoughts of a Wanderer
Seville, Spain. Photo credit Brenda at Thoughts of a Wanderer

Abruptly, Honeybell lifted her head, sniffing the air.  Deme followed suit.  She smelled decay, but they were standing near graves and loamy ground.  The only thing she detected was… sugar.

Then her friend veered toward the west.  Deme hurried behind her.  Soon they reached an arched entry to a short tunnel.

“I haven’t seen that before,” Deme remarked, suddenly apprehensive.

The sound of voices reached their sensitive ears.  Deme stopped talking and snorted when Honeybell gave her a little kick.  Carefully they crept closer to the sounds.

They overheard Ambrogio, the first vampire that ever existed, talking to his son, whose mother was a sugar-plumb fairy.  The vampires were outside the boundaries of the town, but otherworldly pigs have keen hearing.

Ambrogio chastised his son for hanging around the town.  He said it was unseemly, and beneath his son.

“Father, I feel responsible for the woman,” Ambrogio Junior defended his actions.

“My son, your affair is over.  It was never really love — you know that,” the eldest vampire declared.  “You only feel guilt and shame for wanting to feed from her after you had given her your word that you would never even ask.”

“I know you are right, Father.  Although, I just want to protect Maudie.  Evil is gathering all around this town.  What if she goes beyond its boundaries at night?  Not all vampires have scruples, and certainly not werewolves and many other creatures I have heard in their hiding places,” Junior complained.

“That, my son, is precisely why I must do something that I have not done to you since you were a small child.”

“Father, you can’t mean…  This is mother’s doing isn’t it!” Ambrogio Junior exclaimed, but his father went on, undeterred.

“Son of my loins, I command you.  Return directly to Bakersville and do not leave its borders until I give my permission.”

Leaves stirred.  With a loud whoosh, Ambrogio Junior was gone.

The first of all vampires turned around.  Moonlight silhouetted his powerful form as he stood at the opening of the archway.  Deme and Honeybell crouched close to the ground.  They lowered their eyes, hoping the vampire would not see them.

“Servants of Goewin, your cloven hooves tread too near to danger,” Ambrogio said, his voice as stern as it had been in reproving his son.  “This place was once neutral ground.  Now it is only a damaged spot.  There are those who could pull you across the boundary when you are so close, particularly in its weakened state.”

Gracefully, Ambrogio thrust his arm forward.  The pigs shuddered.  He curled his outstretched fingers into a fist.

An ancient half-buried tombstone at Deme’s feet broke free of the soil that had held it for centuries.  It lifted above the ground and smoothly floated into the archway and out the other side.

“Oh, blessed lady!” they murmured.

With the rock still in midair, Ambrogio snapped his fingers.  The rock burst into thousands of tiny pieces.

Then the first of all vampires was gone.

“The Lady needs to know about this,” Deme choked out in a hush.

“Yes,” Honeybell began, eyes wide with fear.  “But Goewin doesn’t have the… the kind of might that is needed here.  Guards… and messengers… That’s what is needed most,” Honeybell said in a rush of colliding thoughts and words.  “We must tell Lord Ganapati.  Maybe he can summon some of his ganas to guard this portal.”

“But those ganas are so, so distorted.  Some of them are downright demented,” Deme muttered and shuddered at the idea, but she agreed with Honeybell.

The two otherworldly pigs fled into the night.  They squealed using the various names of the Conductor of Celestial Armies all the way into town.

♣ ♣ ♣

Image collage by Teagan
Image collage by Teagan

A tiny kitten scampered and slid across the floor, in wild pursuit of a dozen toy mice that Maudie Rocket and I slid across the tile floor to her.

Though the mother cat had been a calico, this kitten was solid gray.  I called “kitty, kitty,” to get the kitten’s attention for a long throw.

“Pepper, you still haven’t named that kitten?” Maudie asked.

“Names are a big deal, Maudie.  She needs just the right name.  Something that really suits her,” I justified my procrastination.  “I was thinking maybe Bodhi.  It means awakening or enlightenment.  Or maybe Althea, a flower that attracts good spirits,” I continued with an uneasy glance in the direction of that blasted chessboard and the pieces that appeared out of nowhere.  “Or even—”

“Or maybe Spike for that gold horn on her head.  You know, the one I could only see with those weird goggles,” Maudie cut me off in a snarky voice.

A cold knot formed in my stomach.  I gulped.  So, Maudie truly had seen something with those goggles.  That had to mean that I had really seen the horn.  Did it follow that Adelle and Bheema, who had acted strangely when I saw the horn…  That they could see it too?

“I know you can see it,” Maudie went on, like a bulldog unwilling to let go of something.  “What I don’t know is why you can see what others can’t.  Or why I can only see it with those queasy-making goggles.”

With a sigh, I hung my head.  I didn’t understand it any more than did Maudie, and that was what I told my old friend.

“Sometimes, I can only see the horn when I squint — when I look at her with my eyes half closed,” I told her and she looked at me silently for a long moment.  “Will you please keep it to yourself?  Don’t let on that there is anything strange.  At least not until I can find out what’s going on?”

“No problem there,” Maudie replied sardonically.  “I don’t want people thinking I’m bat-shit crazy.”

Several of the stuffed mice had ended up under and on the various shelves of a bookcase.  Already sitting on the floor, I crawled over to retrieve the toys.  When I pulled one from between two books, my fingers brushed a folded piece of paper.

The carefully penned note was in the same neat handwriting, and on the same kind of paper, as another note.  That first message had a vaguely threatening vibe.  It insisted “You must set up the chess board.”  This one was a more direct warning.

“Keep your knight close to you. Your life will depend on it.”

What knight? As if I ever had a knight in shining armor, came my immediate thought.

However, my snark was immediately followed by the memory of the unicorn chess piece.  Since unicorns looked like horses, I had set that piece in the position of the queen’s knight.  Plus, the other note had been about the chess table.

That must be what it means, but how could anyone’s life depend on a chess piece?  It’s solid gold, and it doesn’t have any kind of hidden weapon or anything, my thoughts revved up in chaotic anxiety.

In legends, the horn of a unicorn has healing ability.  But not unicorn figurines.  The kitten.  The kitten has that one horn… a uni-horn.  But that’s crazy.  No one’s life could depend on a little kitten.

“Maybe a ‘spike’ is something I’m going to need,” I muttered.  “Alright, Maudie.  Her name is Spike.”

Unable to make sense of the note, suddenly I didn’t feel warned.  Rather I felt threatened.

Using anger to mask my destress, I crumpled the note.  However, I wasn’t fast enough.  Maudie had already caught me reading.  She took the paper from my hand.

“It looks like the other note,” she began, then let out a quick aggravated breath.  “These pranks are more than annoying.  You need to get out somewhere and blow off steam. More importantly, so do I!  Let’s go check out that Rowdy Rooster place I’ve heard about on Highway 41.”

“The saloon?  Isn’t that nearly an hour away?” I said, as the kitten climbed to my shoulder.  “Small kittens shouldn’t be left alone.”

“Only 45 minutes,” Maudie quibbled.  “It’s early.  Get that cute boy to kitten-sit while you’re gone.  She loves him.”

“As long as you don’t try to rope me into any line dancing.  You know I’m not coordinated enough for that,” I relented.

Maudie Rocket was a force of nature when she set her mind on something.  It would take more energy to resist than it would to give in and go with her.  I picked up the phone and called Donny.

♣ ♣ ♣

CGI image by Teagan
CGI image by Teagan

As sunset streaked the sky, a soft glow started to emanate from Moccus.  He snorted from the shadow of the building next door to the erstwhile gas station.  The otherworldly pig and his two companions watched as Pepper Riley and another woman got into a car.

The two ferrets beside him, Siddhi and Riddhi, made clucking noises that reminded Moccus of chuckles.  He snorted again, but derisively.

“It won’t be funny if something happens to them,” Moccus admonished the ferrets.  “Where is your master?  Bheema should know about this.  I think they’re heading out of Atonement.  I heard the other woman mention the Rowdy Rooster.”

Riddhi sat up on his haunches and dooked at Moccus.  Then Siddhi looked at them both and screeched.

“I see.  If Bheema forbade you to go with him, then there are dangers abroad,” Moccus muttered.  “Powerful dangers…”

He watched the headlights of the women’s car go up the street.  A fast-looking white car pulled out from an alley.  That car’s headlights were dark.  It made the same turn, toward the highway, that the women took.

Moccus snuffled worriedly.

♣ ♣ ♣

I’ve got a baaaad feeling about this…  And who is the “knight” in the warning?

Episode 11 will feature random reader things from Jennie Fitzkee at A Teacher’s Reflections!  Don’t miss it.  Wishing you a wonderful weekend.  I love to hear from you, so friendly comments are encouraged.  Hugs!

♣ ♣ ♣

My Vibrating Vertebrae, Agnes Mae Graham

My Vibrating Vertabrae cover
A lovely book of poetry by Chris Graham’s mom

♣ ♣ ♣

The Atonement Series

Atonement kindle covers Cat eyes shelf 2023

Atonement, Tennessee

Full series of e-books with one click:  relinks.me/B087JV25JT

Kindle:  rxe.me/HGSVA8A

Paperback: relinks.me/1481826948

Also in Spanish, translated by Olga Núñez Miret! The title for the Spanish-speaking market is Expiación y Magia

Atonement in Bloom

Kindle:  rxe.me/5RRBLH

Paperback:  relinks.me/1726882128

The Glowing Pigs, Snort Stories of Atonement, Tennessee

Kindle   rxe.me/LTBDNH

Paperback   relinks.me/1725891972

♣ ♣ ♣

This is a work of fiction.  Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2023 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved. 

No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

All images are either the property of the author or used with permission, or from free sources.

57 thoughts on “Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 10, & Doors Writing Challenge & the Kitten is Named!

    1. I loved that it was both fitting and ironic, Teri. I wouldn’t have thought of it myself, so kudos to John and Bruce.
      I’ve sort of painted myself into a corner with the knight. It is at once the unicorn chess piece and the kitten. But now Pepper is headed into danger. I can’t use the kitten to protect her, at least not yet, and the chess piece… Maybe I can do something with that somehow.
      Of course, there would also be the “king’s knight” (and two more knights on the opposing side). So maybe the king’s knight gets revealed…
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like Spike! It’s a perfect name for the kitten.
    I also like following this story. Teagan, your imagination knows no boundaries.
    Can hardly wait for next weekend! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Spike is the perfect name. What an exciting episode! I am worried, and will have no nails left after biting them all week, waiting to read what happens next. Looking forward to my random reader things next week. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Jennie. LOL, next week, I hope nails are the only things that get bitten in Atonement, TN. 😉 I haven’t started the episode yet, so I’m curious to see where your things take the story too. Thanks very much for sending them and the photos. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this story, Teagan. There’s a lot going on and the characters are fabulous. The ferrits are a great addition to the piglets. And the danger is escalating. “Spike” is a great name. 🙂 Looking forward to the next episode.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am honored you named the kitten “Spike.” Teagan. I think it will serve her well in the future. Like you, I have a bad feeling about leaving town, especially with a dark headlight car following. I can’t wait for next week.


    1. Trouble ahead, trouble behind… What was that song? Something about Casey Jones I think. I need more coffee. LOL. Hmmm maybe I need to listen to the Monster Mash, or watch Michael Jackson’s Thriller video before I get to the Rowdy Rooster scene. 😀 I’m trying to imagine “supernaturals” doing the electric slide… Thanks for being here, Noelle. Hugs.


  5. You caught me reading while sipping my first cup of coffee, Teagan. What a fantastic episode. I’m sure my brother will be happy with the name you chose. I might worry a bit that he has a mind like John Howell 😉 (just kidding, John). I’m not sure I like the idea of them leaving town, any more than Pepper does. I hope this ends well, but I have my doubts. I know, I know, wait until next week. I understand.

    Thanks for using one of the doors from the #TDWC gallery. I’ll get this listed there right away.

    I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. “Spitze” was what Bruce suggested (and he explained that it was German for spike). Between the fact that it sounds like a cat “spitting” and “zugzwang” being a German word, I almost used that version of spike. But, you know how my mind has to create connections for everything in a story… I couldn’t come up with a German plot connection. So I used plain Spike.
      Yeah, I’ve almost finished my second coffee… and right now I feel like there isn’t enough coffee in the world for me.
      Enjoy your no-rain weekend. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kamal. They say chess is a game like battle strategy. That chess playing ape looks very intense about his game — he must be a general of some kind. LOL. I appreciate you spending part of your weekend here. Hugs.


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