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D.A. Spruzen

Our reviewer for the May-June challenge is Dorothy Hassan, who writes as D. A. Spruzen. She has lived in Northern Virginia since 1971, except for a two-year hiatus in the Middle East. She grew up near London, U.K., where she graduated from the London College of Dance and Drama Education before joining the faculty of London Theater School. Many years later, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and now teaches writing for the McLean Community Center when she’s not seeking her own muse. She also runs private critique workshops in her home and is a past president of the Northern Virginia Writers Club. In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.

Dorothy’s short stories and poems have appeared in many publications, most recently in three anthologies, Joys of the Table (poetry, Richer Resources Publications), the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference anthology, and Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag). Her novel The Blitz Business, set in WWII England, was published by Koehler Books in 2016 and a poetry collection, Long in the Tooth, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. Dorothy self-published the first two novels in her Flower Ladies Trilogy and Crossroads, two novellas. When she’s not writing, Dorothy likes to read, paint, garden, and take care of Sam, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel

The prompts:

– Sandstorm: you are suddenly in the middle of a sandstorm you cannot see where you’re going. write a story about how you’re there and what you do to survive OR describe how it feels to be in the middle of this

– The car door is locked and won’t open write a story about how you came to be there are you inside or outside the car…

– Visual prompt as below:


What are you doing here? How did you get here? Is this a place where you wish to be or do you want to get away from here.

The Entries

Two of the entries will be coming in a little later as the entrants, having taken on board Dorothy’s detailed comments, are in the process of editing their stories. One story has already been edited in accordance to the reviewer’s comments. Thank you Dorothy!

In the middle of a sandstorm

by Melissa Nazareth

A violent sandstorm erupted and I could barely see. A moment ago, all  had been clear and I knew my way, but now I was blinded without warning. I tried to find my way to the tent, but I could hardly keep my balance, let alone walk without staggering from side to side. I prayed I would reach my safe haven, wondering if this might be my last day.

I was becoming short of breath. My eyes stung from the dust. I must have been walking for hours before my legs unwillingly surrendered. I fell to my knees and collapsed, engulfed by a sea of sand. My gaze darted from the dunes around me to the blue sky above. The sun, resplendent and merciless mocked my mortality and I instantly turned away. Formless objects in all colours of the rainbow floated past my eyes.

I felt my body tighten, then go slack. My spirit fought on. I tried to call out for help, but the shrieking cries of the desert birds gliding above drowned out my own. Something scaly slithered against my arm. Paralysed by fear, I didn’t look to see what it was, maybe because I didn’t want to know. In the silence of my heart, struck by a tempest of its own, I cried. “God, please rescue me.” I must have passed out.

Was I in heaven? Light streamed in from all sides, warming my skin, though my insides felt icy. I couldn’t move. Frantically searching for a sign, I spotted something familiar— the camel figurine on my study table. This was my room. Why couldn’t I move? I felt my eyes widen in panic before the memories came rushing back. I’d had an accident.

I had just had a heated argument with my mother. It wasn’t always like this between us. We were a happy family. We went out together and ate dinner together. But after my father left us, everything changed. I constantly felt anxious, as if I were stranded in a desert. I battled with my emotions, which would stir up without warning. Where was my life was headed? I couldn’t seem to find my path. My mother, who now worked two shifts, barely had time for me. She would leave early in the morning. When I woke up, the house would be empty. I returned from college every day to an empty house. My only safe haven was drama class. I was an average student but a good actor. Or at least, that’s what Mr. Thomas said. We were going to put on a play over the weekend. My mother had promised to attend but backed out the same day because she had to work overtime. It was the last straw for me and I had been running down the stairs after hanging up on her.  That’s when my foot had slipped and I blacked out.

A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. “May I come in, sweetheart?” It was Mum. She was smiling but her eyes glistened. I looked away, pretending to look out of the window. She sat next to me and held my hand.

“I’m sorry, darling.” she said. “I know how hard this has been for you. I know you loved your father. I loved my husband too.” Her voice cracked.

I looked at her face, now streaming with tears. As angry as I was about everything, I knew my father’s death wasn’t her fault. He had been drinking and driving. My mother had not even had time to mourn her loss. She had taken the reins almost immediately because she had me to take care of.

“It’s been almost a year,” she said. “The memories will never go away, but I think it’s time we try to overcome the pain and resentment.” I nodded and managed a smile. My mother smiled back. That was the first time we had connected for ages. I felt a huge weight being lifted off my chest, as if the storm had passed and I could see things clearly again.


“Yes, honey?”

“I had a dream last night…

— End —

Locked Inside

by Renjith Sarada


July 20, 2018

My dear Gopi,

I hope this note finds you in the best of health and happiness. I have been thinking of writing to you for a few days, though there is really nothing new to say since we text every day.

I recall how I used to write long letters in the old days, to my parents, sisters and your mother on postcards and inland letter forms.   Since the advent of mobile phones and social media, I seem to have literally forgotten how to write, or rather how to use a pen!   I tried writing, but perhaps due to my advancing age, I could not hold my pen properly; thus I am typing it out on my computer, which is an almost obsolete device, just like me!

Well, I didn’t mention something important when we spoke this morning. I did so deliberately, as I wanted to convey more about it than I could by tossing it off in one or two sentences over the phone.   Moreover, I anticipated that you would also feel sad if I handled the matter abruptly.

Our favourite car — the Mitsubishi Outlander we bought when you were in school was sold yesterday. I could not control my tears when the new owner drove it past me. So many memories come to mind – the long drives with you and your mother, your friendly squabbles with each other about who would occupy the front seat, you looking at the speedometer when I used to drive fast, your excitement whenever the odometer crossed hundreds and thousands, and so on.

Dearer to me than anything, though, was the dent on the driver’s door, which I could never bear to get repaired.  The buyer asked me why that dent was not repaired. As it was so personal to you and me, I did not explain.  Taking advantage of that, he insisted on a further discount, to which I had to accede.

I am writing to you about it, so that so that I can revisit those memories and apologise for my mistakes.

I presume that you too remember that evening and the night following the prize distribution ceremony at your school. How excited we were! I was so proud as I clicked pictures of you on stage receiving the prizes from the guest of honour.   You were equally thrilled, as it was a culmination of your hard work in the face of heavy competition and related pressures at home.   As the function went on till eleven or so, you felt very hungry and wanted me to take you to a restaurant. I remember, I said no, because your mother and infant sister were waiting for us at home.   Looking back, I realize I failed to appreciate the little boy who worked hard day and night to secure this coveted prize and make his parents happy and proud. I focused my attention on talking to my friends on the phone about your achievement.   Do you also remember, that we stopped at a grocery store midway, past midnight, as I had promised to buy you some snacks to assuage your hunger?

I remember vividly, getting out of the car, specifically asking you to stay inside as the engine was on.   The shop was about to close and I had to wait till the shopkeeper reopened the till.   By the time I emerged from the shop, I was shocked to see you right in front of me, despite my instructions to stay in the car. When I looked at the car and found that the engine was not running, I smiled at you for being responsible enough to turn off the engine and lock the car.

At first, I did not notice your pale face when I asked you where the key was, three times in a row. I peered though the window of the silent car and saw the key in the ignition slot.   We were stranded on the road at midnight, locked out of our car. As I liked the car so much, I did not want to pursue the idea of breaking the window, as suggested by the impatient shopkeeper.

I remember, shouting at a helpless you for not adhering to my instructions to stay in the car. In my anger, I forgot all about the prize and your hard work.

The shopkeeper decided to leave, ditching us in absolute darkness. There was no one available to assist us as it was so late at night. You suddenly started to cry, after realizing the gravity of the situation. I briefly considered going home and bringing the duplicate key – but of course there was no transportation.    How relentlessly I yelled at you to vent my frustration!   Suddenly, you started to pray, though I am still unsure whether you prayed for help to come, or for me to keep my mouth shut!

God is kind. It was such a relief seeing the flashing headlights of a car approaching.   Thankfully, the driver, Viswa, then a total stranger stopped beside us and asked why were we standing on the road so late.  When I explained, he was gracious enough to get out of his car and see if he could find of a solution.   Before long, he, too, suggested that there are no options other than to either break the window or go home to get the duplicate key.  For me, neither was feasible as I did not want to break the window or to ask him to take me home, especially as he had his family with him, who were patiently waiting for him. Family members were also patient enough to wait for us to get out of the ordeal.

Viswa then suggested that the only other option left was to find a wire thin enough slide under the window seal and try to catch the lock lever and pull it up.   The idea sounded good, but where would we find such a wire?

Viswa started to rummage around in his toolbox.   I could notice through the corner of my eye, that you were so scared as you had anticipated us breaking the glass of our favourite car due to your mistake.   Unfortunately, Viswa could not find anything suitable.

Meanwhile, the noise woke up Viswa’s eldest son. He got out of the car and asked his father something in their language, to which Viswa replied, pointing at my car.   He immediately retrieved a wire clothes hanger from somewhere in their back seat and got to work. What presence of mind!

Thanks to the boy’s acumen, he managed to reshape the iron clothes hanger and make it resemble a straight shaft with a hooked end.  He made many attempts over the next thirty minutes or so to resize the hook so that he was finally able to unlock the car. His heroic efforts resulted in that dent on the left door above the glass frame.

I salute and respect the little boy’s perseverance and good attitude while helping a stranger in distress.

As you are aware since then, that Viswa and I have become close friends. I am glad that you also keep in touch with the then-little-boy who is now pursuing his Masters in Engineering in the U.S.A.

I realize with sadness the pain I caused you by shouting at you on the road and later at home, while telling your mother the story.   I, remember how your tears splashed on the trophy held close to your chest. I was cruel to overlook and forget the success brought about by your hard work because of my own frustration.

I love you, my dear son. That same trophy is kept safe here with me.   I polish it whenever I miss you, and that is very often.

I hope you have some happy memories of times we shared. As always, I love you and pray for you.

God bless, with love,

Yours Achchan

–End —



September 2020

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