Story Snippet from “Thicker Than Water”

Three on a matchWhat’s gone before: Cora Coleman resides in a New England  village with her family — six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and husband, Brendan, away to sea aboard a whaling ship. Cora is a good wife — loyal, true — and a goodwife, trained in the use of herbs to address everything from headaches to love sickness; a skill passed along the line of women that stretches back to her ancestors in Ireland.

Trusted by her neighbors, she’s unprepared when the spurned advances of a young buck results in her being accused of witchcraft. Suddenly, it seems that the entire village has turned against her. And now, witch hunter Orias King, has arrived …

Rebecca comes in as he’s descending the ladder. Her eyes are red and swollen, her cheeks blotchy with tears. She pauses just inside the door, struck dumb by the presence of strangers, then runs to the security of my lap and buries her face against me.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I whisper, but she remains silent.

King introduces himself to John and they shake hands. He looks at me. “This is your daughter?”

I nod. “This is Rebecca,” I say proudly, keeping my voice light. She’ll take her cues from me, and I don’t want her to fear this man or any other. I set her on her feet, wipe her face with the edge of my apron, straighten her cap, and turn her to face him.

The witch hunter’s steps are startlingly quiet on the wooden floor, like the cushioned footfalls of a cat. He squats in order to look her straight in the eye. “Hello, Rebecca,” he says cordially. “My name is Mr. King.”

She makes a quick curtsy. Then, overcome with shyness, she looks at her feet.

“You’ve been weeping,” he observes.

She peeks at him. After a moment, she nods.

He takes a white handkerchief from his pocket and holds it out to her. “Here. Wipe your eyes.”

I want to fiercely point out to him that her eyes have already been wiped–that have wiped them and I will take care of her because I’m her mother and he is nothing–but my voice lies in my chest like a dead thing.

She takes it from him and does as she’s told. When she goes to hand it back, the witch hunter shakes his head. “No, you keep it.” He smiles. “Consider it a little gift from me to you.”

Her own smile is brilliant, like the sun. I despise him for it. I wish Brendan were here to fling him into the street. Then again, none of this would be happening if Brendan were here.

“Did you fall and hurt yourself?” King asks. “Is that why you cried?”

Rebecca shakes her head. She glances at me, weighing my reaction to this man. I swallow my dislike for her sake. “What happened, love? What made you cry?”

“Mistress Sharp won’t let Fanny play with me.” Tears shiver across the surface of her eyes again, but do not fall. “She said,”–her breath hitches in her chest–“she said that Fanny isn’t allowed to play with witches.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “Are we witches, Mam?”

I could cheerfully slap Constance Sharp across her mean-spirited mouth. “No.” I meet King’s gaze over the top of her head. “No, we’re not witches.”

He shifts to sit cross-legged, like a tailor, like a child. “That wasn’t a very nice thing for her to say, Rebecca.” His voice is warm, inviting her confidence. I’d like nothing so much as to strike him. “Maybe you and I can play together instead.”

Fear grips my heart. I don’t want him anywhere near her, yet already she’s on the floor, mimicking his posture, a pair of old friends. The other adults in the room are silent, mesmerized, watching him charm my daughter.

“What’s your favorite game?” King asks. “Is it shuttlecock?”

She shakes her head.

“Knucklebones?” he says teasingly.

No, not that.

“Rolling the hoop?”

No.

King throws his hands up and lets them fall. “I’m out of guesses. You’ll have to tell me.”

She grins openly, triumphant at having stumped him. “Dollies.”

His eyes brighten with delight. “Dollies!” he crows, as if he should have guessed it all along. “That’s a wonderful game! Could you show me your dolly?”

Rebecca scrambles to her feet and hurries over to her pallet. She returns with a rag doll half her size and offers it to King. He’s already seen it, having inspected her bed along with everything else in the house, but he takes the time to exclaim over its perfection before handing it back.

Delighted to have met someone who appreciates the toy as much as she does, Rebecca cuddles the doll to her chest and swings back and forth, every bit the mother soothing her fussy baby.

The witch hunter watches her sway, his eyes drawn to the bell-like motion of her apron. “What have you got in your pockets?”

One hand dips readily and brings out a large clam shell bleached white by the sun.

King nods. “That’s lovely. What else?”

She puts the shell on the floor and produces another, a razor clam, long and narrow, mottled white and brown.

Fletcher Ellison makes a noise of annoyance. “We’ve better things to do than–”

A flick of the witch hunter’s obsidian eyes is all it takes to silence him. “What else?”

Next is a damp gull feather with a broken shaft. After that, a periwinkle, followed by a piece of oddly shaped driftwood. King barely glances at any of it. “What else?” he repeats, his gaze never leaving my daughter’s pockets.

Rebecca shakes her head, suddenly shy again.

He smiles. “Come now,” he chides in a teasing tone. “I thought we were friends. I can see there’s more in there. What else have you got?”

She looks at me. Her expression is one with which every parent is familiar, but in this context it takes me by surprise. What could she possibly have to feel guilty about? “Mam will be mad,” she murmurs.

Something in King’s expression shifts, like the shimmer of oil on water. His eyes lift to meet mine. “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” he croons.

My throat is unaccountably dry. “Of course not,” I say, unable to quell the tremor in my guts. “Show us what you have.”

Rebecca’s hand disappears deep into her pocket. What she brings out stops the heart in my chest.

To find out what happens next, you can purchase a copy of THREE ON A MATCH: The Terror Project, Volume 2 on Amazon or order a signed copy from me via email.  THREE ON A MATCH, a production of Books and Boos Press also includes stories by g. Elmer Munson and Kristi Petersen Schoonover.

Canine Epilepsy,Two Years On

img_1847I’ll never forget Holly’s first seizure.

It was August 11, 2016, two months short of her eighth birthday. We were hanging out in the kitchen–me getting ready to prepare lunch, her hoping for a handout–when suddenly her feet began to beat a rapid tattoo against the floor. At first, hearing it, I thought she was scratching herself or maybe having one of those occasional “dry humping” moments. Then I looked down … and knew at once that it wasn’t either of those things, but something new, something scary, and something definitely wrong.

Her eyes, usually soulful and mild, were wide and wild. Her feet skittered this way and that as if she was trying to keep her balance on ice or slippery polish. She collapsed onto her side, legs and feet paddling frenziedly, spine arched backward, jaws gaping so wide it was a wonder they didn’t crack, teeth bared, tongue lolling. Saliva gushed from her mouth and urine sprayed across the floor.

I yelled for my husband Ed, busy in his basement office, and fell to my knees beside her. “You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay,” I babbled, knowing she wasn’t. I held her, not restraining her, but just to let her know I was there.

This first grand mal seizure lasted approximately forty-five of the longest seconds of my life. In the time it took Ed to dash upstairs, it was already winding down. He made a quick call to the local vet clinic, and was told to bring Holly in immediately; they’d be waiting for her.

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Two and a half years — and 27 grand mal seizures later — we’ve developed a routine around these events. Although it still takes a lot out of us emotionally — it’s a helluva thing to watch — we now remain calm. (For those of you who’ve never experienced a dog seizing, here’s a YouTube video to give you an idea of what it looks like. I’ve never had the presence of mind to video Holly’s seizures.)

When she drops, our eyes go to the wall clock or a wrist watch. Timing the seizure is important not just for your records (it’s imperative you keep a seizure log), but also so you can inform your veterinarian of duration, severity, and any other observations. When Holly’s seizures began, they ran roughly 15-to-30 seconds, followed by 30-60 minutes of disorientation, hunger, and thirst. Those after-effects are still in play, but now we’re unfortunately creeping up toward the five-minute duration mark; the mark that worries veterinarians and canine neurologists because a seizure that long runs the risk of literally frying a dog’s brain.

That’s why — at approximately the two-minute mark — I head for the drawer of pet medicine in the kitchen to retrieve a syringe of Valium prescribed by our vet. I insert the needle-less delivery end into Holly’s rectum and depress the plunger. Within seconds, she begins to emerge from the seizure.

That’s not where it ends, however.

Now we stay close to monitor how quickly (or not) she begins to react to our voices.  Response time to gentle commands is skewed, and she often staggers and falls if left on her own. (I sometimes put her on a short leash to keep her close by.) I immediately take her outside — she often needs to urinate again, and sometimes defecate — and then bring her back indoors. Because she burns a lot of calories during seizure, she’s always ravenous afterward. I don’t want her to bolt her food, so I give it to her in small amounts, in a bowl. DO NOT try to feed your dog by hand, as you will get nipped. It’s inadvertent on their part, but I learned this the hard way. Your dog is out of it mentally and can’t differentiate between your fingers and a hot dog.

As soon as possible, we wipe down her chest and rear end to get rid of the saliva and urine. (Bath time can wait, but usually follows within 24 hours.) Within a couple of hours, she’s back to “normal.” I put that in quotes because the truth is, normal becomes a very fluid thing. Each time there’s a seizure, we must reorganize our thoughts into accepting whatever the “new normal” becomes. Holly is a little diminished by every episode — slower at regaining a response to commands (or forgetting them entirely and needing to be retrained), a temporary (although sometimes hours-long) loss of coordination, a slight difference in personality that only those who live with her can pick up on. It can be frustrating — and heart-breaking — but as I learned when dealing with my mother’s dementia, you must accept them where they are, not where you’d like them to be.

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So let me share a little of what we’ve learned.

  1. Canine epilepsy comes in two flavors: symptomatic and idiopathic. Symptomatic epilepsy has a diagnostic root cause such as cancer, stroke, autoimmune disease, liver disease, low blood sugar, exposure to toxins, infectious disease, or congenital brain abnormalities like tumor. Idiopathic epilepsy (Holly’s version) has no identifiable cause. Although it may be inherited — certain breeds seems predisposed to the condition — this need not be the case. Research is ongoing.
  2. Seizures strike without warning or pattern. The dog is unconscious during the episode and experiences neither pain nor panic, even though their eyes are open and they may vocalize.
  3. Although your first inclination may be to hold your dog or touch it during the seizure, be extremely careful. If you must touch them, keep your hands to the rear of your pet. Keep your face and hands away from the dog’s mouth. They can, and will, bite … and because they’re unaware, they don’t automatically release. You can suffer a debilitating injury if not careful.
  4. If your dog has a seizure, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes or your pet experiences more than one seizure in a 24-hour period, seek emergency help immediately.
  5. There is no cure for canine epilepsy. Medication is a lifelong therapy whose goal is not to prevent seizures (that, sadly, is impossible), but to reduce their frequency and severity. Because these drugs are not “one size fits all,” it may take time for your veterinarian to determine the correct dosage/combination for your pet. And bear in mind that may change over time. In Holly’s case, we’ve used a variety of drugs and combinations. All have worked for a time, but only for a time before needing further tweaking.
  6. You will also deal with a plethora of drug side-effects, which might include lethargy, muscle weakness, anxiety, loss of appetite, vomiting, and periodic soft stool. Please note that anti-epileptic medication should never be discontinued without first consulting with your veterinarian. To do so could endanger the life of your pet.
  7. Be proactive. This is frightening, but knowledge is power. Make yourself part of your pet’s treatment team. Talk to your vet and/or neurologist and ask questions. They should be open and willing to discuss treatment options and any other concerns you have. (And if they aren’t, find new practitioners.)
  8. Do research, but be skeptical of anything or anyone that makes exorbitant claims. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian to weigh in. Under no circumstances should you pursue a course of treatment without first checking its validity with your pet’s doctor(s).
  9. Have your pet examined at least one a year for follow-up.
  10. Remember that your dog’s better days will likely outnumber the bad ones, so enjoy your time with your pet.

 

 

Teaching Moments

packys-eyeI had a thing happen today.

I follow several elephant-related sites on Facebook (yeah, I know; big surprise), as well as a few zoos. Recently, one of those facilities posted a short video in which a snake swallows a pinkie mouse. For those unfamiliar with term, “pinkie mouse” describes a particular size and age of feeder mouse–those live or frozen mice fed to reptiles and amphibians. Although I’d never seen a snake eat a mouse, the video didn’t particularly shock or bother me. I’m one of those for whom the grittier side of Nature holds a certain allure. I was the kid fascinated by close-up photos in National Geographic of lions devouring antelope. I’m the adult who (when the vet expressed my dog’s anal glands and the pus flew into her hair) fell over laughing … along with the vet, who is one of the world’s totally cool human beings.

 

Anyway.

I was a little concerned that there was no comment attached to the video warning viewers of graphic images. As I said, I wasn’t bothered, but I’m sure there are those out there who would be, and they should have the option to pass on such things, or go forward knowing what to expect. Not everyone is into Nature. (More’s the pity.)

I got a response from another viewer basically telling me to shut up (her words), and chiding me for being so sensitive that I couldn’t deal with a little Nature. I responded with a “No need to be rude” and explained that wasn’t bothered, but that some people might be. And that’s as far as I’ll go. I won’t respond to anything else, but it got me to thinking.

We each have a right to react to things as we do. Someone may well be squeamish over the visceral side of Nature, or even traumatized by it. (Honestly, they may have very good reason. My mother grew up on a farm and routinely saw her step-father kill newborn kittens by throwing them against the wall.) But if someone is having difficulty with something, why not embrace that as a teaching moment, a way to introduce them to another facet of the fascinating world we are so lucky to live in? Instead of castigating someone for being overly-sensitive, why not take them by the metaphorical hand and explain why things happen as they do? Opportunities are lost because it’s so much easier to offer up a ration of shit than it is to consider another’s position and go forward with compassion.

Who knows … somewhere down the line, you might actually turn them into a Nature lover. And wouldn’t that be wonderful? The more people who care about our world, the better our chances for saving it and the countless species that call it home.

 

 

 

Ghost of Christmas Past

39Although the tryptophan/sleep myth has been debunked, there’s something about Thanksgiving that incites relatives to break out old hurts and vendettas with scripted regularity; an urge to pick the scabs off ancient wounds in their eagerness to get to the pumpkin pie. Maybe it’s the flow of alcohol, which often begins quite early, or maybe it’s the onus of having to spend protracted time in the company of people you’d rather lived at the bottom of a very deep and dark hole.

In any case, the opposite seems to be true at Christmas. The resentments are still there, but they bubble and sizzle just beneath the surface, keeping conversations spritely and people moving from room to room as they try to avoid one another. Maybe it’s the threat of Santa’s ever-watchful eye (not to mention those of the children, who see and hear everything), or that oft-repeated wish for peace on earth, but something about Christmas makes people behave just a teensy bit better than usual.

The same was true in our house. Mom hated Thanksgiving because it meant a day of cooking and a meal with relatives she couldn’t stand (Dad’s side of the family). In fairness, no one except my married eldest sister ever contributed a dish to the meal, so I can see Mom’s point of view. Christmas, on the other hand, was all about baking. Mom loved that … and all the trappings that came with Christmas. Having grown up dirt poor in rural Maine, about as far up in the state as you can go without getting a nosebleed, the chance to create the Christmas of her dreams proved irresistible.

Dishes of hard candy bright as jewels. Bowls of almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (what Dad called filberts), and walnuts waiting for the silver cracker to reveal the treasure hidden inside their shells. Peanut brittle. Homemade popcorn balls. Chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, and buttery cookie cutouts decorated with egg yolk paints and sprinkles. Pies galore—mince, coconut custard, apple, pumpkin, and pecan.

Nary a surface went undecorated. One year, little elves with folding legs (a precursor to today’s “Elf on a Shelf”) came with bottles of dish detergent. Mom collected them all and placed them throughout the house. Wreaths made of red cellophane hung in the living room windows, plugged into the baseboard below so the center candle in each case a red glow against the early winter darkness. A art deco-y candelabra with three electric tiers sat in another window. (I have it now, although at more than 60 years of age, its wiring makes it unsafe to light.) A balsam door wreath purchased fresh each year hung on the front door, tricked out with added decorations bought specifically for that use. On another door hung a long Styrofoam candy cane. And, of course, there was the tree—purchased two weeks before Christmas and decorated with lights, garland, bulbs (new then, antique now), a collection of what were called “Special Ornaments” (those that were particularly fragile or one of a kind), and the whole thing topped with tinsel icicles until the whole thing shimmered and swayed in the slightest breeze.

I served as the proud Licker of Stamps when Mom wrote out the cards, and served the same duty for the seals used to secure packages in place of cellophane tape and long before the advent of self-adhesives. The cards we received hung on the brick front of our fireplace, secured with curls of masking tape. When Mom wanted me out of the way (usually when wrapping my gifts), she’d set me up on a corner of the couch with a glass of ginger ale and the three immense holiday catalogs we received from JC Penny’s, Sears (“The Wish Book,” including 33 pages of dolls that I swiftly passed over), and Montgomery Ward to craft my list for Santa.

Music tied it all together. As soon as the Thanksgiving carnage had been swept away, out came the Christmas record albums, and that’s what we listened to exclusively as the anticipation swelled, until the day after Christmas when they were safely packed away once more. (For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “record albums,” Google it.)

We owned several holiday albums: Ferrante and Teicher, Sandler and Young, Roger Williams, Mario Lanza, Ken Griffin, and others. My favorites were a series of records produced by Firestone. Yup, the tire folks. A bit of quick internet research revealed that there were seven of these albums, although we owned only three. They featured the likes of Julie Andrews, Vic Damone, Roberta Peters, and others, and were beautifully engineered considering they cost probably one dollar apiece at the time. For me, these album were Christmas.

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But time passed. I grew up and moved away from home. My parents graduated from albums to cassette tapes, to 8-track tapes, and finally to CDs. The old albums were packed away. When my parents moved, a series of garage sales cleaned out the old house in preparation for the shift.

Dad died in 2012. After a bit of “shuffling” (the best word I can use for it at this point without initiating incendiary excuse-hurling by certain individuals), my husband and I moved Mom in with us. Once again, this time with sad finality, their house was packed up, cleaned out, sold. I discovered the Christmas albums in the basement, tucked beneath the counter of what would have been bar, in what would have been a rumpus room, had my parents either drank or raised rumpuses.

I brought them home with the idea that “one of these days” I would break out my old turntable and receiver and give them a whirl. When I did, I discovered that the drive belt on the turntable had desiccated into a dozen pieces. I finally located a replacement belt, and the speakers went on the fritz. New speakers, and now it was the receiver’s turn to die. In frustration, I shelved the project. After Mom died in 2015, I felt little desire for much of anything.

However, this year, we figured out how to connect the ancient turntable (coming up on its fortieth birthday) to our very modern Bose outfit, and voila!

We’ve a stack of vinyl between us—Rolling Stones and Rush, the soundtracks to The Magic Show and The Muppet Movie, Marc Bolan and Robin Williamson, among others—but I saved the Christmas albums for when I was alone. Yesterday, I played Volume 4 of the Firestone albums

Yeah, I cried. For the past, for my Mom and her deep love of Christmas, for what might have been and wasn’t, but mostly for the shine those old memories still possess.

A Holiday Fat in Elephants

How lucky am I?

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A lousy picture of this most wonder antique pin, which currently resides on my bulletin board because I don’t trust the clasp.

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A bell-laden parade of pachyderms

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A closeup of same

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Wee brass Ganesha

I also received a lovely elephant Christmas ornament, but neglected to photograph it before packing away the holiday things. (Sorry, Nina.)

Our house is a bit drafty in winter (whose isn’t?) and sometimes my hands get cold as I’m working at the computer. Friend, little brother, confidante, and fellow writer John Valeri found me the perfect solution:

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Peter Pan themed writing gloves!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season however you celebrate (or even if you don’t). Now, let’s get writing!

 

Revitalizing

Ilittle-me‘ve been away for some time due to my husband’s surgery and, well, a need to step back and look at the work I do as a writer and my involvement in social media. I’m not one to jump on every new social media site and, in fact, find many of them difficult at best or wholly unsatisfactory at worst. I’m endeavoring to discover what works for me, which sites I enjoy (which will encourage me to post to them regularly), and seeking out what I have to say that might be of worth to others.

Have you experienced something similar? What have you found works for you … and doesn’t work for you? How do you manage the time-sink of updating sites regularly without cutting drastically into your writing time or interrupting it altogether?

I’m also looking into marketing tools that I’m comfortable using and will impact my writing in a positive way. This is a one-woman operation here–like many of you, I have no “staff,” so it’s all up to me (and perhaps a few willing friends) to pass along word of my work. I’m seeking that fine balancing point where I am doing enough of the business of being a writer without having the work suffer.

The battle continues.

Contest Finalist

IMG_6967

I’m very proud to announce that my story “Last Call” was finalist in the F(r)iction Summer 2018 Contest.  This has particular poignancy for me, as the story was written in response to my mother’s battle with dementia and a particular question she once posed to me.

Congratulations to fellow finalist George Michelsen, and winner Kyra Simone!