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.

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

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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!

Story Published

Veg PulpI’m always delighted when I can report the appearance of a new story. One of my latest–“Reclamation”–appears in the latest issue of Wild Musette. 

“After the call came with the news of her father’s death, Bryn stood on her apartment stoop three thousand miles away, sipping a tepid beer, and stared at the Cascades rising against the sky. Images from the past played against the line of mountains. Her chest felt empty, hollow as the Tin Man of Oz. Not with grief, but with its absence.

“She didn’t attend the funeral, not even as a distant spectator hidden behind the line of trees at the rear of the cemetery. When the lawyer contacted her a week later to say that she–Bryn–was sole beneficiary of the small estate, she felt  nothing, certainly not gratitude. She’d stayed away for ten years. What did any of it matter?

“She considered hiring an agent to assess the value of what had been left and auction it off. Any proceeds could be donated to LGBTQ rights or some other charitable organization her father would have loathed. Instead, she booked a flight she couldn’t afford, packed a small bag, and headed east.”

What prompts Bryn to follow that long line into the past, and what does she discover when she arrives there? To find you, order your copy of Wild Musette here. 

And, as ever, thank you.

Go, Simon & Schuster!

Also from The Authors Guild:

“On August 13, for the second time this year, President Trump’s counsel sent a letter demanding that a publisher cease publication of a book criticizing his presidency. Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Omarosa Manigault-Newman’s book Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, refused to be cowed by the unsupported allegations that the book contains “confidential information and disparaging statements.” The publisher stated that it “will not be silenced by legal threats grounded in vague allusions.” In January, Henry Holt/Macmillan similarly refused to submit to a cease and desist letter alleging that Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury defamed Trump and instead moved the publication date up. We know how that went—the publicity around Trump’s attempt to quash the book quickly propelled sales and the book went on to become the top best-selling book of the year to date.

“So it is surprising and indeed shocking that the White House has thrown out another baseless threat of litigation. Not only is it unseemly for a sitting president to threaten a lawsuit to prevent criticism, but it is a clear violation of the First Amendment. As we said when Trump’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to block Fire and Fury, “The ability to criticize the government and its leaders lies at the essence of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech; and threats of libel lawsuits are one of the de facto primary means of curtailing free speech in this country today.”

“The Authors Guild firmly stands against the use of frivolous and baseless threats of legal action to prevent publication of a book or to insist that material should be deleted. It is an intimidation tactic of wealthy bullies who think they can use money to silence authors and publishers by cornering them into lawsuits—however baseless—which the authors and publishers may lack the means to defend. To stop this unwarranted attack on speech and defend the right of authors and journalists to write freely and without fear, the Authors Guild has lobbied and litigated against the expansion of invasion of privacy and rights of publicity claims to journalism and books on topics that concern the public, and we have supported anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws recently introduced in a number of states to stop the practice of misusing the legal system to muzzle criticism. The Guild’s legal department also regularly counsels members on First Amendment issues and educates authors on their rights with respect to libel laws so they will not be cowed into self-censorship.

“While it is bad enough for celebrities and other wealthy individuals to use threats of defamation and related lawsuits to restrain speech, when this kind of stunt emanates from the President, who has a duty to protect the Constitution—and not just once, but twice in one year—it is truly shameful. As Authors Guild President James Gleick has said, “This president cannot stand criticism, and he continues to lash out—against the free press, against his own intelligence community, and now against the publication of a book. He is behaving like a petty despot. This is the second time he has used the power of his office in an attempt to intimidate a book publisher, and we repeat what we said the first time: This isn’t a country where we quash books that the leader finds unpleasant. That’s what tyrants do.”

“We applaud Simon & Schuster for proceeding with publication despite the threats.”

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