Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Novel Facelift

I have been busy this past month giving The Subtlety of Light and Shadow, my one and only attempt at a romance novel (it actually earned some surprising mark in the Golden Hearts contest in 2015 earning a 10 of 10 from one judge -RWA) a facelift. First I tackled the interior copy. A Writer's Digest Self Published Book Award judge loved the two novels I submitted last year, but had a few words of advice about the interior layout. The judge said, "Lower the chapter headers on the page so they're more easily visible and defining. (Check) Watch verb tense (Check) Don't repeat things (well, mostly Check) So, with the interior copy cleaned up for it's debut as a second edition (there were some paragraph revisions, edits, and punctuation clean-up done during the process as well) I then decided to give it a color boost on the cover. The original background color was periwinkle blue to compliment the blue handle of the paintbrush. I studied the picture and decided to go with a shade of deep blush pink that compliments the color being mixed on the brush. It brightens the whole cover up, and makes it look more like what it is. I didn't want people on my cover. This is the story of a tortured artist and the young woman who becomes his muse the moment she applies for a job at his prestigious art gallery. He takes all sorts of risks to win the sweet young lady over, but Lucie is inexperienced and has a lot on her mind (like keeping her head above water, dealing with the nasty gallery manager and the equally nasty receptionist). She is the light, he lives in shadow. In the end, she illuminates him from within.

I love this book.

It will be back on the market by the end of the week.

(If you happen to own a blue cover first edition hang onto it as there aren't all that many of them out there!)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Telling An Old Friend That I'm An Author

I had a phone call from a woman in her early 90's with whom I used to work at a local office products, cards, and gifts shop that closed in 2007. I've known her since 1993 when I started working there and we're still friends. She knows I currently work in a medical office and she's dropped by to visit me there. We talk on the phone every couple of months. She has a degree of macular degeneration and no longer drives, has some vision issues, so I really haven't told her much about my books.

However, tonight she asked me what was new and I told her one of my novels had been shortlisted for the OZMA AWARD 2016, and she said, "Excuse me, what was that?" I then had to explain how I've been self-publishing the mountain of manuscripts, sort of excavating my dining room so that one day it may regain its former status as a functional room where people can sit down and eat at the table that really does exist under all those papery things stacked on it and around it.

Then she wanted to know how self-publishing works, how I got the typed pages I printed out into book form. I patiently explained how the computer file gets uploaded and then I design the book on a website and voila, I'm done and the book is out there in the marketplace and I can order copies, if I want them. I don't think she quite understood the process, but she was excited to know that some of the stories I used to hand her as printed out pages from the computer are now in book form.

She bought a copy of Yuletide Stories. I'm dropping it off at her house on Sunday and she's handing me a check. I told her "ten bucks" for my friends, but she insists she's paying me full retail for it. So, all my friends get one free book. My very best friends get one free book each time I publish a new book...they're the lucky less than a handful of people who have the entire library courtesy of kinship or close friendship. So, for my elderly friend, she's getting Always Christmas in My Heart as her free book, not only because she's always enjoyed my annual holiday stories, but because she happens to be mentioned along with my other former co-workers and boss from that little local shop downtown in the dedication (that's the volume where I think I listed just about everyone I know in the dedication just for the fun of testing my memory!)

I don't think that she quite believes the happy go lucky salesclerk she knew, the medical secretary she knows now, is actually an author with a book in the running for a well known award.

Yeah, well, sometimes I don't quite believe it either!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You Know You're a Writer When...

You know you're a writer when you dream about the characters and places that you've created and they seem very real.

I just started writing a new book the other day and before I woke up this morning I was having a dream about Dylan and Jade set in the efficiency apartment (a former motel room) where he lives- and I could see the tatty carpet, the sagging drapes, the general untidiness of a life lived in a single room. Every detail of that space was crystal clear and exactly how I had been picturing it in my mind. And then there were my characters come to life, interacting in that space.

This isn't the first time I've had vivid dreams about the places and characters that populate my books. And sometimes I've had a dream first and then woken up and used that house, building, location in the next story I write, able to describe even the smallest detail, like a crack in a fountain, a missing brick in a herringbone patterned brick walkway.

My muse, apparently, never takes time off, doesn't fuss about accrued vacation time he's earned and how he may lose that time off if he doesn't use it before the end of the year, or whether or not he can roll it over into the next year. Sometimes I think he's manic, just never shuts off, never winds down, never takes a break. Lucky for me I have a switch in my brain that can block him so I can work in the real every day world and do ordinary stuff like clean my house, and run errands. But, even when driving the less than four miles to work and back he's telling me stories, giving me ideas.

I very, very rarely ever have a day when I have no ideas in my head. And apparently, I very seldom have a night when my dreams aren't full of plot and character in true-to-life images and dialogue.

I am either or writer, or I have some high functioning form of insanity.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What Do You Do When You're Supposed to Be Tackling Projects?

What do you do when you're supposed to be tackling projects?

Rhetorical question in this house- you start writing a new story.

Yeah...this is going to get stuff done.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Supporting Local Authors

Had a great time this morning while attending local author Glen Ebisch's author event at Blue Umbrella Books in downtown Westfield, MA. He did a program on 10 Mystery Writers who more or less created/impacted the genre which was very interesting and informative. Glen is a former (I believe) philosophy professor and has a relaxed, down-to-earth manner of speaking to an audience from all his years as a professor. He writes what he calls "edgy/cozy" mysteries featuring female protagonists. I have a number of his books in my personal library.

At the event, an author friend with whom I will be working in the near future on a mystery novel, sat beside me. Like students in a classroom, when something Glen said struck me and made me think of something we could use in the soon to be written book, I snatched my friend's program outline right out of his hand and quickly jotted down the thoughts that had come into my head from what we had just heard Glen speak about. I then handed him his papers back and a few moments later earned a nudge of his elbow to let me know he liked the ideas. (Being the age that I am, if I don't make notes when I think of something I tend to forget because there is way too much else going on in my head!) I also scribbled the same note on the back of my outline copy as a back-up (notes are my auxiliary brains!)

I had a nice chat with Glen afterward. I'm not really working on anything new at the moment (although voices are clamoring in my head to tell their stories!), however, I am backtracking and cleaning up interior copy issues at the suggestion of a Writer's Digest judge who didn't like my starting chapters near the top of the page, so I'm lowering them in the novels I've published so far, one by one- a tedious project, but I take good advice when it's given, and like to get things done in a timely manner. I then told him I have five novels on the dining room table cooling their pages while awaiting my further attention. And then I told him many of my novel and story ideas start with a house that is based on a house I've seen somewhere that's caught my eye and interest as a potential setting for a novel or story. Characters come second to populate the house and plot. That's just my quirk.

While at the bookstore I bought a copy of Glen's new book, Stormy Weather. On the way toward the exit, I spotted Shawn Flynn's The Kitty Who Rescued Me After I Rescued Him displayed on the upcoming events shelf and snagged a copy. He was just in Broadbrook, CT at bookclub bookstore &  more, but I didn't make it down there. He'll be at Blue Umbrella Books on March 11th, so I'll attend his event here in town and then have him sign the book for me. It's about a rescue/stray cat he bonded with. Having owned nothing but rescue cats since 1994 I can relate to how these cats come into your life and change it for the better.

I'm also looking forward to Jacquelyn Lynch's author event on March 18th from 3-4PM when she talks about her new book, Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain:70 Years of Summer Theatre on Mount Tom, Holyoke, Massachusetts. I grew up on the Easthampton side of Mount Tom, used to hike all over up there when I was a kid and into my 20's, and took Kelly hiking there when she was younger (until we ran into a scary guy on a trail near the lake a couple of years prior to the microburst that shredded the Easthampton side of the mountain. He kept apologizing to us, saying, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry for what I did to you!" when he hadn't actually done anything. We didn't hang around to wait to see if he was going to do anything!) I also went to Mountain Park on the Holyoke side when I was younger. I loved the merry-go-round! Kelly is interested in the history of Mount Tom for the Holyoke Street Railway Trolley cars that took passengers up the mountain from the park to the Summit House.

There's always something happening in Westfield!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Winter Colds

Well, it was bound to happen. I work in a multi=practitioner doctor's office, use the patient's bathroom in the suite I work in because it's the most convenient, and my co-workers, the medical assistants, have been sick. We all share the same kitchen facilities, employee entrances and exits and hang over one another's desks and cubicle walls...the plague has found me once again. I wear auto-immune suppression like a glowing badge upon my chest, making it easy for the germs to find me.

I do not play the victim well.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What it Feels Like to be Shortlisted

I am a drop of milk in a glass bottle when I submit my novel, hopeful of rising above the sludge (slush pile) at the bottom.

I rise toward the top of the bottle as my novel is named a finalist.

Being shortlisted (short list semi-finalist) is like reaching the bottom layer of the cream at the top of the bottle.

Now, my novel has to push through the cream (all the semi-finalist's novels) to reach the top of that layer in the bottle to attain one of the coveted five first place category positions.

At the very top of the bottle, pushing the lid off is the position of Grand Prize Winner.

I still have a ways to go with Black King Takes White Queen

Saturday, February 11, 2017

OMG! Black King Takes White Queen made the Short List!!

Received an email this afternoon informing me that Black King Takes White Queen made the Short List for the OZMA Book Awards! I am so excited that this book which I love so much has made it this far in the contest!
If you like magical realism and urban fantasy please read this book.

#CAC17, #SeriousAuthors, #OZMAShortlister, @ChantiReviews

Magical Realism

The previous post is the story I will be reading tonight, February 11, 2017 at Blue Umbrella Books during the Ghost Stories LIVE! Boo! My Valentine event. 

I've written several books that Kelly has labeled urban fantasy, but now I'm thinking my stories are more magical realism than urban fantasy, or maybe a hybrid blend of both genres?

I 'm also thinking about a new book of all ghost stories in the Miss Peculiar's Haunting Tales series. I have about 13-14 ghost stories kicking around the house, some published in other volumes like Miss Peculiar's Haunting Tales, Vol I & Vol III, and 13. Maybe they should have a book of their own?

Another snowy morning here in western Massachusetts. Kelly and I are going to see the glass artist early this afternoon at Blue Umbrella Books and then run some errands. Despite the recent nor'easter and last night's additional snowfall, I'm hoping for a good turnout tonight for Ghost Stories LIVE!

STORY Prophetic Justice


Elenora Grimshaw sat at the bare wooden table in the farmhouse kitchen, her slender hands folded around the teacup, staring down into the dregs of sodden tea leaves adhering to the translucent porcelain interior. Having read the leaves, a skill she had inherited from her great-grandmother, she continued to mull over their meaning, seeking the true message being revealed therein. Fortune telling was for gypsies. Witches read the signs and made of them what they would, but there were multiple layers to every reading. She was trying to interpret the deeper meaning of this message.

A slim knife with an elaborate silver handle and an elegantly curved hilt was laid on the table alongside her right arm. The left sleeve of her white peasant blouse was then pushed back to her elbow. She turned her head, tilting it back to look up at the man who had provided the knife and adjusted her sleeve. Her eyes, the color of a storm-tossed sea, met his dark eyes. He said nothing, but his eyes, after a moment, moved from hers to the knife. She returned her attention to the item he was now looking at. Letting go of the still warm cup, she lifted the knife then raised her left hand, upon which she wore a gold ring, turning it palm up, holding it above the cup. Swiftly, she slashed the tip of her ring finger, turning her hand and allowing the ruby red blood to spilling into the bottom of the cup.

A dish towel landed on the table, having been tossed there from behind her. She grabbed it with her right hand and used it to staunch the flow of blood from her fingertip, pulling both of her hands back close to her breast as she gazed down into the cup. Her blood covered the bottom of it, black tea leaves buoyant as miniscule ships upon the surface of the tiny red sea. “A traveler from another place far distant from us approaches,” she said, her voice quiet. “Within the bowels of his ship he carries damnation. He shall arrive here in due time. He shall bring eternal death upon this house. Someone who dwells within these walls shall be taken from us, shall be wrenched from this world and made to suffer for what they have done while living here.” Behind her, the young man made a snorting nose by blowing air through his nose in derision. “The leaves speak of lies that have wounded, a betrayal of love, and a dire end.”

Abruptly, she stood up, pushing past him, going to the sink. She turned on the cold water tap, unwrapped her left hand and held her finger beneath the frigid water. The water ran pink into the deep sink, gurgling down the throat of the drain. “I suppose he’s coming for me,” he said from where he was now leaning against the counter.

She gave him a sidelong glance then pulled her hand back from under the tap to examine the wound. It wept another ruby tear that bled into a droplet of water before spiraling down the length of her finger and into her cupped palm. Blood and water, the liquids of life, she thought before shaking her hand, rinsing it again, then grabbing the towel and wrapping her hand in the cleanest corner of it. “You could get me a bandage if you’ve nothing better to do,” she told him.

“I’m not your servant,” he replied, remaining where he was.

She turned from the sink, flinging the bloodstained towel at him as she began to cross the room. Behind her he cried out and she heard the towel land on the floor. She would pick it up later.

Finger bandaged, she made her way through the house to the front hall, opening the interior door and looking out through the fine mesh of the screen door. Little bits of gossamer insect wings silently twitched in the slight breeze, catching the flat sunlight so they looked as if they were flashing semaphore messages. Messages to the ship, perhaps? He is here! He stands within! Come and fetch him! Carry him away to Death’s shattered shore! A slight smile curved one corner of her mouth.

A flash of red caught her eye—a cardinal sailing past from east to west. Chasing the sun, the thought. But then she heard the strident cries of an angry jay, saw the cardinal circle back. It was protecting a nest she realized. The female must be out foraging for food while her mate kept an eye on the egg nestled in the bottom of the nest. The jay was nothing but a thief come to snatch it away.

“Life and death,” he said from the shadowy hallway behind her, having come from the kitchen. “Death and life.”

“No, from death there is never life renewed,” she replied.

“How do you explain me?” he asked, his voice nearer. A shiver ran down her spine as a glossy black crow fluttered noisily to the lawn at the bottom of the porch steps, wings sounding like bed sheets flapping on the line. It cocked its head, regarding her through one curious, dark eye.

“An anomaly,” she answered, watching the crow that was now looking all around as if expecting company at any moment. But there was nothing else moving outside, the cardinal and the jay having moved far off into the trees to continue their bitter battle over the egg. “You’re just an anomaly, is all.”

“You summoned me,” he said, his voice quiet.

“I did no such thing,” she responded, which was true enough. How he had returned she did not know. But she knew how to remove him from the house. “Your master is on his way here at this very moment to claim you once more.”

“He is not the master of me!”

“So you think. So you say. So you believe.” She looked away from the crow toward the road as if a black coach and four would be arriving at any moment. She would throw open the door and welcome the black shrouded figure that descended to the road and strode up the brick walkway, wielding a flashing blade.


“Hush!” She started as something jabbed her shoulder. Twisting herself around, she found him standing just behind her, the silver-handled knife in his hand held at the height of her shoulder. “Put that down!” she said, her voice sharp with both anger and alarm.

“Til Death do us part,” he said. “Curious phrase, that, don’t you think?” His dark eyes met hers as he cocked a dark brow, quirked a half smile. Still trying to charm her, was he?

“I was errant in thinking burial would set me free. I should have paid stricter attention to the ashes to ashes, dust to dust advice of the elderly priest who saw fit to attend the funeral and murmur his pious mumbo-jumbo within earshot of us all.” Cremation, in hindsight, may have been the better choice for this one. “The earth, obviously, could not hold you.”

His smile widened. He was a handsome devil, she had to give him that. With a quick move he stabbed the blade of the knife deeply into the door frame close to where her ear was at present. It made her jump because it had been unexpected. She thought he may have been better served by plunging it into her breast, if it was revenge that he was after. Instead, he took her left hand in his two hands with surprising gentleness. There was still a faint bloodstain in her palm that he rubbed with the pad of his left thumb. His eyes were now focused on that bloodstain. It resolutely remained despite his rubbing at it. “I can’t believe you killed me, although I probably deserved it.”

“You did deserve it,” she acknowledged, her voice quiet.

“I could kill you for that.” She was silent. His eyes rose from their hands to meet hers again. “But, it turns out that I’m a much better person than people thought I was.” He shook his head with a look of incredulity upon his face now. “It turns out that I really did love you.”

“You had a peculiar way of showing that.”

“I thought I’d have plenty of time to make it all up to you. But you punched my ticket before we reached Happily Ever After and I was thrown off the train in Dearly Departed.”

“Newly Departed,” she amended. “You had hardly endeared yourself to me.”

“But you married me.”

“Love had nothing to do with that.” She felt the tremor in his hands that still held her hand. “I wanted this land.” All traces of wry mirth, boyish charm, and professed love abruptly dissipated from his countenance. A dark fury was brewing, like a thunderhead, in his eyes. Behind her, she heard the flapping of a multitude of wings as the crow was joined by others. A murder of crows, that’s what they called it. She leaned back against the screen door as if unaware that she was standing so close to it. “This land is powerful, Rowan. This land is deeply imbued with magic, but it takes the right sort of witch to summon that power and command it.” His eyes shifted to the knife protruding from the door frame. She thought he was now contemplating freeing the blade and plunging it into her breast. More than likely, she deserved that from him. But, as he reached for the silver handle, she stepped backwards out onto the porch, holding the door open with her body as she made an odd clicking sound low in her throat. “He’s yours!” she cried as the first crow launched itself from the lawn and soared onto the porch and then through the open door.

Elenora was buffeted by the rush of flapping wings and solid bodies that flew past her. In the hallway, Rowan screamed, first in outrage, then in terror, and finally in agony as the crows tore apart and devoured his soul. She moved around behind the door, continuing to hold it open so the crows, when finished with their dreadful labor, could depart. Her face felt hot from the brush of so many wings against her skin. Later, when she went into town, she would explain the redness away as sunburn, say that she had been gardening and had forgotten to wear her hat.

When the last crow had departed the hall, she stepped back into the house. There were six glossy black feathers lying on the wide plank floor. She bent down to pick them up, gathering them in her right fist like a bouquet. Turning back to the screen door, she saw a solitary crow standing on the brick walkway observing her. She nodded to it as she grasped the silver handle of the knife, tugging it free of the wood. “And that is how one removes a bothersome spirit from this house,” she told the crow. It gave a raucous caw, like the laugh of a demented elderly man, before bowing its head to acknowledge her, and then raising its wings, taking a few quick steps, and launching itself into the air.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

STORY The Gray Lady

The Gray Lady by Susan Buffum

A bloodcurdling scream wrenched me out of a dead sleep. Flinging the bedcovers aside I leapt out of bed and ran barefoot out into the hallway of the Victorian house my husband and I had recently purchased and were in the process of renovating. A small figure in pale gray darted along the dark hallway, vanishing into the gloom at the far end. “Victoria!” I called, thinking it was our six-year old daughter fleeing a mouse or some such creature that had startled her out of sleep.

“Mommy!” came the quavering cry of a frightened child from her bedroom to my left.

I turned the embossed brass knob. For a moment nothing happened, but then the latch gave and I was able to push the door open and enter the room. My feet were already growing cold from contact with the thinly carpeted floor. The house had steam heat, provided by a behemoth H.B. Smith boiler in the dank, dreary basement. The heat did not penetrate into the hallways, especially at night when our doors were closed against random wintery drafts prevalent in poorly insulated New England homes. Proper insulation installation was on our To Do list of home improvements.

I fumbled for the outdated push button light switch, finding it with chilled fingertips and pressing it. High overhead dim bulbs began to glow in the antique light fixture that must have been installed when the house was converted from gaslight to electricity back around the turn of the twentieth century.

Victoria was huddled beneath her Disney princess comforter, just her wide eyes and button nose visible. “There was a lady in my room!” she whispered, her eyes full of fear and worry as if she were afraid of what my reaction to this pronouncement would be.

My eyes scanned the room, every dim corner and shadowed angle where furniture met walls. “I don’t see anyone in here,” I said. Walking over to her closet, I tugged open the door, peering into the narrow space. The closets in this house were not deep, but they extended for some distance left and right with wrought iron hooks jutting from the wall every six inches or so. I saw nothing but small hangers displaying limp shirts and folded over pants. Her sneakers and shoes were neatly lined up undisturbed on the bare wood floor. The games and toys on the shelf above the long row of hooks were in order. I swung the door closed as I turned back to the bed, my mind flashing an image of the figure I’d seen, or thought I’d seen, fleeing down the hallway. “There’s no one here,” I said. “No one in the closet.”

“Look under the bed!” she whispered, her eyes imploring me to do so.

The last thing I wanted to do was kneel on the cold floor to peer into the dust bunny haven beneath her antique double bed, but I’d signed that  Mommy contract the day I’d given birth to this child promising that I would be the best mother possible, so I dropped to my knees, lifted the bed skirt, and looked underneath the bed. “Hand me your flashlight,” I said, reaching a hand up. I heard her shift as she drew the mini Maglite from beneath her pillow. The icy cold aluminum hit the palm of my hand, making me shudder. I twisted the head of the flashlight, producing a bright, blue-white LED beam of light. I swept the beam of light from side to side and saw nothing but her missing pink slipper resting askew dead center beneath the bed. She may have kicked it there, but I didn’t see how a child’s small foot could have gotten that distance on carpet while merely climbing into bed. I’d have to get the yardstick and push it out in the morning. “Nothing there but your missing slipper,” I reported as I climbed to my feet.

“No lady?”

“No lady. It’d be a tight squeeze under there for anyone but one of Santa’s elves,” I assured her. “You were probably dreaming about a lady and woke up imagining you saw one.” We had watched Little Women last night, the one with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder that had been partially filmed at nearby Historic Deerfield. I’d been telling Victoria, as I’d tucked her in, that we’d have to take a drive along the village street to see if we could spot any of the house exteriors used in the movie. “Maybe it was Marmie or Jo, Beth or Amy checking on you. They weren’t scary, were they?” Victoria shook her head, but shrugged at the same time. Uncertain about that. “All right then. Do you need to use the bathroom? Do you want some water?” She shook her head no twice. “Okay, lie back and let me get you tucked in snug as a bug in your bed and we’ll try to go back to sleep. Daddy’ll be coming home tomorrow. We have to drive all the way down into Connecticut to meet his plane.” I was glad he was flying into Bradley this time. I hated driving into Logan at holiday time. “Give me a kiss and then close your eyes.” I leaned down so she could kiss my cheek. I turned my head and kissed her warm, soft cheek, tucking the covers beneath her chin. “Get some sleep. We have a busy day ahead of us. Remember? We’re making gingerbread men before we go to the airport?” She nodded. “Close your eyes and dream about gumdrop buttons, raisin eyes, white icing smiles, cinnamon red hot noses.” I touched the tip of her nose with my finger and she giggled. “Daddy loves those!”

I left her room, relieved to see the smile at the corners of her mouth as I pressed the button to extinguish the overhead light. Softly I closed the door and headed back to bed. But as I approached the master bedroom a rush of cold air came along the hallway, circling my ankles. I stopped, shivering, looking down, but of course I couldn’t see much f anything in the dark hallway, only a bit of blue moonlight through the windows at either end of the hall.

I heard a rustling noise and what I thought was a muffled voice. Looking over my shoulder I noticed the light from the window at the far end of the hallway was blocked by a black rectangle. One of the doors to an unused room stood open out into the hallway. I remembered that the bedroom doors opened inward as I started toward the open door. This then was the door to the attic stairway which opened out into the hallway because it couldn’t open inward against the bottom stair. “Great,” I muttered to myself as I drew nearer the door. It felt even colder this close to the attic stairway. All the wintry air from the unheated attic was rushing down the staircase, flooding the hallway as the meager heat of the hall fought its way upward toward the attic.

I reached the door and tried to swing it shut, but it wouldn’t budge. Frowning, muttering about old hinges in desperate need of WD40, I pushed harder against the door and still it wouldn’t move. Annoyed now, I stepped around the door to tug on it from the other direction. As I came around the door I heard a rustling sound on the staircase. Turning my head I caught a fleeting glimpse of a pale form disappearing at the head of the staircase. “Hey!” I called. Had someone broken into the house? It was not unheard of, especially this close to Christmas when people with very little were desperate for money to buy holiday gifts for their families. There’d been several daytime break-ins in the area during the past few weeks. I’d been reading about them in the police log in the newspaper. “Hey! I know you’re up there! I’m going to call the police!” I had one hand on the door. With my free hand I was feeling around for the light switch, another push button one, that would turn on the bare bulbs in two sockets screwed into cross beams high up in the rafters overhead.

As my finger connected with the button and pressed I heard an indistinct female voice and then the sound of something falling with a soft thud above me. A girl? A young woman maybe? Victoria had said there’d been a lady in her room. In the dark she could have mistaken a young woman in a knit cap for an older woman, I supposed. “I’m coming up there! If it’s money you want there isn’t any in the house. There’s nothing of any great value here. We’ve only just moved in last month. We’re still unpacking the POD. Just come out and we’ll go downstairs. I won’t call the police if you’re alone and just looking for money. Everyone goes through difficult times. I’ll give you what I have in my purse if you’ll just go peacefully.”

I crept up the staircase, hugging the dust-furred plaster wall that still bore some scraps of brittle wallpaper. The wallpaper flaked off, raining softly down onto the bare wooden risers as I brushed against the ragged strips. Above me I heard nothing, although my ears strained for the sound of someone breathing.

My head came level with the floor of the attic. I peered over the edge of the floor into mostly empty space. There were a few sagging cartons, a number of empty picture frames leaning against the bare walls, a three-legged chair, a small pile of scrap lumber from some previous repair job. The bare bulbs cast sickly yellow spheres of weak light onto the dusty floor. I did not see any footprints in the dust.

I turned and glanced in the opposite direction, my heart leaping into the back of my throat as I caught sight of a wide-eyed woman staring back at me from a pale face. It took me a few moments to realize that it was only my own reflection in a mirror that had lost much of its silver backing giving the image a flat, ghostly appearance. A soft chuff of relieved laughter escaped through my nose.

But then a shuffling noise brought me up short. It had come from further back behind the mirror that was evidently propped up by some other left behind carton, box or small piece of furniture. I stared hard into the gloom where the light did not penetrate and thought I saw movement there. “All right! I see you! Come over into the light and let me get a look at you! Just walk slowly forward. No one has to get hurt here tonight. I just want you to leave my house, to leave me and my daughter alone.”

My house! hissed a voice that sounded as if someone was standing right beside me talking in my ear. I jumped. Get out!

An object came flying out of the shadows and struck me hard on the forehead, then fell onto the stair near my left foot. I bent my head and looked down to try to identify what it was that had hit me. Something else struck me, on the crown of my head this time. “Hey!” I cried, retreating down one riser. Another object brushed across my shoulder, skidding across the floor behind my head. “Stop that!” These were chunks of brick! She was throwing pieces of broken brick from the chimney at me! “Hey!” I cried again as a nearly whole brick came dangerously close to landing on my bare foot. “Are you crazy!”

Get out! The voice cried angrily. Get out of my house!

I fled down the stairs, punching the button to extinguish the light. Glancing back over my shoulder I saw a gray form at the top of the attic stairway, and then three bricks came tumbling noisily down the stairs. Grabbing the door, I swung it shut, hearing the brick lands up against the door on the bottom stair. “Victoria!” I shouted as I ran down the hallway. “Victoria!”

My daughter and I spent the remainder of that night in a room at the Homewood Suites near the mall in Holyoke, driven from our home by a mad old phantom woman with a heck of a pitching arm! I wasn’t sure if my husband would believe me about there being an angry ghost in the house, but I did have a vivid bruise on my forehead. And I was certain the bricks would be lying at the bottom of the attic staircase if he looked. He’d be angry and upset about the change of holiday plans, but I was taking Victoria to my parent’s house. She and I were not going back to that old house—ever!

Copyright Reminder

All material published on this blog is copyrighted and remains solely the property of the author. Permission is necessary to use anything, be it a story or a regular post published here for any purpose whatsoever. Permission requests can be emailed to me at sebuffum415@gmail.com

STORY The Little Gray Ghost

The Little Gray Ghost by Susan Buffum

Bartholomew, the grave digger, blew his nose into a dirty rag that had once been some fine gentleman’s linen handkerchief, but was now much the worse for wear. He tucked it into the pocket of his shabby coat then pulled on the gloves his wife had knitted for him two years ago. There were holes through which his fingers stuck out like blind white worms poking their heads above the brown soil. The cuffs were unraveling, yet he would not discard these gloves until they were nothing but strands of tatty wool. They were the last Christmas gift he’d gotten from Lydia. She’d died before spring had arrived that year, her lungs weakened by chronic cough and congestion.

“Time to go dig that grave,” he said aloud as he reached for the old shovel leaning against the wall of the caretaker’s shack. It was late in the afternoon to be starting this task, but he’d had a terrible night, plagued by uneasy dreams. Therefore he’d been late this morning, and then there’d been that business about the disturbed grave site of the young woman they’d buried three weeks ago. Her beau had come to put fresh flowers on her grave and found the soil churned up with signs of digging. The constable had been summoned. Although he’d thought it merely the mischief of wild animals he’d had to dig the grave out and open the coffin. He hated having to open the coffins. He hated disturbing the dead like that, but grave robbers were plying their gruesome trade throughout all the city’s cemeteries.

She’d been in her coffin looking as if she was merely asleep, her flesh yet uncorrupted by death. Her beau had turned away, making a terrible sound in his throat. The constable had nodded at him to close the coffin and refill the grave, which he’d done, but the young man’s grief at having seen the sweet face of his departed love once more had nearly torn his own heart apart.

“Looks like snow,” he muttered to himself as he trudged along the dirt lane toward the grave site he was to prepare. There’d be a funeral here tomorrow. He’d stand in the shadow of the mossy mausoleum, under the awning of evergreen boughs, well out of the way and watch the fine coach with its glass windows draped in black crepe, the tall black ostrich plumes fluttering at the four corner posts rocking its way along the rutted lane, the horses curried to a fine gloss with shorter black plumes stuck into their harnesses. It was a society funeral. He liked the somber pageantry of it all, but thought a simple wagon bearing his crude pine box to its final resting place, drawn by a sturdy cart horse, would be fine for the likes of him.

He turned his face up to the leaden sky draped low above his head. A few frosty flakes brushed his weather-worn cheeks before he ducked his head and applied himself to the shovel, digging into the nearly frozen top layer of ground, feeling the jolt of it running up through his arms to his shoulders. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, digging the graves, the gravediggers must,” he chanted as he dug, turning the soil to either side as he excavated deeper.

Time passed. The bells of St. Mark’s tolled five o’clock. The crystalline flakes continued to drift down dusting the ground and the shoulders of his coat. The cold made his nose, ears, and fingertips ache. With each shovelful of dirt he felt the weight of it strain his lower back, but doggedly he dug deeper. The grave had to be ready for tomorrow despite the sun having slipped lower and lower in the western sky, the hour growing late.

The air was redolent with wood smoke and the odor of raw earth. He paused to blow his nose again into the damp handkerchief, finding a usable corner. As he lowered the filthy rag his eye was drawn toward a dim, small, gray figure darting between the tall gravestones. He frowned. St Mark’s had just tolled a quarter to six. It was late for anyone to be wandering about the cemetery, especially a child, for that was the impression that he’d had—a child in a gray cloak.

His eyes searched the deeply shadowed area of the cemetery he could see above the piles of dirt. He was a good four and a half feet down inside the grave now, the dirt mounded up so he really couldn’t see all that much beyond it. Shaking his head, he stabbed the blade of the shovel into the ground, loosening another area, heaving the dirt up and out. As the tumbling of the soil and stones settled on the far side of the mound he thought he heard a voice, a child’s voice, and then a brief laugh. Again he raised his head and scanned the area, but he saw nothing moving.

It was growing even darker. All hint of the sun had bled from the sky leaving nothing but heavy charcoal clouds suspended below an utterly black pall. No stars shone through the gloom. No moon glowed overhead. He stabbed the shovel into the dirt and dug deeper, leaving himself some crude earthen steps by which to climb up out of the hole when he was done. As he neared the completion of his grim task he sensed someone standing behind and above him, spun around, and saw the form of a female child standing there. She was looking down at him, but it was far too dark to make out her features. “The cemetery is no place to play. It’s late. You’d best run along home now,” he said. “Your mother will be looking for you.” The child did not move. “I said, run along now. Off with you! Scat!”

She darted away. He leveled out the bottom of the grave and then climbed wearily out as the bells tolled the hour of seven o’clock. His shoulders and back ached from the arduous labor. The raw chill in the air had invaded his very bones. Turning back, he looked down into the deep, dark grave, nodding, satisfied with his efforts. Hoisting the shovel onto his shoulder, he began the trek back toward the caretaker’s shack, anxious to turn his toes toward home.

Only, once again, he saw the little girl in gray, now wandering among the graves as if dawdling. Why was she still there? He turned his head, looking for an adult figure. Had she accompanied her father or mother to the cemetery to bring flowers to a loved one’s grave?  Had she wandered off and was now searching for that family member? “Hello!” he called to her, but she kept walking among the graves.

He quickened his step, although he was tired and hungry for his supper. He just wanted to return the shovel to the shack, lock the door, and make his way home to the comfort of his rooms. Perhaps his landlady might have a bowl of hot soup and a crust of bread waiting for him. She was a kind woman who had been bringing him an occasional meal since Lydia had passed.

There she was again! “Hey, you! Girl! Wait a moment!” The child stopped, looking back over her shoulder at him. Yes, she was wearing a gray cloak, the hood of which was raised. He caught the curve of her cheek, the darkness of her eye as she studied him as he drew nearer. He thought it curious that she did not seem afraid of him. His coat and cap were dusted with snow. Dirt trickled with every step from his trousers and boots. He must appear to her to be no better than a beggar, yet she stood there watching him from inside her hood, no sign of apprehension about her. “Are you lost? Did you get separated from your mother or father?” he asked as he drew nearer. She said nothing in reply, only watched him. In the darkness, he could not make out whether or not she was frightened of him. He could not see the expression on her face, but still, she was not fleeing from him in terror. “What say I fetch the lantern from the shack and walk you to the gate. Perhaps the person you came with is waiting there hoping you’ll find your own way out.”

He was nearly to the place where she stood now. It was a fairly recent grave. He remembered digging it only too well. It had made him sad for it had been for a child—a little girl who had been trampled by a runaway cart horse. She’d been just four years old, about the same age as this small child who’d been left to wander on her own in the cemetery with darkness now fully upon them and the snow beginning to fall more heavily, the fine flakes having become thick and wet.

“Come along,” he said as he came between the gravestones. He held his hand out to her. “Take my hand. We’ll go put this shovel away. I’ll light the lantern and then we’ll have a little stroll through the snow to the gate, shall we? I bet Mummy is waiting anxiously there for you.” She held out her hand to him—a small, pale hand upon which she wore a little ring with a tiny stone. He curled his fingers, closing them around her hand—and was startled to close his hand upon nothing but cold air! “Good Lord!” he cried, for the child had simply vanished.

He looked all around, but there was no sign of her, no sound of small booted feet fleeing on the nearly frozen ground. He continued to turn in slow circles, looking and searching, shivering, squinting into the gloom of night, but there was no one there. No one at all.

And then he looked down, realizing that he was standing upon the grave of the dead child. He could barely make out the name on the stone, but he didn’t need to read the lettering. He knew her name. It was Mary Streeter. Little Mary Streeter, four years old. She was lying cold and dead six feet beneath this very ground upon which he stood.

A shudder rattled down his spine. He dropped the spade as he moaned with fear and then broke into a run toward the gate. He could not shake off the feeling that he was being followed, glancing over his shoulder every few yards, but there was nothing behind him, only the silent stillness of a winter’s night and the eerie black shapes of the gravestones.

It would be a long time before he remained in the cemetery that late again. And not until the fragile warmth of spring began to linger in the evening air was he finally able to bring himself to speak to anyone of the little gray ghost in graveyard.

Snow Day!

Western MA where I live is under a winter storm warning. Yesterday is was near 50 degrees and sunny. Today the snow has arrived as f6AM. With 1-3 inches per hour predicted, a foot of snow by noon, Kelly and I have chosen to stay home on the mountain since leaving when they have not even begun to think about plowing or sanding and salting is a foolhardy venture.

Therefore, today is a writing day!

Have just completed a revision of the text of Life Skills, cleaning up some punctuation oversights, and correcting one name I got wrong in the bonus Christmas story with the same characters that's included at the end. I had given Remy and Lissa's son one of his cousin's names in error in one sentence and just noticed that with a recent reread.

I'm also going back and starting chapters lower in the page as per the suggestion of a Writer's Digest judge from last year's Self Published Novel contest. I just started self publishing in the middle of 2015 when my primary goal was just to convert all the manuscripts cluttering my house to book form. I really didn't give much thought to interior aesthetics. I was more concerned about each separate interior element, not their placement on the age, but now I can go back and standardize them. The stories themselves have been well-received, and that was my primary goal- to put some entertaining stories out there for readers to enjoy. This year, while I have a number of novels in a holding pattern on the dining room table, I will go back and fix up the interiors, moving those chapter headings down on the pages in the novels, and making the individual story titles larger, and maybe starting them a little lower on the page. That was the basic issue that was pointed out from the judges. It's already been remedied in Black King Takes White Queen and Black Knight, White Rook, and 13, my three most recent books.

Using CreateSpace, I can pull my books, make the fixes I want to make and have the books back in the marketplace within three days- a very small blip on the radar. You just can't do that with major publishers and many other self publishing platforms. I like that independence and being able to continue to do little tweaks to my work if needed.

Lots to accomplish today- so I'd better get to it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Choice to Make

I just posted the two stories that I wrote for Ghost Stories LIVE! Boo! My Valentine. I'm on the fence about which one I'll read. Darling, Drink Your Wine was written in January for this event. Cold Spots came to me while I was ironing Sunday night and was written before I hit the hay that night.

Which one should I read at the event?

STORY Darling, Drink Your Wine

Drink Your Wine, Darling by Susan Buffum

The setting sun glints plum-red as he twirls the contents of his glass, mesmerized by the flashes of light in the liquid, lost in reverie. How many times has he sat here toasting the end of another day with Victoria beside him sipping her wine, watching the evening birds darting through the trees all flutter and twitter?

“Drink your wine, darling,” she murmurs, giving him a gentle nudge with her elbow.

“I was just thinking about the night the Harpers had that huge fight last summer. What a ruckus!” He shakes his head. “I’m glad we’ve never fought tooth and nail like that. Just little skirmishes. That’s all we’ve ever had. Forty-four years, Vickie, and no one’s ever called the cops on us.” He lowers his glass, staring down into the wine. It’s almost chameleon-like in its ability to mimic whatever it comes up against because now it looks bluish-purple held so close to the navy blue shirt he’s wearing. It’s a button down shirt, not a t-shirt. Victoria has always liked to see him dress up for dinner—nothing too dressy, just a button-down shirt, slacks, no tie, no jacket. And she’ll put on a simple little dress from her closet where she has about two dozen of them. That lady sure knew how to get the most from her wardrobe using different accessories with her dresses to give them a different look. She’s always been good about keeping within the budget. He on the other hand has always been more extravagant with his spending, something he now regrets because the house is full of stuff he really doesn’t need. Yet, she has never complained. “You know that brown pot I bought in Peru?” he asks, turning the glass around and around in circles on the small mound of his belly. He really isn’t obese, just ten or so pounds overweight. “I finally got around to donating it to Goodwill. I got sick of looking at the damn thing. You’ve been right all along. It really is the ugliest pot every created. I don’t know what possessed me to buy it.”

“Darling, drink your wine.”

“You know what my biggest regret is these days? That we never had any kids. I regret it, but at the same time I’m sort of glad it didn’t happen for us. You know Pete, that guy I used to work with? His wife Rita? They had, what? Five kids? I ran into him when I was buying this bottle of wine. He looked at least fifteen years older than me. If I remember correctly he’s about five years younger. Two of his kids are still living at home, and a third one’s trying to move back in with her two kids by two different fellows. They’ve all got issues. Looked as if he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months. Kind of made me glad the good Lord never blessed us that way, but He sure did in other ways. It left us plenty of time to do all things we wanted to do, didn’t it? We sure have done a lot of things, Vickie.” He lifts the glass and holds it so that it blocks the last of the sun as it begins to slip below the horizon. “Beautiful night,” he murmurs. “But it’s getting kind of chilly out here now. What do you say we move inside? Want to go lie in bed and watch something on TV? Not that there’s much worth watching these days. If I want to see people being loud and obnoxious I can just take a peek out the den window at the Harper’s house. Plenty of loud and obnoxious going on there.”

He makes a little grunt sound as he rises from the chair. “Come on, old girl. Let’s go inside and get comfortable.” He pauses at the kitchen door to let her precede him into the house from the three season room where they’ve been sitting since finishing dinner. He can’t help but admire her slim form. It’s always made his heart swell with happiness that he chose her and she was agreeable to marrying him. She’d been quite popular in high school. He’d been the bookish sort. Sports had made him wheeze. And he’d had those stupid glasses back then, the ones that kept sliding down his nose. But, she’d liked him anyway. He’d been the luckiest guy in town the night he’d asked her if she wanted to go for a soda after the basketball game and she’d smiled and said that would be lovely. It had been lovely. Every date with her had been lovely. She was lovely. Yes, he was a lucky man. He’d won her heart. She’d already had his from that very first time  she’d smiled at him in the hallway between classes their sophomore year. He didn’t know why it had taken him until halfway through senior year to work up the courage to ask her out.

In the bedroom he sets his glass down on the bedside table then eases his feet out of his loafers. When he turns, he sees Vickie lying on the bed. She gives him an enigmatic little smile. She’s wearing her hair like she used to wear it. He likes it like this. A pageboy. Makes her look thirty years younger. “TV or just a little…” He shrugs. “This and that.”

“Drink your wine, darling.”

“I will, I will.” He frowns slightly. “Where’s your glass, honey? Must have left it behind. I’ll just go get it. Hold on.” In stocking feet he returns to the darkened kitchen, slips out into the three season room to retrieve the still nearly full glass from the little wrought iron table. Bringing it inside, he returns to the bedroom, walking around the bed, setting it on her bedside table. “There you go, sweetheart,” he says as he goes back around the bed, sitting on the edge and then turning sideways, swinging his legs up, reaching behind him to prop the pillows against the headboard so he can lean against it. “We’ve had a great life, you and I, Victoria. A really great life. I couldn’t have asked for anything more, you know?” He turns his head and smiles at her. “You’re happy, aren’t you?” In return she smiles. He likes how her smile causes a little light to dance in the depths of her eyes. “I hate to say it, but I’m tired, Vickie. Tonight I’m damn tired. There’s this weariness that’s settled into my bones. I can’t take these winters up north anymore. We should have moved south when we had the chance that time, when Sam and Diane wanted us to go. Ah, well.” He reaches over and picks up his glass. Beside him Victoria sits up and reaches for her glass. “A romantic candlelit dinner with my gal, a beautiful sunset, and now a glass of wine to toast my favorite Valentine,” he says. “Lady, I love you.”  He gazes into her eyes for a long moment, his heart aching with love.

“Drink your wine, darling,” she murmurs as she lifts her glass.

He touches the rim of his glass to hers and then drinks the contents down, giving a little sigh as he sets the glass down on the bedside table. He adjusts his pillows. “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart,” he says as he lies back and closes his eyes.

“You want to call the ME and have him respond to this address? We found the resident inside. He’s gone. Looks like a suicide. There’s an empty vial of Oxycontin on the kitchen counter beside a nearly empty bottle of wine. Tom Harper, the neighbor who requested the wellbeing check says the guy lost his wife last fall. Guess he couldn’t live without her.” He turns to his partner who’s looking at the photo album that lies open on the empty side of the bed. “That his wife, you think?”

“Must be. She sure was a looker back in the day. Lucky guy.” He flips the album closed, nods to the untouched glass of wine on the bedside table. “You think someone was here with him?” he asks.

He doesn’t reply right away but finally says, “Yeah, I think someone was, but no one we can charge with assisting a suicide.”

They regard one another across the body on the bed, and then leave the room to go wait for the medical examiner’s van to arrive, neither one vocalizing the thoughts running through their minds. However, they both glance at the candles on the kitchen table, the unopened box of chocolates with the big pink bow, and the unopened card with the name Victoria written across the front of the envelope.

“You think he’s with her?” Pete asks as they step outside onto the front porch.

“I think so,” Joe replies as he lights a cigarette. “Yeah, I think he is.”

STORY Cold Spots

COLD SPOTS by Susan Buffum

Julia frowned as she slung the bag of groceries onto the counter, nearly knocking over the vase of red roses, baby’s breath, and ferns that had been delivered that morning, a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, then turned, hugging herself. “Adam! Did you turn the central air up again?” That man was impossible to live with, she was beginning to think as she strode across the room and into the hallway of the condo, stopping at the thermostat to check the temperature. Sixty-six. With her face etched with grim determination, she bumped it up to seventy and was satisfied to hear the flow of air from the ceiling vents abruptly stop. “That’s more like it. This place feels like a freakin’ meat locker!”

She returned to the kitchen and began unbagging the groceries. Tonight, they were having a lovely fish dinner whether he liked it or not. She was tired of red meat. He didn’t especially like fish, but if they were going to be married he’d just have to learn that she was not going to clog her arteries with fat. He was just going to have to suck it up and eat tofu and more fresh vegetables and fruits. She was also gluten intolerant. Although she had mucked all the gluten-laden products from his cabinets she’d noticed that there was once again boxes of assorted pasta and cereals on the shelves. The pantry was overdue for another cleaning out, but she’d have to wait for him to leave the house.

Leaving the house. She snorted with annoyance as she stashed juice and bottled water in the refrigerator. Adam seemed to have grown roots in the basement the past few weeks. He’d told her he was working from home. He had a small office down there between the laundry room and the mechanical room. The rest of the space was a sort of family/game room and a large storage closet. She didn’t like the basement and hardly ever went down there, except to do the laundry. There was a chest freezer in the laundry room. She’d opened it once, looked in disgust upon the frozen pizzas, burritos and other assorted bachelor foods, all rimed with frost from having been in there so long, then slammed the lid down in disgust.

A short time later, as she loaded the washing machine, she made a mental note to ask him again to empty the freezer and unplug it. They didn’t need it. She preferred to cook with fresh ingredients. Turning to leave the laundry room, she thought she saw Adam’s shadow in the game room. “You really need to empty this out,” she said as she stepped into the room. There was no one there, but she could hear his voice in his office. He seemed to be arguing with someone. That certainly was no way to woo customers, she thought as she headed toward the stairs to the first floor.

“I don’t understand why they want to reopen the case,” Adam said, distress in his voice. She stopped, her right foot on the first riser. Who was he talking to? “Virginia was declared dead. It’s been eight years since she disappeared. What’s to investigate? If she was still alive don’t you think she would have come home, or at least contacted me somehow? Nick, come on, you must be able to do something to put an end to this nonsense. Why disturb the past? Why bring up all that pain and suffering again? My wife vanished without a trace. It devastated me. I’ve only recently remarried. I’ve moved on. I just don’t understand why that Detective Goff can’t let sleeping dogs lie. You tell him he’s tearing my heart open all over again! You tell him he’s making me bleed!”

She bit her lip. He was talking to his lawyer, Nick Buoniconti. He was talking about her, Virginia, his second wife. He’d come home from work one summer evening to find the condo door unlocked, the windows open, as if she was letting in the summer breeze. He expected to find her in the kitchen, taking the steaks she had been marinating overnight out in preparation for him grilling them on the patio. Virginia had not been in the house. Her car had still been in the garage. There had been no sign of a disturbance, a struggle. The neighbors, when questioned had not heard anything unusual. Virginia had simply disappeared.

It had been thought that she’d run off with the man who did maintenance work for the complex. There’d been rumors that he was an over-friendly sort who was always watching the women, finding opportunities to make small talk with them. Adam had found that three thousand dollars had been withdrawn from the joint savings account. A teller had come forward and told the police that Mrs. North had come into the bank a week before her disappearance and withdrawn the money. She’d looked a little nervous, but when asked if she was taking a trip she’d replied that, yes, she was going away, but she hadn’t said where she was going. The teller said Mrs. North’s last remark was, “I just need to get away,” before she stuffed the money into her purse and left the bank.

Poor Adam, how he had suffered with his wife missing and his being under suspicion for a while, after the police had gotten nothing from the maintenance man. That man lived with his mother in a trailer park on the outskirts of town. She had attested that, while he may have been friendly with the ladies, he never would have done anything with them, he wasn’t like that at all. Why, he’d never even dated! If truth be told, he had a phobia of the naked female body. Why, he couldn’t even look at the ladies in their tiny bathing suits at the complex pool. He averted his eyes! They could verify that with anyone there! And they had.

She’d met Adam, she recalled as she climbed the stairs to the first floor, about two years ago. It was at the Paradise Club. She’d been having a cocktail with a co-worker after work and he’d come up to the bar and asked if he could buy them both a drink. Alison had had to leave. She had a husband waiting for her at home. But she had stayed, and he’d bought her a couple more drinks. They’d moved to a small table and chatted about this and that. He’d walked her to her car, asked if he could see her again, maybe take her to dinner or a movie? She’d agreed to a movie. He’d told her right up front that his wife had disappeared six years ago. He’d said she might come back, one never knew, but he was lonesome and needed a friend. They had dated for nearly a year, and she had spent the night only after the seventh anniversary of Virginia’s disappearance had passed. Three months later, he’d given her a ring. Two months ago, they had married.

“Brr!” she said as she climbed the staircase to the second floor where the bedrooms were. “There is definitely something wrong with the central air in this place! I’ll have to call the maintenance man tomorrow.”

She went into the bedroom thinking that she’d take a quick shower, put on fresh clothes. He liked it when she looked pretty. It was hot out. Shopping had made her feel like a wilted flower under a relentless summer sun. Stripping off her capris and t-shirt, she went into the bathroom, closing the door. She dropped her bra and panties into the hamper. She’d put on clean underwear when she dressed before going downstairs to start dinner.

A nice warm shower was just the thing. She had pinned up her blonde hair, but it got damp from the spray anyway, especially when she held her face under the shower head. Turning off the water, she slid open the shower door a crack and reached for her towel on the bar beside the door. “What the…!” Had he turned the central air up while she was in the shower? That man was impossible! The bathroom felt frigid as she briskly toweled herself dry and then wrapped the towel around her body. She was covered in goosebumps!

Stepping onto the bathmat, she shot a glower at the closed bathroom door, shaking her head, a slow burn of anger warming her blood, but not her body. She stepped to the counter and looked at the fogged over mirror, rolling her eyes. “Great,” she muttered. “Just great!” As she reached for the hand towel to use to scrub away the fog, the fog began to dissipate from the glass. “Well, that’s…” she began, but stopped. How could that even be possible? The air was still humid although chilled.

She studied the mirror. Slowly, her eyes became visible through the misty coating on its surface. She blinked, leaned a little closer over the counter. What was wrong with her eyebrows? Hadn’t she just had them waxed? They seemed thicker to her, darker. She lifted a corner of the towel to rub her right eyebrow then blinked, not once, but twice. The towel was still partially over her right eye, yet in the mirror she could see her entire eye. Both of them. They stared back at her without obstruction. She glanced sideways, lowering the towel and then looked back into the mirror. Her nose was now visible. Was her nose that long? No. She had a short nose. What in the world was going on with this mirror? Why was it so distorted? As she stared at her reflection, her reflection emerged more from the fog. Thin lips! She’d just gotten Botox three weeks ago! Her lips were plump and lush! Was she having some sort of allergic reaction all of a sudden? Is that why her lips were deflated looking, and everything seemed so off, so cold…so damn cold!

Valentine’s Day…beware!

Julia jumped, gasping. The woman’s voice had sounded as if she was speaking right into her left ear. Her head turned, but there was no one there. “Too much heat and sun,” she rationalized, pulling the towel more firmly around herself. She glanced into the mirror and was relieved to find her own face there. “I need something to drink,” she murmured as she opened the door and stepped out into the bedroom. The bedroom felt much warmer and she relaxed, the goosebumps diminishing.

“Julia? Are you home?” It was Adam calling up the stairs.

“I’ll be right down! I’ll start dinner in a few minutes!” She had put on her underwear and was stepping into jeans. Even though it felt warmer to her, she couldn’t trust him not to nudge the temperature control down again to sixty-whatever! Grabbing a long-sleeved t-shirt, she pulled it on over her head, slipped her feet into her slippers. They were fleece lined and toasty.

“Can you come downstairs to the game room first?” he called as she stepped out of the bedroom into the upstairs hall.

“What for?”

“I want to show you something,” he said, his voice sounding distant. He was already on his way down to the basement.

With a sigh of annoyance, she started down the stairs. Maybe he had a Valentine’s Day surprise for her? Perhaps that elliptical trainer she’d been wanting so she didn’t have to pay fitness center fees? Halfway down the stairs she hit what felt like a solid wall of cold air. “This is ridiculous! I’m calling Tom!” she cried. Tom was the maintenance man. Maybe he could look at the central air system, or at least recommend a reputable repair service.

She continued down the stairs, feeling as if she was walking on the polar ice cap. For a fleeting moment she thought she saw a puff of vapor as she huffed another sigh of exasperation before starting down the basement stairs. The central air system was definitely screwed up. There shouldn’t be all these cold spots throughout the condo! There was something wrong. Something very wrong about that! “What do you have down here? A surprise for me?” she asked as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

On the kitchen counter, the water in the vase of roses froze solid, expanding and shattering the glass, the shards of glass tinkling softly on the tile counter.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ghost Stories LIVE! Boo! My Valentine

Now that the turmoil and obligations of last week are past I can now focus on the 3rd Ghost Stories LIVE! event which will be this coming Saturday, February 11th at Blue Umbrella Books, 2 Main Street, Westfield, MA, from 6-8PM. Russell Atwood, Justin Baillargeon, Arthur Pero, guest local author Melissa Volker and I will be entertaining attendees with ghost stories both old and new. The Halloween and Yuletide events were well-attended and well-received. We had spooky fun!

I have one story written, Darling, Drink Your Wine, however, tonight while Ironing my scrubs for the week another idea popped into my head, so I'll be working on that tonight. If I can write it I'll let you know what the title is. For now it must remain my secret!

Thank you, to Russell Atwood, for calling my attention to a BBC program, Jonathan Creek. I watched The Grinning Man and The Judas Tree last night- both excellent!

If you're local, stop by and say Boo! this coming Saturday!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Learning Curve

Although I have been writing for decades (it throws me into a panic to tack an exact number on!) I have found that writing is a lifelong learning process.

When I first started writing in the late 1960's, let's say, when I was a child it was a simple process of using my limited vocabulary and spelling ability to make a story that sounded good to my ears. I still think it was a good story, although I don't have a copy of it. I can still envision it in my still mostly untidy grade school printing on wide lined elementary school paper with pale turquoise lines. I was so proud of that story, no matter how improbable a lion escaping from a zoo and going off to have adventures ina jungle may have been. In my imagination it worked for me.

In my pre-adolescent years I wrote a lot of poetry. There had been a number of things going on in my young life that troubled and worried me. My mother had been in and out of the hospital since before I was in kindergarten. She'd lost several babies, almost died, and then had gallbladder surgery. My great-grandmother had moved in with us to help take care of us while this was going on. She had a bed-sitter apartment attached to our house and her own bathroom. One day while on a picnic at Laurel Lake with the family she feel to the ground. My Dad carried her to the back of the station wagon, my brother and I climbed in and sat with her- she was lying down. We went home, but then the ambulance came to take her away. She later died due to a heart attack. And then when I was not quite seven years old I was walking around the block to mail a letter with my sister. It was near Valentine's Day. There had been snow and ice, but now the ice was melting and a little stream of water was running along the side of the road beneath the melting ice. My big sister, who was four years older than me, had a conversation heart candy in her coat pocket from a party at school. She put the large, flat candy heart in the water and we were following it as it rode on the stream of water like a pastel colored heart-shaped raft. And then we continued walking after we lost it under a snowbank.
Suddenly my sister said her head hurt and the next thing I knew she had collapsed in a snow bank and could not get up. I bolted for home, terrified and told my mother, who ran out the door. My 11-year old sister had had a blood vessel burst in her brain, similar to a stroke. A neighbor took her and my mother to the hospital but then she was transferred to the children's hospital in Boston where she spent quite a long time. It was a traumatic event for me and it disrupted family life once again. All these medical emergencies made school erratic for me from first grade to third grade. I spent a lot of time living at my grandparent's house and being home-schooled with materials my Dad picked up from our teachers and delivered to my grandparent's house sixty-five miles away in Franklin County.

My poetry reveals pre-teen angst and worry about death. My short prose also touches on these topics at that time in my life. But at 13 I was able to produce some beautiful images with words.

My family moved from Easthampton to Westfield in 1973. I was fifteen-years old and had just begun to grow comfortable with a small group of peers after the early disruptive years of my education when kids make those first friend connections. I wasn't there much to make friends. That didn't happen for me until fourth and fifth grade. It threw me off balance to leave behind my still new group of friends and have to start high school as a sophomore in a brand new school among teenagers I did not know at all.

I continued writing because writing was my escape from the world. I wrote short prose and short stories and poetry still. I was a loner, shy. It was difficult for me to make friends. I developed anorexia, had fainting spells. I did well in school, except for math and chemistry which were not my subjects. I excelled in English classes and earned some recognition from my teachers as having an ability the majority of my peers did not have. I was producing better stories. My writing had matured. At home, in my bedroom, I would lie on my bed and write in longhand for hours on end developing story ideas and characters. I was prone to run on sentences, and still can ramble on. I've trained myself to stop connecting sentences with "and" but it still happens when my brain is in lightning speed mode.

I stopped writing poetry for the most part in the early 80's. I wrote short prose and short stories, and continued to develop plots and create characters by writing story after story with the same characters, changing the plot and settings. By the time I got married in 1984 I had to trash cartons full of handwritten stories involving the same chaarcters. None of it was worth saving, in my opinion, because nothing was ever completely written. I would get bored and start over.I heard trees screaming in my head because I wasted so much paper in those days!

In the 90's I wrote a lot of stories for Kelly who had been born in 1991. As she grew the stories grew. I always wrote a little above her age level because we had plowed through a massive library of picture and story books and read the entire Boxcar Children's series and other series by the time she hit elementary school. I read to her every night practically from the day she was born. At two years old she could use words like 'catastrophe' and 'procession' correctly in a sentence when speaking.

My stories and writing had evolved once again. Looking back on my earlier writing I could see signs of growth- better descriptive writing, a smoother flow to the words. I like alliteration- how words sound together and was getting better with that. Everything worked together as a whole, so I very seldom had to go back and change anything, just correct spelling and punctuation errors.

My main writing tools have always been a dictionary and a thesaurus. I didn't start using the computer to write until the late 1990's. I used my Mom's electric typewriter. Kelly knew how to use a computer before I did. I was just terrified to trust a computer to not lose my work. However, once I got over that fear, primarily de to my husband who is an IT guy and assured me he backed up the computer onto a hard drive and disks periodically, and then the invention of the zip drive, I learned to trust computers and now almost exclusively write on my laptop. I can now Google search words I can't spell and to double check facts and word meanings.

I did not write a complete novel until 2012. I wrote short stories, novelettes, and novellas, plus random bits of short prose until then. After 30 plus years of writing the same stories with the same characters over and over again I'd pretty much concluded that I could never finish a novel- I just didn't know how to end one!

But Kelly, who was in college at the time, had done the NaNoWriMo writing challenge in November 2011 and persuaded me to give it a try in 2012.  I buckled down and practiced in March and surprised myself by writing a novel.

From 2012 to the present I have written more novels then I ever imagined I had in me. I have self published 11 to date and have at least five more sitting on the dining room table just needing cleaning up. I still write dense prose, definitely not the "cozy" style of mostly dialogue which drives me crazy. I like to immerse myself in a story. I want the entire experience, not just the bare bones. I call my style of writing full immersion writing. I create a setting, a place, a home, and characters who are fully drawn out and filled in. They aren't one or two dimensional people. They have flaws. They're worlds are not perfect. They are struggling, interacting with other characters and finding their way in their world I have created for them. I like it when they triumph and feel sad when they don't., but not everyone makes it through life easily.

I have grown as a writer through the years, my style changing, developing to what it is now. I expect to keep growing, keep changing through the years left to me to work at my craft, my passion. I still haven't mastered the use of the comma, but I'm getting better at it. I am now trying to pare down some of my excessive prose where it becomes repetitive. Writing contest judges have liked my snappy dialogue between characters but I know for a fact I could end up writing way too much dialogue if I don't stop myself! My characters get too chatty at times.

Sitting down and reviewing my writing through the decades I can see the emerging butterfly from the chrysalis. I don't ever feel that my wings are yet fully unfurled, but I am getting closer to the day when my writing will take flight and soar. That one of my novels written in June of 2016, submitted to a writing contest in October 2016, and just announced as a finalist in January 2017 tells me that I am closer to being able to fly, to reaching my dream than I have ever been before.

Writing, as with living, is all about growing, adapting, finding the right path, struggling, failing, picking up the pieces and moving on, moving forward, striving, growing some more, finding what lies within yourself, pursuing dreams, small victories, tremendous losses, rising to the challenges...and never giving up. It's a learning curve.