Time Off Is Rewarding

Despite all the fun I have writing, I have a lazy streak in me. It rears itself when I’m stressed out and tired from my job at the retail store. After a 6-day work week that included an onslaught of Memorial Day Weekend shoppers comparable to Black Friday’s illegitimate children, I spent all day yesterday recuperating from the madness.

Though I try to be energetic, I always return to my book projects feeling lazy when I’ve been idle for more than 48 hours from writing. That was the case this morning. I moved like a zombie and tried to pick up where I left off. I yawned a lot and caught myself daydreaming and writing dull and lifeless composition. By break time, I struggled to be the person who was eager, excited, and restless a few days ago to work again on my book projects.

Yep, getting back on track can be difficult. So I took a day off from the store and writing. I watched a movie, listened to some old music CDs, and even took a nap. Later, I found my creative mind percolating with new ideas and fun scenarios for chapters waiting to be written.

Several years ago, I posted this sign in my writer’s workplace: Remember to reward yourself for a job well done. Never feel guilty. I never feel guilty for taking time off from writing. Whether laying around the house with either a great book, excellent movie, or an exciting ballgame on TV, a recharge is the best reward writers (and artists) can give themselves.

We all need to reward ourselves. Never cheat yourself out of what’s yours.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 4 [fiction]

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

FOUR

Darkness took away the heat and cooled her.  When she opened her eyes, she knew she had been asleep.  For how long, she wasn’t sure.  She wasn’t sure of anything, except that her throat hurt.  The bed she lay in was a stranger’s; unknown faces peered down at her.  She panicked, unable to breathe.  Someone pulled a long tube from her throat and she was able to breathe again.  Outside a window near her bed, rain fell in torrents against the glass.  Lightning lit up the sky and frightened her.

She knew not where she was or who she was, except that she was terrified of the lightning filling the sky.

* * *

Aunt Peggy lay in her hospital bed and stared weakly at Brian.  To the right of her, a January blizzard fell outside her window.  “Heather is trapped in the past.”

“So what can I do?”  Brian stared dumbly at the diary in his hands.  “The police think I’m crazy, that I killed my wife.”

“You have to save her.  You have to go back.  Keep her from killing herself.”

“How?”

“Go back to the cave.  The answer is there.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because it is.  You have to believe.”  She closed her eyes.

Brian sat for an hour and listened to Aunt Peggy’s irregular breathing while he read again Jane’s diary.  Then he prayed.  For what it was worth, he got some satisfaction from begging to God.  When he stepped from the room, he knew, as crazy as it seemed to the rational part of his mind, that there had to be a way to save Heather.  And the answer did lie within those green crystals and lightning.

* * *

It was the third week of August, not long after a terrible thunderstorm had passed through Ridgewood, when some teenage boys hiking Magic Hill stumbled upon Brian Stevens’s Grand Cherokee parked atop a rise.  A police officer remembered Brian’s name and his incredible story about his wife disappearing inside the cave.

The guy was surely insane and had killed his wife, only they were never able to find her body to prove it.

Now, inside the cave once more, the officer and his partner found an overturned tent containing a sleeping bag, a dozen empty cases of canned spaghetti, soup and vegetables, and three one-gallon containers of water that would later turn out to be rainwater.  They also found some books about lightning, local history from the 1940s, and theories on time travel.

Once more, they found no one—not even a body—inside the cave.

* * *

The amnesic woman known as Jane sat slumped in her oversized wheelchair.  Nurse Rachel Watkins had parked Jane’s chair again in front of the parlor’s largest window so she could look out at the hilly, tree-lined block of neighborhood.  Rachel brought her here every morning and claimed that looking at the woodland section of Victorian houses could help bring back memories of Jane’s past.  Rachel had even bought her a diary so she could record her thoughts and memories inside.

Jane squinted past the silver-gray skylight stabbing through the large window.  It was July, but the Pennsylvania sky looked far from being a kind one.  Thunder sounded.  The Tuesday morning skylight outdoors darkened and threatened to pour down rain.  Alone, Jane looked at the silver wedding and engagement rings she wore and wondered what it was like to have a husband, to sit with, hand in hand, and watch it rain.

Lightning lit up the sky.  She looked again out the window.  Beyond the sloping lawn that ran to Henry Burkhart’s black iron gate barring the sidewalk, a man dressed in a long black raincoat stood at the bars.  A sleek blue car with lots of chrome was parked behind him.  Two boys in yellow plastic raincoats scurried past as the man looked through the bars at the house and the window.

He waved to her.

A flash of lightning and clap of thunder made her shoulders jump, but it was the stranger now striding through the gate and heading to the front door that made her heart beat faster.

She balled her hands into tight fists and listened for the sound of the doorbell.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 3 [fiction]

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

THREE

Heather left Aunt Peggy’s hospital room and found comfort in Brian’s arms.  An intracerebral hemorrhage had left Aunt Peggy comatose.

“Let’s go,” Heather said.  She left ICU doctors and nurses busy lowering Aunt Peggy’s blood pressure and providing life support and comfort.

Odors of antiseptic and sanitizer alcohol wafted through the fluorescent-green hallway and mingled with last night’s waxing of the corridor’s cream-colored tiles.  Heather hurried Brian past that other smell, the pungent one that came from the dying.

Outside, the sky was cerulean and ultramarine, and the morning sun burned bright above the southern horizon.  Heather filled her lungs and left her parka open to the unseasonably warm weather.  The land was white and wet beyond the paved black landscape where Brian had parked his Grand Cherokee among four rows of gleaming vehicles.  Around them, the tiny hospital seemed too busy with traffic driving in and out of the visitors’ lot.

“Does the whole damned town have to get sick during the holiday?”  She climbed inside the Jeep and waited for Brian.  She saw two suitcases in the backseat.

“I have three days of vacation left,” Brian said when he got in.  “I called your boss and extended yours.  We have a room with a Jacuzzi with our name on it, ski slopes if we want to ski, and the weekend for just the two of us.”  He drove past the big green sign directing them to Myers Ridge Ski Resort.

Heather almost protested.  Aunt Peggy’s warning, “Never go there,” clanged inside her head.  Brian reached for her and found a hand.  He squeezed.  “I love you,” he said.  He brushed her thigh, first outside, then in.  He reached for her shoulders and pulled her as close to him as her seatbelt would allow.  He wanted to cuddle and that meant one thing.  She held him off with promises.

Check-in at the lodge was quick but barely fast enough for either Brian or Heather.  It had been too long since they had made love in a bed other than their own.

Inside their two-hundred-dollar-a-day room, which last year’s American Resort magazine gave five stars, Heather made true on many of her promises.

* * *

When she and Brian exited their room two days later, most of the snow around Ridgewood had melted.  The ski resort was busy making its own snow to keep customers happily skiing, despite the almost summer temperature.  Heather and Brian went to Eagle Rock Incline to take in the view of Ridgewood.  At 630 feet up, they could see ravines and drumlins and several gulches and dry washes between Ridgewood and the outskirts of New Cambridge to the east.  The marker they stood next to said they were on Magic Hill.

“I thought this was Myers Ridge,” Heather said.

“The ridge is made up of several hills.  Magic Hill is one of them.”

“Magic Hill.”  Heather looked around.  “I wonder what’s so magical about it.”

“I know it had some sort of significance to the Indians living here. But that’s all I know.”

Heather pointed to a clearing a half-mile down the valley.  “Is that a cave where those big rocks are?”

Brian squinted.  “Probably.  Where there are hills this big there’s bound to be a cave or two.”

“I’ve never been in a cave.  Maybe we could make it our own special place.”  She stood on tiptoes and kissed him.

* * *

Along the woodsy and rocky terrain, they scratched at invisible gnats buzzing around the back of their necks.  They reached the cave an hour later.  Brian had to stoop to enter the cave, which was immediately cold and damp and musty smelling.  They stayed close to the entrance where sunlight warmed them.

Heather and Brian found a spot of smooth granite to sit on.  Heather straddled Brian’s lap.

“There might be bear,” Brian said.

“I don’t care.”  Heather undid his belt and pants; they made love, fast and wild the way they had when they were dating.  When they finished, both shivered uncontrollably.  The sunlight was gone.

“Should have brought our coats,” Brian said when he was dressed.  He ventured into the large chamber, his eyes now adjusted to dim daylight twenty feet above them.  He stopped at a small pile of rubble formed by the collapse of the cave’s ceiling.  A long, thin finger of daylight pointed from the chimney-like shaft of the surface sinkhole above.

“Someday,” he said, “all this will come crashing down.”

“Not today.”  Heather went to him and pulled at him.  “Come on.  I think I heard thunder.”

Brian listened to a faraway rumble.  “I think you’re right.  If we get a cold front mixing with this warm weather, we’re gonna have a hell of a storm.”  He hurried to the entryway where a sprinkle of rain began to fall outside.  A sudden flash of lightning sent him stumbling backwards into Heather.  She fell and cried out.

“My ankle.”  She rubbed her left foot.  “It really hurts.”  Heather’s red nose peeked up at him.  Mucus dropped from the tip of her nose.  She swiped at it with the back of a hand.  “I can’t move my foot.”

Brian took her by the arm and helped her up.  She leaned on his shoulder and hobbled to the narrow entryway.  Along the way, he heard a clatter upon the ground and saw that Heather had dislodged his cell phone.  He tried to reach for it, but Heather cried out from the pain.  He’d come back for his phone later.

At the cave’s threshold, Heather pressed close to him, to try to make their passage easier, but Brian struck his forehead against the stone.

“Sit down,” he said, rubbing at the lump growing on his head.  “I’ll drag you out.”

“I think it’s broken.  It’s really aching now.  Let me rest.”

Brian helped her back inside.

A sudden wind whipped through the entrance and sprayed them with cold rain.  Brian pulled Heather further inside.  The storm suddenly stilled.  A faint humming sound came from above them, inside the cave.

Brian’s ring finger ached; his wedding ring vibrated.

Heather swatted at her temple.  “Something just stung me,” she complained.

The sky outside lit up.  Lightning entered the sinkhole and struck the cave floor a few feet from where Brian’s cell phone lay.  The floor exploded.  Stony shrapnel flew past them.  Brian threw himself to the floor; Heather clutched his back and trembled.

The walls began to emit green light in places.  Another lightning bolt entered the sinkhole and struck one of the large green lights.  More shrapnel rained down on them.  The other lights grew brighter.  Brian examined one of the lights nearest to him.  The light came from a stone, which was wide and faceted and shaped like a crystal.  It warmed his hands at the touch; he welcomed the warmth as it coursed through him.

He saw his phone and crawled to it.

Heather screamed.  “What is that?  Oh my god what is that?  Brian.”

Brian turned and saw a green whirlwind of light three meters in diameter above Heather’s head.  Miniature lightning shot from the walls of the whirlwind.  It twisted faster as the green lights around them grew brighter.

Heather put up an arm as though trying to ward off a blow as the whirlwind fell upon her.

A bolt of lightning from the sinkhole struck the whirlwind.  A blinding flash of light caused Brian to cover his head.  Hot wind and stone blew across his back.  Then it was gone.

When Brian opened his eyes, the light was ebbing.

The lightning had stopped.

The whirlwind and Heather were gone.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 2 [fiction]

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

TWO

Heather gave Brian pajamas and slippers at Christmas.  She didn’t read the diary.  Instead, she mailed it to Aunt Peggy’s store.

Three days later, the diary returned.  Heather knew it was the diary as soon as she took the package from the mailbox.  She called her great-aunt.

“I’m bringing back the book,” she said.

“Read it,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Please.  You must.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“It’s the only way to stop it from happening again.”  The line went dead.

Heather slowly opened the package.  She had better things to do with her time than to entertain an aunt who was obviously crazy.

The diary stayed on the table untouched for several minutes before she opened it and whisked the photo of the crippled woman to the back of the book.

At the front, the pages began as scribbles by an unsteady hand.

Today, nine-year-old, Sara Burkhart, stands behind my enormous wheelchair and brushes my long hair.

“Don’t move, Jane,” she tells me with her usual hollow order.  “I’m almost done.”

Static electricity from my hair fills the brush and irritates her.

“Stop that, Jane,” she says, as though I’m the one responsible for the electricity.

My name isn’t Jane.  But I don’t tell her.  It does no good to argue with her; I don’t know my name.

The mansion’s employees bring me to this parlor every morning to watch the traffic.  Nurse Rachel hopes it will help bring back the memories of my past and fill an empty mind that’s become a blank slate.  I’m supposed to write about anything that looks familiar, but nothing about Burkhart Mansion or the street outside looks even vaguely familiar.

Outside today, the snow-filled sloping lawn runs out to a large black iron fence where a snowplowed street lies beyond.  There, an occasional large and angry-looking car or truck grumbles past me.  I remember snow, but I don’t know why.  Everything I know about myself—little as it is—came two months ago, after I awakened from a coma inside one of the large, upstairs bedrooms.  Henry Burkhart, the man who owns this mansion, visited and told me about myself.

Henry is a cigar-smoking, black-haired man in his early forties with smartly styled wavy hair.  He wore a shiny suit as dark as his steel-blue eyes that day, and a red silk tie that glistened bright against a white shirt.  He spoke with an even, soothing voice, and gestured with clean white hands with manicured nails.

“It was a Sunday,” he told me, “nine years ago in August when I found you.  I was hiking Myers Ridge, looking for arrowheads and whatnot.”  He smiled pleasantly at me.  “I’m an aggregator … a collector.  Numismatist and philatelist, mostly.”  I didn’t bother to interrupt him to find out what those words meant.

He said, “That’s when I found you unconscious and near death at the bottom of a ravine not far from the highway.  I could tell your legs were broken, so I fashioned a stretcher with my jacket and got you to my car where I drove you to the hospital.  You were nine years in a coma while the authorities tried to find out who you are.  You had no identification.”

At this point, Henry looked me the way I imagine he looks at an unusual artifact.  “No family has ever been found.  That’s why the hospital released you to me.”  He frowned then, as though discovering a flaw in me.  “Your fingerprints have revealed nothing, which isn’t a bad thing.  It simply means we may never know who you are … unless your memory returns.  Until then, you’re a living Jane Doe, which is why I call you Jane.”

I saw no malevolence on his face when he said, “Until your memory returns or someone recognizes you as family, my home is yours.”

I managed to tell him how thankful I was.  I still am.

Heather skipped a few months ahead.  There, the handwriting became stronger—familiar.

The weather is stormy.  I don’t care for lightning.  My head hurts when there’s a storm.

Henry is overseas on a business trip.  The war over there has everyone on edge.

I saw Sara’s teacher for the first time today.  I watched curiously from my wheelchair as Doris the housekeeper answered the door and let in Sara’s red-haired teacher.  After Miss Johnson removed her fur coat and gave it to the housekeeper, she came to Nurse Rachel and me waiting for the elevator.  She ushered a friendly good morning to us, whereupon I sensed a familiarity with the woman.  It wrestled with the constant cloudiness in my mind as something—a memory, I think—tried to surface.  The clouds parted for a moment and I saw Miss Johnson dead, lying in an open coffin.  I knew I was seeing Miss Johnson in the future because her face and hands appeared very old.

I cried out then.

The clouds returned; dizziness overcame me and my senses spiraled into a smoky darkness.  I dimly heard Miss Johnson apologize for frightening me.  When my vision cleared, Miss Johnson was gone and Rachel was peering into my eyes.

She pulled me into the elevator and took me to my room, whereupon she filled me with medicine and caused me to sleep most of the day.

Heather flipped to the last entry.  She squirmed when she recognized the handwriting; there was no mistaking her own unique flourish.

As of last night, I know who I am.

I am not of this time.

I don’t know how I came here, or how I can ever go back.  But it’s too late now; I took the pills.

They’ll bury me above a gravestone with the wrong name.  I am Jane Doe.

They think I’m mad, that I’ve lost my senses when I tell them I’m from the future and that my name is Heather Stevens.

Heather threw down the book as though it had bitten her.  She picked up the phone and dialed.

“Sara was Heather’s daughter,” Aunt Peggy said when Heather calmed down.  “Your daughter.”

“The woman who died at your store?”

“I saw the uncanny resemblance in you and Sara when you and Brian moved here.  Sara never resembled anyone in the Burkhart family.  That was the tip-off.  She eventually had her blood tested and discovered that Henry Burkhart was not her father.  She finally sent some DNA to a friend who does genetic testing.  The results came back last week.”

Heather moaned.  “Please don’t say it,” she said, but Aunt Peggy continued.

“Sara was your daughter.  Jane was you.  You came from the future, pregnant, and gave birth while in a coma.  No one knew.  Henry Burkhart never told anyone.”

“That’s ridiculous.  Preposterous.  Impossible.  Do you hear me?  Impossible.”

“Heather—”

“No.  Stop it.”

“Heather, I … I—”

The phone clunked on the other end; Heather knew that it had been dropped.

“Aunt Peggy?”

The line was silent.