One Little Period Screwed the Pooch [book news]

Life can be a comedy of doing the silly walk (as portrayed on Monty Python). Self-publishing my books has been a long road of silly walks so far.

I am an indie author who publishes as Steven L Campbell. Notice that I put no period after my initial. Like President Harry S Truman’s initial. I think it looks classier than punching a period after it. And the venues where I sell my books have no problem that I do not put a period after my initial. Neither do my faithful readers and followers. Why should they care how I wish my name to appear on my books or at my websites? It’s no big deal. Right?

Well, for some websites, it is a big deal. And one that seems close to being a criminal act. Before I added an author page to my Goodreads account, I was Steven L Campbell, Goodreads reader. Then I became Steven L Campbell, Goodreads author for a short time before the librarians there decided I had to be Steven L. Campbell, Goodreads author.

You wouldn’t think adding a period would cause so much chaos. But it did when some of the book websites that sell my books confused Steven L and Steven L. as two separate authors. Even Goodreads confuses my Steven L books as books written by someone else. So I asked the Goodreads librarians if I could revert to Steven L (no period) Campbell. The librarian who answered me was far from polite about it, threatening to remove my books and banning me from Goodreads if I attempted to remove the period.

So, here I am, Steven-L-period-Campbell.

I think North Americans make too big a deal about periods after initials. Many European authors omit periods after initials and spell Mr, Mrs and Dr without periods. Harry S Truman had no period after his initial because it did not stand for a name. But some librarians—probably North American—got their panties in a bunch and almost all references to the man have a period after the S.

In my opinion, it has to do with conformity. We have to label everything and put it in labeled boxes. We get smacked if we put it in the wrong box. And yet, twenty-first century educators squawk at their students to think outside the box. Is it good advice to do so? Or is it anarchy and chaos?

In my case with Goodreads, I have taken to the box and conformed. I dislike being smacked.

Looking Forward to Autumn [book news]

People who are in direct contact with me know that I am busy planning a special 2014 re-release of my e-novel, Night of the Hellhounds.

“Night of the Hellhounds” began more than 30 years ago and has gone through various rewrites because the story continued to talk to me, especially when I was trying to sleep. “Night” or NOTH as it is called by some friends, is a story that took many years to write.

With a new cover in the works, I plan to have the new display on the Amazon e-bookshelf by October 30, just in time for Halloween.

Below is the inside flap/back cover blurb, though I may tweak it by the time NOTH hits the bookshelf, wearing its new cover.

Fifteen-year-old Vree Erickson’s life changes after lightning strikes her, kills her father, and burns down her family’s home. Her grandfather offers her and her family a place to live on Myers Ridge in Ridgewood, Pennsylvania. There, she sees a strange creature lurking in the shadows in town and tries to cope with the extrasensory perception and other psychic abilities the lightning sparked in her. After she and her family move into their new home, she encounters her father’s visiting spirit. He tells her that he is leaving to a higher existence and will not return for a long time. Before he goes, he tells her to be strong and warns her that she has a heavy burden ahead. Later, she learns from a witch’s book that the creature is a Roualens—a space creature marooned on our planet and invisible to most humans. As the Roualens begin to die, Vree makes psychic contact with one of the creatures and realizes that her act of seeing them drains their life force within minutes, and that she is responsible for their deaths. Meanwhile, also aware of Vree’s psychic abilities is Margga, the spirit of a witch who wants her power to free herself from imprisonment. Now Vree must risk her life to save the lives of Roualens, and herself from the vengeful Margga who wants to kill her and take her powers to wreak havoc on Myers Ridge and the town of Ridgewood.

Stay tuned for more about the new cover.

Thank You Wholeheartedly [book news]

Although I try to limit using adverbs (and adjectives) in my writing, I could not resist putting one in this post’s title.

Thanks to everyone who took advantage of my FREE eBOOK giveaway. I hope I garnered some new readers, new fans, and new friends. If you do reviews, please go to my author’s page at Amazon.com and click on the book(s).

Comments are encouraged and appreciated.

Thanks again and have a great day.

New eBook Update

Days after I published my latest e-book Ridgewood Sparks: A Collection of Really Short Stories at Amazon.com on June 6, and then a day or two before the current “Get My Book Free” offer, I noticed errors and made minor changes to the book’s text. If you bought my book before the changes, I urge you to take advantage of the free offer today and tomorrow and replace the old version with the revised one. Although the changes are small, I think they make Ridgewood Sparks a better read.

Meanwhile, I send a big shout out “Thank You” to everyone who supports my enterprise into this crazy world of self-digital-publishing. (Or is it digital-self-publishing?) Big supporters include my family, friends, readers, and fans who ask, “When’s your next book coming out?” You keep my nose to the grindstone.

If you haven’t done so already, follow this link to get your free, updated e-book offer of Ridgewood Sparks for your Kindle.

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.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 1 [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

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare

ONE

Heather Stevens drove her silver Volvo through Ridgewood’s frigid downtown district where the streets were ablaze with Christmas decorations and colored lights.  The snowplowed streets glistened with ice, so Heather babied the drive toward her great-aunt’s bookstore.  Main Street was empty; most of the town traveled to bigger New Cambridge, five miles away, where discount stores were a major attraction this time of year.

Her cell phone buzzed.  Her husband Brian wouldn’t be home until after nine o’clock.  He still had many student art projects to grade at New Cambridge University before he could start his Christmas vacation.

Heather returned the phone to her coat pocket and drove with both hands gripped around the steering wheel.  Snow was falling again and she couldn’t afford another accident on these streets kept barely plowed.

With a population of almost eight thousand, downtown Ridgewood was small, with two banks, a post office, a few diners and bars, and Peggy’s Good Used Books sandwiched between a hardware store and a pizzeria.  Heather managed to park off the street in front of her aunt’s bookstore and upstairs apartment, but she had to battle piles of snow to get to the store.  Inside, a tiny bell above the door announced her entrance.  The place smelled of lilacs and aging paper, two fragrances that immediately lifted her spirits.

She called out and announced her arrival while she hung her black parka on the tree next to the door.  A distant voice responded from the back; she made her way through a tunnel of shelves and entered a room full of unsorted books and magazines.  Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, paper sacks and volumes of text littered the room’s tables, benches and floor.  In the center of the room, a fluorescent light flickered and buzzed overhead.  Directly beneath it, her great-aunt sat at a tiny desk.  The small woman with short hair dyed red stared into a computer monitor and slowly clicked at the keyboard below it.  In front of Aunt Peggy’s desk, an old woman looked at Heather from a wooden chair.

Heather said to Aunt Peggy, “I’m really excited you were able to find that art history book for Brian’s collection.  He has so many already, I was about to give up and just get him some pajamas and slippers.”

“My sister Jean’s granddaughter,” Aunt Peggy said to the woman.  She punched a key and studied the figures on the monitor’s large screen.  “Heather and her husband moved here in July.  He’s from Pittsburgh, she’s from New Cambridge.”

“The lake,” the woman across the desk said.  “Is that what brought you here?”  She coughed and sniffled and took a Kleenex from the box on the desk, and then gently brought it to her blue nose.  She was bundled in a heavy, brown fur coat, yet Heather saw that she shivered.  Despite the folds of skin that hung below her chin, and her thin white hair that barely concealed sagging earlobes adorned with mother-of-pearl earrings, Heather felt certain that the woman’s age was several years less than Aunt Peggy’s.

The woman sniffled again.  “They always come because of the lake.”

“But it’s Myers Ridge they don’t know about,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Show her the diary.”

The woman took a black leather book from her coat pocket.  She stood and waited for Heather to come for the book.  When Heather did, the woman peered at Heather’s face.

“It’s her,” she said.  She sat quickly and shivered harder.

Heather held out a hand and introduced herself.  The woman said, “Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.  Please don’t take it personal.”

Heather looked quizzically at Aunt Peggy.

“Look at the picture,” Aunt Peggy said.  Heather saw that she trembled, too.  Aunt Peggy’s delicate look—like a china doll that could easily break—always made Heather uneasy.  The woman was eighty-three, after all, and still living in Pennsylvania’s Snow Belt.

Despite the heat that nearly choked the room, Heather said, “Would you like me to turn up the thermostat?”

“No, girl,” Aunt Peggy said.  “I want you to look inside the book.”

Heather found an empty chair near Aunt Peggy’s guest and opened the diary.  Inside, on the first page, someone had scrawled JANE DOE in large blue letters.  After that, doodles and scribbles filled its thin pages.  She leafed through the book and a square Polaroid photograph tumbled out and fell to the floor.  When she picked it up, a woman’s miserable, hollow-eyed face looked out at her from the black and white picture.  The woman’s wide mouth grimaced with a queer bit of happiness on a face otherwise lined with anguish.  An anorexic body became lost in an oversized sweatshirt, Capri slacks and metal wheelchair.  Heather quickly turned the photo over.  On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943.

“What I’m about to say will sound incredible,” Aunt Peggy said.

“Unbelievable,” the other woman said.

Both women stared hard at Heather.  She squirmed.  Her hands felt swollen and prickly as she studied the photo and listened.

“Lord help me,” Aunt Peggy said. “It took me a long time to figure this out, and when I did … well, even I couldn’t believe it.”  She looked at the other woman who stared down at her hands.  “But thanks to modern medicine with its blood testing and DNA, the craziness became plausible, even if it did become crazier to believe.”  She looked back.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said, “but whatever you’re trying to tell me, perhaps you should start at the beginning.”

“That’s you.”  Aunt Peggy pointed at the photograph still in Heather’s grasp.  “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

“Don’t be silly.”  Heather swallowed.  She looked at the photograph.  “This isn’t me.”  She waved the photo at Aunt Peggy.  “Stop messing around.  I still have Christmas shopping to finish, presents to wrap, pies to bake.”

“That’s a picture of my mother,” the other woman said.

“See,” Heather said and frowned at Aunt Peggy.  “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because you’re my mother,” the woman next to her said.  “I’m your daughter.”

“This is crazy.”  Heather began to stand.

“It’s true,” Aunt Peggy said.  “We can prove it.”

The overhead light sputtered, as though affected by Aunt Peggy’s insanity.  The sputtering turned the old women’s movements into jerky motion as they looked at each other and then back at her, like in a Nickelodeon movie from long ago.  Heather felt almost transported back in time.  Then the sputtering stopped and the room was almost bright again.

“I’m leaving.”  Heather stood.

“Please,” Aunt Peggy said.  “It’s up to you to see that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Heather tossed the diary and photograph on Aunt Peggy’s desk.

“You owe it to yourself and to me,” the other woman said.  “I don’t want the next me to grow up isolated from her real parents.”  She reached out and touched Heather’s right hand.  A large spark of static electricity snapped.  Heather jumped back and yelped while the woman slumped forward and fell hard to the floor.

For a moment, time moved in slow motion.  Then, Aunt Peggy was at the woman’s side, checking for a pulse.

“Call 911,” she said to Heather.

Heather rubbed at the pain pulsating through her wrist and arm as she started toward the phone on Aunt Peggy’s desk.  Suddenly, it became difficult for her to breathe.  The pain grew, traveled to her shoulder.  The room shifted and turned; her stomach flip-flopped.  She stumbled from the desk, managed to sidestep the two women on the floor, and staggered to the bathroom at the back of the room.  She fell against two tables before she fell through the bathroom door.  On her knees, she vomited loud into the toilet.  Her body shook violently.  When she finished, Aunt Peggy stood at her side.

“I-I’m … f-freezing,” Heather said.  She pushed herself up, into Aunt Peggy’s embrace.  Then she stumbled along as Aunt Peggy led her to the desk.

The two looked at the corpse on the floor; a green afghan covered the body.  A siren sounded from far away.  Outside, December wind whipped against the store; a window rattled.

“Stay away from Myers Ridge,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Please promise me you’ll never go there.”

Heather swallowed and felt sick again.  “Aunt Peggy,” she said.  The room began a slow twirl.  She tried to focus her eyes, located the window and watched large flakes of snow swirl past.  A flashing light from the ambulance outside caused the twirling to increase.  She closed her eyes and said a small prayer for herself and the dead woman.  When she opened her eyes, a paramedic was bandaging the red and angry welt that appeared on the back of her hand.

“I’m okay,” she told the concerned paramedic, and was glad when he left her.

After the body and paramedics were gone, Aunt Peggy returned to the room.  Heather was standing, feeling better, although the room still spun when she turned.

“You should go upstairs and rest,” Aunt Peggy said.

“I’ll be okay.”  Heather started to leave.

“Don’t forget the diary,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Read it.  Please.  We’ll discuss it later.”

Heather turned and was forced to close her eyes as the room whirled.  The diary was placed in her hands and she was led to her coat.  She may have kissed her aunt goodbye, but while she shuffled to her car, she wasn’t sure.  Not even the winter chill brought her back to her senses as she sat in her car and watched through the icy windshield the lights go off downstairs in the bookstore.

The drive home went unnoticed as her mind repeated the events at the bookstore; questions whirled.  At home, she popped some popcorn in the microwave, stared at the TV, then curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.

Her dreams were washes of senseless images.  Then a hand touched her shoulder and reality flowed over her like a cold ocean wave, chilling her.  She tried to smile at Brian, but her face wouldn’t work, so she stared at the sight of him for several moments before she broke into tears and bawled.

Back to Writing [writing news]

I have a book deadline that I promised myself and my readers. That means I have to blog less and get back to the business of writing fiction. Writing stories is more demanding than either drawing or painting, and is certainly more stressful. I have never encountered anything more difficult than creating a book full of sentences that are structured well. As a poet-of-sorts, structuring sentences is an art form of choosing the right words for mood and clarity. Some days, the words come easily; other days, not so much. Meanwhile, I promise to not ignore my blog too much. I try to post every eight days, which gives me time to come up with ideas and then execute them when I’m not working on my stories.

Story writing—that act of structuring sentences well—takes a big chunk of time from my days and nights, even to the point that I have to set my alarm clock to keep appointments. You readers old enough to remember the old Blondie movies would rightfully compare me to Dagwood as I rush out my door to get to places on time. Luckily, I have never run over my mailman.

But the same alarm clock reminds me to keep my blog active, and that has been becoming difficult to do. So to my followers I say, be patient if I go a while without posting. As I used to say when I was a radio deejay in the 1970s, “Stay tuned. Lots more on its way.”