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.”

Fiddling [book and writing news]

Thanks to all who have taken time from your busy schedules to comment and email me about my art and books. Extra thanks to those of you who found mistakes in my books — all of them were minor but the corrections improved the products a thousandfold.

Extra thanks to you who have commented your likes and dislikes. Publishing on my own with almost no guidance from my peers has been a HUGE learning process, and I have made plenty of mistakes so far. But your excellent comments / suggestions have made me a better self-published author and working my best to get better.

Also, as if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I plan to post more short stories here at my website and author them at Amazon. Shorts were common when I was young, when pulp magazines were alive, especially detective, sci-fi, and monster magazines. Unlike novels, short stories rarely answered the story question of whether someone lived happily ever after at the end, or if the monster was actually dead by the time you finished reading the final sentence. They were morsels, like the sugar glazed holes of the bigger doughnuts. That is what made them fun to read. Hurray for e-books bringing short stories back to the market.

Milestones [book news]

As soon as I began writing a new post for next week, I was informed that this blog received 500 likes. To celebrate and let everyone know about this achievement, I did a Happy Dance a few minutes ago, and then wrote this post titled Milestones.

Other milestones today are:

  • I finished creating the cover for my second e-book, Trespassing. Lots going on in the illustration, but when you read the story you’ll see why.
  • I’ve quadruple-checked spelling and sentence structure in the manuscript. All seems up to par, which means I may publish to Kindle sooner than expected.
  • I’ve included a bonus short story at the end of this one.
  • Having fun.

Publication is slated for February, but I may publish next week. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, may your days be blessed.

A Fine Reception [book news]

Last week, barely hours after I had Night of the Hellhounds published to Amazon’s Kindle, I received 3 or 4 emails from customers with inquiries about me publishing another story. I am now updating another story and plan making it available in February.

Meanwhile, I am planning on adding more to my Ravenwood stories here. That may take longer than I expected now that I seem to have a new purpose in life. Also, my paints and brushes are calling me. Looks like idleness will never be a problem for me. 🙂