Feeling the Rain

A year ago today, I was rushed into emergency surgery that saved my life from a perforated bowel.

During my weeklong stay at the hospital—first in a recovery room, then in a 24-hour observation room where my nurses kept watch for sepsis, I spent a lot of time alone. Covid restrictions allowed me one visitor, which was my wife who had to travel almost 40 miles to see me. When she and my nurses were not with me, I entertained by visiting the internet via my phone and perusing art and writing sites. One night, I found a long quote—perhaps a poem—by Walt Whitman about his desire to be closer to animals and nature. Being a wildlife artist for many years, I felt akin to that desire. So, with pen and paper, I jotted down a couple lines about animal life that intrigued me.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition, they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. Not one is unhappy over the whole earth.

The words took me back to the years I studied wildlife. Animal lives seemed so basic, so simple, which led me to practicing a similar simple life. My main purpose then was to care for my children. Although employment stole time from us, it gave me enough income to acquire necessities to keep them healthy and safe.

My children were long grown and raising families of their own when I left the hospital to finish recuperating at home. What had my purpose in life become? To grow old and die?

Beyond making purpose for a corporation by my employment to it, I decided to make purpose for me again. So I retired from the workforce and did a lot of soul searching for what I wanted to do.

I have been an artist—a good artist—most of my life. It brought me awards and recognition beyond my desires. And it brought me to a crossroad where I no longer felt challenged by it. So I spent the winter and most of spring looking at things that challenge me most.

One of my biggest challenges is writing well, mostly because I suffer a form of dyslexia that has hindered me most of my life. When I write well—and by that I mean something that reads coherently and moves my emotions long after I wrote it—the experience is an uplifting one, much like depicted in the illustration above.

I want to feel the rain when I write. And I want to feel it when I read it. That is my newfound purpose in life.

It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen. —Thomas Merton

Revisiting Characters

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. ― Ray Bradbury

I was absent from my blog during May and most of June while I buckled down and continued preparations for the new and updated books I have planned for my Amazon KDP library. Part of those preparations is making sure my characters come across as people.

My stories happen in a place called Ridgewood, loosely based on places I have lived. Overall, the place is a straightforward small town in America where odd things happen to a select few. There is a plethora of history and information about Ridgewood at this blog, so go ahead and browse the archives.

I enjoy writing my own kind of fantasy fiction. My ensemble of characters is wholly my own creation loosely based on archetypes that attracted me as a reader. Again, there is a plethora of history and information about them at this blog, but there have been three significant changes I want to address.

  1. I have renamed Owen to Lenny and given the name to his kid brother. Lenny has taken on his old role and has the old persona of teenager Dave. He has a twin sister, Gaylene, who is Amy with a different name and family.
  2. Vree’s hometown is New Cambridge. She lives in Ridgewood when she stays with her paternal grandparents. Her parents are archeologists at New Cambridge University and are away from home often. Vree has no interest in archeology. Her paternal grandparents have the names Dave and Amy now and are not retired and living in Florida.
  3. Amy’s grandparents are Ben and Vera, the couple killed by a witch named Margga who has become Gianna. Ben and Vera’s last name is Russell, and Myers Ridge is now Russell Ridge.

My renamed cast has been a joy to place on stage and see them rehearse while I put them through the rigors of developing plot. As always, I let my characters develop the plot while I pay attention to the three main factors of characterization: the physical, sociological, and psychological. That’s all any writer needs to know to create characters that have personalities. Once you have that, then you understand how your characters approach and resolve conflict. And that means living with your characters, observing them while you put them through mock scenarios, and noting the results.

Vree is one of my star characters. She has been with me since I was fourteen years old. She has always been a shy, humble teenager.

vree-13-pencil-9x12-v6
Vree

No matter how much I try to change her personality, it stays relatively the same. I suppose this flies in the face of teachers of fiction who say that our characters must be different people after departing Act 1 and arriving at the conclusion of Act 3. How much change is rarely specified, but I cannot see her becoming an entirely different character when she rides her story’s denouement. I think any person whose personality changes that much during their story should be under psychiatric observation by the time it ends. That was a problem I had with many horror novels. The characters we got to know did not ring true when they became monsters.

Realism is an important aspect of good fiction. And just as in life, a person’s mode of thinking can change dramatically under the right circumstances. But a person with a healthy brain is not going to become someone with a different personality just because a book publisher wants it for mass market appeal and sensationalism. Abrupt change of character isn’t normal.

Every good story I have ever read has one major real aspect: Desire. The goal is to acquire something. The more unreachable it is, the difficult the task. The comedian George Carlin described acquisition as a football game. The goal is to acquire yardage to the end zone and score points to be ahead of the opponent when time runs out. Smart players achieve this by fooling their opponent, making them second guess their game plan, getting them to trip over their weaknesses. Everyone has desires/goals and we all have flaws to overcome in our efforts to get what we want.

All in all, a deep understanding of character is the key to creating better plots.

Thanks for reading.

Peace and love, everyone.

Old Dog, New Tricks In May

I’m back in the saddle with my KDP book projects, getting ready to publish my books again at Amazon. I spent the past month learning new publishing techniques that will help ease the burden of being an indie author who self-publishes their books.

First among the list was learning the latest Microsoft Word program after I replaced 2010 with 365. The learning curve was small on that, which carried me onto Amazon’s latest version of Kindle Create. Again, the curve wasn’t too difficult since I last used the program five years ago.

Next on my list was learning to use Inkscape so I can create my book covers for paperback books. I usually use MS Word and an old PhotoDeluxe program for that, but I wanted to learn something new. The curve on that is big, so I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials to ease the process. I have a college BA degree in graphic design that I received in 1990, so I’m a relic when it comes to all the gadgets and their bells and whistles in the digital age. Don’t let me get started on all my failures while using Photoshop twenty years ago. The program was Grand Canyon huge and clunkier than my grandfather’s Model A Ford back then, so I got rid of it and settled on its streamlined and swifter little brother, PhotoDeluxe. Inkscape doesn’t seem as difficult as Photoshop but has plenty of bells and whistles.

During all this excitement, I replaced my Win7 laptop with a Win10 one. I spent a weekend moving files and learning 10’s shortcuts. It was funny when the computer connected to my old 2007 Hotmail account and wanted to use it as my primary email. I’ve been using Gmail for a decade and I forgot all about my Hotmail account after I transferred all my contacts to Gmail ten years ago. It was funny and a little bewildering to see my face from 2007 on my computer’s sign-in screen. Ah, the old gray hair isn’t what it used to be.

In between writing, prepping my books for publication, and getting comfortable with Win10, MS Word 365, and Inkscape, I decided to dive into the deep end of the author pool by downloading Scrivener version 3. More tutorials at YouTube helped me with its steep learning curve and I enjoyed how easy it was to create ebooks and paperbacks ready to send to Amazon’s KDP.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, I created a new author logo.

I plan to use this on my book covers to give them a unique look. I’m tired of seeing plain fonts on covers, so the artist in me took over during one of my book cover design sessions. Although the one pictured is red, I can use any color.

As an experiment, I threw this cover together for the first ebook at my KDP website.

I made it with MS Word and PhotoDeluxe—my old standby method—but I’ll probably use a cover built on Inkscape when I actually publish the book.

So, there you have it, my busy month of May in less than 1000 words.

Have a great June and stay safe.

Peace and love!

Apple Orchard [poetry repost]

Apple Orchard
Apple Orchard, Oil Painting

In small acreage on a hilly clearing,
Sunny morning shines golden on chalky-pink blossoms;
I pause and prolong my hike to watch sunbeams lick away dewdrops
Soaking in shaded greenery of an apple orchard.

Craggy, crabby branches nod jaggedly at a breeze dashing across the way;
Wasps complain from gray papery hives swaying above me;
A hummingbird pauses and peeks inside a blossom—
Perhaps she smells the jellies, pies and cider clearly on my mind.

I head away on journey once more,
Longing to return and sample ripe fruit from the trees.

© 2006

New WIP Installment 4 [fiction]

In this final installment, Abigail and Quinn butt heads, and then Abigail goes to the hospital’s breakroom to cool off. It is still Monday and four days before Halloween. I have a feeling that the holiday is going to pair up Vree and Abigail before the novel ends.

Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone.

Enjoy the installment. Thanks for the likes and comments on the previous posts. And again, please don’t shy from letting me know what you think about this story so far.

4

Abigail was lost in thought as she walked down the sapphire colored hall with its highly polished light green tiled floors. Quinn was a few feet in front of her, his heels clicking sharply. He stopped at the elevator bay. “That was a hell of a surprise,” he said.

“I’m still stunned,” Abigail said. Her belly rumbled—almost as loud as the rumble coming from the elevator shaft. She stood next to him, swayed for a moment, and then said, “For a moment I was worried I was going to lose my job.”

Quinn pressed the only button there, the square one marked DOWN. “He’s crazy,” he said steely, “picking you to work in the OR. But that’s okay. I like the idea of you working for me.” Embers flared at the rims of his eyes as he smiled. “I’ll make you a deal. Sell me the lake house and I’ll back off and give you no hassles.”

And there it was … again, ever since the divorce. The log house at Alice Lake and its thirty acres her grandfather had left her when he died. Quinn had taken a special liking to the place during the marriage, but Abigail had been wise to keep Quinn’s name off the deed.

“Not for sale,” she said. “And what do you mean by giving me no hassles? This isn’t kindergarten. I expect you to behave professionally.”

“I should think you would want to make things easy on yourself,” he growled. “Keep the head surgeon happy, if you know what I mean.”

“Are you threatening me?” She could feel embers heating around her own eyes.

“Here’s some advice,” he said as the elevator car stopped and the stainless steel doors rumbled open and revealed an empty car. “Don’t try to play in the big leagues, Abby.” He stepped inside, turned and flicked his hand at the air as though he was brushing away a fly. “You wouldn’t be working here if your grandfather hadn’t been on the board of directors. And if it was up to me, you’d be nothing more than an admissions clerk.”

The doors began to close. Abigail lunged at the panel and pressed the DOWN button. The doors rumbled open again. “You don’t own this hospital,” she said through a clenched jaw. “And you don’t own me. Not anymore.”

“Is that so?” Quinn grinned, exposing large teeth at her. “You’re part of the OR staff now. My OR. So consider yourself owned, babe.”

Abigail stared at him, hoping to see him fade away like a bad dream. He remained postured in his stance, smirking at her. She swiped at the tears pooling in her eyes.

Quinn laughed.

“You’re nothing more than a bully,” Abigail said.

“And you’re a slut who slept with Tommy. I can never forgive you for that.”

“Forgive me?” She slapped the wall above the panel. In her mind, she had struck that supercilious smirk from his face. “You cheated on me!”

“And who did I find you with in our bed?”

“It wasn’t like that. Tommy was drunk—”

“Keep telling yourself that.” He stepped back, folded his arms over his chest, and shook his head three times. “Good luck carrying this baby to term.”

“I will. I don’t have a jackass for a husband who’ll hit a utility pole and make me lose our baby!”

Quinn shrugged. “Now you just have a jackass who calls himself an artist but paints houses for a living.”

“Well, at least—”

The doors began to close. Abigail waited with her hands balled into fists for her comeback—the one that would hurt him most. But it stayed in her throat as the doors closed. She took in a deep breath, and then let it out with a growl.

“This will never work,” she said. She marched to Wentworth’s outer office. The door was closed and locked. He had left, likely taken the rear stairwell next to his outer office to the administration parking lot. She wondered if he had seen and heard her fighting with Quinn.

Her stomach rumbled. This time for chocolate.

She entered the stairwell and followed it down three flights of cerulean and light-green concrete stairs to the nurse’s break room. There, she charged into the cozy room and halted in front of the candy machine.

“Damn it.” The Kit Kat bars were sold out. She pressed her forehead against the candy machine’s Plexiglas window. She did not see the reflection of the white-haired nurse who stood at the coffee maker next to the sink behind her. Her mind busily played more highlights of her angry moments with Quinn.

When her mind settled from its Quinn attack—and it did, quicker now that Daniel was a part of her life—she spied the last chocolate truffle waiting inside the machine. The money slot refused the crumpled dollar from her skirt pocket. After three tries, she gave up, feeling defeated. Turning, she halted with a yelp as she faced a white Styrofoam cup that seemed to hover in front of her face.

“Hot and fresh,” Emily Frewin said.

Emily’s cinnamon breath wafted over the nutty coffee aroma. The plump woman always chewed Big Red gum. Neither smell alleviated her frustration or her nausea.

She took the cup by its top and bottom and almost dropped it from the heat, then hurried it to the nearest table and blew on her stinging fingers.

Emily sat across from her and eyed her suspiciously. The older nurse’s brown eyes were red and puffy.

“Allergies,” she said when Abigail commented on them. “Every October.” She shook her head. Her short hair held its place above a narrow brown forehead, and where it fell short and straight in the back, caressing a slender neck and resting unmoving on the back collar of her white blouse. Nurses her age were well familiar with hair spray.

“What happened upstairs?” she asked. “I heard you were in Wentworth’s office. It has to be important if it involves Wentworth.”

“I turned in my leave of absence papers.”

“To Wentworth? Why should he care about your leave?”

“I think I did something I’m going to regret.” She watched steam rise from her cup. “In fact, I know I am.”

Emily cocked her head. “You’re going to make me play Twenty Questions, aren’t you?”

“You have to promise to keep this news to yourself until I’m back from leave.”

“Listen, I’m old enough to be your grandmother. I have secrets even my husband doesn’t know, and he thinks he knows everything about me. Now tell me what’s eating you.”

“Wentworth offered me Linda’s job and I accepted.”

A smile filled Emily’s face. “Congratulations.” Moments later, she returned to studying Abigail’s face. “This is where you smile,” she said.

“I know it sounds good, but I’m having second thoughts of working with Dr. Quinn, medicine jerk.”

“You’ll do just fine working in the same room with your ex-husband. You have spunk, Abigail Mae Gentry. You won’t let the sonofabitch push you around.”

“He blamed me again for our divorce. And he wants me to sell him the lake house.”

Emily shook her head. “He owns enough property in and around Ridgewood. Don’t you sell him anything.” She looked down at her coffee. “Don’t ever give in to him. Never.”

Two chattering Radiology nurses entered the room and took turns ordering from the candy machine. Abigail and Emily were silent. After they got their candy and left, Emily said, “I got laid off. Just found out a half-hour ago. But don’t you feel sorry for me. This was a job, not a profession. I can always go back to being a Walmart cashier … anything to keep me busy.” Emily returned to staring at her coffee. “And if that doesn’t pan out, my oldest, Larry, said he can get me a job at the plastics plant, so there’s always that.”

“Well, if you need anything, call me,” Abigail said. An awkward silence fell between them. She was certain there was more Emily wanted to tell her.

“What is it? she asked.

“It’s a bit awkward, but I know you have an interest in the unordinary. So, I’m going to be frank. At first I thought our new patient was either talking to herself or the lightning that struck her may have harmed her brain.”

Abigail leaned forward. “Are you talking about the girl with the unusual name?”

“That’s the one.” Emily lowered her voice. “Or she’s neither and I either saw something real and extraordinary or there’s something wrong with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earlier today I answered her bell and just before I entered her room, I heard her telling someone that she wanted them to leave her room … to leave her alone. She even told me that she wanted them out of her room, but no one was there.”

“Fascinating.” Abigail leaned closer. “And?”

“Just that it was so cold in there … colder than usual. I got her a blanket and got her calmed down … she seemed so frightened. But the really weird part was when I was at her bedside, I swear I saw a flash of white at the door, like a camera flash, only not as bright. And in the light—”

Two more nurses—Lab, by their blue name badges—entered the room and headed to a table in the back.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” Emily whispered, “but I saw something in the light … a woman … a big woman.”

“That’s Mrs. Radcliffe,” Abigail whispered. “You’re not crazy. I’ve seen her too. She’s a ghost.”

“I’ve never believed in that stuff. But…” Emily swallowed down her coffee. “But I’ve been a nurse long enough to know there’s more to life after this one is over.”

Abigail sat back. “So it seems our young patient may have been talking to one of our resident ghosts. That is definitely intriguing.”

“And spooky to hear you say there’s more than one ghost in our hospital.”

“All harmless.” Abigail stood. “I’m heading back to the floor before people think I was fired.”

Emily went to the machine and bought another coffee. “Since they’re laying me off after today, then I’m taking a longer break.” She sat and said, “What are they going to do? Fire me?”

End of installments

New WIP Installment 3 [fiction]

We leave Vree in this installment and learn more about one of her nurses, Abigail Gentry. I based her looks on the illustration below. The hair in the illustration is curlier than how I described Abigail’s. I may need to add a new description when I sit down for my final draft. Oh well. Anyway, the day is still Monday and four days before Halloween in the story.

Enjoy. Thanks for the likes on the previous posts. Please don’t shy from leaving likes and/or comments on this one.

3

Storms had a way of looking worse through windows.

It was a thought that Abigail Gentry would have turned into poetry a year ago, perhaps even a song played on her old Fender guitar. But thirty-three-year-old Abigail didn’t write or sing anymore. A lot had changed in her life this year. A lot for the better. But not all.

The Monday afternoon rain outside the three-story hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the plate glass windows to Abigail’s left. The stormy October skylight over Ridgewood had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of William Wentworth’s office, which made Abigail’s white uniform glow almost ghostlike against the black plush leather chair in which she sat.

She tapped trimmed and painted fingernails—glossy pink—against the large manila folder on her lap, the folder that contained her unsigned maternity leave papers. Betty Howard at personnel had sent her to the medical building’s third and top floor, saying that Mister Wentworth wanted to see her about her maternity leave.

But why?

Betty said she didn’t know.

Nurses didn’t get called to Wentworth’s office unless it was something big. Something bad, perhaps.

Layoffs—some of them permanent—had struck the hospital’s nursing staff last month, but Abigail knew the CEO didn’t personally hand out pink slips.

Her belly rumbled with hunger. She needed to eat more than tossed salad for lunch. But anything else brought bouts of nausea because of her pregnancy.

She tugged the hem of her skirt over her knees, crossed her short legs, picked a piece of lint from her white pantyhose, tugged her skirt’s hem again, and waited. Alone. In front of her CEO’s black, liver shaped, glass-topped desk. Except for a stack of manila folders at one end, Wentworth’s desk was spotless—unlike the desk in his inner office … or so she had heard.

At her right, Wentworth’s outer door opened and stirred her attention to her ex-husband Quinn Bettencourt entering the room. He paused upon seeing her, then crossed in front of her and plopped his gangly body in the matching chair between her and the stormy windows. He had changed out of his earlier attire of green surgeon’s scrubs and was now sharply dressed in a dark blue suit and solid green tie—the official colors of Ridgewood Mercy Hospital.

She scowled at Quinn’s boyish face easily masking his true age of forty-five. On the surface, it was a pleasant face, filled most of the time with a kindly expression until one looked deep into his ultramarine eyes where cynicism bubbled behind them.

“You here to see Wentworth?” he asked.

She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. Then, “Uh-huh. You?”

“It’s my three o’clock.” Quinn splayed his long legs and sighed. “Every Monday through Friday, like clockwork.”

“Are you always late for your meetings?”

His eyes traveled down her shapely calves, then darted to the closed door where Wentworth’s muffled voice drifted from the other side.

“Is he on the phone?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“So, why does he have you here during our three o’clock?”

“I’m hoping it’s about my maternity leave.”

“That’s right. I hear congratulations are in order.” Quinn grinned wider on the left side of his face, which made him look like he was smirking. He pointed at her trim stomach, not yet showing her pregnancy.

“I’m happy for you and Dick,” he said.

“Daniel. His name is Daniel and you know it, you—” Abigail repressed the derogatory word from entering their CEO’s pristine meeting place. She folded her arms over her chest and waited for Wentworth’s entrance.

“My bad,” Quinn said. He brushed a hand along the side of his short and neatly trimmed brown hair—dyed, of course. “I don’t know why I get his name wrong. Must be he reminds me of a Dick.”

Abigail’s scowl fixed on his steely gaze and she hoped he saw the fire behind her green eyes.

He glanced at her stomach and said, “So, how long has the pudding been in the fridge?”

Abigail turned from him. “God, you’re disgusting.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Fine. How long has the bun been in the oven?”

“You’re a….” She bit her lip.

“I’d guess six weeks, which would explain that nauseas look on your face.” He glanced over her folded arms, at her breasts that pressed against her uniform top. “Feeling tender there, I bet.”

“You’re such an ass.” The derogatory word escaped her mouth easily this time.

She took her arms away from where her breasts were definitely tender and glanced down at her watch. Eleven minutes after three o’clock. Her workday was almost over, so she made mental notes of whether to cook tonight or have send out for dinner. Probably neither since the smells of food had been unkind to her lately. Babies can make such a fuss during pregnancy.

The inner office door opened and a portly but brisk William Wentworth entered.

Quinn sat up and Abigail sat at rigid attention as their CEO plopped into a large swivel chair behind the desk, cleared his throat and apologized for keeping them waiting. Sharply dressed in a beige suit, black shirt and silver tie, he peered eagerly at Abigail’s folder before meeting her gaze and bobbing his balding round head.

“Maternity leave. An early one at that, I hear.” He held out a pudgy hand and waited for Abigail to hand him the folder.

“Dan and I want to make sure there are no complications with this pregnancy,” she said when he opened her folder.

The room stilled. Quinn coughed. Abigail almost looked pleased to see her ex pull at the Windsor knot of his tie.

“Well, naturally I would like to see you back, healthy, as soon as possible,” Wentworth said. His brown eyes danced nervously at Quinn for a moment before he settled again on Abigail. “But considering our recent layoffs…”

“If that’s going to be a problem, sir, I understand should you want me to wait.”

“Layoffs,” he said, as though the word troubled him. He squinted at her for a moment. Then he pulled a manila folder from atop his pile, opened it, and turned to the last page of the papers inside.

Abigail swallowed. Her stomach rumbled and she wished she hadn’t passed on the grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Whatever she was here for, this was it. She took in a breath and held it.

“Linda Thomas is retiring,” Wentworth said briskly. “Are you aware of this?”

“Yes, sir.” Her attention snapped back to him. “At the end of the year.”

“Sooner. She and her husband are packing this very minute. I tried to get her to stay longer, but her husband found a place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, their dream home. They had to act fast or chance losing it.”

He patted the papers with his left hand. “I’m losing nurses left and right,” he said. He bobbed his head three times at Quinn before he looked again at Abigail.

“You’re an excellent nurse,” he said, “and an outstanding team player. And despite the irreconcilable differences you listed between you and Quinn when you divorced, you have always been professional here at the hospital.”

He paused and Quinn sat forward, suddenly interested.

He’s going to lay me off, she thought. Once the baby is born, I’ll be recovering while standing in the unemployment line.

“You’re young,” Wentworth continued, “but that isn’t a limitation for the job.” He slid the folder and its small stack of papers in her direction. “Should you be so willing, Abigail, I think you’re the best candidate to fill Linda’s shoes in the OR.”

Quinn made a whooshing sound, as though he too had been holding his breath. Abigail was speechless.

“I’ll give you all the time you need,” Wentworth said, “including three months’ vacation after the baby’s delivery … completely paid, of course.”

There was a moment of rain swashing the windows. Abigail finally said, “The OR? Me?” She sat forward, took the folder to her lap, and skimmed the paperwork of her promotion. There were twenty-five pages of legalese. Contract agreements bound nurses all through their careers, but this contract seemed to contain more pages than necessary.

As though he had read her mind, Wentworth said, “It’s a bit wordy, but the standard employment agreement for all nurses hired to an upper staff position: Everything that will transpire during the term of employment, the start date, a description of your duties, who you’ll directly report to.” He looked at Quinn. “Treat her well, Dr. Bettencourt. Leave the divorce outside the hospital.”

“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. He looked and sounded stunned. He shifted his body away from Abigail, crossed his legs, and added, “Of course.”

“You too,” Wentworth said to Abigail. He produced a fountain pen from his desk. “If you’ll just sign and date on the last page, you can begin your new job as soon as you’re back from your leave of absence.”

For a moment, Abigail could not picture herself part of the OR staff. This only happened to intelligent, quick-to-learn nurses.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Wentworth said, as though he had read her mind. “You’re a topnotch nurse, Abigail.”

She nodded. He was right. She opened Wentworth’s pen and signed and dated the last page. Then she returned the contract and pen and sat back in her chair. A fog filled her mind—a good fog filled with visions of her future.

Wentworth slid the contract to Quinn, who frowned at it for a moment before he signed below Abigail’s name. The CEO followed their signatures with his before he stood, looking pleased.

Abigail stumbled upright, shook Wentworth’s awaiting hand and thanked him.

“The first year will be probation,” he said, bursting her visions of success. “But I know you’ll do us proud.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll certainly do my best,” she said.

Wentworth turned to Quinn. “No three o’clock today. I have some errands to run.”

“Of course.” Quinn stood and addressed Abigail. “Congratulations. I look forward to working with you.”

She didn’t miss the faintest flicker of distress that appeared for a moment in his eyes. Then it was gone.

“Three o’clock tomorrow?” he asked as he turned to Wentworth.

“Yes.” Wentworth turned and retreated to his inner office. When the door closed, Quinn headed for the exit.

Abigail resided in her thoughts for a moment before she stumbled past her chair and followed Quinn into the hallway. There, she paused at a corridor window that mirrored her image back to her, the rain behind it washing down with a constant certainty. She straightened her skirt and ignored the weight of a new obligation upon her, coupled by the sour sickness caused by being pregnant. After all, she reasoned, reflections have a way of looking worse through stormy windows.

To be continued

New WIP Installment 2 [fiction]

Here’s more of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson who wakes up in the hospital after lightning struck her and her neighbor Owen Avery. It is Monday and four days before Halloween when Vree awakens.

Enjoy. And again, please don’t shy from leaving comments.

2

Vree floated, buoyant in the dark.

She struggled to move, to rise out of the dark around her.

An unknown but pleasant voice spoke her name.

“Can you hear me, Verawenda?” a woman asked.

Vree plummeted deeper into darkness for a moment, then rode an invisible wave that lifted her to a small, lighted square white room. She was on her back, on a bed, and covered to her chest by a white blanket. A bank of computerized machines flanked the head of her bed. Clear liquid in a rectangular plastic bag hung above her head on a metal pole. A plastic tube ran from the bag to the top of her right hand, its metal needle held in place by three pieces of clear, plastic tape.

Her voice croaked from the worst sore throat ever as she asked where she was.

“You’re in the hospital.” The woman with the pleasant voice leaned over from the left and smiled down from an oval face surrounded by coils of red hair. Kind, mocha eyes gazed at Vree. “How are you feeling?” She wore a white starchy blouse and a gold nametag with ABIGAIL GENTRY, RN stenciled on it.

Vree tried to swallow away the fire in her throat, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“Thir-thty.” She licked her swollen, sandpapery tongue across parched lips.

The head of her bed rose until she sat upright. A white plastic cup came from the left and hovered in front of her face for a moment before she took it from Abigail’s offering hand. The water was warm but tasted good and soothed her throat, clearing it so she could ask the nurse why she was in the hospital.

“You were struck by lightning,” Abigail said matter-of-factly as she looked up at one of the monitors. She swept a curly lock of hair from her brow. “You were unconscious and unresponsive when the emergency medical team arrived at your home. We treated you for dehydration and ran some scans, but it looks like you’re doing fine now.”

Vree handed Abigail her empty cup and groaned, recalling Owen on his back and dead. The white flash must have been the lightning striking him. Tears rolled down her cheeks and a sob broke free from her throat.

“Where are my parents?” she asked, sniffling at her tears.

“Your mom stepped out for some coffee. She’s been with you this whole time. She’ll be happy to see that you’re awake.” Abigail tucked the blanket tighter around Vree’s narrow hips before she said, “I need to ask you some questions, so I need to know if you’re feeling dizzy, feeling nauseous, or having any pain.”

Vree shook her head. Several other questions followed, including if she knew who the president of the country was. She answered each one, but then asked, “Why did you look surprised when I said that today is Sunday?”

“You rest,” Abigail said. She took the pillow from behind Vree’s head and replaced it with a fresh one from a closet in the room. “Dr. Fuller will talk to you later. Meanwhile, I’ll be back later to check on you. The call buttons are on both bed railings if you need anything.”

Vree sank into the fresh pillow. As soon as she closed her eyes, darkness grabbed her and pulled her down into a swirling chaos that stopped when she opened her eyes.

A cool breeze fell on her as though someone had turned on a ceiling fan. A white crow sat perched on the foot of her bed.

Was it the same crow from earlier?

It had to be. After all, how many white crows existed in Ridgewood?

The crow cawed and spoke to her.

“You are not hallucinating, Verawenda Erikson,” it said with a deep, masculine voice.

Vree reached out to press the call button then stopped when the crow spoke again.

“You see and hear me because your magic has awakened inside you, brought to life by the lightning that struck you.”

“This can’t be real,” Vree said.

The crow seemed to stand straighter, taller. “I am Lucian.” It arched its back and flapped its wings as an obese woman entered the doorway and stopped. Her blue hospital gown was tight against her rolls of flesh.

“Why is this girl in my bed?” she bellowed.

“You need to leave, spirit,” Lucian said, turning to face her. “Your time here has expired.”

“It’s my bed. She needs to get out of it. NOW.”

Icy wind whipped across Vree. She pressed the call button.

“Go,” Lucian said. “Leave this plane of existence.”

“But this is my room.”

“Stop it,” Vree said. “Both of you get out of here and leave me alone.”

An older, plump, white-haired nurse entered and passed through the woman as she hurried to Vree’s side. She said, “It’s always so cold in this room. Can I get you another blanket, sweetheart?”

“No. I just want them out of my room.” Vree brought her trembling hands to the sides of her face and pressed them against her cheeks, despite their coldness.

“You want who out of your room?” the nurse asked.

The angry woman vanished like vapor. So did Lucian.

“I want my mom,” Vree said. Her throat had tightened and her voice was barely audible. She peered up at the nurse’s concerned face and said, “I want to go home.”

To be continued

New WIP Installment 1 [fiction]

This is just a taste of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. I’m not a speedy writer since I only have a few hours each day to write.

Okay, a fewer more since my surgery and sick leave from work.

The intro of my novel is lengthy, so I’m putting it here in four installments spread over four days.

Below is the first installment. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson and her neighbor Owen Avery. The story opens on a Sunday and five days before Halloween.

Enjoy. And please don’t shy from leaving comments.

1

Vree Erikson yanked the steering wheel of her dad’s John Deere riding lawnmower and sent it across several surface roots of the old oak tree in the backyard. She and the mower pitched left, right, left again, then … BAM. The deck slammed down, the blade stopped, and the motor whined for a moment before the engine stalled.

“No, Mom, listen,” Vree said into the microphone of her pink and black Bluetooth headphones, “I need acrylic ultramarine blue. It has to be acrylic paint. I want to finish my painting tonight so it’s ready to take to school tomorrow.” She sighed. “Have Tina help you. She works there every Sunday.”

She was quiet and chewed at her bottom lip until her mom said she had found the correct paint.

“Thank you.” Vree whipped off the headphones and flung them over the steering wheel.

A chilly October wind blew grass and leaf clippings at her back, rippled her white shirt and green palazzo pants, and blew her long blonde hair around her face. She hunched in her seat and sputtered, pulling strands of hair from her mouth.

The sky over Ridgewood had darkened as thunderheads rolled in and dimmed the afternoon sunlight. She needed to hurry if she wanted to finish mowing the backyard before the rain came.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Go away, Owen. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Her neighbor Owen Avery peered at her from the brown picket fence that separated their yards.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “It sounded like the lawnmower’s blade struck one of those tree roots.”

“I’m still mad at you.” Vree leapt from the mower and fell to her hands and knees when she tripped over a root.

Owen vaulted the fence and hurried to pull her by an arm from the ground. She pulled from his grasp and stumbled over another root. Owen reached for her but she slapped away his hands.

“I told you I don’t want to see you anymore,” she said.

“I know. But listen.” Owen peered at her with anxious brown eyes. The hair on his chin and upper lip made him look older than fifteen. Grass and dirt marked his cheeks and stained his T-shirt and jeans. Had he been in his mom’s pumpkin patch, picking out the best ones for jack-o-lanterns on Friday night?

“This is all Skye’s fault,” he said. “She saw me kiss you at the hayride last night and wanted to know how serious we were. She’s been stalking me at school, driving me crazy, so I told her we, uh…” He combed a hand through his bushy auburn hair, lifting the locks from his forehead. “I told her that we—”

“You told her that we were all the way serious.” Vree scowled at him. “And when she asked me about it after the hayride, my mom overheard her. I spent all night convincing my parents that I’m … you know … that you and I haven’t had sex.”

“I’m really sorry about all this. But if Skye wants to think that we had sex, then that’s her business. Now she can’t play me like I’m someone she needs to score with.”

Vree stepped away from him and leaned her back against the lawnmower’s hood. The conversation had plowed into the one thing she did not want to discuss. And it was all Owen’s fault.

“When two people are in love, they should cherish their love and not say stupid things,” she said. “You need to remember that.”

The pained look left Owen’s face. “Does that mean you still love me?”

Vree pushed her windblown hair away from her face again. “It means you need to make things right with Skye and my parents if you think I’m ever going to talk to you again.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I really hate myself for hurting you.”

His apology softened Vree’s anger and eased her frown. She gave him the smallest smile she could muster and said, “For the record, I had a good time at the hayride.” Then she rolled from the hood and grabbed the lawnmower’s steering wheel before Owen could open his mouth and ruin the good moment they had just shared. “Help me get this thing off those roots,” she said. “Okay?”

She steered the mower away from the roots while Owen pushed at the back of the seat. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it.

Thunder boomed from the bruise-colored sky as a sudden cold downpour rushed through the bare oak branches above them. Vree shrieked at the icy rain drenching the back of her shirt.

She hurried back to her seat and tried to start the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life.

“Dad’s going to ground me for a year if I broke anything.” She jumped to the ground. “He’ll be home from his office any minute,” she said to Owen who swiped away rainwater from his eyes. “Come on. We need to get the mower out of the rain.” She pushed against the steering wheel and steered toward the little white shed behind the garage thirty yards away.

Owen pushed from behind again but he slipped several times as his beat up tennis shoes lost traction on the wet grass.

A flash of bright light dazzled the space around them as thunder cracked again. Heat hit them like a giant fist that knocked them off their feet. Vree landed on her back, rolled to her stomach, and rubbed at her eyes with cold, wet fingers. Her body ached everywhere and she spat away an acid taste in her mouth.

When she got to her knees, the rain had stopped. Owen lay on his back a few feet away. He did not move.

Vree forgot her pain and scrambled to his side. He looked asleep but he was not breathing.

His heart made no sound when she put an ear against his chest.

Two EMTs had demonstrated CPR on a rubber mannequin in her Human Health class last month. Was it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the person was not breathing and external cardiac massage if their heart stopped beating?

She was unable to remember.

Panic kicked in. She cried for help, alone in her backyard. Where were Mr. and Mrs. Avery and Gaylene? Someone needed to call an ambulance, but she had left her phone charging in her bedroom.

She cried out again, almost screaming for help. No one came.

She had to save Owen.

She blew air into his mouth with hers, remembering to pinch his nose closed.

Then she pressed her palms against his sternum for ten quick jabs, but it did not revive him. She called out for help again until a painful sob erupted from her throat. How long had Owen gone without breathing? More than five minutes? Could the human brain live without oxygen for more than five minutes?

She continued CPR, calling for help, and begging Owen to live. She almost screamed when strong hands pulled her to her feet.

Her well-groomed blond-haired father in a gray Brooks Brothers suit towered over her for a moment before he dropped to his knees at Owen’s side. He performed chest compressions with the skill and ease of someone who had done it many times before.

Her dad knew CPR. She stumbled backwards. Did lawyers have to know CPR to be lawyers?

Vree jumped when he shouted, “Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I don’t have my phone.” The words caught in her throat and choked her. She staggered backward. A heavy weight pressed away her breath. She needed to get away from Owen’s lifeless body.

Her dad pulled his iPhone from inside his suit jacket and dropped it in the grass. He snatched it from the ground, swiped away the grass clippings stuck to the screen, and dialed 911.

A white crow cawed from the lawnmower as Vree backed away. It was perched on the seat, and it cocked its head at her, looking with black, beady eyes.

“Not dead,” it cawed before it vanished like a ghost.

Vree stumbled across the tree roots and fell into warm darkness.

To be continued

Vree’s Birthday [character development]

My character, Vree Erikson, was born April 30 in Ridgewood PA (a town I call Ravenwood in my early stories) on Walpurgis Night, aka Witches Night.

Her nickname Vree comes from her initials VRE from Verawenda Renee Erikson (also spelled Erickson in some of my stories).

At the time of this writing, she is and always has been 15 years old, born on the Eve of Beltane.

Her Earth Sign is Taurus (April 20–May 20).

Beltane, or Bealtaine, was a Celtic festival marking the arrival of summer in ancient times, celebrating Blodeuwedd (Goddess of Flowers) and Llew (Oak King, God of the Waxing Sun).

May 1st marked the beginning of summer—the season of growth and life for crops, animals, and people.

People continue to light great bonfires on the Eve of Beltane, April 30, in order to welcome the Earth Goddess. Participants hope to gain favor with this goddess so she will bless their families with procreative fertility.

In a different historical slant, the Eve of Beltane is Walpurgis Night, an abbreviation of Saint Walpurgis Night, also known as Saint Walpurga’s Eve (alternatively spelled Saint Walburga’s Eve). It is the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and is celebrated on the night of April 30 and the day of May 1. This feast commemorates the canonization of Saint Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt, both of which occurred on May 1, 870. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft, as Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity.

In parts of Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga’s Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches.

In Ridgewood/Ravenwood, however, it is a birthday for a girl who discovers she has magic abilities.

Let the fun begin.

A Story In Two Styles, part 2 [fiction]

The majority of the people I write about have normal lives, oblivious to the magical all around them, hidden in plain sight. Dave Evans is one of them. He is part of my small-town urban fantasy world.

I believe the urban fantasy story does not have to be rooted in the city. Urban fantasy can also roam into small towns, villages, and the countryside. There, the magic and weird stuff creep in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm but hidden in plain sight. Everything appears normal. The people who live there have normal lives, oblivious to the magic around them.

I know it’s a trope that has become cliché, but small-town urban fantasy is my favorite cliché and I do not plan to ever stop using it in my stories.

In this story, which is another draft of yesterday’s story, Dave’s last name is Conrad.

He is one of the first characters I created—I wrote many baseball stories about him before he had his first encounter with ghosts.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Keeping Love Alive”

Dave Conrad’s pleasant expression changed to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air in the dugout had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from June’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s baseball field.

The six o’clock sun seemed to spark Holly Sorenson’s long, soft blonde hair. A halo of white surrounded her from the funeral dress she wore. But she was no angel. Anger and hatred burned in her eyes.

A chill entered Dave’s blue and white pinstriped uniform and gripped his back. Did anyone else see her? He quashed the idea of asking his teammates when she glared at him.

Coach Walker drew Dave’s attention when he cleared his throat and spat. The doorway at the far right end of the dugout framed his short and heavy body. “Pray we all make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” he said as he looked out at the visiting team on the ballfield. His Ridgewood Junior Varsity Fighting Eagles were undefeated this year. But tonight they were two runs behind the New Cambridge Yellow Jackets as the bottom of the seventh—the final inning of the final game of the season—awaited the Fighting Eagles.

He removed his Navy blue ball cap and bowed his baldhead.

The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until he said “amen” and took his spot along third base.

“We can hit this pitcher,” Miles Kibler said, three players down from Dave. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than his.”

“Yeah! We can hit this guy,” Jimmy Franklin, their catcher, said. He sat next to Miles and champed his bubblegum between sentences. “We’ve done it before. Come on.”

Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “Stay focused,” he said. “This is your game. Never give up.”

He called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Dave stood, responding to the third name called. The players clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to his spot along first base.

The cheering came to a slow end and Dave’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh of a window behind him, to the fifth row bench behind home plate, and the girl sitting there.

He looked away when Holly glared again.

He had to focus on the game

“Stay in the zone,” he whispered.

A baseball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Jimmy Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.

Dave put on his batter’s helmet and took his place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway.

Holly glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled him from the hellish anger on her face.

She vanished from view when the fans in front of her jumped to their feet.

Tyler Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to his shortstop, keeping Jimmy from rounding third base and scoring.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Dave’s side.

“Keep the rally going,” he said, huddling close to Dave. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Jimmy from third.”

He slapped the top of Dave’s helmet before he returned to his coaching spot.

The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during his warmup pitches.

Dave’s attention waned. Where had Holly gone?

“Focus,” Dave told himself.

He had stayed away from her funeral and her gravesite. And now she had been here, giving him the stink eye. She hated him.

The home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”

Dave hurried into the batter’s box, dug his cleats into the dirt, and swung his bat menacingly at the pitcher.

The catcher taunted him with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher nodded to his catcher.

Dave stumbled from the batter’s box, certain he had lost his mind.

The pitcher looked like Holly wearing a black and gold baseball uniform. She spat and glowered darkly at Dave from the pitcher’s mound.

“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.

Dave returned to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” he whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at him and missed his head.

He glared back at Holly. “Are you trying to kill me?”

She vanished from the pitcher.

“You killed me,” she screamed in Dave’s head.

He grimaced from the blast of pain there.

He and Holly stood at the downtown playground and park where she had pitched the murderous baseball to him last month. It had been a gloating demonstration on his part of how far he could hit the ball. But the ball had gone straight off his bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck her sternum and stopped her heart. His foolish showboating killed the girl he loved.

He recalled calling 911 on his phone and weeping over Holly lying dead in the dirt.

“I prayed for you not to be dead. But it did no good.”

“You never came to my funeral,” Holly said. “You’ve never visited my grave. You do not love me.”

“I do. It’s just that I could not bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”

“I cannot forgive a coward,” Holly said. Her declaration was as painful to his heart as the pain knifing through his head.

His heart stopped beating. He pushed the fear of death from his mind and tried hard to keep breathing.

“You were everything to me. That is why I fell apart when you died. I stopped going to school until my parents made me.”

Darkness swallowed him. He struggled to continue.

“I love you. Always will. I’d do anything to bring you back. Even trade places if it meant you could live again.”

“You would die for me?”

“Yes.”

Sweet air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.

A hand gripped his left arm and pulled him from the darkness.

“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as he brought Dave to his feet.

Dave’s vision cleared but a headache pounded. Something like fingers massaged the inside of his skull until the headache became a dull throb.

“I’m good.” He dusted dirt from his uniform and picked up his bat. Then he waited for his coach to settle in the coach’s box before he stepped to the plate.

“You can do this.” Holly said. Her voice was like a gentle breeze to his ears.

He grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Holly as he readied himself for the next pitch.

It came fast, but seemed to loom large and white.

He swung his bat and the Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers as the ball flew from his bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the fence.

“Run,” Holly said. Again, her voice was like a gentle breeze.

Dave dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting his teammates at home plate where they mobbed him as soon as his feet touched home with the winning run.

As the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery an hour later, he sat at Holly’s grave and talked to her—mortal to spirit. He promised to visit her every day. And she promised to be there for him … always.

#

A Story In Two Styles, part 1 [fiction]

I love writing stories. I began when I was around eight or nine years old and I have not stopped.

I wrote the first draft of the following short story during 1972/73. It is an untypical baseball story featuring Dave Evans. When I wrote later drafts, I ended up with two that I liked. The first is below and is closer to the original draft, presented in Now and Then parts. The second story is darker—a bit menacing, which I will post tomorrow.

I like the first one for its light innocence, but the second one has a bite to it that makes it exciting to read.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Soft Like Butter”

Now

He is Dave Evans, a tenth-grader at Ridgewood High School. He has on his white baseball uniform with blue pinstripes. Today is the first Thursday in June and the last day of school. It is also the last regulation Junior Varsity baseball game of the season.

His team huddles at the bench inside their dugout. It is the bottom of the seventh inning, the team’s last chance to score two runs and win the game. Coach Walker reminds the players of that when Dave peeks past the wire mesh next to him, out at the blonde-haired girl sitting in the third row bleachers behind the dugout. The evening sun seems to spark a halo around her hair and white dress, making her look like an angel.

She lifts her face and he looks away to avoid making eye contact.

“Is it really her?” his friend Lenny Stevens asks from his seat next to Dave. He twists and cranes his head to get a better look at her.

“You see her too,” Dave says, glad he has not lost his sanity.

Coach Walker’s pep talk ends with, “No matter how this game ends, it’s been a great year.”

Has it? Dave sneaks another glance at Julie Sommers, then looks away and tries to focus on the game. Coach Walker, a short, heavy man who has a passion for pepperoni pizza, ambles to his spot at the third base coach’s box and gives his first batter, Alan Richards, signals. Alan watches attentively from home plate, then hurries into the batter’s box, looking eager to start a rally.

Dave leans against Lenny and whispers, “I wish this was over.”

“Do you think she still loves you?” Lenny asks.

Dave closes his eyes. “I wasn’t a very good boyfriend.”

Then

“She was the prettiest girl at that party,” Dave said to Lenny in the lunchroom at school almost a month ago. They sat across from each other and kept their voices low. “Remember? It was at my snooty cousin Lisa’s house, during a party for her fourteenth birthday. You were already there, in my Aunt Debbie’s indoor swimming pool, when I got there. She yelled at me when I cannonballed into the deep end. Lisa and some other girls were playing Blind Man’s Bluff there and they surrounded Julie who was blindfolded. She was trying to tag them.”

“Is that when I hit you with the beach ball?” Lenny asked.

“Yeah. I turned around and saw you laughing over at the shallow end. That’s when Julie stumbled into me. She fell and pulled me underwater with her. I squirmed around and the next thing I knew, we were arm in arm and face to face. She took off her blindfold, smiled at me, then pushed away and returned to her game.

“I could have kissed her—our faces were less than an inch apart.”

Lenny nodded. “You should have kissed her.”

Now

The Ridgewood fans cheer and some of them jump to their feet when Alan laces a single over the second baseman’s head. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets shout encouragement to their pitcher.

Dave glances again at Julie. Staying focused on anything has been difficult. His grades have taken a turn for the worse. And that is when his hitting slump started, when—

“Fire in the hole,” someone shouts as players in the dugout dodge and dive around Dave and bring him out of his reverie.

The foul ball skirts past his knees, ricochets off the bench, and sails back onto the field. He sneaks another glance at Julie. Her face and hair glow more luxurious as the evening sun sinks toward the horizon.

Then

The evening sun glowed through a window inside the Pizza Hut and lit up Julie’s perfect face. She was like an artist’s finest creation. To be in her presence made Dave a nervous wreck.

He stood at the counter, gnawed on his chewing gum, and urged Lenny to hurry and pay for their pizza and go.

“You should say hi before we leave,” Lenny said.

“She’s working.”

“So?”

“I don’t want her to get fired.”

Julie picked up her tray from the table she had just bussed and headed toward Dave. Lenny had to hammer him on the back to dislodge the gum wedged against his windpipe.

When Dave could breathe again, he stepped in front of Julie before she could enter the kitchen and bumped her tray, knocking over a glass of half-finished iced tea. It spilled down the front of Julie’s uniform.

She shrieked, then hurried into the kitchen and left behind a dumbfounded Dave.

Now

Lenny pokes him in the ribs with a bony elbow and tells him he is on deck. Dave seems to float from his seat and to the on-deck circle in foul territory. He swings a weighted bat and dreams of hitting another home run for beautiful Julie Sommers.

Then

After that horrible event at Pizza Hut, Dave entered a funk and spent some time at a safe distance from Julie.

When baseball season started at school, she came to his first game. He did not know she was there until after he hit a homerun to end a tie game. She came to the dugout and asked, “What’s it like to hit a game-winning homerun?”

Dave was speechless. His mouth seemed to petrify.

Why was she here, talking to him?

“I’m the sports reporter for the school paper,” she said.

It felt like several long minutes had passed before he could work his voice again. Julie had turned away and was speaking to Coach Walker when Dave blurted, “It’s such a wonderful feeling when a batter connects with the ball and hits the perfect hit.”

“And what is the perfect hit?” she asked, turning back to him.

“It’s when the ball feels soft against the bat when a batter makes contact. Sometimes there is barely a feeling at all.”

“How soft does it feel?”

“Really soft, like the ball is made of…” His mind scrambled to think of the right word.

“Soft like rubber?” she asked.

“Softer. Creamier. Smoother.”

“Like butter?”

Yes. Like hitting butter. She was perfect.

“Would you like to go on a date?” she asked.

Again, Dave’s mouth seemed to petrify.

“You can let me know at school tomorrow,” she said with a smile before walking away.

Now

Dave puts on a batter’s helmet. The scoreboard behind the centerfield fence shows two outs. He wonders if Petey Jackson, his teammate at bat, will be the final out. Petey answers his question by placing a hot bouncing double between leftfield and centerfield. The center fielder is quick to get to the ball. He throws it to his shortstop, keeping Alan Richards from rounding third base and scoring the tying run.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach calls for a pitcher change and Coach Walker is quick to get to Dave.

“Forget about those last two strikeouts,” he says, which causes those last two strikeouts to loom large in Dave’s mind. “Just relax and make contact. Like hitting butter.”

Dave steals a glance at Julie. Coach Walker places a beefy hand on Dave’s thin shoulder. “You can do this. Empty your mind of everything around you and focus only on the ball.”

Dave nods and tries to ignore the anxiety dancing across his back.

“Like hitting butter.”

Then

“A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter,” Dave and Lenny sang out as they walked beneath the gentle May sun to Maynard’s grocery store downtown. Lenny held out his mom’s shopping list of bread, milk and butter, which the boys found hilarious since it mimicked one of their favorite segments from television’s Sesame Street.

“You should go out with her,” Lenny said.

“Who? Julie?”

Lenny laughed. “Of course. I hear she’s really into you.”

Dave forced his fists into his jeans front pockets. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Come on, you have to do this while she still has feelings for you. But if you keep turning her down, you’re going to lose her.”

Dave shook his head and Lenny continued his campaign.

They carried on for several blocks to downtown until an ambulance screamed past them toward the hospital. A female police officer guided them across the street at Main and Elm intersection where broken glass from an accident still littered the street. A tow truck drove away with one of the cars from the accident. Another police officer directed traffic around the other damaged car still in the intersection.

An elderly woman at Maynard’s told them that a car had run a red light and hit another car broadside. The drivers from the cars were okay, she said. However, a young girl in the second car was in critical condition.

Dave and Lenny reflected on their own mortality. It frightened them to think about death coming suddenly and taking one of them away.

Now

Dave looks one more time at Julie, enters the batter’s box, digs his cleats into the dirt, and swings his bat menacingly at the replacement pitcher.

“No batter no batter no batter,” the Yellow Jackets’ catcher taunts.

The pitcher nods to his catcher, checks Alan Richards taking a big lead from third base, glances at Petey Jackson stepping away from second base, then delivers a letter high fastball that blows past Dave.

“Stee-rike one!” the umpire bellows.

Coach Walker gives Dave a nod and raises his thumbs.

Dave steps back in the batter’s box. The pitcher eyeballs Alan who steps off the bag as the third baseman leans toward third base. Nothing happens, so Dave steps out of the batter’s box and sniff at the dust in the air. And Julie’s rosy perfume.

She has vanished from her seat.

“Butter pitch,” she says; her voice is like a small echo in Dave’s ears. “Let’s hit the ball and end this game.”

Dave shivers from the strange sensation of Julie’s soul inside him.

“Batter up,” the umpire says.

Dave gulps, nods, and enters the batter’s box on wobbly legs. The pitcher nods to his catcher and throws a chin-high fastball. He knows not to swing at it, but an unfamiliar urge forces him to swing anyway.

The bat strikes the baseball.

“Like hitting butter,” Julie says.

The ball shoots high above leftfield and clears the fence.

Dave circles the bases, a hero who is unsure of what happened. His teammates mob him at home plate.

He retrieves his baseball glove from the dugout and slips away from Lenny and the others as he heads away from the high school. Ridgewood Cemetery sits across the street. The sinking sun plays shadows across the gentle hills of tombs and headstones. He stops at a large, pink marble headstone at a fresh grave. A breeze stirs through the trees and he enjoys its warmth, which is so like Julie’s love.

He speaks quietly to her soul still inside him. They talk—boy and girl, mortal and spirit—until, in the final moments of twilight, a cool breeze stirs through the trees of the cemetery and he leaves Julie behind.

But before he goes, he embraces her love one last time.

#

Nine Years Blogging at WordPress

I received notice earlier this week that I have been blogging at WordPress for 9 years.

This prompted me to reflect on my blog’s look and changes during its near decade of existence.

I didn’t call my blog Art~Writing~Life in 2011, but called it Creating New Worlds. My web address was my full name. The first image below is a short-lived header. I planned to present only my art here.

2011 header 1

I quickly changed my mind about my blog’s purpose so not to limit my options. And I used my full name. The following image was my header for the remainder of 2011.

2011 header 2

The next image was my header from 2012 through 2013. I called my blog my “Official Website” because I was in the midst of publishing my books at Amazon in 2012.

2012 header

My header took on a fantasy look in 2014. And I referred to myself as a literary and visual artist.

2014 header 1

By August 2014, I simplified my header and stopped publishing my books at Amazon.

2014 header 2

I began selling my books at Smashwords, so I changed my blog’s header in 2015 to reflect the books there. My novel Trespassing never made it to print, but the other three are still there … for now.

2015 header

2016 saw two header changes here.

The first change was a simplification that added more white space and less visual “clutter.”

2016 header 1

The second change came in two parts. The first part was to my blog’s name and address, which became ArtWritingLife. The second part was to get all crazy again with graphics in my header. I get like that sometimes.

2016 header 2

In 2017, I put my full name in my header again.

2017 header

From Handprints To Footprints had become my motto here, so I created a different header to show it. Also, I shortened my name to Steve Campbell to reflect my plans to publish books under that name.

2018 header

Finally, my current header reflects my free spirit.

2019 header

Receiving that notice also prompted me to look back at my first post, “A Day in My Life,” published February 20, 2011, at 10:49am. I received 2 Likes, 2 comments, and 2 followers that day. Since then, after acquiring 682 more followers, no one else has Liked or commented on that post, which shows that we all have posts that go unnoticed and unread. Even I forgot about it until I looked back. And I enjoyed reading it again, which has prompted me to share it here.

So, here it is. Perhaps someone new will like it.

A Day in My Life

Words awoke me the other morning, repeating in my mind loudly, obtrusive. At 4:27, I snapped on my lamp and scribbled them down.

Dark cold
Deep blue
Frigid from the death of violet

I wondered, What does it mean, frigid from the death of violet? I tried to remember the dream that had birthed those words, but it had vanished.

I extinguished the light and dozed. More words came to me: Birthed. Birthing. Born anew. They repeated and filled my head, sounding like children clopping in oversized rubber boots around my bed until the clamor became one voice saying Words. Words. Words. You send your words into the streets; they’re attacked and raped there. They give birth to new industries; your old words fall away like fallen soldiers.

Again I awoke. Again I asked, What does it mean?

Nothing revealed. I fell asleep and dreamed dreamlessly until sunlight stirred me back to the living. I took my jottings to my office and put them aside while I worked on some pencil drawings—3 hours of studying shadow and light. After breakfast I put away my art project, picked up one of my stories in progress and wrote some chapters. My main character was in a dark place—dark cold, deep blue; the basement room she was in was painted blue-violet and was frigid from the lack of windows.

Aha! The writing went quickly as words spilled from me. Soon, I had a few more chapters.

By afternoon I left for my other job (the one that pays the bills) and left behind the creative person that I am. There is no place at that salt mine for thinkers, imaginers, visionaries. People like that have been verbally attacked there for being different, and their souls spiritually raped.

Aha! … again.

I returned to my writing for an hour that night and struggled to continue my story; I was empty from the time spent at my other job. I struggled as well with the desire to edit what I had written so far—a bad habit that I am trying to break myself from. A writer should not edit his first draft until the story is completed and he has had time to put the story aside for a few weeks.

I drew instead, happy to be home and filling my emptiness with all that I love.