Teaching Art Is FUN

Not long after I stopped drawing my Louie and Bruce comic strip, I began teaching art courses to adults and children. One of the youth courses was Drawing Cartoons, so I used my strips as teaching aids during the 6-class course. About halfway through the course, we discussed anthropomorphism—giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. From that, we created the character, Frank The Dog.

From Frank The Dog came Fred The Dancing Dog and his all-girl entourage. This lesson introduced drawing action and showing movement in the cartoon.

I enjoy teaching children because their ideas are fresh and inventive. This in turn sparks new ideas in my mind. Teaching art to children is an adventure to an end I never envision when I create my lesson plans. And bottom line: children are funny. They make drawing cartoons, which is already fun to do, a delight to do.

When I teach my classes, I have subjects on slips of paper that students choose from a hat. The subjects range from short and tall, narrow and wide, round and square, to various emotions and animals. A random drawing of “short, wide, round, silly, pig” resulted in the pig illustration above. The subject of crazy resulted in the cat illustration next to it. And from a random suggestion, the cat became a slob as I taught them how to refine their drawings.

Teaching at school may be what teachers do for work, but artists teaching children (and adults) at workshops can be a wonderful experience for those of us who can draw it (or paint it) as well as teach it to others. And with a classroom full of different personalities, there’s never a dull moment. Every day is a new adventure. You never know how the adventure is going to end, but it’s fun to find out.

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 2 [comic strips]

Old jokes and gags were common in Louie and Bruce’s world. I sometimes stole gags from TV, tweaked them, and used them in my strips. The snowball gag above is probably older than my dad, and he’s in his eighties. But it was a perfect gag for Leroy.

Mark Twain said that because of humor, “…All our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” That sunny spirit was my life in the 1980s, and it transferred easily to my comic strips.

Of course, my sense of humor began when I was a child and drawing comic strips began in grade school, well before the 1980s. But the 80s was a decade of big possibilities that saw me take aim at an adventurous future by getting married and beginning a family. Some people may find the idea of marriage and raising children daunting and downright terrifying. But I went into it happily.

I believe being funny is possibly one of the best things you can do for your health. And if you can’t be funny, at least enjoy the humor around us and laugh. After all, laughter is medicinal for relieving our ailments.

The above strip is a variation of a gag that ran throughout Louie and Bruce at various times. Leroy could perform magic, but he was not a magician. Nor was he a magical being. He had magic ability and no one in his world made a big deal of it. His magic was only a tool to perform a gag, which is what his character was: a tool (used in the nicest way) to play out a joke.

Comedy is a fundamental part of human nature—there’s no such thing as a completely humorless individual. Many of us are drawn to comedians, sitcoms, silly pet antics—anything and everything that makes us laugh. Finding something to laugh at attracted me to the Sunday funnies in the newspapers. Eventually, I copied what I saw. As I matured and understood the process of telling jokes and drawing my own characters, a cartoonist was born.

When I drew comic strips during the 1980s, I was a cartoonist of the farcical. I wrote comedy based on improbable coincidences with satirical elements too ridiculous to be true. My mind buzzed with that kind of humor and it was practically a celebration when I drew it.

My Louie and Bruce strip employs what psychologists call “Affiliative humor.” This involves finding humor in everyday life about things that everyone might find funny. In a comic strip, Affiliate humor can easily become Situational humor, aka the anecdotal sitcom. I was a fan of anecdotal strips such as Dick Tracy and The Adventures of Tintin, and I really loved the humorous anecdotal comic strips such as the early college years Doonesbury strips of the 1970s.

Laughter is good for the heart. And scientific research has shown that laughter not only reduces stress and betters our mood, but it increases our immunity as well.

When I came through life-saving surgery this year, I needed to take a new look at my life and make some changes—most notably, reducing stress. Most of that stress was job related. Changes at my workplace two years ago created a havoc-wreaking environment that put me at the helm of constant problem solving. I cared too much about the quality of my department’s work to watch it crumble from poor design and leadership. I worried about the future of my department and I let those problems follow me home.

The laughter had stopped at work—no one was happy anymore—and I rarely laughed at home. Then something gave and I ended up in the hospital. I decided my job wasn’t worth dying for.

While I healed, I found some of my old comic strips, which had been missing for decades, and I learned to laugh like my old self again. But moreover, I felt truly happy again.

Laughter has become one of my all-time favorite stress management strategies because it’s free, convenient, and beneficial in so many ways.

The above strip introduced Leroy’s new look. Gone was the carrot top, never to return.

I think there’s a special joy from getting a new haircut and hair style—the chance to reinvent yourself and feel different. It’s no secret that a haircut can make us feel good, make us shine, feel more confident.

Of course, some people can get silly about haircuts/hair styles and go wild and crazy with them. I can see the clan at Louie and Bruce doing this. Maybe it’s time to bring my old strip out of retirement. Who knows?

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 1 [comic strips]

Leroy is Louie’s brother. Louie has a pointed head and Leroy’s is flat. I referred to him as a carrot top—not because his hair was red (which it wasn’t), but because the three hairs that grow from the center of his head reminded me of three stems of a carrot after the leaves have been chopped off.

I drew Leroy’s first comic strip (above) in December of 1981, but didn’t reveal it until a month later in January of 1982. I drew a weekly run of single strips that year, many of them since lost.

The character with Leroy in the above strip is Mike. I didn’t feature him often, though he and Leroy were best friends. Like the rest of the characters, Mike was single. His favorite music was hard rock and his favorite band was AC-DC. His sister, Gloria, became Frank’s girlfriend that year. She was a softer, saner side of the guys and was never fazed by their crazy world.

When Leroy wore hats, readers confused him with Louie because their lower faces looked the same. But Leroy had the magic touch—an idea I stole from Doonesbury, the college years.

I think Leroy’s flat head may have come from Bull, the grumpy, cigar-smoking truck driver, pounding on it. This was a running gag that often ended with Leroy’s head squashed inside his shirt.

I’ll finish up Louie and Bruce with more strips from 1982 in my next post. Until then, peace and love.

Louie’s Cat Acts Up [comic strip]

In January of 1982, I drew an anthropomorphic character for the Louie and Bruce comic strip: Louie’s cat.

I didn’t have a name for the stray alley cat Louie took in, so he was called “Louie’s cat.” Names that I kicked around were Barfield (a play on Garfield), Rowdy Dangerfield (because he thought he was a comedian), Ace (because KISS was his favorite rock band), and Newb, short for Newbesiah. None of the names stuck, though I referred to him in my sketchbooks as Barfield.

He was Louie’s Pinocchio. And like Pinocchio, Louie’s cat had a childlike curiosity and naiveté that got him into trouble.

I introduced another character in January of 1982: Louie’s brother Leroy. He was featured in my shorter strips (which I will present in my next post).

Debarking Up the Wrong Tree [comic strip]

It’s December 1981 and the sawmill I work at is shutting down for the winter. Life for Louie and Bruce and the gang goes on, though this is the last full-feature strip of them at the mill until 1983.

No one does a better pratfall than Louie. But falling into a debarking machine isn’t my idea of a fun ride.

I hope this comic strip manages a chuckle from my readers. But I understand if the story goes over the heads of everyone unfamiliar with the workings of sawmills.

Until my next post, peace and love everybody. And Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to my American readers.

Frank’s Lunch Break [comic strip]

Welcome to another Louie and Bruce comic strip feature from 1981, never published at this website until now. The top 3 throwaway panels (see my last post about that) introduce and set up the problem, which carries through the strip to the end: Frank forgot his lunch.

I was influenced by cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s early Doonesbury comic strip (the college years) before his strip became political and painfully dull to read. In those early Doonesbury strips, someone turning into an instant werewolf would have happened. Those unexpected plot twists are what attracted me to the Doonesbury characters. I love that kind of humor and I understand its limitations and why Trudeau left it. I simply didn’t enjoy the political soap opera path he took.

Anyway, an unusual feature I made to my strip was extending my characters beyond their panels. I used this in an earlier strip when I shortened the dialogue from the wordy “I’ll use my handkerchief to clean off the dirt” and didn’t want to redraw the dialogue balloon. I didn’t like that the panel cut off the characters’ feet, so I extended them beyond the panel.

An interesting side note: I based these characters on people I knew and worked with at a sawmill during 1981. Someone there actually ate bacon, onion and cranberry sauce sandwiches. (He also drank them down with Stroh’s beer, but only after work.) I changed the order of the sandwich’s ingredients to fit the dialogue balloon. To date, I’ve never committed myself to try one of those sandwiches. By the way, it was best to place the cranberry sauce between thick walls of bacon and onion to prevent the bread from becoming soggy. I suggested using Canadian bacon and was told that Canadian bacon is really ham. You don’t mess with proven recipes.

Another sandwich side note is about Louie’s homemade peanut butter. One of my fellow sawmill employees used to bring homemade peanut butter in Mason jars that he gave away. The peanut butter was delicious but gritty instead of smooth and creamy. An older employee got some of the grits caught under the plate of his dentures, so he swished some root beer in his mouth to rid the annoying grits. “It was like an explosion in there,” he told me. From that, an idea for a Louie and Bruce comic strip was born. The rest is history.

Louie’s Problems [comic strip]

I’m going to feature “old” artwork—mostly comics and other drawings from the 1980s and 90s—during November and December to close out the year.

This is another Louie and Bruce comic page from 1981 that I’ve never featured here before. Like the one in my last post, I found this comic while I was going through old boxes.

The strip is divided by two jokes. I remember this type of setup featured in all the Sunday comics at the time. Some newspapers cut the three-row comics to two rows, so cartoonists would feature a throwaway gag in the first row, as I did in my comic strip here. The gag is an old joke that’s been around forever.

The second and third rows feature the story, which has Louie lamenting to Frank about life at home with his family’s pets. This is the sort of gag I remember from watching “variety hour” TV, which was a modernization of vaudeville.

I love the classic jokes.

A Louie and Bruce Treasure Hunt [comic strip]

This Louie and Bruce comic page is from September 1981. I was 24 and married for ten months. I had big dreams back then and a bigger future in front of me.

I found this comic and others like it while I went through old boxes during a search for decorations of Christmases past. The drawings caused me to reflect on those days in a melancholy wonder. Wow! How did all those years go by so fast?

They didn’t really. But when you’re busy and not paying attention to life’s clock, the years seem to pass quickly.

Anyway, I’m going to feature my past—the “old” stuff from the 1980s and 90s—during November and December to close out the year.

I hope you enjoy it.

Peace.

Hell’s Fury [politics]

I usually stay away from politics when I’m on the internet. Too many uneducated people try to sway my opinions with poor arguments that would get them laughed out of a Philosophy 101 class.

Anyway, there’s a big stink in the state of Pennsylvania (and I don’t mean the governor this time) over the POTUS election. And one of those stinks involves my wife.

She discovered that her vote didn’t count because she used a Sharpie on the ballot. A Sharpie on a table at the polls that a worker there told her to use.

And now her vote is invalid.

Really?

How ridiculous … lousy political snafu … stupid is that?

A lot more stupid than our 43rd and 44th presidents put together.

As it stands, there’s an investigation going on over misconduct at the polls in Pennsylvania.

All I can say is this election was a farce and an embarrassment to U.S. citizens. And if Biden is POTUS come January 20, 2021, comedians are going to have a field day with that stooge.

***UPDATE*** Pennsylvania officials say that while they preferred voters to use either blue or black ink pens on ballots, the Sharpe ballots were not discounted. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania poll workers claim Sharpie ballots were destroyed and not counted.

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