Like newspapers and magazines of old, I'm going to post weekly installments of my unpublished Mrs. Odboddy book, Mrs. Odboddy and the Devious Doctor. Each week, there will be a brief recap of the story to date. Let me know what you think of this concept.
To set the scene. Story takes place in 1944 in small CA town. Elderly Mrs. Odboddy, a former govt. secret agent from WWI, now fights the war from the home front. In her last book, Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger, she rescued a displaced carnival tiger, now temporarily housed in his traveling carnival cage at a friend's farm.
Agnes slung her leg over a limb in the apple tree and reached for a grip on a higher branch. “Hang on, Ling-Ling. Mama’s coming.”
The cat’s piercing shriek expressed displeasure that her itinerary at the top of the apple tree should be questioned. Godfrey, Agnes’s boyfriend, came around the corner of the house and peered into the branches. “Come down from there this instant. What in tarnation are you doing?”
Agnes pulled her skirt down over her rump, revealing a chubby thigh in flannel stockings. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that I’m rescuing Ling-Ling. She’s been up here since breakfast and she won’t come down. If you’d have come when I called an hour ago, I wouldn’t need to–”
“I came as soon as I could, Lambkins, after I called the fire department. They’re bringing over a ladder. Now, come down before you fall and break your noggin. Leave the climbing to the firemen. They rescue cats every day.” The sound of a siren shrieked in the distance.
“No need. I’ve almost got her.” Agnes loosened her grip on the branch and reached for the Siamese cat, who had climbed higher with each of Agnes’s attempts to reach her. “Just a little more. Come to mama, baby.” Wasn’t that just like a cat? “You rascal. I have half a mind to leave you here, and let you starve. Come here before I…” Crack! Agnes gasped as the branch under her foot gave way. “Saints preserve–”
Godfrey sprang toward the tree just as the branch broke. Agnes flung out her arms and grasped at branches to break her fall. Pieces of twigs and leaves broke loose as she plummeted toward the earth. Godfrey’s image flashed in and out of her thoughts, intermingled with her little ward, Maddie, and her granddaughter, Katherine. What about her attempts to save Shere Khan, the displaced carnival’s tiger? Would he find a home without her help? It’s true. Your life flashes before your eyes just before you die.
Agnes hit the ground with a thud. Her head flung back and thwacked against the apple tree. Then everything went dark.
A voice from far away called her name. “Mrs.Odbddy. Can you hear me?”
“Ow.” Her cheek smarted. Had someone slapped her? Her opposite cheek smarted. Another slap? Near dead, and now being attacked? What was the world coming to when an old woman couldn’t fall from an apple tree and die in peace? Agnes opened her eyes. Ling-Ling leaped from branch to branch and dropped lightly beside her hip. “Meow!”
Agnes’s head lolled back against the tree. Now she comes down, after I risked my life to… Her dizziness cleared. Godfrey’s face hovered over her, and two others. Firemen? What? Why?
Katherine knelt beside Godfrey and took her grandmother’s hand. “Grandma. Are you all right?” She turned toward the men in heavy overcoats. “Is she okay? Did she break anything?”
“Hard to say, ma’am.” Barnaby Merryweather, the older volunteer fireman, touched the lump on the back of Agnes’s head. “She has some scratches and a sizable bump on the back of her head. Her doctor should check her over to be sure. She took a pretty good whack. Agnes? Do you know what day it is? Who’s the President?”
“Ow!” Agnes swatted at the fireman’s hand. “Of course. It’s April 26, 1944, and Franklin D. Roosevelt is the President. Now, help me into the house.” Her hand dropped onto Ling-Ling’s back as she nuzzled under her arm. “I see the wretched cat managed to rescue herself
“If you’d asked my opinion before you risked your fool life, I would’ve told you she’d come down on her own, Grandma.”
“I called Godfrey. When he didn’t come, I thought I’d better get her down.”
“And, just see how well that turned out,” Katherine said, patting Agnes’s cheek. “You could’ve killed yourself.”
“It takes more than a bump to kill an old bird like me.” Agnes touched the lump on her head and twisted her neck from side to side. “Ow.”
“Give me a hand, Barnaby,” Godfrey said. One could always count on Barnaby Merryweather, a volunteer fireman for the past twenty years, always the first on the scene in any emergency, whether a kitchen fire or a cat up a tree. Godfrey put his arm under Agnes’s shoulder. “Do you think you can stand, sweetkins?”
“I think so. Let’s give it a try. You’re probably right. I should have called the fire department in the first place.”
MY LATEST PUBLISHED NOVEL:
After four cozy cat mysteries and three Mrs. Odboddy adventures, I was ready to try to write something different.
I set about to write a humorous cozy mystery starring Lou Shoemaker, the young, widowed owner of a sewer truck called the Pooper Scooper. She attempts to comfort her best friend, Deputy Nate Darling, who grieves for his sister, Suzanna, who mysteriously disappeared following a minor motor vehicle accident. Fully intending to make this as funny as heck with stopped up toilets and overflowing septic tanks.... the characters took over...as they often do with my writing.
Before I knew it, a white owl crashed into Lou's kitchen window. Despite the town's displeasure and without consent, the government began planning a mysterious military facility and big box store, sure to destroy the town's economy. During several chaotic events, a mountain lion and a woman in a long green skirt are sighted, resulting in positive outcomes .
Immediately the townsfolk determine that the Native Americans' legendary Spirit Woman, said to 'protect the community,' and known to travel with a mountain lion and a white owl, had returned with the intent to aid in the town's misfortune.
Oh my! Where did that come from? I've never written paranormal before.
Oh, sure, in my cozy cat mysteries, the cat's talk to each other and affect incidents to help solve crimes (see Black Cat's Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer)... and in my WWII humorous mystery adventure series (Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot) we have to suspend disbelief at some of her antics... and maybe there was an angel in Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, but we never dealt with a Native American legendary spirit woman who may or may not be real.
And I've never written a male main character before. As the story progresses, Nate becomes more of the main POV character as a couple of suspicious deaths occur while Lou is out emptying septic tanks for local citizens and attends the nearby Native American Pow Wow on the reservation.
I could go on, but why spoil the entire story? It's just $3.99 for the e-book at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/y82t4xsh
or you can contact me directly and I'll send you a signed paperback copy for $15. (free shipping), Elaine.Faber@mindcandymysteries.com
I guess the point of this post is to say, that in spite of my intentions to write a humorous mystery about stopped up toilets and overflowing septic tanks, instead, a legendary Native American Spirit Woman demanded her story be told, so that's what I did. It's a change of pace for me, but, when all was said and done, I'm pretty pleased with the story.
Check out The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain. I promise you won't be disappointed. http://tinyurl.com/y82t4xsh (Amazon link)
The days grew shorter, the air crisper, the nights longer, and the whisper of leaves on the roof began to awaken each Christmas tree bird in their tissue paper in the attic. Something sang to them, called to them, until they wiggled with joy, crinkling their crepe paper walls. Soon, each Christmas bird ornament would be lifted from his crinkly paper bed where he slept since last Christmas.
As the year neared its end, the Christmas birds felt a thrill from their springy wire clips and gold porcelain bodies to their bright feather tails. The littlest Christmas bird lay warm and snug beneath Gold Bird. How he anticipated the coming holiday season. Soon he would be on the Christmas tree with his fragile glass friends and the others…the round ones with bright colored paint. They were not nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their springy wires, delicate glass and pinchey clips that clasped them firmly to each branch. And though all his friends were lovely, he felt he was the most beautiful Christmas tree bird in the attic.
He closed his little red eyes and dreamed about Christmas Eve. From the top of the tree, he would look down upon the family gathered by the fireplace. Being part of the Christmas celebration made him feel truly alive. “I’ve been thinking,” he whispered in a trembling voice filled, “You are lovely, Gold Bird, but, in truth, I am the most beautiful Christmas bird.”
Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? Blue glass bird is made of hand-blown glass from Germany, with a fine blue feather tail. Antique bird is missing some tail feathers but he is so fragile, you can see right through him. We all have unique qualities, and all are as beautiful as you.” He fairly shook as he scolded the young bird wrapped beneath him in pink tissue.
“It may be true what you say,” said the saucy little bird. “But, the tree won’t be nearly as beautiful if I’m not right near the top.”
Gold Bird, being older and wiser, turned his head. “You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t deserve to be included in the holiday events. You conceited fellow, it would serve you right if you got left behind this year.”
The Christmas bird trembled. The idea of being left behind scared him a bit. With a slight tremble, he said, “That couldn’t happen, could it? It’s not that you aren’t handsome, but my tail feathers are longer and softer and fluffier than yours, and…my…paint is much shinier.”
“Tut tut,” replied Gold Bird. “Not…another…word.”
For several uncomfortable days, the little bird lay silent in his cocoon of crinkly paper. Gold Bird’s warning haunted him. “You conceited fellow, it would serve you right …” Not to be there on Christmas Eve? He could not bear the thought.
The days grew shorter and a soft sprinkle of snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled past the attic and the dark days edged toward December. Early one morning, footsteps on the attic steps awakened the Christmas birds. They held their breath, as their box was lifted from the shelf and carried down the stairs. “It’s time! Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree,” the little Christmas bird whispered to Gold Bird.
One by one, the Christmas birds were lifted from the box. The young Christmas bird lay wrapped in his soft tissue wrapping. He heard the squeal as his friends were hung on the tree. He faintly heard music and children laughing. He even smelled the cookies!
“It’s almost time,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “It’s nearly my turn.”…but Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. The ornament box was tossed into the corner; empty, except for the little Christmas bird. “Wait! What happened? I’m still here.” Overlooked in mother’s haste, he was left behind. His comfortable bed, now a prison, his beautiful body still swaddled in crinkly tissue paper. Muffled Christmas sounds reached his ears. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. “I was conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.”
Christmas Day approached and he missed the entire Christmas season, alone in the box in the corner. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Christmas tree bird lay in his box, imagining the tree with his friends hanging on its branches. Even the scorned round ones were part of the celebration. “The round ones may not be as beautiful,” he lamented,” but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.”
After supper, the family gathered by the Christmas tree. The little girl read from the Bible. “They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”
Christmas bird thought, “I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the baby Jesus,” and he imagined the tiny baby sung and warm, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of the surrounding animals. He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby, and if we loved and trusted Him, He would take us to heaven and we would never be left behind. The Christmas bird sniffed, “I know what it’s like to be left behind. How much worse it would be, to be left behind from Heaven.” Then, his box jiggled, the crinkling tissue paper lifted away and the warmth from the fireplace touched his cheek.
The little girl lifted Christmas bird from his box. “Look, Mommy! It’s another Christmas birdie. He has a red tear in his eye. Can we hang him on the Christmas tree?”
Daddy lifted her and she hung the little bird near Gold Bird. Looking down from the tree, the joyous Christmas bird felt the love in the room as the family shared gifts with one another. Carols played on the stereo. The spicy aroma of gingerbread drifted in from the kitchen. The family laughed and sang. Christmas bird wiggled with joy. At last, he was exactly where he wanted to be. Gold Bird swung around from a nearby branch and gave him a tender glance. “Welcome to Christmas, little bird. Did you learn anything?”
The light from the fireplace reflected the tear in his eye, shimmering like a drop of gold. “I understand,” he whispered. “Christmas is not about who is most beautiful, who is round or who has the brightest springy tail. It’s not about carols or turkey dinner or gingerbread, or even about presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s love for us with the birth of Jesus. When we accept His love and believe in Him, we will never be left behind.”
(This is a fictionalized story based on my true experience .)
Corrine sighed as the comforting turkey scent wafted through the dining room. She glanced at the clock, mentally judging her Thanksgiving dinner’s preparation with the arrival of the daughter and grandchildren. Her mother’s china, crystal wine goblets, and silverware were lovingly arranged on the dining room table. Corinne continued polishing a silver fork from Mother’s rosewood silverware box and placed it next to a wine goblet.
She thought back to holidays at Mom’s house in year's past. The chandelier lights shimmered and bounced off each shining goblet and silver utensil. Mom would move a spoon a fraction of an inch and then place a chocolate kiss on each plate. “There, to show them how much they are loved.”
Corrine’s husband mumbled something unintelligible from the family room. “What are you doing in there?” Corrine called.
“I’m converting your Dad’s old 8-mm movie films to a CD. We can show the grandkids pictures from your childhood.”
Corrine returned to the kitchen and poured a glass of wine. She pulled her mother’s favorite casserole dish from the cupboard. Her thoughts turned again to memories of past holidays.
She recalled the Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners when mom and “the girls” all wore party dresses specifically chosen for the event. The tradition ended when her mother passed away.
Over the years, Corrine was now “Grandma,” and her daughter took her position in the generational family chain. Different little children bustled through the house. “Where have the years gone?”
Corrine returned to the dining room and placed the polished fork on the table. Using Mom’s silverware was a tradition that had continued for 60 years, throughout years of young motherhood and the same silverware still appeared on every holiday dinner table. It was a constant, defying the loss of loved ones, gray hair, or climbing through the links of the family chain. One day, the silverware would grace her daughter’s holiday table; a reminder of her childhood holiday memories. Using the silverware would become part of her tradition as she created new memories for her children.
When and where had Mom gotten the silverware? It wasn’t likely to have been a wedding present, since Mom and Dad were married during the Great Depression.
Corrine stood back to admire her table setting. It looked nice. “Oh! I almost forget the chocolate kiss,” she said, adding Mom’s droplets of chocolate love on each plate. Mom would be pleased she had continued the gesture.
“Honey, come take a look at this,” Corrine’s husband called from the living room. “It’s one of your Dad’s old Christmas movies from when you were a baby.”
They sat together on the couch, watching the jumpy black and white film flicker across the bed sheet pinned to the wall. The speckles became Corrine’s mother and dad. It was Christmas Day, 1946. Cousin Dolly and Beverly hugged giant dolls and little Allan sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Corrine, a three-year-old toddler, held an enormous doll. An unbelievably young mother smiled at her from the bed sheet. Corrine’s nine-year-old brother chased little cousin Allan around the room with his new BB gun, making faces at the camera. Big sister and Cousin Wilbur ripped open puzzles and books. Only one last gift remained unopened.
Dad handed a large package to Mom. She smiled, looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. The Christmas wrap fell away. She opened the beautiful rosewood box filled with shiny new silverware. Her face beamed and she mouthed a silent “thank you.”
Corinne gripped her husband’s hand. How Dad must have sacrificed to buy such an expensive gift in 1946 when jobs were scarce and times were hard.
Here was the birth of Corrine’s most precious family tradition; the beautiful rosewood box filled with William Rogers' silverware. A connection she still shared with her mother, one that she would continue to share with her daughter and her granddaughter for years to come.
The oven buzzer sounded. The turkey was done. Corrine wiped tears from her eyes, picked up her wine goblet and hurried to the kitchen. Time was getting away and the children would soon be here!
Readers: Judy Vaughn's book, Strawberry Roan, is a collection of stories starting from her childhood on a New Mexico horse ranch where she trained horses . As an adult, she became a wife, mother, and a neurologist! She shares interesting events throughout her life in college, traveling through Mexico with an infant, and as a neurologist in a state mental hospital. Once I started reading Strawberry Roan, I found her book fascinating and hard to put down . I think you will enjoy reading my interview with Judy. (Elaine)
"Share something about yourself:"
I’m now into my third generation of a life bubbling over with three adult children and six grandchildren. Strawberry Roan, my memoir, recounts the part of my life spent in New Mexico (as well as several temporary absences for education and service) that too place from the 1950s to the 1980s.
"Tell us about your writing."
After I retired from forty plus years as a physician, I began to write the story of my beloved New Mexico youth. As I wrote, I studied the craft of writing for ten years. I wanted to write the best memoir I could.
I began writing short vignettes of my life in no special order. Once I had the story I wanted to tell, I arranged them into a loose chronology. Slowly I was able to show the roller-coaster of happiness and disappointment of my life, and how that was shaped into resilience and peace
"Who is the prime audience for your book?"
Horselovers! It's a horse story. Much of it involves the day-to-day details of caring for horses. There is both joy and sorrow. It will inspire any woman determined to balance an intense hobby, a family, and an unusual care-giving profession.
"Do you have other books published?"
Not at this time. I plan to publish another collection of stories, including a true family story from Tristan da Cunha, the most remote island in the world. I wrote A Quiet Little Civil Rights Project in 2013; it's no longer in print. I describe it in Strawberry Roan, Ch. XXI. " Beatrice Made Me Do It”
"How could you recall all the past details from your life, particularly conversations?"
Our brains reconstruct the details if we give them a hint. Most memoirs emphasize story over exactitude, emotional truth over facts. I frequently discussed my recollections with my sisters and others, and wrote the story that reflected our shared truths. Where facts seemed important, I sought documentation in newspapers, hundreds of photos, programs, directories and historical documents.
I sought to speak a child’s voice or a teen’s where needed and to show the author’s own opinions and feelings, both contemporaneous and in reflection,.
In my writing, dialogue was exact when I had a source, such as a letter, otherwise it was reconstructed. Sometimes I consolidated several true events for the sake of story interest.
I show that life was different in the last century. I trained horses with almost no help when I was very young. That was amazing, even to me. Reflecting on that, I recall Mother worrying about me alone at the barn, but I don’t see her jumping in the car to see if I was okay.
The take-aways in Strawberry Roan are often lessons in well-earned humility. The struggle for understanding continues.
"Where can your book, Strawberry Roan, be purchased?"
Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, Capital Books on I Street, Sacramento, CA., OP Cit Books, Sante Fe, New Mexico, Paper Trail, LasVegas, New Mexico. It includes over thirty personal photographs. . Also available at Amazon in paperback at https://bit.ly/StrawberryRoanBook
"Thanks for sharing your stories in your novel, Judy."
I'm sure my readers will enjoying reading your memoir and the interesting aspects of your life.
A HALLOWEEN STORY JUST FOR FUN
Jenny’s shrieks followed Tom as he skipped down the sidewalk to his 57’souped-up T-bird. It didn’t matter. When his girlfriend’s grew tiresome, he’d walk away. Women were like shoes. When the shine was gone, you got a new pair.
It was harder to leave Jenny than some of the others, but why stick around? Women always expected commitment and Tom wasn’t the committing type.
Tom checked his rear-view mirror as he ran his hands through his carrot-red hair. Not to worry. He’d have another girlfriend within the week. He stomped the gas and sped away.
Jenny clutched her black cat to her breast, “I should never have allowed myself to care so much.” A brown Maltese, a golden-eyed, pure white cat and a tan blue-eyed beauty from Asian ancestry, hunkered nearby, commiserating with her sorrow.
Reflections from Jenny’s wine glass cast a rainbow across the far wall. She took a sip and lifted her head. “Lord knows, I won’t feel any better with an orange one.” A faint smile twitched her lips. “On the other hand, perhaps an orange one is just what I need.”
The black and white longhaired cat in her lap gazed up at her and yawned. “Come on, guys, let’s get a snack. Then, I’m going shopping.” Her feline menagerie followed her to the kitchen.
Jenny gazed at the four cats hunkered around a pile of Friskies like the four spokes of a wheel; black, brown, white and tan. She remembered that Tom had a lunch meeting today at a little restaurant on Main Street. “Yes, I think an orange one will work out just fine,” Jenny whispered. “Let the games begin.”
Jenny lifted the lid off a dusty box from a garage top shelf and removed a black hat sporting a long black feather. She ran her fingers over its velvety texture, from nib to tip. “This will do nicely.” A mist of dust rose from the feather and disappeared in a wisp of breeze.
In her closet, she found a black pantsuit with shoulder pads and bellbottom pants, tucked between a tweed suit from the 1980’s, and a much older leather jacket, She shook the wrinkles from the jacket and frowned at the tiny moth hole in the left sleeve.
Had it been that long since she got the last one? She could have sworn it was just a couple years before. It was definitely time for a new one.
Jenny donned the pantsuit and the black feathered hat. She added a bangle bracelet and Lion head Medallion necklace to the ensemble and nodded in satisfaction at the image reflected in her hall mirror.
Jenny drove downtown and parked a half-block from Marvelous Marvin’s Magic Shop, next door to the restaurant where Tom was having lunch.
She stood outside the magic shop, admiring the items in the window. In a few moments, Tom strode down the street, his bright red hair blowing in the wind. Jenny caught his eye, and then dashed into the magic shop. Once inside the door, eerie shrieks and squeals of organ music, enough to chill one’s soul, came from an elaborate sound system.
Tom followed her into the store….. “Jenny, is that you?”
Jenny hurried through the darkened aisles toward a dimly lit corner piled high with boxes, capes, and baskets heaped with assorted magician’s paraphernalia.
Tom followed… until they were in the furthest dark corner, where the black light overhead caused the Magic Marvin’s Magic Shop logos on black shopping bags to glow in a neon aura.
Tom’s gaze followed the drifting feather, caressed by the breeze from the air conditioner. “Jenny? Are you going to a costume party?” His gaze still locked on the swaying feather.
“No, I was waiting for you.”
“For me? Don’t be tiresome. I told you… We have nothing more to talk about.”
“Oh, yes. I think we do.” She tapped her fingernail three times on the stack of black Marvelous Marvin’s shopping bags and whispered, “Dinkle, Dinkle, Catzenwinkle.”
Tom disappeared. The top shopping bag now displayed the image of a vivid orange striped cat with round glowing eyes, staring wildly from its paper prison.
Jenny carried the bag to the counter. “I’ll take this one.” She paid for the bag and left the store. Back home, Jenny poured another glass of wine, filled a plate with crackers and cheese and summoned her feline friends.
They came from under the table, from the top of the sofa, from under the bed, off the fireplace mantle, stretching and yawning. Like four spokes of a wheel, black, brown, white and tan, they circled the shopping bag decorated with the vivid face of the cat with glowing eyes.
Jenny sipped her wine and tossed each cat a bite of cheese, grasped the shopping bag and tipped it upside down, “This is Tom,” she said.
Out spilled a carrot-orange striped cat onto the floor. He gazed wildly around the room, his big round eyes filled with terror… The four cats nibbled their cheese and watched the newcomer with some amusement.
“Welcome your new changeling companion. Tom has come to live with us.” Jenny tossed Tom a bite of cheese, folded the shopping bag, and shoved it into the wastebasket.
Based on true facts regarding a FULL MOON on Halloween...a fiction story. Midnight Madness
Even six weeks after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the nation continued to mourn the loss of over 3000 innocent victims when two airplanes crashed into the towers.
Several days ago, the editor of the Sacramento Daily Sun editor burst into my office. “Clive,” he said. “Pack your bags. You’re going to Salem, Massachusetts, to cover their Halloween celebration. Let’s give the subscribers something to think about besides the 9/11 tragedy.”
He had me at, ‘pack your bags!’ With yet another gut-wrenching editorial in my computer about the 341 firemen lost in the Towers, I was up for anything to get away from the twenty-four-seven news cycle.
October 31 is big news in Salem. Every year, 250,000 visitors swarm the city to experience haunted houses, costume balls, live music, dances and holiday parades. This year, due to a full moon scheduled on October 31, the first full moon on that date since 1974, Salem planned even more spectacular events. Apparently, the occurrence of a Halloween full moon happens only four or five times each century! The next one isn’t expected for another twenty years─October 31, 2020!
Entering Salem, I was impressed by the witches and goblins, pumpkins and ghouls decorating houses and businesses, much like we decorate for Christmas back home. Witches are big in Salem all year long, due to the history of the Salem witch trials, but this year, even more so, what with the full moon phenomenon. Apparently, Salem’s city fathers thought the citizenry had grieved the 911 tragedy long enough, and should get their minds back onto business as usual. Let the nation grieve if it must. Salem would strike while the moon was full!
Cornstalks lined the streets. Jack-o-lanterns hung from each lamp post. Shopkeepers dressed in witch and warlock, ghost and vampire costumes, hawked merchandise. Every shop window displayed witches and cauldrons, spirits and ghouls. Tourists clamored through the town atop horse drawn hay wagons and carts.
I ate lunch at a little diner and delighted in the attentions of a charming waitress with long black hair, sparkling gold eyes and fluttering lashes. With a glance, Jenny churned up feelings I hardly remembered, being a widower well past middle-aged, and an almost regular church goer.
Imagine my surprise when she handed me a napkin with a message inside. Meet me outside tonight. 11:25 P.M. Come alone. I must see you.
I left my lunch half-eaten and stumbled outside to ponder the situation. With her charms, she had the pick of any young man; what could she possibly want with me? I interviewed shopkeepers and snapped photos of the holiday events that day and well into the evening. Even knowing it was a fool’s errand, at 11:15 P.M, I was drawn back to the diner like a moth to a flame.
At 11:20 P.M. Jenny wiped down the last table, flipped over the CLOSED sign and locked the café door. She had nearly given up hope of finding a middle-aged man with silver-white hair and mustache. What were the odds that Clive should walk through the door at the last possible moment to change her destiny?
Jenny wrapped her cape around her shoulders and stepped out the front door. There Clive stood, as she had hoped! She was blessed with a sixth sense about the future, knowing when the phone would ring or a visitor was at her door. An oppressive spirit had even settled on her the morning of September 11, feeling something evil on the horizon. She had powers over men, but on this night of night, with the full moon overhead on this auspicious date, her fate lay in the hands of this stranger. Without his cooperation, she could not escape the family curse.
“Hello. Thanks so much for coming.” Jenny placed her small white hand on Clive’s arm, hoping to bend his will to her own needs. “You’re the only one who can help me.”
“I’m happy to oblige. But, why do you ask a stranger? Don’t you have family or friends who could help you?”
Jenny lowered her head, brushing her lashes against her pale face. She allowed her lip to tremble as a tear trickled down her cheek. A white curl tumbled on her forehead, seemingly out of place among her mass of black curls.
“Here, here, now. None of that.” Clive brushed Jenny’s hair back into place. “I’ll help you if I can, my dear. Don’t cry.” He tipped up her chin and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “Now, give me a smile and tell me all about it.”
“I fear you’ll think me crazy, sir, but I swear I speak the truth.” Jenny sat on a bench and began an inexplicable tale.
“I am a descendent of the judge who unjustly hanged Sarah Good as a witch in 1692, right here in Salem. Since Sarah Good’s death, the judge’s descendants have suffered a terrible curse. Upon the rare occasion, only about four or five times each century, when the full moon is overhead on All-Hollow’s Eve, any female descendent between the age of 18 and 29 is in grave danger.
“As the full moon is upon us this night for the first time in 27 years, and to avoid the curse, I must find a middle-aged man with long silver-white hair, who resembles the judge who sentenced my poor ancestor, Sarah, to death. Before midnight, a drop of this man’s blood must be placed on a particular stone that stands at the edge of town.” Jenny’s pale lips trembled.
“Would you shed a drop of your blood on Sarah’s commemorative stone to save me from the curse?”
“What kind of curse, my dear?” Clive raised perplexed eyebrows.
“It is so terrible, I dare not speak it aloud.” Whispering these words, Jenny clung to Clive’s shoulder and wept piteously. Would it be enough to convince him to go with her to the stone? And, once there, could she muster the courage to do what she must do to stave off the curse?
Clive was speechless. Never had he encountered such a stunning creature that so captivated his heart within minutes of meeting. Never has such a ridiculous tale so captured his imagination. He was inclined to leap from the bench, take her by the hand, and race to the stone in question. Only with great difficulty did he pummel his rash impulses into submission and sit back on the bench, staring into the starry sky.
The full moon hung blood-red over the city, casting an orange glow across the sidewalks, still churning with costumed tourists, jostling and laughing, their joyous songs of nonsense carried into the black sky on the night wind.
The young woman stirred in his arms, her sobs finally ceased. She dashed tears from her cheeks and looked up at him. “You will help me, won’t you? I’m so desperate. We only need a teeny-weeny drop of blood, really. I’d be ever so grateful.”
If she truly believed her outrageous tale, considering the unusual request, even a gentleman couldn’t help wondering, how grateful? On the other hand, just exactly how much was a teeny-weeny drop of blood and just how crazy was this charming girl?
Clive shivered. A wind rustled the corn husks tied to the lamp posts. A thin cloud crept across the center of the moon, seeming to cut it in half.
Clive glanced at his watch. 11:40 P.M. “Well, let’s get on with it. Can we walk to the stone?” He would humor her and see where all this would lead. His hand rested around a small penknife in his pocket. If a tiny drop of blood is all it takes to satisfy her fantasy and win her gratitude, I can do that.
The wind whistled overhead as the cemetery loomed into view. Groups of tourists ambled amongst the grave stones. Raucous laughter burst from the direction of Bridget Bishop and Martha Corey’s graves, also victims of the 1692 Salem witch trials. One would think it was an amusement park rather than a cemetery from the sound of merriment coming from the shadows.
Jenny squealed as a man dressed as a vampire loomed from the bushes.
Clive put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She was really a dear little thing, and his heart stirred. He wanted so to calm her fears. Perhaps he’d bring her coffee in bed tomorrow morning…
Sarah Good’s commemorative stone gleamed in the moonlight.
Jenny ran her fingers over the grooves in the stone forming the letters– Sarah Good 1653 – 1692 “Poor thing. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Please forgive my ancestor.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Are you ready?” She drew a huge serrated bread knife from her purse. “We don’t have much time. I only have two more minutes. Clive?” Jenny’s beautiful smile, only moments ago holding so much promise, faded, replaced by a fiendish leer. Only his blood splashed across the accursed stone would make her smile now.
At the sight of Jenny’s wild eyes gleaming in the moonlight, Clive stepped back. The thrill of the lovely lady and moonlight adventure faded and common sense finally prevailed. Jenny had no intention of settling for a pricked finger and a drop of blood. With the knife in her hand, she crept closer and closer with murder in her eye.
“Hold on, there, young lady.” He backed away, glancing left and right. Where had all the costumed tourists gone? The witches and ghosts and even the vampire had disappeared at the first sight of Jenny’s knife.
In the distance, the town clock began to strike. Twelve o’clock…the witching hour. Bong…bong…bong. The hour that a real witch, if there was such a thing, might easily murder a stranger to thwart her twisted notion of an imaginary family curse.
Bong…bong…bong. Clive’s dull life suddenly held a great deal more appeal. How he wished he was back in New York, playing cards with a neighbor, and had never heard of Salem. Bong…bong…bong.
Bong…bong… Jenny shrieked and rushed at him, the knife raised...
Paralyzed with fear, Clive put up his hands, closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the death blow. Bong! Midnight!
Seconds ticked by. Clive ran his hands up and down his chest. “I’m still alive?” He opened his eyes.
Jenny’s cape and the bread knife lay on the ground, but… Where was Jenny? She had waited seconds too long past the stroke of midnight and the curse had taken her…but where? How?
Sarah Good’s gravestone gleamed in the moonlight. A small black cat hunched beside the stone, her tail whipping around her black toes. A white blaze crept over her nose, across one golden eye, ending beside her ear. She stared up at Clive, terror in those golden eyes, such as to soften the hardest heart.
“Jenny?” Clive walked closer to the stone. Wasn’t there a fable about witches turning into black cats? He’d never believed such tales before, but... He stroked the little cat and peered into her eyes. “Jenny?” He gasped. Jenny’s golden eyes stared back. The curse! It was true. Poor Jenny. “She needed my blood to protect her from the curse. She still needs me.”
He would write his 2000 word newspaper story about Salem, about the haunted houses and the costume ball and the decorations and the Halloween parades. The story would be colorful and for a few minutes the Sacramento Daily Sun readers could forget the tragedy that took almost 3000 lives on September 11.
He would write about tonight being the first full moon on October 31 for the last twenty-seven years, but, he would not write about a 300-year-old curse that turned a Salem witch into a little black cat. Who would believe it?
Clive cradled Jenny in his arms as he walked back to town. “Don’t worry, Jenny. You don’t have to worry ever again. I promised to help you, and I won’t abandon you now.”
Today, I welcome my author friend, June Gillam to my site with an interview about her latest novel.
Welcome, June. With the launch of your fourth thriller novel, can you share a few ideas about your writing journey?
"Why do you think someone would enjoy reading this particular story?"
I’m hoping all mothers, grandmothers and basketball fans will enjoy House of Hoops because it’s a many-layered suspense novel set in 2019 between Halloween and New Year’s Day, 2020, before Covid-19 changed our world. So in that way, it’s a sort of escape back to better, or at least more normal, times. Hillary Broome is the mother of a twelve-year-old basketball phenom named Claire, and is set in Sacramento, where Hillary handles public relations for a still-under-construction community center near the NBA basketball arena downtown, the site of continuing controversy among Sacramentans.
"Is this is a series? If so, tell us about the other books. "
In House of Cuts, the first book in the series, young reporter Hillary Broome’s article on a grisly murder catapults her byline from California into the national limelight and threatens to expose a shameful secret that could ruin her career—as well as bring her to the crazed killer’s attention. Hillary teams up with a lonely detective in a race to catch the cutthroat before he can get to a woman who's begun to fill a void in Hillary's heart left by the mother who abandoned her years ago.
A powerful California developer collapses at a funeral in the second book, House of Dads, which throws reporter Hillary into a network of jealousy and greed. In the midst of a new romance, she's forced to investigate foul play from disgruntled home-owners, mortgage bankers, and her own family members spiraling into homicidal madness.
In House of Eire, Hillary flies to Ireland on a family vacation and digs into her Irish roots, but finds herself uncovering deadly secrets in the land of a thousand welcomes, secrets that put at stake the lives of friends and family, including Hillary’s six-year-old daughter Claire.
By Book 4, House of Hoops, Hillary’s found a niche working public relations for a soon-to-open community center near Sacramento’s downtown Golden 1 Center as she aims to be a good mother to her volatile twelve-year-old basketball phenom daughter. Her attention is diverted by a former professor who’s determined to demonize the community center as symbolic of gentrification in need of destruction.
"Where do the ideas for your books come from?"
Mostly from problems I see in our culture. For example, House of Cuts came about when my husband was forced to take early retirement from the L. A. Times due to their financial strategy. This just about killed my husband because he so identified himself with his job. I wondered what if it was a butcher whose little shop was forced out of business by a big superstore moving in. What if he was bent on revenge at losing his identity? That was the origin of Melvin the Butcher.
"Where can we get your book?"
The eBook is $3.99 and paperback is $10.99 for now and later will join the other three Hillary Broome novels on Audible. https://amzn.to/34h2IZd It is available on Amazon and other outlets on its Halloween and basketball-themed launch party over my Zoom launch. (see below) Zoom launch purchasers of House of Hoops will get a chance to name a character in Book 5 of the series, House of White Crows.
"Give us your brief bio."
Sacramento native June Gillam started out as a poet before realizing her poems wanted to become stories. Her Hillary Broome novels resist placement into traditional genres and are like the proverbial Box of Chocolates: June says her work best fits into “the social problem novel,” in which various characters personify issues around region, class, race, gender, or economics to form an important part of the plot. Mostly, June loves exploring what can transform a normal person into one mad enough to kill. Her books are published by her Gorilla Girl Ink imprint, and the story of how she got that name is on her website. She has taught English at San Joaquin Delta College since 1990 and is happily involved in several Northern California writing groups, one of which she thanks in House of Hoops Acknowledgments as Elaine’s Lunch Bunch.
My brother walked me to and from school when I was in the first grade. Mama didn’t want me to walk alone through town because there was just a general store, a post office, a gas station, one church and four beer joints.
We walked on the opposite side of the street when we got to the beer joints where men gathered on the sidewalk, drinking out of paper bags. When my brother told me they had beer and whiskey in the bags, I asked him why the beer didn’t leak through the paper bag? He said, “Shut your mouth and grab that beer bottle in the bushes.” We took the beer bottle into the General Store and redeemed it for 2 cents.
We pressed our noses to the glass candy case and discussed the merits of one candy versus another. Candy cigarettes or wax coke bottle filled with cool-aid, which meant we could chew the wax all the way to school. We chose and the two cents worth was carefully weighed on a little scale. Inside the glass case, the clever storeowner also displayed various dolls and other tempting toys.
One of the dolls had a fuchsia colored dress that fanned out behind her. She had beautiful brown wavy hair and movable arms. Her lovely eyes opened and closed. Never in my life had my five-year-old eyes beheld anything so beautiful. The candy lady said she cost a dollar, a considerable amount of money in 1948.
What was the likelihood of getting a beautiful doll that cost a whole dollar? We were lucky to get one small toy, a pair of pajamas and a new sweater for Christmas. I cried and begged, promised I would go to bed without a fuss, eat all my Brussels sprouts and brush my teeth five times a day if she would buy me the doll. My alligator tears fell on deaf ears. Mama said she wouldn’t give me a dollar if she had one, what with the economic climate we lived in. Then, she said, “Go talk to your Daddy.”
Daddy was not impressed with my argument either. “Furthermore,” he said, “Mama works in the apple packing plant and earns less than a dollar an hour. You can buy three pounds of hamburger for a dollar. You can buy several loaves of bread for a dollar or three gallons of gas for a dollar. I will not pay $1.00 for a doll. You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”
Well that was pretty obvious, even to a five- year-old. It seemed like a pretty poor excuse for not giving me a dollar.
I left Daddy with a better understanding of the value of a dollar. It was also obvious that that Daddy didn’t know much about vegetables. I still had no idea how I could obtain the dolly, now an unreachable, impossible dream. And yet, every day on the way home from school, we stopped at the General Store where I stood for ten minutes dreaming of what it would be like to own that dolly.
Perhaps I had enough in my piggy bank. I shook out all the pennies and nickels on my bed; there weren’t that many. I had 24 cents. I sat with paper and pencil and struggled with the math. If I had 24 cents and needed a $1.00, how much did I still need? The concept was beyond me.
Begging my mother had resulted in a vague speech about the weather. Daddy had demonstrated his poor understanding of vegetables in general. My piggy bank left me wanting, and my brother said I still needed $.76. After discussing it with family members, I figured I would have to earn the money.
That night I dreamed about the dolly. In my dream, I could feel her soft wavy hair. I sat her up and laid her down and watched her eyes blink open and close, open and close. When I awake, my fingers were still feeling the smooth texture of her satiny skirt and the rough edges of the lace. I was obsessed with the dolly.
I remembered the men standing on the corner, or squatting by the wall, drinking from paper bags near the beer joints. I remembered how they tossed the bottles into the bushes. I remembered that each bottle was worth 2 cents! Daddy had said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” which made slightly more sense than his lecture about blood and turnips. If I walked around the back of the beer joint, I could pick up the beer bottles, cash them in and save up the .76 cents.
For several weeks, I dragged dirty beer bottles out of the bushes on the way home from school. Each was worth several pennies apiece, and each night I dropped a few more pennies in the piggy bank.
When I had saved a dollar, I rushed to the store. My dolly was still in the glass case. She would be mine at last. The store lady rang up the sale.
“That will be $1.03,” she said. Tears sprang to my eyes and down my cheeks.
“Why is it $1.03,” I asked. She explained that the government didn’t have enough money to pay all the relief checks to the lazy men who squatted on the sidewalk next door and drank beer out of paper bags, so that’s why a little girl had to pay 3 cents more than she should have to, in order to buy a dolly. She said the government needed my 3 cents to help pay off the 258 billion dollar national debt. … (Imagine! that's what it was in 1948. Sounds pretty good by today’s standard, doesn’t it?)
After a bit of negotiating, I got the store lady to agree that I could take the dolly home if I gave her my dollar today and brought her 3 cents tomorrow. If I couldn’t get 3 cents by tomorrow, I would return the dolly and she could keep the dollar and sell the dolly to another little girl. I was the one gambling, not her. They say a con man is born every minute. I figured if I couldn’t find two more beer bottles on the way home, mama would be so embarrassed by my gambling, she would give me the 3 cents. I would probably get a spanking, but it was a risk I was willing to take.
I walked home, clutching my dolly to my heart, scanning the ditches. It seemed as if someone had gleaned every single bottle. I scoured the bushes and searched the garbage cans outside the beer joints. Near my house, two beer bottles were lying under the rose bushes. With the 4 cents from the bottles, I was able to square my debt with the candy lady.
Mama was mad when she heard how I got the money to buy the doll. She forbade me to collect any more beer bottles. She said, “If you ever want something that bad again, you should ask me for the money.”
Now isn’t that what I had done in the first place?
Seventy-two years later, the dolly still resides in my china cabinet, my first entrupeneural venture.
Tell me about your first adventure selling mistletoe or berries store to door. How did you earn your first dollar?
If you enjoyed this story, please check out my fiction novels on Amazon or contact me for a paperback copies of one of my eight published cozy mystery books.
Here is a fun short story to start your day.
The Slobaviakinsky Golf Course and Convention Center was located in a small, undeveloped country somewhere north of the 23rd Parallel, funded by a US entrepreneurial endeavor to improve the lives of the Slobaviakinsky citizens. They employed one hundred and ten individuals, from grounds keepers to bartenders, to chefs and maids.
The biggest and finest golf course and convention center within 3000 miles, it was chosen to hold the annual European golf tournament. News of Tiger Woods’s attendance assured financial and national attention, and every room in the convention hotel was reserved in advance
Tiger had shipped his personal all electric golf cart with leather seats, titanium steering wheel, state-of-the-art sound system and beverage center, and golf clubs with gold gilt grips, ahead of his arrival. They placed a tarp over cart beside the CEO’s office, lest anyone should attempt to pilfer same and sell it at New York Southey’s Auction House.
Unbeknownst to the tournament organizers, or CEO, years long before the course was built, beneath the manicured grass, there was a maze of tunnels connecting the 1st through the 19th hole, built by a secret society where covert operations were planned. Discussions were underway beneath the turf as to how to scuttle the approaching tournament, lest the location of the tunnels should be discovered and future doings thwarted. A final plan was voted on and passed.
Three days before the tournament, the head landscaper entered the CEO’s office. The distraught man wrung his hands and blurted out his terrible story. During the night, someone had torn out the sound system in Tiger’s golf cart and shredded the leather seats. The golf bag holding his precious gilt-edged clubs was slashed with marks that looked like wild animal teeth. Knowing Tiger Wood’s sensitive nature, the CEO feared that hearing of the offense, he might refuse to attend. In such a case, would the tournament even proceed?
Much to their surprise, Tiger grudgingly agreed to use a standard golf cart if they provided a cooler filled with his favorite beverage and a CD player.
Two day before the tournament, the CEO found his head electrician awaiting his arrival. During the night someone had destroyed the wiring to the PA system, making it impossible to announce the events over the loud speakers. What would Tiger’s adoring fans say if they could not hear about his prowess on the field? Since the hotel was already fully booked and international news media already on their way, they were determined to fix the system and save the tournament.
The secret society called another emergency meeting. Scuttling Tiger’s golf cart hadn’t worked. Destroying the PA sound system hadn’t worked. Drastic measures were needed. In desperation, a final deterrence was needed.
One day before the tournament, the CEO’s head chef was waiting. That morning, he had found rat droppings on the kitchen counter, on the stove and in the pantry. Bags of flour were torn open. The freezer was unplugged and hundreds of pounds of meat had thawed. The refrigerator’s electric cord was chewed in half. Apparently, rodents had invaded the hotel. The health inspector would likely shut down the kitchen, putting the entire tournament at risk.
The clever CEO snapped his fingers. “Set up barbecues on the patio with bricks and screens. BBQ all the meat for the guests tonight. Have the local markets and bakeries bring bread, fresh fruit and pastry for breakfast tomorrow. Gather the portable microwaves from each room to prepare whatever else is needed. Contact another dozen food trucks to serve the tournament guests tomorrow. We’ll make it work.”
In despair, the secret society shrugged and gave up. None of their efforts had derailed the tournament. They would have to take their chances of discovery.
On tournament day, Tiger Woods faced the top ten world champion golfers. On the 19th hole, he was one stroke from winning the tournament. He eyed the ball, drew back his club, but as he swung, his foot slipped on a leaf. His ball arced to the left off the fairway, into the trees. The crowd erupted in a collective moan. TV cameramen trailed Tiger into the woods where he found his ball on a mound of dirt, evidence of a major gopher hole.
Tiger stomped the mound flat, smacked his ball onto the green where it slowly rolled and plopped into the cup. Tiger said. “The club better set out poison before the gophers get onto the fairway.” He moved onto the green to the adulation of his adoring TV fans.
In the tunnel below, a number of ground gophers wept as their worst nightmare came to fruition. Tiger’s attendance at the tournament had revealed their secret location. It was only a matter of time until the secret tunnels would be destroyed and their existence doomed. There was only one solution. A quick vote was pass and decision made to move their network of tunnels into the International Culinary School garden next door. Unbeknownst to them, Wolfgang Puck’s world renowned Annual Cooking Contest was scheduled to be held there next spring.
Do you prefer fantasy short stories or do you prefer reading non-fiction articles?
If you enjoy fiction stories, check out my cat anthology of short stories . All Things Cat http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak (Amazon e-book $2.99)