When your friends are awesome…

One of my greatest pleasures in life is the ability to brag about my friends! I am super excited to announce that my brilliant and awesome friend, Caitlin Mazur, will be releasing her debut novel, HIM in January 2018. I’ve been fortunate to read a few snippets, and I am on pins and needles to read the complete book!

Click the link below for more information and to sign up for updates on this amazing novel!

https://www.caitlinwritesstuff.com/the-migrator-series

Twist

theperfectshot-4

 

“I don’t want mac and cheese again!” Gracie whined while I plopped a helping onto her plate.  She had a point; we’d had it four nights in a row.  My cheque hadn’t lasted as long as usual and the week had been rough.  I had to stretch our dollars as far as they would go.  I couldn’t ask the Aberdeens for money again.

“How about if I add some hot dog pieces on there too?”

“Okay, Mommy,” she replied in her squeaky three-year-old voice.  “But can we have peanut butter sammiches tomorrow?”

I chuckled.  “You can have anything you want.  Maybe we can even pick up a pizza!”

“Yay!” she squealed, throwing her arms straight up in the air, sending cheesy pasta airborne.

“Who’s my Doodlebug?”

“Meeee!”

Gracie was my perfect cherub – blond, ringlet pigtails, chestnut eyes and that one dimple on her right cheek.  She was the essence of eternal hope and endless happiness.  Even at that moment, watching her pierce the orange elbow pasta with her fork with such determination and joy, gobbling every bite even though I knew she’d rather have a proper home cooked meal, I couldn’t help but be enamoured with my little Doodlebug.

My childhood lacked luxuries, but Daddy made sure we never wanted for nothing.  He worked three jobs so Mama could raise us herself, so our bodies were warm, our tummies were full and there was always a roof over our heads. When I found out I was pregnant at sixteen, I vowed that no matter how tough life got, my child would want for nothing, just like me.  When Gracie was born, and she grasped my finger in her tiny hand for the first time, I knew I would sacrifice my life to care for her and keep her safe.  But life had other plans.  After Mama and Daddy died in that tornado, I had no one to help me raise Gracie and nowhere to call home.   I didn’t know what our future looked like.  Jason was useless.  He even questioned if she was his, suggested he “wasn’t the only one.”  Often times, I’d cry myself to sleep at night, wondering if we’d make it, if I would fail to protect her.

I was working at the diner, trying to keep Gracie’s belly full and roof over our heads, when I met the Aberdeens. They were an older couple from town that’d never had kids of their own.  They came in for dinner one night and in a short time, became my friends.  A few months later, they invited us to a barbeque at their house.  That night changed our lives forever.  That was the night they invited Gracie and me to live with them.  Mrs. Aberdeen would babysit – free of charge, bless her heart – so I could keep working and give Gracie something better. We stayed with them while Gracie learned to sit, crawl, walk and talk.  Then they gave us the trailer.  We parked it on their land, and my baby girl and I called it home.

After I’d put Gracie down to bed, I washed the dishes, still humming the bedtime lullaby I’d sang for her.  I had a job interview the next day that Mr. A had arranged for a receptionist job at the local clinic, with better pay, benefits and the possibility of a better future.  It’s funny how we take tomorrow for granted.

I gave little notice to the leaves that flew past my window, but when the lawn chairs shifted from one corner of our yard to the next, I knew that something wasn’t right.  High winds weren’t uncommon in our corner of Tennessee.  Tornadoes were painfully familiar, so I knew when to turn the water off and listen.  The windows rattled, and the wind howled like the red wolves up in the Smokies.  When the lawn chairs went airborne, I closed my eyes and prayed for just a silent, windy night.

“Please God, not the alarm.”  Our trailer had no storm cellar, and we’d have to drive down the road to the Aberdeen house to seek shelter.  We’d done it many times – it was a stone’s throw away – but never in the middle of the night.

God wasn’t listening.

The sirens wound up and screamed into the night air, alerting everyone in town to take cover.  Gracie’s cries came through the baby monitor as the alarm woke her.  Then the lights went out.  Billowing clouds raged in the night and shrouded us in sheer darkness.  I relied on my memory to guide me through the kitchen to the utility drawer in search of a flashlight.

“Come on!” I rifled through the clutter I’d accumulated over the last year.  “Where the hell are you?”  As though obeying me, it found my hand, and I clicked the soft button on the shaft.  Nothing.

“Dammit!”  I’d let the batteries drain.  I rummaged through the drawer for spares but it was then I remembered, I’d added AA’s to my grocery list for my next trip to the Easy Way.  I placed my arms out in front of me and felt through the darkness as I ran down the hall in the dark, guided only by the sound of Gracie’s sobs.

“Mama? I’m scared!”

I scooped her up and held her tight.  “It’s okay, Doodlebug.  We’re gonna be just fine.  Hold onto Mommy, okay?”

“Okay,” she replied through fluttering exhales.  I carried her through the trailer in the dark.

Infrequent flashes of lightning provided us just enough light to find our way to the truck, but in between, we were running blind.

I buckled Gracie into her seat and tore down the road to the Aberdeens’.  Dust built a wall around us and hail crashed into my windshield, spreading cracks like veins.  Then the rain plummeted down with a force that made the hail seem like falling feathers.  Gracie screamed in the back seat, clutching her faded teddy bear for comfort, but I could barely hear her over the racket on my truck’s roof.  The Aberdeen house was only two hundred feet away, but it may as well have been on another planet.  Thankfully, the road was a straight line, and I could find my way with my eyes closed.

But locating the house was the least of my worries.

The truck shook as I pressed the gas pedal down to the floor.  The beast was coming.  There was no escaping it.  There was no fighting it.  The best I could do was hope like hell we would get to the Aberdeens’ before the twister got to us.  I had to fight to maintain my grip on the wheel and to keep us from veering off the road.  I was no match for its strength.  The passenger side lifted, and I was pressed against my door.  I couldn’t free myself from the grip that glued me to my corner of the truck.  Gracie wailed incoherently in the back seat, though I wouldn’t have heard her words over the clamour outside.

“Gracie, baby hold on!  Mama loves you!”  The world went topsy, and we went turvy, and the truck flipped over onto its roof.  My head hit the window, and a blinding pain consumed me as everything went bright white.  Warmth gushed from my forehead and ran down my face.  Shattered glass rained over me and my left side seared from an overwhelming pain.

“Doodlebug, you okay?”  She didn’t respond.  “Gracie?”

Before I could turn to check on her, the storm made it clear it wasn’t finished with us yet.

The wind spun the truck around and then lifted us again. We crashed down hard in a ditch, and the impact battered the left side of my body. I tried to call out to Gracie, but my lungs tensed, and I only mustered a grunt.  The ditch held us in place as the storm’s wrath descended, shielding from another thrashing.  I released my buckle and placed my arms up over my head.  I gave in to gravity and allowed my body to drop to the roof of the truck.   My mind whirled in unison with the tempest outside.

Without warning, the rear window shattered when something flew inside, slamming into my shoulder.  The furious monster would not stop me from getting to my child.  I cradled my face as I fought my way to   the back seat.  The storm’s power was no match for the jolt I experienced next.  Gracie wasn’t in her car seat.

“Gracie?” I shouted.  “Gracie!”  She wasn’t in the truck.  The crash had broken her window.  She must’ve been thrown from the truck when we flipped.  I pulled myself through the open window but had to crawl back inside when the funnel made its appearance.  I held onto the sides of the window and braced for its ferocity to pass over.   It’s one thing to be under the protection of thick concrete as a raging twister dances overhead, but a direct stab from its vicious lance – well, that’s another thing altogether.  That’s something no one can prepare for.   The thundering roar of the merciless, bloodthirsty funnel was surreal.  Its strength was unfathomable.  My skin burned as though being torn right from my bones.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep holding on, but I would try like hell, even if it meant the death of me.  My Gracie was out there somewhere and she needed me.

Then the branch flew at my face.  I couldn’t move in time.  My darkened world went black.

I woke up lying on the ground with beams of sunlight stroking my cheeks.  Birds chirped, and the air was still.

“Gracie!” I brought myself upright in one motion.  I looked down toward the Aberdeen house.  It was gone, nothing more but a void of despair where my home once stood.  I couldn’t worry about them just yet.  I called out my baby’s name again and again but got no answer.  Debris littered the ground as far as we could see.  How would I find her?  I ran over to a large piece of wall and flipped it over.  I knew from the photos of my parents and Gracie still attached in their shattered frames, it was my trailer.  And it was gone too.  I ran to each large piece of debris, tearing it away with hidden strength as I searched for my little girl.

“Gracie!”

“Mama?” The sweetest sound I’d ever heard.  She stood on top of a pile of rubble, clutching her teddy.  I ran over to her and lifted her into my arms.

“Ow, Mama!”

“Sorry, baby,” I said, releasing my crushing grip on her.  I pushed her away to inspect for injuries.  She was unscathed.  Not even a scratch.  Gracie didn’t even have dirt on her.  It was like someone had lifted her out of the path of the storm and cradled her in a safe cocoon until it passed.

“Mama, I flew!  I flew like a birdy!”  Her eyes lit up with joy and her smile shone brighter than the morning sun.  Elation couldn’t bridle my tears.  It was a miracle.  The storm had passed and was no longer a threat to my baby and me.

Then I focused my attention back to what had been the Aberdeen house, reduced to rubble.  They were likely still hiding down in the depths of their storm cellar.  At least, I hoped they were.  I grabbed Gracie, and we navigated over our landfill to see if they were safe.  Two wishes in a row were evidently too much to ask.  Before we reached the mountain of debris, I saw his legs sticking out from beneath a pile of bricks.  My insides seized and my belly lurched.  I needed to set Gracie down; my arms weakened from the shock and I knew I might drop her.

“Doodlebug, stay here, okay?  Mama’s gonna check something.  Can you be a good girl and do as I say?”  She nodded, but she knew something was wrong; I could see it in her eyes.  I couldn’t hide the pain on my face, but I could shield her from the horror I was about to encounter.  One by one, I threw the bricks from the pile.  Mr. Aberdeen’s body was so broken, if it hadn’t been for the watch around his wrist that Mrs. Aberdeen had given to him the previous Christmas, I wouldn’t have known it was him.  He didn’t have a pulse and his neck was ice-cold; he’d been dead for a few hours, at least.

“Oh, Stan.  I’m so sorry.”  I closed my eyes and wept for my friend.  I said a prayer for his soul, though I didn’t have much faith at that moment.  Why hadn’t he been in the cellar?  I grabbed Gracie and went in search of Mrs. Aberdeen.  I couldn’t lose her too.

“Please be safe.” I guess I thought if I wished it loud enough, it could be true.

“Where’s Gampa Bean?” Gracie asked as I carried her around the outer edges of the chaos.

“Doodlebug, he was just so special and amazing, God decided he wanted him to be an angel.”

“An angel?  Can I be an angel too?”

Before I could answer, we came upon the cellar doors.  With careful precision, we climbed over the ruins and approached.

I knocked on the wooden door.  “Mrs. Aberdeen!  Are you in there?  Connie?”  No answer.  I closed my fist and pounded the doors.  The doors weren’t locked.  I climbed the steps into the dark cellar, but it was empty.  “Oh, God.  Connie, where are you?”  I was sick at the thought that she’d been outside during the storm also.

I let Gracie walk alongside me as we took the road back to the main road.  My body was a shell housing my shattered soul as I scanned the land and called out to my surrogate mother.  We’d stop to listen for any movement or cries, but only the song of the birds above us responded.

I couldn’t deny the truth nagging at me; Mrs. Aberdeen was dead too.

As we approached the place where our trailer had stood, I had to stop.  Tightness grew within my chest as helplessness consumed me.  For a whole year, that trailer had been home.  The Aberdeens had been home.  We had nothing left.  Our family was gone and our lives were disseminated.  What were we going to do?  Where would we live?  How would we survive?

I couldn’t put on a brave face for Gracie anymore.  I rested my hands on my knees and released my tears.  My knees weakened, and I fell to the ground.

“Mama?”

I wiped my face dry.  “It’s okay Doodlebug.  Mama just needs a moment.”  I dusted myself off and brushed the hair out of my face.  I realized my head didn’t hurt anymore.  My wound was gone and as I wiped at my face, it was clear of blood.

“Mama, what’s that?”

I looked at Gracie and followed her pointing finger to where our truck had landed.  It was still there, damaged and warped from its flight.  But two little legs, covered in pink pyjama pants stuck out from beneath the wreckage.

“No!” I cried out.  “Stay there, Gracie!”  I ran over to the truck.  It couldn’t be.  Then I saw her teddy bear, tattered and stained with blood.  My eyes moved to something in the field a few feet away.  The epiphany should have been a clear one to accept, but even as I stood there, looking at my beaten body, I couldn’t comprehend it.  We hadn’t survived the storm.

“Janey,” said a man’s voice behind me, sending my heart leaping from my chest.  I turned to see Mr. and Mrs. Aberdeen standing on the road, each holding one of Gracie’s hands.

My stomach sank and I ran over and grabbed them in one big embrace.  “Why weren’t you in the cellar?”

Mrs. Aberdeen stroked my face as a tear streaked her cheek.  “We wanted to make sure you were safe.  We tried to get to you, but…we didn’t have enough time.”

“We’re all safe now,” said Mr. Aberdeen as he reached his hand and took mine in his grasp.  “Come, dear.  Let’s go home.”  The four of us walked down the road together, a family reunited.  As we approached the site where their house had fallen, I glanced back to where mine and Gracie’s bodies lay.  Before my eyes, all the debris and our corpses vanished and made way for the brightest grass I had ever seen grow on our land.  Wildflowers sprouted from the earth and speckled the field with vivid colours.  When I turned around, the Aberdeen house stood before us, more beautiful than I’d ever remembered it.  The sun’s light beamed down, focusing its light on the roof, adding a glimmer to everything.  My eyes followed the steps up to the front door, which slowly opened as we approached.

“Hi, Janey.”  It had been years, but I could never forget that voice.

“Mama?” She and Daddy stood in the doorway, smiling as I climbed the porch and threw my arms around them, tears soaking my cheeks.  We stood there holding each other, feeling the contours of each other.  It was like walking into a long desired dream.  Years had passed since I’d seen their smiles, since I’d felt their protective touch, but it was as though no time had passed.  Yesterday was stolen from us far too soon, but tomorrow was ours.  Arm in arm, we walked into the house together.  The twister had thrown our lives into chaos that night, but there was mercy in its wrath.  My family was together again.

And we were home.

Unexpected directions.

Inspiration finds us in the most unlikely of places. As I was scanning the various book cover artist websites for my current work-in-progress, Moonstone, I stumbled upon a cover that grabbed me with a mighty force; I had to buy it. I had no idea what to do with it, but I had to have it before anyone else bought it.

So there I was a new cover in hand and no story to put between its pages. But then, after staring at the cover for so long, and looking at the various elements in the picture, a light bulb went off.

So now, Moonstone will have to be set aside, just for a little while as I embark upon a new journey with my newest protagonist, Selene, the moon goddess. I’ve spent the last two weeks diving into the depths of Greek mythology, and though it’s been quite daunting (man, there were a lot of gods and goddesses), a story has formed.

I am super excited to write this heroine and her story, Lunar Shadows.

More to come as Selene’s story unfolds.

We’ve Got Tonight

Recently I wrote a Rock Fiction short – at the challenge of a fellow writer – inspired by a Bob Seger song of my choosing. I’d never done this type of writing before, so I was open to the challenge. I think I found an inner Nicholas Sparks that I didn’t know existed.

*****

“Did you remember to bring your change of clothes for afterwards?” Sue Ellen asked her daughter, clinging to her mom hat for as long as she could wear it.

“Yes, Mom,” Jane replied with a chuckle. “I have everything I need. You know I’ll be leaving the nest soon. You’re gonna to have to trust I can take care of myself.”

Sue Ellen turned into the school’s driveway. She pulled the car to a stop and sighed as she looked at her daughter, now an adult, but forever her little girl. “Can you indulge me, please? Let me parent you for one more day.”

Jane tilted her head and smiled at her mother. “Okay, fine. Yes, Mom. I have all my things.” She gathered her purse and reached behind her for her cap and gown and then stopped. “Do you think he’s proud of me?”

“I know he is.”

Jane stiffened her quivering chin and wiped away her tears. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

Sue Ellen hugged her daughter, fighting back her own desire to cry and swallowed the lump in her throat. She whispered, “I love you too, kiddo.”

Jane left the car to join her classmates, and Sue Ellen shifted into drive so she could find a place to park. Her foot didn’t release the brake. She stared at the school’s entrance, and somehow it was 1984 again, and she was walking down the long hallway inside.

Sue Ellen approached her locker after history class. She knew Luke Parker would be waiting at her locker – he hadn’t missed a day yet. Though she resisted his advances each time, she looked forward to their encounters. The most popular guy and the football team’s star quarterback, and he wanted plain, bookish Sue Ellen. He didn’t disappoint; he was right where she’d expected to find him. Leaning against her locker, combing his fingers through his jet-black hair.

“It’s about time you showed up,” said Luke, smiling that dazzling smile that had girls swooning all around them, though he only paid attention to Sue Ellen. “I was worried you weren’t here today.”

She felt her cheeks heat up, but she couldn’t let him know he was affecting her. Sue Ellen straightened her face. “Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

“The only way you could disappoint me is if you reject me again.”

She fought her muscles from forming the smile she could feel erupting on her face. “Luke, I told you…”

He took a step toward her. “You told me you didn’t think it was a good idea. Well, how will you know unless you give me a chance? Please? One date. If you don’t enjoy yourself, or you feel nothing toward me, I’ll leave you alone forever. I just think we would miss out on something amazing if we don’t at least try.”

Sue Ellen chuckled. “What cheesy teen flick did you get that line from?”

“Come on. You don’t want me to beg, do you? I will.”

Sue Ellen stood there gazing into Luke’s deep brown eyes that crinkled when he smiled, brightening his entire face, his perfect teeth, his imperfect, crooked nose, and his heart-shaped cupid’s bow.

“Okay, you asked for it, “ he said as he lowered himself to his knees.

“What are you doing?” she asked, grabbing his hand to urge him back up. “Fine! Okay, Friday night. Just get up. Please!” She walked away, shaking her head, hugging her books to her chest with an ear-to-ear smile she hoped he wouldn’t see.

That Friday, Sue Ellen sat in her living room waiting for the obnoxious horn from Luke’s truck. When she’d decided that he wouldn’t show up, the doorbell chimed through her house.

“I’ll get it!” she yelled, running to the door in hopes she’d reach it before her parents. To her chagrin, her father got there first.

She heard his voice before she saw him. “Good evening, Mr. Waterfield. I’m Luke Parker. I go to school with your daughter. I’ve come to ask your permission to take her out this evening.”

Sue Ellen stood in the foyer, staring with her mouth agape as her father accepted Luke’s outstretched hand. After twenty minutes of discussing the school’s successful football season, and the coveted scholarship that Luke had won, Sue Ellen’s father gave his blessing and sent the two teenagers off for the night.

“You two kids have fun,” he said as they walked down the path to Luke’s red Chevy. “Be home by midnight!”

Sue Ellen and Luke drove in silence for the first fifteen minutes of their date. She was nervous and still unsure of his intentions.

“So, where are we going tonight?” she finally asked, disrupting the silence.

“I thought we’d go see a movie at the drive-in,” he replied.

“The drive-in?” she repeated, realizing she’d been right about him. There was only one reason people went to the outdoor movie park. Sue Ellen was angry that she hadn’t listened to her first instinct. Why else would the jock want to date the lonely bookworm? She was a conquest he could brag to his friends about. Well, Sue Ellen would not reduce herself to a notch on his bedpost. They pulled into an empty spot in the half-full lot.

“I’m so happy you agreed to come,” said Luke, as he left the driver’s side of the Chevy. Sue Ellen watched as Luke rounded the back of the truck and pulled something from the bed. He walked to the passenger side clutching two chairs. He opened her door and offered his free hand.

“Are you coming?”

Sue Ellen was stumped. Where were they going? Her curiosity heightened, and she gave him her hand. They sat down in the chairs in front of the truck’s grill.

Luke took Sue Ellen’s hand. “I thought it would be nicer to sit under the stars.” She’d been so wrong about him. He wasn’t the jerk jock. Sue Ellen missed most of the movie because she spent the better part of the night looking at Luke, instead of Kevin Bacon dancing onscreen. She had never smiled as much as she did on the ride home. Sue Ellen was ready to let Luke kiss her goodnight, but when he walked her to the front door of her house, he merely pressed his lips to her cheek.

“I hope you had a good time tonight,” he said.

Without saying a word, she pulled him in and wrapped her lips around his. When she went inside, her face burned with elation, and Sue Ellen knew she was smitten.

Sue Ellen took her seat with the other parents while the graduates navigated through the sea of navy caps and gowns in an effort to find their chairs. Jane didn’t have the same challenge; she had already found her seat on stage with the other honour students. She was looking at her lap through closed eyes, clutching her index cards and fluttering her lips as she practised her valedictorian speech. Sometimes Sue Ellen found it too difficult to look at her. Jane had his chiselled face, his black hair and matching thick lashes, his brown eyes. She was his perfect doppelganger. It felt like only yesterday that Sue Ellen had sat in that same chair, rehearsing her own speech.

“Congratulations, Sue Belle,” said Luke after the ceremony completed. He kissed her temple and wrapped his arms around her neck, pulling her into his body. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Luke. I’m proud of you too.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, so much to be proud of.”

“Have you told your parents yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“They’ll know you lost your scholarship when…”

“Shhh. I’ll tell them this weekend. I have a plan. For now, I just want to enjoy being free of this place. Do you wanna go home and change first, or are you okay to leave from here?”

Sue Ellen wasn’t in the mood to party with a bunch of drunkards at the top of The Mound. “Maybe I should just stay home tonight.”

“Sue Belle, we only have a few days left before you leave. This may be the last time that we all get to hang out together.”

Sue Ellen sighed and conceded defeat. “Okay, I’m gonna go home with my folks and get changed. Pick me up later?”

“I’ll see you at eight.”

Later that night, Luke’s truck pulled up the winding road to the peak of the largest hill in town, where everyone had started celebrating. The stench of beer and pot smoke filled the forest while speakers blared Seger and Van Halen into the evening air. The sun was setting over the city, bringing the day to an end. High school wouldn’t be the only thing coming to an end that night. Something had been nagging Sue Ellen all week. And she couldn’t wait any longer.

“We need to talk,” she whispered in Luke’s ear, just as he was about to agree to a game of beer pong at a makeshift table someone had fashioned in a clearing.

“Alright,” he said. “Everything okay?”

She led him through the woods in silence, and they found the dark, secluded part of the hilltop where people went to be alone. No one was drunk enough to use that space yet. They stopped at a fallen tree trunk. Luke leaned against it while Sue Ellen planted her feet to the ground. Her eyes welled up. “Luke, I just want you to know how much I care about you.”

“Uh oh,” Luke replied, pushing himself away from the trunk. “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

Sue Ellen hadn’t rehearsed what she would say to Luke. She needed to break things off with him. When Luke had injured himself during a game, lost his scholarship and started talking about following her to school, things got too serious for her. She needed to end things. She hadn’t decided on doing it on grad night until that moment.

Sue Ellen took a deep breath and without thinking, blurted, “I can’t do the long distance thing.”

“We don’t have to. I’m gonna move out there and get a job. We can still be together.”

“You can’t leave everything behind for me.”

“Sue Belle, you are everything. If you leave, there’s nothing here for me.”

She wiped away the tears soaking into her shirt. “We’ve only been together a few months. We’re too young to make such a commitment.”

Luke pushed off the trunk and kicked a tree root. His eyebrows angled down as his chin wrinkled. He angrily rubbed his eyes. “Why did you agree to go out with me if you were just gonna dump me?”

Sue Ellen struggled to speak. She cleared the tension in her throat. “I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t believe I could care for you this much when I said yes to our first date. I didn’t think I could, but I fell in love with you.”

“Yeah, so much that you don’t want to be with me anymore.”

“Please, Luke. I just need to focus on school for now. Don’t hate me.”

He stopped and looked at her. “I could never hate you. I could never love anyone as much as I love you.” He stepped towards her. Seeing him in so much pain made the decision to break up that much harder.

Sue Ellen pulled him into her and held him tight. “Luke, this is for the best. If we’re meant to be together, we’ll find each other again when the time is right.” She hugged Luke and committed each detail of him to memory. The way the fabric of his sweater felt against her face, scratching her skin in the most uncomfortable, yet enjoyable way. The way his Old Spice and fabric softener blended, a smell that would forever belong to him. How his arms felt holding her.

She didn’t want the moment to end, but she needed to leave. “I think you should take me home.”

“Wait,” he said. He pulled away from Sue Ellen to bring their eyes together. “If this is our last night together, can we make this night one we’ll both remember?”

“What, here?” she asked, her cheeks blushing.

He smiled. “We have the truck, we have the stars, and we have Bob to serenade us. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye. Tomorrow we’ll go our separate ways, but tonight,” his lips parted into a smile, “well, we’ve got tonight.”

“Okay, you win for cheesiest come-ons,” Sue Ellen said with a laugh. She knew it was the worst idea, and logic told her to say no and just go home. But she wanted to be with him too. They walked back to the truck, hand in hand, and drove over to the lookout. They had it all to themselves. That night, atop a blanket in the bed of his Chevy, they said goodbye under the stars.

The directions read, “Results in forty-five minutes”. It took a just under thirty. Sue Ellen hadn’t yet completed her first semester, and now a little vial filled with pee announced that her life was about to change.

“This can’t be happening,” she said out loud.

“I’m coming home for Thanksgiving,” she said to Luke’s answering machine later that night. “I was hoping maybe we could get together, grab a bite to eat, talk…”

“Hello? Sue Belle? I’m here!” Luke was panting as he answered the phone. “Yes, I want to see you. Let’s eat. Let’s talk! Our place.”

Sue Ellen had never been more nervous than she was on the drive home. Her parents had surprised her. Though they expressed disappointment in her lapse in judgement, they acknowledged that ‘these things happen’ and they were willing to help her finish school and take care of the baby if that’s what she wanted to do. It was what she wanted to do.

Sitting at their diner, as she waited for Luke, Sue Ellen wondered if he would be as supportive as her folks. He loved her, but would he love her as much when he found out that they were forever bound by this life they created together. She had heard from some mutual friends that Luke was working as a foreman on one of his uncle’s construction sites. Maybe he’d be open to being a father too.

After the first hour, Sue Ellen just figured maybe they’d mixed up the times. By the end of the second hour, she’d reconciled he stood up. For a brief moment, she wondered if there was any way he could have found out about the baby. But the only people who knew were her parents, and they wouldn’t have said anything, knowing she was meeting him to reveal her secret. When she’d decided she couldn’t stomach another milkshake, Sue Ellen paid her bill and left the diner. On the drive home, she wondered why he would have left her sitting there, after sounding so eager to see her. Maybe something had come up, and he’d left word with her parents. But they knew where she was, and they would have called the diner. Somewhere between concerned and pissed off, she rounded the end of the street up to her house.

Sue Ellen’s mother was sitting on the porch swing when she pulled into the driveway. She’d been crying. Sue Ellen’s stomach lurched, not from the morning sickness she’d become familiar with, but from that sickening feeling of knowing something was terribly wrong.

“Luke?” Sue Ellen asked as she walked up to her mother, tears filling her eyes.

“Oh, baby. I’m so sorry.”

“No. No!” Sue Ellen unleashed a scream from deep within her and fell to the ground. Her mother ran to her and cradled her. “Luke, no!”

“Sue Ellen, sweetheart,” her father said. “He was on his way to meet you, and… honey, he just couldn’t stop his truck in time.”

She sobbed into the arms of her parents. “I was so angry with him. I thought he stood me up.”

“No, baby,” her mother whispered. “He wanted to see you. He was going to ask…”

“Angela,” her father cut in. “No.”

“She should know,” her mother replied.

Her father asserted himself. “Not now.”

“What?” Sue Ellen asked, pulling herself out of their protective shell. “Tell me. Dad, please. What is it?”

Her dad took a breath and let out a reluctant sigh. “Sweetie, Mr. Parker said they found a ring in Luke’s jacket pocket.”

“A ring?” Sue Ellen stood up. “What kind of a ring?”

“An engagement ring.”

Sue Ellen’s stomach betrayed her as she lost the battle to keep her meal down. “He was going to ask me…? Did he know?”

“About the baby? No, I don’t think so. He’d had the ring engraved. Looks like he’d bought it some time ago.”

“What did it say?”

“We’ve got forever.”

Sue Ellen looked down at the ring on her left hand and spun it the way she did when she was agitated. With eyes filled with tears of joy and sadness, she looked up as her daughter approached the podium on stage, accepting her diploma.

“Luka Jane Parker!” announced the principal, handing her the scroll tied with white ribbon. Though Luke left them on that devastating night, Sue Ellen knew that he had been with them every step of the way.

“Yes, sweet Jane,” Sue Ellen whispered to herself. “He is very proud of you. We both are.”

Camp Nano has begun!

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I am four days in and nowhere near my word count target, but it’s early, and I won’t give up. I’m sure every Nano competitor can relate to this. Life gets in the way, and there you have it.

This past November I entered my first NaNoWriMo, and I won! I enjoyed myself so much that when I heard about Camp Nano, I couldn’t pass it up. One of my favourite things about Nano is the community of writers that come together to help one another to buckle down to get words out really. We’re all busy and bogged down with life that sometimes it’s hard to get anything onto the page. Somehow, though, when you have an army behind you, and a support system around you, you can unleash a geyser of words. I was fortunate to have found an incredible group of people, and though I haven’t met them in person, I have come to call good friends. They have made me a stronger, better writer and they continuously challenge me to push harder, to be just a little better than my best. I wouldn’t have come nearly as far as I have without them and their cheering and tough love.

One of the things I found alarming when I started writing, is that it’s a lonely life. I have a supportive husband and friends who cheer me on, and their support is invaluable. But only another writer could ever truly understand the struggles and demons that stir inside my mind when I try to realize an idea, to pull it from the depths of my imagination and transform it into something enjoyable, emotional and vivid.

My hope for every writer is that they don’t walk this path alone.  Find your own army to have your back, to push you forward, to pull you up when you stumble, and to cheer you on in those dark moments of self-doubt we’ve all struggled with.

Good luck with Nano!

A Box Of Lost Memories

One of my favourite writing activities to participate in is writing prompts. They help me stretch out my writing muscles or at least, give me a workout when the words don’t flow on my current WIP. Here’s what I came up with for a recent photo prompt.

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“John, there’s a call for you on line one,” said Jasmine, interrupting the meeting I told her was not to be interrupted under any circumstances.
“Take a message,” I instructed and turned back to my clients, who were already sighing impatiently at my pitch.
“John, you need to take this call,” she insisted.
“Jasmine…”
“It’s the police.”

When I envisioned what a perfect life would be, Lisa and I were married, living in a modest house filled with beautiful children. I never stopped to appreciate how lucky I was when my dreams came true and our sweet triplets were born. Midnight black hair like their mother, and my sterling eyes. Each morning, I’d wake to my jubilant little girls jumping up and down me with glee. Each evening when I returned from work, they’d greet with squeals of, “Daddyyyyyyyyyy!” Six tiny, vicelike arms wrapped around me, squeezing me with all their strength, and nothing felt better. We didn’t have much, but we had each other, and it was perfect.
I got my first promotion when the girls were three. Shortly after, came another step up in the company. I was climbing the ladder at an unprecedented rate, making a name for myself among the higher-ups. Business trips to meet with out of town clients meant I missed birthdays, but my girls never faulted me. Late night meetings ran into anniversary dinners with Lisa, but she still kissed me with fiery passion when I finally made it home and happily microwaved the dinner she’d cooked for us.
My girls decided I couldn’t miss out on all the fun of their birthdays since I couldn’t always be there to see it for myself. On the night of their sixth birthday, I returned from my business trip to find a wooden box on the kitchen counter. Inside were photos from their birthday party. Missed moments of cake-covered faces, plump lips blowing out candles, and silly poses filled the box. How did I get so lucky?

I sit on the floor of my living room in our giant house that my high paying job afforded us. It feels somehow bigger. Hollow even. The early morning sunlight shines through the Venetian blinds, leaving bright lines on the hardwood floors. Dust particles dance on the shafts of light beams. My girls love to chase the “fairies”. No, they don’t chase fairies anymore. They’re wearing makeup now. Lisa told me Kassy has a boyfriend. When did they grow up? How did I miss it all? I stare at the wooden box in front of me. I don’t remember it ever being this full of photographs. How have I missed so much? Birthdays and Christmas concerts, soccer games and dance recitals, all stare back at me. I have no memory of any of it. I wasn’t there. Tears leave my eyes and crest my cheeks, landing on the photos, swelling the inked paper. I frantically wipe them clean. It’s all I have left of them.
For the sake of yesterday’s stupid sale’s pitch, I missed their junior high graduation. If I had been with them instead, maybe they wouldn’t have been on the road at that moment. Maybe I would have been driving, and the drunk driver would have killed me too.
“My dear, sweet girls. I’m so sorry.”

Upcoming Releases

This year is going to be very busy for me as I will be releasing two novels. My first is my baby. Moonstone has been in my life for many years, and it’s finally going to see the light of the sun.
Slide1This YA Fantasy is the first in a series of four. Matty Evans is focusing on getting through her finals unscathed and graduating high school. One night a mysterious storm rolls into town and it provides the perfect distraction. While paying attention to the strange clouds and lightning above, Matty’s guard is down, and she is abducted from her yard and taken to a mysterious place. After a series of devastating blows, she discovers secrets within herself and finds that she is stronger than she ever thought possible, emotionally and physically. This strength will be necessary if she is to make it out alive. The cover is my own that I threw together, but but I am currently working with a brilliant artist to get that finalized.
Slide1Stella’s Law is another YA story that I wrote as an entry for an anthology. I didn’t make it in, but I did receive praise from the publisher, so I decided to expand it into a standalone novel. In this book, a young woman wanders around the world orchestrating little accidents and inconveniences to prevent people from meeting an untimely death. Stella has no memory of who she is, how she came to do what she does, or how she died. Stella’s Law is a journey of self-discovery with a touch of humour and a lot of emotion. The cover for Stella’s Law will also be changing to better suit the character and the story she has to tell.
I haven’t set release dates for either at the moment, but they will be out before the end of the year. I will keep posting updates for both.

Quote Of The Day

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My husband is a big fan of Doctor Who, or a Whovian if you will.  This is a quote he was close to tattooing on his arm at one point.  Though I don’t watch the show myself, nor did I think this would make a great addition to his ink collection, I find meaning in the words.  

So many people walk through life without purpose, without goals, with no desire to do anything more than just exist.  But when they come to the end of their lives, what will they have to say about themselves?  They went to work and slept and ate?  What will people remember about them?  

Me?  I’d love to leave my mark.  I want to imprint myself on this complicated planet of ours and in the lives of those who cross my path.  This might be in how I raise my child.  Perhaps it’s in the way I grow and strengthen my marriage.  Could be in the bonds of friendship I forge.  Maybe the stories I tell will be part of someone’s dusty book collection one day in the distant future.  Either way, I plan on making my story a great one!  

Eh?

Shadow Circus

Some time ago, I submitted a short story to another Facebook group for a writing contest.  They provided me with a prompt that was centred around a circus.  The group has since gone inactive, but I thought I’d share my submission with you.  I won third place!  🙂

pexels-photo-167386“Come on, man!” Jeff shouted as he crawled through the tear in the fence.  “Toss me your briefcase and let’s go!”

“It’s not a briefcase,” Colin replied, as he slipped through behind his friends.  “It’s a messenger bag!”

“Your face is a messenger bag!” Jeff retorted.  Lisa and Jenny giggled at the immature exchange.  Jenny’s laugh made Colin forget his apprehension about being in such a dark and eerie place.  He’d wanted to be alone with her for months, and tonight he had his chance.   The foursome walked through the dark carnival graveyard.  Roller coasters and rides that once flashed with colourful lights decayed to rusted metal skeletons.  Game huts crumbled into forgotten heaps of splintered wood.  Trees and weeds had taken over paths that hadn’t seen foot traffic in years.  A place once filled with joy was nothing more than rubble and overgrowth.  Colin had the foggy memory of riding his first coaster there on his fifth birthday.  The park closed not long after.

“Come on,” said Jeff.  “We’ll be able to see everything from the top!”  He grabbed Lisa’s hand, and they took off toward the ferris wheel.  Colin wondered if Lisa knew how many times Jeff brought girls here.

“Are we going to miss it?” Jenny asked, taking Colin’s hand in hers.

“I promise you won’t miss it,” he replied, squeezing his fingers around hers.  She smiled and the crinkle beneath her turquoise eyes ignited Colin with the urge to kiss her.  She held a gaze with his eyes, then with his lips.  Was this an invitation?  She answered with a step closer to him.  Their bodies trembled and breath quivered between them.  Before their lips could embrace, Jenny looked up and gasped.

“What’s that?” she asked.  The indigo sky came alive.

“Hey guys, look up!” Colin shouted to the others.  “It’s starting!”

“Oh, wow!” Lisa shouted.  “Look at that!”  White streaks zipped through the night sky and indigo gave way to radiating red, gyrating green and whirling white.  The Aurora Borealis had joined in the ballet of meteors.  They stood there in awe.  Without warning, two meteors collided up in the heavens.  A burst of light exploded and twinkling stardust rained down.

“Good thing I brought this,” Jeff said, holding up his smartphone to capture the incredible moment.  “No one would believe us.”  Glittering, fiery rock debris sprinkled the earth.  Some appeared to land in the park behind the old snack court.

“We should get up there,” Jeff said, pointing to the top of the ferris wheel.  “Looks like it’s gonna be awesome.”

“I wanna see if we can find any meteors over there,” Lisa demanded.

“Shhh!” Jenny’s gentle clutch turned to a tight squeeze.  “Someone’s here!”  They stopped and listened.  There were voices coming from behind the snack court buildings.  Jeff didn’t wait for the others to investigate.

“No, Jeff!” Lisa said as she clutched his arm.  “We should go.  We’re gonna get in crap for being here.”

“It’s fine,” Jeff replied, silencing her with a dismissive kiss.  Colin and Jenny looked at one another and smiled.  He wanted to kiss her too, but their moment had passed.  Jeff pulled away from Lisa.  “You coming?” he asked Colin.  Not wanting to appear afraid, Colin nodded and followed.  The girls remained close.  They rounded the buildings and there stood a black and white, striped Big Top.  Lights burst through the seams of the black and white, striped fabric and upbeat organ music echoed from inside.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Jeff asked, walking toward it.  They parted the entrance curtains and peered inside.  A dozen performers rehearsed their acts.  A fire eater blew out a stream of flames into the ceiling of the tent.  Above them, trapeze artists linked limbs and twirled through the air.  Three contortionists tangled up their bodies in and out of pretzels on the ground.  Two jugglers with painted faces tossed pins back and forth to each other.

“Welcome,” a baritone voice spoke behind them.  The four teens whipped around and gasped.  They were face to face, rather knee to face with tall, gaunt man.  He towered over them, forcing them to crane their necks to see his pallid face.  He lifted his black top hat in salutation, bowing his bald head which reflected the moonlight.  “Cornelius Fere, Ringmaster of Shadow Circus.  Pleasure to greet our first guests.  May I entice you to come inside and see the show?”

“Hell ya!” Jeff shouted without a thought and he pulled Lisa into the tent.  Colin and Jenny followed.  For a moment, Colin thought he saw the night sky through the man’s face, as though he was transparent.  He brushed it off as a trick of the lights beaming from inside the tent, and he allowed Jenny to pull him in.

“I guess they’re reopening the park,” Jenny said as they took their seats in the front row.  A beautiful woman approached them wearing a green, jewelled corset and a matching flapper headpiece over her golden hair.

“Peanuts?  Popcorn?” she offered.  “A treat for our welcome guests.”  Her smile and her voice were hypnotic.  The aroma of buttery popcorn was enticing and they happily accepted the offer.  Jeff also indulged in the roasted legumes.  They sat there enthralled by the remarkable talents of the performers.  Time slipped away as they watched the show.

“I’m happy I came tonight,” Jenny said to Colin, gazing into his eyes.  She leaned in and he returned her approach.  Their lips connected with a tender touch.  She tasted like mint and popcorn.  Her scent of peony was intoxicating.  He could kiss her forever.  Then their lips parted and they enjoyed the show.

“Attention everyone,” the familiar voice of the Ringmaster announced from the centre of the room.  His voice was commanding as though he spoke through a megaphone.  “Please take a moment to greet our first guests.”  Colin squinted to see the man’s face from where he sat.  His eyes seemed empty, like cavernous voids.  He looked in their direction and smiled.  His mouth was as hollow as his eyes.  Colin’s attention turned to the other performers, who all at once stopped what they were doing and shifted focus to their young spectators.

“Why aren’t you eating?” the snack lady asked Colin.  He was horrified by what stood before him.  She was grotesque.  The skin was gone from one side of her face.  Blood wept from her gruesome wound and stained her costume.  Colin felt something tickle his hand.  The box of popcorn was alive with squirming, yellow maggots.  His stomach heaved and he lurched forward, emptying onto the floor.  When he sat back up, the performers approached them.  They started to change.  The trapeze artists released their swings and as they fell, horns sprouted from their foreheads and their fingers extended into talons.  Grey, scaled wings erupted from their backs and they circled above the teens like hungry vultures.  The paint on the jugglers’ faces melted and ran down their gruesome faces.  Fangs appeared when their lips parted, offering a sinister sneer.  Their eyes glowed and their irises turned red with pinprick pupils watching them.  Bloody saliva dripped from their jagged teeth.  The fire breather set himself on fire.  As he approached them, dragging one leg behind the other, the flames evaporated and all that remained was a charred figure with pure white eyes and burnt flesh.  The contortionists crawled toward them upside on all fours, bodies twisted and faces vile.  Colin couldn’t move.  His friends watched the creatures coming toward them with eager anticipation.  Did they not see the same thing he did?

“Come on!” shouted Colin, shaking Jenny.  “We’ve gotta get out of here!”  His pleas woke her and she screamed when she saw the horror coming at them.  The pair got up from their seats and ran to the entrance of the tent.  The door was gone and the walls of the room were solid.  They frantically looked behind them for another way out.

The Ringmaster appeared before them, as if from nowhere.  “You can’t leave,” he said with an evil smirk.  “We haven’t had dinner yet.  I have a succulent menu planned for this evening.”  The creatures started attacking Lisa and Jeff, snarling and shrieking as they tore away at their bodies.  Jenny screamed again.

The Ringmaster took a deep breath in through the narrow slits of his nose and then moaned with his exhale.  “Yes.  Scream louder.  Fear sweetens your flesh.”  He stepped forward, erupting in a deep, echoing cackle.

“Shhh, what was that?” Dennis asked his friends as they searched for the place where the meteor landed.  “I swear I heard laughing.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” John answered.

“Hey Nick!” Dennis shouted to his friend who was exploring the old snack court.  “Do you see anything over there?”

“Nope, nothing here!  Just a bunch of rubble.  Wait…hey, I found a briefcase. It’s all torn though. There’s a smartphone here too. Damn, it’s all broken. What the…is this blood?”

The Dawn of Moonstone.

Book MagicSince I was a young child, I was enthralled with the world of stories.  Fairytales, mysteries, dramas, it didn’t matter.  When I was a young, I explored the world of babysitting clubs, tales that gave me goosebumps, commiserated with bratty little sisters.  Roald Dahl, RL Stine and Beverly Cleary were my escape.  I was inspired by these stories and started to write my own.  As I grew into my adult years, the reading bug never left me, and I lost myself in the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman.  The need to write held its grip on me too.  I got married and had a family, and though life continuously changed around me, my desire to write only intensified.  So I gave in.

An afternoon on the computer and an idea to write a story for my bookworm daughter, turned into something unexpected.  I was staring at a desktop image of Lake Louise and the ideas flooded.  I couldn’t contain the story to the two dozen pages of a children’s book and Moonstone was born.  I have spent a few years ironing out a decent outline and then last year, during NaNoWriMo, I was able to really get the story started.  Recently, I finished my first draft.  I am excited to say that this story, my first novel, will be released later this year.  At least that’s the hope.  And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.