Free Short Story! – “Dog Days”

I’ve been looking through some of my work and came across this little story that I fixed up a little, thinking it might be a good little piece to post here.

I’ve been trying to get out of my “2020 Funk” and write more. One part of that is revising some of the starts I’ve made in the past, and one part is creating new stories. Maybe it’s the excitement over the new year approaching that shakes my ennui (one of the vocabulary words I learned when I used to do crossword puzzles with my Grandma) and says, “Enough! It’s time to do those things again that bring you joy!”

Creating things brings me happiness, and I hope you find something to enjoy in “Dog Days.”

Dog Days

The day Spotty got run over by a truck was the day Mr. Schultz laid down the law, “No more dogs.”

They had tried to keep Spotty controlled, leashed, confined, but he was born a free spirit, and in spite of everything they tried, he died the same way—a free spirit, with the wind in his ears, a bark in his throat, and that itchy excitement of chasing something big and powerful.

“No more dogs. That’s it.”

Mr. Schultz had spoken.

Mike and Timmy lay in their bunk beds talking again about Spotty.

“Do you think that guy knew he killed our dog?” Timmy asked.

“Of course he did.” Mike said. “He probably went home and painted another little dog on the side of his truck, like they do on those airplanes when they shoot down the enemy.”

Twelve-year old Mike had answered his little brother’s question more times than he could remember. Sometimes a random universe seemed more scary than the alternative.

The boys were quiet for a few minutes.

“I want to get another dog,” said Timmy.

‘Dad said no dogs, remember?” said Mike.

“Maybe he changed his mind.”

“I don’t think so. I asked him yesterday and he still said no.” Mike paused a moment.

“I think Mom’s going to get a cat.”

“A cat! She can’t!” Timmy was alarmed and raised his voice.

“You kids! Quiet in there. Go to sleep!” Dad banged on the wall, and the boys fell silent, thinking of a cat roaming around Spotty’s old home, a dainty, fussy little thing taking the place of a happy, sloppy animal who ate anything, including some of their table leftovers they needed to hide from Mrs. Schultz. 

“I think she said a house cat,” Mike whispered.

“Nooo!” Timmy breathed. “It would sneak around everywhere. It would come in our room!”

Mike had saved the best for last. “I heard her say a Persian. The kind with the long hair and squished face. A white one.”

The siblings thought on that with shared dread.

“If I had a dog, it would chase that cat!” Timmy exclaimed.

“Yeah, dogs chase cats, and if Mom gets that cat, we can never get a dog,” Mike said.

“We have to do something!”

“Give me some time, I’m thinking,” Mike replied, but Timmy was already drifting off to sleep. Mike’s mind slid and explored, daydreaming and plotting, until the night took over and he fell asleep too.

The next morning, while Timmy was only on his second bowl of Sugar Flakes, Mike slipped in through the kitchen door.

“Where have you been?” Timmy asked, dribbling milk down his chin.

“Shhh!” Mike peered around the edge of the door into the dining room. “Where’s Mom and Dad?

“Dad’s at golf, Mom’s in the garden. What’s wrong with your stomach?”

Mike was holding his arms across his stomach in a protective sort of way. He slowly opened his sweatshirt to show a hairy, wriggling head with a moist nose and two black shiny eyes.

“It’s a puppy. Mr. Sanders’ dog had them a couple months ago. He said I could have one.” Mike set the puppy down on the floor. Spiky tufts of black and brown hair pointed in all directions, giving the little terrier-mix an unkempt appearance. He trotted around sniffing into corners. Timmy set his bowl of flakes down on the floor, and the puppy immediately buried his nose in it, knocking it around.

Timmy laughed. “He likes it! Let’s call him ‘Hairy.’”

“That’s good! Hi, Hairy!” Mike ruffled his head. “We’ll keep him in our room. We’ll turn up the radio in case he barks, and hide him when Mom comes in to get the laundry.

“What about…well, the other stuff?”

“We’ll use newspapers and flush what we have to.” Mike was confident. “Remember, don’t say a word!”

It was not easy. They dug money out from the couch cushions and bought a box of puppy kibbles and “Baco-Treets” at Pop’s Mini Mart. They cleaned up the puddles until Hairy learned to go on the Times-Democrat. They spent hours in their room, cuddling and romping with the puppy, and when the coast was clear, the brothers smuggled him out to the park to play outdoors. 

But Mike had not realized how much puppies barked.

“Ruh! Ruh!”

“What in the world is going on up there?” Dad yelled. Thud! Clunk! The sounds of his recliner folding up reached the boys. 

Mike and Timmy shoved Hairy into his box and gave him a smoked pig’s ear. 

“What do we do?”

“Bark!” Mike whispered urgently. “Bark like Hairy!”

“Ruh! Ruh!” Dad swung open the door. Timmy bounded over on all fours to greet him, sniffing at his shoes and panting.

“Yap! Yap! Ruh!”

“What the…” Dad backed off.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you, Dad,” Mike made his eyes worried, and frowned. “Timmy’s been acting kind of strange lately. He acts like he thinks he’s a dog. He’ll be a boy, and then, Bam! He’ll be a dog, and he won’t talk or get up off his hands and knees.” He said, with a catch in his voice, “I think he misses having a dog. I’m worried about him.”

“He’s been doing this?”

“Yes, more and more.”

And Mike, sensing an opportunity, pulled out his dad’s leather glove he had hidden in his shirt drawer. It had accidentally come into their room with a load of laundry and Hairy had made short work of it, chewing off the thumb and making the fingers ragged. In horror, the boys had hidden it, not knowing how to get rid of the evidence. Now Mike displayed it to his dad, with a doleful expression. “Timmy,” he said.

“Timmy did that?” Mike’s dad reached for the mangled glove, but Timmy growled and nipped the glove from Mike’s hand. 

“Grrr! Grrr!” Timmy shook the glove from side to side in his mouth as he had seen Hairy do, tossing it up into the air and catching it, biting it, killing it.

Mike’s dad snatched back the glove. Timmy whined.

“Stop that! Be quiet!”

“You do it like this, Dad. Nice doggie, nice Timmy,” Mike patted Timmy on the head. “It calms him down, you see.”

Dad had an irritated but slightly worried look on his face when he left the room, closing the door behind him. 

Mike gave Timmy a high five.

“High Five!”
“All Right!”

Timmy brought Hairy out of hiding and passed around the Baco-Treets to celebrate. “You’ll see, Hairy,” Timmy crooned to the animal, “Dad would rather have a real dog instead of a dog-boy, wouldn’t he, Mike?”

“You bet!”

“Hey Hairy! Who’s your daddy, who’s your daddy?” Mike roughhoused with Hairy while Timmy pulled out the last Baco-Treet to split with the puppy.

The next few days were very strange in the Schultz household. Timmy wore out the knees in his jeans scampering about the living room. When Mrs. Schultz tried to eat a caramel peanut cluster in peace, he whined and looked mournful until she had to break off a chunk and give it to him. To say thank you, he licked her fingers. When the phone rang, he barked. When the oven timer went off, he barked. When he was tired, he turned around three times and lay down on Mr. Schultz’s feet to take a nap. Although there were benefits, such as Timmy’s eagerness to fetch his dad’s slippers, Mr. Schultz finally reached his limit.

“I’ve had enough of this!” he roared. “I’m ready for you to be a boy again! Mike, talk to your brother!” 

Mike sighed and knelt down by the dog-boy. 

“Hey, boy. Hey there, Timmy. Are you ready to be a boy again?”

Timmy cocked his head, whined, and began licking Mike’s hand.

“I think he likes being a dog. And, well, I kind of like it too. It sort of makes up for losing Spotty.” Mike let his voice tremble a bit. He looked down and scuffed his shoe, like he had seen kids do on TV shows when they are sad and want something. 

Mr. Schultz made an exasperated sound. “Get on up to your rooms. It’s bedtime.”

Gratefully, they dashed off, Mike swiping the Times-Democrat on his way up. Their stock was getting low. 

“I’m going to play our last card tomorrow,” Mike whispered to his brother that night as they lay in bed, Hairy snuggled under his chin. “We’ll either get to keep Hairy, or else you’ll have to stay dog-boy and chase a rotten cat all around the house!”

When Mr. Schultz came home from work the next day, he was quite discombobulated. Mike was sitting on the couch with a small strange creature perched beside him. It was hard to see what it was because it was so hairy, and because it was wearing some of Timmy’s clothes. A faded green ball cap hung off one perky ear, and Timmy’s Mickey Mouse sunglasses that he had gotten at Disneyland last year were on its moist nose. “Yip!” the animal said.

“What the heck is that?” Mr. Schultz exclaimed, advancing slowly.

Mike answered. “I have a dog here who thinks he is a boy.”

“Now isn’t that a coincidence!” Mr. Schultz waited to hear more.

“Yes,” Mike sighed. “It’s not easy being around a boy-dog. They always want to share your candy bar, and they never, ever pick up their clothes. I’ve told him to just quit and be a dog again, but he pretends he doesn’t understand me.”

“Maybe Timmy can talk to him. He seems to have a knack for the language.” Mr. Schultz tried to hide his smile behind his pipe, as he settled into his recliner.

Mike whistled twice. “Timmy! Here, boy! Come!” Timmy bounded down the stairs, panting and wriggling his rear end. “Slow down now! Timmy, Dad wants you to ask this boy-dog if he would please go back to being a dog again.” Timmy jumped up onto the couch and yipped and whined at the animal. Hairy said “Ruh!” Then Timmy turned back to Mike and yipped and whined.

Mike translated. “Timmy thinks he might go for it, but they want to be alone for a little while. I think we should go into the kitchen for a minute.”

While they were waiting, Mike sat at the counter while Mr. Schultz made him a glass of chocolate milk. “You boys wanted a dog pretty bad, didn’t you?”

“Mm hmm,” Mike nodded.

From the living room, Timmy called, “You can come back in now!” He was a boy again, and he was hugging Hairy, who was now a dog again. Hairy’s clothes were scattered across the rug.

“He said he would be a dog again if I would be a boy again, so I said yes. I also promised that we would keep him. I can’t break a promise, can I?” 

“Is he housebroken?”

Mike held up a used sheet of the Times-Democrat as proof.

“Ok, Ok! You can throw that away now. Hmm.” A long pause followed.

“You can keep him. I can’t have you breaking a promise, now. He might change his mind and go back to being a boy.” Mr. Schultz chuckled as the boys whooped and hollered and danced around with Hairy. “Besides,” he said to himself. “I never was that fond of cats anyway!” 

“Sweet Danger” Free Tomorrow!

I’ve been trying to get my writing brain back under my control. I took a temporary job at the Shasta County Elections Office, and you can imagine how distracting that might be, in these times! But guess what is around the corner?… NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as “National Novel Writers Month.”

NaNo is a great training month for me, to help me practice writing quickly and not lean into the temptation of editing along the way. Gotta get those 50,000 words in before December 1st! So far, I don’t even have an idea, but my plan is to have an idea and a rough outline by November 1st.

Yesterday, I learned that my coworker who goes with me on rounds to collect ballots from the drop-boxes, used to be a beekeeper! Wow! And she has the same warm and fuzzy feelings that I do about the little warm and fuzzy insects. So for her, I’m doing a book promotion on my mystery novella, “Sweet Danger.” On the 29th, 30th, and 31st it will be a free Kindle download for everyone.

If you go and get it, I hope you enjoy a couple hours of entertainment and distraction, and maybe you’ll learn a little bit about honeybees!

Here’s the link: Sweet Danger on Kindle

Winning Short Story!

Got extremely pleasant news a few days ago. My club, The Redding Writers Forum, ran a contest over the summer, something new to help the members stay connected in this time of pandemic distancing. Of course, I entered one of mine! I enjoy writing short stories, and I do enjoy a nice competition. Hooray! I won first place!

My story, “Let Freedom Ring,” is appropriate for the season of Halloween, with a little bit of shudder-inducing conclusions. Here is the link to the Forum site, where the story is posted under my name and bio. (The original entries were anonymously posted as they were entered)

“Let Freedom Ring”

You might enjoy going to the site and reading it, but if it’s the end of the day, and you just can’t bear clicking another link, I’ll go ahead and post it up right here.

Let Freedom Ring

By CR Roberts

Copyright 2020

I wasn’t terribly surprised to be summoned to the bedside of my dying Granny. Rumor had it that she was getting ready to croak, and the vultures were starting to gather. My second cousin, once removed, and her bratty kids were flocking around trying to kiss up to me, and relatives I’d never heard of were coming out of the woodwork. I had a pretty good idea that I would be Gran’s heir and beneficiary, being her only grandkid and all. Mom was in a nursing home, probably never to recover from that stroke, so that left me, semi-famous writer living off the residuals of a few lucky books, as the one to whom good things were about to befall.

I drove the curves of the country road as fast as the Mustang would comfortably take them. With the windows down and the radio turned up, I lazily spun the wheel with one hand while I mused about what I’d find when I got there. I’d visited her mansion before—huge, Southern Plantation style thing—when I was a kid. I always felt like I was stepping back in time, just like the books I liked to read, when I’d cross the wide veranda and step over the threshold into her house. Old brocade drapes hung down over the tall windows, and worn velvet stretched across the seats and backs of antebellum furniture. Probably highly valuable.

The monstrosity had been in the family forever, at least since before the Civil War, but not many of the many distant relatives had actually been inside to behold its fusty grandeur. Few were invited in. But I was. This time I wondered what I would find. “Ghost walked over my grave,” I said under my breath as an unexpected shudder twitched my shoulders. That was one of Mom’s old sayings, and looking around, I wished I hadn’t given in to the habit. I’d just passed under the wrought-iron entrance arch, and a cold dimness seemed to settle over the overgrown driveway. I peered through the hanging Spanish moss and tried not to wince with every pothole as my Mustang scraped bottom.

The car rolled to a stop in front of the entrance. I killed the engine. Dead silence and the humid Southern air closed in around me as I walked up the steps. I wiped my forehead with a pocket handkerchief.

“Granny?” I called. A square stained glass inset depicting plantation life was set high on the heavy wooden door. I tapped on it and peered through the translucent glass panes trying to see movement. I leaned back, lit a Camel, and waited a bit.

“Hello?” I called again, tapping this time right on the glass balls of the white plantation owner, the benevolent god, standing over the smaller colored shards of his slaves. It gave me a perverse pleasure, and I rapped on the glass again.

“Neil, is that you?” A faint voice drifted through the open casement window nearby. “Come on in. The door’s open.”

I opened the door into the dimly lit sepia foyer, pausing while my vision adjusted. In the cool darkness, something brushed my arm. I jumped and almost dropped my cigarette as a dark figure was suddenly standing beside me.

“Geez, Calpurnia!” I said. “Give a guy a little warning! You startled me.”

“Madam is in the parlor,” she said. “This way.” As usual, her deep mahogany features were calm and unruffled. The several times I’d met Granny’s live-in help, she had never been anything but polite and reserved towards me, in spite of my efforts to get her to loosen up, to laugh a little, get a joke, or even become offended by my Aunt Jemima cracks. Silently she led the way to the parlor.

I looked around me, at the grand staircase, as we rounded the corner to the sitting room. I wasn’t counting my chickens yet, but I was inspecting the basket of eggs. Although badly outdated and peeling a bit, the old girl—house, that is—wasn’t in too bad of a shape. Lordy, who’d want to LIVE here? But in this part of the genteel south, it would be prime real estate for someone to come in with a do-over and turn it into a bed and breakfast. I could take a year to go through the antiques, getting the best prices out of the good stuff, and maybe let the other stuff go with the house, sort of “value added.” Hell, I might even want to turn it around myself, sort of a second career. 

Granny isn’t gone yet, I cautioned myself, shutting down the excitement that might be showing in my face. But when we entered the parlor, and I saw her lying on the sofa, a little form of bones, parchment stretched over her frame, barely moving with each breath, I thought, Not yet, but not long. Calpurnia turned, her eyes glittering, and I thought she could read me. I lowered my eyes.

“I’ll leave you two alone now,” she said, and drifted off into some other dim room in the mansion.

Granny turned her head to look at me. Her pale blue eyes burned into mine. “Sit here,” she motioned to a frail red velvet chair beside the sofa. I obeyed, easing my body into the broken-down cushion, hoping the perch would hold up to my weight. 

“I’ve called you here because I need to settle my affairs. I haven’t long, you know.” Her voice was not thin and weak, as I had expected. It was strong, as I remembered from before, but hoarse and rusty. 

I nodded, trying for the best expression of sympathy and affection that I could put on my face. It wasn’t totally faked. I did carry fond memories of her special attention to me when Mom would take me there for occasional visits. She would offer me gingerbread cookies, baked by Calpurnia, and she seemed genuinely interested in my life and my dreams.

“My will is drawn up and filed. There’s a copy for you on the table over there.” She gestured. “You might have guessed, and I’ll go ahead and say it. The whole estate is going to you.”

My chickens immediately began to hatch.

“And don’t worry, it’s ironclad,” she continued. “There are things… legal things, and other safeguards that, well, insure it goes to you.”

“Oh Gran,” I said, “How kind and thoughtful of you to think of me so.” I was sincere, but trying to keep the glee from rising to the top of my smile.

She paused, and it seemed she was struggling over what to say next. “I am not sure I would have chosen you to inherit,” she finally said, “But then, it wasn’t really my choice.” 

I was confused.

“So don’t blame me,” Granny finally forced out.

I tried to mollify her.

“Don’t worry, Gran,” I said, “I can handle the place. I’ll make you proud. And the ancestors watching over will be proud too. I’ll do right by the family heirloom.”

She moved her head from side to side, obviously exasperated. “Where’s Calpurnia?” she furtively whispered.

“It sounded like she went upstairs,” I said.

“I haven’t got much time, maybe only minutes. I can sense my spirit drifting, floating out of this world.  Maybe that’s why I feel like I can get these few words out.” She pulled out a much-folded piece of paper. “Take it. It’s about Calpurnia. She isn’t what you think.”

I skimmed over the pertinent details. 

“This is a manumission paper for a female slave,” I murmured. “Except it’s been copied over, since this actual piece of paper isn’t from the 1860’s.”

“I copied it over, from another copy, which was probably copied from another copy. I have forgotten the count. But the original was from 1843, when Calpurnia was twenty-eight.” Gran looked at me closely, and I gave a little laugh, trying to lighten the intense mood that had settled over the room.

“You mean, Calpurnia’s ancestor.” I said.

“No. Calpurnia was offered her freedom at the death of her former master, OUR ancestor, but the new master refused to honor it, and instead of filing the manumission, he tucked it away in his papers.” Granny paused, “She was the best house slave in the county, they say.” 

I couldn’t help a chuckle. “Are you saying Calpurnia’s a ghost?”

But Granny was serious, and she shot a dark look at me. “I don’t have time for this; just listen. You can decide whether you believe it later.” She continued in her raspy voice.

“The new master tried to honor the manumission upon his deathbed also, but his offspring was as greedy for the always-efficient and perfect house slave as his father had been, and he also refused the manumission. Until his deathbed. And so it goes. But you, you have a chance, a chance to make it right. I… I can’t say more. I…” she coughed and struggled to speak. “I just pray you to take this, sign your own name, and before you step over the threshold as the new owner, take this in and have it filed, officially.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “What if I can’t find some county official to take it seriously and file this… thing? So I’m not supposed to even go in the house until I file it? How’s that supposed to work, if I’m the executor or something?”

“Don’t be an idiot. You aren’t the owner until you have the deed in your name. That takes a long time.” 

I paused several seconds, thinking. “What happens if I don’t file it?”

Her pale eyes, washed-out denim, pinned me to the rickety chair like a bug on a pin. Uncomfortable, I tucked the creased paper into my suit pocket. Granny tried to speak again, but no sound came from her cracked lips. She stared at me as her throat spasmed while she swallowed. I put aside my distaste for touching her and picked up one frail hand, afraid the bones might split her papery skin. 

“Don’t worry, Gran. I’ll file it.”

Her eyes shut, and her head dropped.

The coma lasted three days, and the probate lasted a year.

Funny how you think you know people, until they find out they get left out of the will, and then sweet Cousin Emily turns into a banshee, and self-proclaimed “Uncle” Bedford tries his hand at a little extortion. But sure enough, in spite of the lawyers, Granny was right—her will was ironclad. The estate was mine, all mine.

I thought a lot about Granny’s last words concerning her servant. I had a lot of occasions to ponder what she said, and also to observe Calpurnia at work during the long probate period. I wasn’t convinced that she was a ghost slave, and I found it hard to consider her as anything but the best live-in caretaker and help that a body could wish for. I spent some long weekends at the place, making notations for the court and taking measurements of the rooms. Thanks to Calpurnia, the house was cared for, a hot meal was always waiting in quiet peace upon the long dining room table at dinner time, and the linens were always crisp and clean. Once I asked her about her pay, and she just gave one of her rare smiles and said, “Don’t worry, Suh, that’s taken care of already.” I tried other ways to get her to open up about herself, but she didn’t reveal much, just continued to make herself indispensable to the running of the mansion. 

Was Calpurnia a ghost? She seemed solid enough, but what did I know about ghosts? Was she a slave? A ghost slave? She never left the premises, and mostly kept to herself when visitors were over. Everyone but me only had a vague sense of her even being there. 

If she were a ghost, well, so what? If I had lived back in those days, I would certainly sign off any inherited slaves I received from an ancestor! But did ghosts even suffer? Ghosts weren’t people. They didn’t get sold and have to give up their children and spouses at the whim of a master, or be beaten. I would never beat a slave! Hell, I would never beat a ghost! 

I had signed my name to the folded paper Granny had given me, but I was curiously reluctant to fulfill the second part of her last request. I finally admitted the truth to myself; Calpurnia had become too important to me to give up. If she were a ghost, then surely it couldn’t matter by now, and if she weren’t, then she was free to come or go if she pleased. And for now, it seemed to please her to stay, I said to myself. I was being sensitive, I told myself. It really seemed as if she liked being there, that it gave her pleasure to serve and to tend the house. What would happen to her if I “set her free?” Perhaps she would have to hit the streets, if she weren’t a ghost, that is. Or lose her identity in the big dark place wherever ghosts go when they check out. And yes, I played the “What would happen to me?” scenario if I let her go. 

She would be impossible to replace. 

So there. I decided.

Final deed papers in hand, I stepped out of my mustang in front of the gaudy old mansion—MY mansion—and looked around, inhaling the rich humid air, redolent with gardenia blossoms and mossy aromas.  I hadn’t decided yet whether to sell it or turn the mansion into a business, but first thing, those potholes had to go. They were way too hard on my poor little car, and I wanted a good first impression for the investors and realtors. I climbed onto the veranda and stood a moment in front of the door. As before, I followed the gaze of the stained glass white master, benevolent, yet stern, as he looked upon his black property. There was one stained glass woman who could have been Calpurnia, but honestly, most of them looked alike to me. I pulled the much-folded manumission document out of my breast pocket and looked it over yet again. According to my Dear Granny, this was the last moment to change my decision. Why was I hesitating to open the door and go in? This was ridiculous! A grown man getting getting wiggy over a kid’s ghost story! 

A little shudder twitched my shoulders and spine. I kept my lips clamped, and the phrase that rose in my mouth stayed there, sour and old. I shoved the document back in my pocket, opened the door, and stepped over the threshold.

Calpurnia met me in the parlor.

“You still got them documents the Missus gave you, ain’t that right, Suh?”

I didn’t ask how she knew about the paper, nor how she knew I had not recorded them.

“Well, yes, Miss Calpurnia,” I began. “And I know that I probably should have done that, and forgive me, I am truly sorry that I did not handle that just exactly like my grandma requested me to. But I just thought it would be best to, you know, have a little chat with you before I made a big decision on that. Because, you see, I’ve sort of noticed how you seem to like your job, and stuff, and you seem pretty happy, or I guess I could say, content, about being here and… stuff…” 

This wasn’t exactly how I’d planned my conversation to go. I had some comforting phrases rehearsed, like, “You will always have a home here, Calpurnia, never fear,” but I was getting distracted by the look in her eyes. It was not the calm, neutral look I was used to. It was not a disappointed look that said, Oh Dearie Me! Now I has got to wait for the next massa to get me out of this place! Her black eyes were intense, sort of fiery. Actually, I guess I’d call her demeanor gleeful. Triumphant, even.

I’d been kidding myself when I played around with the idea she might be a ghost. For the first time, I actually believed to my soul that she was a ghost.

Calpurnia leaned back into the red velvet chair. Her proud chin rose, and her eyelids closed to slits as she glanced sidelong at me.

“Ah, Young Suh, I thanks you! Does I feel sorry for you? Hmm, let me think on that.” 

Three seconds passed while her lips curled into a sneer. I could not look away. I wanted to. I stared at her, so solid, so commanding.

“NO!” Calpurnia spat, and then she began to snicker. I felt my legs go weak, and suddenly I had to use the bathroom.

“Oh, poor man, you think you got you a slave to make your life nice. But truth is, now I got me my new slave. You mine now!
She went on. “Yup, I shore like it here, ‘specially with the tables turned and all. ‘Cept I need me an anchor, not being true flesh and all. And you the latest one to oblige me in that.”

I was still having trouble understanding.

“Now, first thing. There ain’t goin’ to be no selling, so get that out of your head. No strangers comin’ in. I tell you who can come in. You got a girlfriend? Forget that. You leave it to me who you goin’ to pass this place on to. You think you’ll tell someone what’s up? Try it.”

I attempted to form the words to describe the horror I was feeling, but they were stuck. My throat heaved, and I felt like I was choking. I had to quit trying so I could breathe. 

“No, we got lots of years together, Boy. A lifetime.”

Lifetime.

Lifetime.

Lifetime.

The words tolled in my head, a muffled bell that only I could hear.

Now Chapter 3 on YouTube!

Keeping with my “Shelter In Place” project of recording YouTube videos of me (or future guest) reading Valeria & The Enemy of Time, here’s number three! I’m going to be like government agencies and Banks. Instead of putting up my video on Monday this time, I took Memorial Day off.

I have no idea why I ended up sort of sideways to the camera. Next time I will try to center on it. But maybe you like a sort of side-glance reader. If so, this one is for you.

I’m putting them all in a playlist so it should be easy to find one and then the others once you go to YouTube.

Hope you enjoy it!

Annndddd…Chapter 2 on YouTube!

I am reading my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time on YouTube, one chapter at a time, in case you haven’t been following. So chapter 2, “Lost in the Fog” is now live and ready to watch/listen to! I’m planning on making the videos a little more fancy, in the future, with some pictures fading in, and maybe some green screen. But whatever I do, I don’t want to take away from what one’s own imagination does with the pictures that words alone can paint!

Now…On Video!

“Shelter in Place” has got me looking for new creative projects to keep my world fresh and exciting. One area I’m interested in is making little videos. I’ve been wanting to make another video—ANY video for awhile. I just needed a little inspiration and a bit of time set aside.

Then my dear friend, Kelly shared a Facebook video with me, saying, “You could do this with your book!” In the Facebook Live video, and author was reading from her book. What fun! I thought. It would be a great little project; do a little reading, a little editing, get my book out there a little more… 

So now, I’ve got the first chapter up on YouTube!!! It was fun, and I’ve got lots of chapters left to experiment with some different little fun elements. My plan is to get at least one new chapter up a week. Each time I do, I’ll share it here on the blog. 

Maybe you like to listen better than to read. Maybe you know some kids in about 5th-9th grade who would like to be read to. Maybe you just want to see what I sound like reading a book. Perhaps you want to see what music I put in with the credits. (Okay, so it’s banjo. What did you expect?) Anyway, check it out here!

Chapter 1, “The Wreck,” is now dedicated to Kelly!

Concerning Website, Sale, and Regaining Creativity

Welcome to my newly updated website! We have changed some of the background colors, making it easier to read and to find the previous blogposts you might be looking for. To celebrate this, (and in these time, I am always looking for new things to celebrate!) I have put the Kindle version of Valeria & The Enemy of Time on sale for $2.99. That’s a dollar off the previous price, and is as low as Amazon will let me go. You will find that the hours your imagination spends in Valeria’s world will be more than worth the cost! (And if you like it, I’d love a review/rating on Amazon!)

I’m going to keep it on sale for several days, and then it will go back to $3.99, still a bargain. The paperback remains at $9.99 for now. 

It hasn’t been easy to focus on my projects. All the normal schedules, routines, plans, and news have been upended, keeping me a little off-balanced. But I’m feeling excited and anxious to get back to writing now. Before all this happened with the coronavirus, I had a good start on the 2nd Valeria book, and I’m going to get back on that. I’m also going to be thinking about another novella in the “Sweet Danger” Jessie McConnell stories. My local writing group is gathering short stories from the members for a contest, trying to keep that connection we all had when we met once a month. When I get a short story together for this, I’ll publish it here, and you can tell me what you think!

From the beginning of the “stay at home” orders, I knew that to stay mentally happy and healthy, I would have to continually bring new things into my days, have some things that stick to a schedule, and have long and short term creative projects that I am actively working on, even if my progress is just making lists about doing them!

For “new things each day,” there is nothing like a package in the mail! Or UPS, or FedEx. Random trips to the hardware, grocery and variety stores just aren’t happening. So there are some things I just NEED, and I order them. Usually by the time the package arrives, I have forgotten what is supposed to be coming, so I’m surprised. It’s like my birthday, even if it is just a box of my favorite mustard and decaf tea bags. My recent delivery was a box of nuts and dried fruit from Nuts.com. They have a wonderful product, and I’ve never been disappointed. This time, I decided I deserved something extra, so I threw in a box of chocolate walnut fudge. It was the best fudge I’ve ever had! (Next time, it’s two boxes.)

Unless a person is blessed with good self-discipline, it’s hard to keep a schedule, to impose one on yourself when no one else is demanding that. We make a lot of jokes about changing from our night pajamas to our day pajamas, and wonder, Why even bother? But with the good weather now, I’m spending time working on the yard and my garden projects. Can’t do those as well in pajamas! I’ve made a point of keeping my “going to bed time,” and my “getting up time.” That feels like good mental self-help. Also, at 3pm every day, my extended family enjoys a “Happy (Half) Hour” Zoom visit. That has become a nice little anchor point for my day. 

My creative projects have mostly been in the bread baking category lately. I made bagels this morning, and a sourdough loaf is going in the oven this evening. (My baby sourdough starter, pictured above, says, “Hi.”) I’ve done a few small sewing projects too. But then I started playing my banjo again. And I actually picked up the fiddle to see if I still remembered how to manage the bow. I thought about the Milliner-Koken collection of tunes book, and whether I might want to buy one with some of my economic stimulus money. I can feel my mind going, “What if?…” again, the beginning of new story ideas. 

It’s taken a couple months, but I’m feeling happy and excited again to live in my favorite kind of creativity. Not that I’ll give up baking though. I’m thinking about making hand pies…

The Red Couch

If you have read my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, you might remember the Red Couch, formerly, the Green Couch. Things are breaking down in her timeline, and the couch is only one of the things that is changing. Red is our symbol for Danger! Warning! Halt!, and we can see that in stop signs, circle-with-a-slash signs, signal lights and brake lights, and the “don’t touch” sight of a cherry-red electric burner. In the movie, “Sixth Sense,” M. Night Shyamalan added that splash of color in ominous moments (the sweater) and as a flag for a scene where something is not as the main guy thinks he knows (his wife’s dress at their anniversary dinner). 

This couch lives at the Turtle Bay Museum in Redding, California. They may change the exhibits around regularly, but you can always count on finding the Red Couch somewhere, a place to kick back if your feet are tired, or you want to watch the kids enjoy the fun without you hanging over them for a bit.

My mother-in-law didn’t care much for couches. Her ideal living room was full of rocking chairs and recliners. But I grew up with couches, and I love them! Sometimes Mom called it a “divan,” a fascinating and exotic word. Like you’d say “parlor,” or “dinette.” Or “range” instead of “stove” or “oven.”

I like the way you can change your position in unlimited poses. Reclining, half reclining, feet tucked, legs crossed, feet out on footstool, sitting on the back, sitting on the arm, sleeping…

When I was a kid, a couch was more than something to sit on; it was also a prop for play. One game we played was “Chair.” One kid would sit on the couch, very stiffly, with legs down and arms straight out in front. She was the Chair. Then the other kid would sit on her. The sitter would explore all the “buttons” on the Chair arm, pretending to be shocked at how willful the Chair could be in its mechanics. Imagine an electric recliner going haywire! The footrest would go up and down; halfway, all the way. The back might recline. Sometimes the Chair’s seatbelt would lock up tight, and the sitter couldn’t find the release button. The game always, always ended with the Chair’s eject button being accidentally pressed, sending the sitter flying across the living room!

My favorite couch game was “Sea Hunt.” The couch was the big boat, and the easy chair might be a smaller boat. We would pull our socks down so they flopped in front of us. Those were our flippers. We would fall backward out of the couch-boat, just like Lloyd Bridges did in the show. Then we would wriggle along the floor, on the carpet, “swimming,” and doing all the things we saw the scuba divers doing. Spear guns were a favorite. Getting back to the couch-boat and climbing aboard could be tiring, if you’d just had a close call in the sea.

Another game I played was Superman. It was best played in the matching easy chair, which looked just like the big, square, heavy couch, only not as wide. I wasn’t actually Superman, I was Lois Lane. For some reason, I imagined that the most exciting thing in the world would be riding in Superman’s outstretched arms as he flew through the sky, like in the Superman comic books I bought.

So I sat stretched across the chair, legs hanging over one arm, head resting on the other, my arms clutching the back while my imagination flew over the city, dodging danger.

Our brown, scratchy couch was probably old and used when we got it. Mom had to keep something wedged under one of the feet so it wouldn’t rock when someone sat on it. She finally set it and the chair outside by the road with a sign on it for $25. The neighbors bought it. Then Mom bought a lovely tufted gold velvet set to replace it. The couch was comfy and came with a recliner and love seat. We liked it, but I never remember playing any more games on it.