Friday, December 2, 2011


This is the first chapter of the young adult fiction novel I've been working on.  I wrote the original manuscript in third person, but now I'm rewriting it in first - a much more arduous process than I anticipated.  Hope you like it!

                                                 You ought not to practice childish things

since you are no longer that age.

- Homer, The Odyssey




On the day my mother died, I made her a promise. She was lying on the sterile white sheets of the hospital bed we had set up near the large bay window in our living room.  From there she had the best view of the blue waters of the Atlantic that sparkled just outside our door on the Isle of Palms.  She would stare out at the ocean for hours, watching and waiting.  It was the only thing that gave her comfort.

“Kalypso,” she called to me, her voice thin and soft.

I dropped my crayons and coloring book on the floor and ran over to stand next to her bed, holding up the picture I had made for her in kindergarten that day.  She smiled when she looked at it, tears shimmering in her eyes.

“Is that a fish?” she asked, her thin, graceful fingers gently tracing over my childish drawing.

I had shaken my head, frowning at her.  “Mommy, it’s a dolphin, and dolphins are mammals, not fish.”

She’d grinned at me then, and I’d seen the shadow of the vibrant women she had once been shine inside her eyes.  “You are so like your father,” she said, brushing a hand over my red, curly hair. Even at that early age, I already despised it.  I looked longingly at her dark, straight hair, her chocolate colored eyes, and her skin without a single freckle on it, sad that I had not inherited even a bit of her exotic beauty. 

“I wish I was like you,” I said.

She’d brought my hand to her mouth and kissed my palm before folding my pudgy little five-year-old fingers over the spot she’d kissed.  It was our ritual, what she did every time she had to go away, and she was going away now.  I just didn’t realize it yet.  She was saying goodbye.

She reached over to open the drawer in her nightstand and pulled out a silver box.  I could see the effort it took for her to do even such a small task.  I knew this was important.  I stood on my tiptoes to see it, leaning against the metal bars on the side of her bed.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Something for you,” she said.  She pulled out a silver necklace and placed it carefully over my head.

“It’s beautiful,” I’d said, staring down at the very grown up necklace.  It glittered in the sunlight, and at five years old I coveted anything that sparkled.  I think I was part squirrel at that age.  “I love it.”

“And I love you,” she’d said, leaning back against her pillows, her face as white as the sheets.  Her eyes closed, and I thought she’d gone to sleep, but when I realized she was whispering to me I leaned in closer to hear her.

“This necklace is a part of me that you can always have with you, but you must promise me one thing,” she said, her eyes fluttering open.

“What?” I asked, looking down at the necklace, not realizing the importance of this moment.

“Never wear it in the water.  Can you promise me that?  Can you be a big girl for me and swear you will never wear it in the water?” she asked.  Her dark eyes looked huge and haunted in her face.

I nodded.

“Say the words, Kalypso,” she said, her face pinched with pain.

“I promise,” I said, throwing my arms across her thin body.  “I promise.”

She kissed the top of my head, “Remember this, Kaly, remember me,” she said, and then shut her eyes for the last time.

When my father came into the room a few minutes later, I was sitting next to my mother on her bed, watching the water like she had for the last few agonizing months.  I barely heard his screams when he realized she was gone.  I already knew.  But I also knew that I’d found a way to comfort her.  I’d made her a promise, and I fully intended to keep that promise for the rest of my life. 

I lied.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wolf Moon

This story began with a prompt, "Looking over his shoulder..." and had to be under 1,500 words.  It's a really good writing exercise to use these prompts, and it is always surprising to see what you might come up with.  There are prompts in every issue of "Writers' Journal" magazine.  Give it at try sometime!

            Looking over his shoulder, the attendant winked at her as he pumped gas.  “That is what we call a wolf moon,” he said, glancing up at the night sky.  His words came out as little frozen puffs in the cold January air.  “It won’t be like that again all year.”

            He finished filling up her tank and replaced the gas cap, his ancient, arthritic hands swollen and chapped from the cold.  He wiped them on a filthy rag that he stuffed into his pocket.  His name, Ernie, was embroidered on his jacket in red thread.

            Leyla leaned forward to get a better view of the moon out of her front windshield.  “Why do they call it a wolf moon?” she asked.

            He smiled at her.  “The native Americans who used to live around here said it made all of the hungry wolf packs howl outside their villages.  But there is more to it than that.  It’s when the moon comes closest to the Earth, and it’s the biggest and brightest full moon of the year.”

“It’s beautiful, Ernie,” she said softly. 

            “Beautiful it may be, but you don’t want run out of gas on a night like this.  That moon brings the monsters out,” Ernie said, “and the crazies, too.  You should take care, miss.”

            Leyla thanked him and handed him a wad of bills, telling him to keep the change.  She shook her head as she pulled away.  She’d forgotten how superstitious the people could be around here, and how much they believed in all of the old stories.   

            It had been a long time, but she remembered the way, driving along the old country roads of her childhood.  The bright moon reflected off of the snow-covered woods, bathing them in an eerie light.  It wouldn’t have mattered if it were pitch black to Leyla, though.  She would always be able to find her way home.

            The silence enveloped her.  Not a creature stirred in the frozen forest.  Some animals slept away the winter in hibernation.  The others seemed too frightened to come out on a night like this.  Even the wolves were quiet.

            Leyla turned on the radio and sang along to an old country ballad.  Her mother used to listen to this kind of music.  They’d often sung together while driving on this very road.  She sighed.  Her mother had died almost a year ago.  She was the only one left now.

            A dark shape appeared on the road in front of her and she slammed on her brakes, startled to see a man walking alone on the side of the road.  He waved when he saw her headlights and she hesitated only for a moment before she pulled over and rolled down her window.

            “Are you okay?” she asked.  The man, tall and dark with broad shoulders and the beginnings of a scruffy beard, seemed to be around her age, and that surprised her.  He’d appeared older, smaller, and less intimidating when she’d first spotted him huddled against the bitter cold.  He looked half frozen, and his teeth chattered when he answered her.

            “I ran out of gas a few miles back, and I don’t have reception here on my cell phone,” he said.  “Could you give me a ride?  My house isn’t far.”

            Leyla paused, carefully assessing him, before she unlocked the door.  “Get in,” she said.

            The man climbed into the car, rubbing his bare hands together and holding them up to the heat coming out of the vents.  “Thanks,” he said, as residual shivers passed over his body.  “My house is near the lake.  If you drive a few miles, you’ll see a turn on the right.  It’s only five minutes by car, but it would have been a long cold walk.”

            Leyla glanced at him as she began driving.  “Are you living in the old Bardolph place?” she asked.

            He looked surprised.  “Yes,” he said.  “I’m Jeremy.  Are you from around here?” he asked.  Leyla could hear the doubt in his voice as he took in her expensive car and designer clothes.  People from these parts usually couldn’t afford such luxuries.  Her handbag alone cost more than most made in a month.

            Leyla nodded, almost laughing at the tone in his voice.  She could tell he wasn’t a local boy, and he seemed to have low expectations regarding the natives.  “Born and raised,” she said proudly.  She extended her hand, her eyes never leaving the road.  “I’m Leyla, by the way,” she said.

            He took her hand and shook it.  She could feel the icy coldness of his skin through her leather gloves.  “Nice to meet you,” he said. 

            “So, how long have you been here, Jeremy?” she asked.

            He blew out a sigh.  “Too long,” he said.  “I came here to get away from the city.  I thought I’d enjoy a quiet life in the county.  I also wanted to escape from my problems, but now I know it’s not for me.  I hate this place.  My lease will be up soon and I can’t wait to get out of here.”

            “I left a long time ago,” she said quietly, “but I’m glad to be back.  This is my home.”

            Jeremy looked out of the window, and there was a rather uncomfortable silence before he finally spoke.  “I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said.  “I’ve just had a rotten day.  A rotten year, to be exact.”

            “Well, I hope things get better for you,” she said.  “And the Bardolph place is beautiful.  At least you live in a nice house.”

            Jeremy shrugged.  “I guess.  There is just something weird about it.  The rent was dirt cheap, and it was nice enough in the summer, but lately…”

            Leyla waited for him to continue, but he remained silent.  She remembered what Ernie had said about the moon bringing out the crazies, and wondered if she should have just driven past when she’d seen Jeremy stranded on the roadside.  She frowned, immediately dismissing her concerns.  He might be odd, but he wasn’t crazy.

            “Old houses can be like that,” she said, “in the winter, with the wind howling, it can get a bit creepy.”

            Jeremy shook his head, his dark hair brushing against his shoulders.  “No, it’s not that.”   He turned to her, a strange stillness to his face.  “It’s like I know something is about to happen, that something really bad is coming, but I can’t stop it.”

            Leyla’s heart began to pound in her chest.  Suddenly it felt too hot in the car, almost stifling.  She reached over to turn down the heat, and Jeremy gave her an apologetic look. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I guess I’ve just been on my own too long.”

Leyla laughed, but it sounded oddly tense.  Her throat seemed tight and she swallowed, trying to relax.  She wasn’t feeling well, but Jeremy didn’t seem to notice.

“Leyla.  That’s an unusual name.  I remember it from a song I heard a long time ago,” he said.  Leyla realized he was trying to be conversational, to make up for his earlier weirdness.  She wiped the fine sheen off sweat off of her forehead, her hands trembling.

“It means night beauty,” she said.

Jeremy smiled at her, showing even, white teeth.  “It suits you,” he said, taking in her dark, silky hair and pale skin.  She knew he was attracted to her.  She could sense it.  She could almost smell it.

Leyla cleared her throat, and tried to clear her mind as well.  She felt cloudy and strange.  “The old Bardolph place is the stuff of legends.  Do you know what the name Bardolph means?” she asked.

Jeremy shook his head.  She could tell he wasn’t really interested in a local history lesson, but she continued anyway.  Bright wolf.  They say the family who owned this place descended from real live wolves.  Once a year, on the night of the wolf moon, the brightest moon of the year, they come back and change into their original form.”

          Jeremy looked like he was about to laugh, but something about the expression on her face stopped him.  “You don’t really believe this stuff, do you?” he asked incredulously.

Leyla turned to him, feeling her bones begin to elongate and the fur pop out over her skin.  Jeremy watched in horror, comprehension slowly dawning on his face.  She stopped the car in front of the crumbling old mansion, and smiled at him, fangs brushing her soft, pink lips. 

“We really weren’t properly introduced.  I’m Leyla Bardolph, the last of the great Bardolph family.  I have to tell you, this the first time I’ve changed and I’m simply famished,” she said, leaning towards him as the wolves in the distance began to howl.  Jeremy screamed as she sank her teeth into the soft flesh of his neck.  She looked at him, blood dripping down her chin, puzzled by his reaction.  “Why else would they call it a wolf moon, silly?”


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bella's Ghost

I wrote this ages ago for a ghost/horror story contest.  I didn't win, but I liked the story.  I'm posting it in honor of Halloween.  Boo!

I lay on my bed, in a deep warm nest of blankets, afraid to open my eyes.  I know what I’ll see when I do, and no amount of wishing or hoping will make it go away.  But somehow, keeping my eyes shut is even more frightening than confronting the truth of what is happening, and so slowly, carefully, I open them.  Not completely, that would be too much.  Instead I lift my lids just enough that I can see through the curtain of my eyelashes into my darkened bedroom.

            It is still there.  I knew it would be.  I stare at it, thinking that if this were a dream, surely I would have awoken by now.  I don’t understand exactly what I am seeing or why it frightens me so much, but I cannot deny the fact that I am completely terrified.

            Floating just across the room from my bed is a fuzzy, black orb.  Something primitive and instinctual in me recognizes the fact that I am looking at something unnatural, something that doesn’t belong.  I feel it to the core of my being, and I had felt it every night since I had moved into the beautiful old Victorian house that I had scraped together the last of my savings to buy. 

            I’d been in love with this house since I was a little girl.  I used to walk past it with my grandmother and dream of living in it one day.  But whenever I would pause on the cracked sidewalk in front of the crumbling mansion, by grandmother would always tug on my hand.

            “Keep walking, Bella,” she’d say to me, making the sign of the cross.  “There is nothing for you to see here.”

Once I had dug my heels in and protested, and I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when she knelt next to me, carefully tucking a strand of my dark hair behind my ear.

            “When bad things happen in a place, sometimes the place itself becomes evil.  Stay away from that house, cara,” she said, clutching the plethora of charms she wore around her neck.  I could see that her fear was real, so I didn’t protest, but I knew my grandmother was just being superstitious.  Something about the house called to me, and from the moment I’d seen its turreted beauty, I had wanted it to be mine.

            My grandmother was long gone, but I clutched her beaded rosary to my chest as I lay in my room, frozen with fear.  Logically, I couldn’t explain my response.  Although I’d seen the orb every night for weeks, it had never harmed me.  But logic has no place in the dark hours before dawn, and I couldn’t wish away my fear.  It was a palpable, physical reaction.  Every quick breath I took seemed loud and panicked, and the sound of my drumming heartbeat pounded in my ears. 

I wanted this to be over.  I opened my eyes wide and stared directly at the orb.  It fluttered and shook for just a second before gliding up my wall and across my ceiling.  I followed it with my eyes as it flew above my bed and into the wall behind my headboard.  It was gone.  I raised myself up on my knees, my white nightgown bunching around my legs, and reached out to touch the spot where it had disappeared.  There was nothing there.

When daylight came, the terror I’d felt the night before seemed to burn away with the sunshine.  I was almost able to convince myself that my nightly visitor was nothing more than a dream, but the dark circles under my eyes proved otherwise.  I sighed and headed off to work.

My coworker, Samantha, noticed my tiredness right away.  “Another bad night?” she asked, and I nodded.  I had told her about my nightly visitor, and she was worried about me.  The concern was etched on her face.

“I could talk to the priest for you,” she said.  I loved the fact that she never doubted my story.  I hated the fact that she was trying to solve my problem for me.  She’d already had me sprinkle my room with holy water, put charms all over my house, and she’d even forced me to attend a meeting of the Beacon County Ghost Hunters.  That had been a complete bust, but a guy who thought he’d been abducted by aliens did ask for my phone number.

“No thanks, Sam,” I said, rubbing my weary eyes as I began to sort through the files on my desk.

“Do you want to get a drink after work?” she asked, tugging on a strand of her chestnut colored hair.

I shook my head.  “I can’t.  The contractor is coming today to look at the bathroom sink.”  I managed to smile at her.  “The joys of having an old house, right?  Leaky faucets and ghosts,” I said, but Sam didn’t smile back.

After work I stood in front of my house, feeling the same rush of joy I felt every time I saw it.  “Mine, mine, mine,” I whispered as I walked up the stone pathway.  I tossed my briefcase on the couch and ran upstairs to change into comfortable sweats.  The doorbell rang just as I was pulling my dark hair into a ponytail.

Jeff, the contractor, stood outside, all sun bleached hair and brawny muscle.  Sam said I hired him for his looks, but that wasn’t exactly true.  I hired him because he knew this house better than anyone, and loved it almost as much as I did.  He’d bought it when it was a crumbling heap and had painstakingly restored every inch of it before selling it to me for a profit.  He’d enjoyed the project and I’d ended up with a completely renovated Victorian jewel – with a ghost and a leaky faucet.

“Hi, Bella,” Jeff said, giving me a smile.  “Is it the sink upstairs?” he asked.  I nodded, holding open the door for him.   

After he pulled out his tools, I perched on the edge of the tub and watched him work.  “Can I ask you something, Jeff?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, looking up from the sink.  He had bright blue eyes and a craggy face that was handsome without being the least bit pretty.

I hesitated, worried about what Jeff might think of me, but decided to ask anyway.  “When you were working on this house, did you ever see anything unusual?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, his face suddenly going very still.

I shrugged.  “I don’t know, noises and other weird stuff.”

Jeff went back to work on the sink.  “You know the history of this house, don’t you?” he asked.

“Well, the real estate agent told me some story about a lost girl,” I said, hugging my arms across my chest.  “Is that what you are talking about?”

“It’s a little more than that,” said Jeff.  He sighed and sat up, absentmindedly playing with the wrench in his hand.  “This house was built by the Huntington family, and Cecilia was their only child.  Cecilia’s parents were extremely wealthy and extremely strict.  They were also complete snobs.  They had their sights set on her marrying a wealthy steel baron, but Cecilia fell in love with a poor boy from a less than reputable family and wanted to marry him.  Her parents were livid and tried to force her to marry the other man, but to no avail.  They said she ran away, but the boy in question denies it.  He was convinced they had done something to her and he believed that until the day he died.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper.

Jeff looked at me once last time, a long, searing look.  “Local legend,” he said.  “The boy was Thomas Findlay.”

“The founder of the college?” she asked.  “But he was a millionaire.”

“That was later in life.  He never got over Cecilia, and he never gave up on trying to figure out what had happened to her.  He was a friend of my great grandfather.  My grandfather used to tell us about it all of the time when I was growing up,” said Jeff.  “But your family is tied into this, too.”

“How?” I asked.

“Because your grandmother was born in this house.  Her mother worked for the Huntington family, and she lived here when she was a girl,” he said.  “She followed Cecilia around everywhere, like a little shadow.” 

My mouth dropped open in shock.  My grandmother had never even hinted that she’d lived here.  “My grandmother was terrified of this house,” I said.  “She told me it was evil.”

Jeff stood up and lovingly stroked the antique fixtures on the sink.  “I don’t think this house is evil, but I think that evil things may have happened here.  Maybe your grandmother saw or heard something that scared her when she was a little girl.”

I thought about my grandmother, and the raw terror I had seen on her face when she’d looked at this house.  She’d never once passed it without averting her eyes and making the sign of the cross.  If she had witnessed something traumatic here as a little girl, her fear would be completely understandable.  

Jeff was watching my face carefully.  “Has anything strange happened to you here?” he asked. 

I decided to throw caution to the wind.  “Yes,” I said, clearing my throat.  I told him about the floating orb in my bedroom, and he listened, nodding.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said.  “I hated working in that room.  I always heard noises and felt like I was being watched.  It wasn’t until later that I figured out that had been Cecilia’s room.  This might sound strange, but maybe Cecilia is trying to show you something.  Since she knew your grandmother, maybe she trusts you,” Jeff looked away embarrassed.  “Can you show me where the orb disappears?” he asked.

I nodded, relieved that he did not think I was crazy, and showed him the spot above my bed.  Jeff put his ear against it and pounded on several parts of the wall.   

“It’s hollow,” he said.  “If you want, I can make a hole and we can see what is back there.”

I nodded, a shiver creeping up my spine.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see, but I felt compelled to end this.  I watched as Jeff slid my bed out of the way and used a large hammer to make a hole in the creamy yellow walls of my room.  After a few swings, the hole was large enough for Jeff to peek inside with a flashlight.

“Bella,” he said, his voice tight.  “Call the police.  I think we may have just found Cecilia Huntington.”

When the police arrived, Jeff told them that he’d discovered the body while installing a new light fixture and I was grateful for his deception.  I didn’t want strangers to think I’d lost my mind, but I felt like Cecilia had trusted me to find her.  Maybe the house calling to me all of those years had actually been Cecilia calling out for help, and hoping someone would listen.  Her nightly visits weren’t about frightening me, or having revenge.  Her parents had died a long time ago, so there was no one to prosecute for her murder.  She just wanted to rest.

That night I lay on my couch, under the quilt my grandmother had made me, and slept peacefully until the warm, rising sun caressed my face.  Jeff was sleeping under a pile of blankets on the floor.  He hadn’t wanted to leave me alone, but I knew that I was going to be fine.  I looked around the parlor of the elegant old house that now belonged to me completely.  “Mine,” I whispered as I fell back asleep.



Friday, October 21, 2011

My first day blogging...

It's a typical fall day in Pennsylvania, grey and cool with just a hint of rain in the air.  Last night I swear I saw snow flurries, but I'll pretend it was just a bad dream.  Fall is magically beautiful here, but winter is torture.  The charming, curving roads winding through rolling hills and narrow valleys are perfect for viewing fall foliage, but not as pleasant when covered with ice and snow.  But even the threat of the impending winter can't fully erase the joys of autumn in Beaver.  Tonight is senior recognition night, and we'll walk our son (dressed as the school mascot - the Beaver Bobcat) onto the football field.  Tomorrow is the annual Fall Fest, and the children will stroll the streets in their costumes.  Monday is the pumpkin carving contest for fifth graders, so we only have a few days to find, and carve, the perfect pumpkin.  It is a hectic time, but I am starting to realize how precious these days are, and I'm trying to savor each and every one.