Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Two

"I know, I know, my dear", the doctor replied. "And I've just the treatment to get you there." He waved a sheet of paper. "I'll run along and drop this off at the nursing station. They'll get things going, and I'll be back in a couple weeks to check up. No, no, don't get up", he bustled to his feet and offered his hand, "I can find my own way out."

"Thank you so much, doctor. You've taken a tremendous weight off my mind", Jillian said fervently, clasping his hand.

"Oh, that's what I do, dear, that's what I do", the doctor replied, pulling his hand free and bundling off through the curtains, leaving Jillian sitting on the bed in what felt like a pink cloud of happiness. She was so relieved! Nowhere near as serious! A regimen that wasn't strenuous or difficult! The prospect of being released, of being able to go Outside! This was far, far better than her wildest hopes! For some while she just sat still, basking in the delightful prognosis. Nowhere near as serious!

Eventually she stirred herself. She had to tell Agnes – Agnes would want to know. Pulling on her robe and slipping into her buskins, she pulled back the curtains and gave a little shriek of surprise. Standing just outside her curtain, almost exactly face to face with her, was a tall man in a lab coat. His hair and beard were dark brown, and his eyes were sea gray. He held a clipboard in one hand and the other was raised as if he had been about to part the curtains. Only his unexpected presence had startled Jillian, for she knew him. This was the stern doctor.

"I'm sorry to have startled you, Jillian", the stern doctor said in the low voice which Jillian knew so well. "I was just coming to see you."

"Oh – ah – hello, doctor", Jillian replied, backing toward her bed and sitting down upon it. "It's been a while – I'm glad to – that is, won't you come in?" She beckoned toward a chair, but the doctor didn't sit. He stepped in, pulled the curtains closed behind him, and stood looking at her.

Jillian wasn't feeling happy any more. It wasn't that she disliked the stern doctor. He was always polite and his tone was always serene and his presence was both calm and calming. But his words were – well, stern. Those eyes of his seemed to see right thorough you. It was clear he took his responsibilities seriously. He was known as the doctor who treated the serious cases, which was why his presence in a wing was always a cause for concern. Nobody liked to see him coming.

"The Ward" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

Monday, March 30, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part One

"Wake up, dear", the nurse nudged Jillian, "wake up, the doctor's here."

Jillian stirred herself from a nap she hadn't intended to take. "The doctor?" she asked, fuzzy-headed. "Which one?"

"The nice one", smiled the nurse. "I'll give you a minute to put yourself together." She pulled the curtains around the bed as she departed to afford Jillian a little privacy.

Jillian brushed her hair and arranged the bedclothes. She wondered whether she should stay in bed or sit in one of the chairs to confer with the doctor. She was feeling well today, and perhaps if she showed it a bit, it might persuade him – oh, right, this was the nice doctor. She didn't have to persuade him of anything.
Thus she was still sitting up in bed when the familiar face poked between the curtains. "Decent, I presume?" he grinned, getting a smile in return.

"Doctor, how good to see you", Jillian said. "Please, come in, come in. Have a seat."

"Don't mind if I do", the doctor said with a chuckle. He bustled in, plump and jovial with thinning white hair, red cheeks, and an almost perpetual smile. "You're looking awfully well today." He seated himself and looked around the little space, and Jillian couldn't help but notice he put a thick file folder he placed in his lap. Could that be...?

"I'm feeling well", Jillian replied, "but I've felt well before, and then – you know."

"I do indeed, my dear, I do indeed", the doctor mused, his eyes wandering about the walls and ceiling. "But today I have some good news for you."

Jillian's heart leapt at those words, and her hope soared as the doctor opened the folder on his lap and began paging through the documents.

"I have here the results of the tests we ran, and", he pulled out some of the sheets and handed them to her, "it seems that our concerns were unfounded. Your condition is nowhere near as serious as we'd feared."

"Oh, doctor, that's just what I wanted to hear", Jillian gasped, nearly dizzy with the news. She took the sheaf of papers that he seemed to be pressing on her and looked them over, but they meant nothing to her. Forms with tiny boxes filled with tiny type, and printouts with tables of intelligible numbers. But that didn't matter – as long as the doctor knew what they meant. Beaming with joy, she handed the papers back to him.

"I knew it would be", the doctor replied. "I rushed over here as soon as I had everything ready. I couldn't wait to tell you."

"Then – everything I'd heard – ", Jillian started to say, but the doctor cut her off.

"Now, dear, we've spoken before about the rumors that can float around wards like this. I trust you know who you should be listening to and who you should be ignoring."

"Yes, doctor", Jillian answered, a bit cowed. They had spoken of it before, and it had been the only time the doctor got anything less than nice. His eyes had grown steely and his voice took on a harsh edge, as it was starting to do now.

"That's my girl", the doctor said, his smile and geniality returning. "Now, I've drawn up a regimen of treatment for you which I'll be passing along to the nursing staff. Nothing strenuous or difficult, just a few pills and light exercise. It'll take a while, but you'll be making steady progress. In time, you may be well enough to be released to go Outside."

"Outside", Jillian whispered. "I've always dreamed of being able to go Outside."

"The Ward" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Paul in Arabia: A Novel" by Tucker Cordani, Part Four

Judas combed his fingers through his beard. “Well. I don’t understand. Something’s happened to him. I wonder whether what I’ve heard from my sources is true. No matter. No sense standing in the doorway. My wife’s off at the market otherwise I’d offer you something. Meantime, why not just bring him in?”

“What do we do with him?”

“Follow me. I’ve got the perfect place for him.”

They dumped Saul in the room behind the kitchen, shut and barred the door.
When they came to the house on Straight Street, they gave Saul wine to drink with water but he refused. Then they sat him down and kept watch over him. They carried him into the house, the companions, one on his left, the other on his right. Saul remained in darkness for three days. He rolled himself into a ball, shriveled in the corner, his knees tucked up into his chest. He slept all afternoon, and awoke after dark. He attempted to stand up, but settled for kneeling, and he groped around the walls, searching for the door. Cold and alone, he realized there was a reason why he was there, locked into this room, in the house of a stranger. Who was this Judas? What happened to have brought him to this lowly state?

He picked himself up from the dust and rose to his knees. Light shone through the cracks in the shades and the dust from the ceiling filtered and sparkled as it floated through the air and rested upon the floor. The light. He remembered it now. Light. Silence. Then pain. He gripped the soil and the voice of the man—whoever he was—was calling (“Saul! Saul!”) in Hebrew.

It was a crisis for Saul, this sudden blindness for three days. He neither ate nor drank anything, for his appetite was gone as often happened following a crisis of the soul. These were days of terrible stress and strain.

He waited, kneeling in the dark, waiting for somebody to come and tell him what to do. So he did the only thing he could do: He prayed.

The End of the Excerpt

Visit Tucker Cordani's blog at http://tucker-cordani.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Paul in Arabia: A Novel" by Tucker Cordani, Part Three

Judas was Paul’s contact in the city. He worked as a merchant but he had been contacted by the high priests. He anxiously awaited the arrival of this man, Saul of Tarsus, of whom he had hear such ill repute.

Saul vaguely knew of Judas, had heard little of him. He agreed to harbor Saul but had severe misgivings because of the Pharisee’s reputation as a man filled with violence, anger, and hatred. He feared of the livelihood he might have lost, and for his family. But he liked to listen to the Christians in the market squares preaching on the Word. It bothered him that they talked as they did in the synagogue, their speech skirted the blasphemous. Judas remained a devout follower of the Law.

The others arrived with Saul at the house. The stood beneath the awning, long spears in their hands, horses trolling the soil behind them, sweaty and combative in the early afternoon.

Judas met them at the door. He was very tall and talked down at them, scratching his beard as he mumbled at them.


“Saul. I bring you authorization from Annas and Caiaphas.”

“So I see. Where have you been?”

“Something happened on the way into the city.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

Saul stood before Judas in the doorway; he was shrunken, silent, cowed.

Judas was sizing Saul up. So this is the great Saul of Tarsus, he was thinking. Not at all like I envisioned him.

“What happened?” he asked. “He get scared by a gnat or step on a scorpion? They say you’re the man that led the charge against the Christians in Jerusalem. Now here you are, fearful and trembling like a kitten. What happened? Say something. How is it you are presented to me speechless and trembling as a waif who can’t look another man in the eye?”

The Jew from Tarsus couldn’t hear any better than he could see; his head continued ringing. He could hardly make sense of his own mind. Why was this man—a fellow Pharisee—mocking reviling him for having been punched into the ground by a man from another world? Jealously. That’s what it was. It wasn’t my problem that I was advanced in wisdom and learning beyond my years. That’s how God created me to be: a genius who will save the Jewish nation from the scourge of this new uprising. The old gray-grizzled jackals are jealous because I am where I am at twenty-five where they haven’t gotten their entire lives.

One of the guards was looking over his shoulder. The parades through the streets clamored up and down the alleys, with music and noise. “What’s the commotion?” he asked.

“Aretas, king of the Nabateans, who controls this city. He’s appointed some new governor to rule over the city while he’s in the desert capital, a place called Petra, so-named because it is a great rose-colored city hewn out of rock in the badlands of Arabia. It is said that Petra is a city so glorious God himself could not have hewn it from the rock. Now there’s all this festooning all over the city. Everybody’s drunk, rioting, dancing and cavorting in the streets. The new governor lives by the temple of the all-power God of the Romans, Jupiter.”

“Make up your mind, Judas. Do you want him or not?”

Visit Tucker Cordani's blog at http://tucker-cordani.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Paul in Arabia: A Novel" by Tucker Cordani, Part Two

Saul looked up to the precipice to see a man in white, a lone figure silhouetted against the sky, looking down at him. Saul saw the glorified body of Jesus of Nazareth alive forever after he was crucified and died and resurrected.

He did not believe what he was hearing. Who? Jesus of Nazareth is dead. He was crucified in Jerusalem two years ago. Caiaphas and Annas confirmed this, that this Jesus died on the cross during Passover. They buried him in the sepulcher but then the disciples came in the night and stole the body so they could say he rose again. Pilate let it happen. He never should have washed his hands of this ordeal. That was two years ago and I wasn’t there when it happened. Then what am I doing on my back with my arms outstretched to the sky?

“Jesus of Nazareth is dead,” Saul said.

“Get up and go into the city and there you will be told what to do.”

“What then?”

“It is hard for you to kick against the goad,” the Lord said and then he went away.

Saul was blind. Not a blackness, but twilight, a state of grayness and oblivion. He couldn’t hear very well and for some time remained speechless.
The men traveling with him looked like trees, grayish figures against the murkiness, some standing over him like trees. They glanced nervously around, hands on their scabbards, ready to draw and despoil the marauder.

“What happened to you, Saul?” one of them said.

“We heard the voice but didn’t see anybody. Who was it that was speaking to you?”

“I didn’t hear anybody,” the other said. “But I saw the light. It was as bright as a thousand suns.”

“Are you okay, Saul?”

“I’m blind. I can’t see. Help me from the ground.”

He lay on his back, arms toward the sky, his cape sprawled around him, blind eyes suckling the last of the light, which had faded away with the Lord. He clutched handfuls of sand to maintain a grip on reality.

The soldiers looked on him. It was pathetic to see the masterful Saul, victorious and vicious persecutor and conqueror of the disciples, now helpless as a child.

They helped him from the ground and then led him by the hand into the city. They entered through the western gate into an alley that led to the agora. The temple of Jupiter towered over all the buildings, constructed by the fearful Romans when they held the city. Before Aretas, the Nabatean. Now he had some governor holding sway but things were about to change again. The new governor wasn’t working out very well and the king wanted to replace him.

They continued their procession through the city. They walked—or, the soldiers walked; Saul followed as they led him by the hand like an old blind beggar.

Like an animal, Saul’s sense became more acute. He could hear things he ordinarily couldn’t hear: the magnificent sounds of the bustling agora. Instead of going to the synagogue, they turned and traveled south down a small side street, and then onto the Street called Straight, the city’s thoroughfare. Why go to the synagogue? Saul was too shocked to pray and he could not read the scrolls.

A man approached offering a bowl of something stewed and aromatic but the other guard, Demetrius, pushed him away. “Get away, you toothless, bearded maggot.” Saul felt too scared to make any moves or even to speak. He knew the situation, simply ignored the merchants who tried to push on him their wares. The noise from the nearby Agora—the music, the vendors, the monkeys screeching, and elephants trumpeting as they moved slowly through the streets—frightened Saul, because though he could distinguish between the noises he remained disoriented from the fall.

Visit Tucker Cordani's blog at http://tucker-cordani.blogspot.com

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Paul in Arabia: A Novel" by Tucker Cordani, Part One

Chapter One: A Street Called Straight

Saul was impatient. He could see the walls of the city, the overarching of the Jupiter temple, cutting into the desert skyline. He wanted to reach the synagogue soon so they could pray. It was about noon.

His zeal as Saul the persecutor increased with success. The more he killed, the more he wanted to kill, felt entitled to kill. Threatening and slaughter had become the very breath he breathed, like a warhorse that sniffs the smell of battle. He breathed on the other disciples the murder that he already had breathed in from the deaths of the others. He exhaled what he inhaled. Jacob had said: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; mornings he devours the pray, and at evening he distributes the spoils.” The greatest son of Benjamin was fulfilling this prophecy.

The taste of blood in the death of Stephen was pleasing to Saul, and now he reveled in the slaughter of the saints, both men and women. He was exceedingly mad against them.

He wanted to kill more Christians, to stamp out this sect. Filled with heresy, it defiled the sanctity of the Temple. In his rage Saul prayed to the Lord to take vengeance upon the malefactors, the men and women who followed the Way.

The leather pouch slung around his shoulder bore the letter written by Caiaphas authorizing Saul to take these interlocutors back to Jerusalem in chains.

Saul remembered the sight of the crucifixion, the criminals hung high on cross set against the sternness of the sky. There they stood along the roadsides between Jerusalem and Damascus, dozens of corpses fixed upon the crucifixes, the sight of Roman-style justice deserved for offenses committed against the Empire.

Suddenly Saul was thrown to the ground. A great light flashed in the sky and he heard a voice calling his name.

“Saul! Saul!”

“Here I am, Lord,” Saul said.

“Why are you persecuting me?”

The voice spoke to him as a man reprimands his son. He spoke to Saul in Hebrew, called him by his Hebrew name.

Saul held his hand before his face, to shield his eyes from the sun. Too late. The light continued to ring inside his head and he knew he could do nothing.

“Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

The Lord looked upon Saul from his seat in the sky, loving him, pitying him, but wanting him to understand his message and to know he was the truth by the very sound of his name.

Visit Tucker Cordani's blog at http://tucker-cordani.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Assisted Living", Part Eight

Lorraine’s not coming back, he thought. And the septic man, even if he came, wouldn’t come until the roads were plowed and a phone call confirmed the time.
He lifted again; pain shot up his leg -- just like the time he got a jolt from the workbench’s fluorescent starter. He held his breath until the sting subsided. He lay quietly to let the shock pass. He began to shiver.

He heard a chirping. Bird in the attic? No, phone in the kitchen. Of course, there was no way to reach it. It stopped after four trills. “Can’t come to the phone right now,” he heard the phone say. “Leave a name and numbah.”

Maybe it was the surveyor, or the septic man, or Lorraine saying she got back ok. Yes, it had to be her; it’d been about an hour, the timing was right. It wasn’t likely she’d call again and wonder if something was wrong. If she did, she couldn’t drive back, not in this weather. Who would she call locally? The realtor? The septic man? Assisted Living? “Could you please run out to Mill Road and check on my father? He’s not answering the phone, no matter when I call. Yes, I know how bad the roads are.”

“Hello, Miss Randall? It’s Pete, the septic guy? Look, I found your dad in the garage this mawnin’. Looks like he took a bad fall. Nope, didn’t make it. Exposuh.”

Not him, no sir. Oziel pressed himself up. The wind howled with him. Hardly an inch. He rested. Even if he could move a few inches at a time, how could he cross the driveway? If he stayed, could he close the heavy door? A little drift was forming there. Could he possibly stay the whole night, and light the heater? No, he used the last match. Should have asked for matches, not a microwave. That’s what I really needed.

No, he corrected himself, shouldn’t have asked for nothin’. It’s all a gift. He hadn’t asked for the gloves, or the jacket, or the rubbers; they just showed up when he needed them. Sometimes we notice, sometimes not. It was as though a light came on. It brightened. A blast of frigid air swept his hair back and he squeezed his eyes shut against the Light that suddenly filled the room. The garage door rumbled, and a Voice called to him:

“Dad? My God, what happened?”

“Lorraine?” Oziel heard the Volvo purring. The halogen headlamps blazed gloriously.
Oziel blinked in disbelief. “I thought you were home; the phone rang—“

“That was me, calling from my cell,” she said, genuflecting beside him. “The weather’s worse down south. They closed the interstate in Worcester. I called to say I needed to come back.”

Oziel gripped her warm hand. “Yes, you did.”

The End.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Assisted Living", Part Seven

He had to see for sure. Not that he doubted. But like old Gideon, Oziel needed a little more fleece. He’d try the garage again.

Oziel snapped on the rubbers. He buttoned his coat. Naw, this was foolish. He unbuttoned the coat. Just coincidences. He started to peel off the rubbers. He stared at them. Who left them in the tub? The septic man? When did he come out last? But still – before the snow gets bad – he slipped into the coat. He put on the gloves and turned them this way and that. Unbelievable.

What should he ask for? Something ordinary. Something he really needed. Like the other things. A new coffeepot? He and Jean got the stainless steel percolator for their 35th and he hadn’t touched instant since. But it still worked. He didn’t need another. A microwave? At Assisted Living, everyone had one. Living alone, it made sense. All those single-serving frozen dinners they sold now. Baked potato in seven minutes and a pot pie in three, Artie said at coffee fellowship. Finally, though, he said: Surprise me.

He fit the Red Sox cap to his head to keep the snow out of his eyes. He considered using the umbrella but the wind was too brisk. He left the umbrella where it hung. He felt for his garage key, flipped on the outside light, and stepped out.
The “sneet” had turned to a slanting snow that stung his cheek. An old Yankee, he knew it would accumulate quickly. He’d just be a minute.

The ice cracked away from the lock like hard cellophane. He heaved aside the door.
Once inside, he hauled the door shut. It jammed in the icy runners, but he managed to close it almost the whole way.

Don’t you be in there all day putzing, Jean said. You said you’d clean the cellar.

Do you really need these things?
Lorraine asked.

Oziel elbowed past the bins to the ladder. At the top, he clicked on the penlight.
The table at the far end, like an altar at the head of the church aisle, lay in shadow. He approached it, rubber soles squeaking. The wind rushed as it might have done in another, more ancient upper room. There were the linens. Hanging behind them to the floor, swinging in the draft, was a black power cord. His heart skittered. He lifted the light to reveal an old iron. Almost, he said. Something that heats up, only slow. Funny. Lorraine musta used it to smooth the linens for the yard sale.
Foolish old man. All coincidences. Things you had laying around all the time and just never noticed. He returned to the trapdoor, where he knelt and felt with his foot for the top rung.

It cracked.

His foot plunged.

His body followed.

He crumpled in a heap, his leg pretzeled underneath. He shook off a daze; his cap rolled away. When he reached for it, his leg shrieked. He winced. Something not right there, he thought, not right at all. When he lifted up on an elbow, his leg turned to flame. He sucked in his breath. The wind whistled in the unclosed door, and a spray of snow wet his cheek.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Assisted Living," Part Six

Oziel tugged the storm door shut, fighting the wind. Through the streaked glass he watched crystal beads of sleet dance on the driveway. He shut the inner door. It sighed. What did the weatherman say? Six inches? Maybe he’d sleep in the garage, plow himself out first thing in the morning. No need to cross the snowy driveway with a sheet of ice under it neither, rubbers or not.

He shuffled past the shower and stepped up into the kitchen. The shingles shuddered; the eaves creaked. He heard a drip-drip in the bathroom. Some water musta sprayed in while he wrestled with the door. Drip-drip. Either that or ice backed up under the soffit, a bad thing to happen with the place for sale. Can’t sell a house with a leak, no sir.

No ceiling stain. No puddle on the linoleum. Drip-drip. He pulled back the shower curtain. Why, in her hurry, Lorraine forgot her umbrella, hanging from the soap caddy. Drip-drip. And leaning against the tub’s side: wet boots? Lorraine forgot them, too?

No, two rubbers.

Lorraine wore boots.

And she didn’t bring in no umbrella. Did she?

First the gloves. Then the jacket. Now these. He had made some joke about them. Lorraine must have left them here.

The Father knows what you need before you ask. He shrugged off a prickly chill on his neck. What I really need, Lord, is to have my daughter back.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Assisted Living", Part Five

By the time they pulled in with groceries, rain dappled the windshield. The radio said another “Nor-easter” was blowing in: rain, turning to snow, six inches, with gusty winds.

“Maybe you should stay the night,” Oziel suggested. “Just to be sure.”

“It’ll just be rain down south. It always is,” Lorraine said.

She checked both the kitchen phone and her phone for messages while Oziel put away canned goods.

“The septic guy didn’t call,” Lorraine said, disappointed. “He probably won’t come now until the snow ends. End of the week maybe. I’ll call him and let you know.”
“I don’t see why this can’t wait ‘til the snow is gone for good. They can’t dig up the old system and do the leach field thing until the ground ain’t frozen no more.”
“The tape measures and metal detectors will work fine. He has to check the water table, too. Then they can tell what kind of tank is needed and give an estimate. We can’t sell the house until we know. Then we’ll set up an escrow.”

“Whatever you say.” Oziel stacked the canned beets, remembering the days he dug them out from the rocky soil with his hands. Sleet rapped at the window.

“I’d better go,” Lorraine said. “I’ll call this septic guy from Providence.”

“Want some supper?”

“I don’t think I have time.”

“Take a sandwich?”

“Gary will have something waiting.”

Oziel’s stomach twisted. It’s a good thing Jean died before she knew about Gary.
He followed his daughter to the bathroom door leading outside. She pulled on her trenchcoat. “If the power goes out, stay put.”

“There’s the kerosene heater in the workshop.”

She nodded but pinched her lip. She once said it was another thing he’d have to get rid of before the house sold. Something about it being against code.

“You be careful driving, hear?”

“I’m more concerned about you crossing the driveway to the workshop,” she replied.

“I’ll take an umbrella,” he joked.

“It’s the ice I’m thinking of.”

“Umbrella won’t help that. Rubbers, maybe. ‘Cept I don’t have none.”

A gust rattled the door. “Gotta go,” Lorraine said. “I’ll call.”

Oziel turned his cheek for a farewell peck but Lorraine ran out to the car in that tiptoe way girls do in the rain. The Volvo engine purred into life. The wipers waved good-bye mechanically. So did Lorraine.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Assisted Living," Part Four

“That was Gary,” Lorraine said, walking back to the kitchen.

“It still fits,” Oziel said, arms out. He pat his stomach. “How’s it look?”
“I said just a tie would do-“

“It’s the jacket I wore to your mother’s funeral. He gives abundantly more than we ask or think,” he quoted.

“Fine,” Lorraine said abruptly. “I’ve got some papers in the car for you to sign before we go. Is there more coffee?”


She left. Oziel peered out the window to watch her fetch a briefcase. Maybe he shouldn’t have recited a Bible verse. It always turned her off. Maybe the jacket from the funeral brought back the unpleasant breach. Maybe it commented on her shacking up with Gary. He poured coffee. He didn’t want to lose her again. She’d already run away once, to escape her mother’s criticism. They didn’t hear from her for years. The strain probably killed Jean. Now she was back. Physically, at least. Lending a hand. He should be grateful, like the father in the prodigal son story.
Lorraine stomped snow from her feet in the bathroom, then entered the kitchen where she set down the briefcase, shivering.

“What is it I need to see?” Oziel asked.

“Just some forms,” Lorraine said. “Gary drew up some things so we can legally use the money from the house sale to pay Assisted Living.”

Oziel knew it wouldn’t be cheap, and Medicare didn’t pay for such things. Everything had to go. The coffee burned in his stomach. Still, it wasn’t the money or selling the house. It wasn’t as though the prodigal was asking for the inheritance before the father was dead. It was his old heart pulled in two directions. He needed Lorraine’s and Gary’s help to sell the house and move to assisted living. God knows he needed some looking-after. Yet he was sickened by their live-in arrangement. The jacket felt tighter. Lorraine explained the forms, underscoring lines with her gold pen, but he didn’t understand a word. He signed by the “X” when she tapped it. The sleeve smelled musty.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Assisted Living" , Part Three

Oziel slugged his coffee and rinsed his cup. He didn’t want to embarrass Lorraine. He needed a jacket. When was the last time he wore one? The funeral? Where was it? Jean put dress clothes in hanging plastic wardrobes in the cellar. With Lorraine busy on the phone, he’d look. He bent his ear to the parlor going by.

“No, dammit, check the Marley account…”

It sounded like she might be a while.

Downstairs, he found no wardrobes hanging where they once did. Lorraine probably moved them to the garage. So he walked across the driveway to check. He covered his ears; the wind was picking up.

Once inside, he opened the closet by the workbench. By golly, he still had his dress greens from the army, in clear plastic. They wouldn’t do, patches and all. And they wouldn’t fit, not after so long. He’d been a trimmer man in the war and when he met Jean at the commissary. They went on a picnic, and the air was sweet with lilac.
A breeze rustled the plastic wrapping. For a moment, it smelled like lilac. Then he smelled that sick-sweet, chickeny smell from the second floor. Why, he’d never closed the attic hatch properly yesterday. Too excited about the gloves. He ascended the ladder, poked his head up, and reached for the thrown-aside door. A glint of light caught his eye. Gold. From that table at the end of the room.

It flashed again. Probably that brass curtainrod. But it flickered, like something loose and swinging. He climbed up, crossed the room, and took a closer look. It was a gold button on a sleeve, twitching in a draft. He lifted the linens and curtain.

“Good God,” he said.

It was the jacket he wore to the funeral, folded in quarters.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Assisted Living" , Part Two

Lorraine drove up the next day to help with the house sale. She knew about such things, like her mother. Oziel could build a bathroom next to the kitchen, extending the water pipes so’s his new wife needn’t visit the outhouse with a fur coat and flashlight in the snow. But he never wrote a check and didn’t know how. Jean did all that. Lorraine was good with numbers and official papers like her mother. She worked for an insurance company doing something Oziel couldn’t understand. He met her at the door.

“Hey, kiddo. Good drive?”

“Sure, now that everything’s plowed.”

“Much snow in Providence?”

“Just rain.”

“It’s the ocean, you know.”


She sounded irritated. He regretted saying the obvious. It happened after a long separation. Nothing else in common but the weather.

“Some coffee?” he asked. “Still got the percolator.”

“Coffee’s fine. Black.”

He offered to take her London Fog coat, but she shrugged it off and slid it onto a wire hanger herself, and then hung it on the shower curtain rod. She kicked off her boots on the lime-colored linoleum, leaning on the vanity Oziel found in a junkyard.

“Any calls?” Lorraine asked, brushing past him to sit at the kitchen table.


“The surveyor should call later,” she replied, fingering the vinyl tablecloth. “And the septic tank guy will need to schedule a perc test. He probably can’t do it til spring, though.”

“Can’t the new people do that?” Oziel asked, opening the coffeepot.

“No way. The state won’t let you sell the house if the septic isn’t up to code. That’s why we had to install the wired smoke detectors, too, remember?”

Oziel set down two mugs. “Coulda done that myself.”

“How’s the cleaning going?” Lorraine eyed the colored glassware in the breakfront that Oziel made from discarded pallets.

“Oh, good,” he said. “The henhouse is half done. Nothin’ in the attic now, just leftovers from the yard sale.”

“Anyone helping you?”

“Just me.”

“Watch your blood pressure.”

“I’m alright.”

“Taking your pills?”

“Sure. I take it slow. Keeps me busy, now that I can’t build nothin’.” He wiggled his knotty fingers. It reminded him: “I found my old workgloves from the mill, just when I needed gloves.”

“How nice. God, look at the time,” Lorraine said, raising her Lady Rolex. “I made appointments with the realtor and the bank, too. We’ll have to go soon.”

“Fine.” Oziel decided not to show her the gloves.

“Plenty of time to change.”


“Well, you can’t go like that.”

Oziel brushed some dust and cobweb strands from his slacks. “They’re clean.”

“You have a blazer? A tie?”

“Got a tie for church. You think I need a jacket?”

Lorraine pouted. “I guess not.”

“If you think I do-“

“No, it’s fine-“


Her cell phone trilled. She looked displeased. Was it because the phone rang, or because he had no jacket? She slipped into the parlor.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Assisted Living" by John Desjarlais, Part One

Shoulda wore gloves. Oziel rubbed his leathery hands, blew on them. Icicles sparkled in a glass fringe along the gutters. He flexed his blue fingers and slid the garage door aside. Needs oilin’.

He scratched a cardboard match to start the kerosene stove. The last match. That’s all he needed. When the burner hissed into life, he warmed his palms. He had good gloves when he worked at the mill.

Oziel wound his way through bins, barrels of 2X4’s, leftover paneling, discontinued aluminum windows, boxes of tile, discarded doors. Leaning on the ice-box, he flipped through yellowed issues of Popular Mechanics stacked on the floor. It all had to go. There’s no room for it at Assisted Living, the admission director said. His daughter Lorraine insisted. She knew about such things. A house hunter wants to imagine her own stuff there. Clear everything out; buyers love space. The lathe, too? The mitre saw?


He promised Lorraine the old henhouse attic would be cleared by her next visit. Time to get to it.

He pulled a chain; a bare bulb blinked on. He pat his pocket for the penlight. He didn’t remember installing electricity upstairs. His wife Jean put things up there. She couldn’t bear to throw nothing out, neither. Lorraine said most of it went in the yard sale. Five dollars for all the Readers Digest Condensed Books. Unbelievable.

He climbed the ladder and pushed up the trapdoor. A shower of droppings and dust made him cough. He shoved the door aside. Lint-filled light from a forgotten skylight filled the attic. Oziel stood on the planks, fanning dust from his face. The attic ran the length of the building, near 140 feet. He expected to see old coops and fencing. Nothin’. He faced the attic’s far end, echoing like a new house before the furniture arrives. At the east wall was the aluminum-leg dining table with the Formica top they got for a wedding present. It was fashionable after the war. He scuffed to it, his heart lifted like seeing an old friend at church. He wiped away cobwebs. How many dinners they’d shared there, how many school projects before Lorraine left, like that plaster map of Africa on scrap plywood.

The table wasn’t empty. No, a pile of linens sat beside a rod with stained curtains and a pilled blanket – things that didn’t sell at the yard sale? A yellow towel poked from beneath the pile. Oziel tugged it out. A glove. It pulled free with another clipped to it. “Simon Paper,” said the logo on each wristband. They been up here all along? He shook off the dust and pulled them on. My God, they still fit. A little stiff. He clapped his hands. Nice and warm. Just what he needed. Now he could start loading things for the junkyard in the truck.

John's new mystery novel, "Bleeder," will be released by Sophia Institute Press in August 2009 and will be available at www.sophiainstitute.com as well as in bookstores.

Investigate Higher Mysteries

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Jeffersons, Part Two

Saturday Mass

“Say your fine” Tommy whispered. “say your fine or you will really get it!”

Mrs. Jefferson looked in the rear view mirror and asked again, “Harry, are you alright?”

“I’m fine, mom” Harry said rubbing his arm where Tommy had punched him and gave Tommy his meanest look. They had been arguing in the back of the Jefferson’s huge van over how to go about convincing Mrs. Jefferson to take us to the pound. We were going to Mass together. I went to Mass on Sundays with my parents and plenty of times during the school week with my class at St. Benedict’s but I had never been to Mass on Sat. before. We were going to the first Saturday Mass and to confession. The Jefferson’s always went to Mass and confession on the first Saturday of the month. Madison had suggested I go with them so we could have clean souls when we started praying for a dog for me. I didn’t think it could hurt and while I standing in line to light a candle for a dog of my very own, I got a warm feeling looking at the statue of Mary. She looked so peaceful and nice, I thought she would like to help me get a dog. I bet Jesus had a dog. Confession was good, I never really did anything so bad that I didn’t want to go. Sometimes I thought about making something up so I would have an interesting thing to tell the priest, like I had been cussing, or fighting or something but then I would be lying and I would have to confess that too, and really, what would be the point of that?

After Mass we went to the park with a picnic. Mr. Jefferson threw the football with all of us while Mrs. Jefferson got lunch out of the cooler. After we said the blessing, which included Kennedy saying “and please help Sammy get a dog” at the end, everyone started eating. I just looked at the food.

“Don’t you like fried chicken, Sam?” Mr. Jefferson noticed I hadn’t taken any.

“Yes, sir, I do, I‘ve just never had it like this before.”

“What do you mean, like this?” Tommy said, licking his fingers and tossing his drumstick bone into the trash. “You’ve never had a picnic?”

“Um, no” I said, feeling like a total weirdo, “I’ve never eaten fried chicken with the bones still in it before.”

The Jefferson kids just looked at me.

“Do they make chickens without bones?” Tyler asked.

Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson chuckled while the Maddy, Tommy and Harry howled.

“No, all chickens have bones, Ty” Mrs. Jefferson said gently, “Sam is just used to eating boneless pieces of chicken.” “Go ahead and try it Sam. I am sure you’ll like it.”

At this point I just wanted to crawl under a rock. I am sure they all thought I was a spoiled, rich kid or something. I couldn’t believe my mom had done this to me! Sometimes I think she is out to ruin my reputation as a kid.

“Thank you.” I took a piece and ate it, just like the other kids had. It was really good too! I wondered why I had never had this before. I was definitely bringing this up with mom.

This is an excerpt from "The Jeffersons," an unpublished Children's Story by Rachel Ogea. Visit her blog at jrogea.blogspot.com

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Jeffersons, Part One

A Boy Needs a Dog

“How was dinner?” Mom asked when I got home.

“Was it like having dinner at a prison riot?” Dad chuckled.

“Bob” Mom gave him a disapproving look, “let Samuel tell us about it”.

“Well…” I began, “it was nice. The food was good and we had chocolate cake for dessert”.

Mom and Dad just looked at me.

I knew my parents wanted details. I knew they wanted to know how a family with six kids and a dog could exist without complete chaos. I just didn’t know how to tell them. It was nice. The food was good. We got through dinner with only one argument, and that was when baby Lincoln dropped his cup and Kennedy got angry when Madison picked it up before she could. That was over pretty quickly though. It might have been different if everyone hadn’t been so intent on asking me questions. I wasn’t used to this. I was used to just listening. They really expected me to talk. When I wasn’t answering questions with “yes, I am an only child” or “yes, the school uniforms are awful”, they were all trying to talk to me at the same time, but it didn’t seem like a prison riot. More like a party, and I liked it.

“What about the house...” my mom began, “were you, um, comfortable there?”

“Their house is nice, mom. It isn’t like ours, but it isn’t real messy if that is what you’re thinking.” I almost felt like I was defending them!

“Oh, I didn’t mean that” mom said, quickly, trying to keep from sounding rude. “I was just wondering if they are all moved in yet, they’ve only been in there a few weeks, you know”.

At this point, Dad was grinning. He knew Mom would be mortified if I ever mentioned to Mrs. Jefferson that she had asked how her house looked. I decided to play with Mom a little bit. “Would you like me to go over and ask her if you can go in and have a look?”

“Really, Samuel!”

I smiled, enjoying getting a chance to tease mom. It didn’t happen often. While I had both my parents attention I thought I might as well ask them again.
“Mom, the Jeffersons have a dog.”

“No, Samuel.”


My dad quickly left the room and I knew it was because he wanted a dog too. I had overheard him once say “a kid should have a dog” to my mother when they didn’t think I was listening. My mother, however, always won.

“You know exactly why, Samuel. You are not old enough to take care of a dog and I will not have a dog stinking up this house.”

“The Jeffersons have a dog and their house doesn’t stink.”

“I am not discussing this Samuel, I am glad you had a good time and very glad you have new friends, but we are not getting a dog.”

“Your mom just needs to meet a nice dog.”

“Yeah, she just hasn’t met the right dog yet.”

“Your dad’s right, a kid needs a dog!”

The Jeffersons and I were rolling around the backyard with their dog Spike. He was a big hairy mixed breed that loved being petted. Tommy, Harry, Tyler and I had just walked Spike, or I should say Spike had just walked us, and we were trying to figure out how to get a dog for me.

‘Do you know anyone whose dog is having puppies?‘


‘Do you know anyone who wants to get rid of a dog?’


Madison had overheard the conversation. “If you really want a dog, you should go to the pound. They kill lots of dogs there, dogs that nobody comes to get.”

“Where do they kill dogs?!” Kennedy was visibly upset. “People just can’t kill dogs, can they Tommy?”

Tommy gave Madison a “you are so stupid” look, and Madison got down on her knees and looked Kennedy in the eye.

“If a dog doesn’t have anybody that wants it, and it goes to the pound, then sometimes they put it to sleep. Then they don’t have to worry about it starving or getting hit by a car.”

“Does it ever wake up?” She looked at Madison hopefully.

“No, I am sorry Kennedy, it never wakes up.”

Kennedy’s eyes got all teary and she looked at me and said “Sammy, you have got to get your dog from the pound!”

I looked around at all the Jeffersons and knew then and there that it was settled.
I would get a dog and I would get it from the pound.

This is an excerpt from "The Jeffersons," an unpublished Children's Story by Rachel Ogea. Visit her blog at jrogea.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The MIdnight Dancers, Part Six

The girls stared at their room, which Dad had been promising to break up into smaller sections ever since they had bought the house, but which he had never seemed to find time or money to have done. The vast whitewashed room had three bunk beds (staggered in the middle of the room, to take advantage of the highest point in the sloped ceiling), two single beds, and two double beds, along with a big long-mirrored dresser and two little dressers and a vanity. “No matter what we do with it, it’s still going to look like a camp cabin,” Miriam said dryly.

Rachel shrugged. “I need a new perspective. Something. Come on, let’s give a try. Tammy, help me with the big bed. It’s been in front of the chimney forever. Oh, here’s Cheryl. Give us a hand.”

“With what?” The oldest Fendelman girl had just walked upstairs.

“We’re rearranging furniture again,” Tammy said.

“Again? Why? At this hour?” Cheryl had her book in her hands, and she did look tired.

“Oh, come on. The room’s clean. If all five of us do it, it won’t take long.” Rachel said.

Reluctantly, the blond girl put down her book and found a place at the footboard. “Where are we moving this?”

As each of the beds had drawers beneath for storage, moving them was a chore. “Good thing you came in. It’ll take all five of us to move it, for sure.” Tammy figured.

“I just want to move it over by the window. And we can move the two dressers here, and put them together to make one big dresser. Well, sort of. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while,” Rachel said.

“That might look cool,” Melanie agreed. Cheryl sized up the situation, and began to get interested.

“We might be able to hang a canopy over the bed, from the ceiling beams,” she said.

“Hm! Yes, that’s a great idea!” Rachel said appreciatively. Good, she had a team.

So all four of them shoved the double bed out from the wall with Miriam complaining about the uneven floorboards.

“This room is too ancient,” she grumbled.

“I like old rooms,” Rachel retorted, struggling to get her hands under the headboard for another push. “It was once a sewing room–excuse me, a weaving room–when this house was built, before the Civil War. That’s why there’s so many windows–to let in light to work by.” She grunted and shoved forward and the bed moved slowly forward three feet.

“You know, this will look very different,” Melanie said, as they paused to rest. “We’ve rearranged before, but we’ve never moved this bed.”

“Wonder why?” Miriam puffed sarcastically, putting an elbow on the footboard to rest.

“We always had it shoved up against the kitchen chimney,” Cheryl pointed out. Rachel had chosen that spot for the biggest bed because the wide brick chimney against the wall was a natural focal point.

“Isn’t there something funny about that chimney?” Tammy said abruptly. “It looks too wide.”

“Too wide?” Rachel queried, running her hands over the worn red bricks, smoothed by time.

“Well, wider than the kitchen hearth is. I don’t know. Brittany would be able to tell you. It’s a spatial thing.”

Rachel held out her hands. “That’s how wide the kitchen chimney is,” she said. “I almost can’t get my hands around it.”

“I think the chimney up here is wider. Measure and see,” Tammy said.

Rachel did, and was surprised. “You’re right, it’s about a foot and a half wider. Wonder why?”

“I always wondered why they needed such a wide chimney,” Melanie said. “It’s just to let smoke out with, right?”

“Right,” Rachel agreed, ironically. “There’s actually a hearth in the master bedroom—well, what used to be the master bedroom, which is now your mom’s sewing room. I used to wish there was a hearth up here. It sure would be nice to have a fire here in winter.”

Tammy, intrigued, had gotten up and was trying to see if she could get her hands around the wide expanse of brick. “That’s weird. You’d think they could measure. It’s almost as though—hey!”

She put her hand on the wall board to the right side of the chimney, and it moved slightly. “This board is loose.”

Rachel scrambled to her feet. “Let me see,” she said, with proprietor’s interest. She felt the board of the paneling. “What do you mean? It’s not warped—the nails are in solidly.”

“No, no. Push it in,” Tammy said. “It’s like, soft.”


“Well, it gives under your hand.”

Rachel pushed on the board, and to her amazement, it—and several boards next to it—moved inward on an invisible hinge, a door about eighteen inches wide and five feet high.

“That’s too strange,” she said. “What is it? A broom closet?”

“Yeah, for one broom,” Miriam said.

Rachel pushed the door in as far as it could go, and the scent of air hit her nostrils—a clean, cool breath. The breath of adventure.

This is the end of Chapter One. If you liked this chapter, buy the book!: The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The MIdnight Dancers, Part Five

He shut the door, and she stood in the room, hot tears on her face, a rage growing in her that even she could see was out of proportion to the situation. She flicked the fan switch “on,” flung herself on her bed, grabbed her pillow fiercely, and thrust her face into it. Her tears stopped almost immediately, but the turbulence inside didn’t die down. Why is it always like this? He treats me like a child and sends me to my room. Ever since Dad had gotten back from the Middle East … no, ever since Mom died … he just doesn’t know me. He just doesn’t understand.

Her eye caught the black and white photograph encased in a frame sitting on her dresser. It was a picture of her mother, laughing and looking extremely gorgeous in a black dress and pearls. To Rachel, that picture seemed to represent an era of her life that was unreachable. She was beyond wishing that Mom was still alive: she just felt bleak, grim acceptance.

After a moment, she heard the door close softly, footsteps came up the steps, and then thirteen-year-old Melanie Fendelman sat down on the bed. “Hey Ray,” she said in her soft drawl, rubbing her fingers over her older stepsister’s back.

That was Melanie for you, loyal and wanting to help out any way she could. Rachel had known that her younger stepsister would seek her out, and she was grateful.

“Thanks,” Rachel turned over with a sigh at last, wiping her dry eyes. She stared at the sloped ceiling of their rooftop room and listened to the whirring of the fan. “You didn’t need to come up.”

“I know. How are you?”

“Stinky.” Despite her anger, Rachel couldn’t resist a smile as she looked at her young stepsister. She considered Melanie the prettiest of the Fendelman girls. Though not conventionally beautiful, Melanie had a round, still childlike face with amber eyes that squinted easily up into laugh lines, honey-colored wavy hair, and an open demeanor that made you love her as soon as you looked at her. It always gave Rachel a twinge of remorse, wishing that she could be more like Melanie, peaceful and friendly and accepting. She would trade all the Fendelmans plus a few of the Durhams, Rachel thought, so long as she could still have Melanie as her sister.

“What do you think, Melanie? I just don’t get Dad. And he is just clueless about me. What do you think?”

Melanie chewed the side of her mouth. “Maybe you’re just too much alike.”

“Yes, that’s possible,” Rachel said, rolling over. She stared at the ceiling. “Dear God, I just want out of here. I just want out. I’m just sick and tired of it.”

The door to the attic opened again, and Miriam came up, followed by Tammy, one of the Fendelman twins.

“Hi there!” Miriam said brightly. “All full of sunshine and candy?” A bit on the heavy side, she could always be counted on for a sarcastic comment.

Rachel snorted. “Yeah. Sour balls.”

Miriam chuckled and pushed open one of the large windows a bit further, then sat on her bunk bed, bumping her head. Exclaiming, she rubbed her dark brown hair. “You know, as soon as I get out of this house and get a job, do you know what I am going to do with my first credit card?”

“What?” Tammy asked, swinging onto her bed and throwing back her straight blond hair.

“I’m going to buy a huge California king-sized bed,” Miriam said impressively. “I will never ever sleep in a bunk bed again. Forgetaboutit!”

“You can switch with me sometime,” Tammy offered. She and Taren, her twin, slept in their own single beds.

“Oh, come on!” Rachel cried out. “I think bunk beds are so romantic! When I get married, I’ll tell my husband, ‘if you don’t want to sleep in a bunk bed, this is off!”

The others giggled. “He won’t like that,” Tammy opined.

“Oh, I’ll let him choose whether he wants the top bunk or the bottom,” Rachel said generously. She rolled to her feet and sat up, staring around the room. “Come on. Let’s rearrange the room.”

Can't wait to read more? Buy The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman today!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The MIdnight Dancers, Part Four

“Uh—hey, I got to go,” Rachel hedged. “Family devotions.” She quickly hung up the phone and looked at her dad. “What?”

“Who were you talking to?”

“A friend from church. I need to return a CD, that’s all.”

“Which friend?” He put out his hand for the phone. Rachel knew she was sunk: Alan’s name was on the caller ID.

“Alan.” There was no helping it now.

“That Vonnegun boy, right?”

“Dad, he goes to our church.”

Her dad looked at her, arms folded. “Did you get the CD from him at church?”

“I ran into him at the mall,” Rachel said defensively.

“Did you run into him, or did you meet him there?”

Rachel threw up her hands. “Dad, I don’t see what the big deal is! What difference does it make?”

“Because you girls know that you are not allowed to be with boys unsupervised. That’s the rule in our house. You were disobeying. And setting a bad example for your younger sisters.” Her father’s blue eyes bored into her. “I want to talk with you about this after devotions.”

“Fine,” she said, and stared at the ground. The other girls waited in silence while Dad walked to his chair, picked up his Bible and sat down, opened it. Devotions began.

Afterwards, Dad closed the Bible and said, “Rachel, I want to speak with you upstairs.”

She inclined her head and got up stiffly. Dad walked her upstairs, talking to her all the time. “You know perfectly well that you should not be sneaking off to hang out with boys. That is our family rule. You are eighteen years old, the oldest girl in this house, and you set the tone for the rest by how you behave. Do you understand me?”

“I understand you, Dad,” she said.

“Then why don’t you exhibit it in your actions?” he raised his eyebrows. “I don’t understand it. And I don’t understand why you can’t respond to a simple request without flouncing around. I don’t appreciate it. Your mother –” he barely paused, “doesn’t appreciate it. How can I keep the rest of your sisters in order if you don’t listen to me?”

Rachel pursed her lips but didn’t reply. As they walked up the stairs to the attic, her father went on, “It’s my responsibility before God to raise you up in the way you should go. I take that responsibility seriously. Have I made it clear to you, Rachel, the way you are supposed to behave? Haven’t I shown you what goodness is, what the right way is? Have I made that clear to you?”

“Yes,” she said, when his question became more than rhetorical.

“Then if you know the way, why you don’t follow it?”

Because it’s boring, stifling and rigid—like some kind of military exercise. But even Rachel didn’t dare to say something like that to her father, not when he was like this. She looked away from him, knowing how she was supposed to respond, but like a mule, unable to do so any more than she could bend her knees backwards.

“I want you to go to your bedroom and think about what I’ve just said to you,” her father said, and opened the door to the top floor. “You know I love you, Rachel. Good night.”

Can't wait to read more? Buy The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman today!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Midnight Dancers, Part Three

Ever since Dad had gotten back from his tour of duty, he had decreed that the time after dinner was “family hour.” He wanted everyone hanging out in the living room for an hour or more so that they could have “quality time.” But by the end of the day, Rachel was sick and tired of her family, and being around Dad wasn’t helping much. He just didn’t have the energy to deal with them all now, and Rachel knew it. She wished Dad would admit it to himself that his idea of a nice, happy time with his daughters just wasn’t working out.

Only a few family members were in the living room. Rachel noticed that Linette had suddenly reappeared: the youngest Fendelman had vanished after dinner, leaving someone else to clear the table, and Cheryl hadn’t done anything about it. Now Linette, adorable with blond curling hair and large brown eyes, was snuggling up against Sallie and listening to her read a library book. As usual she was pretending to be younger than her eleven years and skipping chores with no consequences. The Fendelmans were lousy at the chain of command.

With satisfaction, Rachel noticed that the youngest Durham sister, eleven-year-old Debbie, was industriously vacuuming crumbs under the dining room table. Noticing Rachel, Debbie made a face and rolled her eyes at Linette. Rachel grinned back knowingly. With dark hair and blue eyes, Debbie was arguably prettier than Linette. But Debbie was no slouch, even if she was a scamp.

“Devotions!” her dad called again, but no one was coming. Rachel sat down, and realized how long it had been since she had. A sigh escaped her, and she leaned back in the armchair and picked up one of Sallie’s women’s magazines. Recipes were not her thing, but she was bored. She turned the pages to an article on bedroom makeovers.

“Why can’t we go on vacation there?” Debbie asked over her shoulder, pointing to an advertisement of a girl sunbathing on a Caribbean isle.

“Ask Dad,” Rachel said absently.

“Dad!” Debbie started, but Rachel, realizing she had misspoken, pinched her.

“I didn’t mean you should really ask him,” Rachel said hastily. “Look at those dresses: aren’t they gorgeous?”

Sallie looked up. “I don’t think you should be looking at that magazine during devotions,” she said, putting out a hand.

But we aren’t even having devotions yet, Rachel silently fumed as she handed over the magazine. She stared at her denim skirt, which seemed to her to be unforgivably plain. The other girls were drifting into the living room now, and Jabez, in pajamas, toddled into the living room, tripped, and fell face-down on the carpet.

Amidst the wails, Rachel heard the phone on the end table beeping and picked it up. “Hello?”

“Uh, is Rachel there?”

Warmth spread through her. “This is Rachel,” she said quietly.

“Hey, what’s up? It’s Alan.”

“Hi!” She glanced circumspectly around. Only a few of the girls noticed she was on the phone: Sallie was busy with Jabez.

“Hey, remember that CD we bought at the mall? I was wondering when I could get it back from you.”

“Um, let me see,” Rachel ran through her head. “Maybe on Monday when I go to the library…”

“Who are you talking to?”

Out of nowhere, her dad had appeared in front of her and was fixing her with a steely glance. Great. Perfect timing. Not only had Alan called, but he had managed to time his call to the moment when all fourteen children were finally in the living room.

Can't wait to read more? Buy The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman today!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Midnight Dancers, Part Two

Since seventeen-year-old Miriam, the second-in-command, was drying dishes, and Liddy and Becca were sweeping the floors, Rachel made up her mind that cleaning up the pantry was Prisca’s job. But the fifteen-year old sister was nowhere to be seen. Prisca’s goofing off, as usual.

Gritting her teeth, Rachel tried to diffuse her irritation by talking to Jabez. “Bad boy, bad boy,” she chanted as she dusted him off, and he chuckled at her. She pressed a small kiss on his head, and he gleefully shoved both fists into her face, exuberantly careless in his affection. She sighed, appreciating his small-scale male energy in a house with so many girls.

“Got to put you to bed,” Rachel said, putting him under her arm again. “And find the slacker.”

She caught sight of herself in the mirror over the sideboard and half-smiled. She had skin with a touch of olive, mahogany hair and bright blue-green eyes she was quite proud of. Rachel Durham was attractive, and she knew it.

Whooshing a laughing Jabez along in her arms, she turned a corner to look into the side parlor. Her youngest sister Debbie was vacuuming, but no sign of Prisca. She turned another corner to go check the library. Sometimes Rachel was happy to be living in a rambling historical house, but at times like this, she wished there were less nooks and crannies where siblings skipping chores could hide.

Jabez was getting heavy, and he was about to start whining. Looking around for someone to take him, Rachel spotted Cheryl in the downstairs bathroom, leaning against the side of the shower wall, almost hidden by the curtain.

Her oldest stepsister was supposed to be cleaning, but Rachel guessed, from the bend of her head and the light glinting off her glasses, that she was reading a book. Cheryl was six months younger, and very different from Rachel: a nervous, insecure, dreamy type who was chronically disorganized.

Rachel’s policy was to use a soft touch when it came to Sallie’s daughters. In their blended family, there were enough problems without looking for more. Keeping her mouth shut, Rachel walked past the bathroom, getting more and more irritated with Prisca every moment.

Moving Jabez onto her shoulders, Rachel hurried up the steps to the girls’ bedroom on the top floor. “Pris—CA!” she bellowed.

Her fifteen-year-old sister was crouched over on the lower bunk of her bed, reading a magazine, which she immediately rolled over to hide. “What?” Prisca said defensively.

“The kitchen floor’s not mopped,” Rachel said.

“I did it!”

Rachel shrugged. “Could have fooled me. Anyway, you’ll have to do the pantry over. Jabez got into the flour.”

Prisca swore, stuffed the magazine under her pillow and stormed downstairs, still spitting out profanity.

Rachel followed her out and down the steps. “You better not let Dad hear you talking like that.”

“Oh, shut up!” Prisca said, her voice rising piercingly as she hurried downstairs. Prisca had always been a tad temperamental, but lately she had been even more so. Not wanting to exasperate the situation further, Rachel decided to give Prisca some space for the moment.

She met Brittany, one of the more easy-going Fendelman girls, coming out of the boys’ bedroom with the vacuum cleaner. “Want to get him ready for bed?” Rachel said, indicating Jabez. “He had a flour adventure. I’ll take the vacuum downstairs.” Over Brittany’s pompom ponytail, Rachel saw that the room was cleaned and straightened. “Hey, good job.”

Instead of answering, Brittany shrugged, and then puffed out her cheeks in a goofy face for Jabez, who burst into riotous giggles. Brittany whisked him out of Rachel’s arms and around the bedroom in some basketball moves.

Having gotten rid of her toddler burden, Rachel walked downstairs with the vacuum, rubbing her shoulder. She needed to make sure that Prisca had actually gotten to the kitchen.

She stowed the vacuum, and found Prisca in the pantry, sweeping up flour with quick angry strokes. The dish rack was empty and the girls were scattered. There was scum in the sink, and she picked a sponge and wiped it off, then looked around.

Done for the night. It had been a long day. Trucking her siblings to swimming lessons in the morning, grocery shopping in the afternoon, weeding the garden, picking raspberries from their bushes, making supper, and cleaning up—man, summer is supposed to be a vacation, she thought. And I’ve barely done anything except work.

I need a shower, she thought. And some time to relax. Thinking of the fashion magazine under Prisca’s pillow, she turned her path towards the upstairs again. But as she opened the door to the back staircase, Dad’s voice rang out, “Girls! Time for family devotions!”

She groaned out loud, and regretted it at once. Her dad’s head snapped around the corner from the living room, his eyes hard. “What was that, young lady?”

“Nothing,” Rachel said, massaging her shoulder and wincing as though she had just banged it. “Just hit myself with the door.”

Her dad looked at her suspiciously, but Rachel, feigning innocence, slouched past him into the living room.

Can't wait to read more? Buy The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman today!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Midnight Dancers, Part One

Chapter One of The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman, copyright 2008

Read the Prologue to Midnight Dancers: http://www.fairytalenovels.com/midnightdancers/NMFTSDBUVC.cfm

The twelve princesses all slept together in a great room, their beds standing side by side. --Grimm


Rachel Durham heard the voice distantly, but it was still far enough away to ignore. She had time. Chances were that Sallie would find another sister to help before thinking to call her oldest stepdaughter again.

So Rachel continued to lean out of the kitchen door and look down the lawn over the trees sloping to the bay. Soon the night would come. The wind was making flurries of ripples on the water, and the summer sunset was simmering off in the west, leaving a streak of pink like a road that seemed to be beckoning her to follow.

If only I could run away right now, she thought. The breeze was alluring, refreshing, whereas inside the house was loud and stifling, even in the air conditioning. She wanted to run through the woods and go down to the water, just to sit on a rock out in the bay. Just a taste of freedom…


She whirled around. “What?”

The kitchen door slapped shut behind her, trapping her back in the light and noise and routine of the household. “Look at Jabez!” The sound of the Sallie’s voice cut through her senses as Rachel’s eyes adjusted to the brightness of the kitchen. Her stepmother, thin blond hair falling out of a ponytail, was pointing into the pantry with one hand like a condemning Old Testament prophet. Her other hand was clutching a basket full of laundry.

Rolling her eyes, Rachel looked into the pantry, and then grimaced. Eighteen-month old Jabez was sitting on the floor, with one chubby hand poked shoulder deep into a container of bread flour. Hearing his name, he raised his eyes, puckered over with brown stubs of eyebrow. His baby mouth was a round O. “Am I not supposed to be doing this?” his gaze clearly said.

“Please get him cleaned up!” Sallie said brusquely. “And finish the kitchen.”

“The kitchen is finished!” Rachel said incredulously, looking around at the enormous room with its historical stone fireplace and newly-installed cabinets and appliances. The dishes were drip-drying on the countertop, while her sisters busied themselves with a few final chores.

“Why weren’t you girls watching Jabez?” Sallie retorted, instead of apologizing.

“Maybe because we were too busy doing the kitchen,” Rachel muttered, throwing down her towel and leaning down to get her baby brother. Sallie exited the kitchen, calling for the twins to come and get the laundry.

“Bad baby,” Rachel pronounced, prying Jabez’s hands gently off the flour container and tucking him under her arm like a sack. The pantry was a mess, but, she decided, that wasn’t her problem. She was the oldest sister in the house: she could delegate.

Friday, March 6, 2009


“You aren’t going, are you?” The small voice pleaded and the large young eyes filled with tears.

“Monica, dear”, her mother replied, leaning over and gently prying the little girl’s hand from her skirt. “We’ve talked about all this. I need you to be brave. I’ll be back for you soon.”

“But…but…Momma, please.” The little girl threw herself around her mother’s neck, burying her face in her shoulder and sobbing.

“Monica, baby…” the mother began, but a neatly dressed attendant stepped in and began prying Monica’s arms loose.

“It’s all right, Ms. Anderson, we’ll take care of her”, the worker reassured her with a sympathetic smile. “It’s a common occurrence. She’ll be over it in no time.” Applying a bit more force, she managed to pull Monica away.

“Please, Momma, please!” Monica cried, wiggling to escape the worker’s arms.

“I’ll be back soon, baby”, her mother reassured her, patting her cheek and turning away.

“Please, Momma!” the cries faded away as the mother briskly walked out to the hallway where her friend awaited her. As the door of the center closed behind her, cutting off Monica’s cries, she reached up to wipe a tear away from her eye.

“You okay?” asked her friend.

“It’s just – hard, sometimes”, the mother replied, fishing in her purse for a tissue.

“Now, Julia”, the friend said. “We’ve been over this so many times. You know you have to do this, for yourself and for Monica.”

“I know, I know”, the mother replied, waving her tissue and nodding. “But that doesn’t make it less difficult now and then.”

“Look”, her friend replied, deciding that a firm hand was needed at the moment. “Of course it’s difficult. But doing what’s right even when it’s difficult makes you stronger. It’s tough for both of you, but eventually Monica will see that you’re doing what is necessary, and she’ll respect you for it. Then she’ll grow up into a strong woman like you are.”

Julia smiled a little at encouragement. “I – I just don’t feel very strong right now.”

“You will”, her friend said, patting her shoulder. “After all, it’s not like you’re neglecting her. You’ve done your research. This is the most highly rated and recommended day care in town. She’ll get plenty of attention and stimulus – probably better than you could give her. She’ll be with children of her own age, and they’ve got plenty of games and activities. It’ll free you up to do what you do best, and you’ll both benefit.”

Julia sighed. “I know you’re right, and we have been over all this. Just getting a little – sentimental, I guess.” She straightened her suit jacket and turned to check her look in a hallway mirror. “Do I look all right?”
“Almost”, the friend said, taking out a tissue and patting dry the damp spot on Julia’s shoulder. “There. Ready to go?”

Back inside the center, the day care worker was trying distraction.
“Come on, Monica, would you like to come watch the video? Everyone’s watching.”

Though Monica had ceased crying, she pulled her hand from the worker’s and ran – not toward the door through which her mother had departed, but to a window overlooking the parking lot. Clambering up on the bookshelf beneath it, she looked out to where she could see her mother get into the white minivan with her friend and pull away. Monica just sat there, looking out the window, for a long time.


“You aren’t going, are you?” the frail voice pleaded as the rheumy eyes misted up.

“Mother, please – we’ve discussed all this”, the daughter patted the older woman’s hand. “It’s almost your suppertime, and I need to be going.”
“But – you just got here”, the elderly woman pleaded, taking her daughter’s hand and clinging tightly. “I thought – can’t you at least stay for supper?”

The daughter gave a halfhearted smile as one of the attendants stepped in and began tucking the wraps in around the wheelchair. “Now, mother…” the daughter began, but the attendant gave her an understanding smile.

“We’ll take care of her, Ms. Anderson. This – happens all the time.”
The daughter stood and picked up her purse while the attendant busied herself with her charge.

“Monica!” the elderly woman cried, reaching out a feeble hand.
“Now, mother”, Monica reassured her as she stepped toward the door. “I’ll be back before you know it. A couple of days.” The attendant gave an understanding nod and pulled the wheelchair back.

“Monica!” the mother cried again, leaning forward so far that the attendant had to put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from toppling from the chair.
“Bye, Mom! See you soon!” Monica said cheerfully, waving as she swept through the door into the hallway to where her companion waited. She paused briefly on the far side of the door to gather her composure, brushing a tear away with the back of her hand.
“You okay?” asked her companion.

“Yeah. It’s just – yeah, I’m fine. That’s just a little hard sometimes”, Monica replied.

“Monica, don’t beat yourself up. We’ve been all over this so many times. Sure, it may seem hard at first, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s the best thing for both of you.”

“Oh, I know, I know”, Monica said in a wavering voice. “We have been all over it, and I don’t want to go over it again. But she’s my mother.”

“And she’d want you to live your own life”, her friend persisted. “After all, it’s not like you’re neglecting her. This is the finest care facility in the city, and you were lucky to be able to get her in. You certainly wouldn’t be able to afford it without your career. Besides, you can come see her anytime you want – and it’s not like she’ll be alone. There are all sorts of people her age here, and their activity calendar is jammed. And the cafeteria is highly recommended.”

“Yeah”, Monica smiled. “Mom wanted me to stay for dinner.”

“Oh”, her friend grimaced. “Well, maybe not that highly. I’ve a better option, if you’re free.”

“Sure”, Monica replied, smiling in earnest now.

Back in the room, the attendant was trying to distract her charge. “Would you like to come down to the common room, Ms. Anderson?”

“No”, came the reply. The old woman just pointed to the window, as she usually did. The attendant sighed.

“Again, Ms. Anderson? Are you sure you don’t want to come down?”
There was not response but the pointed finger, so the attendant conceded. Wheeling the mother over to the window, she gave the wraps one final tuck and went to depart.

“Remember, the station is 14, Ms. Anderson. Please dial us if there’s anything you need.”

The old woman didn’t respond, but just sat looking out the window at the parking lot where she could see her daughter and her companion get into the white car and drive away. After they had gone, she just sat there looking for a long, long time.

"Necessity" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley, Part Four

Mary walked back toward Jennifer and her group. “Doctor Smith is on the third floor. He will be right down. They are going to need a parent or guardian to sign for Sam. Please get someone to come here as soon as possible,” she directed. “The receptionist, Mrs. Miller, will let you use the phone, and you can sit over here while you wait.” She indicated a row of chairs. They were empty except for an older man in tan work clothes. He appeared to be filling out a hospital form.

“I have to go now and help one of the nurses. I’ll try to check back later and see how your cousin is doing,” she added and headed down the hall.

Hank looked at Jen and then at Katie. None of them had ever come to the emergency room without a parent before. None of them had thought about needing a grown-up’s signature. He turned and put his hands up in a what-now type of gesture.

“What do you think we should do?” he asked Jennifer. “I guess we should try and get hold of Mom or Dad,” he answered himself.

Before she could reply, they heard Mrs. Miller talking to a nurse who had just come into the lobby. The nurse was wearing blue scrubs and had a stethoscope around her neck. “Chief Benson just called,” stated the receptionist. “He said that some men from Chicago are looking for a run-away boy. The chief said that the boy is about fifteen. He wants us to call if anyone like that shows up at the hospital.”

Katie looked at ‘Sam’ and said, “Uh, oh, do you think the doctor and nurses will believe that you are our cousin, or will they call the police?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t take that chance until I find out what is going on.” The boy that they were now calling Sam stood up. “I think I’ll be all right. I’m not dizzy anymore and my headache isn’t as bad. I have to go somewhere so that I can figure out what to do.” The boy shook his head sadly and asked himself, “Who am I?” He started to walk toward the exit sign.

Just then a bell dinged and the elevator door slid open. A white-haired man in a lab coat came out and stopped at the desk. “Hello, Dr. Smith,” said the receptionist.

Hank hesitated for only a moment and then grabbed hold of his two sisters, saying, “Come on. We found him. We’d better not let him wander around.” The three of them headed out of the door and quickly caught up with Sam.

Want to read more? This is the end of the excerpt by Joan C. Kelly, but you can purchase the book at Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley, Part Three

Hank looked at his sister with a bit of surprise. His sixteen-year-old sister was not known for breaking rules and telling fibs. “Jennifer Marie Rivers,” he said in the tone that their parents used when one of the children had done something that they shouldn’t have. “Why did you tell Mary that this guy is our cousin, Sam?”

Jen sheepishly replied, “I’m not sure. I was just thinking about the fact that maybe Katie and he… and Sam are right. Maybe we shouldn’t let those two men find him; at least until we find out what they want and why he is afraid of them.”

While they waited, two Certified Nurses’ Aids walked by. One was a tall, middle-aged lady pushing a medicine cart. The other was younger but just as tall.

“Could you possibly trade shifts with me on Friday?” the older woman asked her associate. “A friend of mine, whom I have not seen for a long time, will be passing through. I would really like to spend a couple hours with her before she travels on.”

“I’m sorry, Renee, but I have already made plans to go to the movies with my sister. Maybe some other time,” the lady responded.

As the two workers stopped at the receptionist’s desk to drop off some papers, the one called Renee looked quite disappointed. ‘Sam’ slowly turned away from the other three kids, stepped over next to the younger CNA and commented, “I couldn’t help hearing your conversation. I know that it isn’t any of my business, but is Friday the only day that the movie you want to see playing? You and your sister will probably have a lot of opportunities to go to the movies, but your co-worker may not have many chances to see her friend.”

The woman stared at him with a surprised look on her face and said, “You’re right. It isn’t any of your business.” She turned her back on the young man.

Hank, Jen, and Katie were also looking at the boy. They all had questioning expressions on their faces. When Sam stepped back into the group Hank asked, “Do you know either of them? Why did you go over and talk to that hospital worker?”

The teen shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. It just seemed like the thing to do.” Looking back at the two workers, he saw the lady he had spoken to approach the other woman. She looked over at Sam for a second and then turned back to speak to her fellow employee.

“Renee, my sister and I could go to the movies on Saturday instead. Why don’t we switch so you can see your friend?”

A big smile appeared on Renee’s face. “Oh, thank you, Heather! I really appreciate that. I’ll trade with you sometime if you ever need me to.” There seemed to be a bit of a spring in Renee’s step as she continued on her rounds. On her way down the hall, she noticed a man trying to get some paper money to go into the vending machine. She stopped and asked him if he needed some help.

“I just wanted a cup of coffee, and this wrinkled five dollar bill is all that I have. The machine doesn’t want to pull it through,” the obviously tired and worried man complained.

Reaching into the pocket of her smock, she pulled out some change. “Here let me get it for you.”

“Thanks. That was nice of you. I appreciate that,” he said.

Renee smiled and said, “No problem. Maybe you can do a little something for someone else one of these days.”

“Yes, I hope I can,” he said as he watched the worker walk away.

This excerpt is from a young adult novel by Joan C. Kelly: Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley, Part Two

The three siblings exchanged puzzled looks, and then Hank asked, “What’s wrong? Why don’t you want those guys to see you?”

The boy seemed to search his memory before he answered, “I’m not sure. I just know that there is something…something bad about those two men. I don’t know why. I just know that I have to stay away from them.” He shook his head trying to clear the fog that seemed to hang over his thoughts.

“Do you know those men?” he asked Hank and his sisters.

Jen answered, “No. I’ve never seen them before. Have you, Hank, or you, Katie?”

Hank shook his head and Katie said, “No. They must have just gotten into town. I think my stranger is right. Those men are evil. I can feel it!” emphasized the young girl.

“Oh, Kate, you can’t feel evil,” scolded her older sister, “and why are you calling this guy ‘my stranger’?”

“Can too feel it!” snapped the girl. “I have to call him something, and he’s a stranger who I found at the corner of the meadow.” Katie folded her arms together in a determined gesture and slouched in the seat. A moment later she sat up and said, “Hey! Stranger At Meadow: I could use the first letters of those words and call him SAM. Would that be alright with you?” she asked the bewildered boy.

“What? Oh, sure. Whatever you want,” he quietly replied.

Jen sighed and told her sister, “You can’t just name him like he’s some kind of pet.”

“Okay, girls, let’s not argue,” Hank interrupted. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to wait before we talk to Chief Benson.” Hank tilted his head to indicate the boy, “This guy, whatever his name is, may get his memory back shortly, and the mystery will be solved. The first thing we need to do is have a doctor look at him.”

When the group reached the hospital and entered the lobby, the first person they saw was Mary Boston, a classmate of Jen’s. Mary’s crisp looking white shirt, candy-striped smock, and stylish short hair gave her a professional look. She was working as a hospital aide and hoped someday to become a doctor. Mary looked up when she heard them walking down the hall.
“Hi, Jen, what’s wrong? Is someone hurt?” Mary asked.

Jen pointed to the teenaged boy and answered, “Yes, our…uhmm, our cousin,…uhmm, Sam Rivers, fell and hit his head. Can someone look at him, please?”

“I’ll see which doctor is on call,” she said and quickly stepped over to the desk to use the in-house phone.

This excerpt is from a young adult novel by Joan C. Kelly: Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley, Part One

Hank Rivers drove the old, dented but dependable, blue pick-up truck down Main Street toward St. Francis Hospital. The town was like many other quiet rural communities. It had friendly people and helpful neighbors. They worked hard and supported the local library, hospital and schools. The town still had patches of the leafy, shagbark hickory trees that earned the area its name, Hickory Valley. It was under one of these groups of hickory trees growing in front of the post office that Katie noticed the Chief of Police talking to two men.

“Hey, there’s Chief Benson. After we take our stranger to the see the doctor, maybe we should tell the chief about him. Maybe he can help figure out who he is.”

The light-haired boy looked toward the officer that the younger sister had indicated. Chief Benson had gray streaked hair and a kindly-looking face. A badge was visible above the shirt pocket of his blue uniform. He looked like the type of person who was used to helping others. Then, the teenager noticed the men that were standing next to the police chief. A tall, muscular man was standing on the sidewalk. He had a dark shaggy mustache and raven black hair that curled around the collar of his shirt. A shorter man with a balding head and round glasses that perched on the end of his nose was next to him. They were listening to Chief Benson as he slowly shook his head. When the taller man turned toward the truck, the boy felt a cold shiver run through his body. He gripped Jennifer’s arm and seemed to become even paler.

“Please, no! Don’t stop. Don’t let those men see me,” exclaimed the teen as he slid lower into the back seat.

This excerpt is from a young adult novel by Joan C. Kelly: Hiding the Stranger in Hickory Valley

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Miriam Part Five

"All right, maybe for a dance or two", she dropped her eyes with a sigh. "I really am getting tired, Nick."

"That's my girl", Nick said triumphantly. "Come on, let's go. See ya, Josh ol' man!" Nick was tugging on her hand now, pulling her from the room. Tugging back and looking over her shoulder, Miriam called to Josh.
"You'll be here for a while, will you?"

"Can't say for certain", Josh answered quietly. "A little while, at least." But then she was out in the hall, pulled by a Nick who was almost running. The piano music followed them, a little sadder now.

Nick pulled her back to the main hallway and was dragging her toward the garden. They reached the hallway to the right when she remembered why she'd come here. Stopping dead, she pulled her hand clear of Nick's grip. He turned with an angry look.

"What is it, baby?"

"I need to go to the powder room. That's why I came in here, and I think it's down this hall."

"Yeah, it's down here. C'mon, I'll show you."

"Nick, I think I can find a bathroom by myself", Miriam bridled. "You go along ahead, I'll be along in a few minutes."

Nick looked at her like a rancher might look at a mustang. He glanced quickly back up the hall toward where the faint piano music could still be heard, then at her again. "You sure?"

"Yes, Nick, I'm sure. I'll only be a minute."

"All right, then", he conceded, though it was clear he wasn't pleased.

"I'll get you a drink and then we can get the good times rollin', right?" He pulled her to himself and gave her a rough kiss.

"Right, Nick", she said, pulling free and starting down the hallway to the restroom.

"Whiskey sour, right?" Nick called as he headed toward the party.


"I'll make it a double! And if you're not along in five minutes, I'll be back with the bloodhounds!"

"I'm sure you will, Nick", Miriam sighed as she opened the powder room door.

When she emerged a few minutes later, she was half surprised not to see Nick waiting for her at the main hallway. It was the sort of thing he'd do, but for whatever reason he wasn't there. She walked back to the hallway, still tugging at her hem and feeling dismal about going back to that blasted party. She stopped for a minute and listened. She could still hear the piano notes coming from the hallway to the left. At the end of the main hallway, where it opened onto the garden, she could hear the drums and guitars beginning to warm up. Still no sign of Nick. She started walking toward the party, then stopped and turned. She looked back up the hallway toward the piano music, then back down toward the party.

The End.

"Miriam" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories