Archive for Updates
About a year ago Crystal Connor and I talked about our own writing projects and possibly working together. She asked me for some writing prompts and I sent her a few words: candlelight, book, snow.
What she sent me back was the beginning of an awesome story, one in which inhabitants of a small town were trapped inside their homes because of toxic snowfall.
Trading our story back and forth, I wrote bits, she did, we discussed the story, and things got rolling. We only set out to write one book, and somehow ended up writing two co-authored books, each with our own take on the events of a town in the mountains called Fate’s Keep. As of the date that I am writing this, neither Crystal or I have read each other’s copies. Silence is killer! We’re dying to read each other’s book, and we hope that you will be too!
Jaidis Shaw will be doing the cover reveal for our books on April 18th. Follow the link for more information for the blog tour Crystal and I will start shortly: http://junipergrovebooksolutions.com/cover-reveal-connor-titus/
This article caught my attention, and it’s a good conversation starter. How much is just the fantasy of wanting to see attractive heroines in fiction, and where does it cross the line into being degrading? And from a man’s perspective:
Chloe fantasized about killing herself. There were so many ways that she could do it. Any number of household items would do the trick nicely. Six years earlier, when she was seventeen years old, she’d attempted suicide. Despite the pain and the blood loss, the cut she made across her wrist was too shallow to kill her. Now, she knew better, knew just how to make the cut that would open her artery.
Standing alone in the kitchen, she took a knife from the cabinet and held it up to the light. She could see her reflection in the blade. For a moment, she thought of fairy tales, the stories she read as a child. Swords and daggers were always the key to some great mystery, the symbol of faith and sacrifice.
Chloe blinked. She had no greater purpose to commit herself to. And she’d long ago lost faith in anything. She put the knife down on the chopping board.
From the refrigerator, she gathered her ingredients: cubes of beef, carrots, potatoes. And of course, the onions. She peeled back the skin and chopped the onion first. Chloe had learned that the one time she could truly be left alone in the house was when she was cooking. It was something that the children could understand; that she had a need to eat and be satiated, that she needed it to be strong and healthy. And they wanted her well. So they never asked questions. It did not seem to concern them that she cooked inordinate amounts of food for one person, or that the meals took so long to prepare.
Maybe it was because time moved differently for them. Upstairs, in the room they shared, they played in their own world. Very little about her concerned them, other than the fact that she was around when they asked for her. Still, she could feel them, like a low grade buzzing in the back of her head. The oldest, Michael, ordering the others around as usual. He couldn’t be much older than ten – Chloe smiled at the thought – but he had all the wisdom of an old man. Selia the next oldest, was eight. She spoke very little, her blond hair falling in ripples around her long face and pointed chin. Peter was seven. He spoke with his eyes, with his exaggerated motions, but rarely with words. The others said this was because he’d lost some of his hearing after a bad ear infection . The youngest, Nina, was the one who really controlled the rest, Chloe always thought. It was those big brown eyes, the roundness of her face. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders like a veil.
Chloe swiped at the corners of her eyes with a paper towel and put the meat in a pot to brown. Only a year before, Chloe lived a different life. She’d lived in a small apartment in the city, a few blocks away from the University. A bartending job on nights and weekends brought in good money, enough that she handled her simple expenses easily.
She looked out the window. The wind gusted. The sun played hide and seek behind the clouds as it had all day, casting long gray shadows across the expanse of land. The house sat at the edge of an old farm. The ground was fallow now, brown, resting. It seemed it was always that way, as long as Chloe could remember. There were no stalks of corn or rows of squash, if there ever had been. She had it in her mind that the ground was cursed. That was why nothing could be produced from it.
Chloe shuddered. The day before she’d heard the weatherman saying that it would snow early this year. She hated the snow, because it meant she was imprisoned in the house. The coming of snow meant that she would have to go and get provisions.
That was the worst thing of it, because she remembered how she’d been brought to them each time. Though time seemed to blur and stretch before her, the night when she first came to the children was always vivid in her memories.
Chloe remembered. She was walking home after work, because she’d had a couple drinks after closing time with some friends. The line between friends and customers was sometimes blurred at Vinny’s. The regulars began to feel like old chums. Now and then someone would buy her a drink in lieu of a tip. Her car was in the parking lot, but it was only two blocks to her place. So rather than risk it, she decided to walk back to her apartment. “You sure about that?” Tom asked. He was the guy who bought her drink. She’d caught his glance a few times, and she could tell that he liked her. He was harmless, but she knew he wouldn’t mind the chance to get her back to the apartment alone, and see if he could make something more of the evening.
“No, I’ll be fine,” she insisted. “See you next Thursday, right?”
He looked rejected, slipping his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, sure.”
She was halfway home when she heard it; the gentle rushing of wings. A crow landed on the ground a few feet from her. The bird tilted its head, regarding her with its black eyes. It cawed, and then took flight.
Chloe was relieved to see the lights of her apartment building come into view. The downstairs neighbor always kept her house brightly lit. Her own apartment upstairs was black, and the parking lot was lost in shadow.
She heard the voice. At first, she thought that she imagined it. Then a shadow detached itself from the side of the building. The little girl wore a faded dress with a pink sweater over it. She stretched out her brown eyes, her hands crossed before her. “Lady, help me.”
“What are you doing here?” Chloe asked. “Where is your Mommy?”
Something flashed in the child’s eyes. “Yes. Where is my Mommy?”
When Chloe woke again, she heard the flapping of wings. She was laying on a wood floor. Looking upwards at the ceiling, she realized that she was in an attic. In the dimness, she saw a child. It was the little girl from earlier. She sat Indian style, only a few yards away. Chloe blinked, not believing her eyes.
In the girl’s hands was a pigeon. It struggled in her grasp. She cooed to the creature. Bringing it to her lips she broke its neck, greedily lapping the blood up with her tongue, even as some of it dripped down her chin.
“She’s awake,” came another voice. The others came to stand before her. Children, three of them – two boys and a girl. “I’m Michael,” the oldest, and tallest of the brood said. His hair was long and brown, falling over his forehead, leaving his eyes in shadow. He crossed his arms.
“Where am I? Why am I here?” Chloe demanded.
“Shhhh,” the girl soothed. Her blond curls fell forward as she kneeled down beside Chloe.
Chloe tried to move, and became panicked when she realized that she couldn’t get her limbs to respond.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Michael said coolly. “Don’t try to struggle. It will just make this whole process uncomfortable for you.”
The blond girl was holding Chloe’s left wrist. Her fingers traced the blurred line of her scar.
“Ah. So you’ve wanted to die before. Would you like to die now?”
Chloe tried to shake her head, but it was no use. Tears came to her eyes. “No!” she cried.
“Selia,” Michael snapped. “You’re frightening her. We will all have a little drink from her. Be careful. You know what happens when you get greedy. We don’t want a repeat of the last time.”
The girl discarded of the pigeon, coming to stand with the others. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “My name is Nina,” she said, smiling.
“Enough with all that,” Michael said. They all drew closer, forming a semi-circle around her. “There’s time for her to know all of us later.”
Selia put Chloe’s wrist into her mouth. The coldness of her lips and soft tongue were shocking, like having her skin plunged into ice water. Selia bit down , her teeth sinking easily into Chloe’s flesh.
When Chloe woke gain, she was laying on a narrow bed.
She was still in the attic. In the darkness, she could hear them – the children. Though three of them slept, their minds were active. She could see in the darkness, shapes floating near the ceiling. Their bodies levitated as they rested. Their forms were dark, and she thought of the crow she’d seen on the street, just before she was snatched. That was one of the children, she knew it now, down to the marrow in her bones. They could change form. Chloe felt Nina before she saw her. The little girl got up on the bed. Climbing onto her body, Nina placed her cold head on Chloe’s breast.
“What will you do with me?” Chloe asked.
Nina smiled. She moved , settling into the crook on Chloe’s arm.
“Children are rather like pets, don’t you think?” Nina said softly. “People expect that children should belong to someone that will guard and provide for them. It’s a limitation that comes with possessing these bodies. I told Michael so. But one gets tired of roaming. So we took these bodies because they were available.”
“What are you?”
That brought a laugh from the girl’s lips. “A form of demon, I guess. You can feel us now, in your blood. You know that, don’t you?”
“We need someone who can do things for us. Vouch for being a parent. Someone who can go out alone without being questioned. We need a Mother.”
“You’re saying that you won’t kill me?”
“If you do what we say, you’ll be fine.”
Chloe shook her head.
“You’ll see, it won’t be bad at all. You’ll bring us what we need.”
“I saw you eat a pigeon,” Chloe blurted.
“That was nothing,” Nina said. “We raise pigeons. They make good snacks. Just like you humans like chicken.”
You humans, Chloe thought. Demon. Nina admitted that she and the others were not human.
“You’ll see,” Nina said with confidence. “I picked you for a reason. Sleep now,” she said, hooking her small arms around Chloe’s waist.
And though it was against her will, she was asleep in moments.
Thunder cracked through the air, shaking Chloe from her thoughts, and rattling the house. She listened. The children were talking upstairs, but they didn’t seem concerned by the coming storm. Of course, the weather would not scare them, Chloe thought bitterly. They aren’t really children.
Michael’s voice came to her then, strong, clear as if he spoke into her ear.
Go where I tell you.
Chloe turned off the fire beneath the pot, and took a ring of keys from the kitchen drawer. She almost forgot to grab her jacket as she headed outside. She was greeted by the smell of dirt and ozone in the air. A fat drop of rain hit the top of her head as she opened the door to the truck.
Joshua Redmond rolled down the window of his SUV. He liked the smell of rain. A group of dark clouds gathered on the horizon, angry boilers by the looks of them. The rain was only drizzle, but he saw at least one lightning strike.
It wouldn’t be long.
He always made it home quicker when he took the back roads, and this gloomy afternoon was no exception. On a good day, he usually left a job site by five. But today, he told his crew to do what they could in the morning to cover the house they were working on, and go home. The men were done well before 2:00. He was looking forward to a quiet evening, a hot dinner and some football on television.
He was a quarter mile from home when the rain started to come down in sheets.
Joshua slowed the car to a crawl. Peering out from behind the windshield, he saw a truck sitting on the left shoulder of the road. The emergency lights were flashing, reflecting against the muddy water puddles on the ground. He thought about passing, waiting until he got home to make a call to the local police station. He would have if he hadn’t have seen the profile of the driver—long dark hair against a shoulder, and a red parka.
Joshua parked, got out of his car, and approached the truck. He tapped against the glass. The woman inside jumped. She’d been looking down at something in her lap.
The woman rolled down the window—he saw her cranking the knob back and forth, and gave him a sheepish grin.
“Sorry to scare you,” he said, hands shoved in his pockets. He was already getting soaked, despite his boots and jacket.
“No problem. Just trying to get a signal. My cell phone never seems to work.”
“Yeah you can kinda forget about getting reception out here. Do you know what’s wrong with your truck?”
She threw her hands up. “I don’t know. Engine? Fan belt? It’s always something with this piece of shit.”
He grinned. The truck looked like it was made in the late sixties. The girl appeared to be about twenty two, by his guess. She was very pretty—big round eyes and a little silver stud that poked through her eyebrow. It made her wonder if she had piercings or tattoos elsewhere? He felt a shiver down his spine thinking of it.
“Where are you trying to get to?”
“Home,” she said with a sigh and a shake of her head.
“Where do you live?”
“Holt Road, off the 20.”
“Well, at least it’s not far.” Joshua paused, looking up the road.
“Look, if you want to get home quick, I can drive you. I don’t think anyone is going to mess with your truck. That way, you can call someone from your line at home.”
“If the electricity is on,” she said.
He shrugged. “Yeah, there’s that. What do you say?” He switched feet, impatient for the woman to make up her mind. The icy rain was making its way down his back.
“If you don’t mind,” she said.
“Not at all.”
“Come on, let’s get in my car then. I’m Josh. What’s your name?”
Josh turned the heat in his car up nearly full blast. Chloe was shivering, and after a few moments she began to relax. He smelled her scent. Something soapy, probably the shampoo she used. For a while she kept her eyes on the road, her hands nervously clutched in her lap. He turned the radio on and kept it low. Lady Antebellum crooned in the background.
“So you live on Holt. That must be the old Bishop house.”
She blinked. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
He shook his head. “Wow. You know, I’m not a superstitious person, but I don’t think I could live there.”
“Oh. Chloe. Are you kidding me? If you’re not, I’m sorry…”
“I don’t know anything about the house‘s history. Why don’t you tell me?”
“Well, I guess whomever sold it to you was going on the hard sell. Do you have any family, anyone living with you?”
“Then maybe you won’t have any problems.”
Chloe could feel the children in her mind.
Yes. Good. Bring him to us, Michael said.
Selia was watching. She could feel the touch of Nina’s dark eyes fastened upon her. The smallest boy, Peter, whispered something about flying, and if he were allowed to go.
None of them were paying attention to the conversation between Chloe and Josh until he uttered the words Bishop House. “Come on, you can’t tease me like that and then not follow through,” Chloe said. “What is it they didn’t tell me?”
“Well, a whole lot. My family has been in construction for generations. My great grandfather built that house, so you know, we always hear all the scary stories people have. But this made the news. You’d have heard about it if you were living here at the time,” Josh paused, tapping the steering wheel with his index finger. “Seems things happen up there in fours.”
“There was a young family that lived up there,” he said. “The husband was military. So the wife was here alone. She had four children- two boys, two girls.”
The children were screaming. Chloe had to push the noise down to hear as Josh continued the story.
“The youngest boy was sick one winter. That much we know, because she took him in to see a doctor. He had a really bad ear infection. She was told that he had developed a mild case of pneumonia, but that the infection in his ear was so bad there was some loss of hearing on his left side. People speculated a lot about that. Why hadn’t she brought her child in earlier? Did she feel guilty about neglecting her little boy?
“She used to write her husband. At some point she started talking about having trouble sleeping. She was hearing voices. By the time the husband got her last letter, it was too late.”
“What happened to her?”
“She gave the children hot chocolate to drink, laced with sedatives. They were pills from her own prescription. Not enough to kill an adult, but easily enough to stop a child’s heart. She put them to bed. And of course, they never woke up.”
“Two girls, two boys,” Chloe whispered.
“It’s hard to imagine a mother doing such a thing on purpose, and she was an educated woman. She poisoned those children. And then she took her husband’s hunting rifle and killed herself.”
“Why didn’t she just take the poison herself?” Chloe asked.
“Beats the hell out of me. You don’t hear too many stories about women shooting themselves. Maybe she was ashamed of what she’d done? Who knows. At least, she didn’t shoot the poor kids. Hopefully they weren’t in pain. Weird thing is, they never found the children‘s bodies.”
“Never found them…?” Chloe said.
“Not a one. We only know what she did to them because of her suicide letter. But she never explained what she did with the bodies.”
Nina’s voice came to Chloe, low and clear as a bell. The Mother was a barrier to us. She was a sensitive. She felt us in the house. We wanted the children. Four young bodies to inhabit. There was no place for one like her, a human who recognized demons, even though we didn’t have a physical presence. So we made her do something to bring the children to the brink of death. And then, we made her kill herself. You had better be quiet. Because we want this man beside you, and if you don’t bring him to us, we’ll kill you both.
Chloe could feel a stirring in her blood, heat. Something constricting her veins.
She bit her bottom lip, holding back the urge to scream. She dug her fingernails into her palm and then asked a question.
“What else happened in that house?”
Josh saw the change in her expression. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m not. Just tell me…what else.”
He shrugged. “I don’t rightly know,” he said. “Just that the Bishop place has a bad reputation, from far back.”
Chloe looked up, and saw a flash of wings in the air.
Something black hit the driver’s side of the windshield. The glass cracked. Josh hit the brakes. The tires squealed as they skidded against the rain slicked road. The car went into a spin.
“He’s beautiful, Michael,” Nina said.
They stood together in the attic. The others floated around them in the rafters; Peter and Selia were in their bird form, sailing back and forth through the air.
Joshua laid at Nina’s feet. He was bloody and unconscious, unharmed. Chloe had administered a drug to him by injection, as Michael ordered her. Chloe stood wide eyed.
“How did we get back here?” she asked, hoping one of the children would answer.
The last thing she could remember was driving in Josh’s car, and him speaking the word, Bishop. Michael looked at her with a smirk. He reached out to touch her, caressing her forehead with his fingertips. “Shhhhh. Don’t worry. This will all be over soon.”
Nina stepped forward, taking Chloe’s hand. “Come. Let’s go to one of the rooms downstairs. You should get out of those muddy clothes and shower. And when you lay down, you’ll sleep, and feel better when you wake up.”
A tear fell from Chloe’s eye as she turned away from Josh. Had she dragged him all the way back to the house through the mud? Was that why every part of her ached? She was soaked to the bone, so cold that her teeth chattered. Nina led her away, and as they continued down the stairs, Chloe heard Josh screaming.
Chloe stood naked in front the bathroom mirror.
The shower was on full blast, the delicious steam swirling around her. She cried. She wanted to scream. The children were very happy. She could hear them in the background, a low rumbling in her skull. She thought about breaking the mirror. It would take one shard to do it. She shook her head. She had done this before–lured men here to their death for the benefit of the children. She couldn’t remember the details, but the knowledge was there, like cold metal pressing against her skull. How long could she go on this way?
After her shower, she put on a robe and slipped into bed. Sleep was what she craved. Oblivion, but just for a while. She skimmed the edge of the sleeping world, where shadows danced behind her eyelids, and then morphed into the black wings of birds.
When Chloe heard tiny footsteps, she did not open her eyes. She knew the gait all too well. Nina slipped into bed, pressing her little girl’s body against her, seeking warmth. She whispered in her ear, so close that Chloe felt her lips.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “You have been so good.”
Chloe muttered something in reply, but it sounded garbled, as if she were trying to speak under water.
“Hush,” Nina said, and clasped the woman’s wrist with her tiny hand.
She sat up.
Pulling the robe away from her skin, she ran into the bathroom, to look at her body. She had forgotten what it felt like to be so tall. She marveled at her generous breasts, the curves of her hips. With a giggle, she noticed a tattoo on her back that she’d never known was there. She traced the contours of her face with her fingertips, stopping to touch the silver stud above her eyebrow.
Walking back into the bedroom, she noticed the body of the child she had inhabited. What a small, powerless form. She stretched, enjoying the tension in her muscles. The child’s body would have to be taken care of, she thought, her lip curling in distaste.
Michael came into the room. No longer a boy, he inhabited the body of the man called Joshua. He stretched his arms out to her, and she embraced him.
“Adult bodies again,” he said with a grin. “Do you like this one?’
“Of course,” she said with a smile.
“We’ll find other bodies later, for Selia and Peter. We won’t need to take children anymore.”
She shook her head in agreement. “We can make children of our own.”
©2010 Lori Titus
A new short story on Flashes in the Dark:
That whole summer felt like a dream.
The air hung so thick that you could taste it; trees and dirt and humidity so dense that breathing felt like drowning. I have lived here all my life, and I never knew anything quite like it. Everything was drenched in shades of green: the trees standing sentinel in the encroaching woods, the sky with its sickly hurricane tinge. And the water, calm and still, reflected both.
It was all about waiting, which is something I have never been good at. My husband was away at war, and he wouldn’t be back for several more weeks. I tried to imagine what that would be like. Would he come back whole? Would he have scars? Would the skin around his eyes and forehead show new creases of worry?
This was his second tour, and I remember well how it was the first time he got back.
I remember tracing the lines with my fingers, amazed at the man he’d become. The boy had been stamped out of him. I felt shy and at odds around him, like someone had dropped a stranger off at my doorstep. Love him, care for him, and just ignore that this new man wears the old one’s skin.
Not that loving presented a problem. I got pregnant shortly after he returned.
I very much wanted the child, but hated the process. The backaches, tears for no reason, and morning sickness that lasted all day. My breasts ached when the breeze blew. Some nights I just sat in a warm bath, enjoying the feeling of weightlessness that water gave me. I missed my lean body and the ability to jump up at anytime.
Along with that came other things. The feeling that I’d become part of something more important than just me. I paid attention to small things I had not noticed before—other people’s emotions, sometimes the meaning behind their words. I slipped easily into the idea of becoming a plural being, and no longer singular.
Comforting, I suppose, because without my husband there, I felt very much alone.
Our house is way out by the river. No one even comes up here unless they come to fish. I always liked that. When he proposed, I remember that he said we could “live together up on the lake, Vivian, and we can have our lives without being bothered by anyone else.”
I knew that I loved him, but those words sealed it for me.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but after my husband’s second deployment, Lola started showing up at my doorstep.
Lola is John’s mother. She is one of those women that everyone calls Mother. Probably as old as dirt, but with a round brown face that barely showed a wrinkle. She was active, a spry little thing: church mother, babysitter, unapologetic counselor, aggressively friendly, yet coolly dismissive. Apparently John was not the apple that fell from the tree, but the one that was picked up and thrown into another field entirely.
Lola would come in and walk through the house, quietly inspecting as she did. I would make a pot of tea and ask how things were going for her. Talk always slid back towards the baby, and John, and how it didn’t look like I was eating right. There were times when she brought me casseroles and chicken, and once, a whole pot of greens. I accepted all but kindly reminded her that I was having a baby, not a whale.
This made her laugh. I was too skinny.
Which made me laugh as well.
“You must take care of yourself,” she sobered me with a hand on my shoulder. “This is a very tenuous time. You must come out of it the right way.” There was a glimmer in her eye. Something that I did not understand.
She meant well, I imagined, but I didn’t like her. I wanted space. And I didn’t want to be measured. No matter how Lola did the math, I was missing something.
I laid down one afternoon after one of Lola’s impromptu visits. That was the first time that I remember having the dream.
Is there something wrong about not dreaming of your lover?
Before we married, I never dreamed about making love with John. Maybe back then, there was no need. We were always together. There had been men before John, for me, but nothing serious. He was really the first man I ever ached for, who made me crave him. The deepest of all my experiences came from his hands, his body, and being in his arms.
So that afternoon I dreamed of him, and my heart began to race.
He was stood at the shore of the lake. And he smiled at me. I could feel him watching. He turned and went out into the water until he stood waist deep. The skies darkened overhead.
“There’s a storm coming.” I told him. “ We should go inside.”
“The water is warm,” he said, ignoring my discomfort. “Come on.” His voice dropped lower, teasing. “Come in with me.”
He held out a hand to me.
Something changed. The expression. He was serious. I felt a warm drop of rain hit my eyelid. The wind picked my hair up and blew it around.
“Vivian. Baby.” he said.
I woke in a sweat.
It was raining outside, a flurry of warm rain that would soon expire. The fan rotated above the bed, circulating the hot air like a dog chasing its own tail. The clock by my bed showed that two hours had passed since I laid down. Good, I thought. Lola had made it home before the rain.
I turned on the television, and the weatherman was complaining about a surprise storm sweeping up the coast. It had already landed in Greenville, and was moving fast. No kidding, I thought dryly. The picture faded in and out, expanding and contracting for a moment before the screen went black.
The lights went out, with a sickening pop.
It was still light enough outside that I could see, but that wouldn’t to last long. The storm brought twilight with it, pushing out the last traces of sun.
I kept a transistor radio on top the refrigerator. After fumbling with a pack of batteries I was able to load it and get it working.
I wanted the noise, to hear someone’s voice, to not feel so alone. The tinge of panic in the weatherman’s voice was catching.
Hurricanes were not uncommon during that time of year. But the announcer would not admit that it was a hurricane.
“Come on, you coward,” I said to the radio. “Go ahead and say how bad it really is.”
My voice echoed loudly through the emptiness.
More than anything, I didn’t like the idea of going down into the dark basement by myself—exactly what I’d have to do if they forecasted gale force winds.
I gathered all the candles I could find and brought them downstairs with me. Sitting in the kitchen, I lit all the candles and lined them up on the countertop. I kept the radio on the table in front of me. They had paused for a moment in their storm coverage to talk about local news, and I felt my mind begin to drift.
And then, it happened.
A pain ripped through me, like a knife cutting through the core of my body. I couldn’t scream. My eyes filled with tears. I clutched my middle. Falling from the chair, the cold linoleum met my body. I reached my hand out, and felt something.
I saw a black shoe.
“Vivian,” John said, his voice filled with concern. He bent down and touched my shoulders.
The next pain came like a wave, and the world went black.
The rest, I remember in flashes—because of the pain, and because I shut my eyes against it.
John picked me up and carried me into our room. I was crying. I remember screaming at him, but I don’t know what I said. His face was a calm mask, but I saw the fear in his eyes.
He told me I would be alright.
He said the baby wasn’t coming just yet.
“How do you know?” I spat angrily.
I felt the bed move as he stretched out beside me.
“I said, he’s not coming yet,” he replied firmly. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
I could hear the rain outside. Clutching his hand, I sighed. It felt like the first breath I’d had in minutes, like a swimmer emerging after having nearly drowned.
“Rest,” John said. “I’m home now.”
When I woke again, the pain had subsided. I felt pressure, but not the searing pain I had before. Uncomfortable, but bearable. I thought maybe it was a dream, but John still lay beside me.
It was his presence that roused me first. The sweet smell of soap mixed with his aftershave, the warm saltiness of his skin. This was my man. He turned towards me and I smiled.
“How did you get home early?” I asked. “ The storm’s coming…”
“I have a very pregnant wife. They took pity and let me come home early.”
“I thought I was going to deliver here all by myself,” I said, tears springing into my eyes. “I have to get to a hospital.”
Something moved in those dark eyes of his. “Viv. The roads are washed out. We’re going to have to ride this out.”
“How…?” questions were swirling through my head.
“I called your doctor. He thinks you’re having false labor.”
“Well… How?” I wanted to know how on earth he had been able to call anyone when the lights were still out. Then again, maybe he’d used his cell.
“The contractions are too far apart. You were asleep for almost thirty minutes.”
“One man, asking another man about my contractions,” I said. “That’s just great.”
“I am a trained medic. I can handle it.”
“Well, I might not be able to. I need drugs.”
I wanted to turn on my side, but was afraid that any shift might cause another surge of pain.
John seemed to know. He gently turned my body so that I was facing the wall. He moved close, so that my back was against his chest. “You’ll be just fine,” he said.
“No I’m not. I hate you.”
This made him chuckle, which only made me more angry. His voice was soft, his breath warm in my ear. “Yeah right. I know better.”
I wasn’t feeling contractions anymore, but I was afraid. He rubbed my back, and for a long time we were both silent.
The wind started to roar outside.
John’s lips were against my ear when he spoke again. “Remember when we were kids, and we used to hide under Mama’s stairs? All the times we’d make out in the closet?”
Oh, I did remember. His scent and his body pushed up against me in the darkness. His breath hot against my face, and his hands moving across my body. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “What made you bring that up?”
“Cause we’re in the dark,” he said.
There was a clap of thunder . When lightning struck, everything looked silver.
John put his hand against my stomach. His face was shadowy in that light, a fine outline against the darkness.
Maybe it was mention of Lola’s name that made her appear in my dream.
We stood at the edge of the lake together. The sky was a deep, hot green, and the water reflected that color back. I smelled the coming of the storm in the air: dust, water, heat, ozone.
“Did you know,” Lola said, “that when John was a little boy, I used to sing him a lullaby?”
I looked at her, and stumbled backwards. Her eyes had gone completely green, like the water, only white where clouds moved.
“Water,” she said, “is life.”
The sound of the shingles coming off the roof awakened me.
I sat up in bed. “John!” I screamed.
Where was he? I stumbled out of the bed and into that hall. He came from the stairway and ran towards me. He tackled me, and shoved me back into a closet. He held me tight, pressing himself so hard against me that it was almost painful. The stubble on his cheek pressed against my face.
“I love you,” he said, “tell Joshua that I love him.”
Those were the last words I heard before the hurricane swallowed everything.
In the hospital, Lola watched over me like a weary ghost.
Her tear-rimmed eyes were filled with emotion. The first thing out of my mouth was to ask about the baby. Joshua had been born one day ago, not long after the ambulance brought me to the hospital. He was well and healthy, seven pounds, three ounces. The nurses would bring him around now that I was awake, so that I could hold him.
One of my arms was broken, and with all the pain and the trauma, the doctors had decided to sedate me after the baby was delivered.
Once I was assured that Joshua was fine, then there was only one other question.
Only one other grief could cause Lola so much pain.
I knew the answer, somewhere inside myself. I felt the moment that John’s body was ripped away from me. I’d heard snatches of conversation between the nurses as I dived in and out of consciousness. Our house had been destroyed. They said that all that remained was a broken fireplace. And the closet where I’d ridden out the storm.
My eyes filled with tears as I asked, “Where is my husband?”
She barely could say the words. It seemed to take her breath out of her. I had never before felt so sorry for her. What she said shocked me.
Two men had come to the hospital yesterday, dressed in formal uniforms. When she saw them, she knew their intent. One of the men was a commander, and he repeatedly apologized that it had taken so long for them to arrive with word about John.
With the storm, and all the chaos that followed, no one had been able to reach to family with the sad news..
John had been killed overseas five days before his son was born.
Copyright 2010 Lori Titus
Hello, it has been a while….!
There are updates all around.
Flashes in the Dark Radio (with Tonia Brown and I) has a new website. Our new home will not only feature our author interview show, but a second show that focuses on current events with an irreverent spin called That’s F*cked Up with co-host Victorya Chase.
You can find the new site here:
Now, for Flashes in the Dark Ezine! We’re a little slower than usual with our turn around times, but we’re still happy to take submissions. Over the next few weeks I will be clearing up our backlog.
Want some quick reads? Check in here:
I have four writing projects on the burner. There are two of these that are with another author, and for now I have been sworn to secrecy about them. Of course, there is Marradith. And another story that was just started off this weekend. So my proverbial plate is full.
Thank you so much for continuing to support both the ezine and the interview shows. And here’s to producing great new things to add to your e-reader or bookshelf!
While I am working on editing Marradith #2, and some other projects, I thought it would be fun to give you a taste of my ghost story. It’s about two sisters, Jenna and Diana Bell, who have a complicated relationship, made more so by their respective pasts and the ghosts that haunt them . Set in the fictional town of Chrysalis, South Carolina, it’s all about family drama but with a twist of the paranormal. The story takes place in the present day, but the preface below takes a look back into the 1950′s, when the women’s father, Travis, was a young man.
Willow Branom was promised to Travis Bell’s bother, Jeremiah.
Travis couldn’t be sure, but he thought that may have been the first thing that attracted him to the woman. And she was beautiful. Chocolate skin and amber eyes, with black hair that flowed down her back. Jeremiah bragged about her. How smart she was. How beautiful. He’d met her in Charleston, where she had a position as a teacher at the local Colored school. When he brought her home they were already engaged. The plan was that she would live on the property in the back house, until he came home from a job he was taking down in Florida. One last construction gig out of town to bring home some money. A little bit more to buy his woman the kind of wedding dress she deserved.
If Jeremiah had known what was good for him, he would have wed her at the Justice of Peace before heading out of town. He’d have made love with his new wife and made her pregnant before he went away.
Jeremiah was a braggart, always so sure of himself and all that belonged to him. So he left the girl alone with an engagement ring. Alone in the little house by the creek where they would live together once they were man and wife.
Travis watched her.
It was hard to disguise his interest. There was something about her. Some ache beneath the surface that Travis wanted to quench.
She had to be lonely.
She had come up to the front house one afternoon, looking for Mother Kamila, offering to help with Sunday dinner. Travis told her to come in. He said that Mother asked that she peel some potatoes, and that she had gone to the store for some last minute things.
Standing in front of the window, he watched as she stared out at the trees, wearing her little pink dress, so sweet against her dark skin. He sat at the kitchen table, drinking his coffee. Not caring that she felt his gaze at her body. She was the perfect hourglass.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she said over her shoulder.
“Do what?” he feigned innocence.
“Oh. That.” He said.
He stood up, and with a gentle touch, cupped her bottom in his hands. “Should I do this instead?”
She turned, and he pressed himself hard against her, so that she was pinned between him and the sink. He made sure that he placed his pelvis just where she could feel his erection. There was something like fear in her eyes, but he smiled down at her. He kissed her mouth deeply, and to his delight, she kissed him back.
Dinner that night was an uncomfortable affair. Willow kept her eyes on her plate, pretending to be shy. When Kamila asked why she hadn’t spoken much, she said that she was feeling weary and wanted to go lay down.
Travis bidded his time, not wanting it to be obvious. He waited a half hour before leaving out the back door.
As he guessed, she was waiting for him amongst the trees at the very back of the property, where they were shielded from view of either house.
“How did you know?” she asked breathlessly, once he reached her.
Travis smiled. His body was hot, burning from his loins and through his blood.
“Where else would you be?” he whispered.
He kissed her hard, holding her again. When his tongue stroked her neck, he heard her sigh, and he laughed with the pleasure of knowing she wanted him.
His hand traveled down, beneath her dress, and into the smooth skin between her legs.
She stiffened. He felt her sense of fear, as deeply as if she somehow pressed it into his body.
“Oh, hush baby,” he whispered, though she made no sound. And he began to move his hand up and down. He pressed, pushing up until he felt her virgin body break beneath the pressure of his hand.
Her sigh was deeper this time, animal. Her knees gave way, and she would have fallen if he had not been holding her. Somehow, she managed to untangle herself.
“I…. I shouldn’t..” she stuttered.
“It doesn’t matter,” Travis grinned. “You’re my woman now.”
She ran from the clearing.
Travis looked down at his hand, feeling wetness.
A week passed, and Travis wondered if she would tell anyone. As he guessed, she did not. When he told her that he would meet her again, under the trees, she gave him a look of trepidation.
But at the appointed time, she was there.
He kissed and touched her again over the course of several nights, before she finally left the door of her house open for him.
Travis waited past midnight before making the short journey to Willow’s house. She gave him all that he wanted, seemed ready to try any dirty thing that he asked. They never spoke of Jeremiah or what would happen if anyone found out, but Travis preferred it that way. He had no real intentions to be with her, but the sex was incredible.
It ended one morning, as suddenly as it all began.
Travis went downstairs for breakfast one morning. He could hear his Mother’s voice from the kitchen, smell eggs and sausage cooking on the stove. The soft voice that replied to hers was Willow’s. Travis smiled as he rounded the hallway into the kitchen.
His brother Jeremiah sat at the table, with a newspaper in front of him, legs crossed, a cup of coffee in his left hand.
“Well good morning to you too, Travis,” Kamila said sternly. “Aren’t you going to welcome your brother home?”
Jeremiah looked up from his paper and nodded dismissively. “Yeah, I’m used to it, Mother.”
Travis looked at Willow. She stood at the counter, beside the coffee pot. There was a cup in front of her, but it looked like she hadn’t drank any. He didn’t miss the discomfort in her posture, the way she had pressed her back against the kitchen wall, making herself as small as possible.
Kamila stood at the stove, and her eyes, dark and knowing, settled on Travis like a hawk.
“Foods done, Travis. Get yourself a plate.”
He opened the cabinet, reaching past Willow for a cup and a plate. She didn’t flinch, but it took effort. He could tell by the way she bit her lip.
“Are you back to stay?” Travis asked his brother.
Jeremiah took his time folding up his newspaper, making noise and avoiding eye contact while he did. “Well, sort of.”
“What’s that mean? Either you’re here or you aren’t.”
Willow moved. She went and sat next to Jeremiah. He put his hand on her thigh, patted her knee.
“We’ve been talking, and we’re going to put down on a house of her own. There is a place my buddy’s family has been trying to sell, and they are willing to give it to me for a song. It’s a fixer upper, but it will be nice once I can get some work done on it.”
Travis found the sugar bowl and spooned some into his coffee. “Really? What made you come to that decision?”
“I was trying to explain,” Kamila interrupted, “that if they stay here for at least a few months after the wedding, they can save for a better place. Somewhere closer.”
Jeremiah shrugged. Ignoring his mother’s comment, he answered Travis’ instead.
“Well, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to have responsibilities, Travis. Maybe you’ll be engaged one day, and then you’ll understand.”
Travis’ voice was low, but both the women in the room looked up at him. Only Jeremiah seemed unaffected by the tension in the air.
“Yes.” Jeremiah said. He grinned at his younger brother.
“Before you go making all these grand plans, you might want to make sure that your fiancée is actually the marrying type.”
“Travis…!” Willow choked.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you mean she didn’t tell you?” Travis said, his lips spreading in a grin. “It’s really sweet, you know, how she moans when she gives it up. But maybe you don’t bring that out in her.”
Travis saw his brother’s eyes widen, felt the movement of air as Jeremiah lunged at him. The first punch caught him unprepared, but then they were in the thralls of it. Jeremiah was rock hard, and taller, but Travis held his own, until he was knocked onto the floor.
Jeremiah straddled him, and was beating him to a pulp.
Travis tried to fight back, but couldn’t get any air.
Kamila had done the only thing she could think of to keep her sons from killing each other. She poured a skillet of hot oil down Jeremiah’s back.
He went to the hospital, and Kamila with him. Before she left, she took one look back at her destroyed kitchen, and Willow, who stood there in shock.
“Have that woman out of my house before I get back,” she hissed at Travis. And then she was gone, with a superior tilt of her head.
Before he could even turn, Willow was out the back door, running across the yard to her house. Travis followed.
She turned on her heel, and punched him. But her blow was nothing compared to Jeremiah’s and he laughed.
“I can’t feel shit on that side of my face anyway.”
“Why did you tell him? How can you laugh? Don’t you understand what you’ve done?”
“Were you really going to leave here with him?”
“Then I don’t care what you do. You heard my Mother. She wants you gone.”
They were standing at the top of the stone steps that separated the from the back. With her hands on her hips, Willow faced him with anger he’d never seen in her eyes before.
“You really are a sad excuse for a man, aren’t you? You didn’t really want me, you just didn’t want Jeremiah to have anyone.”
“So what? You wanted it. You couldn’t get enough of it.”
He turned away from her then. He heard Willow’s heels click against the stone as she rushed down towards the guest house.
There was no scream, only a mutter. But he heard the impact of her fall.
When Travis reached her, she was dead.
She’d fallen down the steps, halfway tumbling onto a jagged stone.
Her neck was snapped.
The trees shielded him from eyes that might have seen his dirty work.
There was rope in a shed out back, and a ladder. It took longer than he would have liked. Travis tried to place her in as graceful way as he could. Over and over he whispered apologies. Her body grew ever colder to his touch. Tears came to his eyes, but he hastily wiped them away. Around him the morning was deadly silent. No bird call, no wind. Only the screams that wanted to escape from his mouth, but found no release.
The police wouldn’t much care about the passing of a Negro girl, especially one that had been unfaithful to her man. Was it so hard to believe that she would take her own life? Her reputation was ruined. A suicide under these conditions would draw less attention than an accident.
It was Kamila who found the body the next day. Willow hung from the tree that shaded the spot where Travis first touched her. She looked like a lovely sleeping angel, her dark hair shading her face, her lips puckered, pink, and as innocent as the day he met her.
©2012 Lori Titus