Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Category: Snippets (Page 2 of 8)

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here and Snippet 2 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

*   *   *

The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried her mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside.  The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and she shivered slightly.

The early morning sun reflected brightly off the snow. Cait hissed in a breath as the glare triggered a new round of pounding in her head. She should never had stayed as late as she had at the tavern. The fact she had drunk more than normal did not help either. But it had been worth it to spend the time with Fallon. Hopefully, he would not have to leave the Citadel any time soon. There was so much she wanted to tell him, not to mention everything she wanted to ask him.

Days like this she wished she could stay inside. But that wasn’t to be, not today at least.

More than a month and a half had passed since she stood for Confirmation. There were still times when she had to look at her forearms and see the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with to believe everything that had happened. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave to Giaros, his to use and abuse as he saw fit. She had prayed for death during those long, dark times. Then Fallon had entered the tavern and her life had been forever changed. He had brought her to the Citadel where she had worked hard to join the Order. But never had she expected what happened when she stood for Confirmation.

No longer a student, a journeywoman in the Order, she now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough on her plate with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times when she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.

In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. Keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.

Still, hearing the wind howling outside and seeing snow swirling in the air, she shivered and wished she could stay inside, warm and dry. It would be easy enough to change the location of her morning class from one of the outdoor training rings to the salle near the stables. Temping as it might be, she would not. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before. They had managed to not only survive the lesson but some had thrived with it. If they could do so, then so could the journeymen.  Their survival, not to mention the survival of those they were sworn to protect, might one day depend on it. Hopefully, she would not have to teach the class without the protection from the elements her cloak provided.

She finished her tea and returned her mug to the small kitchen. A few moments later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who could be out so early on such a nasty morning, she crossed to the door and opened it.

“Your pardon, Lady Cait,” the journeyman standing before her said.

As he spoke, he lifted his hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had come to the Citadel before her Confirmation.

Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked as if he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your presence in the council chamber at once.”

Her frown deepened. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knights Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been held. That Knight-Commandant Kirris had seen fit to call on that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.

“Thank you, Journeyman.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Lady Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I possibly can.”

“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.

She closed the door and lightly beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she felt at ease with yet.

Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the meeting. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough to make a few adjustments to her wardrobe.

Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in the braid she wore when teaching weapons, had been twisted into a tight bun at the base of her skull. She now wore a white silken blouse under the black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and sheath where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the safe confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. Fallon had not given many details about his mission over dinner and drinks the night before but he had said enough to let her know he had found serious trouble. She had no doubt that was at least part of the reason for this unscheduled council meeting. So she would go in, reminding the other members that they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.

Nothing else mattered, not in the grand scheme of things.

***

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow By  Fxquadro

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow
By Fxquadro

I am back to work on this and it feels good to get back to Cait’s story. The very rough draft is done but there is a lot of work let to make it publish-ready. Part of that is finding the right cover. I really loved the image used for Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) and am seriously considering using another image from the same set it came from. Here is one of the images I’m considering.

Dagger of Elanna — Snippet 2

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

Fallon neared the Citadel’s main gates and slowed his mount. Eyes narrowed, he watched as two guards stepped forward. As his horse paced forward, the knight glanced at the walls. The sight of several archers taking aim on him both reassured and worried him. His concern deepened as he realized the main gate had yet to be opened for the day’s business. Was that an indication the Order’s leadership knew of the watcher in the trees or was there more going on than he knew?

Important as that was, he had other things on his mind as well. Knowing he would soon be able to have a hot bath, hot food and a bed with clean sheets had pushed him to ride throughout the night. He did not mind roughing it on the trail but he had spent most of the last year and a half doing just that. If he did not have to leave the Citadel for a while, he would not argue. Besides, he had ridden hard the last week, stopping only when his mount needed rest. Something had driven him back to the Citadel, a sense of urgency he still felt.

Almost as important as that sense of urgency was the knowledge he would soon be reunited with Cait. How hard it had been to leave her so soon after rescuing her from that thrice-damned tavern master in Lineaus. He had known she would be safe at the Citadel just as he knew the Adept would look after her. But he had wanted to be there as she began her studies. Now he looked forward to learning how she had fared during his absence.

The thought of the young woman brought with it the memory of her letters and he relaxed slightly. Throughout all those long months away from the Citadel, he had worried Cait would resent him for leaving her. He was supposed to be her mentor and yet he had not been there for her. Yet none of the resentment he feared had been present in her letters. Instead, they had been filled with details about her new life at the Citadel, her excitement about her studies and a sense of wonder as she made friends. Through the letters, Fallon saw how Cait had grown, how she became more settled with her new life. The scared, suspicious girl she had been had grown into a young woman dedicated to the Order and her friends, someone who obviously thirsted for knowledge. He reveled in knowing that all had gone well for her even as he wished he had been there to see it all unfold.

“Welcome home, Sir Fallon,” one of the guards said as Fallon stopped his horse in front of the gate.

For a moment, Fallon studied the young man. There was something familiar about him but he could not quite place it. Then he smiled. The months had added height and muscle to journeyman. Damon no longer looked the almost frail youngster he had been when Fallon left.

“It is good to be back, Damon.” Fallon swung his leg over the saddle and slid to the ground. As he did, he winced slightly. He was getting too old to ride day after day, not to mention a few nights, to get home as quickly as possible. Almost as soon as his boots hit the ground, a yeoman approached and reached for the horse’s reins. “How fares everyone?”

“Just fine, sir. We are trying to adjust to a few changes since you were last home is all.” Damon turned and motioned for the gate to be opened. Before Fallon could ask him to explain, Damon motioned to a tall figure moving in their direction from inside the compound. “I shall leave it to Sir Stefan to explain.”

Sir Stefan?”

Things most definitely had changed. At least this was one change he could heartedly agree with. But how many other surprises awaited him?

“Fallon, it is good to see you!” Stefan pulled him into a friendly embrace and thumped his back in greeting.

“And it is good to see you, lad. But you’re not lad any longer, are you? When were you Confirmed?” He started to follow Stefan inside the gate and paused, looking back to the yeoman holding his horse. The girl quickly assured him she would have his belongings taken to his quarters and that she would personally see to the horse. He nodded and then turned his attention back to Stefan. “And who else was Confirmed with you?”

“At (XXX). Ric and Kala were also Confirmed as were several new clerics.” The young man smiled devilishly and Fallon narrowed his eyes. Stefan was hiding something. But what?

“Your assignment?”

Two could play that game. Fallon had no doubt Stefan wanted him to ask what else had happened at the holy day ceremonies. Not that he would. He would wait and sooner or later Stefan would tell him. If not, he had other ways of finding out, something the young knight would do well to remember.

“I’m assigned as Kiernan’s assistant until I am Called elsewhere.”

Fallon nodded. It was a good assignment for the young man. Stefan had learned to ride almost before he had learned to walk. Pairing him with the riding master made sense. Add to that Stefan’s natural ability to teach youngsters who had never sat astride a mount of any sort before and it made even more sense.

“I’m proud of you, Stefan.” He smiled and then paused as the sounds of a yeomen’s class drilling nearby reached him. Their practice was punctuated with exclamations of relief and frustration as someone put them through their paces. Then, much to his surprise, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hold!” a woman ordered, her frustration clear. “If you lot don’t start paying attention to what you are doing, we will be here all day. I know it’s cold but that is no excuse. Ask any knight or cleric. You will spend many a night in cold camps and the enemy will not attack only when the weather is fair. So quit worrying about the fact there is a little snow falling from the sky and focus on making sure your partner doesn’t score a killing blow.”

Fallon would have bet his life that the woman speaking had been Cait. But that made no sense. She had been at the Citadel less than two years. He had seen first-hand her ability with a blade but that did not explain why she would be teaching a weapons class, even one for yeomen. Good as she might be, there was no way the weaponsmaster would put a journeywoman in as an instructor.

Turning, Fallon looked at Stefan in open question. The young man simply smiled. There could be no doubting he was enjoying himself. His eyes danced with mischief and Fallon ground his teeth in frustration before giving the young man a look that promised they would soon discuss how Stefan had held back this information. then Fallon hurried off in the direction of Cait’s voice. If no one would explain what was going on, he would find out for himself.

His report to the Knight-Commandant and the Adept would just have to wait.

A few moments later, Fallon slid to a halt outside the training arena. He stared in surprise at the sight that greeted him. Cait stood in the center of the packed dirt arena, a look of frustration on her face. In her right hand, she held a training sword. She wore black leather trousers, and a matching leather jerkin that left her arms bare. Intricately woven wide leather bands were in place on each wrist. Her heavy boots moved silently across the ground. Despite the way her breath fogged before her and snow fell, she seemed oblivious to the cold.

That much registered even as Fallon’s eyes were drawn to her forearms. Never before had he seen anything like the markings she bore and the implications rocked him. then, just as he thought he was beyond surprise, he felt the power surrounding her and he blew out a breath in surprise. He had known she was special from the moment he first saw her in that thrice-damned tavern but he had never expected this.

Before he could recover his wits, Cait turned and saw him. The frustration left her expression and she smiled gaily. Then she called for one of the senior journeymen working out in the next ring to take over for a moment. Before they could respond, she sprinted toward Fallon and Stefan. Fallon recovered enough to smile in approval as she agilely vaulted the three bar fence surrounding the training ring before she all but leapt at him in greeting.

“Fallon!” She grinned gaily before throwing her arms around him. “It’s so good to see you. When did you get back?”

“Just now.” He looked her up and down, amazed by the changes in her. She seemed so confident, so settled. Gone was the doubt and fear that had lingered in her eyes the last time they had been together. “And I can see we have a great deal to discuss.” He lightly touched her forearm where the Lady’s dolphin rose from the water. “But I must report to Kirris and Berral, so I can’t tarry any longer. Just answer me one question. When did this happen and what does our Knight-Commandant think about it?”

“That’s two questions, Fallon.” She laughed gaily and he shook his head. “And it will take more time to answer than you have right now. The very short answer is it happened at (XXX) when I stood for Confirmation and it surprised everyone, most of all me.” She smiled a little self-consciously and then shook her head. As she did, he realized she had had a difficult time accepting what happened. “Kirris and Berral will tell you more when you see them but, so you aren’t taken completely by surprise, I am the first Knight-Adept of the Order. I will explain more tonight over dinner if you’ll join me.”

“Of course, I’ll join you.” He smiled and gave her another hug before stepping back. “I’d best find Kirris and Berral before they send someone looking for me.”

“And I had best get back to my students.” With that, she turned and once more vaulted the fence.

Fallon shook his head, feeling more than a little bemused and confused, before making his way toward the administration building. As he did, he heard Cait once more calling for the yeoman to pay attention to what they were doing. This was a class, not a game. They needed to learn the basics or they would never be able to defend themselves in the field. Good advice but not what he expected to hear from here that morning.

Ten minutes later, entered the Knight-Commandant’s office. As he stepped inside, he nodded in greeting to both Kirris and Berral. The Adept smiled briefly in response from where she stood next to Kirris behind his desk, a distracted smile, before turning her attention to the dispatch she and Kirris had been obviously been studying before Fallon’s entrance. As for the Knight-Commandant, he simply motioned for Fallon to have a seat, not once taking his eyes from the dispatch on his desk.

Impatient though he might be, Fallon waited in silence. He knew them both well enough to know only something of grave import would cause them to keep him waiting to give his report. He also had no doubt they knew he would have questions about Cait. After all, every dispatch he had sent them had been filled with questions about the young woman he had taken as his ward. Those questions would be asked and answered but in due time. Business first.

“Welcome home, Fallon, and my pardon for keeping you waiting,” Kirris said a few minutes later. Despite his smile, Fallon saw the strain reflected on his expression and that only served to increase his own sense of foreboding.

“It is good to finally be back.” He stretched his long legs out before him, crossing his ankles. “And I have to admit to having a great number of questions for the two of you.”

“I take it you ran into Cait.” Berral’s expression no longer seemed distracted. In fact, there could be no mistaking her humor and pride as she waited for his answer.

“I did. I also ran into Stefan, who refused to explain what happened.”

“We shall do all we can to answer your questions after you make your report,” Kirris assured him.

Frustration filled Fallon despite the fact he knew the Knight-Commandant was right. His questions would have to wait, for a few minutes at least. However, no matter what the others thought, he would not leave the office until he had at least some sort of explanation for what he had seen.

“As agreed, I returned to the Arteris compound.”

For more than an hour, he discussed all he had done during his absence from the Citadel. While stationed at the compound, he, along with the others stationed there, had gone on the offensive against the raiders that had been plaguing the region. It had taken several months but he had finally identified their local contact. The new of who the traitor had been had rocked the region.

“That contact turned out to be a member of the local militia. His position in the militia make him privy to such information as what merchant trains carried the best goods or the most important passengers, not to mention what routes they would be taking.

“When we finally cornered him, he turned out to be a skinwalker. From what little we learned before he died, it appears someone is trying to unite the bandit leaders out of the Wastelands. Those who have joined the cause have pledged to follow Balaar and report to his human representative.” His distaste at such a notion roughened his voice. “Whoever this representative is, the skinwalker said he was not from the Wastelands. He also said other skinwalkers have been sent into the Imperium with orders to cause as much trouble as possible. They are, apparently, the first wave of a systematic attack against the Imperium and the Order.”

He leaned back and waited. He had seen the look that passed between Kirris and Berral when he mentioned the skinwalker. The fact they did not seem surprised worried him as did the possible explanations for their reactions. With each moment that passed, he became more convinced he had been gone too long from the Citadel.

“Once the skinwalker and those working with him had been dealt with, I left the compound and began the next par tof my mission. I traveled throughout the Imperium as well as the surrounding realms on this side of the Great and Black rivers. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn anything about Cait’s history. However, I did run across several more cases of slavery. Each was much like Cait’s story. They woke in a slaver’s tent, only to find themselves being sold to someone else. That person took them to farms or into villages where they worked.” He almost choked on the word. “Until I discovered them and freed them. Unlike Cait, however, they did remember who they were and I was able to return them to their families.”

“Did you learn nothing that might not help us?” Berral asked, disappointment clear in her voice.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “The one common thread these cases had was that their families were completely stunned to learn their loved one lived. Each had disappeared under circumstances that led the families to believe they had been killed.”

For a moment, no one said anything. Then Berral frowned, her expression hard. “That could be why no outcry was made when Cait went missing. Her family could believe she had been killed. While they mourned her death, she was fighting to survive her enslavement.”

“That could be what happened,” Kirris said. “And those responsible for taking the others as well as those enslaving them?”

“Turned over to the local authorities for punishment. The local compounds have made it clear that the Codes must be upheld and I made sure the locals understood my report would not only reach the Citadel but would be forwarded to the Imperium’s council as well.”

“Your report tends to confirm some of the rumors that have reached us as well as certain happenings near here.” Kirris leaned back and Fallon looked at him in concern. In that moment, the Knight-Commandant looked as if he had aged decades in the months Fallon had been gone. “The council needs to hear your full report. You have until morning to prepare. Once the council has met, I shall send word to the capital. In the meantime, I shall issue orders to have squads readied to leave. I fear we need to tighten our border patrols.”

“No worries, Kirris. I’ll be ready.” Truth be told, he could give the report then. But the need for food and rest might cause him to miss something. “Before we get to anything else, can you explain what you meant when you said tis explains what has been happening near here?” He would not push if the Knight-Commandant did not respond. There were other ways of finding out.

“Let me,” Berral said. Then, instead of continuing, she took time to refill Fallon’s mug as well as her own. “You saw Cait, so you saw her markings.”

Fallon nodded.

“Very simply put, she was one of a dozen to stand for Confirmation at the holy day. As always, some stood for the knightly discipline and some for the priestly. Then there was Cait.

“You know from our letters as well as from hers that we had been cross-training her. We did it because she showed no distinct Calling for either discipline. Because of that, when it came time for her to stand for Confirmation, she was tested in both disciplines. The council chose to do it that way in the hope the Lord and Lady would reveal what They planned for her. We weren’t prepared for what happened.”

For the next half hour, Fallon listened closely as Berral and Kirris took turns describing the Confirmation trials. With each passing moment, his disbelief grew. He could not remember a time when someone had been allowed to stand for Confirmation with less than two years’ study having been undertaken. Nor could he remember anyone ever having stood for Confirmation in both disciplines. He had recognized Cait was special the first time he saw her. Hidden beneath the dirt and grime, cloaked by the filthy hair she let fall over her face like a mask, had been a power unlike any he had ever felt. Even now, almost two years later, he wondered at it. He held close his promise to find out what happened to bring her into the hands of slavers and he swore to do whatever it took to make sure no one else suffered as she had. But to hear how she had stood against all on the Confirmation field was much more than he expected.

“Fallon, if you had seen her, you would understand everything she did that day made it clear she is something special to the Order. She truly is a combination of both disciplines. More than that, she performed at a level that, had she been Confirmed into the knightly discipline, it would have been difficult not to name her a knight-commander. From what I saw and from what Berral has said, it is the same had she been Confirmed into the priestly discipline,” Kirris said.

Feeling as though he had to be dreaming, Fallon stood and, with his mug in hand, walked across the office to stare out the window. Cait had managed to out-fight Alicia, Kirris and others before finally facing off against Kirris. She had managed to turn aside the Knight-Commandant’s magical attacks with her own. Clearly, she had come a very long way in his absence. But that much?

“So,” Berral said when Fallon returned to his chair. “We created the new rank for her. She is now the Knight-Adept and third in command of the Order behind Kirris and myself. She works with both of us on a daily basis so we can discvoer the full extent of her powers as well as give her the experience she needs in case she has to step in for one or the other of us.”

“And the other members of the council?”

Kirris chuckled then and there was a touch of self-deprication in it Fallon recognized. “None dared object. How could they when the Lord and Lady made their favor of Cait so evident? None of the rest of us have been blessed with Their markings in the way she has. Each of those who have examined the markings have said the same thing. They resonate with the power of the Lord and Lady. While it would be nice to know what They have in mind for Cait and for the rest of us, we will do as we always have. We will accept Their challenges and Their blessings and continue to do Their bidding.”

“As is our duty and our honor,” Fallon said and the others nodded in agreement. “But there is more.”

“There is.” Kirris once more looked serious enough to cause Fallon concern. “But that can wait. Know that Cait did much as she did on the trail with you when you were bringing her here. Her actions helped save the squad she was out with and let us know Balaar had his skinwalkers, at least one of them, in this region.”

Fallon blew out a breath and shook his head. It seemed there was much they still had to discuss.

“Go rest for a few hours, my friend. Then join us for the noon meal. We will continue our discussion then,” Berral said as she gently drew him to his feet. “But know you have served the Order and the Lord and Lady well, not only with the information you gathered during this last mission but in bringing Cait to us.”

“I have a feeling I will have many more questions by then.”

“So will we, I’m sure.” Berral smiled and led him to the door. “Rest now. We will see you soon.”

Dagger of Elanna — Snippet One

Each Wednesday for the next month or so, I’ll be snippeting from Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up  Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  By the time it goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Chapter One

Out of the early morning mist, looking like something out of the tales from his childhood, rose the stone walls of the Citadel. Frost and the remnants of the last snow dotted the fields and training areas that lined the road leading to the fortified entrance. From where he sat astride his horse, the lone rider looked nodded once. The location was almost perfect from a strategic standpoint.

Almost being the operative word.

The Citadel, home of the Order of Arelion, rested atop the highest hill, one that ended in a cliff overlooking rapids that prevented a water approach. An approach from the front meant either crossing the fields or coming via the road, both of which were easily visible from the watchtowers inside the double walls of the compound. For more years than any of the current residents had been alive, that had been enough to keep the Citadel safe from attack.

But there were weaknesses to the location. His very presence proved it. There he sat, half an hour outside of the main gates, watching and judging. For all those inside the walls knew, he could be a scout looking for weaknesses and finding them. There were no guards in the trees to watch him, no one to challenge him. At least no one who might take action should he prove to have ill-intent against the Order or any of its members.

The Citadel and all it stood for called to him now just as strongly as it had when he was younger. He remembered his first sight of the compound as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Fear and anticipation had filled him them. He knew his life had been about to change and he had been determined to do everything possible to join the Order. The Lord and Lady had blessed him then as They did now. He was back, despite all odds, and he hoped he would not have to leave for a while.

As he sat there, studying his home and feeling that all too familiar pull, he frowned slightly. The call to bring an end to his journey was tempered by something else. Something that held him in place, senses alert.

Instinct warned of potential danger. Not from the community within the fortified walls. No, this was closer. But what? More importantly, was it aimed at him or with the Order in general? Gods above and below knew he carried information some would prefer the Order not learn. Others had tried to stop him already. Had they determined to end his mission and his life here, so close to the one place he felt safe, or was something else at play? He had to find the answer, or at least try to, before continuing on his way.

He lifted his head and inhaled deeply. The crisp morning air burned his lungs. But it did not hide the smells around him. Animals, some alive and even more dead. Smoke from fires at the Citadel. The distant aroma of something cooking. Under it, so faint he almost missed it in the smell of his horse, was the stench of unwashed flesh. Someone else was there and not far away.

Frowning, Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, dismounted. Once he had, he turned to his horse and checked saddle and girth, using his body to shield what he was doing from anyone who might be watching. The fingers of his right hand closed over the long knife in its specially designed sheath hanging from his saddle. The blade slid soundlessly from the sheath and disappeared beneath his cloak.

He turned and glanced around. Nothing looked out of place. More telling was the fact the birds and small animals he knew to inhabit the grove took no notice of whoever else might be there. That meant the person had either been there long enough for them to get used to his presence or he had somehow magicked himself so they overlooked him. Neither option reassured him.

His boots moved silently against the snow covered ground. Senses alert, he slowly walked toward the tree line on the east side of the road. As he did, he shook his head and muttered softly to himself. Then he reached up and rubbed his chin and yawned. Anyone looking on would see what he wanted them to: a weary traveler in need of a break before continuing on his way.

He paused next to a tree and made a production out of relieving himself. Sometimes, the need to answer the call of nature served more than one purpose. Now it gave him an excuse to leave the trail and that, in turn, gave him the opportunity to try to locate whoever had been watching the Citadel.

The wind shifted and he caught the scent again. Not as close but still near. Watching and waiting. That was enough, for the moment at least. Fallon returned to his horse and mounted. As tempting as it was to continue searching for the watcher, he needed to move on. He should have returned to the Citadel weeks, if not months, earlier. What none of them had anticipated was that his mission would take him so far from the capital region of the Imperium. Besides, for all he knew, the Order already knew of the intruder and had been keeping an eye on him. Somehow he doubted it but, if that were the case, it would be best not to interfere.

***

The watcher slipped deeper in the shadows, fear warring with frustration. For more than a month he had been camped in the trees, if you could call it a camp. His master demanded it and he had learned long ago to never risk angering the man. Balaar’s earthly arm was every bit as dangerous as the god and he had no desire to meet his death yet.

For all that time, he had been unable to do the one thing his master most wanted. He had been unable to discover a way to end one woman’s life. It should have been so easy, especially with Balaar on their side. But the gods continued to conspire against them. The gods and this thrice-damned weather that seemed to grow colder with each day that passed.

The cold seeped ever deeper into his bones. He did not dare build a fire. Not until he moved his camp again, this time further from the road and out of sight of the Citadel. His master might not agree but he knew he had been lucky the Order had yet to discover his presence. Now, however, his luck might have finally run out.

He watched as the lone rider dismounted. The man did not look like a member of the Order but he knew looks could be deceiving. Something about the way the newcomer held himself reminded the watcher of their knights. As the rider looked around and then walked toward the tree edge, the watcher moved deeper into the shadows. Nothing about the newcomer indicated he was aware of the watcher’s presence but instinct said differently. Had his presence finally been discovered?

Whether his master liked it or not, they needed to reevaluate their tactics. With winter upon them, the chances of their target leaving the Citadel slimmed to almost nothing. Was this not the time to regroup and plan their next line of attack, one that would be more successful?

Not waiting to see what the rider did, the man moved quickly, silently deeper into the trees. A few minutes later, he paused and lifted his left arm. He did not have long to wait. A slight smile touched his lips as a large bird winged down from the early morning sky to land on his wrist. His fingers gently rubbed the construct’s head as he shifted positions so he looked the bird in the eye.

“Keep watch, my pretty. You know the target. Come for me if she leaves the walls.”

With that, he lifted his arm high and the construct took flight. Hopefully that would be enough to satisfy his master, at least long enough for him to explain why he had left his post. If not, he would not be long for this world.

Summer is over, so it is time to snippet

This week, I am getting back to my normal blogging schedule — if my schedule has ever been normal. I’ve worked this summer but took a step back from much of the blogging for a number of reasons. Mainly, I just needed to recharge the batteries some. But, if the kids have to go back to work, I guess I can get back to blogging.

Today’s snippet is from the book that took charge of my muse and my life about a week or so ago. Starting Wednesday, I’ll be snippeting Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), once a week. I will probably snippet this currently untitled book as well once a week, at least until I figure out what to do about it.

So, with that said, here’s the snippet. I’ll warn you now, it is weird. It has mystery, magic and a house that might be sentient and that might possibly eat people it doesn’t like. And no, it’s not horror. Heaven help me, I have a feeling there might even be a romance in it before all is said and done. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  By the time it goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Anyway, here you go. This is the first scene.

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Three months earlier, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. With our bags packed, Ali and I were about to walk out the front door when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cell phone in my pocket but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning hand my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Mama, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, not recognizing the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a man asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. He might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about his voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, he had used my full name, something very few had access to.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Peter Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Mr. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone starts a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually means there is something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have bene from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I swallowed hard and looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want her involved.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there is no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. The explanation was just one of the reasons why I had moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Beauchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mama belonged there and it would protect her. At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” She thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they have heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I did not wait for him to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns and my badge and ID. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case and then dropped it inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Mama, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles with you?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally loved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

***

As I have said before, my muse is an evil creature. Trust me. Thinks get strange from this point on.

 

One month to go

In one month, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live. I am almost done with the final edits. This book has been a blast to write. While it doesn’t finish the story arc started in Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and continued in Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2), the end is near. One more book and this particular arc will be done. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be returning to the universe. I already have an idea of a new story arc for a future series.

To kick off the final month before Honor comes out, I thought I would revisit the first two books. Today’s snippet will be from Vengeance.

*     *     *

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years in Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. Still they had come close. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

Just as she knew she’d been betrayed by the government she’d served and had been ready to die for.

What she didn’t know was why. Why had she been betrayed? Worse, why had those who’d served loyally at her side been targeted?

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s infirmary for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit – hell, as far as she knew it was his overt – approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the infirmary. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what had happened.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. Even though she hadn’t been ready to believe them, they had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Even so, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her that the best course of action was to remain silent unless it was imperative that she speak. That wasn’t to say there hadn’t been times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore the scars to prove it. All she wanted now was to live through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved hand closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain, she staggered back. The short chain connecting her ankles tripped her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw. But don’t get your hopes up that it means the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those poor bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was happening?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and then closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It didn’t take long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were soft voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything – not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was – Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to do anything foolish, he turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, almost a week later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know her fears were true – the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her unit, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right along with her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right – or at least as all right as anyone could be after being sentenced to the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She had just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner. It could have been something worn by any worker on the docks or in a warehouse. That should have reassured her but for one thing. There was nothing about the guard’s manner to indicate she was about to be freed. In that moment, she’d come the closest to breaking her rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to” than she had been since her first few days on Tarsus.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back before locking her safety harness in place but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if FleetCom was afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation. Nor had she asked for one. It would be a long time before she forgot that lesson. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that almost always resulted in painful punishment. She might not be on Tarsus any longer but that didn’t mean things would be any different here. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus and she wasn’t willing to risk it now that she was home.

Freed of her restraints and alone, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Almost exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on taking that route out. At least not anymore. No, there were others who needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead – or worse – before she actually found it.

At least the guard didn’t close the physical door. For the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. It might not be the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet. That didn’t matter. All that did was the fact that the open cell door gave her at least some semblance of not being completely cut off from all other life on the planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, Ashlyn remained where she was, motionless except for the rise and fall of her chest and the slow blinking of her eyes. She listened, counting his footsteps as they slowly faded away. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she had focused on what was directly in front of her. She had not wanted to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her look around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a just a little.

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking to her left, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone – again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching over security monitors see her curiosity or her concern.

This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on the military courts to finally get it right. Once free, she’d deal those who’d betrayed her and then she’d find a way to free those who had been sent to the penal colony with her. After that, she really didn’t give a damn about what happened.

Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 5

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

You can find snippet one here , snippet two here, snippet three here and snippet four here.

*   *   *

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

 

“Amy, I’m all right. Really.”

When she didn’t do anything more than look at me doubtfully, I slid off the examining table, biting off a gasp of pain as I did. Okay, maybe I really wasn’t all right. I ached in more places than I cared to count and my right knee throbbed painfully. But there was no way I would tell Amy. Not when she still looked like she would drag me, by the hair if necessary, off to the nearest hospital.

That was the last thing I wanted or needed.

Well, maybe not the last thing. That would be her telling Mama what happened. Hopefully, Amy wasn’t that mad at me.

For a moment, I contemplated simply walking out of the small examining room. Then, a cold draft up there reminded me I wasn’t exactly dressed to be out in public. Not when the only thing I wore was one of those ill-fitting, let-your-butt (or something else)-hang-out disposable gowns every doctor’s office and emergency clinic insists you put on the moment you finish filling out the paperwork and your insurance is verified. As far as I’m concerned, these so-called pieces of clothing exist for one purpose only – to keep the patients form walking out without paying their bill. After all, what sane person would dare leave the privacy of the examining room to parade around with the back door open and their privates hanging out?

I might be many things, but insane I wasn’t, at least not yet.

Be that as it may, I was about to do just that. I had to get out of there before Mama found out I had finally fulfilled the first part of what, until now, had been her improbable plan for escaping the house. I’d finally had that close encounter with a bus she’d been hoping for. And, thanks to my now used-to-be best friend, I was stuck in the small confines of an examining room at a local doc-in-the-box. At least I’d managed to convince the paramedics who responded to Amy’s 911 call that I didn’t need to go to the emergency room. It wasn’t as if the bus had really hit me. I had been the one doing the hitting – of the car parked at the curb, the curb as I rolled off the car and then the sidewalk.

But the bus never touched me. That had to be a good thing. Right?

Unfortunately, Amy hadn’t been convinced I was all right. Which was why I now waited impatiently – no, irritably – for the doctor to finally give us her diagnosis.

“Lexie, don’t give me that,” she snapped as she slid her cellphone into her hip pocket.

My eyes went wide and my stomach lurched. Surely she hadn’t called my folks to tell them what happened. I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. How could it when coherent thought was no longer possible? Finally, after years of predicting I’d one day be struck dumb for my lack of respect and for how I had refused to appreciate all she had done for me, my mother was finally right. Only it hadn’t been at her hands that this calamity had occurred but at the hands of my used-to-be best friend.

“Oh quit looking like I just wrapped you up in a fancy wedding dress and handed you over to your mama with my blessing to marry you off to Bucky Vincent.” Exasperation and – damn her – amusement filled Amy’s voice. “I didn’t call your folks, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”

Relief washed over me. Then, realizing there was also an air of satisfaction about her that hadn’t been there earlier, I narrowed my eyes. She was up to something. But what?

And did I really want to know?

“So who did you call?”

“My grandmother.”

This time I did groan. If calling Mama would have been bad, calling Serena Duchamp was even worse. Oh, she wasn’t trying to marry me off just so she could move in with me when I left the family home. At least I didn’t think she was. But I had no doubt she would soon be telling Granny what happened and that would only add fuel to the fire that currently burned between her and Mama. It was a no-win situation for me. I hadn’t called either of them but Granny’s best friend knew and had let her know before Mama did. Damn, there wasn’t a hole deep enough to hide in now.

Maybe I ought to look on the bright side. It was possible I wasn’t sitting in an urgent care clinic just down the road from the university. Maybe I had hit my head hard enough that I was still unconscious and this was all some sort of really bad hallucination. Soon I’d wake up and find a nice paramedic, preferably one who was very happily married, leaning over me. Heck, at this point, a long stay in the hospital, preferably in isolation, looked pretty darned good.

Heck, even a stay – preferably a long one if it meant not having to deal with Mama – in Purgatory looked good right now.

Before I could ask Amy why she had called her grandmother – and what Miss Serena planned to do about what Amy had told her – a soft knock sounded at the door. It opened a moment later. Laughter bubbled up inside me as a small woman with gray hair and a stern expression entered the room. She most certainly was not marriage material. In fact, she reminded me of Miss Bateman, my fourth grade Sunday school teacher who had quickly proven that Catholic nuns had nothing on her when it came to the swift application of a ruler across the knuckles. There was not one bit of humor to the doctor’s expression as she paused just inside the door and looked at me. Without a word, she jabbed a finger at the examining table and waited until I slid onto it and lay back.

The next few minutes went by mostly in a silence occasionally punctuated by a moan of pain as the doctor probed a sore muscle or twisted a tender joint. By the time she finished, I was beginning to think maybe I should have gone to the hospital. Surely the doctors there would have had a better bedside manner. It didn’t help any to have Amy standing there, watching in growing concern with just a hint of “I told you so” reflected on her expression.

“All right, Miss Smithson,” the doctor said as she moved to the sink and washed her hands. “You got off pretty lucky. Next time, think before trying to do battle with a bus. The bus always wins.”

Only because her back was to me, I rolled my eyes. Even as I did, I expected her to tell me not to be impertinent. Instead, she turned and handed me several slips of paper.

“You need to see your primary care physician in the next few days. I don’t think you’ve done anything more than badly sprain your knee, but I recommend having a scan done. In the meantime, stay off of it. When you have to be up, I want you on crutches.”

Great. No way I’d be able to hide those from Mama – or Granny.

Damn it.

“You have care instructions for both the knee and the abrasions. The front desk will give you some samples of an ointment to use until you can get to the pharmacy. If you begin to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach or if you experience anything out of the ordinary, call your doctor. If it’s after hours, get to the nearest ER.”

Out of the ordinary?

I almost laughed. My entire life was out of the ordinary. Not that I could tell her. At least Amy no longer looked quite so amused by the situation. Of course, that could be because the doctor was now outlining what sort of care I needed over the next few days. It’s probably a good thing Amy was paying attention because I no longer was.

“Don’t worry, doctor. I’ll make sure she does as you say,” Amy promised as she took the care instructions and prescriptions from her.

Another laugh bubbled up. Sure Amy would. And my name was Scarlett O’Hara. No, what would happen was simple. As soon as I got home, Miss Serena would appear to take a look at me, and I do mean take a look. She would see everything the doctor with her tests had and more. Then, if she wasn’t satisfied with what the doctor had done, Miss Serena would do her own form of healing and that was most definitely something I didn’t want to think about any more than I wanted to think about what would happen when Mama found her doing it in the middle of our front room.

Half an hour later, I was finally allowed to make my escape, if you could call it that. My right knee was encased in a hinged brace. I’d tried refusing it but the doctor had been adamant once she heard – thanks to Amy –how I’d messed the knee up in high school on a ski trip. Of course, my used-to-be best friend hadn’t told her that Miss Serena had worked her magic on the knee and it had soon been as good as new. So, instead of getting away with a simple Ace bandage, I had what looked to be a state of the art knee brace, something I just knew my insurance wouldn’t pay for.

But at least I was getting out of there before Mama descended. That had to be good, right?

“I’ll stop by the pharmacy and get your prescriptions filled and then I’m taking you home,” Amy said as she helped me into her car. A moment later, she stowed my crutches in the back.

Home. Not exactly where I wanted to be just then.

“Think we could stop somewhere and get something to eat?” Maybe we could go to Austin or even Houston. There had to be good restaurants there. Anything to delay the inevitable explosion that would happen the moment I walked through the front door.

When Amy climbed in behind the steering wheel and looked at me, I knew she understood. How could she not after knowing my family as long as she had?

“Lexie, relax. I’m not about to take you to your place tonight.” She slid the keys into the ignition and started the engine. “The last thing you need right now is more drama and that is exactly what you’d get there.”

“Oh God, Amy. What now?”

I didn’t need to ask how she might know what was going on when I didn’t. Her grandmother and mine were best friends. That hadn’t changed with Granny’s death. I had no doubts Miss Serena had been given a blow-by-blow description of yesterday’s encounter with the priest. I just didn’t want to know what Miss Serena would do about it. That had to be worse than Mama simply insulting her, something that resulted in our dearly departed returning home. I swear, if I hadn’t been wearing my seat belt, I’d have pounded my head against the dashboard in frustration.

“Let’s just say the battle lines have been drawn and all that’s left is for someone to take a can of paint and split the house in two.”

Now that was an idea. Maybe if they had their own territories, Papa and I could have a little peace. But no, Mama would never agree. Not unless she found a way to get Gran and the others to accept either the basement or one of the closets as their territory, some place that Mama would never, ever go. The likelihood of that happening was about as high as me winning all the lotteries in the world on the same day. Gran wasn’t about to let Mama have the upper hand and the others would do whatever Gran said.

I wonder if I could still transfer to some university far, far away without losing too many credits.

“So where are we going?”

And did I really want to know?

“I’m taking you home with me.”

No big surprise, although it would piss Mama off once she found out. But that was too bad. I wasn’t up to dealing with her and Granny going after one another.

“I want my grandmother to have a look at you and, just so you know, she said she wanted to talk to you about something.”

My breath caught and I stared at Amy in surprise. Oh, it didn’t surprise me that she wanted Miss Serena to take a look at me. Heck, I wanted her to take a look at me. If she could help me heal even a little faster, I was all for it. As for the rest of it, a very large spark of concern flared in the pit of my stomach.

“Did she say why she wanted to talk to me?” I tried to keep the nerves out of my voice but I knew I failed. The slight lifting of the corner of Amy’s mouth was enough to tell me that.

“No. She just said it was important and it was a conversation she’d put off much too long.”

Oh dear sweet Lord. If the car hadn’t been going at least sixty miles an hour, I’d have opened the door and jumped out. When Miss Serena said she had something important to discuss, she did. The thing is, her definition of important is magnitudes beyond that of most other people, me included. We’re talking potentially earth shattering important. The fact that she said it was something she’d put off much too long only made me worry more.

The last time Miss Serena said there was something important she needed to discuss with anyone in our family, our dead started showing back up. What could be more important than that?

I so didn’t want to know.

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 4

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

You can find snippet one here , snippet two here and snippet three here.

*   *   *

“Amy, I swear my mama’s finally lost her mind.” I slid onto the chair opposite my oldest and dearest friend, glad she had been able to join me for lunch.

“Lexie, you know I’ve always felt your mama’s been walking that tightrope between sanity and stark raving loony and that after your grandma and the others returned, her balance has been precarious at best. So what’s happened to finally push her over the edge?”

I didn’t answer right away. Instead, I studied my best friend, the only person I felt comfortable discussing my home life with. For one thing, Amy and I had known each other since the first day of kindergarten. We’d made common cause against my sister and hers. She had seen and condemned the way Mama favored both Perfect Patty and Bubba over me. And she had told me in no uncertain terms that the day would come when Mama would pay for it.

Well, when Amy’s right, she’s right. Although I don’t think this was quite what she had in mind.

“Would you believe me if I told you she brought in a Catholic priest to exorcise Granny and the others?”

If the table had been any taller, Amy’s jaw would have hit it. For a moment, she looked an awful lot like a wide-mouthed bass just dropped into the boat. Her eyes bulged, her mouth opened and closed but no sound escaped. Not that I could blame her. No siree. I probably looked pretty much the same last night when I realized what Mama had been up to.

I swear, Amy must have sat there a good minute or more, staring at me in disbelief. Then she reached up to close her mouth. Which was probably a good thing. We had enough folks already staring at us in unbridled curiosity. It’s not often any of us see Amy Duchamp speechless.

That’s right. Duchamp. As in Old Serena Duchamp. Now you see why Mama has done her best to keep us apart. That’s been especially true since that fateful encounter with Old Serena so long ago. Not that I paid Mama any mind. Amy and I had been best friends too long to let her come between us.

“Lexie!”

Well, Amy finally found her voice. Unfortunately, it was loud enough to have everyone staring at us again. She colored slightly and leaned forward, her expression intent. “Lexie, you’re not saying she managed to convince Father Timothy to do an exorcism, are you?”

I shook my head. Father Timothy Stinson led Mossy Creek’s only Catholic church. Mama had tried – more than once, truth be told – to convince him to perform an exorcism to rid the household of Granny and the others. She had begged and pleaded, screamed and yelled. She had even tried to bribe him with the offer of a large donation to the parish. In return, he had been far more patient than I would have, explaining that it was his opinion God had some plan for Granny and the others. Besides, he had been told by Brother Bill how Granny and the others still went to services at the Baptist church on a regular basis. As far as Father Timothy was concerned, they were simply a different kind of worshipper.

Mama had not been pleased.

“No, not Father Timothy. She found herself a priest from Arlington who promised to help her get ‘rid of those abominations’. I don’t need to tell you that Granny wasn’t one bit pleased.” And that was putting it mildly.

“Oh – my.” Amy covered her mouth with her right hand. Her green eyes danced with wicked glee. Sure, she could laugh. She hadn’t been caught in the cross-fire. “I take it your granny had something to say about it.”

“You think?” I snorted. “Let’s put it this way. She sent that poor excuse of a priest running for the hills. Not because she’s still holding court over the kitchen instead of being in her grave but because she gave him a lecture that had his ears burning. It included things like pointing out she was no ghost. Then she pointed out it was downright ridiculous to think she was possessed. After all, what self-respecting demon or evil spirit would want to possess the body of an old woman and then move back in with the daughter-in-law who detested her? I thought the priest was going to choke on that. Afterwards, she treated him to a lecture on the Bible I doubt any of his instructors at the seminary could have given. Then Aunt Pearl came in and if there’s anyone less threatening than that dear old lady, I don’t know who.” I paused, shaking my head.

“But it gets worse. About that time, Uncle Kenny arrived. He strolled into the kitchen were everything was going on, sized up the situation and started undressing right then and there. Mama screeched. Granny ordered him outside if he was going to shift. He just grinned and did his thing. One moment he was standing there in the clothes he was born in and a few moments later, he was his own furry self. That’s when he walked over to Mama and hiked his leg.

“Mama sputtered and then ranted and then demanded this Father Christoff do something. And he did. At least he did after he quit laughing because Papa and Uncle Kenny were acting like a man and his dog by then. Papa in his chair and Uncle Kenny on his back so Papa could rub his stomach. Once he had himself under control again, Father Christoff apologized to Granny. Then I swear he ran for the door. He did stop long enough to tell Papa to come see him if he ever needed to talk.”

That did it. Amy threw her head back and laughed. No, guffawed. Big, braying peals of laughter that had everyone looking at us. I groaned and buried my face in my hands. Wasn’t it bad enough that everyone in Mossy Creek knew my family was a bit odd? And that’s truly unsettling when you consider how odd every family in town is. But did Amy have to call attention to us here, just across the street from the TCU campus? Didn’t she realize what would happen if the administration ever began to suspect what went on at home? I’d lose my scholarship and be booted off campus so fast my head would spin – literally.

“Amy!” I hissed as I dropped my head into my hands.

It’s been years since the world-at-large learned that there were some folks who were different. I wasn’t born when it happened. In fact, Papa hadn’t been born yet. From what Granny told me, there was a lot of fear at first. Neighbors not trusting neighbors. Calls for the government to do something to protect the “real” humans. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and some of the more drastic solutions were quickly tossed aside. I’m not so naïve as to think it was out of the goodness of the hearts of the politicians of the time. Nope. Not at all. It was that a lot of them started looking at their own families and learned there was more than a witch or two, or a shifter or two, in their family tree. So, as long as the Others, as the government calls them, obey the laws and don’t become a danger to anyone, it’s sort of live and let live.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s one of those well-known secrets you just don’t talk about. You really don’t talk about it if you attend a conservative religious college.

“C’mon, Lexie. You have to admit it’s funny. Especially the part about your Uncle Kenny. I can just imagine the look on your mother’s face.” She grinned impishly. Then she sobered. “I imagine things went downhill fast once the priest left.”

“Oh yeah.” Downhill, into a pit and well on the way to the Earth’s core. “Mama demanded Granny and the others leave. She told Papa if he loved her, he’d take Uncle Kenny out and shoot him like the rabid dog he is. That’s when Granny countered that it had been their home much longer than it had been Mama’s and if anyone was to be shot for anything it would be Mama for being a damned fool. That’s when Mama told Papa that if he didn’t do something, she would just pack her bags and leave.” I leaned back, blew out a breath and looked around the coffeeshop. No one seemed to be paying us any attention, thankfully.

“Oh no. Your poor dad.”

“Yeah. Mama demanded he do his duty and make Granny and the others leave. I swear, Amy, I thought Mama was going to have a heart attack right there. Her face was fire engine red. She was panting and gasping for air. I think she was even frothing at the mouth just a little.” Or maybe a lot.

“Oh my.” Sympathy replaced humor. “What did your dad do?”

“He basically told Mama she had made this bed and she’d best accept it or move on. If he could learn to put up with her holier-than-thou attitude, she sure as hell could learn to cope with his family wanting to hang around the home they loved. If she couldn’t find it in herself to do so, he would gladly help her pack. He’d even book her a room somewhere far away.”

“Damn.”

Amy couldn’t quite hide her smile or her admiration for Papa. Not that I blamed her. I’d been waiting a long time for him to finally stand up to Mama. Unfortunately for Mama, she hadn’t stopped to consider the possibility that he wouldn’t do as she wanted. She had figured he would cave as he had in the past just to keep peace in the family. Well, Papa may have been forced to sleep on the sofa but, for one, was glad he’d finally put his foot down. As soon as I got home, I’d make up the guest room for him. He didn’t need to suffer just because Mama was having one of her fits.

“Lexie, your mama has had this coming for years.” Amy reached across the table to give my hand a squeeze. “And I recommend she does as your daddy said, not that I think she will.”

Neither did I, at least not yet.

“Why don’t you stay with me tonight? It will keep you out of the line of fire. Besides, my grandma wants to see you.”

“What?” My voice cracked.

Oh great. The last thing I needed or wanted was for word to get back to Mama that I’d seen Old Serena. Still, staying with Amy would get me out of the house. Even better, there was no way Mama would show up on the doorstep at the Duchamps’ place.

But why in world did Old Serena want to see me?

“Sure. Thanks.” I finished my coffee and stood, checking my watch. “I’ve got to get to class. Meet you here later?”

“Sounds good.” Amy stood and carefully shouldered her backpack. “I need to hit the library for a bit.”

Together, we left the coffeeshop. At least it had quit raining. All I had to do was get through the next few hours. Then I would follow Amy to her apartment over the garage at her grandmother’s. Who knew what would happen then. At least I wouldn’t be in the middle of whatever was brewing between Granny and Mama.

The light changed and I stepped off the curb. Like most of those who attended TCU, whenever I stepped onto University Drive, I expected traffic to yield. And it usually did. Usually being the operative word.

“Lexie!” Amy screamed

Ah hell. Unlike Mossy Creek, they have buses, lots of them in all sorts of shapes and sizes, in Fort Worth and I was about to have a close encounter of the painful kind with one of them.

At least I had on clean underwear.

Blogging, Writing and Maybe a Snippet

Let’s get the housekeeping out of the way first. As I noted in yesterday’s post, real life always seems to laugh and throw obstacles in my path when I come up with a new blogging schedule. Usually, it isn’t anything major — thankfully — but just those normal real life matters that have to be taken care of. Fortunately, this past week or two has been filled with just the normal little things that can get a day off on not necessarily the wrong foot but the unplanned one. So, the plan for the blog went by the wayside because it is the easiest thing to let slip.

However, I know I have to buckle down. Not only because I have this blog to take care of but because I have my weekly (Tuesday) posts for Mad Genius Club as well as Wednesday posts for According to Hoyt. That means I have to be more disciplined about blogging. So here’s how it is going to happen. This blog will become more active, partially because I will be echoing my posts at the other locations here and partially because I am going to use this blog as my writing prompt of sorts. I’ll be doing snippets for upcoming work as well as blogging about current events and what is happening in the writing world. My goal is to have something up every day. That is workable if, as I am doing now, I do the blog as I have my morning coffee. By doing it that way, I don’t impact my writing schedule and that, as I’m sure you understand, has to take priority over blogging.

Now, on to writing. Right now there is a split in the writing community. Oh hell, who am I kidding? There is a chasm that is widening to epic proportions. Between calls to only buy books written by people of color for a year to the battle over whether message should take precedence over story to name the issue, the battle lines have been drawn. Now, science fiction has always been a fractious community but it is getting to the point where it is almost funny in a sad sort of way.

The latest bit that leaves me scratching my head involves a character’s sexuality in literature. According to some, a writer should pretty much always include in the story their characters’ sexual preferences because it will tell the reader that that particular type of story can be about that sort of character. It doesn’t matter that the sexuality of the character has nothing to do with the story. It is all about making sure a section of the reading public can “identify” with the character.

Now, I’m all for letting readers identify with your characters. But I like the subtle approach unless actually telling the reader a character is of such and such political background or sexual preference or religious ilk. Why? Because it allows more readers to see themselves in the character than just a section of readers. You see, I trust my readers to have imaginations. I hope they like my characters enough to see the similarities between the character and themselves without me having to throw extraneous information at them that doesn’t advance the plot.

That said, if it moves the plot forward to say this character is gay or another is bi or yet another is celibate, then the author should — in fact, must — put it in. But if all the author is doing is ticking off another entry in the current checklist of how to be politically correct then don’t. Trust your readers to recognize the signals you give in your writing without beating them over the head with it.

A perfect example of this, in my mind, is J. K. Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books. I can’t think of a single time in the books where she mentioned the headmaster’s sexual identity. Why did she not do it? It wasn’t pertinent to the books. However, I wasn’t surprised one bit when she came out not so long ago and said that Dumbledore was gay. I had assumed it from the context of the scenes he was in. Nor did it matter one way or the other because, again, his sexuality did not move the story forward.

As an author, that is what I always look at. Does something move the plot forward? Does it help explain why a character acts the way he or she does? If not, then it doesn’t have to be there. If, as an author, you feel it is important to let your readers know more about that character, then write something where their sexuality or religion or political leanings or whatever is important to the plot.

I guess it all comes down to trusting your readers, something I fear too many authors don’t do. They don’t trust their readers to be able to see a message that is subtly worked into the plot. Instead, they opt for the “hit them over the head” approach. They don’t trust their readers to have enough imagination to see themselves in a character unless they, the author, tells the reader “this character is like you because. . . “. Then these same authors bitch and moan when their work doesn’t sell as well as Author-X who writes a rollicking fun book with lots of action, lots of characters from different backgrounds and who look at life differently from one another. Sure, Author-X might not use the checklist to make sure they have all the politically correct items checked off, but that same author has subtly woven the gay character and the various political beliefs with different religious beliefs in such a way their readers not only see themselves but they see others they know in the book.

All this is a long about way of say we need to trust our readers and put away the bat.

Finally, here is a short(ish) snippet from Skeletons in the Closet. You can find snippet one here and snippet two here.

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Despite all the weirdness in Mossy Creek, and most especially in our house – or maybe because of it – the sun does still rise in the east and there are still bills to pay. That means, no matter how badly I might want to stay in bed, pillows over my head to block out the world, I can’t. So, I had to get out of bed and out of the house. Not that I really minded. The last few days had been stranger than usual, so weird that just the thought of going to class and yet another boring lecture was more appealing than the prospect of staying home.

I didn’t need the sounds of a skillet banging on the stove downstairs in the kitchen, echoed almost immediately by drawers slamming in Mama’s room, to know the battle still raged. Believe me, raged is much too mild a word for what has been going on. And, not being a fool – at least not too much of one – I knew the best thing for me to do was to get out of there as quickly as possible. Otherwise, I’d be caught in the middle again and, when my mama and my granny are going after one another, that is a dangerous place indeed.

Hell’s bells, I’d forgo my shower if it meant avoiding the next barrage between Granny and Mama. I could always grab one at the university after my morning run.

Ten minutes later, dressed in running shorts, sports bra and a tank top, my running shoes dangling from my right hand, I carefully crept down the hall, past my parents’ bedroom. So far, so food. All those years of sneaking in after curfew – more like trying to sneak in. Mama almost always managed to catch me – finally seemed to be paying off. I knew exactly where to step, and where not to, in order to avoid that one board near their room that always creaked like a door hinge badly in need of an oiling.

Just a little bit further and I’d be at the stairs and safe – almost.

It’s not that I really expected Mama to burst out of her room and catch me. After all, where’s the fun in that? I wasn’t exactly breaking curfew and, yes, even though I’m an adult now, Mama still acts like I’m not. Nor was I sneaking out to meet some boy she didn’t approve of. For one thing, I lost interest in boys a long time ago. Men are so much more fun. For another, if Mama thought I was even remotely interested in someone – man or Martian – she would probably lock me out of the house in an attempt to throw us together.

As I said, Mama’s not one to let reality interfere with her desires and, believe you me, there is nothing she desires more than to get away from this house once and for all. In her mind, there’s only one way that is going to happen and that’s for Patty or me to get married. It still surprises me she hadn’t tried to move in with Bubba. Of course, the fact he lived in the smallest, single room apartment in town might have something to do with it. Bubba might be a coward but he wasn’t dumb. He knew Mama would be there in the blink of an eye were there room for her.

Being the ungrateful daughter that I am, I was merely going out for a run and then to class. I wasn’t going to meet a man who would sweep me off my feet and finally get Mama out of her version of Hell on Earth. Far from it, in fact. I was simply once more escaping the strangeness that had been home for the last ten years.

Besides, after what happened last night, Mama would have other things on her mind besides why I might be leaving without saying goodbye. Truth be told, it wouldn’t surprise me one little bit if we didn’t see Mama anytime soon. The last time she and Granny went at it like they had yesterday, we didn’t see Mama for a week. While Granny ruled over the downstairs, Mama stayed locked in her room, making poor Papa sleep on the sofa. The only one she would let in was Perfect Patty. For that week, Mama sulked and whined and told Patty who she was the only one who understood what she had to put up with. Which, if I’m to be honest – and Mama always told me I should be, no matter how painful. “Lexie,” she’d said more times than I could count, “the truth hurts sometimes. But it’s better to tell the truth and hurt someone’s feeling than to burn in the hellfire of damnation.” – is true. None of the rest of us understood why mama didn’t just accept Granny and the others and try to make the best of a very strange situation.

Far as I’m concerned, Mama crossed the line last night and there would be no going back. For ten years, Mama’s done her best to ignore, insult, bully and force Granny and the others out of the house. She doesn’t care that this is their home just as much as it is hers. Okay, so it is a bit strange having family you have seen buried sitting across from you at the breakfast table. But they aren’t causing any trouble. In fact, I have a feeling they would leave if they could. Well, all of them except Granny. After last night, there is no way she’s going to leave of her own accord, at least not unless Mama leaves the house first.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Granny didn’t tell Old Serena what happened. If Mama thought last night was bad, just wait until Serena Duchamp learned what she had done. Damnation, you’d think Mama would have learned by now that she needs to think before doing something so exceedingly stupid. The last time she angered Old Serena, our dearly departed started taking up residence in the homestead. I really didn’t want to think about what might happen next.

With my luck, I’d start turning furry on nights of the full moon – just like Uncle Kenny – or something equally off-putting to any sane guy who might, at some point, become interested in me. It was going to be hard enough trying to explain away the dearly departed who continued to hang around. Telling him he would need to play fetch with me every few weeks might just kill any romantic feelings that survived meeting the family.

Maybe it was time to move out and move away – far, far away. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where I was going. Nor could I leave a forwarding address. Otherwise, no doubt about it, Mama would track me down and I would find her waiting on my doorstep, bags in hand, one day. And, the way my luck runs, Granny and the others would be close behind.

“Lexie Marie Smithson, just where do you think you’re sneaking off to so early this morning?”

I paused at the foot of the stairs and blew out a breath. I’d been so close. Less than a dozen feet stood between me and freedom. The front door was so near. But not near enough. Not with Granny standing in the doorway to the kitchen, hands on her hips, eyeing me suspiciously.

Why hadn’t I climbed out my window and shimmied down the tree like I used to when I was a kid? It would have saved me so much trouble.

“I’m waiting.” Her hands remained fisted at her waist and I swear she tapped one foot impatiently. At least I think she did. I didn’t dare look down to check.

“I’m not sneaking off anywhere, Granny.” Well, not really. “I’m just going to grab a run before class.”

“And I’m fresh as a daisy.”

I couldn’t help it. The laugh was out before I could stop it. One thing about my granny, dead or alive, she did have a sense of humor. When she wanted to at least.

“Course, if I was you, I’d be sneaking out rather than risk getting caught up between me and your mama.” The humor was gone just as quickly as it had come. “But you ought to know better. Your mama’s not likely to show her face today. So get yourself into the kitchen and eat some of the eggs and bacon I’ve made.”

Knowing better than to argue – besides, Granny made the best eggs around – I nodded and followed her into the kitchen. Besides, she was right about one thing – unless Mama had taken complete leave of her senses, she would lay low until Granny had time to cool down. The only problem with that was we didn’t have any idea how long that would be. Alive, Granny held onto her grudges, savoring them until they fossilized. What would she do dead?


For those of you who enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check out Slay Bells Ring.

Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.

Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.

Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.


For those who have been waiting for the next installment in the Honor and Duty series, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is available for pre-order.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

 

 

Skeletons in the Closet – snippet 2

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

For those looking for snippets from Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) , those will begin in two weeks.

*   *   *

“Mama, I swear to you. I didn’t do anything,” Patty whined. Of course Patty always whined. Except when she tried to sound sultry for whoever was the boyfriend of the day. Then she kind of wheezed. “I was coming out of Paulson’s Drugstore and that old woman almost ran into me. All I said was ‘excuse me’ and she stared at me, Mama. I know she was putting a curse on me. You know how she is.”

That was all Mama needed to forget Patty was more than an hour late coming home from school. Nor did she notice the makeup Patty wore, makeup she had not been wearing when she left for school that morning. Makeup she wasn’t even supposed to own, let alone wear. I would have bet almost anything Patty was making it all up just so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Without a word, Mama threw on her white sweater with its fake pearls running down the front, grabbed her handbag and marched out of the house, determined to find the town’s resident witch and have it out with her once and for all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely sure Old Serena’s a real witch. At least not the sort you see on TV or in the movies. She doesn’t ride a broom, at least not that I know of, and she doesn’t have a big wart on the end of her nose. But that doesn’t mean she might not be a voodoo priestess or a well-disguised BEM (that’s a bug-eyed monster for those of you who didn’t grow up on the old sci-fi movies like I did). All I know for certain is that my mama made the mistake of getting in Serena Duchamp’s face that day and life hasn’t been the same since.

Of course, Mama hadn’t left Perfect Patty and me at home when she went on her quest to defend her eldest daughter. Oh no, she piled us in her old sedan and off we’d gone, driving the streets of Mossy Creek – not nearly as daunting as it sounds. It isn’t that big of a town – until we found Old Serena.

The moment Mama saw her coming out of the market, she’d slammed on the brakes and parked the car right there in the middle of the street. Before Patty or I knew what was happening, she had dragged us out after her, marching us down the street toward Old Serena as surely as she had marched us down the aisle at church at Easter in our Sunday finest.

“Serena Duchamp, I have a bone to pick with you!” Mama called. “What’s this I hear about you giving my Patty the evil eye? I’ll have the law on you if you don’t take it back.”

“Becca Smithson,” Old Serena began, her dark eyes narrowed to slits and a bony finger pointing at Mama’s nose. “You ought to know better than to go threatening Old Serena. Haven’t I been keeping your secrets safe all these many years?”

Mama sputtered and drew herself up to all of her five feet, two inches. Her thin body shook and her head stuck out forward on her neck and I suddenly realized just how much like a barnyard chicken she looked. Nervous, clucking and trying to bully everyone around her. . . .

Well, Old Serena was having none of it. Instead of cowering like most folks would, she turned to Patty, jabbing a finger in her direction. Patty might be many things, but brave she’s not. Her blue eyes went wide and she quickly hid behind our mother’s skirts, just like she was three years old, not fifteen.

“Mama, see! She’s trying to put the evil eye on me again!”

I’ll admit, the look in Old Serena’s eye was anything but kind. But I didn’t think she would try the evil eye here, in the middle of Main Street.

Or would she?

“Becca Smithson, you and that chit of a daughter of yours have done gone and insulted Old Serena. You’d best be apologizing before I decide to take offense.”

Most folks living in Mossy Creek know better than to upset Old Serena. Word around town was that she’d been there almost as long as the town itself. Now, even at eleven, I knew that probably wasn’t true. No one, no matter how mean they might be, lived to be nearly two hundred even if, like Serena, they looked that old to my young eyes. Still, it never hurt to be careful.

Unfortunately, my mama wasn’t “most folks”. No indeed. In fact, faced with Old Serena’s anger, Mama proceeded to act all high and mighty – which was more than a bit funny considering we most definitely did not life on the right side of the tracks. Never had and probably never would. Not that it had ever stopped Mama from putting on airs.

“Serena Duchamp, not only will my Patty Ann not apologize to you, but you will apologize to her or I swear I’ll talk to Sheriff Metzinger. You can’t be going around town, threatening our youngsters just because it suits you.”

I swear, in that moment, the world stood still. The birds stopped singing. Traffic, what little there was in Mossy Creek, came to a standstill. The few folks on the street seemed to magically disappear, only to reappear not only far down the street but on the opposite side as well. They knew, as my mama should have, that you just don’t threaten Old Serena. Not if you want to continue living a peaceful life.

Old Serena, her features granite hard, pointed the first two fingers of her right hand at my mama, almost as if each was aiming at one of Mama’s eyes. Her lips moved and soft words emerged. I couldn’t hear them, not really. But I swear I saw a black cloud settle over both Mama and Perfect Patty. Now, all these years later, I try to convince myself I imagined it. But then those skeletons in the closet started raising such a ruckus and I have to wonder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mama, pale as ice, her hands so cold you would have thought she must be suffering from frostbite, grabbed Patty and me by our arms and dragged us off. The moment we were in the car, the doors safely shut and locked behind us, she made the sign of the cross. This always struck me as strange since Mama is a dyed in the wool Southern Baptist. Just then, however, it seemed like a pretty good idea and both Patty and I did the same.

By the time we got home, Mama had gotten over her fear and was in a fine temper. She railed on at poor Papa, demanding he do something. After all, if he loved her and Patty, he would stand up for them and make that old witch pay. Nothing Papa said made any difference. The only way there would be peace in the house would be if he had it out with Old Serena and the sooner, the better.

So, promising Mama he would take care of it, Papa told me to get into the pickup. Why I had to go, I didn’t know. Frankly, I didn’t care. The last thing I wanted was to see Old Serena again so soon. But I could tell this wasn’t the time to say anything. Besides, with Mama in one of her moods, it was probably safer to face Old Serena than to stay home.

Papa surprised me that afternoon. Instead of going to confront Old Serena and demand not only an apology but a jar of her finest honey – she did have a way with the bees no one else in town could duplicate – he took me to the Custer farm. There he bought two of their finest hens. We made another stop at Crandall’s Smokehouse. Soon we were on our way to Old Serena’s, the hens and a large smoked ham in the bed of the pickup. We were, according to my papa, going to make amends.

Mind you, Old Serena never was and never will be that mad old woman you see in the movies. Unless you upset her, she looked like your favorite aunt or teacher – your very old favorite aunt or teacher. Nor did she live in some tumbled down shack at the back of a swamp. For one thing, there aren’t any swamps nears Mossy Creek. For another, Old Serena comes from even older money. Her house sat at the edge of town and consisted of several thousand acres of pasture land. As for those hens in the back of our truck, they weren’t going to be sacrificed in some black rite, at least not unless you call frying them up for dinner black magic.

Papa drove our battered truck down the tree-lined lane and parked. Before he switched off the engine, the double white doors of the plantation-style house opened and there stood Old Serena, a welcoming smile on her face.

“Welcome, Jacob, and you too, young Lexie.” She took Papa’s hands in hers and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you, ma’am.” My papa’s always been a man of few words. That’s especially true when dealing with trouble Mama’s caused. “Lexie and I brought you some nice hens and a real fine smoked ham, Miss Serena. We hope you’ll accept them and our apologies for the unpleasantness of this afternoon.”

“Why thank you, Jacob.” She peered into the bed of the truck and smiled even wider. “You and Lexie have always been so good to me, just like your dear mama. The two of you have nothing to apologize for.”

“My mama remembers all you and yours have done for us, ma’am, unlike some other members of my family. I truly am sorry for how they’ve behaved.”

“Your mama’s a good woman, Jacob, and she raised you right.” She looked at me, her head cocked to one side, her expression thoughtful. I fought the urge to fidget under that intense gaze. “And you, young miss, you remind me very much of your grandma.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” I beamed. As far as I was concerned, there was no higher praise than being like my granny, the woman whose name I bore.

“Lexie, you be sure to tell her not to worry. I know she’s been doing poorly. But she will be around for a long time, making sure certain members of your family don’t cause too much trouble.” Now Old Serena smiled and a cold shill ran through me. “In fact, I’d say certain members of your family will be hanging around much longer than expected just to be sure Becca and those two brats of hers –” Another smile and I knew she didn’t mean me – “don’t cause you and your papa here any trouble.”

Papa thanked Old Serena – what else could he do? – unloaded the chickens and ham and off we went. Mama’s anger was terrible that night as she called him all kinds of names for not being a man and doing as he was told. He’d simply sat there. I’d be tempted to say he ignored her except there had been a strange little smile on his lips. It was as if he knew something was going to happen and he couldn’t wait to see it.

Old Serena had been right about one thing. My granny was “doing poorly”. She had been for a long time and nothing the doctors did seemed to help. We all knew it was only a matter of time before Granny passed. I had hoped Old Serena was right when she said Granny would be around for a long time but I didn’t believe it. Young as I was, I knew Death would soon come for her.

Two weeks later, Granny passed. Mama didn’t even try to hide how glad she was that Granny was finally gone but I knew. She had never liked Granny. She was always saying how Granny never thought she was good enough for my papa and how Granny was always trying to run their lives. It wasn’t true, but it had been Mama’s mantra for so many years, she actually believed it.

My mama might not have liked my granny but the church ladies sure did and they came out in force to make sure everything was perfect for the funeral and the gathering afterwards. More food than I had ever seen filled the tables of the church’s meeting hall and practically the whole town turned out for the service. After we watched Granny’s coffin being lowered into the ground, Brother Billy invited everyone back to the church for lunch. For a few hours, at least, I was able to listen to those who had known my granny best talk about her and share their memories of their old friend.

That night, missing Granny more and more with each passing minute, I did my best to ignore Bubba’s teasing and Perfect Patty’s demands for more of the chocolate cake Mama had brought home from the church. My feet felt like they weighed a million pounds as I slowly climbed the narrow stairs to my bedroom. The house seemed so empty without Granny and I knew nothing would ever be the same. Gone was my protector and the one person besides Papa I knew I could always rely upon, no matter what.

With Barney Bear in my arms, I cried myself to sleep.

And woke early the next morning to the sounds of someone moving around in the kitchen below my bedroom. For a moment, it was as though the clock had been rolled back more than a year. Until Granny’s stroke, every morning started with her in the kitchen, busy cooking our breakfasts and getting bread ready to bake. Mama used to complain about it, saying how it was just another way Granny kept her from being the “woman of the house”. Of course, she really complained once Granny got sick and couldn’t do it any longer. Mama cooking breakfast lasted all of a week before she decided it was time of us kids to learn to feed ourselves.

A smile touched my lips as the good memories temporarily kept the sadness at bay. I lay there, listening to the clank of the iron skillet as it was placed on the stove. The sounds of a spoon striking the sides of a mixing bowl as eggs were beaten followed. Soon, the tantalizing smell of bacon frying made its way upstairs. A door opened. Impatient steps, the unmistakable clip-clop of my mother’s mules, on the staircase. A scream!

Mama’s scream!

The wooden floor was cold under my bare feet. Somehow, I’d gotten out of bed and stood in the hallway outside my room. Bubba and Patty stood in their doorways, looking like scared little mice. Papa raced downstairs, his old plaid robe flapping, his feet bare.

Mama screeched again and I rushed downstairs, just ahead of Bubba and Patty. Papa stood in the doorway, shaking his head, an expression on his face I couldn’t identify.

Mama stood a few feet away, hands over her face and shaking like a leaf. And there, at the stove just as she had been almost every day of my life, stood my granny. She wore her best dress, the one we’d buried her in. Her snow white hair was mussed a bit. For once, she was barefoot and I wondered if they’d buried her that way. That was just wrong. Why bury someone in their best Sunday-go-to-church outfit but not their shoes?

“Becca Smithson, you quit your caterwauling,” Granny scolded, waving her wooden spoon before her like a wand. “You’d think you’d never seen me in this kitchen before.”

Mama moved her fingers apart just a fraction. She opened her eyes an even smaller fraction. Then she let out another screech and hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Granny stood at the stove and shook her head. No doubt about it, she sure didn’t approve of Mama fainting. Dead or alive, Granny expected you to behave and dropping to the floor like a felled tree just wasn’t done in her books.

“Jacob, you’d best be picking her up,” Granny said as she turned back to the stove long enough to move the frying pan off the burner. “And you, Patty Ann.” A glance over her shoulder had Perfect Patty trying to hide behind Bubba, which was pretty funny considering how he was doing his best to disappear into the far wall. “You can quit that sniveling and set the table.”

“B-b-but you’re dead!” Patty stammered, ignoring Bubba as he tried to free himself from her death grip around his neck. I guess Patty figured if she couldn’t hide behind him, she would just try to be as close to a second skin on him as she could. Not a bad idea really, considering he would do just about anything to save his skin, especially from one of Granny’s thrashings.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t sit down to eat like civilized folk.” Granny flipped the crisp strips of bacon onto a paper towel on the countertop next to the stove. “And didn’t Miss Serena tell you all that I’d be around for a long time?” She pinned each of us with a look we knew meant we’d best be agreeing and nothing else.

That was just the beginning. No matter what Mama did, Granny was there. Now I’ll admit, we’ve used more than our fair share of candles and Granny didn’t quite keep her looks. Fortunately, Mr. Perez knew a few renewal tricks. Once a month or so he’d come out to the house to give Granny her treatments. After a while, we sort of got used to having her around. Although Mama never stayed for long in the same room with her, which meant Granny once more reigned supreme over the kitchen.

Now, don’t go thinking things got any easier for Mama. Since Granny’s return, four more family members have passed on – and come back home to stay. The first was Uncle Matt, my papa’s older brother. Uncle Matt had gone out hunting one day with his favorite hound and his favorite beer and, well, he’d enjoyed his beer a little too much. Mr. Perez did his best, but Uncle Matt will never look the same after taking that shotgun blast to his face. When he showed up in the kitchen the morning after his funeral, coffee sort of dribbling from what had been his lower lip, Mama had repeated her performance from the morning of Granny’s return and had hit the kitchen floor with a thud.

For a while, the town did look at us kind of strangely. After all, not everyone has their relatives rising from their graves and taking up residence back at the old homestead. Oh, there are the odd ghosts and other spirits here and there, not to mention a few other things you don’t discuss in polite society, but our family was different. However, no one had any cattle mutilated and no small children disappeared. There weren’t even any corpses found with their brains missing. So our friends and neighbors slowly started coming around again, especially once they realized Old Serena was a regular visitor.

This past year, Granny and Uncle Matt have been joined by Aunt Minnie, my second cousin Annabelle and my Great-Uncle Homer. When Annabelle, who before she died at the ripe old age of ninety two insisted on wearing pink dresses with lots of lace and bows and wearing enough lilac water you smelled her five minutes before she arrived, appeared at the breakfast table the morning after her funeral, Bubba simply walked out the door. He hasn’t been back home since. Not that it is any great loss, although Mama laments his going. She is convinced Patty will be next and that she will never see her babies again.

You notice she has no such concerns about me nor does she seem to remember when she starts crying about her sad lot in life that she sees Bubba almost daily in town and he still shows up at the edge of our property once a week where Mama meets him. He then hands over any laundry he has to be done. You see, I still take too much after Papa’s side of the family, all of whom seem to be taking up residence with us after they pass.

“You’re looking mighty thoughtful, Lexie,” Granny commented as she poured me a cup of coffee. “Is something eating at you?”

I smiled, doing my best to ignore the fact it was past time for Mr. Perez to come give her another treatment. Come to think of it, Uncle Matt’s nose was more crooked than usual and the lilac water wasn’t quite covering the aroma that was Cousin Annabelle. There were definite downsides to having walking corpses living – er, residing – with you. The smell is just one of them.

“Sorry, Granny, just thinking.”

And thinking hard. Old Serena was due in less than an hour for her weekly game of dominos with Granny. Great-Uncle Homer joined them sometimes, if they could convince Papa to sit and play. I think Papa did it just to get back at Mama. She’d never liked Homer and now that he lived in our front closet and refused Mr. Perez’s treatments unless Granny made him, Mama absolutely detested him. Of course, the fact his nose had fallen right off and into the gravy boat during Sunday dinner hadn’t helped. Now Mama mainly took her meals in her room, refusing to eat with the rest of the family except when absolutely necessary.

Not that Granny and the others really ate. Oh, they went through the motions, but it was more habit than anything else I think. They’re dead, after all, so they don’t need sustenance. Still, it is mighty disconcerting sitting at the kitchen table with folks who ought to be six feet under.

They had passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet — snippet 1

This is a work in progress. Some of you may have read an earlier version. There may, and very probably will, be changes made before the final work is published. That includes the title. Skeletons in the Closet is a working title. Other than that, all the standard disclaimers apply. This work is © Amanda S. Green 2016.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, leave a comment in the comments section with contact information. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.

For those looking for snippets from Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) , those will begin in two weeks.

In the Beginning. . . .

 

All my life, my mama’s tried to raise me to be a proper lady. No, that’s not quite right. She has tried to raise me to be a proper Southern lady, full of refinement and grace, dressed in lace and delicate pastels. To hear her talk, it’s been a futile effort that has caused her more than her fair share of gray hair. Where the lace and pastels are concerned, she’s right. I’m more of a jeans and tee shirt sort of gal. I’ll choose a pair of running shoes or boots any day over heels designed solely as torture devices for the women who wear them. Even so, she has managed to get me to say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir”. For the most part, I’m respectful of my elders, even when they don’t deserve it. I even wear clean underwear when I leave the house – usually without any extraneous holes in them – because Mama is convinced some rampaging bus will find me and strike me down, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

I swear, I think it is her life’s dream that will actually happen. You see, in her world, a trip to the ER has only one possible ending. The handsome, rich and oh-so-conveniently single doctor who saves my life will fall madly in love with me and immediately propose marriage. What Mama seems to forget is that in a bus vs. me battle, the bus will always win. So, unless the doctor is also a re-animator, he would be falling for a corpse and, well, ewwww!

Besides, having somehow managed to survive a close encounter of the nearly fatal kind, the last thing I’d be interested in is finding a man to settle down and raise a passel of kids with. Not that it would deter Mama one little bit. Heck, she would probably arrive at the ER with her minister firmly in tow and a marriage license burning a hole in her hand bag, all ready to fill in the blanks to make me a married woman before I could back out – or run to the hills.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my mama rarely lets reality interfere with her plans.

Don’t get me wrong. I can usually deal with Mama’s plans and manipulations. I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out how. All I have to do is make sure I look both ways before crossing the street. Of course, the odds of a bus hitting me here in Mossy Creek are about as good as the odds of Hell freezing over. So I figure I’m safe – at least for the time being.

Knock on wood.

Because sure as my name’s Lexie Smithson, the minute I get married and move out, Mama will be packing her bags to join me. It won’t matter if I want her to or not. It wouldn’t even matter if I was moving across the country, or across the ocean. All she would care about is finally being able to get away from Papa, the rest of the family and, most of all, Mossy Creek. It wouldn’t even matter that I’m the least favorite of her kids.

Like I said, reality rarely interferes with my mama’s plans.

Of course, being the ungrateful and unobliging child that I am, I have no more found a bus to hit me than I’ve been able to keep the family skeletons in the closet. The former I have no control over. Well, I do but it’s not something I have any intention of trying. I’m not as optimistic as Mama about what the outcome of bus vs. me would be. As for the latter, I swear I don’t mean to let the family skeletons out. At least not usually. It’s just that they make so much noise, what with all their moaning and the rattling of their bones, that sometimes I just can’t help it.

Of course, it doesn’t help Mama’s disposition that it always seems to happen at the worst possible time. Like when her women’s group was meeting in our parlor last Sunday after church. Mama had just served the iced tea and lemon pound cake. She had even managed to make the house smell more like a garden than a funeral parlor. Everything had been as close to perfect as was ever possible at our place.

Then Aunt Minnie decided she just had to join in on the fun.

Now I ask you, was it my fault she wanted to be part of the meeting? She had been a member of that women’s group since the very first meeting more than twenty years ago. Everyone there knew her. Then there’s the fact Mama knew shew as there – how could she forget? Besides, all Aunt Minnie had wanted was to find out what the no-account scoundrel of an ex-husband of hers had been doing with the new church secretary. Really.

I swear, those women sure did overreact when Aunt Minnie rattled in and sat down on the settee t to Miss Pearl. You would have thought Miss Pearl had seen a ghost the way she shrieked and then fainted dead away Okay, maybe Aunt Minnie smelled a bit. But we had buried her in her best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress and it was just as pretty that afternoon as it had been at her funeral six months ago. Mr. Perez, the local undertaker, had been by just the day before to give Aunt Minnie one of her treatments. So she looked pretty much like she had before she passed. Sure, her skin sagged a bit more than it used to and she had a slightly yellow tinge to her, but that was all, really.

Besides, old Missus McIntyre was wearing enough lilac scent to cover the smell. Not to mention I know for a fact that Miss Pearl’s house is haunted and she often has afternoon tea with the ghost of her great-great granddaddy. So why she had to overreact so to Aunt Minnie, I’ll never know.

Those old biddies scattered like dandelion parachutes in a strong wind the moment Miss Pearl hit the floor. It took me more than an hour to calm poor Aunt Minnie and coax her back into her closet. I don’t know if she will ever come out again and that’s a darned shame. She was always the best at gossiping and, honestly, there’s not much else to do in this backwater town on a cold Sunday afternoon – or just about any other time, come to think of it.

Now Mama, well, she was beside herself with frustration, indignation and mortification. Even as she swept up the last of the lemon pound cake from the carpet where Mary Beth Tully dropped it on her mad dash for freedom, Mama blamed me. She swears I do things like this solely to embarrass her. I’m the ungrateful child, you see, not perfect like my sister Patty and certainly not important like my brother Brett, also known as Bubba – which he just happens to be.

No, I’m too much like my granny, the bane of Mama’s existence even now, ten years after Granny drew her last breath. Mind you, Granny might have passed, but like Aunt Minnie, she didn’t pass on.

Maybe I ought to explain. My family has never been what you might call “normal”. We have had more than our fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek do, especially when, like us, they live on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Perfect Patty came home complaining about how Old Lady Serena had given her the evil eye.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been the same since.

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