Yesterday was spent mainly fighting a migraine. Between the weather change, allergies, tension and who knows what else, the head hurt badly enough to lay me mow most of the day. Even so, I did manage to get some writing done. Surprisingly enough, I managed to work on both Skeletons in the Closet (you can find the first snippet of it here) and on Monday Morning Blues. But no editing happened. All tolled, I managed a little over 5,000 words. That’s pretty good but not what I was hoping for. Hopefully, today will be better.
The good news is that Duty from Ashes does seem to be doing pretty well in the pre-order department. If you like military sci-fi and space opera, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider giving it a try.
I think what I’m going to do is post what I write for NaNo here, at least the first few chapters or so. We’ll see how it goes. That means you’ll be seeing the very rough, just input without any editing version of the project. So there will be problems with spelling, the occasional word choice, grammar and punctuation — the general sort of thing that gets cleaned up during the editorial process. Of course, everything here is copyrighted 2014 by me and all legal disclaimers apply. Don’t make me send the Demon Kitten after you 😉
Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 2
“Mama, I swear to you, I didn’t anything,” Patty whined. Of course Patty always whined. Except when she tried to sound sultry for whoever was the boyfriend of the day. “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.”
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 hadn’t had on when she left for school that morning. Makeup she wasn’t supposed to own, let alone wear. I’d have bet almost anything that Patty was making it all up, just so she wouldn’t get in trouble.
Mama threw on her white sweater with its fake pearls, 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 go getting me wrong. I’m not completely sure Old Serena’s a real witch. She might 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 has never been the same.
Of course, Mama hadn’t left Perfect Patty and me at home when she’d gone on her quest to defend her eldest daughter. No, she’d piled us in her old sedan and off we’d gone, driving the streets of Misty Creek – not 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 road. Before Patty or I knew what was happening, she’d dragged us out after her, marching us down the street toward Old Serena as surely as she’d marched us down the aisle at church for our first communions.
“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 folk 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 eyes was anything but kind. But I didn’t think she’d try the evil eye here, in the middle of Main Street. 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 Misty 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. Still, it never hurt to be careful.
Unfortunately, my mama wasn’t “most folk”. No indeed. In fact, faced with Old Serena’s anger, Mama proceeded to act all high and mighty – which was mighty funny considering we did not live on the right side of the tracks. Never had and probably never would. Not that that had ever stopped Mama from putting on airs.
“Serena Duchamp, not only will my Patty Ann not apologize to you, but you’ll apologize to her or I swear I’ll talk to Sheriff Metzinger. You can’t be going around 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 is in Misty 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 start raising a ruckus and I have to wonder.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mama, pale as ice, her hands so cold you’d have thought she must be suffering from frostbite, grabbed Patty and me by the arm and dragged us off. The moment we were safe in the car, the doors shut and locked behind us, she made the sign of the cross. This always struck me as strange since Mama is a died-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 poor Papa, demanding he do something. After all, if he loved her and Patty, he’d stand up for them and make that old witch pay. Nothing Papa said made any difference. The only way there’d be peace in the house would be if he had it out with Old Serena.
So, promising Mama he’d 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 also a jar of her finest honey – she did have a way with the bees no one could duplicate – he took me to the Custer farm. There he bought two of their finest hens. We made another stop at Crandalls’ 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 y our 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 anywhere near Misty Creek. For another, Old Serena comes from old money. Her house sat at the edge of town and consisted of almost 200 acres of pasture land. And the only sacrifice those hens in the back of our pickup weren’t about to be sacrificed, not unless you call frying them up for dinner sacrificing them.
Papa drove our battered truck down the tree-lined drive and parked. Before he switched off the engine, the double white doors opened and there stood Old Serena, a smile on her face.
“Welcome, Jacob, and you too, Lexie.” She took Papa’s hands and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you, ma’am.” My father’s always been a man of few words. That’s especially true when having to deal 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 this afternoon.”
“Why thank you, Jacob.” She peered into the bed of the truck and smiled even wider. “You and Lexie have always been real 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’s 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’ll 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 chill 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 her – ” 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 – unleaded 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’d been a strange little smile on his lips. It was as if he knew something was going to happen and couldn’t wait to see it.
Old Serena had been right about one thing. My grandma 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’d hoped Old Serena was right when she said Granny would be around for a long time, but I didn’t believe. Young as I was, I knew Death would soon come for her.
Two weeks later, Granny passed. Mama tried not to show how glad she was that Granny was finally gone, but I knew. She’d 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. More food than I’d ever seen filled the tables of the meeting hall and practically the whole town turned out for the service. After we watched her coffin be 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’d 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 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 felt so empty without Granny and nothing would ever be the same. Gone was my protector and the one person besides Papa I knew I could always rely upon.
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 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 on 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 for us kids 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!
The wooden floor was cold under my bare feet. Somehow, I’d gotten out of my 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, a look 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’d 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 she’d been buried that way. That was just wrong. Why bury someone in their best go-to-church outfit but not their shoes?
“Becca Smithson, 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 an even smaller fraction. Screeched 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 should had Perfect Patty trying to hide behind Bubba, which was really funny considering how he was doing his best to disappear into the 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’d just try to be as close to a second skin on him as she could. Not a bad idea really, considering he’d 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 used more than our fair share of candles, and Granny didn’t quite keep her looks. Fortunately Mister 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 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 hit the kitchen floor with a thud.
For awhile, the town did look at us kind of strangely. After all, not everyone has their relatives rising from the graves and taking up residence back at the old homestead. But 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, Bubba simply walked out the door. He hasn’t been back since. Not that it’s any great loss, although Mama laments his going. She’s convinced Patty will be next and that she’ll never see her babies again. You notice, she has no such concerns about me. But then, I 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 might 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 five 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. Uncle Leroy 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 Leroy and now that he lived in our front closet and refused Mr. Perez’s treatments unless Granny made him, she 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 at. Oh, they went through the motions, but it was more habit I think than anything else. They’re dead, after all, so they don’t need sustenance. Still, it’s mighty disconcerting sitting at the kitchen table with folks who ought to be six feet under.
They’d passed, but not passed on.