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Thursday, November 14, 2019

PROMO: From Hell to Heaven


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Memoir
Date Published: November 5, 2019
Publisher: MBK Enterprises, LCC / Spotlight Publishing

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Sophal was born in Takeo, Cambodia, a small town near the Vietnamese border on July 16th, 1970. At the tender age of five the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia forcing all city dwellers into the countryside and labor camps.  During their rule, it is estimated that nearly 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, torture or execution.  Having survived the horrible suffering and nightmares of the killing fields, at the very young age of fourteen, she and her family of seven arrived in the United States as refugees.

Beginning life anew in Hummelstown, PA was not without its challenges.  Having never had a formal education, she entered school for the first time at age fourteen, without knowing a word of English, an Asian child in a classroom of white children, who, having their parents talk of the Vietnam war, did not take kindly to someone so different from themselves.

Sophal’s touching story will grip you, as she talks about the struggles of adapting to life in the U.S. and her journey to discovering herself. She shares her story to inspire others to understand that they do not need to live a life of victimhood and that they can indeed overcome the trials life brings to them.

Sophal’s deep spiritual connection to God has been her saving grace. She describes herself as a child of the King of Kings, a wife, mom of 3 kids, a grandma (aka) Glamma, and a partner business owner. She lives a busy, productive life. While her journey has not been an easy one, she knows that the road that she took has made her a champion for life.

Sophal’s touching, powerful personal story will touch and inspire you and demonstrates her unfailing mindset that her life is destined for success.


About the Author

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As a survivor of Killing Field coming to this country without having anything, never had formal education, and don’t speak the language.  How do I overcome and strive in the world that some or most Americans struggling to make sense in their lives?  I want to share my story to inspire people that they don’t have to be the victim of this world and that they also can overcome anything.

I am a child of the King of kings, a wife, a mom of 3 kids, a grandma (aka) Glamma and a partner business owner.  My life is buzzzzzz.  How do busy people make time?  People that know me say Sophal, you make everything look so easy.  I know one thing if you want anything to get done, just ask the busy person. I think most busy people know how to work around the clock and still look glamorous! I am one of those people who came from an un-privilege background all the odds against me.  It was not an easy road to be on but that is one of the journeys that makes everything worth living for that end-gold my heaven and my champions.  I know that road that I took designed just for me so that I can be the champion for my life.   


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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Blog Tour: Once You Know


Non Fiction / Body, Mind, Spirit / Inspiration & Personal Growth

Date Published: November 5th 2019
Publisher : Acorn Publishing

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Our children are our hope, our future, our everything. Yet, we are often very unaware of the consequences of our actions, and the impact they have on our children’s future. The dangers of our lack of awareness are real. For the first time in history, our children’s life expectancy is shorter than ours. It is our duty as parents to educate ourselves and help our children thrive. This book is:



·  An invitation to take a deeper look at the cultural influence on our children’s health.

·  A helpful resource for parents who wish to take an active role in preserving their children’s health in today’s toxic environment.

·  An empowering guide with life-changing information that most of us don’t have.

Once you know, you can make changes. NOW is the time to act.


Excerpt

What is happening right now



As participants in modern society, our bodies are exposed to startling numbers of chemicals from the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the products we consume. For instance, did you know that many pregnant women and their children are exposed to far more chemical toxins today than a few decades ago? Most newborns today have chemical contaminants in their blood right from birth. Did you know that much of the food sold in the U.S. is far inferior in quality compared to the same foods sold in other nations? Or that some food dyes used in the U.S., if not banned outside the U.S., require a warning notice because they have been shown to cause hyperactivity and cancer? Or did you know that GMOs need to be labeled in many countries but not in the U.S.?



The combination of excessive amounts of toxicity, coupled with a deficit in nutritious and immune boosting foods, is devastating for the physical and mental development of our children.



Furthermore, our minds are exposed to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in a kind of information overload that includes a lot of negative images. In emergency situations, staying aware of what is happening is indeed a good thing, but in our day-to-day lives, constant negative input can and will influence our thoughts, our happiness, and our health.



Our mental health is an increasing concern in this day and age. It’s especially important to analyze the way we treat it. For example, in the U.S., ADHD is considered a biological disorder and is treated with medications such as Ritalin. In other countries, the causes of ADHD are believed to be psycho-social and situational. Therefore the treatment is focusing on improving the child’s social context rather than prescribing a drug. In the U.S., we use more antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs than any other country, even starting treatment in patients as young as 2 or 3 years old.



The use of these drugs validates the gut-brain connection. If we are using oral drugs like antidepressants to influence the mood, why not use this connection and positively affect our mental health with the right foods? In the same way, why not provide a positive environment and use our media-infused culture to feed our mind happy and uplifting information?



In today’s society, our souls do not get much attention, time or space anymore, even though studies show that spirituality has a clear impact on our mental health and wellness. Spirituality is associated with significantly lower rates of depression, substance abuse, risk-taking, or thrill seeking. Nothing else known to science and medicine has such a broad-reaching and powerful preventative influence on the daily decisions that make or break health and wellness.






About the Author

Agnes Deglon is a biochemist, oriental medicine practitioner, and the mother of two young boys. She is a passionate children’s health advocate. In the few years she spent in the acupuncture clinic, she came to the conclusion that it is easier to preserve health than to cure disease. 

Aside from ONCE YOU KNOW A Guide to Preserving Your Child’s Health, Agnes is the author of the children’s book series, Kids’ Questions About Life, an educational book series written in simple language for parents, teachers, and kids who are pondering the deeper, more complex yet so essential issues of life. Book two in the series,Wait for me! Would you Mind?, won first place in the 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award. Book three, The Little Souls, was a finalist. 

You can visit her online at WWW.AGNESDEGLONBLOG.COM


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PROMO: Storm of Secrets


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Book two in the Haunted Bluffs Mystery Series
Mystery (with elements of the paranormal and whispers of romance)
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books, distributed by Penguin Random House
Date Published: November 12, 2019

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A deadly storm, a missing three-year-old child, a suspicious death, and the eerie presence of the spirits of the dead set the stage for the second mesmerizing installment of Loretta Marion's paranormal suspense series.

A powerful storm descends upon Cape Cod's Whale Rock at the peak of tourist season--and the weekend Cassandra Mitchell's and Daniel Benjamin's wedding is set to take place at The Bluffs, the magnificent Victorian mansion Cassie inherited from her family. In the wake of the storm's destruction, three-year-old Lucas Kleister goes missing--and the body of small-time drug dealer Lee Chambers is found in a restaurant dumpster. Now, the WRPD are faced with a murder to solve, a missing child to find, and the aftermath of one of the worst storms in recent memory.

While aiding with the clean-up and helping the displaced, Cassie has been receiving cryptic messages from the spirits of her great-grandparents, Percy and Celeste Mitchell, the original residents of The Bluffs. At first, the messages are benign, but soon, they begin to point to something more sinister. As Cassie works to decipher their meaning, the specter of a mysterious local legend surfaces. The tale of Barnacle Boy--and what happened to him during another destructive storm decades earlier--will weave through the desperate search to find Lucas and the identity of a killer.


"Modern and historic mysteries collide in Marion's bittersweet storytelling."
—Kirkus Reviews

“[A] gripping sequel...Marion seamlessly weaves the multiple story threads together. Fans of tales of regional intrigue will be satisfied.”




Excerpt


On the short walk to my car, a sparkle caught my eye on the ground near a temporary dumpster behind La Table, the new location of my old flame Billy Hughes’s catering business.

Later, I reflected on how different things would have been had I not been so curious.

What if I hadn’t had the dress fitting today? What if I hadn’t parked in Archie’s space? What if I hadn’t gone out the back door of his shop? What if I hadn’t gone over to examine what was glittering next to the dumpster?

“The what ifs and should haves will eat your brain.” It was a quote of John O’Callaghan’s, from his book of poetry entitled, Sincerely, John the Ghost—ironically, a gift from Zoe, who’d always eschewed the notion of Percy’s and Celeste’s spirits.

The point is, if I hadn’t done all those things, then I wouldn’t have seen that glint on the ground and gone over to check out what it was. Most crucially, I would never have noticed a hand through the rusted-out hole in the dumpster.

A very dead hand.



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About the Author

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A true bibliophile, Loretta Marion's affection for the written word began in childhood and followed her like a shadow throughout her life as she crafted award-winning marketing and advertising copy and educational brochures. She then applied her writing skills as a volunteer, establishing a Legacy Story program for hospice patients, which inspired her to create her own fictional stories. Her debut novel, The Fool's Truth, is a twisty mystery set in Maine. Her Haunted Bluffs Mystery Series is set on Cape Cod and was introduced by Crooked Lane Books in 2018 beginning with HOUSE OF ASHES. Her newest release, STORM OF SECRETS, is the second book of the series.

When not whipping out words on her laptop, she is traveling, enjoying outdoor pursuits, or is curled up with a delicious new book. Loretta lives in Rhode Island with her husband, Geoffrey.


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Monday, November 11, 2019

PROMO: The Conman


Sports Fiction (Baseball)
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Date Published: November 11, 2019

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Conor Nash has lived his life with a single purpose—to pitch in the Major Leagues. He’s been released from professional baseball contracts ten times over a sixteen-year career, but he’s overcome every obstacle to finally reach The Show when he’s a decade too old.

As he faces the specter of injury-forced retirement, he becomes a man neither he nor his wife recognizes. During his career, Conor avoided the trap of alcohol and drugs because his drug was baseball. And what can an addict do when he realizes he will never get that high again?

Conor climbs treacherous Camelback Mountain, drinks a bottle of Champagne, recalls people and events, and seeks an answer. Who is Conor Nash if he can’t pitch?

The Conman is based on the Life of Keith Comstock. Keith pitched professionally for sixteen years, including Major League time with The Seattle Mariners, the San Diego Padres, the San Francisco Giants and the Minnesota Twins. Following his retirement in 1992, Keith has held minor league coaching and managing positions with several organizations.  For the past decade he has served as the rehabilitation instructor for the Texas Rangers.

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CHAPTER ONE

October 1992

Phoenix, Arizona



Failure can be an acute condition, perhaps even chronic, but quitting—quitting is fatal.

Conor Nash believed this to his marrow.

No stranger to failure, Conor had been released from professional baseball contracts ten times. He’d been released by major league teams. He’d been released by minor league affiliates. He’d been released in five countries encompassing three continents. He wasn’t sure how to count Puerto Rico. And, technically, that release occurred in an aircraft somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. He’d had a contract when the plane took off. When it landed, they told him, “Go home.”

And Venezuela, well, they weren’t satisfied with just releasing him. A pissed-off dictator banned him from the entire country.

Hope remained, though, and ultimately, he’d kept his vow. Conor Nash pitched in the major leagues. So why did this champagne bottle clutched in his left hand cast a pall that felt like death?

Fat Brad Grady could have helped him sort through these confusing emotions. Brad loved debating the nuance of words, and he and Conor argued the semantics often enough. Where Conor saw a razor-sharp line distinguishing fail and quit, Brad found a middle ground he defined as surrender to reality or honorable retreat. Brad’s intellect would help make sense of Conor’s present struggle. Brad wasn’t available, though, was he? Conor closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to slough off the guilty anger he still confronted when he thought of Brad.

Conor set the champagne atop a flat red rock beside one of those damned jumping cactus plants. He bent forward, hands on knees. Everything around him conveyed hostile intent. Towering sajuaro their spines like nails, prickly pears, sharp-edged Spanish Daggers. The cholla cacti were worst, with needles that seemed to leap from the plant if you got too close.

Maybe he hadn’t thought this through.

This was an occasion, and he would not visit a host of family, friends and adversaries dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Cowboy boots, jeans and a knit polo were proving inappropriate, though, for scaling Camelback Mountain.

He squinted into the glare of afternoon sun and saw a pair of young women making their way down. They wore cargo shorts. Sweat-soaked tank tops seemed plastered to their skin. Their  hiking boots bit into the steep slant of red rock and sand surface.

Conor shaded his eyes, stood straight and did his best to look ten years younger.

“Hi,” he said.

They smiled politely and passed without comment.

Conor was not a womanizer. He’d put that behind him when he married Kate fifteen years ago. Still, if those women knew they’d been greeted by a genuine major league baseball player, they wouldn’t just hurry on their way, would they?

Then, he amended his thought. Ex-major league ballplayer.

Other hikers—all the traffic seemed to be headed down—offered curious glances at his clothing and champagne bottle. A few wished him success on his climb. He thought it a happy coincidence they were leaving. After all, he sought solitude at the camel’s hump.

  Retrieving the bottle, he craned his neck toward the summit. Damn. He didn’t remember the fucking mountain being this steep. A half dozen more steps and the slick soles of his cowboy boots betrayed him again. He caught himself with his free hand, protecting his Champagne. Breaking the bottle after all these years would be catastrophic.

French. Mo√ęt-Chandon. Purchased for twenty-five dollars at an Idaho Falls liquor store during the summer of 1976. Conor hadn’t a clue whether brand and vintage qualified as good, bad or indifferent. They’d been four minor league baseball players. Kids really. The last man standing pact was Conor’s idea. The player remaining when the other three had officially retired from their playing careers got to drink the champagne. Sports Illustrated published a story about this pact when Kenny Shrom  passed the bottle to Conor at when the1989 season ended.

The Idaho Falls Russets, a team named for a potato, represented minor league ladder’s lowest rung. And against all odds, three of the four pact members climbed from that first step to the majors. Mark Brouhard arrived first. He played a half-dozen seasons in Milwaukee, punctuated by a year with the Yakult Swallows, before Kenny took charge of the bottle. Kenny pitched for Minnesota and Cleveland until injury robbed him of 1988. His comeback the next season failed in El Paso.

Initially, the bottle sat on Conor’s garage shelf, subjected to a quiet indignity of shared space with wrenches and bicycle tires and motor oil. Then Kate pointed out it should probably be refrigerated. So, he made room at the back of his garage ice box. It loomed like a grim reaper each time he opened the fridge to grab a beer, and fed a sullen, brooding hostility that took seed following Conor’s final shoulder surgery.

Since second grade, Conor Nash had lived with a single purpose: to be a big-league pitcher. Even through high school, adults and friends indulged him with smiles and chuckles and, “Yes, but what if you don’t make the majors? What’s your back-up plan?”

The only adult who might have swayed him from his path had been his father. Hugh Nash cast an enormous presence. A brawler, he literally fought his way into a leadership role with the Teamsters at the Port of Oakland.

“Conor, I know what I’m supposed to tell you,” Hugh told his second-born son one grey fall Bay Area afternoon. Hugh had conceded he would not beat the lung cancer, and that his five sons would make their way into the adult world without him. He called each boy individually into the living room of the two-story house on Melendy Drive in San Carlos, California, to address their futures.

“Even though you had a good year in Idaho, there’s a long, tough road ahead,” he told Conor. A deep, rasping cough forced a pause. Conor made it a point not to wince or show concern, though he imagined what a painful fire the coughing built in his father’s lungs. Hugh’s failing body still held an iron will, and Conor would not acknowledge the cancer. As his cough subsided, Hugh drank from a glass of water, gathering himself.

“No matter what the scouts said, only something like four or five percent of kids drafted ever make the majors,” Hugh continued. “So, I’m supposed to say find something to fall back on, maybe school during the off-season, or see if I can hook you up driving a truck or working the docks.”

Hugh shook his head.

“I’m supposed say don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Conor, I’ve watched you try to change a tire. Son, you’ve only got one basket. That’s it. If you have a fall-back plan, that’s just what you’ll do—fall back. Since you were seven years old, you’ve aimed yourself like an arrow at one goal, and I’ve never seen anyone so focused, so single-minded. For the other boys, that would be a weakness. Not you. That’s your strength.”

And now, on an October afternoon sixteen years later, Conor climbed Camelback Mountain. Along with the bottle of champagne, he carried his father, his best friends—A.J., Basil, Brad—his brothers, his wife and children, a whole community of people who had celebrated his successes and commiserated over his shortcomings, teammates and coaches, both friend and foe. All who had shaped him for better or for worse.

He intended to sit atop a mountain overlooking Phoenix, drink his champagne, and reflect on people, places and events—try and understand what would become of Conor Nash now.

He honestly didn’t know, though, whether he was attending a party or a funeral.



About the Author


Mike Murphey is a native of eastern New Mexico and spent almost thirty years as an award-winning newspaper journalist in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Following his retirement from the newspaper business, he and his wife Nancy entered in a seventeen-year partnership with the late Dave Henderson, all-star centerfielder for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. Their company produced the A’s and Mariners adult baseball Fantasy Camps. They also have a partnership with the Roy Hobbs adult baseball organization in Fort Myers, Florida. Mike loves fiction, cats, baseball and sailing. He splits his time between Spokane, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona, where he enjoys life as a writer and old-man baseball player.



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Friday, November 8, 2019

Blog Tour: Senna's Secret


The Flowers of Avenel  Book 3
Contemporary Romance
Date Published: October 12, 2019

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Senna Lang knew that fairy tales didn’t come true. There was no prince desperately searching for her to rescue her from the humdrum monotony of life. And whenever her heart dared to hope that there was, she’d shut down that line of thought because it led to the dull, persistent pain centered in her heart. Most of the time she could ignore the ache, but sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder what her life could have been if she hadn’t screwed everything up with Josh ten years ago. Would they be living in a two-story bungalow with water views and wrap around porches on the idyllic town of Avenel? Would they have a couple of kids and a rambunctious but friendly dog?

Regardless of her hopes or fears, returning to Avenel would thrust her into Josh’s realm. He was her first, and she still wasn’t over him. Even though he didn’t know it, she carried a secret from their past that could change their lives forever.

Josh Turner couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d heard Senna was coming back, but he hadn’t known when. But when their paths crossed, the curves of her body took him on a slow trip through memory lane. She’d been his first love and his first heartbreak. After high school, she’d ghosted him and cut him out of her life as if he was a cancerous tumor to be tossed aside. He’d been heartbroken and angry, but as the years passed, his anger cooled to indifference, but being in her presence again unleashed a swell of emotions that he hadn’t expected. All their ‘firsts’ crashed through him like a tsunami and destroyed the barriers he’d erected around his heart. He’d thought he was over her. He wasn’t.

Everyone has secrets, but some secrets are too heavy to bear alone. Those need to be shared.



Review

Jaded by life, Senna isn't open in the beginning of this book. She's been hurt by life and decisions. What happens when you get a second chance? What would you do? 

I loved the journey for these characters. The past and present. The way the secrets unravel and they deal with them. Ups and downs, heartache and love. So much love for this read. 


About the Author

Karen Tjebben lives in central North Carolina with her wonderful husband and twin daughters. She loves traveling the world. Whether it’s to the heights of Yosemite, the white sands of the Caribbean, or even Down Under, she’s always ready to pack a bag in search of inspiration. She enjoys creating worlds filled with unique characters that will delight and raise goose bumps on her readers.


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PROMO: Things That Women Do



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Women’s Fiction
Date Published: September 13, 2019
Publisher: Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc.

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After Anna Shields receives an invitation from her estranged Aunt Lydia, she flies to Tennessee to find a number of older women-Tasha, Sadie, and Chloe-also living on Lydia's farm. Losing power during a blizzard, the women share dark and startling secrets. Skating between past and present, they reveal frighteningly desperate things that they have done. Anna begins to realize, to her shock, that these things are connected to her own past and become key to her future.


Excerpt



Chapter One

1985

Tasha watched from the kitchen window as the young woman and child made their way through her yard. The woman seemed to be carrying something large, and the little one was skipping along behind. Tasha dried her hands and lifted Riley from the high chair, dusting cookie crumbs from her shirt.

“Want to go outside to play?” Tasha asked her daughter.

Riley nodded. “On the jungagym?”

“Sure, on the jungagym.” Tasha thought if she were to design playground equipment, she’d call her company JungaGym. They went out the back door and into the yard, following the woman and child, dressed in matching overalls, marching past the garden towards the tobacco field, as if on a mission. Tasha couldn’t tell if the little one was a girl or boy with shoulder length hair. She wasn’t sure what the woman was carrying on her hip, either. Tasha thought the visitors more curious than dangerous—but she was new to the area, and this was unusual. As her husband Mack would say, “Be aware of your surroundings at all times.” He’d been in the military for half a minute, and this was his takeaway line.

“Hello?” Tasha called out.

The woman stopped and turned.

“I’m Tasha.” She waved as she approached. “Knightly. Tasha Knightly.”

“I’m Sadie. Sadie O’Grady. Nice to meetcha.” Sadie was wearing a white tank top under a pair of too-large bib overalls, unbuttoned at the hips. She was obviously very pregnant. Under one arm, she hefted a giant turtle.

The towheaded toddler holding his mother’s free hand was introduced as Jacob. He looked up at Tasha, his grin wide and toothy. She saw the same lace of flowers woven through his hair as his mother’s.

Sadie rubbed the bump of her belly. “And this guy, his name is Joshua, as soon as he gets here.” She looked down to Tasha’s knee, where Riley hung like a drunk on a lamppost with her thumb in her mouth. Tasha ruffled her fingers through Riley’s soft curls. “This is Riley, and obviously,” she gestured to the house behind her, “we’re new to the neighborhood.”

Sadie looked around to the bank of forest rising behind them, the open pasture before them, and the tobacco fields running beside them. “Haven’t you noticed you are the neighborhood?”

Tasha laughed. “I suppose you’re right. It’s me, my husband Mack, Riley, and the baby.” Tasha thumbed over her shoulder. “Lacy; she’s asleep in her crib. But yeah, that’s about it for the neighborhood. Just us.”

“Unless you count those cows over there.” Sadie pointed to the hill.

“I find comfort in the mooing.”

“I hear ya. Before we moved here, I’d mostly always lived in neighborhoods, in towns. That first night, I remember sittin’ on our porch, sayin’ to Jimmy, “It’s a stygian blackness—’”

“I’m sorry,” Tasha interrupted. “What sort of blackness?”

Sadie did not pause. “Stygian. It means extreme darkness, sometimes a forebodin’ sort of darkness. It’s from the River Styx.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Tasha admitted to Sadie. This was something unusual for her, admitting she didn’t know something. Usually, she’d pretend to know, try to grasp the gist of the topic, and listen. Listening seemed to be the greatest knowledge of all, to Tasha. Blurting her ignorance to this stranger in her yard with a turtle under her arm was not like Tasha; yet there was something innocuous about Sadie—a gentleness, with no judgement—making her somehow safe. Or at least that’s how it felt.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Sadie said. “I’ve been readin’ all about the underworld lately, Hades, and the River Styx is part of that story.”

“I like that word, stygian,” Tasha said.

“It’s a good one! Sounds just like what it means: ‘beyond darkness.’”

“Yes, ‘beyond darkness.’”

“It’s lonely,” Sadie mused, and stared across the field.

Tasha allowed Riley’s hand to slip from her own. The little girl had taken her thumb from her mouth and was eyeing Jacob, who was eyeing her back.

“That’s how it feels out here, sometimes. Especially when Mack is away on business, or hunting, or helping some old friend out of a jam.”

Sadie’s gaze narrowed. “Your husband…he’s gone a lot?”

“Let’s just say he’s not around a lot. I don’t mind, really. Sometimes it’s easier.”

“I understand. My Jimmy travels, but we’ve got cows, goats, chickens, and what have you. Can’t say I get very lonely.”

“You don’t? What about people? Don’t you get lonely for people?”

“Not really. You can’t see with your naked eye, but there are actually a bunch of us mamas and babies tucked into our own little coves all up and down this valley.”

“There are?”

“Sure! I happen to be your closest neighbor: just a quarter mile up the goat path.”

“Are those your goats I see every now and again?”

“They shouldn’t be. There’s a bunch of wild ones that run loose. Don’t let them near your kids; they’ll butt them.”

“Good to know.”

“If mine are this far, they’re too far. They’ve all got the same pink collars and jingle bells. And they won’t hurt you, unless you antagonize them somehow.” She hefted the turtle against her hip.

Tasha jerked forward. “Can I help you with that?” she offered, not really wanting to touch the turtle.

“No, that’s OK. I’m gonna let him go down by the creek.”

“Can I take Jacob? Hold onto to him while you make your deposit?”

Sadie pressed Jacob’s hand into Tasha’s palm and grabbed the turtle as it began to slide from her hip. She lifted it upside down, over her head. Her skinny arms concealed her strength as muscles flexed. She walked a high step through the tall field grass, seeking out the perfect spot. Spying a shaded area, she headed for the damp creek bank. Once there, she squatted and brought the turtle down carefully from her head, pointing it to the water. All the reptile’s limbs, tail, and head had retreated into the shell of his home. Sadie planted bunched fists on nonexistent hips. After some time, she toed it. She thought it might be dead, then decided, for no one reason, that it wasn’t. She turned and made her way back through the field towards Tasha, holding onto the toddlers.

“Can you stay for bit?” Tasha asked, as they walked towards the house. She gestured to a play area under the canopy of a big oak tree. There was a picnic table and lawn chairs cooling in the shade. Riley loosened from her mother, took Jacob’s hand, and skipped to the nearby sandbox.

“If you don’t mind, I’d love to sit down for a minute before headin’ back,” Sadie said, and made her way to a lawn chair.

“I’ll run in and check on the baby.” Tasha dashed by. “I’ll bring down some…tea? Sparkling water?”

“Water would be great,” Sadie mopped her brow, and was grateful for the breeze. She watched Jacob and Riley leave the sand box and head to the play fort. They’d crawled through a small doorway at the bottom, and were suddenly waving to her from the top.

“Mama! Do you see me?” Jacob called. “I’m up here!”

“Is that you, all dressed in shinin’ armor like a knight?”

“With a sword!” Jacob waved a thick stick out the opening as evidence.

“See me?” Riley shouted excitedly.

“In the gold cape, wearin’ a gold crown and holdin’ a gold wand? Is that you?”

“Me!” Riley stomped her feet, and shook a puny stick with authority.

Tasha carried a tray as she returned, laden with sweaty glasses of ice water, juice boxes, and an array of cheese and crackers. She set them on the table between the lawn chairs.

“Wow, you just whipped up a feast!” Sadie sat up and piled pieces of cheese on a few crackers. “I am a little hungry, I admit.”

“So, how’d you wind up bringing that giant turtle here?” Tasha asked, watching Jacob and Riley chattering away on the swings.

“This isn’t the first time he’s invaded my pond. They do bite, so I like to get him away from the kids and animals. In the past, I’ve set him loose over near Lydia’s place.”

“Lydia? Wintersen? The woman who paints birdhouses, down at the Sunday market?”

“Yep, that’s Lydia. She paints birdhouses, barn-board signs, stuff like that…Yep, that’s Lydia, all right.”

“Oh, she is just lovely. I bought an old milk can she’d painted with our name on it; it’s on our front porch.”

Sadie grinned, and looked away.

“What? Why do you think that’s funny?” Tasha asked. “Are you laughing that I put a milk can on my porch?”

Sadie waved her hand, “No! No, I think that’s sweet. No, I’m smilin’ because those milk cans, and birdhouses, and every what-not Lydia puts a paintbrush to…Well, folks just love ’em. Especially tourists.”

“Oh, I see. I’ve been sucked into a tourist trap?!” Tasha became indignant. “Well, I like to think of it as contributing to the local economy. Helping out the natives, and such.”

This made Sadie sputter the mouthful of water she’d taken. She giggled and shook her head.

“Now what’s so funny?”

“Oh, all those things she sells at the market, from her tool-paintings to those booties she knits are just pocket change to Lydia.”

“What do you mean?”

“Between Lydia Wintersen’s land holdin’s, rental properties, and stock market investments, believe you me, she’s got more money than the pope.”

“Then why is she selling her wares at the market?”

“Maybe because she wants you to think she’s poor, not because she’s actually poor, no—not even close.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Did you buy that milk can ’cause you thought some poor farmer was doing her best to make ends meet, or because you loved it?”

“Well…actually, I love it. And I was looking for something like it for the porch.”

Sadie shrugged, “OK, well, I might be wrong…”

Tasha laughed. “No, it was the birdhouse and booties I bought because I thought she was a poor farmer trying to make ends meet.”

“See!” Sadie leaned forward and raised her finger. “I rest my case. Lydia’s got her very own tourist trap goin’. It’s all based on the notion that folks love to come here, and want to take a little piece home. Lydia’s a part of that magic.”

“I can see that. I bought into it, for sure. I will say, I love my booties.”

Sadie laughed. “Well, you might not have need of another bird house, but you’ll want to keep buyin’ those booties. She sells them all over the country, you know. There’s usually a waitin’ list.”

“I did just order a pair for Mack. I had no idea how popular they are, not that it’s surprising.”

‘Honestly,” Sadie leaned forward as if about to confide a secret, and whispered, “I think Lydia’s big money actually comes from her real paintings.”

“The ones on the barn-boards?”

“No, Lydia’s a true painter. I mean, an artist. Her paintings are hangin’ in galleries all over the country. Big galleries, too!”

“Seriously?”

“I accidently saw a check for over ten grand stapled to a receipt for one she’d sold.” Sadie gave Tasha a quick glance to see if she was being judged for her slipped confession. “I wasn’t snoopin’,” she protested, defending herself. “I was makin’ a phone call from her desk, and it was just layin’ out there in the open. Hard to miss.”

Tasha grinned.

“I had to look away just to not see it,” Sadie said, slyly.

Tasha burst into giggles.

Sadie turned sideways to face her. “I didn’t say I wasn’t a snoop, mind you, but I do have rules. If it’s just layin’ out there for all the world to see, who am I not to see it?”

Tasha shook her head. “Oh, Sadie, you are funny.”

Sadie smiled, taking in the compliment. She settled back in her chair and said knowingly, “I will say this: that Lydia Wintersen, given all her dough, is one of the best people in the world.”

Tasha smiled. It confirmed what she already felt. “I’m glad to hear that; I like her. She invited me to a…gathering, I think she called it. Sometime next month?”

“Oh, you should definitely come. It’s a gatherin’ for women and children.” She whirled a finger in the air to include the surroundings. “For our neighborhood. All weekend. We set up tents, cook food over fires, and hang out.”

“That sounds nice.”

“There’s always music, and we let the kids loose. You’ll meet your neighbors, if you come.”

“I’d like that…” Tasha hesitated. “Where does Lydia live?”

“Just over that little ridge. Past those cows you like listenin’ to. Those are her cows.”

“Well, I had no idea.”

Sadie pointed to a spot to the left. “See through that gap between those two big hemlocks? That’s Lydia’s chimney. At least, one of them.”

“Well, that’s not very far. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I have seen smoke coming from over that way.”

“She’s been there a long time. We—me and Jimmy—we actually rent our farm from her right now.” Sadie kicked at the dirt. “One day, we might buy it.”

“That’d be nice.”

“On the other hand…when the furnace goes out, it’s nice having a landlady to fix it,” Sadie said, somehow working it out in her head as she thought about her circumstance.

“That’s true too.”

“We make a bit of a triangle, we three: you, me, and Lydia. I’m over there on Adam’s Mountain, you’re here on Bench Bald, and Lydia’s up Cady’s Cove. ABC!” Sadie smacked the arm of the chair as she realized the connection.

“Well, this just makes me happy,” Tasha said. “What a great couple of neighbors to discover!”

Sadie smiled and patted her shoulder. “And for us, too.”

“So, why’d you decide not to let the turtle loose at Lydia’s?” Tasha asked.

“He kept comin’ back! I thought maybe if I turned him loose facin’ south instead of north, he’d find somebody else’s pond to call home. But I think maybe the real reason I headed this way was to meet you,” Sadie said.

“Me?”

Sadie interrupted, shouting, “Jacob! You get down from there before you crack your head open!” Jacob was hanging upside down from the top rail of the swing set, a good distance from the ground. “I mean it! Don’t make me get up!”

He reached for the chains of the swing and flipped himself through, landing as if it were an Olympic dismount. He almost bowed, as it was near perfect, but stopped himself.

“You’re lucky this time, mister!” Sadie called out, but Jacob and Riley had already rounded the fort, hiding on the other side.

“He’s about to give me a heart attack,” Sadie said, and sat back.

“I thought you handled that quite calmly,” Tasha noted. “I was close to making a run for him.”

“Oh, no! You can’t do that with Jacob; he’ll make it worse. That kid will start walking along the beam, or whatever crazy boy idea he gets in his head next. Just like his father.”

“Is Jimmy a daredevil?”

“No, Jacob’s a true daredevil; Jimmy’s more like a reactor. Daredevils actually think through their deeds somewhat; Jimmy just blindly stumbles around in his,” Sadie remarked, surprised she’d shared Jimmy’s failings so easily with Tasha. “It’s why I started studyin’ numbers. Tryin’ to figure out our little family.”

“Numerology and all that?” Tasha asked. She’d grown up in San Francisco, so a lot of this New Age stuff wasn’t terribly new to her.

“Sort of. Jimmy, Jacob, and I all have five letters in our names. And fives are all about adventure: risk-takin’, high energy. I have to admit, there’s a lot of that goin’ on in our little house. That’s why I’m givin’ this one,” Sadie patted her belly, “a six-letter name. Sixes are calmin’, nurturin’, unconditionally lovin’. I admit, I can use some unconditional lovin’.”

“Couldn’t we all,” Tasha agreed. She kept her eye on Riley, who was now dancing across the lawn.

“Sorry, Jimmy tells me all the time I get obsessed. He’s probably right. Lately, it seems like I get into the weeds about things.”

“What about threes?” Tasha suddenly thought to ask.

“Threes? Oh. They are big deal numbers. They’re symbolic, and they’re everywhere.”

“You mean like the Holy Trinity?”

“Holy Trinity is only one. The ancient Chinese thought three was the perfect number.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m not sure yet; I haven’t gotten that far in the book.” Sadie grinned. “It’s patterns, in mostly everything. Beginning, middle, end…past, present, future…birth, life, death!”

“Good grief!” Tasha exclaimed. “I hadn’t thought about it ’til now, but threes do seem significant when you think about Greek mythology, where you have the three brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades…”

“What do they stand for?”

“Zeus ruled the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades—”

“The underworld,” Sadie interrupted.

“Exactly,” Tasha said. She stood and raised her hand to her brow to shade the sun rounding the oak tree. “Now, where did those little buggers go?” she wondered aloud. “Oh! There they are, heading for the creek.”

“Jacob!” Sadie cupped her hands and yelled through the little megaphone. “You get back here!”

The children stopped mid-field, and seemed to discuss the matter between themselves.

“Riley!” Tasha’s turn to shout as she took a step toward the field. “Come back here, right now!”

As if weighing their options the little pair hesitated, then turned around and ran back to the play area.

“Testing us,” Tasha said and returned to her chair.

“Yeah, they are. And that’s a good thing, I suppose.”

“Another set of threes,” Tasha returned to their conversation, “‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ ‘The Three Apprentices,’ three guesses in ‘Rumplestiltskin’…There are a lot of threes in fairy tales.”

“Like I said, threes are a big deal everywhere.”

“We could probably name them all day,” Tasha agreed.

“Think about it: you, me, and Lydia living in a triangle. ABC…it means something. Life paths, compatibility, even destiny. Maybe that’s why I dropped that turtle off here, today…threes.”

“Or coincidence.”

“There are no coincidences,” Sadie stated. “How could there be, when God is everywhere and in everything?”

“You believe that?”

“Of course. I mean, just look.” Sadie swept a hand across the landscape in front of them. “I think all of that has a little piece of God in it, just like you, just like me. And that means we’re all related—bugs, grass, turtles, and people alike…”

“I like that idea better than thinking of some gray-bearded, judgmental old man looking down on us and deciding our fates—or coincidences.”

“Yeah, I gave up on all that a long time ago, when I gave up the Baptist Church—Southern Baptist.”

“Yikes…” Tasha wasn’t very religious. She’d grown up going to a progressive church, back home in San Francisco. She had only heard stories about the Bible-belt Southern Baptists. Mack’s family did go to one of those churches, but Mack had no interest in attending.

“Oh, yeah. I left the church when I met Jimmy. He was into TM; you know, Transcendental Meditation?”

“You mean floating and stuff?” Tasha asked.

“It’s more complicated than that, but yeah, that’s part of it. I did it for a while, but then I got bored with all that sittin’ and thinkin’, tryin’ to find a higher power…when what you really want is a hot dog.”

Tasha laughed out loud. Sadie’s straight-faced deliveries added to the substance.

“True enough! You laugh, but have you ever sat cross-legged for, like, five hours, listenin’ to the grumblin’ tummies of everybody around you, and not had images of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches dance in your head? No?” Sadie smiled. “Then don’t laugh.”

“So, I take it you don’t do TM anymore?”

“No. I don’t, but Jimmy does. Funny how he’s stuck with it.”

“Do you go to church?”

“Oh, hell no…unless you count this right here.”

“Well, I wasn’t, but I get it.”

“I’m doin’ a lot of readin’ about ancient goddesses, Mother Earth, the universe, rituals. Have you read Starhawk?”

“No, doesn’t ring a bell.”

“I’ll loan you my copy of Spiral Dance. You’ll like it.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that. I am a big reader, I admit. I’m glad to meet another.”

“True enough, I’ve always got three or four books goin’ all at once.” Sadie pushed herself up from the chair. She stretched her back, and called to Jacob to come along. “We’ve got to get back,” she said. “Thanks for the water and the rest, and the chat.”

“I am so glad you decided to dump your turtle here, today,” Tasha said.

“Destiny!” Sadie grinned.

“Maybe.” Tasha shook her head. “Hey, want to get together for a playdate one of these days?”

“Playdate? Hell, come over any time. We don’t need to make a playdate.”

“All right then. How will I find you?”

“Follow the goat path; it’ll spill you into our backyard.” Sadie headed for the little lane. She put out her hand for Jacob, and they went up the skinny path.





If it hadn’t been for the babies, the mortgage, no money, and being trapped in the crack of an ass of a mountain in Nofuckingwhere Tennessee, Tasha would’ve packed up the girls and headed back to the Bay Area, where life mattered. She would not be going to some lame women’s gathering at her new acquaintance Lydia’s. Going home was her fantasy, prayer, and fondest wish ever since Mack dragged her here, “temporarily.” Two years later, it felt permanent.

A quagmire.

The ground sucked at her ankles as she walked across the yard; grapevines tangled her hair as she passed. In the garden, on her hands and knees, she felt an urge to lie face down in the dirt, allowing the vegetables to grow over her, covering her; allowing autumn winds to blow dry husks and brown leaves, hiding her; allowing sugary white snow to drift over her stripped white bones, forming a perfectly splayed, frozen five-point star. That’s how they’d find her—eventually.

She should have known you don’t build a giant McMansion in the middle of a cow pasture in bum-fuck Egypt if you’re only going to stay for a couple of years. “And then Paris, Babe!” Mack had said when she reminded him after the first year, and again after the second. He’d been pretending until this morning. This morning, the truth had come out.

This morning, he’d complained that she was taking the girls camping with a bunch of witches, from what he’d heard down at the lodge. That he even belonged to a lodge was news to her. He’d kept his redneck ways hidden the whole time they were away at college—but now that he was back home in hillbilly country, he was a full-blown bumpkin.

“What is the point of sleeping in some moldy tent on a cow-pied pasture with a bunch of women dancing around naked?” he’d demanded.

“What is the point of spending a weekend riding in go-carts chasing little white balls around a manicured lawn with a bunch of men wagging their dicks around?”

“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.”

“Then how about dignifying this answer with the truth? When the hell are we moving out of this shithole state?” She threw it in his face again, but she couldn’t help herself; she’d had it. “When’s Paris, Mack? Or any fucking where but here?”

He slung his golf clubs over one shoulder and his travel bag over the other. “Never, Tasha. We’re never leaving. This is my home. Now it’s our home. Get used to it.”

Then he slammed the door in her face.





Pushing a stroller carrying provisions, Tasha trundled up Lydia’s long winding driveway with Lacy in the pack on her back and Riley skipping along ahead of her. She heard the festivities spread around the farm before she saw anyone. The first sounds were squeals of children’s laughter, coming from the creek. There was distant drumming, music, and the easy, melodious chatter of many female voices. As Tasha rounded the bend, she could see brightly colored tents pocking the far pasture. A dozen or so hoisted animated flags flapping in the wind, signaling home base for roaming children. There were a few small plumes of smoke rising from cook fires, and there was a larger fire pit anchoring the temporary community.

What she hadn’t told Mack was that she wouldn’t be sleeping in a moldy tent on a cow-pied field. Instead, she’d been invited to stay in her own bedroom in the farmhouse, along with a few other mothers with babies. She headed for the cool shaded porch, peppered with women. Lots of women of all ages, sizes, colors…and in varying stages of undress. Tasha noticed that all of the women were braless, and most were topless; she felt awkward and overdressed in her bra, mom jeans, and Disney T-shirt.

Riley pointed to the porch and called out “The Story Lady!” The little girl flew up the steps and landed in Marie Raposa’s lap. Marie was known far and wide as The Story Lady. She’d been holding story hour every Saturday at the library, ever since she was a teenager. She played guitar, had a bunch of puppets, and rewarded cuddles with the candy she kept in the pockets of her calico apron. Marie was married to Frank Raposa, the local butcher (and philanderer), with whom she had a bunch of kids. Riley snuggled against Marie’s soft bosom. Tasha shrugged, and Marie waved her away.

 As Tasha began lugging the stroller up the stairs, she was shadowed by a figure at the top, eclipsing the sun. Tasha shaded her gaze as a turbaned Lydia, carrying a large platter of fruits, cheeses, and breads, descended the steps and settled in front of her. Nestled among the pink peaches, rosy apples, and rounded melons, Tasha saw two plump bosoms belonging to Lydia, whose grin widened as she watched Tasha’s eyes fall to the friendly fruit.

“You made it!” Lydia said, her voice welcoming. “After we spoke yesterday, I wasn’t sure if you’d come.”

Tasha recalled the phone conversation, in which she’d confessed that she didn’t think she’d be able to make it. She’d confided that her husband wasn’t wild about the idea of the girls in a tent. This led to Lydia’s offer of a bedroom in the house instead. “For the sake of the baby’s health,” was how Lydia had put it.

 “Here, let me put this down and show you to your room.” Lydia’s eyes held Tasha’s for a moment longer than she would normally have allowed a near stranger, but Tasha could not look away. She felt pulled, then pushed, her insides stilled in ways that both frightened and intrigued her. This woman was about to shift the plates under the planet where Tasha had been planted, only she didn’t know how.





It was the last day of the gathering, and Chloe Middleton awakened early. The drizzly rain pattering the roof of the tent was soothing. She was not alone, she noticed, but sandwiched between Lisa and Jane Raposa, Marie’s (The Story Lady’s) little girls, each curled into a tight ball on either side of her. She didn’t remember them coming to bed the night before, and couldn’t recall when they’d arrived—but she didn’t mind, as they were keeping her cozily warm in the damp morning air. Dawn was dark, and gray light filtered through the moonroof. She watched the storm clouds gathering above. Wrapping her arms around each little body and hugging them closer, she ran her fingers through their equally soft curls. She believed this was the perfect last morning of a perfect weekend of wonderful women. Oh, she liked that thought: A weekend of wonderful women. It sounded like a good title for a story. She wished her notebook were within reach, as she always liked to write these ideas down. Looking at the wooden box beside her sleeping bag, she saw the journal clenching a pen in its fold and managed to stretch just enough to grab it without disturbing the little girls.

She flicked on the flashlight she kept under her pillow and opened the book, dislodging the pen. She was immediately confused as she shone the light on the page. The handwriting was foreign, not her own; large, scrawled, black letters were etched into the page. The pressure of the ballpoint had dug gullies and divots into the paper.



Frank

See how many whores will fuck you without me around to take care of your 7 fucking kids, clean your dirty fucking house, and blow your tiny fucking dick.

The Story Lady



Carefully extricating herself from between the little girls, slowly Chloe slid up and out of the sleeping bag. She pulled on shorts and sweatshirt, then counted breaths as she tied her sneakers. Her hands were shaking so much she kept snagging the tent zipper. “Come on, Chloe; keep it together,” she hissed. Finally freeing a passage big enough to slip through, she saw the little girls had curled around each other as she re-zipped the tent flap. She stood to see the stilled and sleeping camp huddled beneath the mist. Light drizzle steadily drenched everything; she pulled up her hood, looked to the house, and ran for Lydia.

They’d signaled a quiet alarm. Lydia sent Chloe and Sadie to send a whisper through the camp for some to start the search and some to stay with the children. They spread out. Numerous pairs ran in the many directions while others stayed with the children, including the little Raposa girls. Chloe and Sadie went together across the fields. They noticed the small hanks of calico cloth littering the goat path between Lydia’s and Sadie’s farms. Initially, the ragged patches were tied to bush and tree branches; further along, Chloe could tell they’d been ripped and tossed, like rose petals leading to a romantic evening—except these shredded pieces of colorful fabric were now muddied and wet. As the women followed them, Chloe grabbed Sadie’s hand and wouldn’t let go.

They stood before the gap in the sliding door of Sadie’s goat barn, where the tattered remnants of The Story Lady’s calico apron lay in a heap. The barn was a tall weathered building once used to house hay, but it now contained more than a dozen of Sadie’s favored barnyard animals.

“Wait,” Chloe tugged on Sadie’s arm. “Don’t go in there alone. Shouldn’t we get someone? Lydia?”

Sadie pointed to the calico apron, now a mere scrap of its former self. “She’s in there, Chloe. What if she’s hurt?”

“You’re right. You’re right.” Chloe let go of Sadie, who pushed the door wide enough for the pair to enter the dark cavern. As Chloe’s eyes adjusted, she felt the dry warmth of the barn; the sweet smell of hay and the musky smell of goat mingled, making her stomach turn. The animals were rousing, huffing, snorting, and beginning their morning rise.

It was Sadie who startled her by shouting, “MARIE? You in here?”

Nothing.

They walked along the opposite edges of the rectangular barn, passing stalls, troughs, hay bales, and feed sacks, only to meet at the other end. They turned and stood, staring down the length of the yawning gloom.

“Where could she be?” Chloe whispered.

Sadie held her breath, listening to all the familiar sounds: goats grunting, the hum of the generator, water dripping from gutters and catching in rain barrels at the corners…but there was another sound, a small sound that did not fit. A creaking, warped-wood wincing sound, rhythmic like a docked boat might make: a sound out of place in this barn. Sadie let her ears tune in and her eyes followed upwards, to the hay loft: to the long pole rafters, to the rope tied to the joist, tied to Marie’s snapped neck. Just above them she saw a slight flutter of white, the slip of a nightgown waving in surrender.

Someone forgot about the little girls. Everyone was screaming their mother’s name; hysteria loosed, women grabbed babies and children grabbed hands, and all ran towards the horror, not away from it. Wailing women and sirens coming led, each sounding the urgency, the emergency, and the exigency of the chaotic mass of bodies racing through the wet grasses. Across river stones, jumping post rail fences, they spilled like ants escaping fire, not knowing they were heading for flood waters that would carry each away on a fragile leaf of a morning that none, not even the youngest, would ever forget.

It was Chloe who saw them first: the little Raposa girls, clinging to one another. Hands grasped tightly, they skittered through skirts of mothers and clumps of children. Their curdling yells for “Mama!” reached Chloe’s ears, and she ran towards them. When she saw Lisa and Jane making for the barn door, she double-timed her own little legs, and leapt to catch their clasped bodies; instead, just out of range, she slipped in the mud, fell, and came up empty-handed. Like a receiver who had both wind and ball knocked from her grasp, she rolled over in time to see the little pajama-clad pair slip through the door. She was upright when the rise of their screams began echoing through the barn, sending swallows and swifts from its eaves. It stilled everyone. Like a tableau vivant caught on stage, the shrill keening signaling the little girls’ terror filled the cove like a reverberating ringing caught in the curve of a bell.





Lydia threw another log on the fire and watched as the sparks flew up into the black starless sky. She sank back into the lawn chair, and leaned both elbows on both knees. Sighing heavily, as if there was not one more thing her body could do, she pulled papers and pot from her pocket and carefully began to roll a joint. Next to her, Chloe uncapped the jar of white moonshine, strawberry infused, made by locals in stills hidden in the hollers of these hills. She let the liquid tingle inside her mouth before swallowing. It was smooth, sweet, and satiny sliding down her throat. People have the wrong idea about moonshine, she thought. She looked over to Lydia, licking the gummed sleeve of the joint. Just like they have the wrong idea about weed. Lydia took a hit and passed it to Chloe, who traded it for the Mason jar. Lydia thought, Not even weed and ’shine can cut through the fogged horror of this morning.

Sadie emerged from the darkness, coming from the path in the woods. She sat beside Chloe, took the joint, held her breath, and exhaled a long, humming sadness. “Jimmy says not to worry about the boys. Says I can stay here tonight—if that’s OK with you, Lydia.”

“That’s fine with me, Sadie.”

“I’m staying, too.” Chloe said, handing Sadie the jar of moonshine. ’Shine was something Sadie would normally pass on, since she wasn’t much of a drinker, but she took the jar and stuck her nose in the opening. It was like getting a big whiff of a pungent, sweet flower. She inhaled again, and once more.

“For God’s sakes, Sadie; quit sniffing, and just take a sip. You’ll be glad you did,” Lydia said.

Sadie took a sip and another toke, then passed both down the line.

Up the drive came a pair of headlights, a car slowly bouncing towards them.

“Oh, crap. Who the hell is that?” Lydia squinted. “I am in no mood for anybody but us.”

Tasha turned off the ignition, and looked over to see that Riley was sleeping soundly on the seat next to her. She adjusted the pillow, and pressed a teddy bear securely into the crook of the little girl’s arm. Turning around, she checked to see that Lacy was safely strapped in her car seat, thumb in mouth. She tucked the blanket around the baby’s shoulders, and quietly slid out of the vehicle, closing the door gently. She walked towards the fire, where she saw that Lydia was not alone, but with Chloe and Sadie. Tasha did not know the two women well, but found she loved them anyway. All three of them, actually, Tasha considered as she approached. She was totally in love with all three of them. This thought comforted her, even though it wasn’t entirely true; she did love them all, but it was only one of them whom she was in love with—and this thought terrified her.

“Tasha!” Chloe exclaimed. “Is everything all right?”

“It is,” she said. Warming her back against the fire, she stood facing the three older women. “I was just…Well…” she turned and gestured to the car. “The girls are asleep in there.”

“Sit down,” Lydia said, patting the seat beside her. “Here.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mean to intrude…”

“No intrusion from you, Tasha,” Sadie took a long hit off the joint. “For a minute there, we thought you were Carly Samson; she would have definitely been an intrusion, but we like you.”

Tasha smiled, but it was an effort.

“You OK?” Lydia asked.

Tasha nodded, but actually wasn’t sure. She gladly sipped from the mason jar Lydia handed her, and let it settle her shaking hands and slow her thumping heart. “It’s just that when I got home, Mack had left a message saying he was going to spend another night away. And…Well…after this morning, I just didn’t want to be alone, I guess.”

“No worries there,” Sadie said. “Why do you think we’re all here?”

“I’m glad you came,” Lydia said, and patted Tasha’s hand.

Chloe soothed, “It’s times like this when it’s best not to be alone with the images imprinted in our minds. Sometimes they can be more terrifying than what we see with our own eyes. You can always look away from what’s in front of you, but when it’s in your brain…well, there’s no escaping it then.”

They were quiet for a while, each lost in her own thoughts.

“Chloe, did you know Marie was that unhappy?” Lydia asked.

Chloe’s eyes didn’t leave the fire when she nodded, somewhat regretfully. “I didn’t know it was this bad. I didn’t know that she was so angry, so desperate, so…determined.”

“What do you mean, determined?” Tasha asked.

“Oh, I don’t know how to even admit this, but Marie knew Frank was cheating on her. She told me so, and then I…Well, she and I would…Oh, it’s too awful.”

“You and she would what?” Sadie pressed. “You can’t just leave it there.”

“We went spying on him.”

“Spying?”

“Like detectives. We’d follow him, watching through the windows; when possible, we’d take pictures. Marie would make notes. She swore it was for evidence later, when she filed for divorce—but she never filed, or even got a lawyer. It was almost as if she was more interested in plotting her revenge than actually carrying it out. I never thought…never could have even believed that this is how she’d do it. What have I done?”

“You’ve done nothing, Chloe, except try to help out a friend.”

“I don’t know about that, Lydia. A real friend wouldn’t have egged her on, treated it like a game. A real friend would’ve known it was unravelling her. A real friend would’ve listened better.”

“I’m sure you listened just fine.”

Chloe reached into her pocket and pulled out her journal, handing it to Lydia. “Then why’d she leave this in my journal?”



Frank

See how many whores will fuck you without me around to take care of your 7 fucking kids, clean your dirty fucking house, and blow your tiny fucking dick.

The Story Lady



Lydia read the note and passed it along to Tasha, who read it with wide eyes and passed it to Sadie.

“Jesus,” Sadie muttered. “What the hell?”

“You wouldn’t expect that those words came from Marie, would you?” Tasha said.

“You never know about people,” Lydia offered.

“I feel like I should’ve known about this. I should’ve known better, more…Or…I don’t know, something that could’ve helped or stopped her,” Chloe said.

“That’s not your burden,” Sadie said. “That’s a burden for Frank Raposa to bear.”

“That and seven orphaned children,” Tasha concurred.

“What should I do with this?” Chloe held up the journal. “I probably should’ve given it to the sheriff, but I just didn’t have the heart to expose any more of Marie than was already bared in her…passing.”

“Those poor children. That’s not something they should know about,” Sadie said.

“Frank Raposa should know it.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure Frank Raposa knows exactly why Marie did what she did, note or no note. If anything, Marie did put an end to his running around, pretty sure of that,” Lydia said.

Chloe said, “Lisa and Jane Raposa are going to be living with that final horrible image of Marie burned into their brains forever, just like it’s burned into ours. That’s bad enough.”

Tasha couldn’t help but shed a tear as she listened to the three older women, and tried to swallow back a sickening sadness.

“Throw it in the fire,” Lydia said.

Chloe looked stunned. “The note?”

“Yeah, the note. Get rid of it.”

“But…Shouldn’t I…tell someone?”

“Tell who? We know. That’s enough.”

“She’s right,” Sadie said. “No one needs to know about this. It’ll only be fodder for gossip, and you know how this valley loves gossip.”

“I don’t know,” Chloe hesitated and glanced again at the vileness written on the page. “Tasha? What do you think? You’ve been quiet.”

Tasha shrugged. “I think it’s the saddest thing in the world. The madness she must have had inside her…the pain that drove her to do such harm…to everyone. To herself, her kids, Frank…” a tear slid down Tasha’s cheek, and she felt embarrassed. “And to us.”

They all turned to her, surprised by the usually reserved Tasha’s forceful words.

“She did this to all of us,” Tasha said accusingly. She admitted to herself there were many times in the last few years when she’d thought to leave Mack, maybe even exit the planet; but she wouldn’t, couldn’t, knowing her absence would affect everyone in her life, even if she were no longer in it. “It was selfish,” she said quietly.

“She’s right,” Sadie said. “Marie did this to us all. We all have to live with a piece of this horror now.”

“Throw it in the fire,” Tasha said. “Words like that will only twist an already twisted heartache.”

Chloe felt her heart beating. Words…words mattered. She was a writer; she knew. Words were mightier than the sword. They were also mightier than the dollar, the position, even the purpose, because just a few right ones strung together in the right order, delivered to the right audience at the right time, could right the world—or wreck it. Her own words had earned her money, position, and purpose her entire adult life. They comprised her writerly sword, and with it she had learned how the right words could lift or crush a spirit. Tasha was right; Marie’s words made her suicide worse, somehow, more ugly than pitiful—if that’s fair, she questioned herself. Chloe ran a finger over the black etchings on the paper; the ridges of the imprinted symbols were scored into the page like Braille. She felt the fierce anger in each furrowed incision.

“No child should ever know something like this about her parents,” Lydia said, holding Chloe’s gaze. “It’ll be our secret, Chloe; we’ll keep it for those poor little Raposa kids.”

With that, Chloe ripped the page from her journal and tossed it into the flames.




About the Author

 photo Chadwick final book jacket 1 1_zps2zd1dk0q.jpg
Cynn Chadwick is an author of seven novels: Cat Rising; Girls With Hammers; Babies, Bikes, and Broads; Cutting Loose; Angels and Manners; As The Table Turns; and That's Karma, Baby... Her books have been nominated for the Lambda, Golden Crown, and Stonewall Literary Awards. Over the course of her career, she has done readings and speaking engagements including: Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, The Authors' Arena at Book Expo America in Chicago, Human Rights Campaign Headquarters, DC, AWP in Atlanta, Amelia Island Book Festival, FL, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville and UNCA are just a few of her past speaking and reading engagements. She holds a BA from Norwich University and both an MA and MFA from Goddard College in Vermont. Over the last, nearly, thirty years, she taught creative writing to fifth-graders and senior citizens, teachers and homeless teens, college students and convicted felons and have been equally touched by each of their stories. She lives with her wife Elenna and their Springer Spaniel, The Amazing Andy, in the Blue Ridge Mountains is where she taught in the English Department and Creative Writing program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.


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