Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Mental Ward...

Come back Saturday for the next post from The Mental Ward!!!!

You can see previous posts here: 
#1: Emery Gets a Job 
#2: Beastly Sounds 
#3: Children 
#4: Emery Cries 
#5: Locked In 
#6: A Call for Help 
#7: Emery Meets Beastly 
#8: Emery Starts a Story 
#9: Let's Put Them In The Box 
#10: Emery Tries Again 
#11: The Intercom 
#12: A Look of Murder 

P.S. For those of you who came today for the next episode of The Mental Ward, I offer my deepest apologies.  I have achieved astounding things in my schoolwork this week, but my creativity time suffered.  I hope you don't mind too much.  The next episode will be up in three days, and I expect to resume my normal frequency after that.  See you Saturday!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Mental Ward - A Look of Murder (12)

     Emery couldn't ignore that call.  Not when Beastly needed her so.  She raced down the hallway toward the sounds.
     Around the corner and through a doorway, Emery stumbled on the scene.  Two women huddled on the floor, eyes wide.  One of them was screaming, and the other seemed paralyzed with fear.  Beastly was on top of a man, apparently holding him down with superhuman strength.  In her hand, she held a knife, and an evil grin was on her face.
     Emery froze in the doorway, wishing she were not here to see this.  Beastly had the look of murder about her. Emery felt like she could throw up.
      Beastly licked her lips and faltered.  Her eyes grew wide, and she screamed Emery's name again.
     But the sound altered at the end into a yowl and the dark look covered her face again.  She pressed her knife lightly against the man's chest.  Then she shifted her weight, raising the knife high as if about to plunge it.
     Emery tried to close her eyes but they were frozen open.  She tried to shout but no sound would come.
     Suddenly Beastly looked up, her eyes meeting Emery's.  Again she faltered. The wild look left her face, replaced with a desperate one.
     "A...a...a story!" she cried, her voice catching as if the words were hard to say.  The knife waved wildly and light flashed from its blade.  "Emery!"

Friday, September 25, 2015


For the next week, I will be studying for a big exam.  As much as I want to work on SPINDLE and AAM and TCK, they will have to wait.

This is part of real life and having to juggle writing with other career plans.  And it's something that probably all of us have to do.

So, mwah, sleep well, my beauties...until next week.

P.S. I am still going to write the next installment of The Mental Ward for you guys.  That much, I think, I can fit in.  :)

P.S.2.  The title refers to the feeling of studying for the exam.  You college people know what I'm talking about.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Snippet: Broken

     "I can break this, Mikaya.  You just have to trust me.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Mental Ward - The Intercom

     Static crackled.  Emery held her breath.
     Then a sharp voice demanded through the speaker, "Who's there!"
     Tears sprang to Emery's eyes.  Tears of relief.  "Emery!  It's Emery!"  She choked back a sob.  "Please get me out of here."

     "Emery Who?" the voice wanted to know.
     "Emery Clayton.  I work here."  Emery's voice squeaked as she tried to control her emotions.  But the thought of competent people now working on her rescue was overwhelming and beautiful.
     "Good ----! There are survivors!" another voice exclaimed.
     "How do we know Beastly isn't voice-shifting again?  I say we blow the whole building now.  Get rid of the monster once and for all!"  The first voice was angry and impatient.
     Emery gasped.  "Oh, please, no!  You have to believe me!  I have a mother, sisters' names are Evelyn, Estella, and Edwina...and my brothers' names are Alfred and Johnny.  No one else here knows that.  You can ask my mother.  She will know me!"  Panic rose in Emery's throat.
     "Hang in there, sweetheart," a third voice came clearly across the intercom.  "No one is going to blow the building.  We are putting together a top tactical team now.  They have orders to shoot the lunatic on sight, and we'll get you out safely.  Don't worry."
     "Shoot the...You're going to kill Beastly?" Emery's heart froze and she took a step back from the intercom.
     "From what I understand, this should have been done years ago.  Now, Miss Clayton," the voice grew even more serious, "listen very carefully.  We are going to need your help in order to complete our mission.  Here's what you need to do..."
     Emery took another step back.  This was not what she had signed up to do.
     From somewhere down the hall, she heard a shout.  Then a cat scream.  Then a woman shrieked, and a man shouted, "Oh, ---! It's going to kill us!"  The cat screamed again.
     "Miss Clayton?" the intercom crackled.
     And then Emery heard Beastly calling her name in terror.
     "Emery!  Emery!  Eeeemmmmerrrrrryyyyyyy!"

Monday, September 21, 2015

Krecese and Padadaleko

     An emissary was traveling across the world, carrying a message.  He came to a city called Krecese.  Entering the city, he found many people -- some of which strove to live moral lives and some of which lived very wicked lives.
     "Oh, people of Krecese!" cried the emissary.  "There is no difference in the laws.  Those who have cheated their neighbors only pennies are lawbreakers as much as those who have cheated entire fortunes.  Those who have hated a brother are as guilty as those who have murdered.  Great and small, you are all in need of redemption from God."
      The people of Krecese listened to his words.  They fell to their knees and asked God's forgiveness.  They sought His help.  And they received the redemption He offered, through His Son, Jesus.
     Some of the more wicked ones of Krecese were afraid to come to God -- afraid that their lives were too dark.  But their neighbors reached out to them with open arms.
     "We were all dark in the eyes of God.  I have done wrong, too," said the neighbors.  "Join us as we focus our eyes on Jesus, our Redeemer, and strive to be more like Him."
      And so the city of Krecese turned wholeheartedly toward God.

     The emissary continued on his way, and he came to a city called Padadaleko.  It was a city very much like Krecese; so the emissary entered and gave his same message.
     The people of Padadaleko listened to his words.  Then they looked at one another.
     "Did you hear the emissary?" said one man to his neighbor.  "Why then do you despise my swindling of fortunes?  Haven't you stolen small things?"
     "And you!" said another man.  "How is your swindling any better than the murders I have committed?  How dare you tell me that I am not right with God, when you yourself are just as guilty as I am?"
     "Wait!" said a third man.  "Let's turn to God and repent, all of us!  Leave your murders, your idolatry, your stealing, your adultery, and every other sin.  Join me in following God!"
     "I feel the condemnation you have toward me," a fourth man replied.  "Why do you list my sin in the top four?  What makes you think it so evil?  Surely God would not have you make me feel so uncomfortable!"
     "There's no point in trying to correct one another.  As you can see, it's impossible to be perfect.  Let's each go our own way and be happy."
      And so the city of Padadaleko sank deeper into their sins.  They urged one another to try new sins -- after all, the new sin is no worse than the one you've already been doing.  And the destruction of that city, as they turned on one another, was very great.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Mental Ward - Emery Tries Again (10)

     "How many did you..." Emery looked at Pansy's motionless figure and could not quite form the words.
     Beastly didn't return her gaze.  "I don't know."  She stalked out of the room.
     Emery followed, and Beastly pointed down the hallway.  "You look that way.  If you find anybody alive, bring them to the Box.  I'll look this way."
     Emery waited until Beastly disappeared down the next hall.  Then she turned her eyes toward the office.  This was her chance.
      She moved softly and quickly, half-running on her toes.  Her breath came faster at the thought of being free.
     The office was dim again, lit only from the hall lights, but Emery didn't need much light for what she wanted.  The intercom button seemed to glow in the dark.
     The three steps, she was across the office floor, and the button waited under her trembling fingers.  For a moment, Emery closed her eyes.  Now that she was here, it seemed almost impossible that her nightmare was so close to being over.  But it was.  With one movement of her fingers, she would be on her way home to a her mama and little brothers and sisters.  Emery opened her eyes and pushed the button.
     Static crackled.  Emery held her breath.
     Then a sharp voice demanded through the speaker, "Who's there!"
     Tears sprang to Emery's eyes.  Tears of relief.  "Emery!  It's Emery!"  She choked back a sob.  "Please get me out of here."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Snippet: Right-hand Man

     Emil stepped forward, resting a supportive hand on the king’s shoulder.  “I have sent for my father’s men.  When you ride out at dawn, I will be by your side.”  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sleeping Beauty Show-and-Tell

     Ta-da!  Today is the show-and-tell!  I have been so excited for this all week.  Finally, we get a glimpse of some of the fabulous stories in the works for the contest.  Be sure to head over to Anne Elisabeth Stengl's blog to see all the story ideas!

The Mental Ward - Let's Put Them In the Box (9)

     Emery could feel her heart pounding in her ears.  Had her story worked?  Would Beastly let her live?
     Minutes ticked by.  Beastly's eyes flickered aimlessly around the room and tiny expressions darted across her face.  It was as if her mind replayed Emery's story over and over.  And each time, it ended with that tiny smile.  Beastly was lost in a world with grass and trees and cats and rabbits.
     At long last, Beastly sighed and focused her eyes in the room.  She stared at Pansy's motionless form and hunched her shoulders as if shrugging out of an unwanted cloak.  "We should put them in the Box."  Her tone was matter-of-fact, and she pushed herself to her feet.
     Emery drew back, waiting to see what the child meant.  But Beastly moved quickly and determinedly like a man who knew what he wanted to do.  Her short hair fell across her face as she bent over and grabbed Pansy's portly shoulders.  Grunts escaped from her throat as she began to drag the unconscious body across the floor, inch by inch.
     There was something heroic about the child's efforts, and Emery found herself coming alongside to help.
     Appreciation flashed in Beastly's face, quickly hidden again.  She jerked her head toward the hallway.  "This way."
     They dragged poor Pansy all the way to Beastly's room.  The gas equipment still lay outside the door.  Emery shuddered when she saw it.
     But Beastly stopped and laughed, easing her load to the floor.  She pointed to the tank and hoses.  "I fooled them!"  And she laughed again, looking up at Emery with eyes as bright as a four-year-old's, as if waiting for her approval.
     But Emery didn't see anything to laugh about, let alone fool anyone with.  "What do you mean?"
     Beastly lowered her voice to a conspiratorial tone.  "I held my breath."  Triumph was etched on every feature.  "Weren't they surprised!"  She pushed the door to her room open with her foot.  "I lay so still when they came in the room and picked me up."  She giggled, almost hysterical in her delight.  "And then...BOOM!"
      Emery gasped.
      Beastly glanced down at Pansy and her face fell.  "Then IT did something."  She shuddered.  For a moment, she held still, chewing on her lip, and stared into the distance.  Then she smiled up at Emery.  "And then I put them all to sleep.  Ha-ha!"  She nodded toward the gas tank.  Then she cocked her head at Emery, a puzzled look creeping across her face.  "Did you go to sleep, too?  It was a LOT of gas.  I put on one of their masks."
     A vague memory of a foggy confusion breathed somewhere in the back of Emery's mind, and she felt almost numb with this revelation.  "Yes...I suppose I did."
     Beastly seemed satisfied with her answer.  She grasped Pansy again and, together with Emery, dragged her into the room and set her next to the back wall.  Then she wiped her hands on her thighs.  "Let's put them all in here," she said.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Rooglewood Contest: Your Update

Hi! This is a question for those of you who are entering the Rooglewood contest. How far along are you?
Have you thought of a story idea yet?
Have you started writing?
Have you finished a draft?
     ...started editing?
     ...settled on a title?
     ...submitted your entrance form?
     ...finished polishing your story?
     ...submitted your story to Rooglewood?

P.S. Don't forget Anne 's show and tell!  The deadline for show-and-tell submissions is today, and then the Show-and-Tell itself will be on her blog on Wednesday.

P.S.2. I have 18 followers now and I am soooo excited!  Thank you for joining me!

P.S.3. If you are joining the Show-and-Tell, feel free to say so in the comments so the rest of us can look for you on Anne's blog. :D

Sunday, September 13, 2015


     If the fog hadn't cleared in time, Lucy might have stepped over the edge.  The path dropped away beneath her feet, leaving her on the edge of a precipice.
     "Why do you stop, Lucy?" Peter asked, sounding both curious and annoyed.
     "Well, hullo!" Edmund stepped to her side, suddenly seeing what she did.  "We're on a cliff, Peter."
     Peter and Susan joined their younger siblings on the edge.  The clouds below them parted somewhat and they could see the sheer cliff -- smooth and straight -- and the bottom several thousand feet below them.
     "It makes me dizzy." Lucy said, reaching for Edmund's hand.
     "Well, there's no way across here.  We'll have to go back and look for another way." Susan sighed.
     "We can't."  Edmund stared into the depths in front of him.
     "Edmund's right.  Aslan told us that we could not turn back from this path for any reason."  Peter shook his head.  It just didn't make sense.  To step forward would be certain death.  "What do you want us to do, Aslan?" Peter murmured, not expecting a response.
     A wind gusted by, and Susan had the most preposterous idea to step forward.  She clenched her jaw and resisted it.
     "I heard him!" Lucy shouted.  "Aslan!  He said to jump!"
     Edmund squared his shoulders and faced the others.  "I heard him, too."
     "As did I, but it doesn't make sense."  Peter frowned.  "Why would Aslan tell us to jump?"
     "Because he said he has given us wings."  Lucy's face was alight.
     Peter scratched his forehead skeptically.  "I didn't hear that part, Lu."
     "And I don't see any wings on any of us," Susan added.
     "Maybe they are invisible," Lucy argued.
     "Well, if Aslan says to jump, that's what I'm going to do.  Are you coming or not?" Edmund faced the edge, took a deep breath...and jumped.

*   *   *

     It's a scary place.  To stand at a cliff.  To take a step forward into the impossible, trusting that God will give you the power to do what He has called you to do.  But that is what I am being urged to do, and I don't think I am the only one.
     It seems like every preacher I have heard lately has been talking about it.  About not trading God's best for the world's substitutes.  About obeying Him in everything.  About walking as Jesus walked.  About going into all the world and preaching the gospel like they did in Acts.  About letting His power work in you and through you to reach others.
      And I feel a little bit like I'm standing on a cliff with a promise of wings.

[P.S. This is not a C.S.Lewis story.  I stole his characters because they were best able to present how I feel at the moment.  I hope you don't mind, Mr. Lewis]

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Mental Ward - Emery Starts a Story (8)

     Emery closed her eyes and swallowed hard.  She could still feel Beastly's glass against her skin, and her mind raced to think of a story.  Why did her imagination evaporate when under pressure?
     "Once upon a time..." The words came out in a gasping sort of way.
     The glass lifted from her throat, and Beastly's weight moved off of Emery.  Emery cracked her eyes open to see the girl settling down on the floor, with her back propped against the wall.
     "Once upon a time, there was a city cat named Precious.  She was very fat and very fluffy.  All her life, she had lived indoors in the city, but she considered herself a mighty hunter.  Did she not catch the pink, feathery string when Mr. Human tossed it around?  Did she not chase the yarn when it fell from Mrs. Human's lap?  Did she not devour bowlfuls of kitty food?"  Emery took a chance and eased herself to a sitting positing, tucking her legs under her.
     Beastly had dropped the glass shard and was chewing on her finger.  Her eyes roved around the room, but the crazy look was gone.
     "One day, her humans moved to the country, and they took Precious with them.  For many days, Precious hid in the new house.  There was too much activity -- people carrying boxes and shouting directions.  But, as things began to quiet down, Precious discovered the joys of boxes.  She jumped on top of them, climbing them like mighty mountains from which she could rule the world.  She crawled inside of them, pretending to hunt foes deep in the caves of the earth.  Sometimes she attacked the box itself, as if it were an invading dragon.  And it was so much fun! -- until Mr. Human invented an adventure that was far more exciting than boxes."
     Beastly's eyes flickered to Emery's face and then away.  She chewed on her finger even harder.  She was interested.
     Emery's heart lurched.  How long had it been since the child had heard a story?  What must it be like to be locked in a windowless room, day in and day out?
     "Mr. Human decided that, since he thought the country was so much safer than the city, Precious would be allowed to go outside whenever she liked."  Emery cast her eyes around the tiny office that was now her prison.  "Precious loved it.  The grass, the wind, the trees, the flowers..."
     Beastly whimpered.  She curled herself forward, hiding her face against her knees, and rocked.
     "One day, Precious looked across her field and saw something at the edge of the woods.  It was a rabbit!  Precious puffed her chest out.  Was she not a mighty hunter?  She would catch this rabbit and bring it home to amaze Mr. and Mrs. Human."
     Beastly tilted her head, still resting it against her knees, until one eye could see Emery.
     "So Precious crouched.  Slowly and painstakingly, she crept across the neatly-mown field.  Her mouth watered.  Already she could imagine the taste of rabbit in her teeth."
     Beastly licked her lips.
     "But the country rabbit was not afraid of Precious.  He sat near the brambles at the edge of the woods and watched the fat cat slinking over the short grass.  Precious crept closer and closer, and still the rabbit didn't move.  Precious felt very much like a mighty hunter now.  One leap and she would be on him.  This was it!  Precious took a deep breath.  And POP!  The rabbit disappeared with one bound into the brambles!"
     Beastly threw her head up and her breath caught in a funny little sound.
     Emery pretended not to notice.  "Precious sat straight up and stared at the brambles.  How on earth had the rabbit disappeared so quickly?  It completely baffled her.  Her pink, feathery string never did that.  Neither did her ball of yarn.  She blinked rather dazedly and looked around, hoping no one saw her.  But there was only one thing to be done in a situation like this: She stood up and pranced back to the house as if all had gone according to plan.  The sound of food pouring into a dish caught her ear, and her mouth watered again.  Yes, she was quite certain the food bowl needed to be conquered next.  And she was, after all, a mighty hunter!"  Emery took a deep breath and added, "The End."
     For a few seconds, Beastly didn't move.  Then, ever so slowly, a tiny smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and eyes.

[To read previous episodes, click on the label "MentalWard."  That will take you to all the episodes posted so far.  Enjoy!]

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Defense of Holly Stone Plantation

     "I hope you don't mind us taking advantage of y'all's fine hospitality."  Amelia Howards murmured, as she ducked through my front door.  She brushed her hands over her skirt -- it looked as tired and worn as she did.
     "Not a bit -- we're glad to have you."  I waved her into the house and cast a wary eye toward the north road.  Then my gaze dropped to Amelia's children.  The two little girls looked frightened, but the boy stuck his tongue out at me.  I pursed my lips; the boy's manners had deteriorated since his father left to join the Confederate soldiers.
       "Amelia! Darlin'!  Come on in and make yourself at home!"  Etta Rose rushed from my sitting room and greeted the newcomers.  It should have irritated me to see her welcoming people in as if this was her home, but today was not a day for squabbles.  Etta Rose took Amelia and her children to settle them in.
     I left my door open and walked across the porch to lean against a column.  A slave boy sat on the steps, twiddling his thumbs and staring into the distance.  He was as uneasy as I was.
     "Any sign of trouble, Matthew?" I asked him.
     "No, ma'am," he said, twisting his neck to look up at me before dropping back into his vigilant position.
     "You're a fine boy, Matthew."
     "It's worryin' you, ain't it?  You think the Union soldiers are comin' here?"  His bluntness -- naming the dreaded event when everyone else skirted around it -- was a relief to me.  I could feel my shoulders drop and a sigh escaped me.
     "I don't see why they would skip any plantations -- especially since there are no men here to protect them."  I bit my lip.  This was not a time to think about my Joe.  Or Amelia's Sam.  Or Etta Rose's five sons.  Or any of the others.
     "But they wouldn't hurt women, would they?"  Matthew's questioning face reminded me of the chivalrous man who had raised him.
     "I don't know, Matthew.  Not every boy was raised by a man as fine as your papa."  I turned my head to the house behind me, hugging my column as I did so.  "And I am afraid for Holly Stone Plantation."
     I gazed toward the road again.  A dust cloud came into view, and I stiffened.  But Matthew's eyes were better than my own.
     "It's more people from the other plantations," he said.
     "I see."  The tension lowered, but not all the way.  One of these days, the dust cloud wouldn't be a false alarm.  I suddenly felt very, very weary.  "Send them in when they arrive."  I released my column and returned to my guests.  Etta Rose would want to know that more were coming.  And someone should see to refreshments.
     An hour later, I stood in my bedroom.  I leaned against the bedpost and stared at Joe's wardrobe.  I knew what was in it.  Two Sharps, a Colt, and a Springfield.  The rest of the rifles had gone with him when he signed up under Longstreet.
     Why I sat here, I didn't know.  Maybe it made me feel close to Joe.  I missed him.
     "I wish my Sam were here." Amelia's voice startled me, and I spun to see her in the doorway.  She had an apron on now, and she brushed her hands over it by habit.  "He would know what to do."
     I knew just how she felt, and I crossed the room to wrap my arms around her.  "We'll be fine, Amelia."
     Her chin trembled.  "I'm grateful to you, Eliza, for lettin' us come here.  I was so afraid to be at Belle's Creek alone."  Tears sprang to her eyes.  "Did you hear?  Adelaide Thompson says they ran all night to get to Holly Stone.  The Union soldiers were burnin' her home as she escaped.  Can you imagine?"  She lowered her head and her voice.  "The Union is pillagin' everything."
      My stomach twisted as I thought of my own Holly Stone.  The land was a part of Joe and me.  Joe loved it like a grandfather and cared for it as a child.  Was the Union going to reduce all of us to a shell?  Even our lands?  Our homes?
      Amelia closed her eyes and breathed deeply.  "I always feel safer here, Eliza.  And I knew you would know what to do."
     That's why they were here, wasn't it?  All of them -- they thought I could take care of them.  Oh, Lord, help us.  I raised my chin and smiled so Amelia wouldn't see that I wasn't the capable leader she thought I was.  At the moment, all I wanted to do was to curl up and cry for my Joe.  
     "Let's go down and join the others."  I patted her arm and led the way down the stairs, forcing my voice to be cheerful.  "And somebody needs to check on the children.  Who knows what sort of mischief they might be into?  I think I saw most of them playin' beside the house..."
       "Miss Eliza!  Miss Eliza!  They're comin'!  They're comin'!"  Matthew's voice screeched, piercing through the open windows into the house.  I could hear the fear in it.
      Below me in the sitting room, I heard Adelaide's wail of dismay.  Amelia's fingers clutched my arm.  I threw a glance up at her face.  It was as pale as a corpse.
      But her blue eyes stared into mine and she lifted her chin bravely.  "I'm ready," she whispered.
      Ready for what?
     Another wail burst out from the sitting room.  Suddenly anger flashed through me, and I knew exactly what to do.  "Not on my watch," I said through gritted teeth.  I gathered my skirts in my fists and shoved my way past Amelia, running up the steps into my bedroom.
      Amelia followed me.  I flung open Joe's wardrobe.  She nodded and reached for a rifle with pale, trembling hands.
      Footsteps pounded up the steps, and Etta Rose appeared in the doorway.  She was out of breath but fierce.  "Give me one!" she demanded.
     Amelia took a Sharps, and Etta Rose grabbed the Colt.  I took the two others and raced for the stairs.  "Somebody get the children into the house!" I shouted.
     Bursting into the sitting room, I held my rifles high.  "Quick, ladies!"
     But to my surprise, several of them were on their feet, already armed with weapons brought from their own homes.  
     "We're with you, Eliza," one of them said.
     "Miss Eliza!" Matthew's cry spurred us into action.  I could hear pounding hoofbeats.
     "The side door!" I cried, tossing a Sharps to another Southern belle.
      The women followed me through the house, out the side door, and into the yard.  Etta Rose drew a Confederate flag from her apron and unfurled it.  Hardly stopping for a breath, we swept around the side of the house toward the front just as the Union soldiers rode up.
     There must have been thirty of them.  I could see the looks of surprise on their faces.  One man, third from center, grinned and rubbed his beard as if eager to see how this little scene would play out.  The center man, wearing the uniform of a major, only frowned.
     "Am I to assume the Confederate forces have voted-in a new uniform?" He looked annoyed as he surveyed the dresses blocking his way.
     "You are to assume that this plantation is outside of your jurisdiction and move on." I leveled my rifle at his heart.
     "On whose authority."  His eyes bored into my own, and I heard a chuckle from one of his men.
     "On the authority of wives and mothers.  Take your raiders elsewhere."  As I spoke, I heard the clicks of rifles cocking on either side of me.
     "Well, well."  The major pulled his lips into a snarl.  "You see, men, what we are fighting.  These are not ladies.  This is nothing but a pack of uncivilized vixens."
     My eyes fell on two prisoners in their midst.  Both faces were unfamiliar to me, but that didn't matter.  Either of them could have served next to my Joe, and that made them dear to me.  They were gaunt and weak, covered in dirt.  One man's face was almost completely wrapped in a dirty bandage, and he seemed unsteady on his feet.  I shifted my gaze back to the major.  "On the contrary.  We invite you to partake of our southern hospitality.  I and my friends invite you to a home-cooked meal -- provided you follow some guidelines we lay out."
     "Mmmm-mmmm," said the man who was third from center.  He was still enjoying the scene.  He patted his stomach and grinned at the others.
     "What guidelines might that be?" The major cocked his head at me, and his eyes bored as hard as ever into mine.
      "You take nothing by force.  You harm nothing and no one."  I waved my rifle toward the two gray-coated men.  "And the prisoners eat as well."
     "What if we forget a few of those rules?" the major queried.
     "Then you will be the first one I shoot."
     For a long time, the major said nothing.  I hated the way his gaze dug into me -- hated it so deeply that I held his eyes without a flinch.
     Finally, he jerked his head over his shoulder.  "Peters!  Cauldridge!  Take a few men and ride around.  Make sure this isn't a trap.  The rest of you -- dismount but keep your weapons by you."  Under his breath, he added, "We could use a good meal."  Then he fixed me with his cold eyes once more.  "If you so much as threaten one of my men, I swear we will shoot every last one of you -- women or not."
     I lowered my weapon, lifted my chin, and answered with the most powerful come-back I could imagine: the menu. "Roasted duck.  Biscuits and gravy.  Beans.  Corn.  Buttered grits..."  The two Confederate prisoners lifted their eyes to mine with such a look of hunger and hope that I felt my stomach knot.
     I waved my small band toward the house.  All of the women lowered their weapons except Etta Rose.  I put my hand on her barrel and pushed it downward.  She met my eyes defiantly for a moment and then stalked toward the kitchens.  I watched her go, hoping she would be able to stay out of trouble.
     Amelia's gentle fingers brushed my arm.  "I knew you could do it," she whispered.  "I knew you would know what to do.  And those poor prisoners!!!"
     "It's not over yet, Amelia.  One wrong move and..."  I glanced over my shoulder at the dismounting soldiers.
      Amelia drew a shaky breath and smiled.  "Nobody can resist my biscuits and gravy, can they?"
      "Of course not."  I threw all my confidence into those words and strode toward the house.  "We will be fine."  I beckoned Amelia to follow me.  "And somewhere those prisoners' wives and children will be as grateful as we would be if we knew that someone fed our men a good meal."
     The Union major and I reached my front door at the same time.  He took his hat off and bowed slightly, keeping his eyes fixed on mine.  "After you, vixen."
     Joe would never have allowed anyone to speak to me like that, but I merely thanked the major and led the way into the house.  I could swallow a few insults for the sake of my home and friends.
     As the smells wafted up from the kitchen, the look in the major's eyes grew less harsh.  The Union men ate an exorbitant amount of food -- and, from her position in the kitchen, Etta Rose muttered every Bible verse on greed that she could think of -- but it was worth it.  The Confederate prisoners were tenderly cared for by all of us who wished we could see our own men soon.  And when the soldiers mounted up a few hours later and galloped away, I knew Holly Stone was safe.  This time.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Snippet: Untrackable

     She smiled up in his face, almost incredulous at his question.  “Lands, child!  You don’t find Derwalds.  They find you.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Mental Ward -- Emery Meets Beastly (7)

      Beastly had lost the innocent look of a child.  She crouched like a wild animal on the desk above Emery.  In her hand she held a bloody shard of glass, poised over Emery's chest.
      Emery threw her hands up to shield herself.  Her hands were trembling.
      A different look passed through Beastly's eyes -- confused, maybe.  She shifted the glass in her hand, and her eyes went dark and crazy again.  For a moment, Emery was sure she was about to feel glass plunged into her heart.  But then that confused look appeared again and Beastly's hand faltered.
     "You're're the one who sang."  It was half-statement, half-question.  The voice had a tough quality to it -- like you might expect from a child who has grown up on the street -- but it was a girl's voice.  
      "I did."  
       For a moment, Beastly's eyes went wild again, full of the most horrible fury.  But the expression passed, and Beastly dropped to a sitting position on the edge of the desk and softened her grip on the glass.  She looked around the room as if visiting a place she saw once a very long time ago.
      Emery rolled to her side and pushed herself into a sitting position.
      "She's not dead, you know."  Beastly nodded at Pansy's motionless form.  Then she dropped her eyes to look at the glass shard.  "But some of them are."
     Every so slightly, Emery shifted so she could see the intercom button.  Whatever Beastly was talking about boded nothing good for her.  Emery wanted to live and to go home to her family in one piece.
     "IT did it."  Beastly said, rubbing the flat of the glass against her thigh.  "I couldn't stop it."
      "It?" Emery glanced around the room.  Was there another foe?  How many had escaped?
     Beastly didn't answer.  She stared blankly at her leg.
     It was then that Emery noticed the gash in Beastly's hand.  Whatever damage the glass shard had inflicted in others, it had also cut Beastly.
     "Beastly, you're bleeding!  You need one of the nurses."  For a split second, Emery wanted to reach out and scoop up the girl like she would one of her own sisters, but something held her back.  The best thing she could do for Beastly was to get help for her -- professional help.
     Beastly dropped the glass shard onto her lap and gazed at her hand impartially.  "It does that to us," she murmured.  Then she hopped down from the desk.  "Want to see what I got?"  She reached under the desk, tugging at something that was covered with a sheet.
     Emery saw her opportunity.  She leaped to her feet, diving toward the intercom button.
     But before she could reach it, she felt hands grasping her collar, dragging her down with surprising force.  Emery was shoved into the carpet, but she rolled to face her attacker.
     Beastly held the glass shard to Emery's throat, but the crazy girl's eyes were wide with terror.  "It's got me!  No!"  Then her eyes gripped Emery's and she curled her lip in disdainful pleasure, pressing the edge of the glass against Emery's skin.  Emery had this horrible feeling that the girl was about to kill her and enjoy it.
     From somewhere deep inside, Emery heard the song.  It wound its way up from her heart to her lips.  And then, with tremulous voice and a sharp edge pressed to her neck, she started to sing.  "Amazing Grace, how sweet..."
      The eyes above her went dark with fury and then wide with fright.  "A story!" Beastly gasped.  "You have to tell me a story!  Quick, or it will kill you."

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Perfect Circle

     One of my favorite stories about artists is about one whom I believe lived in medieval times.  I'm sorry -- I have forgotten his name -- but I have not forgotten what he did.

     The story goes that the king heard of the Artist and wished to see if the Artist was as talented as people claimed.  If so, then the king would appoint him as the royal painter, a position of honor and wealth.
     The king sent a committee to the Artist, but the Artist (being a talented artist) was very busy.  When the committee asked for a sample of his art to carry back to the king, the Artist dipped his paintbrush in some paint and, with one swoop, drew a circle on some canvas.  Then he gave the canvas to the committee and sent them on their way.
     When the committee returned with such a simple painting, the king was angry.  How dare the Artist insult him with childish shapes?  But, when the king calmed down, he began to examine the circle.  The longer he studied it, the more amazed he became.  No matter what angle it was examined from, the circle proved to be a perfect circle.
      Astounded with the talent of an artist who could free-hand a perfect circle, the king sent for him and appointed him the honored position.

     I see this in writing.  Sometimes the simplest writing is the best.  A truly great writer will be able to paint his words in a simple but profound form.  A child will recognize it as a pleasant, easy shape that they love.  A genius will marvel at the fact he can finds perfection and revelation in every angle he examines.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Mental Ward - A Call for Help (6)

     Emery leaned her back against the elevator.  Trapped on a floor with a loose lunatic.  What did that even mean?
      The girl, lying semi-conscious on the floor of her room, had not seemed so scary.  But Emery had heard the frightful sounds made when Beastly was awake.  And logic told her that there was a reason the girl was locked in her own high security room.
      If some asylum patients beat their own heads against walls, who was to say that other asylum patients didn't enjoy beating other people's heads against walls?
     "Think, Emery, think."  There must be a way out of here.  A way to let somebody know she was trapped.
      ...But, of course!  The office!  There must be a phone or something in there.
      Relief swelled her heart, and she moved at once.  Tiptoeing as quickly at possible around the corner and down the hall to the office, Emery whispered another prayer.  "Please, God, let me make it."  At least, she had hope now.
     The hall was still empty -- no sign of Beastly.  Emery pushed against the office door.
      It creaked open, long and slow and sad.  Emery hesitated in the doorway, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim room.  The light from the hallway fell around her shoulders, partly illuminating the darkness.
     There!  On the far wall was an intercom button.
      Emery threw one last glance over her shoulder, but the hall was still empty.  Then she darted into the room.
     The door swung shut behind her, plunging the room into darkness.  Emery flung out her arm, still desperately rushing toward the intercom button.  But her foot tripped on something soft.  She fell forward.
     Just as her hands hit the ground, electric light flooded the room.  And before Emery could blink she saw what she had tripped on.  Or who.
     The tubby figure was outstretched, face down on the floor.  And she wasn't moving.
     Emery shrieked, rolling away from her, and landed on her back...
     ...looking straight up into the wild and bloodthirsty eyes of Beastly.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Show and Tell submissions

     I sent all three of my story hooks to Anne this week -- the last of the three I sent only a few minutes ago.
     If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read her post here.  Basically, she is hosting a show-and-tell for any of us who want to participate.  If you are writing a story for the Rooglewood Sleeping Beauty contest, you follow the directions in her post and send the information to her by September 14th.

      The Show-and-Tell will be on Anne's blog on September 16th.  I can hardly wait.  Like one commenter (on Anne's blog) said, this is a chance to see more intriguing stories than just the five winners.

      Have you sent your story hook to Anne yet?  Was the hook hard to write or easy?  Did it feel weird to hit the "send" button?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Snippet: Heels Dug In

A spark of rebellion flashed inside of her.  If they were coming for her, they would have to break down her door.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Mental Ward - Locked In (5)

       When Emery awoke, she found herself stretched out on the floor next to the green couch.  How she ended up there, she could not quite remember.  She sat up and then her cheeks flushed hot and red with embarrassment.
     She had been waiting up to talk to Pansy, hadn't she? And she must have fallen asleep.  What would Pansy think of her now?  Emery cringed to think of it.  
      Emery scrambled to her feet, smoothing out her hem.  Her apron was horribly wrinkled, and there wasn't anything she could do about it.  Feeling like a miserable disgrace, Emery lifted her chin and tried to march up the hall with what she hoped was a professional attitude.
     The hall was quiet.  Too quiet.
      The doors to the children's rooms were locked and barred.  How bad had things gotten last night?  What made them leave the children locked in their rooms?
       Emery passed all the rooms where she was likely to find someone.  The office was empty.  The cleaning closets were quiet.  At the end of the hall ahead of her was Beastly's room.
       Emery had never spent a lot of time looking at Beastly's door, but something seemed very wrong about it.  A feeling of apprehension crept over her as she walked toward it.  What was it?
      The bars!  The bars were missing!  There should be three bars fitted into snug holds across the door!
       Emery kept walking.
      The locks!  They should be horizontal to show they are secure, but each one is vertical!
       Emery kept walking.  She was quite close now.
       And that's when she saw the crack.  The door
      Without a sound, Emery turned and fled.  Deep down she knew it was a bad thing for Beastly to be out of that room.  What it meant exactly, she did not know.  But she had to tell somebody.  And quick.
      As she rounded the corner of the hallway, her heart was pounding and her breath came in quick gasps.  Her fingers closed on the handle of the stairway and jerked it downwards.  But it didn't move.
       Emery tried the handle again, but it was just as secure.  The door had been locked.  She turned from there and ran to the elevator, pressing the button over and over again.  But no light appeared.  By all appearances, the elevator was dead.
       Emery tried to slow herself down.  She could feel the panic rising in her throat.  "Think, Emery, think."  But thinking did not calm her down at all.  If Beastly had escaped her room, and the doors of this floor were locked, then the Asylum must believe that Beastly was somewhere on this floor.
      And no one would know that Emery was still here.  By Asylum accounts, she should have gone home hours ago.  They wouldn't even be looking for her.

     She was locked in with a lunatic.