Johnny Cash

My latest Paintslinger effort.

Posted: Mon, Aug 8 2016 - 17:15 PM

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WORDSLINGER UPDATE – JULY 11, 2013

While I have made excuses for lapses in posting before, as it has been two weeks shy of a YEAR since my last post, I figured I’d better come up with a good one. Which shan’t be hard, because … while prepping my recently-published (2010) novel BROODING for e-readers, I spent the past year and a half revising it again in what turned into more than a polish and less than a full blown rewrite. Given the book’s scope, controversial themes, and wanting to make it accessible to all … I really just wanted another whack at the thing. While some changes were significant, none take the story in any new directions, but simply clarify plot, rectify bad habits, finesse the balance of the disparate subject matter, and better pave the way for Book II – which IS coming.

I have decided to post the first few chapters online for those who wish to sample this novel before laying down $22.95 for an over-sized paperback. (If that price seems high, understand this book is the same size as a hardback, is 664 pages long, and weighs about 3 pounds. You WILL get your money’s worth.) You can check these out by starting with the PROLOGUE.

So THAT’s what I’ve been up to. If I go any significant amount of time before posting again, it is because I am on the road promoting this book. I will let you know when and where.

Until next time, so long, farewell, and – as always – don’t take any shit from anybody!

Posted: Thu, Jul 11 2013 - 09:45 AM

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READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 8 & 9

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

 

CHAPTER 8

Susan Davis was well into her teens before she began to suspect that her home life wasn’t typical. These suspicions were not born from frequent contact with other girls––always home schooled, Susan didn’t have contact with other girls. Since her mother also saw to her religious training (they never again attended any church on a regular basis after Eddie was murdered at Trinity Methodist), Susan had no other examples by which she could compare her existence. Not even TV. Grace was as phobic regarding the negative influence television might have on Susan as she was with the public school system, and controlled what the girl viewed with her trademark dictatorial fervor.

Susan’s first suspicions that her life wasn’t normal were the result of the one real window to the outside world her mother did eventually allow: books. Yet even these were obsessively monitored; God forbid there be any profanity, violence, or––the ultimate taboo––sexuality in these stories. Only works by Grace-approved authors were allowed in the house. It was in this area that Susan committed her first act of rebellion. The only reason she did was that after so many years, even Susan, who coexisted in this vacuum, had to admit that her mother’s mental elevator might not go all the way to the top floor.

Grace Davis may have started to lose her mind before her husband’s death, but after, the woman’s oft-demented behavior increased exponentially. In the wake of Eddie’s murder, Susan never saw her mother shed one tear for him. Given the fact that he had been unfaithful, Grace’s feelings were best summed up by the manner of funeral arrangements she made for him: pine box nouveau.

By the time Susan’s suspicions regarding her mother’s mental health began to kick in, serious damage had already been done to the girl’s psyche. For too many years, by word and by deed, Grace had tattooed Susan’s soul with the assured belief that she was as inconsequential as ... well ... as one of her dolls.

The Davis home was more lovely than any dollhouse Susan had ever seen. For all of her life––but especially after her father’s passing––Susan saw her mother spare no expense in residential restoration. Even Susan’s room was like something out of a fairy tale or a dream. It was bright, cheery, bursting with dolls, toys, games, and other colorful distractions, and contained a four-poster bed as massive and fluffy as a Neverland cloud. ‘Twas a room fit for a princess. It was many years before the façade began to tatter and fray, but even when Susan was little, she had glimpses of the ugly truth behind the carnival tent.

Once, in her last year of single digits, Susan was playing with one of her dolls in one of her royal dollhouses, when an adult thought occurred to her, so fascinating, she couldn’t wrap her intellect around it. She realized how easy it was to make the plastic angel do her bidding: she could make her skip, play, kiss, hide, sit, get dressed, she could even lock her in her room if she so desired.

She was the one manipulating the little doll. Cocking her head as the insight flirted with her, she realized that her mom was doing the same thing to her. Mommy has got a dollhouse, too, she thought. And ... I’m her dolly. She became quite upset after that, and proceeded to punish the doll she held by beating it against her dresser until the head popped off. “Bad, bad dolly,” Susan said. “You’d better put your head back on before people see you. What kind of person will everyone think I am if they see you walking around with your head off?” Susan had laughed at that ... but for some reason it sounded like she was crying.

When Susan turned sixteen, Grace took her to a local Driver’s License center so she could get her first license. It wasn’t so Susan could have free reign to come and go as she pleased. Rather, it was so the girl could run errands when Grace didn’t feel like leaving the house; which was much more often as the years passed (Grace was fifty-seven the year Susan got her license).

On Fridays, Grace allowed Susan to drive her Cadillac to three approved places: supermarket, drugstore, and library. Grace knew precisely how many miles this round trip took, and regularly checked the mileage on the DeVille’s odometer before and after Susan’s libertarian jaunts.

A few months later, after Grace realized that her daughter had never once varied from the approved destinations on her errand runs, she allowed one more stop to be added to the previous three at Susan’s request: a used book store between the grocery and pharmacy. Susan could have stopped there without asking, and Grace would have never known the difference. The fact that Susan did ask her, informed Grace that her control over her daughter was complete. Grace told Susan that, yes, she could stop at the book store if she so wished; provided the girl show her what books she’d purchased while she was there.

And that’s where Susan’s first act of defiance took root.

Grace didn’t punish Susan often. She didn’t have to. She’d molded the girl to her whims and fancies from birth, without the nuisance of outside influence, and was capable of manipulating her daughter with naught more than a raised brow or a single tear. If every once in awhile the girl needed to be chastened, Grace found that an afternoon or night locked in the attic usually did the trick. The first time this happened, Susan had cried and cried, begging to be let out of the dark and spooky room. Yet, it wasn’t so much the space that scared her, as it was an utter lack of external stimuli. Grace had taught Susan many methods of disassociation, and the fact that the attic was without anything to distract her from her mind––and the horrors she had stuffed in it since she was little–– was the most unbearable part of her punishment. Susan vowed to never again let this happen, and thereafter began secretly stocking the attic with books.

There was a tall bookcase in one corner of the attic, slender enough to fit between two wall studs. It was also illusory because it was two-sided; only by pulling it out did one realize it could hold twice the amount as the front. Susan put Grace-approved titles (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew) in the front of the shelf, but as her love for reading grew, writers of a decidedly darker bent began to fill the veiled backside. Having had a fascination with thrillers ever since the preacher’s son at Trinity Methodist led her away to The Lux to see North by Northwest on the day of her father’s murder (by far her clearest memory of that day), Susan loved any story laden with suspense. The Nancy Drew adventures had their share of thrills, but as she grew older, Susan wanted stories that appealed to her ever maturing tastes.

As she frequented the used book store, Susan could usually be found sitting cross-legged on the floor in the MYSTERY-HORROR-SUSPENSE aisle, enclosed by paperbacks. While the first titles she added to her secret library were anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Richard Matheson, she quickly became enamored of two authors whose stories so oddly mirrored her own existence that she could not read them fast enough: namely Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Susan would read––nay, devour––these books at night, in secret, by flashlight, under the covers, and then stash them up in the attic. Being the most blatant deception she’d ever committed, she actually got quite a kick out of it.

After reading King’s Carrie, The Dead Zone, and IT (all of which featured religiously wacky mother figures), Susan realized her plight wasn’t so unique. Others had suffered under the reckless rule of parents with loose mental screws, and had thus ended up with poor self-images and other psychological defects. Amazingly, these flawed characters were not bad guys, they were the heroes; worthy of empathy and love. When, as adults, they would face down monsters (often metaphors for emotional demons), Susan found herself caring about them, rooting for them. She started to believe she wasn’t the mousy, worthless, ugly duckling her mother made her believe she was. Maybe she mattered, after all. Yes, the Bible told her that Jesus loved her, but ... years spent under the twisted rule and warped theology of her mother had rendered such scripture debatable. That brand name “horror” authors could help restore the certitude of her worth as one of God’s beloved children was hilariously ironic, Susan thought.

After she turned seventeen, Susan began to grasp the terrible extent of her mother’s madness, as well as that of her own intrinsic value. Yet even with this recently confirmed wisdom, she wasn’t nearly aware of all the psychological damage that had already been done to her. If she had been, things might have turned out very differently after the carpet layers showed up at the house.

 

CHAPTER 9

During the first week of September, Susan was eating lunch (grilled cheese and tomato bisque soup) in her mother’s room, when a knock came at the front door.

Grace hadn’t been feeling well today. Though the meal that Susan now ate had been prepared for her mom––to Susan’s dismay (and relief)––she saw upon entering that her mother had knocked herself out. Susan didn’t know what combination of pills Grace had taken, but the drool running out of the side of the woman’s mouth and wetting the pillow below, told Susan all that she needed to know about how long her mother would be unconscious. Grace likely wouldn’t rouse until late afternoon. It was now pushing 12:00.

Susan put down her sandwich, went downstairs, and answered the door.

The man standing on the veranda couldn’t have looked more out of place. The Davis house received few visitors, but those who had previously come had never resembled the rough character standing before her. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, a short beard, tattoos on his arms, and a clipboard in his hand. His attire was simply a clean white tee shirt, blue jeans, and black boots. Yet despite his unpolished exterior, Susan detected no animosity in his eyes, and so inquired, “Can I help you?”

With a disarming smile, the man asked, “Is this the Davis residence?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Ty Morehouse,” the man said. “I’m the owner of Carpet Diem.

I have an appointment to re-carpet a room in this house today.”

“I thought that was next week,” Susan replied, recalling that her mother had briefly mentioned she was having the carpet in the parlor replaced. “Nnnooo, it’s today,” the man said, showing her the date on the invoice.

“If this is a bad time, I can reschedule you for another ...”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Susan interrupted. Looking behind Ty, she saw a white van parked in front of the house with the words CARPET DIEM writ on the side. With a small smile, she added, “Clever name for your company.”

“Thanks,” Ty said. “It doesn’t quite translate as seize the carpet, it’s more like carpet the day, but I’m glad you got the reference. Too many clients don’t.”

“Did you make it up?” Susan asked.

“No, my nephew did. He’s also my partner.” Ty turned toward the street and called, “Hey Al, hurry up.”

“Coming!” cried the stocky young man retrieving a toolbox from the back of the van. As he came up the walk, Susan saw he was younger than the man on the step (likely only nineteen or twenty), but was dressed in a similar fashion: faded jeans, motorcycle boots, white tee shirt, and a fitted black leather vest. In addition to his long and wavy brown hair, he had well-shaped sideburns, a chopper mustache, and a soul patch under his bottom lip which Susan thought looked both handsome and cool. As he pranced up the porch steps, she also saw he had sensitive hazel eyes which reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t place who ... until she recalled what Ty had said his last name was.

“Hi,” the young man said to Susan, stepping next to his Uncle Ty. “I’m Al.”

As Susan’s eyes shimmered a bit, Ty and Al were taken aback. Al cocked his head at the sweet, petite, and familiar girl. He knew her from someplace.

“Al?” Susan asked, trying to stanch her emotion. “Al Morehouse?”

“Yes,” Al began. “Wait a sec. Davis? Are you ... Susan Davis?”

Susan nodded, and––far too emotional to question the decorum––went to Al and wrapped her arms around him. Al hugged her back, also fighting tears.

Ty watched this tender exchange ... and smiled. He didn’t know what their previous relationship had been, but it had obviously been important.

Al and Susan held onto each other for almost a full minute, neither saying a word. Finally, Susan pulled away and wiped her face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”

“Of course not,” Al replied. “I’ve thought about you a lot over the years.”

“Me, too.”

Tongue planted in cheek, Ty said, “Let me guess ... you know each other.”

“A little bit,” Al told him, unable to take his eyes off of the lovely girl.

Suddenly remembering something that could ruin this tender reunion, he asked Susan, “Is your mom here?”

“Sleeping,” Susan replied with a little grin. “She’ll be out for hours.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Ty spoke. “Susan, kindly point us to the right room if you would. Al, help me to move the furniture out and the new carpet roll in ... and you two can visit to your heart’s content. Deal?”

“Deal,” Susan and Al replied at the same time.

Thirty minutes later (as Ty was laying plush white carpet in the parlor), Al and Susan sat next to each other on the front porch swing, sipping iced tea.

“How long have you worked for your uncle?” Susan asked.

“Since I was seventeen,” Al replied. “I’ve lived with him since then, too.”

“You don’t live with your parents anymore?”

Al shook his head. “That’s kind of a long story. I haven’t gotten along with my folks since they booted my uncle out of our basement years ago. He lived in our house for awhile when I was a kid. Come to think of it ... it was the night before we went to the movies that day.”

“I love that day,” Susan sighed. “I mean, it was horrible what happened to my dad, but up until then you made me feel ...” Susan blushed and looked down at her lap.

“What?” Al gently asked. “I made you feel what?”

“Safe,” Susan answered. “And special.”

“I’m glad,” Al spoke. “Uncle Ty didn’t live with us long, but his influence on me was pretty profound. He’s the one who made me fall in love with movies. I used to get mad that my Dad’s church took such a self-righteous stance against popular entertainment. Hollywood Babylon, you know? They never went so far as to smash records, or CDs, or videos––which to me is way too close to Nazi book burnings––but their attitude was no less sanctimonious. The church board didn’t want my father attending R-rated movies, so Dad––somehow convinced he was being extra super holy––basically forbade his family from all of them. His condemnation of the medium was absolute. When that’s all it is: a medium. I mean, when Jesus wanted to make a point to His disciples, how did He do it?”

Susan thought for a moment, then said, “He told stories.”

“Exactly. Filmmaking is just a medium for storytelling. And when my dad would pronounce his supreme judgment on it from the pulpit, church turned into a place where I couldn’t even be myself. And if you can’t be yourself at church, what’s the point? My parents laid down such autocratic standards, the only escape I could find was at the movies. Then they condemned me for that, too! After awhile, I couldn’t take it anymore. It all came to a head when I enrolled in a film class during my senior year of high school. The entire grade was dependent on a short film we were supposed to make. My little movie got me an ‘A’ for the course, but also cemented my estrangement from my parents.”

“Why?”

“My film was a montage of images depicting religious hypocrisy through the ages. Some of my examples included the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Bakker and Swaggart sex scandals, molestation in the church, the shooting of abortion doctors, purported Christians at pro-gay rallies holding hate signs, bling-flashing, money-grubbing televangelists, etc. All this set to the strains of They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. I knew it was controversial. That was my intention. I thought juxtaposing those disparate sights and sounds would make a potent statement about the sorry state of the modern-day church, and how far it’s fallen away from Jesus’ teachings, preachings, and beatitudes. It was absolutely meant to be seen as irony. My parents didn’t see it that way.”

Susan had never heard anybody express so clearly something she’d vaguely felt for so long. She already held a special place in her heart for Al, but the more he spoke, the more fascinated she became. For some reason, Susan didn’t think her mother would hold the same opinion. “Is that when you moved out?”

“Yes. My folks sent my brother to medical school in New England, paying for his tuition out of an account they had built up for years for our education. Around this time––just before graduation––I expressed my desire to attend film school in either Los Angeles or New York. Long story short, they refused. They told me this vocation had too much corruption, sin, and Godlessness––fast cars, hard drugs, and loose women––for them to pay the tab on what would surely be their son’s moral downfall. It was the last straw. So I left. I showed up on my uncle’s doorstep with a duffel bag, and I’ve been living with him ever since.”

“Are you still going to go to film school?”

“Believe me, I’d love to. But I don’t know how I’d afford it. Or even retain what I might learn, given some of my current extracurricular activities.”

Not understanding, Susan was about to ask him to explain, but ...

“Besides, I am in film school,” Al went on, “and have been since I was ten. In fact, I’ve got a class tomorrow morning. I’d be honored if you would join me.”

“Join you? Where?”

“Why, The Lux, of course. They’ve got a James Dean fest playing this week. East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. Uncle Ty said I could have the day off. Care to accompany me?”

As gears whirred and meshed in Susan’s mind, she saw how it could work. “Tomorrow’s Friday,” she replied. “That’s the day I run errands for my mother. I might not be able to watch all three films, but could I come for just one or two?”

“Sure,” Al grinned. “Meet me there a little before eleven o’clock. It’ll be just like ... old times.” His voice cracked with emotion on those last two words.

Susan heard it, and––realizing there was a tenderhearted man under this rough exterior––simply took his hand, leaned over, and placed her head on his shoulder. It might have been awkward with anyone else, but the bond between them was as powerful as it was old. They sat that way for a good little while, silence speaking volumes. Al knew he had something he needed to tell Susan, but perhaps this wasn’t the right time.

When Ty came outside, Al and Susan quickly resumed their former posture.

Looking at Susan, Ty had a brief-but-powerful flash in his mind of two simple words: borrowed time. Whether this was simple intuition, or some sort of Godly insight, this was not the first instance of such. It was not unusual for Ty to get feelings about people (and their motives), or events (and their meanings), that were usually as reliable (and eerie) as they were inexplicable. He didn’t talk about it much. Truth told, it made him more than a little uncomfortable. He didn’t know what the words borrowed time had to do with this sweet girl ––couldn’t be anything good––but rather than brood on the mystery, he simply said, “All done. Al, will you help me with the furniture?”

“Sure, Uncle Ty.”

After Al and Ty replaced the parlor furnishings, Ty asked Susan what she wanted done with the old carpet (which was still in good shape). Susan asked if they would mind storing it in the attic. They agreed. Going to the second floor ––ensuring her mother was still out cold––Susan led Al and Ty to a door at the front end of the house. A narrow staircase, between inner and outer walls, led to the garret. As the men placed the bulky roll against the wall opposite Susan’s bookcase, Al noted, “A person could make a pretty cool studio up here.”

“I concur,” Susan told him.

Later, outside, Ty gave Susan a copy of the invoice he’d shown her before, and said, “Don’t worry about paying us now, I’ll just send your mother a bill.” Susan looked extremely relieved at this. Ty didn’t know why, but Al did.

To Susan, Al said, “Tomorrow. Eleven. The Lux. Yes?”

With a little nod and a sweet smile, Susan replied, “I can’t wait.”

After bidding the lovely girl adieu, Al and Ty hopped in the CARPET DIEM van and drove off to their next appointment.

Smiling more broadly than she had in years, Susan waved vigorously after them, then went back inside the house.

Grace woke up a few hours later. As she came groggily down the staircase in her robe and slippers, she found Susan reclined on the floral-print sofa in the parlor, reading a book. The room was so resplendent with its new white carpet that Grace was nearly blinded by it.

By now Susan was cognizant of her mother’s mental and emotional games, and had only recently begun playing them herself. It could be dangerous, but she figured anything she could do to get her mother’s focus off who actually laid this rug, and on the fact of its undeniable beauty, was a plus. She had staged this scene carefully and––spotting her cue––Susan smiled, put out her arms, and exclaimed, “Taa-daaah! Notice anything different, Mother?”

Grace’s eyes danced confusedly around the room, but ... as her lips slowly grew into a smile, she enthused, “Oh my goodness! This is absolutely gorgeous!” She took off her slippers and walked around barefoot on the luxuriant carpet. “As soft as it is pretty,” she practically sang. “I didn’t think the carpet people were coming till next week, but oooohh, what a wonderful surprise!”

“They were quick, courteous, and extremely professional,” Susan explained, wanting to answer the question before it was asked, while her mother was still within the throes of wall-to-wall ecstasy. “The invoice is on the kitchen table. They said they would mail you a bill.”

“Worth every penny!” Grace exclaimed, curling her toes in the plush nap.

Susan breathed a big sigh of relief and began to relax. She didn’t like to be so deceitful and cunning, but––after all––she learned from the best. 

 

WELL, THERE'S THE FIRST 9 CHAPTERS OF BROODING. ONLY 118 MORE TO GO. HA!

WANT TO READ MORE? YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO. HEAD ON OVER TO EITHER MY E-STORE OR MY AMAZON PAGE AND GET A COPY.

(SINCE I HAVE MADE A FEW MAJOR REVISIONS OVER RECENT YEARS ON BROODING, IF YOU GO TO MY AMAZON PAGE, TO ENSURE GETTING THE LATEST VERSION, ALWAYS BUY NEW. THANKS!)

 

Posted: Thu, Jul 11 2013 - 09:25 AM

Comments: 1

READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 6 & 7

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

 

CHAPTER 6

By the time Al and Susan arrived, hand in hand, back at Trinity Methodist, it was pushing two o’clock. They both knew they were going to have to answer for their irresponsible actions and explain why they’d left church without a word, but before they even set foot on parking lot asphalt, they thought they were in even more trouble than they had anticipated.

There was one ambulance, two paramedics, three police cars, and four cops in the lot. Flashing lights, steel barricades (holding back countless pedestrian rubberneckers), and yellow tape with CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS printed on it surrounded the perimeter. As Al and Susan ducked under it and walked toward the church, Susan asked, “Are we in trouble, Al? Is this because of us?”

“I don’t think so,” Al told her. “I don’t ...”

“There they are! Over there!”

Ruth Morehouse came running at top speed toward her son. Just before she plowed over him, she stopped, squatted, and hugged not just Al, but Susan, too. The woman was crying hard, but Al saw they were tears of relief, not sorrow. Squeezing the kids tight, Ruth asked, “Where were you? Where did you go? Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.”

“We’re okay,” Al and Susan replied in unison.

“Oh, thank God! Thank God! We thought he’d taken you. We thought ...”

“Who?” Al asked. “You thought who took us?”

Ruth looked at Susan, crying anew. “Oh, Susan, I’m so sorry. I’m so very ...”

“What happened?” Susan asked. “How come there are policemen here? Did we do something bad? Is this because of me and Al?”

“No,” Ruth said. “It’s not because of you. Although they’ve been looking for you, too. Where did you go?”

Susan looked at Al and asked, “Can I tell her?”

Al nodded; the truth had to come out eventually anyway.

Bravely, Susan stated, “After Sunday school, Al saw how sad I was, so he took me on a date to the movies.”

Ruth laughed at that. Hugging both kids, she said again, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“You mean ... you’re not mad?” Al asked.

“Of course, I’m not mad. I don’t know what made you get Susan out of here, but in this case ... it was a good thing.”

“Why?” Al and Susan asked, once again in chorus.

Just as Ruth was about to answer, Al’s father came running over. He seemed just as relieved as Ruth had been. “Are they okay?” he asked, kneeling down.

“They’re fine,” Ruth said. “Al took her to the movies.”

David Morehouse embraced both kids.

Al––still furious after Uncle Ty’s eviction––grudgingly accepted the hug.

“Do they know?” David asked his wife.

Ruth shook her head.

David took a deep breath, grasped Susan’s little hands in his big ones, and––with heavy heart and choked voice––said, “Honey, I’m afraid I have some terrible news.”

Susan pulled her hands away from the minister, took a step back toward Al, and took his hand instead. “What is it?” she asked.

“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” David answered, “so ... I’ll just tell you. A bad man came here today. After church, he snuck up on your Daddy in the parking lot and ... hurt him very bad.”

Susan had repressed much of the previous day’s events, but one thing that stuck with her was the menacing, red-eyed figure that she’d seen in the dark classroom. As she looked over by the police cars, Susan saw what she hadn’t before: staining the sun-faded asphalt was what looked like a large spill of dark blood. With an odd lucidity in her eyes, and a voice far more grave than any eight year old’s should sound, she said, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” David replied, shocked, “I’m afraid he is.”

As Susan processed this, she stated flatly, “It’s because of Nadja, isn’t it?” The Reverend cocked his head. “Kind of. You know about that?”

“I know my Daddy was doing bad things with her. Is that why he’s ...?”

“I think so. After the police came, they asked if I had any suspicions about who would do this. I couldn’t think of anybody. Then I remembered that my brother, Ty, had seen a strange car here last night, with the license plate ...”

“GRIM-1,” Al finished.

“You saw him, too?” David asked. “When?”

“Right before I took Susan to The Lux. He was out back by the Dumpsters.” “Oh, Al. Oh, thank God He kept you safe.”

“Who was he, Dad?”

“Nadja’s ex-boyfriend. The police just caught him across town. Apparently he’d stalked her for months, even though she’d filed a restraining ... I’m sorry, Susan. You don’t need to hear this.”

Still holding Al’s hand, Susan replied bravely, “It’s the truth. I’m glad I don’t have to have a secret anymore. I’m glad Al took me on a date and made me feel safe. I’m glad ...” Her eyes rolled up to whites then, and she began to swoon to the ground.

Al moved quickly––bending down and catching her tiny frame in his arms.

Susan was only out for a moment before she came to again. Looking up at Al, she tried to smile, but was interrupted.

From across the parking lot came the wild cry: “Lemme go! Let go of me!”

Near the ambulance, they saw Susan’s mother struggling madly with the paramedics. They were trying to restrain her, and she was swinging at them like a crazy woman.

“Your mom became frantic when she couldn’t find you after church service,” Ruth told Susan. “I got scared, too, when I realized I couldn’t find Al. We were looking for both of you when we found your dad. After the paramedics arrived, Grace was so overwrought, they gave her a mild sedative, and ...”

“Let me go!” Grace Davis screamed one last time.

As the mad woman ran toward them, Susan leaned close to Al and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll never forget you.”

“Susan!” Grace shrieked. “Oh, Susan, Susan!” Picking up her daughter, swinging her around and smothering her face with kisses, “Where were you?” she asked.

Once more, Susan said, “After class, Al saw that I was sad, and so he took me to the movies.”

Instantly shooting hate-dipped arrows from her eyes at the insolent boy (and then recalling who else was standing with them), Grace softened quickly, smiled gratefully, and said, “Thank you, Mister Morehouse, for keeping my precious little angel out of harm’s way.”

Al didn’t know how to reply. He hoped that his parents had just seen the appearance of the witch, but––considering their inability to see any worth in the man they’d kicked out the night before––it was doubtful.

“I’m taking Susan home,” Grace told David and Ruth, again wearing her brilliant mask of saintly geniality.

For a moment, David saw that the woman’s eyes were slightly crossed and rapidly vibrating with a micron of movement. Dementia was the clinical word that popped into his mind and ... he was suddenly very worried about the little girl in her arms.

“Thank you for everything,” Grace went on, as if she were leaving a party. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused you.”

Inconvenience? David thought, trying to process the absurdity of the word. Good Lord, the woman is demented.

As Grace turned away from them and walked back toward her car, she was stopped by a police officer who, seeing her with her little girl, obviously had more questions now that it was obvious they were dealing with just a murder, and not a murder/kidnapping.

David looked at Al and said, “Ordinarily, you’d be very grounded right now for doing what you did. Especially considering where you took that girl. During church, no less. But under the circumstances, maybe God had you get her out of here. You did good, son.” He put his hand on Al’s shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” Al cried, jerking away. “I don’t care if you do ground me. After what you did last night to Uncle Ty ... I don’t care about anything.” Looking over at Susan––tiny and defenseless next to Broom-Hilda––he thought ... except maybe that little girl.

After Grace Davis convinced the policeman that she was coherent enough to drive home (the officer agreed to follow her in his squad car), she loaded Susan into her Cadillac Deville, climbed in herself, started it up, and pulled out of the parking lot. As they quickly drove away, Susan looked at Al through the passenger window and gave him a little wave.

Al waved back––his heart aching in a way he couldn’t explain.

He wouldn’t see Susan Davis again for another nine years.

 

CHAPTER 7

“Aha!” Goodfellow enthuses. “The plot thickens. Grace Davis––now there is a woman after my own black heart.”

Valiant nods and replies, “Yes, I thought you might fancy her.”

“Fancy her? Why, she’s simply to die for. As mad as a hatter. Two hatters. With a cluster of my wicked and warty kinfolk clinging to her like leeches. Wonderful. For a back story, I’m finding this quite the diverting little show.” Clapping his palms together and rubbing them with vigor, he asks, “So, what’s next? Where to now, old friend?”

“We’re skipping ahead about nine years,” Valiant tells him, spreading his powerful wings and ascending toward the electric vortex opening above them. “Come on.”

As two dark, leathery wings sprout through slits in the back of his plush velvet jacket, Nick rises after him, saying, “Right behind you, Val. Working so closely like this almost makes me wistful for old times. Almost.” 

 

go to CHAPTER 8.

 

Posted: Thu, Jul 11 2013 - 09:19 AM

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READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 4 & 5

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

CHAPTER 4

“Why so troubled?” Valiant asks Goodfellow as they ascend from Al’s room to the roof of the Morehouse abode. “I thought such discord would please you.”

Grunting, Nicholas answers, “If you thought I missed the crimson mantle on Ty Morehouse’s shoulders, you must think me blind. But how ironic that an old stoner should have the gift of prophecy. Yes, his words trouble me. Especially his mention of an advocate––which is definitely not what this world needs. Religious bondage has long been one of the most useful tools of my trade. I don’t want such hard won deceptions exposed. Thankfully, Ty’s affinity for mood elevators, and his too-easily-angered demeanor, render his words ineffectual.”

“Maybe to his brother,” Valiant says, “but Al heard him loud and clear.”

“Perhaps. And why do you look so nonchalant?” Goodfellow asks Valiant. “I thought such discord would upset you.”

Glancing Heavenward, Valiant sighs and replies, “Many Christians would likely write Ty Morehouse off as a crazy heretic like his family does, but that doesn’t mean his words aren’t true. They’re all too true. Far more damage has been done to Christianity by Christians themselves, than by all its most vocal naysayers put together. It breaks God’s Heart. It breaks my heart. And that smug look on your face tells me you know it, too.”

“Oh, I know it,” Nick smirks. “Believe me, I know. So ... what’s next?”

“Follow me,” Valiant tells the demon. “Our next stop is that church."

As they descend to the ground––the moon and sun swapping places in the sky as they do––they see the parking lot of Trinity Methodist fill up with cars. Scores of people––couples, families, and loners––are making their way inside. They are all here: the healthy and hurting, the free and captive, the righteous and self-righteous. Among them––unseen by any except Val and Nick––are not only dozens of angels, but quite a few demons, as well. Angels and demons of all shapes and sizes, walking, talking, floating, comforting, and tormenting. Many of the demons are small enough to ride comfortably upon the shoulders of their hosts, filling their ears with pride and sanctimony.

With a devilish grin, Nick tells Valiant, “These people, these pathetic chattering chimps, would be positively gobsmacked if they only knew how many of my kind had infiltrated their precious ranks.”

“Perhaps someday someone will tell them,” Valiant replies.

“Well, we can’t have that. Besides, they wouldn’t believe ...whomever. They would dismiss such a one as readily as Reverend Morehouse booted out his beatnik brother.” Seeing Valiant chuckle at this, Nicks adds, “And if you are insinuating that this someone is the advocate of which Ty Morehouse spoke ...”

“I’m insinuating nothing,” Val replies. “Come, we need to see something.”

Passing through the church’s front doors and down a flight of stairs to the left, they go down a hall and dissolve through the door of a closed classroom.

 

CHAPTER 5

The Sunday school teacher was droning on about something, but ...

Al hadn’t been paying attention to the lesson. He was upset and distracted. Through the basement classroom window, he saw that Uncle Ty (who’d arrived at the house after Al and his family had gone to church) had already packed up his belongings and loaded them into the back of a small U-Haul truck, doing so at nearly superhuman speed. The man was currently strapping his Harley to the trailer behind it. It was almost 10:30 a.m. (church service started at 11:00), and before Al knew it, he saw Uncle Ty close the back of the moving van, hop up in the cab, and drive away again. The only thing that kept Al from crying right now was that he’d pretty much drained his tears the night before. And yet––

The teacher said something then that struck Al so very wrong, he quickly diverted his attention back to the classroom. (Al was normally in the 4th - 6th grade class, but since his regular teacher was sick this morning, his class had been combined with the 1st - 3rd graders.) The teacher’s name was Grace Davis. Al didn’t know her well––she was married to his father’s Associate Pastor.

“God loves good little boys and girls,” the woman had said. The statement was directed toward her daughter, Susan, who was also in class. Disturbed by this––and recalling all that Uncle Ty had said the night before––Al decided to call her on it before she could continue. Without raising his hand, he replied, “God loves all little boys and girls, not just good ones.”

Mrs. Davis turned so fast and spoke with such venom, Al was taken aback. “I was addressing my daughter, Mr. Morehouse. You may be our minister’s son, but if you have an issue that you wish to discuss, you can either raise your hand like a gentleman, or wait until class is dismissed. That way you will not disrupt my teaching, nor undermine my authority when I am correcting my own child.”

“But I was just saying ...”

Stepping from the flannel-weave board on the wall (the story of Daniel and the lion’s den now hung there from a mass-produced, Methodist curriculum), Mrs. Davis took two steps toward the table at which her class sat. Though she was an attractive woman dressed in a pretty paisley dress, she now loomed witch-like over her students. For a moment, Al thought he could actually see insanity stirring in her eyes, brimstone running in tendrils from her nostrils, and a cackle hiding beneath her tongue. Just as swiftly, however, she changed back into an image of sweetness and gentility. Al seemed to be the only one to notice.

The other kids sat upright in their chairs, hands folded neatly, eager for the chance to give a correct answer to one of Mrs. Davis’s queries, and thereby receive one of the gourmet chocolates that she doled out as rewards.

Al saw Mrs. Davis change. It wasn’t his imagination. He saw it. The only other person here who may also have seen this lightning-quick transformation was Grace’s daughter, Susan. But Susan looked like she was upset by something else entirely. The girl’s eyes were either staring blankly, darting fearfully, or closed in prayer or sleep. Al didn’t understand it, but he sympathized.

“Al,” Mrs. Davis oozed, “what do we do when we have a question?”

A parental voice within Al’s mind told him to raise his hand like she was goading him to do, but instead––ignoring her lead––Al looked closer at Susan.

He had known her since his father hired her father seven months earlier. In that time, they had played together a few times on the playground or in the church’s gym. Susan was fun, smart, pretty, and a little sad.

She looks a lot sad now, Al thought. She looks lost and scared. He decided to ask her if she was okay after class. Her troubles were undoubtedly connected to this crafty, shape-shifting woman who was instructing them.

“Al,” Grace went on, “do you have a question or not?”

Yes, Al thought, haven’t you got a cauldron somewhere that needs stirring? He caught himself before it slipped. While he was ready to press the woman about her statement, concern for Susan stopped him. If he made a scene now, he might be unable to check on her later. Looking at Mrs. Davis, Al swallowed his pride, put on his most innocent face, and respectfully replied, “No, ma’am.”

“Good,” she told him. “Now where was I?”

Their class was dismissed soon after.

As the other children poured out into the hall to find their parents, Susan stayed in her seat. Al left the room, but tarried outside the door to hear what Mrs. Davis had to say to Susan. He didn’t have to wait long until he heard:

“Stand up, young lady,” the witch spat, “and stop looking so miserable. You’ve been acting weird all morning. What kind of mother are people around here going to think I am if you continue this way, hmm? Answer me.”

“A bad one,” Susan said in a voice so submissive that it broke Al’s heart. “That’s right. And what kind of mother am I?”

“A good one.”

“And what kind of daughter are you acting like this morning?”

“A bad one.”

“And why do you need to be good?”

“Because God loves good little girls,” Susan answered lifelessly.

“Yes. Now straighten up. I can’t go to the service with you this morning. I‘m helping in the kitchen because we’re having a potluck in the gymnasium after church. So here’s what: I want you to sit in the front pew so Daddy can keep an eye on you from the platform. I want you to put on your sweetest smile and be on your best behavior. That way, when God sees you sitting there, He’ll not only be pleased with you, but pleased with me. Here’s two dollars tithe for you to put in the offering plate when it goes by. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver. I need to collect my teaching materials, so you scoot along and make me proud.”

Al had never been so angry as he’d been the previous evening (when Chris pulled a Judas on Uncle Ty, and his dad evicted him), but the rage he felt inside right now was its equal. Al was furious; morally offended even. Mrs. Davis was crazy all right––to paraphrase Uncle Ty, the lady was a pew-warming, tongue-clucking Pharisee if ever there was one––but Susan was paying the price.

Get her out of here, a strange voice spoke in Al’s mind. Get her out quick.

Al didn’t know whose voice that was (his own? a Higher Source?), but even then a plan was starting to form. There would surely be consequences (ugly ones), but this little girl was more important. Al had already paid the ultimate price last night. What more could his father take away from him?

As Susan came out of the room and headed toward the stairs, Al came up next to her, lightly bumped her shoulder with his own, and said, “Hey, Susan.” Startled, the girl jumped and almost cried out ... until she saw who it was. Glancing toward the classroom (very relieved to see the door was now closed), Susan looked back and whispered, “Hi, Al.” She tried to smile for him then, but the performance belied her.

Suddenly, Al was much more concerned about her than he had been. Susan could barely focus on him. Her amazingly long- and dark-lashed, pale blue eyes would find him briefly, and then either dart away or roll up behind her lids. Her left cheek twitched; her feet fidgeted; her hands pulled nervously at the fabric of her pink dress.

Like Susan, Al didn’t know the word traumatized, yet he knew something was way wrong. He started to ask if she was okay, but––already knowing the answer (and wanting to obey this urgent voice in his mind)––he instead took her hand, led her down the hall, and into an empty classroom at its end. The girl went with him easily. Closing the door behind them, Al turned to her and said, “Susan, I don’t know what’s wrong, but ... you’re hurting. A lot. Am I right?”

Susan’s eyes rolled up again, and Al squeezed her hand to get her attention. “It’s okay, Susan, I’m right here. Did something bad happen?”

Susan shook her head as her eyes welled with emotion.

“I won’t tell anyone,” Al continued, “not if you don’t want me to.”

As a tear ran down Susan’s cheek, she quickly, ashamedly, wiped it away. Al repeated, “Did something bad happen?”

After a long pause, Susan nodded.

“Can you tell me what it was?”

Susan shook her head fiercely.

“Was it something that happened at home?”

Susan shrugged.

“Was it something that happened here?”

Eyes crossing and darting, Susan finally looked back at Al. She searched his eyes for trustworthiness and, finding it, nodded once more. “Was it something that your Mom did here?”

She shook her head.

“Did somebody who goes to this church do something bad?”

Nod.

“Did they do something bad to you, or did you just see something bad?”

“I heard it,” Susan whispered.

“Okay,” Al said, squeezing her hand again, relieved that she was talking. “Church is s’posed to be a safe place, but ... sometimes it can be scary, can’t it?”

Nodding yet again, the girl replied, “Very scary.” Although Al had more questions, Susan beat him to them by asking, “You’re good, aren’t you, Al?”

Al chuckled. “Well, my folks don’t think so.”

"I think you’re good,” Susan added.

Recalling the words of Susan’s mother, Al told her, “You’re good too, Susan. No matter what your mom says. You are good.”

Eyes briefly rolling again, Susan asked, “I am?”

“Yes. You’re good because God made you. Not just because you behave.” Al thought that sentence was odd; he didn’t buy it; not when good performance won praise and bad received condemnation. That whole good/bad thing was kind of messed up, Al thought, especially when it imprinted a character label inside a child’s mind based on behavior. (Get her out, Al.) “Do you trust me?” he asked.

Susan thought for a moment, finally nodding.

“I’m going to get you out of here for awhile,” Al said, “and take you to a Magic Place where you won’t have to be scared. Okay?”

Susan considered this. While she knew she would have to pay the price of her mother’s wrath, she also wanted to be anywhere other than this church. The thought of sitting in the front pew––and behaving like “a good little girl” while looking at her Daddy and Nadja on the stage––was more than she was capable of handling. When she looked back at Al, Susan told him, “Okay.”

Al opened the door a crack, peeked into the hallway, and saw the coast was clear. Leading Susan again by the hand, the ten-year-old boy and eight- year-old girl ran toward a door with an EXIT sign over it, and went outside.

They came out in back of the church, where a narrow strip of faded asphalt separated the building from a deserted field. Two large Dumpsters sat at the far end, and Al––squinting against the sun––spotted a black Camaro parked next to them. He couldn’t see the driver (the windshield was illegally tinted), but one arm dangled out the driver’s window with a cigarette planted between two fingers. The license plate was personalized, Al saw, and read GRIM-1.

(Hurry, Al. No time to waste. Get her out of here now.) Al obeyed.

It only took five minutes to walk three blocks. When Susan realized where Al was taking her, excitement blossomed in her previously vacuous eyes. The sign over the retro establishment was big, beautiful, multi-bulbed, and read: THE LUX.

Looking at the schedule in the ticket booth, Al saw that their Hitchcock Fest was still on. Today’s first feature was North by Northwest. According to Uncle Ty, the movie wasn’t nearly as scary as PSYCHO or The Birds. It was a ‘romantic-comedy-thriller’. Perfect, Al thought. Just what the doctor ordered.

Still holding Susan’s hand, Al adjusted his wind-blown tie, stepped up to the ticket booth, looked at the redheaded teenage girl in the cage, and asked, “Could I have two tickets for the eleven o’clock North by Northwest, please?”

The girl looked down at the diminutive pair, seemed briefly confused, and then smiled. To Al, she said, “You were here yesterday, weren’t you?”

“I was,” Al answered. “With my uncle. He told me this place was magic. He was right. And now I’m taking my friend, Susan.”

“Well, you are certainly a darling couple,” she said. “And look at the way you’re dressed. Are you on a date? Or are you playing hooky from church?”

Susan giggled at that. As she leaned closer to Al, she whispered in his ear, “She thinks we’re on a date.”

Squeezing Susan’s hand, Al replied to the ticket girl, “We’re on a date.”

“Well, I’ve never seen such a handsome gentleman and lovely lady before. That’ll be two dollars, please.”

Al’s heart sank. This had been going so splendidly he forgot he was broke.

Susan slipped something into Al’s hand then. He looked down and saw two wrinkled dollar bills. Recalling where Susan got them, Al grinned lopsidedly, and took a perverse thrill in pushing them under the glass. Ticket stubs in hand, Al opened the door, led Susan into a cylindrical tunnel with flashing lights, through the plush foyer, and into a massive auditorium where the little girl’s oohs and ahhs were music to Al’s ears. After selecting two seats in the middle of the meagerly filled room, Susan spoke reverently, “It looks like a church.”

“I know,” Al replied. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?’

“Really cool. Did you mean what you said before, Al? Are we on a date?” Recalling the lost and haunted expression on her face only minutes before, Al simply smiled and replied, “Yes, we are. Are you having a good time?”

“I’m having a real good time,” Susan told him.

The redheaded girl from whom they’d bought tickets came down the aisle.

Al thought they were busted ... until he saw that she was carrying a bucket of popcorn and two soft drinks. As the girl entered the row of seats ahead of Al and Susan, she walked over and said, “It seemed like your financial resources were a little low, and––since you two are so adorable––I thought I’d take the liberty and bring you some refreshments. These are on the house, so ... enjoy.”

In utter shock, Al accepted her offering and said, “Thank you very much.”

“Yes, thank you,” Susan added. “Wow, Al. This place is great.”

“I know,” Al replied, “but the magic really starts when the curtain rises.”

Sipping soda and eating popcorn, Al and Susan sat in silence for awhile, drinking in the splendor that was The Lux and waiting for the show to begin. After a few minutes, Susan leaned over and hushed, “It was my Daddy.”

“Your Daddy? What do you mean?”

“My Daddy was the one I heard do something scary in the church.” “What did he do?”

Susan leaned closer and whispered, “He and Nadja did a bad thing in his office yesterday. I was under his desk, but he didn’t know I was there.”

“Nadja?” Al asked. “Nadja Kelley? From the worship team?”

Susan nodded.

Al pondered this briefly. He’d noticed before when Pastor Eddie sometimes visited with Nadja (in the foyer or at church functions), he looked not unlike ... a wolf––one who wanted to eat her up. “When you say bad thing, do you mean ... like what grown-ups do? In their bedrooms? Like how babies are made?”

Susan wasn’t sure about the ‘babies’ part, but nodded anyway.

Al took her hand again and just sat in silence with her. He didn’t know it, but he consoled her far more than he realized by just doing what he was doing. After awhile, he said, “I don’t ever want to grow up. I don’t want to live under my parents roof anymore, but I don’t ever want to act like a grown-up.”

“Me neither,” Susan replied, scooting closer to Al and laying her head on his shoulder, “they’re way too crazy.” And with that––

––the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and for the next 2 1/2 hours, Albert Morehouse and Susan Davis found a little peace in their otherwise crazy lives.

 

go to CHAPTER 6.

 

Posted: Thu, Jul 11 2013 - 09:01 AM

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