March 16, 2017

A Christmas Scare–FlashFiction

Older couple - man with a bat and woman with hair in curlers - aroused from bed in pajamas responding to noises at night.

A Christmas story…

We awoke on Christmas day to a quiet house. Our kids had dispersed this holiday and left us alone to celebrate with each other. After a strong cup of coffee and a light breakfast, we illuminated the tree lights, turned on Jingle Bells, and opened our gifts. The late morning sun shone in through the curtains, reminding us that although December, this might prove to be a nice day.

Later, our daughter, who now lived in Rhode Island, called to wish us a Merry Christmas. We spoke to her, her husband and her two kids. They gushed over the gifts we’d sent and told us how much they wished they could see us. Blankets of snow kept them snuggled inside by the fireplace, unable to venture out. They described a perfect white Christmas.

We, on the other hand, left our little house to visit friends. We spent the afternoon sipping eggnog near our friends’ fireplace and sharing stories of Christmases past. Although sunny outside, the temperature had dropped to the single digits. Like us, our friends were celebrating their holiday alone. Their children lived in Atlanta, but had decided not to make the yearly trek to their parent’s house with gifts, kids and casseroles.

At about 5pm we arrived back to a quiet, dark house, looking forward to an evening in front of the television, watching old movies. My husband loved the AMC channel, particularly old horror movies—Lon Chaney and Vincent Price.

I decided to take a shower before we settled in.

With soap in my hair and water running down my back, a ringing sound caught my attention—a sound very much like the doorbell, but I rejected that thought because we lived deep in the woods. Our driveway made a circuitous mile-long route from the street to our sidewalk. The neighbors resided long distances away, nowhere in view. No one would ring our doorbell on Christmas night. Impossible.

Ding, dong, ding, dong. The sound persisted. I called for my husband. No response. What in the world was going on? Ding, dong, ding, dong.

I rinsed the soap from my hair and turned off the shower. That’s when I realized my husband was also in the shower in his bathroom. I raced in that direction saying, “Someone’s at the door.”

“What? No way. Not tonight.”

“Yes, the doorbell is ringing. Listen!”

I ran to my closet to throw on some clothes.

The doorbell continued its persistent ding, dong, ding, dong. Geez, wouldn’t whomever was out there just give up and decide we were out of town?

Once dressed, I peered outside. By now the sky was dark. A car crept up the driveway with its lights turned off. My heart froze.

My husband showed up, wrapped with a towel around his waist and carrying his 12- gauge-double-barrel shotgun, clearly ready to blow someone’s head off.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Thieves often case houses during the holidays. That car is definitely up to something.”

“But, you might shoot your leg off or worse still murder someone.” Fear gripped me.

The car crept back down the driveway near the house, lights off. Two shadowy figures emerged from the backseat. They approached the house.

“Stay here,” my husband ordered.

“Be careful,” I said with a shaky voice.

“I’m only going to scare them.” He looked pretty frightening, his hair stood up on end with soap still clinging to each tress, barefoot and with his towel wrapped at a rakish angle. Water dripped off him on his way out.

I trailed behind him. The dark figures approached from our sidewalk as if in slow motion. One kept turning back to the car, which had begun to creep back up the hill toward the street to a position to watch and wait.

My husband went out the side door. He lifted the gun with one hand and held the towel with the other. “Stop or I’ll shoot.”

The two figures halted as if slapped. The taller one removed the hood from the hoodie.

A voice came from the car, which had once again eased back close to the house, apparently to retrieve its captured passengers.

“Dad, it’s us.”

I gasped.

My husband called for them to stop. But he had lowered the gun barrel and seemed to be holding the towel closer to him.

“Dad, it’s us, Mary, Pete and the girls. We wanted to surprise you.”

I threw open the door. Our daughter, son-in-law and two grand children emerged from the darkness.

They had flown in from Rhode Island as a surprise. A big Christmas surprise, they explained in shaky voices. Instead they’d nearly frightened the two of us to death.

My husband, who by now was clutching the towel for dear life, standing as he was nearly naked in front of his daughter and two grand daughters, shivered from the cold and said, “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot your heads off.”

They began laughing, explaining how they had called us from the airport this morning to wish us a merry Christmas. Laughing more. “We didn’t tell you we were about to board a plane and would see you in a few hours,” our son-in-law said. But, we didn’t find it funny. Living secluded in the woods and being surprised by a strange car creeping down our driveway like that. Nope, not funny at all.

Once everyone settled down with a warm drink, we relaxed and enjoyed the rest of that Christmas evening, grateful it had not ended in a tragedy.

***

A Mystery with a Bad Good-Guy

Corporate Guy Has A Moral Dilemma.I’m reading a mystery, Jo Nesbo’s The Son, with a bad good guy. I find myself cheering for him when he kills worse bad guys. But, he tends to kill them in the same way they’ve killed others, which isn’t pretty.

Usually we are cheering for the hero. We want them to get to whatever goal they have in the story–whether it’s to get the girl or boy or to find the killer or to escape alive. Nesbo created a wonderful bad guy who brought back memories of TV series Breaking Bad. Most viewers recognized our two heroes, Walter White and Jesse, as very bad. But, if you were like me, I didn’t want them to get caught. The tension in the series was to see if our heroes/villains would escape the law. The same is true in Nesbo’s book. But Nesbo also turns the table in another way. The good guys–the top police–are very bad. So the bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy.

Do I have you totally confused?

What creates suspense? Here are some tips I learned as I read The Son.

Click to order

Click to order

You can believe the motives even if you wouldn’t use the same methods. If the character is too good or too bad, he/she becomes boring and predictable.

Often these even worse bad guys have enormous power that reaches beyond borders. Your bad character might be doing bad things for the best of reasons, but your antagonists are doing bad things for greed, money, more power.

When he’s up against the minor bad guys, the reader knows he’ll be okay. If the reader has to worry about him at every turn, the tension is lessened when it really matters. It reminds me of when Zubin Mehta, the famous conductor, talked about Ravel’s Bolero. He said, “The same bars are played throughout the piece, over and over. But, the orchestra must hold some back so that when it erupts in the end, it is magnificent.”

Most readers don’t mind being in the mind of a bad guy–even a good bad guy–so long as it’s temporary. Furthermore, you need to show the really bad guys who are scheming against your character. If your guy knows what they’re doing, the suspense lessens. Alternating or various third person views create that kind of tension. But, by all means, don’t try and write in the omnipresent!

These are the ideas about creating tension and a good read when the good guy is really bad. What suggestions do you have?

PS. I just thought of another good bad guy book: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… Agree?

Free At Last–Flash Fiction

Perhaps it will touch your heart. Enjoy a taste of flash fiction.DSC02093

 

The face in the sun, which looks like the man in the moon, grins at me through the window. I burrow deeper under my covers so I won’t see him.

“It’s up time, Joanie,” Mama hollers from the staircase. I put the pillow over my head, hoping to disappear.

Hands lift the covers off me and rub my arms. “C’mon, Joanie, get up. You need to get dressed for school.”

“No, mama, please don’t make me go.”

“But you have to. You’ll have fun. Let’s get you dressed in something special. Let’s see…” She pulls out the crimson, taffeta dress, the one the other kids laugh at, the one she made for me. “You haven’t worn this in a while.”

She slips it over my head. It crinkles every time I move. I can’t tell her I don’t want to wear it. I used to like this dress. When Mama was making it, I begged and begged to try it on. The first time I wore it, I practically danced to school.

But then Herman pulled on my hem and said, “Sounds like a Christmas present.” The other boys started tugging at me. After a bit I got so upset, I peed in my panties. I have not done that since I was a real little kid.

Mama buckles my shoes over my socks. “We’ll braid your hair later. Get on downstairs and eat breakfast with your sisters.”

I trudge down the stairs, looking for a place to escape.

Grandma is at the table with my sisters. She gets up when I enter the kitchen.

I plop down next to Lottie who was eating a disgusting bowl of Graham crackers and milk. The smell makes my stomach turn.

“I don’t want that,” I say, pointing to the mush Lottie is putting in her mouth. Lottie grins at me with brown flakes in her teeth. Ellen is at the other end of the table with her elbows firmly in place and shoving cereal in her mouth. She barely looks up when I sit down.

Grandma puts a bowl in front of me. “How about some Rice Krispies?”

I eat as slowly as I can, counting to ten before I take a bite. Maybe I’ll miss school.

Mama comes in and braids my hair as I eat. She pulls it too hard and I whimper. “Sorry, sweetheart,” she says.

Ellen walks me to school even though I know the way. I memorized the path the first time so I could come home. I did that until Mama got real mad at me and told Ellen to make sure to hand me over to the teacher.

Ellen doesn’t take my hand but she pushes me as we make our way to the school. I want to run away, but she keeps giving me a nudge. Finally we are at the door to my classroom. She shoves me toward the teacher and says, “Get lost.” Then she disappears in the crowd of kids.

The one thing that keeps me coming back to school is Rosie. She’s my favorite doll. They keep her in a big chest with other toys. The second day of school I found her tossed in the box with big trucks and other heavy tractors on top of her. I pulled her out, rescuing her from that awful place.

As soon as I get in the classroom, I go to the chest and dig for Rosie. Someone shoved her way down in the dark. I twist her out. Her legs are bent. I can’t straighten them. Some of her hair is missing. I tip her back and one of the eyes closes, but the other stays open and stares at me.

The teacher calls us to our seats. I take Rosie. When it’s time to go home, I keep Rosie tucked under my arm. I don’t want to put her back in the box where it’s dark and where she’ll get hurt.

On the way out, the teacher says to me, “You need to return the doll to the toy chest. You can’t take her home. She belongs here.”

A tear rolls down my cheek, but the teacher grabs Rosie from my grasp. “The toys are for all the children. Not just for you.”

The rest of the school year drags like waiting for Daddy to come home or for Christmas to come. I ask the teacher to let me stay inside during play period. I don’t want to go out in the cold with the other kids. The boys hit me with a ball, and I don’t want to play with them. She makes me go until I pee on my dress.

“Why didn’t you say you needed to use the bathroom,” the teacher says. Her face is red with anger. I didn’t know I needed to use the bathroom until I got scared. I try to tell her, but she just thrusts me in the bathroom and closes the door. I cry for long enough to miss play period.

Finally when the last day of school comes, I tuck Rosie under my sweater. I can’t leave her here in this awful place, alone, cold, and with no one to love her. I hide her, and I walk slowly so no one will see.

We are nearly home when Ellen tugs on my arm and Rosie nearly falls out on the pavement, but I catch her. “What’s that?” she asks.

“The teacher said I could have her,” I lie. I don’t usually lie but this was a special situation. I had to save Rosie. Free her.

Ellen doesn’t care. She slams the backdoor entering the house. Grandma says, “What have you got there?”

Getting better at lying now, I tell her, “It was a prize. I won it for being good.”

“How nice. Let’s get her cleaned up.” My grandmother takes her and cleans her face and brushes her hair. Now I can see Rosie’s cheeks and her lips.

That night I take Rosie to bed. Just before Mama turns off the light, I look at Rosie. She’s lying next to me with one eye open and the other closed. It’s as if she’s winking at me. She knows my secret.

I freed her and she’ll never tell.

***

If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy my other writing. Check out the book trailer for e-Murderer.

Flash Fiction–The Critic

Today’s blog is a piece of flash fiction.

It ends with a surprise.Irage customer

The Critic

“Yikes! Don’t use that color green. It looks lackluster. You need to add more yellow.”

Lackluster? What the hell? Okay. Whatever…I dabbed a bit of yellow on the brush and mixed it with the green tones. The trees on the canvas jumped out with a new vividness. Okay, so he was right.

“You still don’t have it right,” he said. “You’ve now got to add more green, the lighter one. They don’t even look like trees. They look like cartoons.”

Cartoons. What does that mean? “Maybe you’d like to do it?” I mumbled aloud.

“Don’t even think about using that color red for the apples. Have you ever seen an apple that color? It’ll turn orange as soon as you put it on the canvas. I thought you learned that in art class. Remember when the instructor told you about mixing yellow with red?”

I bit my lower lip and stood back from the scene, studying the hues. The trees standing before me weren’t as green as those on my canvas. The apples on the ground looked almost brown. I darkened the red tones and then mixed in a dab of yellow. I dripped a smidgen onto the palette before touching the canvas, fearing it wouldn’t work.

“Don’t hesitate. Why are you hesitating?”

The color on the palette melded into an ocher that looked good enough to eat.

“That’s it. I think you’ve got the right shade for the apples. What about the sky, though? That’s going to be a huge challenge, something that might go beyond your skill.”

Blue, my God. There were so many shades. How to get that perfect hint without being coarse? I twisted my neck to relieve the tension and lifted a tube of deep blue —

“No! That won’t work at all!”

Panic made me drop the tube on the freshly mown lawn. I rubbed the sweat off my brow and replaced the tube with a lighter color, almost periwinkle.

“Closer,” he said.

Whoever said painting was a way to relax?

My heart thudded. I mixed the periwinkle with a darker shade and a dab of white. A rich cool-looking azure emerged.

“Don’t you dare touch the canvas with that god-awful mess. It’s not even close. You can’t think what you see in front of you looks like that. Do you need glasses? Maybe your eyes are failing.”

My stomach clenched. Ever heard of creativity? Does it have to match perfectly?

I squinted at my work. Maybe I do need glasses. Maybe he’s right. Isn’t he always right? I moved my trembling hand closer to the canvas and touched the upper right hand corner.

“Now you’ve ruined the whole thing. I don’t know why you’re doing this. You’ll never be any good.”

I clutched the brush as if frozen and readying myself for a blow.

“Wow, Daniel, that’s unbelievable,” the voice of my teacher echoed behind me.

I jerked my head around and dropped my brush on the grass.

“Didn’t mean to startle you. It looked as if you’d taken a break.”

“Well, I sorta had. I stopped ‘cause I didn’t think it was coming along well at all—a huge mess. I was about to start over.” I picked up the brush and cleaned it with a cloth.

“Who says so? I really like it. I particularly like the sky. It’s such a vivid color and those trees. Very well done. It’s abstract, somewhat Impressionistic. The colors are amazing. You’ve made unbelievable progress. Keep going. Don’t let me interrupt you.”

It’s not you. It’s the voices. They won’t leave me alone. They never stop. 

I eked out a smile. “You really think it’s that good?” I sounded like a kid looking for approval, but I couldn’t help it.

“Don’t believe a word your teacher says. She’s just buttering you up for something. Probably wants you to pay for another class. Hopeless!”

Shut up! 

“I do, Daniel, but what’s more important is what you think.”

I stood back, gazing at the painting. The colors danced in front of me. I glanced from the painting to the scene. Waiting, listening for the voices. Nothing. “Perhaps you’re right. I think I have made some progress. But, it needs more work.”

My teacher patted my shoulder and left.

When I turned back to the painting, I lifted the blue to fill in the sky, planning to use the open spaces of the canvas gray tones as clouds. I waited for the voices to scream at me. Still nothing but blessed quiet.

I touched the color to the canvas and without interruption finished the sky.

Afterward, I stood back and studied my work, waiting. Not one peep. The voices remained muted.

I smiled. Unbelievable.

Call to the Wild–Flash Fiction

In this story, they embark on a camping trip.

“C’mon, Jenna. It’s just for a bloody weekend.”

Trying to dissuade Quentin from doing anything was like trying to change myself into a frog. “Why won’t Alan go with you?”

He harrumphed. “Alan doesn’t like to get his feet wet. He’s fussier than your big ol’ white cat.”

“Churchill goes out in the rain—well, not that he likes it, but he does.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll go, but what do I need to take?”

“Bravo!” He nearly danced out my door. “Pack your sleeping bag and a bottle of insect repellant. I’ll fetch the rest.”

“Insect repellant,” I grumbled to myself as I moved back inside the house. What in the world had I gotten myself into? Being Quentin’s BFF had its drawbacks.

Saturday morning rolled around before I had a chance to back out. Quentin pulled up to my driveway and hopped out of his car like a boy on an adventure.

“This is going to be such a lark,” he said as he settled his long, lanky body in my small Honda for the ride to Cumberland Island. “I’ve been reading about this place forever. It’s absolutely natural. A beach with no hotels and tacky restaurants. Can you imagine it? Pristine. Like the beaches in Cornwall.”

“The beaches in Cornwall are not populated because it’s cold and wet there.”

“They’re promising sunshine here, love.” He’d begun fiddling with his laptop.

“Yeah, it’ll be hot as hell without air conditioning.”

He glared at me. “Don’t be such a sod. You’re gonna love this.”

Yeah like I love freezing on a snowy mountain in ski boots that pinch my feet, another of Quentin’s bright ideas.

“Hey, listen to what the website says. ‘Cumberland Island, Where Nature and History Meet. St Mary’s is the gateway to Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.

He exhaled as if allowing his imagination to soak up the place.

“It sounds wonderful,” I acquiesced. I’d heard of this wilderness paradise ever since I’d moved to Georgia. What attracted me was not the wilderness so much as the horses that lived in the wild there. But, what had me a little nervous was what other kinds of wild critters might lurk in the underbrush.

We reached St. Mary’s, a small Georgia coastal town with clapboard houses and fishing boats, a perfect setting for an Agatha Christie mystery. My GPS took us to the dock where we were to meet the ferry to go over to Cumberland Island, the only way to get to that barrier wilderness surrounded by water.

Quentin placed his red Georgia Bulldog cap on his head and leapt from the car. “Hurry up, Jenna. We don’t want to miss the ferry.” He seized the two duffels and the sleeping bags from the backseat. I grabbed my purse full of sunscreen and perfume. Okay, I never wear perfume, but who knew when I’d be able to take a bath in this wasteland.

We joined a group people on the dock.

“They said the snakes are as large as trains over here,” a blond girl told her companion. She wore a low-cut tee and shorts that hugged her rather meaty thighs.

I tossed Quentin a look and mouthed, “Snakes?”Girl Sitting While Camping Near The Fire Heated And Drink Hot Te

He shrugged.

Oh my God. Wonder what else he forgot to tell me! 

“I’d be more fearful of the shooter,” the man, standing next to the girl responded through his snaggletooth. Apparently his parents didn’t believe in orthodontics.

Shooter? Did he say shooter or scooter? Geez. 

The girl snuggled close to the snaggletoothed man. “You think he’s here?” Her voice shook.

“C’mon, Stace, he won’t be on the Island. He’s probably done escaped to Cuba by now.”

“Sorry to intrude, but did you say shooter?” I asked.

“Yep. Y’all must be just now getting here?”

“Right-o. Five minutes ago from Athens,” Quentin popped in.

Both stared at Quentin as if he’d dropped from the sky.

“Are you a gen-u-ine Brit?” the girl asked. She moved a bit closer to Quentin and looked him up and down. Apparently snaggletooth wasn’t as interesting.

“That I am, straight off the boat from Manchester. Tell us about this shooter, won’t you?”

The man wrapped his arm around the girl to protect her from Quentin who didn’t have the least interest in the fairer sex. “Some lowlife shot a girl and her kid coupla nights ago. Lest ways that’s what the people in these parts are saying. He up and ran and the po-lice are still looking for ‘im. I was just joshing little Stacy here ‘bout him a being on the Island.”

The ferry pulled up. The people unloading looked as if they’d endured an episode of The Survivor, dirty, droopy-eyed, not a smile among them. They peeled off in twos or threes, dragging their dirty bags behind them.

Quentin moved from foot to foot, clearly anxious to get onboard.

“My name’s Billy Joe,” snaggletooth said. He held out a big hand to Quentin who took it with a quick shake and then wiped it on his jeans.

“Quentin Pearson and my friend, Jenna Scali.”

“Pleased to meet y’all,” Stacy said. “This y’all’s the first time to Cumberland too?”

“That it is.” Quentin said with a quick glance to make sure I was following along and had not escaped. He handed me one sleeping bag.

We’d made our way starboard, away from Billy Joe and Stacy who climbed to the top. The breeze nearly swiped Quentin’s hat off his head, but he grabbed it in the nick of time.

The island appeared over the horizon looking like something out of South Pacific. The sand almost white with nothing to mar the expansive shoreline. Not a soul in sight.

When the driver docked, he pointed us in the direction of the campgrounds. Most of the people onboard went that way. A few stayed on the boat, apparently going to the small inn somewhere on the other side.

Quentin tugged my arm. “Let’s get our feet wet before we head to the camp.”

I followed him. The sun penetrated my hair causing my scalp to tingle. Where was my hat? Probably tucked in the bag with the insect repellent. Pieces of driftwood littered the sand. But, unlike other beaches, there were no signs of civilization—like empty beer cans or even pieces of shells.

A figure moved way down the beach.

“Did you see that?”

Quentin had moved closer to the shore. “What, love?”

I headed in the direction of the shadow. “There, just beyond those dunes. I saw someone.”

Quentin followed. “Hold up!”

I reached the place where I’d seen the movement. Nothing. Birds chirped from the trees and several mosquitoes made a meal out of my bare arms and legs. I slapped them away.

“Did you see a wild horse?” Quentin asked. Hoof marks covered the sand.

“I saw a man on a horse.” I followed the hoof marks toward the dunes.

Quentin panted behind me. “Probably a ranger, patrolling the area.”

“What ranger? I didn’t hear anything about rangers and anyway why would he disappear like that?” I continued to trace the horse’s path.

“Jen, we don’t want to get too far from the camp.” He pulled on the back of my shirt.

Tent In Wilderness By The SeaThe beach was covered in low-lying trees, thick with green growth. A man on a horse could easily disappear among the underbrush.

“C’mon. We need to get ourselves settled at the site before all the good spots get taken,” Quentin said.

Reluctantly, I followed him back.

That night as I shivered around a ridiculous fire that barely kept a blaze, Billy Joe told Quentin all about his camping exploits. Bored, I wandered toward the latrines. Yes, latrines. Basically they were holes in the ground where we were expected to remove our panties and pee. Yuck. Maybe if I ate and drank nothing, I’d never have to use those facilities.

I walked back behind the trees that blocked off the camp and gazed at the moon on the water.

Someone grabbed me by the arm and knocked me down. “What—“ I yelped.

A deep voice said, “You saw me today, you nosey bitch…” Eyes glared from the darkness out of a hairy face. Had I been caught by Godzilla with an southern accent?

I caught sight of the gleam of a gun when the man grimaced, released my arm, and fell like a tree on my leg.

Billy Joe stood over him with a large club in his hand. “You okay?” he asked, helping me to my feet.

I brushed off my backside. “I think so. What or who was that?”

Billy Joe lifted the gun Godzilla had been holding and handcuffed him. “My guess he’s our shooter.”

“Our?”

He grinned, giving me a good look at his snaggletooth in the moonlight. “Stace and I are here undercover. We suspected this here fella was hiding on the island. So, we came a looking. Surenuf, you found him for us. Good job! Don’t know how you snuffed him out. My guess is he’d been deep in the bush on the island.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly mean to. But, so glad I could help.”

Quentin came running in our direction. “What the devil…” he said, seeing the shackled man on the ground.

“Your girl helped us nab this fugitive. Good thing I was here otherwise he might’ve blown her head off, too.”

Quentin gasped and scowled at me. “My lord. I can’t take you anywhere without you getting into some muddle.”

Billy Joe moved toward the shore and peered out. “The ferry is on the way back to take our prisoner. Stace and I will be off with him. Good to meet y’all.”

The goon moaned when Billy Joe turned him over.

“I’m not gonna miss that ferry,” I told Quentin on my way back to the site to gather my stuff. “I’ve had enough of this camping thing. I’m heading home to my cats and my warm bed.”

We found a cool little B&B in the town for the night. I settled into a warm bubbly bath and sighed. Now that’s my idea of camping.

******

If you enjoyed this introduction to Jenna and Quentin, you might enjoy the e-Murderer. Here’s a sneak preview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Clover

It glowed like a beacon n the grass. I plucked it right up and added it to my collection.clover

“How many is that?” asked my sister, trotting behind me, eyes downcast, searching.

“Dunno. Maybe six.”

I skipped further along the broken sidewalk on our way to Sunday school. I wore a new green dress that Grandma had made for me yesterday. She’d finished the measuring with me standing on a chair and her with pins tucked between her lips. Lottie watched with a jealous gaze.

“When do I get my new dress?” Lottie asked our grandmother.

She mumbled something, which I helpfully translated as “later,” and shot Lottie a triumphant look.

“You’re lucky,” Lottie grumbled and left.

“I’ll start your dress tomorrow,” our grandmother had said to her retreating back once she removed the pins.

Lottie caught up with me. She toed the grass with her scuffed Mary Jane’s. “You’re the lucky one. It’s  ‘cause of all the four-leaf clovers.”

“Want me to help you find one?”

She scoffed. “I don’t need help.

“Okay.”

We went up the hill where I glanced down at the scruffy grass in great need of mowing, and there it was, smiling at me as if saying, pick me!

“C’mon. I know you can find this one.”

Lottie peered down, squinting hard. She moved the clovers around and plucked out a three-leaf. Then she tossed it down.

“There’s not one here. You’re just messing with me.”

“Look.” I pointed directly at the clover, which to me was as obvious as our mamma’s scowl when we misbehaved.

By now we both squatted on our knees in the grass in front of the church secretary’s house, just minutes away from Sunday school.  If we delayed longer, we’d be late.

I took Lottie’s hand and placed it near the clover.

“I can’t see it,” she protested, pulling away.

I plucked it for her and put it in her palm.

She shook her head. “You can’t take someone else’s luck.” And handed it back.***

The call came on New Year’s Eve, a Saturday. “Your sister had a severe asthma attack. She’s in an induced coma.”

I clasped the phone to my ear, too stunned to let go. How could that be? I’d just seen Lottie at Christmas. We hugged, talked, and laughed together. She can’t be in an induced coma in some un-heard-of hospital in Savannah, Georgia. It’s not happening. My mind went into overdrive. Asthma? Who dies from an asthma attack in the 21st Century?

Of course she wouldn’t die. She’d get better. She just needed a little luck and a lot of prayers. Please God help her wake up!

We sat vigil for weeks, waiting and hoping for her to open her eyes. Once they eased her out of the coma, the doctors cautioned we must wait to see if she snapped back.

“She lost oxygen to her brain,” the doctor said. “We put her in the coma to prevent more deterioration. When she wakes up, we can determine how much damage she’s undergone.” He smiled, but his eyes held a serious, grave gleam that sent chills up my back.

“When she comes out of this, I’m going to take her to Italy,” I told my husband.

Our Italian father had died when I was eight and she was six.  Both of us too young to grasp our Italian heritage. To compensate, I’d travelled to Italy countless times and soaked up the food, the music, the art, and the language. Now, Lottie must go and share those joys. A sister’s trip, such fun. I couldn’t wait to tell her.

I returned home after another day at the hospital. On our bookcase I sought the old volume where I’d stored all those four-leaf clovers I’d found as a child. Hundreds remained tucked inside, dried up now and flakey. On page 112 lay the one I’d tried to give Lottie that day we were walking to Sunday school. The one she refused to accept.

When I removed it, it fell to pieces in my hand.

An hour later we got the call. My sister didn’t make it. She never woke up.

After the funeral, her words echoed in my ears, You can’t take someone else’s luck.

If only she had.

***

Joan C. Curtis is the award-winning author of two mysteries. Take a look at this book trailer that previews The Clock Strikes Midnight

Flash Fiction–Two Little Stories

B&W picture of crying girl behind metal fenceThe Runaway

The driver told her to sit toward the back so she would not disturb others. She reached the last seat and settled the parakeet at her feet. After smoothing down her skirt, she sighed with relief, glad she’d left her identification papers on her dresser. There was no turning back.

Was he running away, too? He glanced at the parakeet cage. “What’s that there?” She told him it was her bird. “Why do you have a bird? No one has birds for pets.” The man seemed angry.

She looked at his sad, puffy eyes. “Birds can fly away whenever they want. That’s why I have a bird.”

“But your bird is in a cage. He can’t fly away.”

She lifted the cover off the cage to reveal its vast emptiness. “If I can runaway so can he,” she said and turned back to the window.

The man didn’t speak to her again. but he kept a steady gaze on the cage with a look of longing

An Intruder

Someone was in her room. A shadow moved toward the window. She reached under the pillow for her phone. The shadow edged closer to the bed. In the dark she couldn’t make out features or size, just movement.

 She couldn’t turn on the phone because the light would give her away. She stifled the pounding in her head and edged for the alarm button sitting on the nightstand next to the bed. She grabbed and pushed it before the shadow reached her.

“Lillian, it’s me.”

Sirens blasted and outside flashes of light revealed her twin sister, clearly sleep walking again.

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