March 26, 2013

Magic Man

The Witches of Dark Root
(Novel to be released Summer, 2013)

Prologue: Magic Man
February, 2005

“Goodbye, Martha,” Maggie said, practically pushing the woman out of the store. “See you tomorrow.” Martha Silverton had finished her shopping an hour before but she was just getting started on her gossiping. Maggie couldn’t endure another evening of ‘who is doing what in Dark Root.’ It was bad enough when her mother did it, but listening to her mother’s friends drone on about the comings and goings of the locals was a whole new level of torture.

“Quick! Lock the door!” Maggie’s sister Eve said as she emerged from the back room, sucking on a piece of candy, “before any more of mother’s cronies drop in.” The two women had been working the store without their mother for the past year now, but their mother’s friends still insisted on coming by ‘just to check in’.

Maggie glanced out the window. Martha had found a new victim, a young woman who was about to enter the book store next door. With any luck the woman would occupy Martha’s attention for at least ten minutes, long enough for Maggie to finish closing the store and sneak away, unnoticed.

 “You need to order more peppermint,” Eve said. “We’re out.”

“You order peppermint,” Maggie replied. If Eve was going to eat all the supplies, she could order them as well. While Eve lectured Maggie on the many reasons her older sister was more suited for ordering – she was better at math because she was practically a boy, she had no social life and thus had more time for ordering - Maggie began dusting the hundreds of knickknacks that covered the shelves of Miss Sasha’s Magick Shoppe.  She stopped at a glass owl, a figurine that had been in her mother’s shop for as long as she could remember, and ran her fingers along the ridges of its wings. It was an ugly thing, with eyes that bulged and a beak that hooked, but Miss Sasha insisted that one day it would find a proper home. “I’m leaving first,” Maggie spoke to the figurine. The owl regarded her with large, knowing eyes. ‘I wouldn’t bet on that’, it seemed to answer.

Maggie finished dusting and then looked around for something else to do. She was torn between reading a stack of magazines Eve had smuggled in from the book store and checking out the new herbs they had ordered, to see if any of them looked smokable. It was almost six and that meant that soon she would have her freedom. She had planned a night of drinking at the local park and she had already secured the beer, thanks to a Lindsburg girl who was more than happy to purchase it in exchange for a love charm.  Maggie had gotten the better deal on that one. The beer was 8.99. The charm, made in India, cost her less than fifty cents. She glanced again at the clock, frustrated that it didn’t seem to move.

“I’ll close the blinds,” Eve volunteered. Maggie shrugged. Eve could do all the work if she wanted to.  “Maggie! Look!” Eve called her to the window. Maggie tossed the magazine onto a chair and joined her. Eve pointed directly across the street to Delilah’s Deli, at a man Maggie had never seen before.

“Who is he?” Eve asked. “I don’t recognize him at all.”

Maggie moved to get a better view, nudging Eve out of the way. Well, he isn’t from around here,” she said, and Eve clucked her tongue at the obvious statement. Of course he wasn’t from around here. His grey coat and khaki slacks identified him as a city person, not a man who spent much time skulking around the small, backwoods towns of Central Oregon.

“He’s handsome,” Eve said and Maggie silently agreed. Though daylight was turning to dusk Maggie could still make out a thick mane of wavy brown hair and the strong line of his jaw. He leaned forward, speaking to a gaunt young man who was listening attentively to every word.

“You can have the friend,” Eve said, waving her right hand dismissively. Maggie noticed the dreamy look on Eve’s face. She had probably already planned their wedding.

Delilah’s Deli was closing shop, its neon sign flickering on and off, like eyelids fluttering shut. The waitress filled ketchup bottles and swept around their booth but the stranger made no effort to hurry through his conversation. The other man continued listening, excitedly taking notes. Maggie wished she could read lips. Or minds.

                    “We have to find out what he’s doing here,” Eve said. “It’s just not natural.” Though the town teemed with tourists during the fall when the Haunted Dark Root Festival took place, it was rare to see anyone arrive in the off months. A tourist in February was practically unheard of.

                “Probably just passing through on his way to Salem and really wanted a sandwich. It happens.”

“Why do you have to take the fun out of everything?” Eve said, her eyes lighting up. “Maybe he is here for a reason.” She conjectured about his fabulous life as a scientist, an archeologist, or an astronaut. “Or maybe even a producer!” The last revelation worked her into frenzy and she pulled out her compact to check her appearance. Maggie wasn’t convinced that he was any of those things, but there was something special about the man. He had an energy that crackled and popped.

Unexpectedly, he turned in their direction. Eve ducked out of sight but Maggie stood her ground, locking gazes with the stranger.  His dark eyes stirred something inside her, jolting her awake. He blinked once, and then returned to the conversation with his friend.

                “We should bring him over.” Eve’s eyes flashed with mischief. Maggie watched her sister push a stepstool across the floor to gather oils and vials from a high shelf that ran the perimeter of the shop. Next, she collected an assortment of herbs from bins beneath the counter. “Candles! I need purple candles.” She was driven when she had a mission, not the same dreamy girl who sat behind the counter, talking about the wonderful things she would do one day while she ignored the customers.       

             “Like a fly to a spider,” Maggie said, shaking her head.  “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about we just walk across the street and talk to him?”

Eve huffed. “Just because you’re too good for magic, doesn’t mean some of us don’t respect the craft.”

“I’m not against magic. I just think it’s a waste of time. Plus, I’m not sure most of it really works.”

“We can’t all be Wilders, can we?”

Maggie’s face reddened. Wilder was the term for a natural witch, one with thoughtless and reckless magic; a witch who had not yet learned to control her powers.  It was a derogatory word, rarely uttered in polite company. The light bulb buzzed overhead, threatening to burst, and Eve moved her gaze to the ceiling to prove her point.

“Calm down,” Eve said, placing her stack of objects on the counter and arranged them into neat piles. “I didn’t mean it.” She had been around her sister long enough to know when she had pushed things too far. “Casting spells is fun, Maggie, as long as we don’t have mom here, grading us like school kids. Now, where’s the book?” Eve scanned the room for their mother’s book of spells and incantations. Maggie shrugged, not offering to help. If Eve wanted to buy into their mother’s brainwashing, that was her choice, but Maggie was done with it.

“Ah, here it is,” Eve said, finding the small, leather-bound tome on a chair near the entrance, half buried under a magazine. It was dog-eared and musty; a rare book, their mother claimed, filled with spells that would have otherwise been lost to time had they not been carefully scribed onto those pages.  As a result, customers were permitted to read the book but were never allowed to borrow it. So protective of the book was Miss Sasha that only family members could remove it from the store without suffering a terrible curse. What the curse was, nobody knew, but Sasha Shante was a formidable witch and there was not a soul in Dark Root brave enough to take the chance.

Maggie regarded Eve as she went to work creating a concoction of vanilla, rose petals, and thyme - stirring the mixture with the quill from a dove - barely glancing at the open book beside her. Maggie guessed that Eve had committed the man-luring spell to heart. Eve looked up, while continuing to stir. “Wouldn’t it be exciting if we fell in love and he took me away from this Godforsaken town? Now that Merry is gone, there’s nothing to keep me here.”

At the mention of their missing sister’s name, Maggie grew irritated. “You really think you’re getting out before me?”

“Someone’s got to take care of mom. She’s not getting any younger. Besides,” Eve said, her eyes flickering towards the open window. “I have to get out of here. I am going to be a famous actress one day and I need to go to someplace like New York or Hollywood. I’ve read the tea leaves, Maggie. It’s my destiny.”

“You do dream big,” Maggie said, “but even if your spell works and you get him to wander over here, what makes you think he is going to fall in love with you?”

“Duh! Look!” Eve stopped working long enough to pose. With long, dark hair that fell to her waist, dimples so deep you could put dimes in them, and a body that was both thin and curvy, she was beautiful, almost exotic.

“And,” Eve continued, before Maggie could comment. “If for some reason that isn’t enough to snag him, one sip of my special tea and he will be buying me a ticket to London to study Shakespeare.” Eve winked and retreated into the back room, returning with a white porcelain cup and teapot. “You might not have dreams Maggie, but I do. I refuse to end up like you.” She opened the teapot and sprinkled something inside, tea leaves she had grown and cultivated herself, just for such an occasion.

Maggie was about to tell her that she had no intentions of staying here either, when the door opened and the man from across the street entered.  Maggie did a double take, wondering if Eve’s spell could have worked so quickly.          

“Well, hello there.” Eve said, startled. She dropped a cloth over her concoction and extended her hand. “Our shop is closed, but I’m brewing tea. Perhaps you’ll have a cup?” Eve slinked towards the man, her long hair swaying sensually around her.

                The man did a quick perusal of the room, taking in the candles, books, and oddities of the shop. His eyes rested momentarily on their mother’s book of spells before moving on.  He nodded, satisfied. He strode past Eve and stopped before Maggie, looking her up and down. “Actually,” he said when his eyes met hers, “Maggie Maddock. I’m here for you.”


March 14, 2013

In Defense of Barbie

     I've given my step-daughter all my old Barbies, including the 'collector' dolls that may be worth a few bucks. I have about fifty of them, in various stages of dress and decay, accumulated since childhood. They've been sitting in my garage for years now, collecting dust, and I figure someone should have some fun with them.

     She gasps as I hand her each one. She asks me about their costumes and accessories. I tell her the story of how I came to own each doll. She gives them loving hugs and sets them up in her playroom.

     She plays with them all, combing their hair until it falls out, dressing and undressing each one. I try not to cringe when she puts the Bob Mackie dress on Vetrinarian Barbie.

    She looks longingly at the Barbies that are still encased in their plastic boxes, and asks if she can remove them. "I will be very careful," she promises me as I glance towards the 2002 Holiday Barbie I let her take out of the box the previous week. It now resembles a beat up drag queen. I shake my head, letting her know it's not yet time.  She nods, undetoured, and plays with them anyway. She lines them up in their containers, marching them into their dream  house, as if they are on their way to some macabre all-mime ball.

     "Some girls aren't allowed to play with Barbies," she tells me conspiratorilly. I smile and say nothing. I've heard the argument. By allowing our girls to play with these dolls we are setting them up for unrealistic body expectations. Once Barbie infiltrates their brains they will start hating their bodies, puking up their lunches, and appearing on the Dr. Phil show.

     "You can play with them when you are here," I respond to her. "You know they aren't real right?"

She nods, showing me the foot of one of the dolls I had chewed through when I was a kid. She giggles and responds."If this was real, it would really hurt."

     I'm not sure who first decided that Barbie was the devil. I never looked at Barbie and thought, 'if only I had her small waist and those giant, nipple-free boobs my life would be perfect.' The reason I wanted to be like Barbie had less to do with her measurements and more to do with her kick ass shoe collection. She had the closet I always wanted.

      Barbie isn't the antithesis of feminism. In fact, I when I was a kid I saw her as a superhero, second only to maybe Oprah. She could babysit Skipper in the morning, pull an afternoon shift at the McDonalds, perform surgery in the evening, and still have time to go into space.  She may have dated Ken but she never had to ask him for money. When you work four different jobs, you can buy that dream house on your own.

     Barbie isn't bad. It's just a toy made of plastic. We don't tell our boys they shouldn't aspire to be transformers, mainly because we know they understand the difference. I would hope we give our little girls the same credit.

     I will do my best to teach my step-daughter the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasy you get perfect skin and arms that bend in every direction. You get twelve careers and a house that never gets dirty. You get a boyfriend with a corvette who only comes around when you want him.

     In reality you get...

     Well, maybe I won't teach her about reality yet. It's going to be tough enough on her when she learns about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I'll give her a few more years before I tell her about the real world.

March 7, 2013

Time Passages

She got me. Worse, I didn’t even know she was coming. A quick detour through Waikiki’s evening street market district and I was one hundred dollars poorer.

“This is all your fault,” I said, grumbling to my husband and handing him my wad of ‘fun money’. “You had to check out that alley. I should have known we were going to get mugged.

He laughed. “As I recall you bought this stuff willingly. Besides, you might have fun with these products.” He was more cheerful than I expected. “It’s good for you to pamper yourself sometimes.”

Easy for him to say. He grew up in a house whose motto was ‘Life is good’. By contrast, our own family motto was ‘Hide your money and your women. The Vikings are coming’. Needless to say I wasn’t a spender, I was a hoarder. Giving the woman all this money, just for something that I was going to slather on my face then rinse away, seemed wasteful.

But she was so smooth, and beautiful, and from Israel. She had skin like soft desert sand and eyes the color of the ocean. And she appealed to my Achilles heel - my vanity.

“Look there, April.” She handed me a mirror as she sat me down at her cosmetics stand. “Do you see those spots on your cheek?”

I shook my head. I hadn’t seen them before. But here, under the unforgiving glare of her fluorescent lights, they stood out like craters on the moon.

“And over here, you have a bit of rosacea going on. You must not scrub very often do you?”

I shook my head again, ashamed.

“And those little lines on your forehead. Those are only going to get worse.” I started to say something but she stopped me.  “You have bags under your eyes too…you must not get enough rest.”

“Fix me!” I burst out, unable to control myself any longer. “Fix all of me!” How had I not noticed this all before? Suddenly, I felt like Franken-beast out terrorizing the villagers. How could my husband have let me go into public like this? I glared at him as he checked out the nearby stands.

“In my country,” she cooed, taking my hand to let me know everything was going to be okay. “I got addicted to these products when I served in the Army. They are from the Dead Sea. You can look at my skin and see what they do.”

I not only wanted to look at her skin, I wanted to lick it. It didn’t matter that she was twenty and I was…not twenty. I wanted a face like that.

 “How’s it going over here?” My husband ambled in our direction. “Need my debit card?”

I looked at her to ask ‘can we do something about this?’ She nodded.

“Yes, honey,” I said to my husband. “I need your debit card.”

For the next fifteen minutes she showed me how years of bad nutrition, bar soap, and not living in Israel had taken its toll.  “Buy these April. They will make you look very beautiful, for your age.”I didn’t want to be beautiful for my age. I wanted to be beautiful for her age. I let her know and she sold me two more items for my patch and repair kit. I was a target, but I didn’t care. I had spent weeks dieting so that I would not feel ‘fat’ in Waikiki, but I hadn’t counted on feeling something else: old. So after a very good sales presentation I schlepped away with a bag full of products, and a promise from a beautiful Israeli girl that in just one week my lines softened, my jaw tightened, and the bags under my eyes gone for good.

As we left I noted that most of the people on the beach were young. There was a glow around them, and not just because their skin was still supple. It was because they had years left to plan, and live, and dream. The road to the world lie ahead of them, paved with possibilities. They had so much time ahead of them, and I did not.
 Maybe that was the real reason I bought all those products. If I looked as young as they did, maybe I could fool time into letting me go back, letting me do it all again. Relive every moment I had heretofore taken for granted: holding my sons, kissing my husband for the first time, spending time with my dad before he passed. The lines that were beginning to emerge on my face were a new reminder that time was passing, and I was passing too.

“Want to go back to our room and watch a movie?” My husband asked. It was 9 PM. I looked around me. There were young, fashionable people scurrying off to clubs and piano bars. If I ran to our hotel, slathered on a week’s worth of product, I might look good enough to infiltrate their group. I wasn’t that young anymore, but with the right clothes, makeup, and miracle cream, I could pretend.

“I’m glad you bought yourself something,” my husband said, taking my hand. “But you didn’t need it. You’re already beautiful.”

“For my age?” I looked up at him and batted my eyelashes.

“For any age. We have lots of years ahead of us, and they are going to be good.”

He was right. I smiled and wrapped an arm around his waist. The siren’s call of a warm bed, popcorn, and a movie with my husband was stronger than the call of the world. I realized I didn’t need to go back. I had all that I wanted, and needed, right now.  

March 5, 2013

When a Writer Takes a Vacation

       I stared at my aqua-marine messenger bag. It sat innocently on the recliner, where it had resided all week long. It saw my comings and goings, and I could feel its make believe eyes, watching me.

     “You can stare at me all you want,” I said. “I’m not taking you.”

      I was prepping for a romantic getaway to Hawaii with my husband, a trip I had been looking forward to all winter. It was going to be a week without children, family, or pets; A trip where we could lose ourselves in the moment without having to worry about anyone, or anything, along the way. This included my laptop and its accompanying messenger bag.

     “You know you are going to end up taking it,” my husband said as I arranged and rearranged my bags for the trip. “You might as well pack it now.”

     “You don’t know me as well as you think you know me. I can be strong. It just takes a little will power. That’s all.”

     “Uh-huh,” he answered and I walked away with my nose in the air.

     Maybe I had failed before but this time I could be strong. My identity wasn’t tied to my laptop. I was April before it existed and I would be April afterwards. This was my chance to prove it, to him, and to myself.

     “Besides”, I said to the bag as I threw it in the closet so it would no longer tempt me, “you’re bulky and oversized. You haven’t shed your winter weight. You’ll just slow me down.”

     As the time for our trip drew nearer I could feel the calling of the bag growing stronger, even through the closet door.

     “April, please take me. I can be a lot of help. Whenever you have a great idea I will be there for you. You wouldn’t want to lose that great idea, would you?”

     Shut up.

     “And if you leave me for a week you may lose that flow that’s been going so well in your novel. You could forget character details and motivations. And you will just get further behind on finishing it. Didn’t you say you’d have that second draft done by mid-March?”

     Shut up!

     “Please! I really want to see Hawaii! You won’t even know I’m there.”

     I hate to admit how obsessed I was and how the dilemma had cast a shadow over my trip. I was feeling a bit like Anthony Hopkins character (a ventriloquist) in the movie Magic. By the end of the movie the dummy and the ventriloquist had become so infused with one another, the audience wasn’t able to discern who was who anymore. My laptop had become my dummy, and it was really starting to creep me out.

     “Just take it,” my husband said again as I was recounting the reasons it needed to stay home.

     “No. I’ve made up my mind.”

     “Yeah. We’ll see.”

     On the day of our trip we packed our car, pulled out of our driveway, and rambled down the street that would lead us to the freeway. Having successfully left my bag in the house, I was feeling rather smug and was about to give my husband a great big I told you so lecture. But before we could make it out of our subdivision the panic set in.


     My husband looked at me, smiling. “You want your bag don’t you?”

     “Yes,” I nodded meekly. “I feel like a mother who forgot her child at the supermarket.”

     “Well, you lasted longer than I thought you would. It’s a good first step.”

     “I had just really hoped…”

     “It’s your safety net and your umbilical cord, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you don’t write one word on our trip, you will be happy it came along.”

     He pulled into our driveway and I rushed into the house, cursing all the way. I threw my archaic, seven-pound laptop into my messenger bag, found my thumb drive, and ran for the car.

     “You are going to break my shoulders and make me use an extra bin in security,” I scolded it as we drove. “It’s because I lug you around all day that I have to go to physical therapy for my back.”

     “But you would have missed me so much.” It answered.

     “Yes. I know.”

     My husband shook his head. “You know I’m sitting right next to you? I can hear your imaginary conversation with your bag.”

     “Don’t listen to him,” the bag said. “He doesn’t love you as much as I do.”

     “I know.” I answered.

     “You’re insane,” my husband said. “But I love you.”

     “Just drive,” I directed him. And he did.

Meditations on The Shadows of Dark Root

I may have gotten a bit metaphysical during the creation of The Shadows of Dark Root. I always knew I wanted Maggie and her companions to j...