November 20, 2013

Spring Gets News

The Universe is a Very Big Place will be on sale all week at Amazon as an ebook (.99 - 1.99) I will be posting excerpts throughout the week.

“Come on, come on.” Spring tapped the little white stick against her knees, willing it to change color.
“I don’t think that’s gonna help,” Jason said. He was standing with his back pressed against the door of their stall, looking down at her. She should have stood too. It seemed like a standing occasion.  But after she had peed on the stick her knees refused to make the trip upward. They had just ceased to work. “If you keep messing with that stick you might skew the results.”
Spring shot him a look. “Since when do you use words like skew?”
Jason released his brown hair from the rubber band at the nape of his neck, only to gather it back up into a small pony tail and secure it again. He had done this at least a dozen times while they had waited for the results. “It’s one syllable. Don’t be shocked.”
Spring looked at the stick again. The little pink cross in the window had darkened, almost to a crimson red. She was not only pregnant. She was really, really pregnant. She thrust the stick at Jason and fell forward, cradling her knees. “Oh god!” Jason went to pat her head but she pulled away. “Please just stop.”
He said nothing as he squatted down beside. She could feel him listening to her, waiting for the sobs to subside. He had no problem fighting her, but he was at a loss when she cried. She took a deep breath to calm herself, a trick Lanie had taught her when she younger. She had suffered anxiety from crowds then, a job hazard for any carnie. “Breathe in, breath out,” Lanie had instructed her. “Find your center. C’mon girl. Stop breathing like you just run a fucking marathon. Slowly. In. out. Release.”
 Once she had calmed he reached for her hair, letting the baby fine strands of yellow-white ribbon slide through his fingers. She didn’t let many people touch her hair, but she let him. “I suppose,” she said, looking up at him with red, tear-stained eyes, “that purchasing a condom from a rusted machine in the lobby of Ed’s Guns and Exotic Animal Shoppe was probably not our wisest move.” She sobbed and laughed at the same time and felt a long line of snot fall from her nose. Jason grabbed a wad of toilet paper and caught it.
“You don’t have to do this alone. I’m here.”
Spring felt the wail in her throat and fought it. She was angry right now, and she was afraid she would say something she regretted. “I just got accepted into Arizona State,” she said, drying her eyes on the back of her hand. “After three years of struggling to get through Community College so that I could leave this… life behind, things were starting to change for me. Now what?”

“You can still go. This isn’t the 50’s.Girls go to school pregnant all the time. Even on TV.”
"I don’t want to go pregnant!” She started crying again and she tucked her face into her skirt, smearing mascara across the hem. He didn’t get it. “I wanted to go…hot.”
Jason laughed. “Hot’s what got you into this mess, my dear. You’re too hot for your own good.”
Spring snorted and took the tissue Jason offered her. He knew her too well. They had been friends for years, but a few drinks and a slow night slinging cotton candy last fall had changed it all. Now they were bound together, one way or another. As Lanie would say, their fate strings had gotten all jumbled up.
“I got a crazy idea,” he said, pulling her up by the arms. He was a good six inches taller than her and smelled like French fries and Old Spice. “Why don’t we get married? We’ve been practically living together in my van for the last six months. Why not make it official?” He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. “Just think…you, me, the little Bambino, touring the country side together. If he’s musically inclined we could start a family band. Be like the Partridges. Only not so gay.”
 I could, she thought, nuzzling into him. He was safe and warm and familiar. She remembered the day her mother had picked him up on the side of the road nine six  earlier. “Hitch hiking to Santa Cruz” he had said, off to pursue his music career. He never made it to Santa Cruz. Once he learned how much money could be made hustling kids out of their allowance to see The Half Monkey Lady, he had settled in. That was the way it was here. The Carnival was one big roach motel. You check in, you eat a bunch of crap, and you stay until you die.  Very few people escaped. They had intentions of leaving, but one by one The Carnival took them all. Heart disease. Obesity. Drugs. Equipment failure. Dead by fifty, most of them. There was no fading gracefully into old age here. You just stopped. If it didn’t take them entirely it took some of their best parts. Just two months ago a young man had given up a limb to a roller coaster. He had climbed the steel mountain to fix a dangling bolt, when the car ran over his arm. They say he may have saved some people with his bravery. But the papers never heard of it. Bad for business. Now he’s quietly employed as the ticket taker at the back of the lot.
“What do you say?” Jason pulled her in tighter. “I bet I’m damned good at changing diapers.”
She took a deep breath. Though she cared about Jason, he had nothing more to offer her than his body, his guitar, and the eternal belief that someday he would roadie for Phish. “It wouldn’t work.” She whispered. “We’re too different. And besides…”
Jason released her from his arms and narrowed his eyes, ready to battle. “And besides what? Oh, never mind, I know. I’m not good enough for you.” He pushed through the stall door and into the empty bathroom. “Afraid you will end up like your mother?”
Spring lowered her eyes. Yes, she was afraid of that, and why not? It was a legitimate fear. But there was more to it. She followed him into the bathroom. “We just aren’t right for each other Jason.”
“Oh, I see.” Jason fell forward over the standalone sink, slamming his hands into the mirror. “We were right for each other a few weeks ago weren’t we? And even a few nights ago. But not for the long haul. No, Spring reserves that spot for someone more worthy. Am I right?”
 “Stop it. That’s not fair.”
“Isn’t it? Don’t think I don’t know about that little fairy tale you believe in. You get one love in this lifetime and that’s it right? Don’t waste it on the Ferris wheel guy.”
 Spring felt her knees give and her stomach roil. She moved back into the stall and fought the nausea. It seemed too early for morning sickness. “Jason, please. There are many reasons we aren’t right for each other. You’re my best friend but…”
“No, I get it. What could I possibly offer you?” He turned the water on and shut it off again. “I hope for your sake that fairy tales come true. Or you’re in for a long, lonely life.” Spring heard him pull a paper towel from the chute, wipe his hands, and toss it into the waste bin. “When you decide what you want to do let me know. I will be there for the baby if decide to keep it. And I hope you do keep it.” Spring listened as Jason stomped across the bathroom and out the door.
From The Universe is a Very Big Place. On sale Nov 20-26 through Amazon.

November 18, 2013

The Witches of Dark Root (Prologue)

Prologue for The Witches of Dark Root (on sale now).

 Miss Sasha’s Magick Shoppe, Dark Root, Oregon
February, 2005


The shop was cold and dimly lit, musty and confining.

A spider web had attached itself to the archway that separated the main room from the back and I ducked each time I passed beneath it, not bothering to sweep it down. Shelves lined every wall of Mother’s Magick shop, displaying the hundreds of candles, masks, figurines, and baubles that made Miss Sasha’s the most popular attraction in all of Dark Root.

While the oddities fascinated tourists, I hardly noticed them anymore as I went about my work.  I hardly noticed anything anymore, except the clock that ticked down the minutes until I was released from my daily servitude.

“Excuse me,” said a woman who had been meandering near the book section for the last hour. “Where is your restroom?”

I responded by opening the front door.

She looked like she was going to protest but decided against it. My apathy for the shop was notorious. She would probably lodge a complaint with my mother instead.

“You need to order more peppermint,” my sister Eve said, emerging from the back room and sucking on a piece of candy. “We’ve been out for almost a week.”

“You order it,” I responded.

If she was going to eat the supplies, she could order them as well.

Eve launched into a series of reasons why I should perform the task––I was practically a boy and therefore, better at math, I had no social life and thus had far more time for work, etc. I was about to tell her that it wouldn’t bother me if we ran out of everything, that the whole place could implode for all I cared, when a crystal figurine on a low shelf caught my eye. It was an owl, an ugly thing with eyes that bulged and a beak that hooked. I wasn’t sure who had ordered it but I was certain it would never find a buyer.

“Bet I beat you out of this town,” I said, tapping its beak.

A losing bet, I realized. It had wings. I didn’t even have a car.

I checked the clock again––five minutes ‘til closing time––and glanced around the shop. It wasn’t as clean as my mother would have wanted, but then again my mother wasn’t here.

“I say we call it done,” I said, tossing my apron on the counter.

“Maggie, come take a look.”

Eve stood by the window. Her fingers twitched as she pointed to a man I had never seen before, seated by the window in Delilah’s Deli across the street.

“Who is he?” she asked. “I don’t recognize him.”

I moved to get a better view, nudging her out of the way. Well, he isn’t from around here.”

Eve clucked her tongue. Of course, he wasn’t from around here. His sophisticated clothing identified him as a city person, not a man who spent much time slinking around a small town in Central Oregon.

“He’s handsome,” she said and I silently agreed. Though it was getting dark I could still make out his thick mane of wavy brown hair and the strong line of his jaw. He was leaning forward, talking to a gaunt young man who hung on his every word.

“We have to find out what he’s doing here,” Eve said. “It’s just not natural.” Though the town festered with tourists during the fall months when we held the Haunted Dark Root Festival, it was rare to see anyone arrive after November and before May.

“Probably just passing through on his way to Salem or Portland. Blew out a tire or had to use the bathroom.”

“You have no imagination.”

Eve chattered on about how he was probably a famous Hollywood producer. She couldn’t allow anyone a normal life; she always reached for the dramatic.

But she was right. There was something special about the stranger. He had an energy that popped and sparkled.

As if he knew he was being watched, he turned in our direction. Eve ducked but I held my position, staring back. His eyes were as grey and stormy as the Oregon coastline. He knew things...secrets and mysteries.

I felt jolted awake after a long sleep.

“We should bring him over.” Eve’s dark eyes flashed as she pushed a step-stool across the floor to gather oils and vials from the top shelf. Next, she collected an assortment of herbs from bins beneath the counter. “...Candles. I need purple candles.”

Like a fly to a spider, I thought as I watched her. She was driven when she had a mission, not the same dreamy girl who stared out the window all day talking about the life she was missing out on while she ignored customers.

“We could just walk across the street and talk to him,” I said, moving away from the window.

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

“I never said I was against magic.”

“Just practicing it. We can’t all be Wilders, you know?” Eve placed her stack onto the counter and arranged the objects into neat piles.

I felt my face redden. Wilder was a slang word, used to describe a witch who had no control over her magic. The light above us flickered.

Besides,” Eve grinned, as if she had said nothing wrong. “This is far more fun. Now, where’s the book?” She scanned the room for our mother’s spell book.

I shrugged. If she wanted to lure a man here against his will that was her business, but I wasn’t going to help.

“Here it is!” She held up a small, leather-bound journal in her hands. It was a rare book, Mother claimed, filled with spells and incantations that would have been lost to time were they not carefully preserved on these pages. As a result, only Mother’s direct descendants could remove the book from her store without suffering a terrible curse.

What the curse was, nobody knew, but Miss Sasha’s magick was formidable, and no one in Dark Root wanted to risk it.

Eve went to work creating a concoction of vanilla, rose petals and thyme, hardly glancing at the open book beside her. She had probably committed her man-luring spell to heart.

“Wouldn’t it be exciting if we fell in love and he took me away from this horrible town? Now that Merry is gone, there’s nothing to keep me here.”

I felt a dagger in my heart at the mention of our older sister’s name. Merry had left three years ago to marry some guy she barely knew and nothing had been the same since.

“You really think you’re going to get out of here before me?” I asked.

“Someone’s got to take care of Mom. Besides,” Eve looked at the clock on the far wall then back to me, “I have to get out of here. I’m going to be a famous actress one day. A psychic told me.”

I snorted, peeking out the window again. The curtains to Delilah’s Deli were shut now, indicating that the cafe was closed. I glanced up and down the street, hoping to see a sign of him or his car, but the street was empty. “Even if your spell does work and you get him to wander over here, what makes you think he’s going to fall in love with you?”

“The travel spell is only part of it,” she said. “One sip of my special tea and he’ll treat me like the goddess I am.” Eve retreated into the back room, returning with a white porcelain cup and matching teapot. “You might not have dreams, Maggie, but I do. God forbid that three years from now when I’m your age, I’m still working as a sales girl in this dump.” She dropped her apron on the floor and kicked it under the counter.

Without warning the door opened, startling us both.

The stranger entered, removing his grey felt hat. He looked around the shop, taking it in. I glanced at Eve, wondering how her travel spell could have worked so quickly.

She shrugged in response.

“Well, hello there,” she said, regaining her composure “Our shop is closed but we were just making tea. You are welcome to join us.” She slinked towards the man, offering him the teacup.

The stranger blinked uncertainly, declining the tea with a wave of his hand. He strode past my sister and stood before me.

“Actually,” he said, staring at me with mystical eyes. “Maggie Maddock, I’m here for you.”


November 7, 2013

Excerpt: The Universe is a Very Big Place

“What do you mean you’re moving?” Pete was chucking rocks at an old tombstone, trying to lodge out ghosts. Fortunately for the sleeping dead, most of them missed.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” John said. “It’s disrespectful.”
“What are they gonna do? Haunt me?” Pete laughed but let the rocks tumble from his hand and onto the ground.
John shrugged. A haunting might do Pete some good, actually.
“This place is gonna suck if you go,” Pete said, pulling down his zipper, looking for a place to piss. He might have relieved himself on one of the headstones had John not given him the disapproving eye.
John took in the view of the cemetery. He and Pete had been coming here for the last twenty years and it pained him a little to think that those days would soon end. “I have to go. This place…it’s death to me. Death to my soul.”
Pete laughed. “Death of your soul, man? What the hell have you been reading?” He rubbed his nose with his hand, not caring that he had just held his pecker with that very appendage. “You just need to get laid.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Is this about Mara? I told you, it was an accident. You didn’t want her anyway. My dick‘s still burning.” If Pete were any other man in the universe John would have hit him. Mara had been a girl he really liked, but of course, like all the other women in Samson, she had a thing for Pete.
“It’s not about Mara. It’s about living my life. I’m 26 years old, living in my brother’s old trailer, working a dead-end factory job. I’ve never been in love. I’ve never climbed a mountain. And the only adventure I’ve ever had was getting lost in the corn maze at the state fair.”
Pete snorted. “Yeah, that was funny. You cried like a little girl ‘til we found you.” Pete let out a big laugh and slapped his leg. “You read too many books. But whatever you want, man. I aint gonna try and stop you from following your dreams.” John found this uncharacteristic display of Pete’s humanity creepy, yet touching. The two had grown up together and Pete rarely supported anything that did not somehow support Pete. “So where you gonna go then? Colorado?” Pete turned his attention on John, his tone more than curious.
John reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small section of the Samson Weekly. “No. There’s a recruiter in Evansville looking for people with computer graphics skills to work for a new company in Arizona. I might apply.”
“Arizona?” Pete’s words were heavy with disbelief. “You know how fucking hot it is in Arizona? Your pansy ass can’t take the Indiana summers, let alone an Arizona summer. Besides, thought you wanted to be a real artist anyway.”
John shrugged. “It’s a start and better than sweating away in a factory. And how is it you know so much about Arizona?”
“My cousin lives there. Remember Amy? The girl who finally took your virginity?”
John blushed. Amy had been his first real girlfriend but before the end of their Junior year her family had moved away. They say you never forgot your first love. Amy had been his only love, if you could call it that. On some especially lonely nights John still thought about her and wondered what she was up to.
“I visited her a few years ago during the Fourth of July. You don’t even need matches to start fireworks out there. They ignite all by themselves.” Pete laughed again and almost chucked another rock. He caught himself and aimed it at a scampering squirrel in the field instead. Fortunately for the squirrel, Pete had a hard time hitting a stationary target, let alone a moving one.
“Well, it’s gotta be better than this. You hear all anyone’s talking about lately? Harnessing the power of corn and cow farts to save the world. I want no part of it.” John looked past the tombstones, past the gate that opened to the park, past the houses and farms that sat just up the road. In his mind’s eye he knew every detail of this town: every house, every field, every signpost. His mother said that someday he would appreciate the security of the familiarity, but he hadn’t gotten there yet.
Pete roused him from his thoughts. “Wanna hang out at the VW tonight? Jessica’s back from school and I bet she’s looking to get lucky. Can’t believe she went to an all-girl’s college. Anyway, you can have her this time. I think she’s bringing a friend.” Pete jingled the coins in his pocket and cocked a mischievous eyebrow towards John.
John cringed and shook his head. Pete had been with every girl in Samson. Twice. His claim to fame was that he had, at one time or another acquired every venereal disease the free clinic could treat, and a few they couldn’t. The last thing he wanted was to touch anyone or anything that Pete had laid his penis on. That was another good reason to move away. “No thanks. You can give me the details tomorrow.”
“Suit yourself,” said Pete, popping open the last of the six pack they had brought with them. “More for me. But remember, man. You can’t find adventure. You have to make it.”
John nodded, gathered up the empty cans, and made his way home wondering if his TV would be able to pick up The Wheel of Fortune or if it would be scrambled again.

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...