Community, by Carole Howard

Quick: What community or communities are you a member of?

Chances are, you thought of your town/city. Maybe your congregation. Or your family.  As far as I’m concerned, though, communities come in many other shapes and sizes.

For example, my husband once played in a pick-up touch football league in Central Park. Whoever showed up, played. Whoever didn’t, didn’t. The guys only saw each other for two hours on Sundays. They only knew each other by first names. But they’d played together for years. When my husband returned after two years in the Peace Corps, one of the guys said, “Hey, man, you’ve been gone for a few weeks. We’ve missed you.”

It was a community. As was your third grade class. Your gardening club.  Your book discussion group. Your touch football team. Your blog readers. You get the idea. It’s people who are united in some way. Family, geography, belief or activity. Real and virtual. If you read this blog regularly, you and I belong to a community of sorts…… so, welcome.

One of the reasons I loved Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is its portrayal of a community that develops in a most unlikely circumstance. But that’s exactly what it was: a group with cultural understandings, behavior norms, maybe even specialized language. No matter who or what or where, the sense of belonging engendered by membership in a community can be powerful.

One community I’ve belonged to for about fifteen years is the amateur orchestra in which I play violin. As with some communities, like the football team, the cast of characters has changed over the years, but the community itself is stable.

[You can get a sense of how an orchestra is a community in DEADLY ADAGIO, where the members are bonded not only by being musicians working together, but also by being English-speaking expatriates in francophone West Africa. Oh, and also by murder.]

One of the reasons I find the idea of orchestra-as-community so interesting is that we don’t know each other very well. There are many members I’ve been playing with for years whose names I still don’t know. I don’t know where people live or what their family situations are. After all, we don’t have a whole lot of time to talk to each other: We show up for rehearsal at 8:00, play until 9:45 and then don’t hang around because it is, after all, 9:45 PM, and the staff at the rehearsal space has to wait for us to leave before closing up. On concert night, we have some time back stage to schmooze, but schmoozing while nervous is, well …. not the regular kind of schmoozing.

It doesn’t matter.

We work together, week after week, year after year, to create something beautiful. Everyone has to play his/her role. For thirty practices and three concerts a year, everyone has a part. Everyone’s part depends on everyone else’s. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. If that isn’t a bond, I don’t know what is.

My orchestra community

My orchestra community

We have our own jokes. We have our own rituals. We know things the audience doesn’t know (“What happened to those last three notes of the first movement?”), which is a powerful and seductive kind of bond. In our own realm, we understand each other. We are the insiders.

Making music as part of an ensemble is a singular joy, but I also love being part of the community. Do you belong to any groups that can be thought of as a variation on the theme of community?

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Life Is An Experiment

018I’m a hands-on science teacher. My family lives amongst my lesson plans. In our pantry there’s a plastic tub of lively mealworms. I’ve kept them alive for over eighteen months on a diet of organic oatmeal flakes and organic potato slices. There are assorted snake skins, antlers, and rodent skulls on a shelf in the garage. A five pound box of two-inch galvanized roofing nails waits on the dining room table. Eighty of them will be used in the Bed of Nails prototype my husband is constructing for me.

In our house, it seems that no matter what product we pull from the kitchen cupboard or bathroom cabinet, it is invariably labeled with some cryptic number or letter. The six assorted shampoo bottles in our shower niche are labeled 1 through 6 in black Sharpie marker. I used them in a Shampoo Analysis Lab to determine if price makes a difference in a shampoo’s effectiveness. I won’t be a spoiler, but my students now know the terms viscosity and flash foam. There’s a big red Sharpie A, B, or C on the three toothpaste tubes in the bathroom vanity drawer. They were part of my Secret Formulas unit. The kids identified the attributes of toothpaste, and then made their own blends. But first, they crafted “colonial toothbrushes” from small branches I snipped off trees in our woods. You should have seen those little baby teeth gnaw the ends of the twigs to get the “bristles” just right – my little beaver scientists! The 625-count pack of Q-tips is labeled “for Grossology.” I used them in conjunction with my Microscope unit. The kids investigated their own ear wax and then swabbed the water fountains drains (you will never, ever drink from a water fountain again if you see the results!).

Did I mention the Chicken Mummies? There are eight raw Perdue chickens in my garage. They are part of a six-week after-school Mummification unit I’m teaching. The chickens are heavily salted, wrapped in layers of white gauze, adorned with glue-gunned sequins and jewels, and are slowly dehydrating. We’ll repeat the entire salting/gauzing process next week and the kids will eventually see that, just like ancient Egyptian mummies, the chickens don’t rot or smell. On the last day of class, they’ll wear the hieroglyphic clay necklaces they created and bring their chicken mummies home. Some parents will throw them away before they even make it to the front door, and maybe some will not.

People ask, “How do you come up with this stuff?” I always say the same thing, “I just try to think like a kid.” I don’t really care what they examine under a microscope. My goal is to have them learn the parts of a microscope, and to associate science with a love of learning. I think kids are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. They can sniff out authenticity as fast as a pack of bloodhounds can track a chain gang escapee in the swamps of Louisiana. My experiments are messy and imperfect, and kids deserve the right to know that life is messy and imperfect.

If you haven’t been in an elementary school lately, you may not know that the Scientific Method has become the focus of science lessons. The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments – it involves a lot of predicting and hypothesizing – which is wonderful. But here’s the sad part, and maybe it’s a reflection on today’s perfectionist society – I can’t tell you how many times one of my students makes a prediction, gets it wrong, and then furtively erases their answer. Last week, in a Mealworm Madness class, each giggling child hesitantly selected his/her own squiggly mealworm from a big yellow bowl. Then, they introduced themselves to their mealworm, gave their mealworm a name, and predicted how long their mealworm was, in inches. The responses ranged from one inch to nineteen inches. Each child used a green plastic ruler to measure their crawling worm. Cries of, “Hey, hold still little buddy!” and “Stop wiggling so much!” filled the classroom. Then, the kids discovered that all of the mealworms were about two inches long. Two little girls actually scolded themselves for making an incorrect prediction. One kid hit himself on the forehead with his palm. Four boys shielded their papers with their arms and surreptitiously erased their predictions. These were first and second graders who had gleefully assigned their worms names like Zippy, Sparkly, Unicorn, and Bob. When did it become wrong to make a mistake?

I suspect that standardized testing has something to do with this. Tests that expect all children, no matter their birthday, and no matter their developmental speed, to achieve the same levels at the same time. I always tell my classes “Don’t just think outside the box, let’s totally avoid the box!” But is this what they’re hearing at home or in their classrooms? I don’t think so. Not anymore. I think they’re hearing, “Be the best.” First and second graders should be happy, carefree, and playing – not weighed down by school. And school should be a fun place of learning, not of stress and pressure where incorrectly predicting a mealworm’s length ruins your afternoon.

I left public school teaching five years ago because I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. I didn’t want to teach from a script as my former colleagues are forced to do, because life and learning are not scripted. The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting. Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best.

Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

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Diagnosis: Musical Ignorance -Chelsea Bolt

Confession time: I have no idea how music works. All I know is that I love it dearly. Music has the ability to create such powerful emotions within my soul that every other form of art struggles to stir within me. Nothing makes me happier than singing a song on a Sunday morning, but there is so much that I don’t understand. I have tried, believe me I have, but I continue to be blissfully ignorant.

Growing up in the rural area of Hillsville, Virginia there was no shortage of strong musical roots. Bluegrass is life. Bluegrass is everywhere; church, festivals, and even along the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Luckily, my family was very involved in the musical lifestyle of the area. My father and his brothers would get together and sing at various churches in the area nearly on a weekly basis when I was younger and my mother had been playing piano and singing since she was in her early teens and even gave the occasional piano lesson. Being at church choir practices frequently, I tried to sing as loud as an entire choir of grownups. That tidbit plus the fact that I come from a family of boisterous individuals, I’ve earned the reputation of having a thunderous voice. So I’m sorry for everyone who has ever stood within a five foot radius when I’m singing. Basically what I’m saying is that I was raised on the musical stylings of Alison Krauss & Union Station and the Dixie Chicks. Not a bad foundation if I do say so myself.

Up until recently, I have been content singing in the car and plucking a few notes on the guitar. Last summer I realized just how musically lost I am. I had the opportunity to serve as a SummerStaff member for a North American missionary organization called World Changers. I was an audiovisual technician and was honored to work in Nashville Tennessee for about three weeks. I have never seen, met, worked with, or heard such talented people in my life. My emotions were running at a new high that they have never reached before. Being surrounded by individuals that had such a passion, talent, and artistry for music just about left me in tears. I nearly fainted on a guy when he composed a tune on a piano on the spot, so there’s that. Luckily, once I was done fangirling, I was able to learn so much from one person in particular last summer, someone who was blessed with a natural talent that she had pursued and she still remained humble. Allow me to give you a frame of reference, a very nice inebriated woman at CMAfest told me I had a nice singing voice; the talented individual I’m talking about has been playing viola for many years, performed with many other talented musicians, and even studied music in school. Let’s take it back a minute, she taught me what harmony was. HARMONY PEOPLE. That’s how ignorant I am. Thanks to her I received quite a bit of education on how music works, we even checked my vocal range and played a harp, but there still is so much I can’t begin to comprehend.

Music moves me; how it works I have no idea. Why music speaks to my soul, well at least I know that.

Chelsea Bolt is a Second Wind author of the young adult novel Moonshine. For more information check out these sites: 

https://theonlybolt.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chelsea-Bolt/689158317846614

https://twitter.com/theonlybolt

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In Your Own Back Yard

I awoke to an early-morning birdsong symphony, then held a steaming cup of coffee to my mouth, with swirling vapors escaping into the ether as I breathed in the dawn’s newness.  Looking out over the expanse of green grass and trees rolling to the hills, the sun announced its presence overhead, evaporating the last wisps of evening mist, I am overcome, by Nature’s almost sacred beauty.  It filled me with a feeling of Interconnectedness; almost as if I were awakening for the very first time.

A chipmunk scurried through the leaves, having vacuumed up his morning fill.  The polyphonic melodies of the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Finches, Mourning Doves, reminded me how intimately we all share the same space, and time.  We are every bit as much in their habitat, as they are in ours.  We may consider insects, and other “lower” forms of life as nothing more than picnic crashers or pests, but the reality is that on almost every square inch of almost every continent on Earth, the ratio of wildlife to human is astronomically mind-blowing.  And when you consider the absolutely alien nature of some of our co-inhabitants, crabs, sharks, spiders, snakes, mosquitoes, there are creepy-crawlies enough for every imagination.  Not to mention the microscopic hordes that symbiotically call our bodies home.  And among this menagerie we do somehow miraculously coexist, and will continue to do so as long as Man holds up his end of the primordial bargain, and maintains stewardship of this planet all we call home; and the jury is still out on that one!

In my contemplation, I thought of how in today’s nonstop world, most people feel outside of Nature; our language gives us away: we must conquer Nature, Everest, space, our fears, you name it!  But actually, the opposite is true, there’s nothing to conquer; we are not outside of Nature, we are an integral part of it.  We may try in vain to fence Mother Nature in or out according to our whim.  We can put up houses and fences, industries and huge monuments to our greatness, and all the while our machinations only serve to thwart Nature.  We put up all kinds of barriers, but you can see through them when you listen deeply and realize that birds are not here to entertain us with their melodies, but are either calling for a mate, or claiming his turf.  Listen closely and you can hear the call and reply, from tree to tree, nest to nest, outside of our artificial boundaries across migration paths of other animals.  Those selfsame boundaries are limited only by our imagination.

As I continued to ponder it all, my Stream of Consciousness inevitably carried me back to my immediate surroundings, and the serenity of the moment.  I caught sight of a bluebird in mid-flight, and the passing of the shadows as the sun began its slow march toward the horizon.  And as today slowly slipped into yesterday, I felt that the world had changed somehow, then realized that the only thing different was my perspective.  Everything was as it was before; my neighbor was mowing  his lawn, another washed his car, and a dog barked up the street, as always.  “Yes, we are all interconnected” I said to myself, grinning.

As my long internal dialog continued, the shadows of night approached and I found that I had spent an entire day from dawn to dusk in a state of total reverie, having witnessed life’s awakenings, its comings and goings.

With the sun’s glow fading, and evening shades growing, I slipped inside, away from the night, and closed the door on a long day.  And as I threw the deadbolt against the night, it dawned on me: such a long journey, and I never even left my own back yard.

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January’s Paradigm—by J. Conrad Guest

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling detective novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity. 

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right … and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist … or does he?

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

 

January’s Paradigm is the novel that started it all.

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the second edition of January’s Paradigm went to print, and nearly twenty-five years since I sat down to write the first words: I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place.

Two more January novels followed, and I’ve since seen six more of my children published. I’ve learned much over the years, about myself and also about the craft of writing. Should the learning ever cease, I will lay down my pen.

I was thrilled when Second Wind agreed to publish this fourth edition so that the entire trilogy would bear their imprint. However, I was resistant to even read January’s Paradigm these many years later. I cringed at the prospect for fear that I would wish to rewrite large portions of it. Certainly there were many sections of narrative I would write differently were I writing it today.

In preparing this edition, I wished to maintain the integrity of as much of the original text as much as possible, not only to show where I was in my life twenty-five years ago, but also to show the progress I’ve made as a writer and a stylist.

The changes are minor, mostly to do with formatting and structure. I resisted the urge to add or revise narrative, with a very few exceptions – what can I say? I’m a perfectionist and never could refrain from tink­ering, which is why I rarely revisit my novels once they go to print. I can always find ways to improve a text; never perfect, I can only achieve “closer to perfection.”

January’s Paradigm holds its rightful place in my body of work, and I remain proud of this endeavor.

Below appears an excerpt.

“Come any closer and I’ll cut her, I swear,” the punk with the knife said. The fear in his voice was obvious, making him all the more dan­gerous.

While I’d been busy disposing of the first two goons, this one had managed to take Susan hostage. He stood behind her, his left arm wrapped tightly around her waist; Susan’s heavy breasts rested on the forearm that held her in check, while the punk’s right hand held the knife to the soft pale flesh of her throat. The corner streetlight glinted intermittently off the shiny blade, evidence of the kid’s nervousness.

I saw the stark panic reflected in Susan’s dark eyes, and the unspent portion of my rage ascended to a new apogee. That Porter would subject his supposed ideal to the rigors of this assault was beyond my capacity to reason, and I hated him for it. I hated him for being respon­sible for the terror that now resided where before I’d seen only laughter and love, brief respites of concern for me, and hurt (that I’d been the cause of); the sum of which had managed to endear her to me. But even they paled beside the intensity of what was now being reflected in her eyes.

Suddenly, I was uncertain of how to proceed, as I was equally un­certain of Porter’s intent for orchestrating this sequence of events. Did he intend to eliminate Susan from the story? If he did, would her ab­sence from this fantasy cause him to stir from his torpidity, or merely serve to drive him deeper into an already nearly fatal state of denial?

I was no longer certain, as I’d been moments before while dis­patching Porter’s other two lackeys, that Porter knew what would tran­spire in the next few minutes. To me, it felt as yet unscripted. The choice, it appeared, was mine to make. Just as it had been my choice the other night to deal with Kate in the manner I had.

Yet never before had the consequences of my options weighed so heavily.

To act might spell Susan’s demise, for by taking action there was al­ways the chance of success. But to turn around and walk away from this situation would certainly spell doom for her.

Some dim part of my consciousness knew that, in Porter’s reality, this is precisely how situations such as this ended. The assailant’s sexual climax was predicated on violence, and so the pinnacle of that act of passion was really in the aftermath, when the ultimate climax ended with the victim’s death.

“Walk away, man. I just want the girl. Walk away now and I just might let her live. Make any more trouble, I’ll cut her for sure.” I could hear the tension in the voice rising, while Susan’s eyes implored that I pay no heed to the voice coming from just behind her right ear.

In the past, I had always reacted on the pretense of right and wrong; those reactions usually benefitted the underdog.

To walk away now would serve Porter right; let him deal with his own tortured reality.

Yet to walk away would also be wrong, for by doing so I relegated Susan, the aforementioned aggrieved underdog, to certain doom. 

What should that matter to me? She’s just a product of Porter’s imagination, same as the kid threatening to spill her blood, same as everyone I’ve ever met, pre­sent, past and future. Hell, the same as me.

That’s not true, that other part of me rebuked. You are real. You must be.

“Come on, man. Don’t make me ask again.”

I noted the look of fear in the kid’s eyes and something else as well, something behind the eyes. Another presence. The same presence that was responsible for all that had, and would, transpire in this fantasy. It wrote the words the kid recited with such uncertainty; yet unsure how I might react, itself terrified that I might abandon it, that other presence betrayed its own uncertainty in the eyes of Susan’s captor. A look that was totally out of character for the character, it pleaded with me. It begged me not to abandon it.

That same presence existed in Susan’s eyes as well.

I closed my eyes as I became painfully aware that there was more at stake here than mere right or wrong.

Walking away to spite Porter would surely sign Susan’s death war­rant, and Porter’s shame at being the instrument of her degradation would be too much to bear. He would cut short her suffering because never again would he be able to look into her eyes through mine and bear the pain of having been the author of her fate. 

Yes, I reasoned, it would be wrong to punish you at Susan’s expense. She is but an innocent bystander. 

But why? I argued back. She’s not real. 

But what she represents is. The voice of the gargoyle.

“Porter’s paradigm is mine also,” I muttered.

“What was that?” the kid said.

I ignored him.

I saw the truth in my rationale; but it was a truth that remained blurred, just out of focus. That I should desire what Porter desired was only natural; it was no secret I desired Susan, as did Porter. We were, after all, one and the same. A derivative of Porter’s more abject nature, I allowed Porter the avenue of escape to investigate a lifestyle more glamorous than his own mundane existence permitted.

But I had discovered an unnatural attachment to Susan these past several days. Not only had I grown protective of her, but fond as well. In a way that my own equally mundane existence between the covers of One Hot January had not permitted.

In a sense, Susan was more real than anyone I’d ever encountered, because of Porter’s attachment to her. He’d modeled her after an ideal. She wasn’t just a fictional creation for one of his novels, but instead someone he wished with all his heart he might find in his own an­guished reality.

I recalled the way Susan relished teasing me, but instead of embar­rassment, I now felt the warmth of affection at the image of her making sport of me, playfully mocking my odd dialect. Coming to my rescue when my inhibitions allowed me to only blush. Her eyes, full of life and love and laughter, and the way she looked at me with those eyes; not with selfish lust as others had, but with selfless kindness, understanding and genuine affection, as well as concern, just as genuine, as she had when I’d arrived unexpectedly at The Oasis just an hour ago. Her laughter, warm and resonant, a wonderfully melodic sound to my ears. I recalled the way she touched me when I least expected it, and all of the other special gifts that made her uniquely her.

All the attributes that Porter coveted, and believed himself worthy of, were the same traits that I now discovered equally desirable yet un­obtainable, because I saw myself, in view of my checkered past, as un­worthy.

In short, I was in love with Susan Anders. The realization brought my eyes open.

“Don’t even think it, man,” the punk said, but the look in his eyes said otherwise. “I’ll cut her, I swear I will.” The statement lacked con­viction. Not a declaration of certitude, it seemed to invite a reply. I obliged.

“You do and I’ll kill you.” I spoke the words softly, yet the weight they carried was obvious.

The kid’s eyes went wide with fear; a moment later a puddle of water appeared on the sidewalk between his feet.

“You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“No,” I said. “Just pissed.”

If this had been a book, I might’ve found the moment humorous; but this wasn’t a book. Although the setting was fictitious and teeming with fictional characters, the outcome of events held life and death ramifications for Robert Porter and all he held near and dear. Susan Anders, for one, or more importantly the ideal she represented. The hope that she, or someone like her, existed in his reality.

And me, too, I suddenly discerned for the first time. Hadn’t I been a paradigm of sorts to Porter, albeit flawed as I was?

I now understood what the voice inside my head meant about be­ing stronger together as one. I also understood why Susan wanted him – Porter – to soften January’s character and make him more real.

In One Hot January, Porter would’ve found some way for me to come to Susan’s rescue in some fancifully violent way that would’ve left her assailant bloodied and broken, and somehow glorify the ferocity of my wrath by having the damsel in distress repay her debt to my hero­ism with sexual favors.

But this was not One Hot January.

I merely dismissed the kid with a nonchalant wave of my hand.

“Go on,” I said. All of the controlled anger of a few moments ago was gone.

“Get out of here before you get hurt.”

The kid didn’t wait around to be told a second time. Dropping the knife, he released Susan and, with a look of relief mingled with thanks, made good his pardon from my rage. The thanks, I was certain, be­longed to that other person I’d briefly glimpsed, the person who had pleaded that I not walk away. The rapidity of the kid’s departure left me momentarily amused.

The next moment found Susan in my arms, her body wracked by sobs, the release of her previous anguish.

In the past, I would’ve had some humorous anecdote ready, a segue into what would’ve brought the chapter to a sort of anti-climax.

But this wasn’t the past, so I kept silent, offering comfort in a strangely different way.

There was nothing I could say to assuage her distress, so I simply returned her embrace, stroking her soft hair, inhaling its fragrance, amazed that the adrenaline high of a moment ago, coupled with the firm reality of Susan’s close proximity, hadn’t resulted in the usual sex­ual arousal.

A minute later, the violence of her sobs ebbed, and she managed to say between hiccoughs, “I thought … for a minute I thought … I thought you’d leave me.”

“Never,” I whispered, and felt her grip tighten.

The word was meant to reassure her; but even as I spoke it, I knew it was a lie, for I now knew I would be leaving her. And soon.

Inside, I grieved over her loss from me.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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Click to purchase

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Sea of Destiny – Part 35 by Dellani Oakes

sea of destiny coverOn behalf of Emily, Kyle goes to speak to the faith healer priest. After talking for several minutes, the priest seems willing to visit Emily at the hotel where he will do his best to heal her.

“Is she a believer?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Are you?”

“I’m trying. Faith has been a little shaky the last year. I want to believe, I need to believe. I need—something more. I’m not explaining very well.”

“On the contrary, you’re explaining extremely well. For me it was the calling to Holy Orders. I was married myself, had a couple kids. One day, I woke up and knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t what I was meant to do. I left and never went back. Cowardly of me, I know. I owed her an explanation, but I didn’t have the strength. By the time I did, it was really too late.”

“So, you’ll do this?”

“Yes, Mr. Scott. I’ll do this. Have Ms. Geraci at the hotel near the docks, the one her family owns, and I’ll be there at five o’clock. My evening service is at eight, but we’ll be done well before then.”

“Thank you, Father!” He shook the older man’s hands with both of his. “Thank you. Can I give you something for your time?”

“There’s one thing I need from you, son.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t be too quick to promise. I’ll tell you after I’m done.”

“Okay.”

Kyle thought it was a little strange, but he wasn’t going to argue. Grinning, wanting to dance and sing, he gathered up his family and took them sightseeing. Vera called the ship and gave Thad West the good news. He promised to have Emily at the hotel before four.

Riding an adrenaline high, Kyle couldn’t remember anything he saw in Cozumel. He was itching to get back to the ship to see Emily, but wasn’t about to break his promise to his children.

At 4:30, the company rep dropped Kyle at the hotel while Carmelita took the children back to the ship. He waited impatiently for the priest to arrive. When he did, Kyle took him up to her penthouse suite. The living room overlooked the ocean. He could see the ship in the harbor.

Emily was sitting in a recliner gazing out across the water. She had her prayer book and rosary with her. Soft music played quietly in the background. Kyle recognized it as Handel’s Messiah. He pulled a chair up next to her, taking her hand.

“You did this for me?”

“With Thad’s help, yes.”

“Why? You hardly know me.”

He kissed her tenderly, taking her fingers to his lips. “Isn’t it obvious?” His eyes held hers a long time.

There was a soft tap at the door. Thad West answered, greeting the men quietly. Kyle rose, smiling as he made the introductions.

“Forgive me for not getting up,” Emily said softly. “Thaddeus insisted that I remain in my chair.”

“Not a problem,” Father Michael said with a grin. “Pablo, I need the lady’s hands and feet uncovered. Mr. Scott, if you’d assist?”

“Sure.” He and the man he’d met at the mission helped Emily remove her shoes.

“There is a short service, a few scriptures read. Are you Catholic?” he asked Emily.

“Yes. Born and raised in the Church.”

“Excellent. Then I need not explain about the importance of the Host?”

“No. Father, may I have a moment for Confession?”

“Certainly, my dear. I anticipated the need. Pablo.” His assistant brought his purple stole, placing it around his shoulders. “Gentlemen, if you will.” He invited them to leave in no uncertain terms.

The three of them stepped into the study, closing the door behind them. Thaddeus offered them each a drink. None of them took alcohol, opting for Coca-Cola instead. Kyle was on edge. Something about Father Michael was familiar. He couldn’t place it, but there was a distinct vibe when the other man was around. Part of that, he knew, was power. This priest was decidedly a conduit for God’s healing. He had met a few people in his life who had spiritual gifts, and this man was stronger than any of them. Kyle knew that Father Michael could help Emily. But there was something else, an underlying, nebulous tingle he couldn’t identify.

They came back in after Emily’s confession and gathered around as Fr. Michael assigned each of them a scripture to read. The service itself was short, followed by Communion. Dr. West wasn’t Catholic, but Kyle and Emily were. Fr. Michael blessed the Host, placing it on their tongues. Afterwards, he began the Anointing of the Sick. It was a special sacrament that Kyle had never seen performed before.

© Dellani Oakes

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Excerpt from ‘Betrayal’

My novel, Betrayal, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be launched on June 1st. To give you a bit of a preview, I have chosen an excerpt from the book to post to my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Ben stood for a moment, staring blankly at the closed door. He was trying to assimilate everything that had happened today. The arrival of the girl had been a surprise, and he had suspected all along she was hiding something, but now it was confirmed. Now he knew that not only was she hiding something, but it was something dangerous. Tori had had a very good reason not to follow the road back into town. She was running from someone and that someone had just come knocking at his door.

The two strangers had obviously followed her footprints through the snow. Ben had no doubt Tori had made no effort to cover her tracks. It had taken a lot of explaining on his part to convince them it was his footprints leading to the cabin, and he wasn’t so sure they were entirely convinced.

There had been no question in his mind of handing her over to them. True, he valued his private time alone in his cabin and he would have preferred Tori had chosen someone else’s lake to fall into, but he was not cold-blooded enough to turn her over to a couple of goons. She was in trouble and he wasn’t going to make it worse for her. Ben pivoted and looked speculatively towards the bedroom where she was hiding.

He knew she had heard everything that had been said, but hadn’t been able to understand. He also knew she had probably recognized the voices at the door and remembered them as belonging to the people who had inflicted those bruises on her neck and face. He was sure they were responsible for her injuries. Several pieces of the puzzle fit together now. There were still some gaping spaces, but, if he handled this carefully, he might be able to fill them in. The question was whether he really wanted to. After all, this cabin was meant to be his refuge, not a hotbed of intrigue.

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, soon to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Interview with a Supernormal: About Those Abilities

As I write Root, the next book in the Dormant series, I draw on clandestine interviews I’ve had with the only supernormal I’ve met. I know her as Kate Brighthall but that’s not her real name. It’s the name she gave me when she recused me from a house fire when we were both teenagers. Over the years she’s trusted me with details about her world and allowed me to write about it. I suspect she wants to make sure at least some facts are correctly reported to counterbalance the rumors swirling around — mostly in the tabloids.

Below is an excerpt from notes I took when Kate told me about how supernormal abilities develop. She was unusually chatty that day.

…………………………………………

As told by Kate Brighthall…

Supernormal children aren’t born with their active powers. Our children aren’t distinguishable from normal children at all. Not at first.

Our children start showing signs of the basic package abilities around age three. The basic package abilities (my daughter Zoe’s term) include super speed, sight, smell, hearing, and strength. As a child grows up, we do some light training to hone the basic package skills, however intense training begins at age thirteen when a child’s significant ability manifests. A significant ability can be one of many different skills — it could be an extension of the basic package or something very different. For example, Zoe’s significant ability is super speed. She can run the 120 miles from the Portland warehouse to Mt Hood and back in fifteen minutes. Others gain significant abilities such as the power to manipulate objects without touching them. I can manipulate objects weighing up to 5 lbs. Others can handle heavier objects. Other abilities include fire starters, like my niece Olivia. My brother, Alex, is an empath — skill often used for healing. Supernormals can heal more rapidly than normals but we occasionally need a little help. Alex also uses his ability to help normals heal — surreptitiously, of course.

Most abilities are easy to hide from normals but some of us manifest abilities that require we stay hidden. It’s not unheard of for a supernormal to manifest wings, gills, or other physical changes. Once, a long time ago, we were less successful at staying hidden. That’s how some myths got started — normals saw supernormals in action. Nowadays we stay below the radar; it’s safer that way — for us and for normals.

As teenager supernormals manifest their significant ability, they focus on honing their new skill. There are tried and true exercises for each ability, but my brothers and I challenge ourselves to find new ways of training. It’s been particularly interesting training Olivia’s fire starter skills — her range is amazing but her control still needs work. Good thing her grandfather built a fireproof training room.

Once a thirteen year old supernormal manifests her significant ability it takes about six months for full development. After that period, our significant abilities are set and don’t grow any more. Of course, we can refine our skills. For example, only being able to manipulating object of 5 pounds or less might seem like a limitation but I’ve learned that it depends on what that object is.

There’s only one forbidden ability — mind reading. Any child who manifests this ability must learn to suppress it — almost all supernormals who manifest this ability develop the power to control minds as well. They usually end up going insane. About two hundred years ago, a supernormal with the ability to read minds destroyed most of the supernormal population globally. Because of this cataclysmic event, there are less than a thousand of us worldwide. Fortunately, mind reading is a rare ability; typically, only one child per generation manifests it. I’ve only known one personally and he is in a medically induced coma to protect himself and others.

Every family lineage has a role in the supernormal world. For example, Brighthalls often train to be hunters, seeking and containing the monster population while protecting normals from these creatures. Sometimes we have to kill the monsters; for example, it’s very difficult to trap and contain a Mongolian Death Worm due to its acid spewing abilities. Usually we try to capture and then release a creature in a safer habitat. Recently we tracked a firebug — a small tentacled critter who emits sparks and sometimes flames — usually harmless in a remote desert setting but not in an urban environment where it can harm normals. We were able to use Olivia’s ability capture the firebug and now it’s on its way to a safe habitat.

As the normal population has grown, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep monsters away from normals. Sadly, due to encroaching populations we’ve had to kill more creatures than we did in the past. I’m trying to find better ways for us to capture and contain these monsters. Most of the creatures are harmless when kept away from normals.

My family is atypical because we integrate into the normal population while most supernormals live in remote locations around the world. My family’s job as hunters means that we usually live in cities so we find have to work hard to blend in among normals. In fact, unusually among supernormals we often marry normals. Supernormal genes are dominant so our children have abilities. I remember when I told my normal husband about supernormals — he was stunned but has adapted very well to our double life.

I think it’s good to stay connected to the normals — keeps us grounded in both worlds. Not everyone agrees. Most supernormals keep themselves separate from normals as much as possible. Historically, the few times we’ve come out to normals, it’s been a disaster for us and we’ve had to go back into hiding. Normals either want to control us out of fear of our abilities or use our abilities to make their lives easier. The crash of the Hindenburg, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake –examples of normals trying to control my kind in the early part of the 20th century.

……………………………………………………….

At this point, Kate received a text message. I don’t know what it said but she gasped and abruptly ended our interview. As she rushed off I heard her mutter, “Olivia what have you done now?”

 

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

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Authentic Man by John E. Stack

A few years ago a friend of mine confided in us that his wife had become very ill. She was getting really bad headaches that would last a day or so. After each episode, part of her memory would be gone. After many tests the doctors explained that it was very aggressive and that there was really nothing they could do. Eventually, she would stop remembering, her body would stop functioning and she would die.

This, as you could imagine, devastated their entire family. They had two children in college and one in high school. The kids came home more often and dad cut back on his work hours. In this and with the help of some of the ladies in the church, he was able to take care of his wife and kids and still maintain an income. It took a lot of coordination but he made it work.

As the past couple of years went by, she steadily became worse. He became more dedicated. Her walk soon became a shuffle and he was always beside her to steady her. Soon had to use a walker and he was always there insuring she would be okay. She was the mother of his children and not only were they married, they had a profound commitment to one another. He was doing as God commanded – loving his wife as Christ loved the church.

They moved to Florida a year or so ago so she could be near family. The kids did as their mom wanted and carried on with their lives, finishing college and getting adult jobs. They knew that in doing so, it would make mom and dad proud. Anytime one would ask how things were going all we would hear was that “things are okay.”

My friend and his family came back through town this last week heading toward their son’s graduation and visited our Sunday service. He looked a little older and a little more worn, but was still smiling. His wife has progressed to a wheel chair and is no longer able to walk on her own. He quickly approached me and gave me a big hug. He never said how rough things were, only inquired on how we were doing. He quickly pulled away wanting to get back to his wife.

After arriving back home in Florida he wrote our Sunday school class a note. He said that the doctors had told him that her time was short. He said that they would never return for a visit, but one day he hoped that he would he would be able to.

He did make one request and it was a request made through love. It was probably one of the most selfless requests ever made. He asked for us to pray that God would take her quickly and painlessly. He knew that heaven would be the only place she could ever be whole again.

He is an authentic man. A real man who is doing God’s will. Where many men would throw up their hands and scream for a divorce, or have an affair, or just pack up and leave, he has stood fast and continued to love his wife.

I didn’t mention any names – I didn’t need to. He is not looking for praise. He is just doing what real men do – keep loving no matter the circumstances. Love you, man.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Dedication

Divide by Zero, by Sheila Deeth

I’ve been telling stories since the day I learned to talk—or possibly earlier. According to my mum, I was constantly talking even before I knew words, so perhaps I was born telling tales.

I’ve been writing stories since the day I learned to write—a task that was delayed, I suspect, by my innate laziness. Teachers used to “borrow” me from class in elementary school, so I could keep their students quiet with my made-up tales. Then, one day, the principal (the wonderful Sister Bernadette) put a rather large reel-to-reel tape recorder on the desk in front of me, accompanied by an extremely large and scary microphone. She said if I wouldn’t learn to write my stories, she’d just have to record them, one by one. The pencil being less scary than the microphone…

And I’ve been waiting to tell the story in Infinite Sum, since the day a trusted adult first abused me. But don’t worry; the novel really isn’t my story, and Sylvia is not me. My protagonist’s feelings are just as real and honest as if they were mine, but I think her tale is much better told because it’s hers. After all, I’ve been telling stories, fiction not fact, since the day I learned to talk. It’s what I do.

Today I started writing a dedication page for my soon-to-released second novel (hence the title to this post). I’ll have to start by thanking all those kind people who rejected my first attempts. I’m glad they stopped me from trying to publish my own story. I’m glad they rejected the thinly disguised (and overly serious, unbalanced and introspective) novel that it became. And I’m glad Second Wind have accepted this new and (I think vastly) improved iteration. It’s fiction, and I feel like it’s finally made Sylvia real to me—for all that she’s a stranger in my head. It’s made my childhood self real to me too. So I’m really grateful to my publisher.

I’m also enormously grateful to my mum. She has told me repeatedly, since the day I left home, that I really should make use of my storytelling and writing skills. Without Mum’s constant prayers and encouragement, Sylvia’s story would never have been written. Thank you Mum.

And now I must thank all those generous friends who’ve encouraged me with early reviews—in particular authors Catherine Cavendish and Paulette Mahurin, and most especially mystery author Aaron Paul Lazar who applied his razor-sharp fine-tooth comb to the final edits of the text. Thank you so much!

And you, dear readers, thank you too. If you read Divide by Zero, this novel’s for you. And if you haven’t got around to reading it, well you’ve still got time because Infinite Sum hasn’t yet been released. In Divide by Zero, you’ll meet a girl and the village (or subdivision) who raised her. You’ll wonder, if you’re anything like me, why she allowed things to happen as they did. And you’ll finish reading just in time to open up Infinite Sum and find the answer.

I’m so very thankful that Second Wind Publishing have trusted me enough to accept a second novel after Divide by Zero.

But most of all I am grateful—I will always be grateful—to God for teaching both me and Sylvia that forgiveness never was our job.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, one published and one soon to be published by Second Wind Publishing. She’s currently working on Subtraction, the third in the series. And Imaginary Numbers will follow soon afterward.

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