Members of Jericho Writers

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Are you a member of Jericho Writers? Then join this group and meet your fellow-members!

To kick things off - introduce yourselves. What do you write? Where are you based? What are you engaging with in the Membership so far? 

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Hi all,

Hopefully there's some tech savvy people or someone who's overcome this problem in here.

I just watched the Self Publishing webinar and it worked fine on my phone. However, when I tried to watch it on my laptop I got no audio and a green screen. I was using Chrome, (which is recommended) but the webinar finished before I could find a solution.

I remembered struggling to view the "How To Write" video tutorials with the same issue when I first joined JW,  so I decided to retry watching those. When I followed the link from my email inbox and clicked on "Explore your membership" I got a 404 error and was unable to continue.

Please bear in mind that I'm a bit of a technophobe,  and if I can't fix something with a hammer or gaffer tape then I usually throw it away.

I appreciate any help or, failing that, sympathy.

Thanks

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Hi fellow Jericho Writers.  I'm Allison, from Edinburgh, Scotland and I've just joined as a member today so finding my way around!  I write mystery, women's fiction and family saga mostly,  have had several short stories published, but would love to connect with any writers who are tackling their first novel!

Any tips on groups to join in Townhouse would be great too.

Happy writing!

Allison. 

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OK folks - I've tried to find the Peer To Peer group with no success.  Maybe someone will throw me a link.  I have a challenge I could do with a hand on.  I started out writing a story about welfare work in London in the seventies and people liked it so much more than my grand and pretentious novel.  So I wrote more,and settled on a 'Book of Stories' in which each chapter was a story.  Then my protagonists started taking over and it wasn't stories so much, as my protagonist, an on off relationship and an existential threat. And readers really liked that direction. So it's turning into a novel now.  

I was missing a chapter to start the novel - so I wrote a draft.  I'll put a link below.  I know the problem with this chapter.  It's too much tell and not enough show.  This is odd, as I cracked it in the earlier stories - but now, I can't seem to find an approach to fix this.  I'm not asking anyone to read 3.5 k words - but a scene or two perhaps.  All I need is to be wound-up and pointed in the right direction. A nudge.  I've spent ages trying to figure out how to do it - and it's annoying when it's a fault I can usually handle. 

The first person narrator flees the countryside to find work, romance, but mainly himself, in the big city.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12vKuCmxsuTwb00hhxs4POcC9HeFtZCYb-lIsGzXmgcE/edit?usp=sharing


Happy to swap challenges of course.


harry

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...and now to introduce myself to other JW members. Right now, I write memoir, or life writing, after a long hiatus from my own creative work. I stopped writing creatively in my late 30s for a lot of external reasons (children and work; divorce, grad school, career change, child with chronic health condition) and some painfully internal ones. It's been a slow climb back. In terms of the other little questions suggested: I read voraciously and widely. (ok, except history. 🙃) I'm in Canada. At JW I've been watching a few archived webinars, and reading Harry's newsletters/blogs, watching some snapshots. (Nina's webinar on memoir in January was great, btw.) There's lots of interesting stuff here...and what I like most and what I am endlessly looking for are other people's stories of the writing process, the psychological stew, the way you describe the work of getting-it-right and the how-do-i-keep-going. And community! It's lonely out here in the middle of ocean of my WIP...can;t see the shoreline i started from, nor the one I'm aiming for.

Head down, keep rowing.

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FEEDBACK REQUESTED

Hi all,

I seem to have ADD when it comes to writing. Or maybe I'm just tired of rewriting. Anyway, I've polished up the beginning of what I categorize as a 'romantic farce'. Is that still a genre? Indulge me, if you will, and provide feedback on these first few pages. Thanks much.

ROLLING HOME

Prologue    

June, 1976

I cross my fingers and hope he doesn’t see it.

    “Flamingo on your side, Jess! Minus twenty-five points!”

    I groan, catch the the teasing humor in my father’s eyes as he grins at me in the rearview mirror. 

    “Not fair,” I pout, pushing my lower lip out at his reflection. I slump back in the rear seat of the station wagon, cross my arms in aggravation. “You’re supposed to watch your side of the road, not mine!”

    “Hey, you just got twenty-five points for that burro and wagon back there. And fifteen for the bathtub madonna.”

    I scan the Arkansas woods of our back road jaunt. Driving from Louisiana to Kentucky takes a long time; the yard ornament game is a way to make the hours go faster. 

    “I have to watch your side of the road as well,” I grouse but scoot across the wide seat and press my nose against the glass. Surely point-deducting pink flamingoes hide behind chain-link fences and in trailer parks on both sides of the road. So far, it has just been mine.

    “I’ll help,” my mother says. “Look. There’s a gnome next to that doublewide.”

    I scoot back to the right side of the car and shout, “I see it! Fifteen points! There’s a bird bath, too.”

    “I’ve got a concrete deer and a wishing well,” my father crows.

    “I’m never going to win. Your eyes are too good.”

    “Jess, look this way,” Mom instructs. A conspiratorial smile tugs at her lips.

    We round a bend in the two-lane highway. Whirly-gigs spin like geese rising from a pond. Concrete swans are feathered with purple petunias. Gnomes giggle beneath gazing balls and burros. The garden center lot is filled with every type of kitschy decor.

    “I win, I win!” I gloat, bouncing on the seat with delight. I turn and look out the rear window as we pass. No one mentions the flock of pink birds hiding at a back corner.


Chapter One

June 2008, Thursday afternoon

    The workmen position Adam’s’s latest purchase into place on the lawn. Our carpet of golf club-worthy grass stretches from immaculately maintained boxwood hedges surrounding the terrace to the seawall. An expansive curving dock elongates the view across Long Island Sound to the horizon. In the midst of this putting green perfect garden, on a berm of freshly compacted sod, a burly delivery man is supervising the unloading of three enormous antique stone orbs. Purchased by my husband, at considerable expense, from a respected London dealer of ornamental garden decor, they have just been delivered. Also at considerable expense. The men below have two in place on custom steel supports and are lowering the third onto a similar mount. ‘Bespoke’, Adam calls the stands made for elevating his acquisitions; a more aristocratic term, evidently, than ‘custom made’. Adam and his baubles. The estate is a showplace. 

        More like a showing-off place. 

        “A thousand friggin’ points!” I mutter. 

        I lean against the limestone balustrade surrounding the raised veranda on which I stand. The sun-soaked fieldstone floor radiates warmth, and I shed my Jimmy Choo sandals to allow my manicured feet their freedom. It is a balmy day with gentle salt-tinged breezes and the occasional annoyance of a weed trimmer. In the harbor, sailboats, large and small, are anchored for summer residence. A few gad about, ferrying their passengers to picturesque islands, sandy beaches, and fashionable restaurants where one can tie up and dine dockside. 

    The long-awaited summer air warms my bare arms. I push my flyaway hair from my eyes and turn my face upward to catch the morning rays. What a glorious day to be outside! A harsh grinding noise interrupts my reverie, and I return my attention to the goings on below. 

        Adam is yelling, pointing frantically, at the lift operator. 

       “Careful! They have to be perfectly positioned! You’re too far to the left!”

    I watch the workman shift gears and swing the giant ball to the right.

       “Too far!” Adam yells. “Watch what you’re doing!” He’s getting shrimp faced; red as a crustacean in boiling water. Impatience, undiluted. It would be futile to interfere. From past experience, it’s best to let him do things his way. Sometimes they work out, sometimes not.

        The hoist swings slightly back to the left, and the operator begins to lower the huge ball.            “Looking good, looking good,” Adam shouts.

       From my vantage point, above the action, it isn’t looking so good. In fact, it seems somewhat off its mark. I yell. Adam shakes his head and waves his hand past his ear, as if to say he can’t hear me.

        Or he doesn’t want to hear me. 

        “Let her drop!” Adam booms.

    The operator gently releases the orb onto the steel stand and backs away.

         Great. We now have, on ‘bespoke’ tees, three giant gray golf balls in our yard. Such huge ornaments are better suited for a craggy castle in Scotland than a pseudo chateau on the Connecticut shore. As if aware of my contempt, the stand, on which the last, largest orb sits, begins to sag, sinking into the ground on one side. Tilting towards the shore, the giant ball rolls off its mount, as if gently putted. Down the sloped fairway of lawn it breaks, gathering speed as the angle to the water steepens. 

        “Catch it!” Adam cries, gesturing in distress and disgust. 

        The workmen scramble to waylay the runaway, but thwarting a thousand pounds of rolling stone may be above their pay grade. Striking a nearby granite outcropping, the wayward sphere shifts its direction like a half shot. Its potential target of the dock is quickly affirmed as it hits the decking in a victory lap before falling onto my kayak tied up there and sinking to a watery grave. 

        Minus five thousand points. 

        There is little I can do. Adam will most certainly blow his top and blame whoever is in his sightline. He is already thundering at the poor lift operator. Best to remove myself from any involvement sooner rather than later. 

    I walk inside to the adjacent sunroom. With its tile floor and abundance of plants, it is the smallest and coziest room in our twelve thousand square foot manse. Adam built the house before we married, tearing down the picturesque stone cottage that sat there before. The interior is furnished, in juxtaposition to its classical architecture, with fine mid-century furniture and fashionable artwork. A well-known New York designer plies Adam with expensive temptations on a regular basis. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the items or the house; it is that it has never felt like a home, at least not my home, or even our home. It’s Adam’s plaything, a shiny expensive toy that says he’s rich.

        Adam likes to own things. I suppose I am just another of his baubles, acquired for looks rather than substance. Like the wives of other wealthy men in Fairport, I have a certain image to maintain. Foolishly, perhaps, I thought I married for love. After seven years, I realize we’re more a business. Adam is the CEO, I am hired help. Like the Ruhlmann bookcase filled with leather bound volumes Adam never reads. I have become a Claiborne possession, overlooked and taken for granted. 

        I go upstairs to get ready for a luncheon in town. My cell phone rings as I enter my spacious, well organized dressing room.

        “Maggie!” It’s my father’s younger sister. Maggie has been both aunt and mother to me since Mom and Dad died in an auto accident when I was sixteen.

          “How’s my favorite niece?” Maggie’s central Kentucky accent vibrates in my ear. 

         “I’m your only niece!”

          “Then you must be my favorite.” It is a familiar exchange between us.           

    “God, it’s good to hear your voice!” I let out a sigh of relief more audible than intended. I doubt there is anyone’s voice I more want to hear than Maggie’s.

        “You doing okay, darling?” Maggie asks, concern in her voice.

         “It’s been one of those mornings.” I relate the morning’s events.    

        “Lordy, child, that man’s got more money than sense. All he needed was a bigger pair of balls.”

        I snicker. “You always could get to the point. From the terrace, the damn things flank a tower with a cone shaped roof on the small island offshore. I’m sure you have a mental image of what that looks like!”

        Maggie giggles. “I think you need to get out of there for a while. Come see me?” 

        “Is everything okay?” I ask.

    “Yes, dear. Just sounds like you might need a dose of reality.”

        “In this town, always.”

        We talk a bit longer before I beg off. To be on time for my lunch date, I have to get dressed. With the warmer day outside, I opt for a sleeveless shift and bright green sandals. I tug on a gold cuff bracelet for accent and leave in place the simple gold studs that adorn my ears. It doesn’t feel like a diamond and pearls kind of day. With a light gloss of lipstick, I pick up my Birkin bag and go out. I hear Adam swearing to himself as I leave.

*****

    Finding a parking place on Fairport Avenue is seldom easy, and I carefully maneuver around a Porsche blocking traffic as its driver waits for a space to open up. As I ease past, a Suburban backs out and nearly hits my passenger door. I lay on the horn. The woman at the wheel glares at me. 

    Hang up the phone and drive!

    It’s like football: rush, pass, block. I see an Aston Martin backing out, step on the gas to go around the slow moving Mercedes in front of me, and pull into the vacated space. Lives are built on small successes. The man in the Mercedes gives me the finger. I shrug; life in Fairport is competitive. Eight years of living here with Adam has taught me how to play the game, tiring as it is at times.

    Sally and Lainie are waiting at a table by the window of La Venue. The smell of roast chicken and fresh basil wafts out the door. It’s mixed with the scent of well cared for women. 

    “Over here, Jess,” Sally calls out in a wispy voice. Sipping Chardonnay, she is clad in classic Chanel. A faux tortoise headband holds her perfect dark hair away from her face..

    Lainie blows an air kiss across the table. Expertly cut blonde tresses swing tease her diamond studded ears. Her finely sculpted nose sits below long lashed, ice blue eyes. Tall, thin, and toned, she looks as rich and privileged as she is.

    “We’ve been talking about birthdays, Jessica,” Sally states. “Maxwell is fifty next month. Can you believe it?”

    “Amazing!” I smile and shake my head. Maxwell looks sixty and acts seventy. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing since Adam tends to act twelve more often than not.

    “What are your celebration plans?” Lainie asks. “Someplace divine, I assume?”

    “Darling, we’ve done all the ‘divine’ things. I want something unusual.” Sally motions the waiter to refill her wine glass.

    “Jessica,” Lainie addresses me, “where have you been keeping yourself? It’s been ages.”

    “We’re beginning to think you have a lunchtime lover,” Sally purrs.

    I smile. “Hardly. Adam’s been on an acquisitions spree.”

    “Oh, do tell. What industry is he trying to corner now?” Sally’s eyes are bright. Is she again using cocaine for weight control?

    “No, not companies. Antiques, specifically garden antiques.”

    “Oh,” Lainie replies. “How interesting. Has anyone seen the new exhibit at MOMA? George and Sybil Anderson say it’s fantastic!”

    I push my goat cheese salad around on my plate as my luncheon mates drop names, talk about the new boutique in town, the chicest restaurant, and when is the nicest time of year to be in Paris. When the talk turns to their dogs and the effort it takes to keep them well groomed, I plead a headache coming on, need to leave before it worsens. I pay my check and leave Sally and Lainie to dawdle over decaf cappuccinos made with skim milk.

*****

    “Where have you been?” Adam shouts as I walk in the door from the garage. My fake headache threatens to become a real one. 

    “I had lunch with Sally Prescott and Lainie Merkel,” I reply.

    “Smart men, their husbands. Maxwell’s made a bundle on derivatives. Good people to know.” Adam looks me up and down. “Is that what you wore?”

    “It’s what I have on, so yes. I didn’t change outfits while driving!”

    “You should have worn the Versace I bought you.” Adam shakes his head as if in disbelief.

    “What happened with the orb?” I ask, changing the subject away from my clothes.

    “Idiots!” Adam bellows. “They’re sending a dredging company to bring it up in the morning. I can’t believe how incompetent people are.”

    “Are you taking the rest of the day off?”

    “No, Rex is picking me up shortly. I’ll probably stay in the city the next couple of nights.    

    “But tomorrow’s Friday, Adam. I thought we might have dinner, maybe at the club.”

    “Sorry. We have an investor in from overseas and need to entertain him. There’s so much going on in Asia right now that I’m just swamped with work.”

    Swamped with your secretary, I want to say. Will he be home at all on the weekend? Does it matter if he isn’t?

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Re-posting  (upon advice to do so) in general forum, so it gets more views and feedback -- Thank you! Will add Word file of complete once the current edit sweep is complete. 

A Way to Greet Strangers -- anyone interested in critiquing these opening 'soft sci fi' pages? Thank you.



“It might be a microbe,

a strand of lost nucleic acid,

a molecule of enzyme,

or a nameless hairless little being

with sharp gray eyes.

Whatever, once we have imagined it,

foreign and therefor hostile,

It is not to be petted.

It must be locked up.

I imagine the debate would turn on

how best to kill it.”

 

Excerpt from Lewis Thomas’

“The Lives of a Cell.”

 

 


Dutchess County, New York

1976

 

 


 1

CONALL

Storms {landfall}

 

 

         CONALL FROWNS while depressing the clutch. That star’s too bright against the gloaming. It’s also moving. Not like an airplane or helicopter, or meteor, but as if it’s alive, arcing down through dark layers of storm clouds like a spark moving underwater, leaving an inverse, rippling trail behind.  

         Old, like his truck, and just as tired, he chugs to the shoulder in first gear, mesmerized like a deer by headlights, trying to figure out what on Earth this can be, but before he can draw another breath, he realizes it’s careening, wild, and out of control, straight to where he sits in his idling pickup. The next instant, he’s rocked by the shock of impact a couple hundred yards away. Waterlogged pasture slows the object’s trajectory, grass, soil and water rising like a curtain, yet momentum keeps it tumbling forth for long moments before lodging, upended, in the muddy field, spewing smoke, char and hissing flame.  

        At the roar of twin jets overhead he cranes his neck and shields his eyes from the rain. Those are military jets, from the sound of them, hidden by heavy clouds, followed by three streaming, bright-headed worms of light; flares, falling to mark the location of the crash. 

         This is something big, isn’t it?

         Strangely calm, Conall coughs against that worrisome rattle in his chest. As the deluge thunders down around him he turns up the cranky heater, squinting between smudgy wiper passes for movement from the wreckage. Why he’s staying, he’s not sure. 

         So much for getting groceries tonight.

         Then he sees it. He’s surprised, to be honest, that anything could have survived such an impact. The fragile-looking figure which emerges looks like a hippie, with conspicuous long white hair. No military pilot, that’s for sure. After letting something down onto the ground, it gazes around, then looks up into the rain, obviously disoriented. A few, unsteady paces later it abruptly collapses. There’s no more motion, except for that nervous little animal which had been set down earlier. A dog, Conall supposes, or maybe a cat. Some sort of pet, worried for its master.

         He frowns again, bewildered by his lack of fear, not sure if he should offer assistance. It’s the cold war, after all; he should find a telephone somewhere, call the police, not get more involved than that. He tells this to himself as he eases the Chevy off the pavement and carefully drives across the field, as close to the wreck as he can safely get, and again as he slogs, sodden and cold, through the downpour. The distressing sight before him, laying prone, fragile and alarmingly inert under the pelting rain, somehow slips right through his defenses, piercing his heart. Blinking rain from his eyes, squatting beside the stranger, yards from the queer, fawn-colored little craft, out there alone in the wet hay-field, he carefully turns the frail body over. His vision blurs, but not from the rain. Memories of his lost son roughen his voice as a tidal-wave of unhealed grief closes his throat.

          “My stars, my stars, what’s this, now? You’re just a lad…” Conall looks discretely around to be sure they’re unobserved. Thankfully, few souls were as foolhardy as he’d been, venturing out in this storm. Satisfied no one’s watching, he opens the passenger-side door and returns to the foundling, lifting him gingerly and carrying him carefully back across treacherous, uneven ground as that bedraggled little creature (a fox, perhaps,) struggles in alarm to keep up. 

        Cranking the heat as high as it will go, he belts the odd boy safely into place, dark pools from the lad’s clothes seeping into the worn bench seat plaid. Surprisingly, that little creature manages to climb aboard without assistance and slips under the seat at the boy’s feet, like a ferret into a burrow. 

       Well, his granddaughter should take to the animal, anyway, whatever it is. Her reaction to the lad, though, and this disruption of her already insular and sullen life, is anybody’s guess. Conall knows he should pull those clinging wet clothes off the boy the minute they get home, to dry and warm him faster, but she’s never seen any boy naked, as far as he knows. Lord knows what they’ll find if they undress this one. She doesn’t need more trauma in her life.  Best to not scare her. 

       But regardless of Caroline’s sensitivities, he can’t very well just leave this boy, injured and unconscious, out here in the driving rain, can he? Or, that wee beastie, either. And he feels compelled to protect this boy, even if he doesn’t know why. 

       Starting the cranky old truck, Conall drives miles farther along the slick road until he finds a place where he can pull over and think. As the chop of helicopters fades in the distance, he looks in the rear-view mirror at the road behind them, satisfied his tires have washed themselves clean against the glistening pavement and he won’t be traced back by muddy tracks. 

          There is no one following.

          Heart thudding, he stares for a long time at this pale, long-haired waif, trying to use his head rather than his heart. But everything is already changed. “Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a pound, aye?” he says to himself. “C’mon, then.” 

          Rain’s coming down hard again, weak sun setting low. Conall makes a careful U-turn and heads back to the farm.

 

 

 

 

 

if strangers meet 

                                                                          life begins…

                          e.e. cummings

 

 

 

 


2

 

CAROLINE

Triage {disruption}

 

 

           Merciless and bitter, the rain crashes down, hard, drilling the little house with frigid needles, torrentially. And also, vengefully. Yes, thinks Caroline O’Conner, staring through her much-hated, sixteen-year-old reflection; with a vengeance.

           She doesn’t sigh, but she scowls. Dramatically. Which is her usual expression most days. She’s feeling sorry for herself again, although she doesn’t think of it that way. She’s a monster who caused her parents’ deaths. No forgiveness. She should be dead.

            As guilt threatens to consume her, she segues into her other favorite lament; why can’t she be a pretty girl? No wonder she never goes anywhere, won’t even leave the house. What boy could actually love this slouchy, plain-Jane misfit? She forces herself to straighten up for a second, but why bother?

           Maybe she should just go ahead and die.

           Standing by the drafty living room window, watching the narrow drive wind away and fade, darkly, into a muddy river, is making her all the grumpier. There, that’s a good word, says her inner editor. Darkly. Here’s an even better one; darklier, the muddy river winds away into the ominous, vengeful night.

           Too bad Caroline isn’t as amused by her wordplay as she could be. 

           With a shiver she sits by the low fire, gets back up and wanders nervously back and forth, blocking the corner lamp’s glare against the glass each time to see out again through that grim-faced girl staring back. As the growing roar fills her ears, she clutches herself against the cold, worrying now over the roof, and the very few dry logs left beside the hearth. 

           She frowns, searching the dark for headlights. Nothing, yet. Which is, paradoxically, a relief.

           Since she's still alone, with no prying grandfather eyes to worry about, she pushes her knitted sleeve up her arm to examine the ache beneath; the broken red line she’d scratched there, hard, with a sharp-ended broken stick. The rage inside her sometimes has to claw its way out, and the only place to turn with it is herself. Somehow, her fury and grief are assuaged by the pain of self-punishment. If she manages to draw blood, so much the better, but usually the result is nothing more than swollen draw lines. So far.

           Next time, maybe she’ll do it for real. But knives and razor edges scare her. Sharp, organic sticks, somehow, do not.

           She’d thrown the stick into the fire.

           There it is - a gray dribble bursts from the ceiling and begins nudging between the floorboards. Of course; another broken thing that won’t get fixed. What else can go wrong? She watches the leak helplessly, crinkling her nose. The little house smells of damp, of neglect.            

           Where is he?

           Finally, she heaves a sigh of relief; her grandfather’s old pickup is laboring up the weather-pitted driveway, spraying wet arcs from beneath its tires; ten-thousand raindrops touched with light from his high-beams. Quickly smoothing her sleeve back down (there’s the guilt, again,) she strains to see through the dark as he parks. 

          Why he isn’t rushing in with his armful of groceries? 

          When the driver’s-side door swings open, he calls to her over a great, wet gust and her scowl returns. Really? Go outside, into that? Why should they both get wet?

          But she pulls her cardigan snug anyway (if with a martyred sigh) and reluctantly swings the living room door open, gasping in icy shock under the stinging-sharp deluge. Deep tremors shake her as she leans in to see.

         Fiddling with something in the passenger seat, Grandpa barks, “Go ‘round, help me get ‘im out.”  

What? Ugh, what did he do, pick up a hitchhiker? Can’t the guy let himself out? But when she sloshes around and hauls open the heavy door she freezes, disoriented by the unsettling figure slumped there. Under the faint overhead light, it's obvious how frail and exotic-looking the passenger is, awkward, skinny, his long, pale hair dark with wet. 

           He also looks about to die. 

           She pulls back warily.

           “Come on, Lass, get moving.” Grandpa’s hurrying around to help. 

           The passenger’s skin and clothes are clammy under her fingers. She wants to run away, but it’s too late to back out. He’s somehow familiar, now that she’s touched him. Her world has changed because of it. She isn’t used to this, having anyone’s body this close as she tries, weak with adrenaline, to lift him. It makes her uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as she’d expected. Maybe it’s just the urgency of it all. An eerie spasm of lightening etches it into her sight; dark blood caked in his hair; tawny clothing singed all along his left side. She jumps as the Earth shakes in reply, but can’t wrest her eyes from him. 

           How strange he is!

           Grandpa's making impatient motions in her peripheral vision. Letting go her embrace, Caroline grasps at the boy’s arms, thinking to pull him, but the loose fabric is slippery, so she repositions her hands, cold and wet, skin on skin. Seeing her fumble, Conall wearily takes her place while, instead, she hoists up the boy’s legs. Together they wrestle the frail body into the rain, under the strobing sky.

A small golden creature appears on the step bar of the truck, drops to the ground and begins darting about in concern. Stumbling in surprise, Caroline struggles to regain her balance, mumbling to the stranger, “Sorry, I’m sorry…”

           Grandpa leads the way through the storm.

           With a screech the flimsy screen door swings shut behind them. As they lay the boy, carefully, onto the well-worn couch before the fireplace, she’s told, “Get some warm blankets for him.”  Grandpa’s winded, she can tell. She knows she needs to get the towels, but she’s just standing there, transfixed, quaking with cold, staring at this odd, unconscious person stretched out on their furniture. 

           A look from her grandfather sends her scurrying obediently for the hall closet. 

           Now, frantic pawing and scraping erupts in a growing ruckus outside the door. Heavily, Conall gets back up to let in that nervous and flighty, wet little golden wisp. After wobbling for a moment in indecision, the bedraggled animal flits past him, looking urgently about with alert, dark eyes. Finding its owner, it leaps onto the couch to curl defensively on the stranger’s chest, shivering, watching them suspiciously while pinning its large, fringed ears. A tiny, whimpering growl, a mewling, arises from its furry throat.

           “Warm up some broth for the lad.” Conall firmly shuts the door and reaches for the blankets.

            However, Caroline is wavering, hugging the blankets childishly as another rumble rattles the house. The little beast is glaring at her steadfastly in warning, although the fervent threat seems, frankly, rather empty. Still, Caroline can’t help but stare in confusion at the pair of short, slender black horns on its head. “What is that?”

           “Go on.” 

           “But what is that? I’ve never --?”

           “I said, go on, now.” Gazing somberly at their guest, he slips the blankets from her grasp, draping them gently over both boy and beast. The wee animal’s timid protests are muffled, its glinting eyes hidden. The little lump quivers in silent defeat. “Now, Lass. He’ll need it when he comes around.” 

           In the kitchen, the bulky gas stove lets forth a tiny burst of heat. Caroline heightens the blue flame, takes out some frozen chicken broth and lumps it into the pan, watching it melt. There’s ominous quiet as shifting winds blow the rain away from the kitchen wall. In this lull, she can think, listening to the quiet gurgle of soup on the stove. What’s just happened to her carefully insular life? As much as she doesn’t want to go back in there, she wants the soup to be just right for the stranger.

            The torrent comes rattling furiously back against the windows.

            The broth’s starting to smell good. 

When she returns, carefully holding the steaming soup level, Grandpa’s breathing wetly, muttering, “There, there,” and dabbing at the ugly wound on the boy’s temple with a damp washcloth. She has to get uncomfortably close to it all so he can take the steaming bowl unsteadily from her hands. 

 “Grandpa, you’ll catch a cold, like that.” Her own hair, heavy with rainwater, is dripping icily down the side of her face. “I’ll watch him for you, okay? Go change those wet clothes before you get sick. Please.” 

Conall’s sparse hair guides a single droplet down its ashy length to touch his flushed skin. There was a time when his hair was thick, and full, and dark reddish-blond. He still sees himself that way, in his mind’s eye. Running a hand around the back of his neck, “I can take care of myself you know.” His grumble is unconvincing, and he relents under her imploring gaze. “Well, keep an eye on him, will you? And make sure he stays warm. Soon as he wakes up, force some of that broth into him. Make sure it’s hot, though. Will you do that?”

“Promise.”

Dropping the blood-darkened cloth into a sudsy pail, he leans on her shoulder as he rises, coughing as he heads back to his room. 

Her own blood is one thing, but the sight of someone else’s is making her a woozy.  Even so, she takes Grandpa’s place warily beside the young man, who’s beginning to stir with little ripples of cold. Shivering as a bitter wind bats at the windows, she finds herself tugging the quilt higher over his trembling shoulders. What’s she thinking? She just doesn’t touch people. She doesn’t even know this boy, and, anyway, it’s dangerous to get too close to anyone, because if you do, you only lose them, anyway. 

Never again.

Still, she watches him in fascination -- until the little corner lamp flickers and blinks out. With a cuss under her breath, she gets up and shoves another of the precious logs into the fire. 

Ugh! How she hates the stinging, musty scent of anything burning!

Even as bright flames throw healing radiance against him, glancing and skittering unpredictably in a draft, the boy is wracked by cruel spasms. “Grandpa –” Hearing the panic in her own voice just makes her weaker. She listens hard for Grandpa’s reply, only to hear him snoring soundly, and she frowns again; he seems to be sleeping so much lately. At the drop of a hat, she recites to herself for the umpteenth time. Guess it’s up to me. 

Feeling very alone, and ill-equipped, she takes a shaky breath and kneels beside the boy, bravely steadying his knobby shoulders. It doesn’t feel so strange now, not so intimidating, since she’s touched him before. But she’s bothered by the sooty film his garment transfers to her hands, and she tries to wipe it off onto her jeans. He’s dressed so strangely, as if he’d been caught out in the storm in soft pajamas now wringing wet with dark smoke. What’d happened to him?

That’s when the storm surges, wickedly, and she yelps, shrinking closer to the boy at the sharp splintering crack at the front door, and the ruckus of branches slamming the roof as thunder shakes the floor. The lights, the heat, the hum from the ‘fridge, all go dark, and silent; someone’s flipped a switch to stop the world. Now the soundtrack of the storm rages without competition, the assault glorious in detail, with no inside noises to muffle it. 

Gradually, though, everything relaxes, the clutter of noise and pressure in the air thinning, as if the world is exhaling a great breath. The storm’s winding down, it almost isn’t a storm, anymore. Now she can stop worrying.

Exhausted, she pulls a chair beside the couch, still feeling the sting of her scabbing inner arm, but also aware of reassuring breathing noises, the comfortable crackle of flames, dim shapes and shadows and amber light spreading across the walls. Fresh, earthy smells of wet soil and vegetation wind through the musty odors of old wallpaper and furniture. 

When’s the last time she noticed them, these sharp/deep/bright scents, the taste of the air, the depth of the darkness – the dimensionality of everything? It’s as if the world’s grown richer – or, she suddenly has sharper senses. Like a wolf, or a deer. Everything around her is more complex, and, somehow, new to her, as if she’s suddenly seeing her familiar surroundings through someone else’s eyes.

The stranger’s stilled from his torment; his face is now free of pain.

How odd he is; small and slim, probably not much older than she – but she really can’t tell. In some ways he seems much older now that she’s looking at him up-close.  His gypsum skin, high cheekbones, slightly convex nose, the chiseled sweep of his jaw, defined and boyishly masculine, make him look foreign. Smooth hair falls in feathery white bangs across his forehead, but she knows from seeing him in the truck it’s long in back. He also smells pleasantly of something light and complex – sandalwood? Yet, lingering traces of smoke about his body -- not wood smoke, but something darker, more bitter -- cause her to pull back, from him, and from the writhing memories awakening in Technicolor, and visceral; the calamity she’d been unable to contain, which she’s tried so hard to forget – 

Tears smear the firelight. Grabbing the bowl of cooling broth, she flees to the kitchen.

***

Rousing from his uncomfortable nap, Conall listens through the sounds of the storm as the emphatic crescendos give way, gradually, to simpler, more precise rhythms. As he wakes, he rubs the ache in his neck and shoulder from where he’d sagged back, supported just enough by the uprights of the chair to fall asleep. He’d managed dream a little to the chorus of ghostly voices ringing from the downspout outside his window, but he’ll be paying for those few minutes of sleep with a crick in his neck for days now, maybe a week.

It was the light string of footsteps in the hall that woke him, and he follows their sounds until she’s brushed her teeth and clicks her door shut. That’s when he rises, checking the clock, raising his brows before wrestling off his shoes and sinking gratefully onto the mattress. With relief he stretches flat out on his bed. 

He never would have expected it. Had Caroline really been sitting with that lad the entire time?

Through the delicate sonic-screen of drizzle, he listens for any other movement in the house; but all’s quiet. The unusual lad certainly needs sleep if he’s going to recover. In the morning he might have to rethink this impulsive decision – well, that’s a certainty, isn’t it?  But now there’s something more to figure into the equation.

So, she’d naturally gravitated to that boy, willingly stayed to watch over him, for hours? No arguments, no questions?  No fear? It would’ve been remarkable enough under normal circumstances.

Maybe he should go check on the lad, but his exhaustion’s too deep. Pulling the blanket higher, rolling onto his side with a great exhale, Conall closes his eyes again, willing his mind to stop swirling. He needs to be well-rested before watching the morning news.

 

 -------- End of Sample ---------




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LOCKDOWN LUNACY  (don't read on if of timid disposition or have a dislike of poor taste)

Here's a diversion from the task of hammering out that MS.  A creative challenge.

After a lifetime of a settled view that cremation was the way to go, I've recently leaned towards a churchyard burial, chiefly because of the landscape, the tombstone options and the promises of certain young ladies at my local pub to attend sobbing in black veils and mourning demonstrably.  Love to put the cat among the pigeons. 

However - I was reading a mummification article posted elsewhere ('The Conversation' actually - a great source of ideas) and was pleased to see that aside from (my local) Kent variant of the Covid19 virus, there is a Kent variation of the mummification process. Technically the problem is that once no food arrives in the gut, gut bacteria go on the rampage to survive and eat first the soft tissue, and then start drilling tunnels in the bones so they become honeycombed.

There are various mummification techniques to combat this - the Egyptians had one, and mummies found in cultures all around the world have variations.  Bronze age mummifications up in the Scottish islands used peat bogs to arrest decay - then once mummified that way, reburied in chalky sand.

Imagine my pleasure when I discovered there is a distinctive prehistoric mummification technique once used locally, in Kent.  Smoking over a wood fire!  Has to be carefully done of course but the technique still hangs in there with bacon and kippers.   Maybe, perhaps, we could go into business before my demise and offer this authentic, original and very distinctive service to those who want something different?  The day-trippers from London are always up for something 'local'!

So there, in one, is the challenge - what name might this ingenious funeral service have- which could double as the name of a novel exploring the ups and downs, before everything goes up in smoke?  


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I'm a 78-year-old amateur writer of seven books, the latest two fiction. My first novel East of Africa, South of India was self-published. I have now completed a new novel and not having any success in finding an agent or publisher. I am based in Wimbledon, SW London.

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lhtdjnunwhqgzfgyu2gcpzeumnswavfr.jpgHaving followed several threads in Peer to Peer concerning opening pages, I wanted to share from a book I just read, God's Dogs, by Mitch Wieland, (Southern Methodist University Press, 2009.) This very low key beginning 'seems' to break the rules we discuss, but it drew me in immediately and kept me savoring every paragraph, all the way to the end. This is the 'slow drip' beginning I've mentioned in many comments, easy to recommend, but tough as heck to pull off. Curious your thoughts -- If this wasn't already published, what if anything, would we find fault with? (I can find one thing I'd flag, right off. Interestingly, I didn't even notice it the first time through.) So it's making me think -  What is it that REALLY draws us in and keeps us reading? Or is this sample actually DOING these things but in a very subtle way? No right or wrong here, just curious everyone's thoughts.  I keep going back to it and back to it, trying to absorb its lessons. PS Let me know if it's legible, I can upload a better picture if needed. Thanks -

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We now have a group for erotic literature writers! It's called "Erotic Literature Writers." Shocker there. The intention is to have a place we can peer review pieces containing sexual or erotic content and have discussions around and about such content. Join us!

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Running On

 

It’s a late spring night in early November, with the sun cold and raining like melted wax through rusted wheel spokes when you come into her, hard, with a vengeance you might say, pouring yourself deep like a tall drink, tender and careless across desert snow while outside in the brilliant day every star in the ocean falls with the gulls and cries hoarse delight inside your pain until you beg her to take you faster filling us brighter keening salty sharp round silent and flooding without colors gaudy and lovely inside ugly drowning.

 

 

ctaibbi

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Note: I deleted the previous version, (to which I had added more words to the original document, upon the advice of a conference agent, of all things) and hope you don't mind taking another peek. I agree the extra words just slowed it down. So here is the story as first written. 

Again, brutal and honest feedback most appreciated! And thank you all for taking another look. 

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1



It was a grey day, and chill. The rain made it cold. It was always cold, it seemed, in New Jersey. That’s why I was constantly hugging my coat around myself, trying to keep warm. 

Mom would accuse this weather of being ‘raw.’

There were glass-paned French doors leading out from the “admin” buildings to the fading back lawn. The large flagstone patio beyond was grey, too (grey on grey on grey). It wasn’t even full winter yet; a few dull rust leaves still clung to the massive trees on campus, but I was chilled to the bone. 

The school was an old, private one, with lush, manicured, treed acres and very old, cold, massive granite buildings. It may have been a fancy school, and expensive, but most of the time I felt very alone there. I liked a couple of my teachers but the rest sort of blended together to me. 

Cordial, strict old folk ran the place – kindly but intimidating. I don’t remember much laughter there. Actually, I don’t remember laughing much at all as a child. I was always happiest and most relaxed when I was with my animals, or walking outside in nature.

 Anyway, I had my rain coat on, but I kind of hated to step out onto the exposed patio, because it would be even colder. I remember taking a minute to stare through the drizzle into the trees, at the little grey sparrows flitting about and chirping in the empty branches, flying here and there, periodically landing to peck among the weeds.

Because my arms were full of books, I leaned into the door with my shoulder. As I stepped out, I spotted a little toy that someone had dropped on the flagstones. It was one of those solid-bodied, hard, life-like cat toys; a mouse covered in grey rabbit fur, with beads for eyes and a strip of rabbit skin for a tail. It was standing upright on its weighted, flat bottom, in a sitting-up pose, large suede ears cocked forward attentively.

It was very, very tiny.

It must have been put there as a joke by somebody.

I didn’t think twice before nonchalantly scooping it up with one hand as I passed.

Finders, keepers!

But – The “toy” was . . . warm. Quivery. Soft.

I cautiously inched open my fingers to peek inside. Just for a flash, a tingle – sparkle of eyes – whisk of whiskers -

I stuffed my hand deep into my right pocket, quickly regaining my spilling books, wondering if the living mouse in there would scramble up and out – but it didn’t - so I timidly sneaked back inside until my next class, still reeling in disbelief and trying to figure out what to do next. All during the rest of the school day I kept my hand in my pocket, shielding my new friend gingerly, my curiosity and wonder growing.

During the last, boring fifth grade class, I was unable to resist the mystery any longer. Trying not to attract attention, I carefully lifted the flap and stretched the pocket open so I could peek inside.

Whiskers twitched. Those long, radiant wands brushed my fingers as he edged closer to sniff.

I couldn’t suppress my giddy smile as I closed the flap again. I really did have a live mouse in my pocket! When the teacher wasn’t looking, I very carefully unwrapped a Fig Newton from my lunch bag and dropped a crumb in for him. I stuffed the rest of the cookie in my mouth, hoping no one saw. 

I was crazy with curiosity. I wanted to see him properly. I was so excited I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.  I kept wishing there was a way to get far away from everyone so I could look at him, but there wasn’t a chance. Finally, after what seemed like the longest day I’d ever spent at school, three o’clock came. 

On the walk home, trudging uphill along busy Palisades Avenue, over uneven sidewalks with weeds growing through the cracks, I let my fingers gingerly explore the quivery warm creature in my pocket. I had too many books and sacks carefully balanced about my body to stop and look at my new friend, but as I stroked him, I started to feel a growing sense of wonder-- and confusion. It just didn’t make sense -- he hadn’t even tried to get away when I brushed by and scooped him up. What wild mouse would act like that?

But here he was, warm, furry, bright eyed and very much alive.

Out of breath, I turned up the long driveway to the imposing mansion we’d moved into a couple years ago.

Mom called it a “monstrosity”.

The thing was three stories high and had five white columns out front. It was made of huge granite blocks painted white.

It still seemed a real shock after the little three-room apartment over the mechanic’s garage we used to live in a few towns away.

As soon as I hopped up the steps to the wide front porch and fumbled the heavy wooden door open, I raced to my room on the second floor and began rummaging for a spare cage.  Nixon and Scampi, our dogs, bounded along after me. 

Scampi, my brave and plucky Yorkie, hurried to his wicker basket, circling into the red plaid cushion to guard the foot of my bed.

Nixon was Dad’s German shepherd. He patiently put up with every new arrival with an air of chivalry. He sniffed the pocket where Mouse was with interest, then wagged his tail amiably before ambling back down the hall. 

Nixon slept downstairs, watching the house for us at night.

I loved the sanctuary of my room.

Mom and I had strewn garlands of decorative ivy and flower vines all around my windows and walls. My wicker headboard, painted green, was accented by bunches of plastic berries, dried flowers and pinecones. Wire-and-fabric butterflies and fake birds, festooned with real feathers dyed pink and red, were fastened to the curlicues of the wicker by thin wires sprouting from their feet.

There were animal-pattern pillows, cushions and rugs. My latest clay scene of seals and pups, and tiny ceramic Chinese horse figurines grazing on a bit of lime green fake fur, had been carefully set up on the table in my sitting area, while Breyer horses galloped and reared on my nightstands.

Posters, many of them centerfolds from Horse of Course magazine, were Scotch-taped all over the sunny, soft-yellow walls.

But the best part was, most of my pets lived here. The air smelled fragrant and sharp from cedar shavings, and was vibrant with rustlings.

I must have lived in some sort of enchanted realm back then, a “peaceable Kingdom”.

A screen-topped 10-gallon aquarium on the wide windowsill beside my bed was full of tame but nervous fancy mice in assorted colors; white and grey, white and beige, agouti, black or piebald. Some slept snuggled together in piles, others in their ceramic, shoe-shaped “mouse house” or playing on the exercise wheel. There always seemed to be naked pink babies in the nests.

There was my beloved hooded rat, Ben, with her brown head and flag-shaped brown dorsal stripe decorating her otherwise white fur. Her boyfriend was big, lovable, laid-back Socrates (yup, they were named after the rats in the movie Willard), who was solid white. Their offspring were equally tame. 

A HabiTrail with a pair of always-busy gerbils was next, and on a wooden chest nearby, my exquisite and fanciful chinchillas, with their gentle, doe-like eyes, teensy little hands, spoon-shaped black ears and fuzzy, curly tails, all clothed in shimmering finery unlike any other animal.

To me, chinchillas didn’t look like real animals. They had the densest and finest fur of any mammal, soft as air. They were ticklish. They were magical. Like puff balls. Bouncy, playful puffballs.

Then there was Chantilly, my pet skunk, who lived downstairs in the powder room. Chantilly made my parents nervous, but I thought he was fascinating, if a little testy.

With all these pets, already, certainly I could make room for one more teensy little mouse --

I rifled through closets and drawers, still wearing my rain coat, which was starting to feel stifling warm. Mouse stayed hunkered down in my pocket, only stirring to sniff the air when I lifted the button-flap to check on him. Yikes! I’d have to shake those little black pellets out of my pocket soon! What if he was hungry? He couldn’t stay in there forever --

There must be a spare cage around here somewhere!

Mouse, though, seemed completely calm, and took it all in stride.  I wondered if he might have been someone’s pet and had gotten lost, but I’d never seen a tame, domestic mouse that looked like him. He looked just like a mouse you’d see in your cupboard, opening a hole in the corner of your cereal box.

Yet there was also something poised and, well -- regal about him.

Finally, I found a shoe box with a fitted lid. I sprinkled some wood shavings on the bottom, fluffed a torn-up old bit of felt into a corner and dropped in a few sunflower seeds. I figured out a way to rig a spare water bottle to the inside of the box by bending up an old coat hanger, then put the top back on to be sure it still closed properly.

I knew this had to be temporary, but at least it was a start. Everything looked good.

It was high time to take a look at him. I reached into my pocket, carefully dug my fingers under my mysterious little hitchhiker, scooped him out and quickly set him into the box.

Now, exposed, he looked unsure. He didn’t move. We stared at each other. 

He was drab.  Greyish-brown.  Plain.

And he was beautiful.

Eyes sparkled; whiskers, like gossamer magic wands, swept the air. Each glowing, silky hair caught the light. He looked like he was wearing pajamas. He had delicate, bird-like feet. I marveled at his tiny, perfect hands. His elegant tail was thin as a wire, and dark. His eyes were dark, too, and brighter and more alive than anything I’d ever seen.

He was perfect.

I hoped he’d stay tiny.

I timidly reached a finger out to pet him, but this time he dodged it and dived into a pile of shavings. Then I heard it. “Cathy, what are you doing?”

I could tell from her footsteps Mom was on the way up. I took a deep breath. Even though I’d known this was coming, having to face it was a little unnerving.  “Uhm . . .” I listened to her steady cadence as she paraded down the wooden hallway. In a moment she was pushing the door open.

“What’s in the box?” 

Drat. She didn’t miss a thing. Her tone was disapproving as she clomped into my room in her high heels. The hardwood floors made every clip-clop louder. In despair, or resignation, she asked, “What’ve you got now?”

What could I say?

She contemplated the box while I stalled. “A mouse,” she said. It was a statement.

I nodded demurely, flushing. Then, since the secret was out, I was suddenly chatty, like I couldn’t find my ‘off’ switch. “He was outside at school – I didn’t know he was real - I could have sworn he was a cat toy or something.” She just glared at me. “He let me pick him up – just like that. I didn’t realize . . . why would he just let me pick him up like that? He didn’t try to run away or bite or anything. He’s tame – look.”

She peered into the box suspiciously.  “What if it has rabies? You need to be careful.    You saw Old Yeller.”

I closed the box, losing my bravado. “I think he’s OK.”

With a sigh she glanced around the room, looking very put-upon. Scampi scratched at her legs and jumped for attention. I was happy for the diversion.

“Well, just keep an eye on him. But-” With an accusing and overly obvious glance sweeping over all the other pets I had, “Cathy, don’t you have enough animals yet?” Sheepishly I stared at the top of the box. “He’d better not get out. You know Dad won’t be happy. If he gets loose, he’ll attract more wild mice, and -- then we’ll have problems . . .” She gave me that pursed- lipped, laser-eyed stare that I hated. “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Uncomfortable, I nodded in acknowledgement, gazing at the box’s closed lid until she gave up and walked off. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to Mouse! I kept watching the box.  Faint rustlings were coming from in there. I listened to them until her footfalls faded.

I checked down the hall, then breathed a sigh of relief. Good, she was downstairs now.

I closed my bedroom door.

“Where did you come from, huh?” I asked Mouse as I gently lifted the lid again. Mouse turned in his wood-chip pile and faced me, nostrils quivering as he reached his nose out to sniff. He’d already made a big fluffy round nest ball out of the felt and shavings, and was smack dab in the middle of it, snug  and warm. “Will you let me pet you now?”  Very slowly and softly I pushed the lid back until it stayed propped up out of the way.

Noting that he didn’t shy away any more, I scooped a few dried corn kernels and sunflower seeds from my rats ‟treat jar” and extended my hand to him, palm up, hand flat, a few inches from his nest, then waited, holding my breath.

He eyed me calmly. I stayed as still as I could.  After a few minutes I crept my hand a fraction of an inch closer. He watched but still didn’t venture from the comfort of his cozy new nest.

Minutes passed. By now my legs were getting sore and my arms heavy.  I wriggled into a more comfortable position and, with less caution, slid my hand closer still. The sky was dimming outside my bedroom windows.  I could see the roof of the carriage house at the end of our long drive, and the tops of the trees in bleak silhouette against the dully setting sun. There was a thin blush of rose and orange at the horizon; not much of a sunset but better than the featureless grey skies of the day.

Mouse still nestled there, as if waiting for room service.

Suddenly inspired, I asked, “Is that what you want? Room service?” and moved my open hand right up to the edge of his nest until the corn bits in my palm were under his chin.

With a twitch of his ears and a nod of his head that seemed to say, “It’s about time!” Mouse casually began picking one treat after another from my hand, resting his elbows on me as he turned the kernels in his hands.  One by one he ate them, and the plump grey-striped sunflower seeds, dropping the empty hulls neatly back into my palm.

Next, I offered him a flat white pumpkin seed – as big as his head. He grabbed it carefully with his sharp little teeth, dragged it from my palm and buried it beside his bed. Then, with a flourish, he turned away to go back to sleep.

I’d been dismissed! Who did this mouse think he was, Royalty?

I got some more goodies from the jar and tried again, but Mouse had had enough. Gingerly I stroked his back with one finger, but he just peered at me through half-closed eyes before tucking his head into his belly, making a furry little ball. He’d turned his back on me as if I didn’t matter. Not sure what to make of this, I got him a handful of ‘lab blocks’ (commercially prepared lab-rat food) and piled them in the corner of his box before replacing the lid.


At dinner, Dad finished pointedly scraping more broccoli onto my plate before hobbling back to his seat. As he turned to pull his chair out, he sucked in his breath and froze, hunched over, and braced himself against the back of the chair. He rocked his head from side to side. “You need to let him go,” he managed through gritted teeth, shaking his head slowly as he waited for the pain to subside.  The old war injury – shrapnel in his knee – never ceased to cause him agony. “He’s wild. He doesn’t want to stay cooped up here.”

I didn’t answer, concentrating instead on choking down the bitter florets, glad I’d left myself a spoonful of sweet golden creamed corn to take the edge off once I’d finished all the horrid green stuff.

Dinner with my adoptive Dad tended to be a tension-filled, unpleasant ordeal. “I don’t understand why you don’t like them; they’re not hurting anybody.” I felt frumpy, and defensive. Why wouldn’t they just leave me alone?

“You’ve got your dogs. I made you get an aquarium. I made you get a canary.” He always said “made” rather than “let”, for some reason. Besides, the canary was way back when we still lived in the apartment, when I was in kindergarten. Pino was what I’d called him. Mom had gotten him from the Woolworth’s, as a surprise; a dull yellow mystery who I don’t remember having been around long. He’d just disappeared one day. I never found out what had happened to him. I don’t remember ever hearing him sing.

“I got you a Chick–U-Bator,” he reminded me. It was a hobby chicken egg incubator that was the current fad. I’d been very excited at first . . . except he’d never let me order the bantam eggs it was meant to hatch. So, what was the point of it?

“You had a rabbit,” Dad continued. “What was his name?” He looked at Mom for help.

“Arthur.  King Arthur.” 

“Yeah, Arthur, that’s right.”

At that moment Whiskers, one of the orange tabbies that stayed outside, mewed at the door and started rubbing back and forth against the door frame, urging us to feed him and his sister, Whisper.

“. . . and those cats . . .”

I didn’t like where this was going. Dad went on, “And what about those chin-chins – chin-chil-las.  You just had to have them.”

“I like them,” I mumbled.

“They’re so noisy at night,” Mom observed.

“They do have some personality, though.” Dad grunted. “I’ll have to admit, those are kind of cute.  For rats.”

“They’re not rats. Ben’s a rat.” They both looked at me. I wasn’t making things any better. “They’re NICE, Dad.”

He stood up, cleared his place and brought his things to the sink. “I’ll never like them. Rats. Mice. Rodents. Sorry, I just don’t see it.”

As he walked away, I looked imploringly at Mom.  She began clearing the table and said quietly, “You know why he doesn’t like them, don’t you?

 During the war.  He was trapped with his squadron in an alley for 3 days. He said the rats ended up coming out and trying to bite his friends, the ones who were badly hurt.  They were very aggressive after a while -- He still has nightmares about it. Try to be a little more understanding.” With that, she turned away to wash the dishes.

I sat there feeling bad. I didn’t know how to react. MY rats and mice weren’t mean. Wild rats must be different. I could grudgingly see his point. I was glad he tolerated Ben and the others, but still . . .

Later, as I was feeding and watering everyone upstairs, I took Ben out and placed her on my desk. I watched her, trying to see her through Dad’s eyes. If I tried hard, I guessed I could, but I didn’t want to see her that way. I saw a warm, gentle, bright-eyed little animal who wanted to be near me and even followed me around outside on the lawn, more attentive than a dog. I saw a friend.

Ben held my finger between her pink hands and very gently licked.

I cradled her in my hands and kissed her outstretched nose before putting her back.

When I was done caring for the others, I gently lifted the lid to Mouse’s box, careful so the light wouldn’t hurt his eyes. He shifted in his nest, giving me a bored glance.

“Wanna come out? Come on, Mouse, come play.” I pushed the lid almost all the way back and sat down on my bed, where I could keep an eye on him while I looked through some books. I loved to read and had a big library. Most of my books were stored on a two-piece wooden bookshelf in my bedroom. I loved them all, The Black Stallion series, The Secret Garden, the original, hard-cover Bambi (the one by Felix Salten, which is absolutely nothing like the childish Disney movie), The Call of The Wild... well, there were so many.

But my pet care books, the ones I read over and over, stayed on my night stand beside the bed, and one was a thin, soft-cover TFH publication called All About Rats. It was the only one I had on pet rats. As I lay on my bed and thumbed through the familiar pages, I kept an eye out for any movement from The Box.

I re-read passages about the different rodent species, all the while waiting to see if Mouse was starting to explore. At one point I thought I heard some rustling over there, but nothing else happened.

After about an hour I got impatient and went to go see if Mouse was asleep again. I looked into his box and everything was just the same, the fluffed-up nest still a perfect ball, cozily closed. “You OK? You sure are sleeping a lot.”  I sighed and went to flop down on the bed when something on the book shelf caught my eye.

A “cat toy”! Mouse must have scampered up onto the bookshelf while I wasn’t looking! How’d he get up there? He sat stock still, in his “at-attention” pose, watching me from the second to highest shelf.

Uh-oh.

I wondered if he’d let me pick him up again. I needed a little more height to reach that shelf, so, watching him out of the corner of my eye, I dragged my wooden stool from the closet. Then I started across the room to the shelves.

Wait a minute -

I froze and intently scanned each shelf, from top to bottom. He was gone!

Nervous now, I started moving books, careful so as to not pinch or crush him. I looked behind the bookcase, as best I could, cramming my head against the wall and trying to peek behind it with one eye.

No Mouse.

Uh-oh, Dad was going to KILL me!

Then I remembered a story I’d read about a boy who caught his lost pet hamster by making a ramp leading into a tilted bucket, putting food inside as bait. Good idea! I quietly tore my closet apart for something I could use.  I found a metal storage bin. He was small; surely it would be deep enough. Hmmm, and I needed to find a plank …. I quietly moved things around some more until I could dislodge a shelf from the wall. For about 20 minutes I quietly fiddled with this and that, quietly panicking, trying to quietly get my “trap” set up.

‘Quiet’ was the operative word.  Mom and Dad did NOT need to know about this. I just hoped I caught him before they found out he was loose!

By this time, it was very late. I had to get up early for school the next day. I checked my “trap” again, adding a few Pop Tart crumbs on the ramp to lure him to the edge, and some sunflower seeds at the bottom of the bin.  The theory was, he’d scramble up the ramp to the lip of the bucket, slip into it and not be able to climb back out.

There was nothing to do now but wait, and I was too groggy to stay up any longer, anyway.  I turned off the lights, except for the little reading lamp on my bed stand. As an afterthought, to hide my predicament from Mom (because, of course, she’d end up barging in at some point), I decided I’d better close The Box, to make it look like Mouse was still inside.

I pulled the lid the rest of the way off so I could settle it back down the right way, when I saw something move. I sat back on my heels.

Since it was dark now, I opened the desk drawer where Mom kept a flashlight for me. Quietly I pressed the “on” button and shone the beam on the felt nest.

It was moving.

Cautiously I reached in and pushed a hole into the fluff until my fingertip touched a furry warm body.  Mouse spun groggily around, saw it was me, yawned and curled back up, turning his back to me.

Weird.

I closed the fluff back over him, shut the lid on The Box, then crawled into bed and turned off the lamp. “OK Mouse, Sir Royal Mouse.  I don’t know how you did that . . .”    I rubbed my eyes. I was pretty tired. Maybe I just imagined it. “Good night.”

But, as tired as I was, I suddenly found I couldn’t fall asleep.




- End of Chapter One -