Susannah Maya Logan is not having a good day. She doesn’t want to go to her best friend, Lola’s sleepover. Susannah thinks the house is big and spooky, not to mention the ghost that is said to live there. Lola’s big brother, Kai, loves to tease Susannah with scary stories.
Throughout her day, she sees people deal with things that scare them. Her sight-impaired friend, Macy, is terrified of unicorns, of all things. She sees a boy at a party who’s frightened of clowns. Her teacher is afraid of getting a cold. Susannah realizes everybody is scared of something. She wishes she was more like Lola, who is not afraid of anything, or so it seems.
Susannah discovers people have different ideas of what is scary and what is not, and only they can determine the difference.
Join Susannah as she learns to confront her fears and not let her imagination prevent her from having fun.
Chapter 1: Business
The sun peeked through the blinds, making a striped pattern across the bottom of Susannah Maya Logan’s comforter on the bed. Susannah opened her eyes and counted five panels of sunshine.
The little brass alarm clock’s larger hand moved over the twelve, the shorter hand jerked to the seven, and the tiny hammer started to hit the bell. The clock shook and trembled as if it were dancing. Susannah reached over, depressing the button, silencing the alarm.
Her door cracked open. Mom was tucking her shirt into her skirt.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” She smiled.
Her mother walked into the room, bent, and picked up the large red envelope that had been left there after they had cleaned out her overstuffed schoolbag. “You never told me what this was for.”
Susannah slid out of bed, reaching for the invitation. Her mother opened it before she could grab it. “You’re invited to a sleepover at the Simons’. That sounds like fun,” she said cheerfully.
Susannah watched her mother look over the handwritten cardboard invitation to search her daughter’s face. Mom waved the invitation, and Susannah could see Lola’s oversized letters. “What’s wrong, honey? Didn’t we say we were going to share our problems, so they don’t overwhelm us?”
Susannah thought for a minute. Is this a problem? She wondered. Not understanding homework was one thing; admitting that you thought a house was haunted was quite another.
Mom handed the invitation to Susannah.
“Sounds like fun. It says here they want you to come home with Lola on Friday after school, and we’ll pick you up on Saturday morning.”
“Yeah.” Susannah sighed with resignation. “Loads of fun.”
“Wait, Susannah. Don’t you like Lola anymore? Do you not want to take her to the nail salon next week on your birthday?”
Susannah was turning eight next Thursday, and instead of a party, they had decided to have a mother-daughter spa date to celebrate.
Susannah bit her lower lip. She was a big girl now. How could she tell her mother she was afraid to stay at Lola’s house?
“I love being with Lola, and even her brother, Kai – not that I want him to go with us to the nail salon. It’s just that -“
“Yes?” Mom raised an eyebrow as she watched Susannah intently.
Susannah almost wished Mom was busy with her own work, as she had been the day before her school bag exploded. It was easier to ignore an issue when nobody was paying attention to her.
“Did I hear you’re going to a sleepover?” Her father popped his head into the room. He was fastening his tie. “Well, that’s perfect. We have that dinner thing with Mr Ort. We don’t have to get a sitter.”
“Perfect!” Mom agreed. “Janey’s busy and can’t watch Susie. I was going to have to call a babysitting service.”
Susannah watched Mom and Dad exchange a long look and wondered what that was all about.
Mom picked up the new backpack and walked toward the door. “I’ll call Lakeisha Simon and let her know you’ll be happy to sleep there on Friday.”
“Great,” Susannah grumbled as she pulled out her jeans and got dressed. “That’s just great.”
Both Mom and Dad decided to sit with Susannah for breakfast. Dad drank his coffee and ate toaster pastries as if he had all the time in the world. Mom made both Susannah and herself open-faced grilled-cheese sandwiches. Mom and Dad chatted about their big dinner, while Susannah picked at her sandwich.
“I thought you liked this better than oatmeal,” Mom said as she put an apple into Susannah’s lunch bag. “No banana today!” she said with a huge grin, followed by a chuckle when she remembered the time the banana had exploded in her bag. What a mess!
Susannah forced a smile to her face. They were trying so hard. She remembered yesterday when she had to fight to get their attention. Now it felt like she had too much!
By Michael Phillip Cash Publisher: Chelshire Inc Publication Date: 6 August 2015 Genre: Paranormal Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Ghost Thrillers Pages: 193
Sometimes life, as well as death, is about second chances. Luckless Telly Martin doesn’t have a clue. An awful gambler trying to scrape by as a professional poker player, he becomes the protégé of world famous poker champion Clutch Henderson. The only catch…Clutch is a ghost.
Telly and Clutch must navigate the seedy gambling underbelly of Las Vegas learning to trust each other in order to win the elusive International Series of Poker, repair their shattered personal relationships and find redemption in this life and the hereafter.
Like taking candy from a baby, Clutch Henderson thought. He took a deep pull on his whiskey, allowing the burn to numb him from gullet to stomach. The room reeked of smoke, even though it was not allowed in the main ballroom during the tournament. Overhead, giant television screens focused on two players. Clutch looked up, winked, and watched the camera close in on his craggy face. I still got it. He smirked at his image. He was tall, lanky, and deeply tanned, which accentuated his silver hair and light eyes. Even though he was pushing seventy, he knew the ladies still found him attractive. They didn’t call him the Silver Fox for nothing. Clutch patted the blister pack of Viagra in the pocket of the polyester bowling shirt that he wore in homage to the Big Lebowski, the fictional kingpin legend. Gineva would be picking up a celebratory bottle of champagne right now, as soon as she clocked out at the Nugget. They wouldn’t give her the day off today—the bastards. There was a good chance he was going to make an honest woman out of her tonight…a rich, honest woman.
Clutch shifted in his seat, his hemorrhoids making their presence known. They burned his ass more than the cocky kid sitting opposite him. He looked over to his opponent who was sunk low in his seat, his face swallowed by the gray hoodie he wore. Adam “the Ant” Antonowski, boy wonder, who rose from the ranks of online card games, had beaten out a seemingly impossible one hundred sixty-five thousand players to earn a coveted seat at the International Series of Poker. His pimply face peeked out from under oversized sunglasses. Clutch sneered contemptuously at him. They let everybody play today. The kid did look bug-eyed with those enormous glasses. Adam curled his hands protectively over his cards, his bitten-down fingernails repulsive.
“Rookie,” Clutch muttered under his breath, his lips barely moving.
“Looks like Clutch Henderson is praying, folks,” Kevin Franklyn said into his mike from where he sat in a small room watching the game. He was a former champion turned seasoned sportscaster on the poker circuit, well respected, and the senior of the two anchormen. He was completely bald, his fleshy nose slightly off center on his craggy face, a victim of his youthful and unsuccessful boxing career. He’d made a mint once he turned to poker and had never looked back.
Stu James shook his head. “Clutch could be at his last prayers; this kid is the terminator.” Stu was a tall cowboy with wavy blond hair and mustache left over from his 1970s poker-playing heyday. He looked like a country singer.
“Let’s see if Clutch can exterminate the Ant,” Kevin replied.
They shared a laugh. The sportscasters wore matching light blue jackets with the Poker Channel logo on the chest.
Kevin nodded, placing his hand on his earbud, and said, “Yes, this is it, folks, in case you’ve just tuned in. A record fourteen thousand entrants, and it all comes down to this—the final moments. The rookie versus the pro: it could have been scripted by a screenwriter. David versus Goliath. Adam ‘the Ant’ Antonowski going up against the legendary Clutch Henderson.”
Kevin continued, “Legendary, yes, but Clutch has yet to take home that million-dollar bracelet, Stu. This must be his eighteenth try at the title.”
“Nineteenth. However, he did come in sixth place last year.”
Kevin nodded. “But the Ant is certainly the Cinderella story of the year. An online poker phenom who beat out thousands of players in a twenty-dollar online satellite game. And here he is today. How old is he?”
Stu turned around to a huge monitor. “I’m not quite sure, but I found out a lot about him earlier today when I interviewed him. Let’s take a look.”
Stu was in a suite overlooking the Strip. It was hotter than hell outside, but the room was icy cold. The Ant slouched in a Louis XV Bergere chair, his hands deep in the pocket of the jersey hoodie. The gold brocade of the chair was a stark contrast to the varied shades of gray he habitually wore. His Converse-clad feet lay propped on a golden rococo coffee table. Stu noticed that Adam seemed unaware that the rubber of his tennis shoes was peeling off the gilt surface of the coffee table. Every time he moved, another strip of paint flaked away.
Stu leaned forward, his large hands gesturing the spacious suite. “Nice room, Ant.” Everything about the newscaster was big, from his shoes to his huge chest. He was a former ranger-cum- football player and an avid golfer as well. The Ant truly resembled an insect next to the bigger man. “You have quite a view.”
The Ant shrugged indifferently. “I don’t care about stuff like this. I’m happy with a room in Motel 6.”
“This is a far cry from Motel 6. Why do they call you the Ant?”
“I’m small,” the Ant said. He smiled, revealing tiny, ferret-like teeth that looked mashed together. A frizzy curl escaped his hood to land over his shiny forehead. “But I can carry fifty times my weight in chips.” He laughed.
“Ha!” Stu joined him. “Fifty times. Is that what you’re expecting to take home?”
“Maybe more, if I can help it,” the Ant added defensively.
“Adam—I mean, Ant—you’re coming into the final table with little more than half the chips in play.” Stu paused for effect. “What’s your strategy in the face-off with the legendary Clutch Henderson?”
The Ant looked straight into the camera, his dark eyes fierce. “I want to eat that old shit alive.” The curse was bleeped out by the station.
Stu shifted uncomfortably. “That’s pretty competitive, son.”
“Let’s get this straight. I’m not your son, Stu.” This was said with dripping scorn.
“All right, Ant.” Stu’s voice turned decidedly cool; he did not like this kid. The sportscaster was freezing as well. What the hell was wrong with the air conditioner? Stu suppressed a shiver as he smoothed his mustache. The Ant was cold as ice; not a drop of human kindness flowed in his veins. Not only that, but he could swear the kid’s lips were turning blue. He wanted to end this farce and get out of Dodge. “So, how do you plan on winning against one of the greatest cash players of the last century?”
The Ant glanced out at the stark light in the picture windows. Heat shimmered in the desert, making the horizon look smeared and indistinct. The Strip was jammed already; a long line of red taillights filled the road as cars made their way down Las Vegas Boulevard.
The ants go marching one by one…Ant hummed the nursery song in his head, lost in the moment.
Stu pulled him back. “Ant?”
The younger man stared at him blankly, as if he’d just awakened. He twisted to look at the messy bar, just off camera. Crushed cans of beer and energy drinks littered the floor of the suite, and laundry was strewn all over the bedroom adjacent to the living area. Turning back slowly, dismissing one of the most important sports interviewers on television, the Ant said brusquely, “Next question.”
“All right.” Stu pursed his lips, trying not to lose patience. Maybe the kid is on something, he thought. He’d been playing in eighteen-hour shifts for days now, beating out thousands of players. The interview was going to the crapper fast, and this surly guy might be the next world champion. Give me something. He checked his notes and then blurted, “How does it feel to rise from relative obscurity and find yourself face-to-face with the one and only Clutch Henderson?”
“Look, this story is about me, right?” The Ant jabbed his finger into Stu’s face. “Not him. I’m the greatest player. I’m gonna create my own legacy, and it’s gonna be tonight.”
Stu sat back in his seat, shocked by the Ant’s hostility. “Isn’t that a little premature articulation?” Stu couldn’t help the jab. This kid was nuts. He must be wired on the cans of caffeinated drinks tossed all over the floor of the bar area.
The screen faded as the two sportscasters turned to face each other.
“Interesting interview, Stu. So, what did you really learn about Adam ‘the Ant’ Antonowski?” Kevin chuckled as he shook his bald head with amusement.
“Not a whole lot, Kev. He is a close-mouthed little guy.” Stu turned to gaze down at the single table where ten million dollars in cash had been strewn across the green baize in anticipation of the winner. A chunky gold bracelet glittered from the nest of cash, looking like pirate plunder. “It’s so quiet down there, you can actually hear the Ant thinking, I am the best player at this table.”
Kevin rolled a pen between his fingers. He looked at the camera and continued with his commentary. “The fairy-tale story versus the legend. Let’s not forget that Clutch may be the greatest earner in the history of the game: fifty million in lifetime earnings, one hundred twenty- one cashes, twelve final tables, and four number-one best-selling books.”
“What about his instructional videos? He made a mint with those in the nineties. Looks like the Ant’s asked for a break.Getting back to Clutch, he wrote what many call the Bible of Poker: Clutch Time: To Live and Die at the Poker Table. Will he make history tonight, Kevin?”
“He should. Been trained by the best—poker runs in the family.” They shared a laugh. “I’d call the Hendersons poker royalty.”
Kevin nodded in agreement. “I’ll say. Clutch is well-respected on the circuits; not many of those kind of guys left. He’s a true gentleman, a dying breed. I sat down and spoke with him earlier today. Let’s take a look.” Kevin turned back to the screen.
“You’re close,” Kevin grinned at Clutch. Clutch inclined his head with a gracious smile. They were in his residence, a ranch in the seedier part of Vegas. Clutch sat on a gold velvet sofa covered with plastic slipcovers in a heavy Mediterranean style left over from the seventies. His girlfriend, Ginny, beamed from the kitchen as the interview progressed. Just past fifty, she was a chubby Filipina with brassy blond hair that clashed with her olive complexion.
Kevin knew they’d been together for more than ten years, even though Clutch was still married to his wife, Jenny Henderson. Kevin paused for a minute and wondered if Clutch ever accidentally called Ginny Jenny or Jenny Ginny. That could make for some uncomfortable moments.
Ginny leaned against the doorjamb as the spotlight shined on Clutch’s silver head. She had pressed his shirt earlier today and made the sharp crease in his pants as well. His scuffed cowboy boots were too old to take the polish, and only she knew that cardboard replaced the worn soles.
“Very close,” Kevin pressed. “One play away from claiming your first-ever International Series Main Event bracelet.”
Clutch looked happy; his blue eyes were dreamy. “Livin’ the dream, man.” The camera caressed his face.
“How do you feel?”
Clutch cocked his head. “With my fingers,” Clutch said, wiggling his slender fingers for the camera. He glanced to Ginny as if to share a private joke. Winking, he smiled widely and a blush rose across her ample chest. She had great tits, Ginny did. Clutch knew that for a fact. He’d paid for them. He turned back to the interviewer. “Look, I’ve been playing this game since my granddaddy showed me the difference between an ace and a deuce. I’ve prepared my whole life. I’ve been taught by the best.”
“Buster Henderson practically created poker.”
“You ain’t lying,” Clutch agreed. “We didn’t have a kitchen table. We ate off a poker baize, and there was always a game going on. Ruthie, my grandmother, was a pretty good player too.”
“Yet it skipped a generation.”
“My daddy died on the beach in Normandy,” Clutch explained. “He never had time to learn the game.”
“And your mother?”
“Never knew her. Buster and Ruthie raised me. They lived and breathed poker.”
“Must have been an interesting childhood living with not only one, but two poker legends.”
“Yeah,” Clutch agreed darkly. “It was a barrel of laughs.”
“What do you think Buster would say to you if he were here today, as you enter the final table?”
“‘Better not screw this one up, boy, or I’m gonna kill you.’”
They shared a chuckle. “He was certainly a character,” Kevin added.
“Yep.” Clutch wasn’t smiling anymore. “A real character.”
“All kidding aside, even if you lose, second place has a hefty payout.” Kevin looked at his notes. “You stand to win four million.”
Clutch shook his head. “Sometimes it ain’t about the money. My grandpa won that bracelet over sixty years ago. It’s time for me to win mine.”
“Hmmm. Clutch, how do you feel about the advent of online players today—namely, your final opponent, the Ant?”
Clutch sat forward, his hands together, his face thoughtful. “The Internet has more porn than you can shake a stick at. What good is that? You can’t touch a computer. It’s sterile. In the end, the game ain’t real if it’s through a machine. Romance and cards have got to be in real time, face-to-face.” He let the comparisons sink in. “Nothing like the feel of a real woman.”
“Hilarious, Clutch.” Kevin laughed, sharing the macho moment with him.
“Now the real world has real women.” Clutch glanced back at Ginny, who grinned back at him. She had the worst teeth. They’d never fixed her teeth in the Philippines when she was a child. That was the first thing he was going to do when he won, take her to have implants. Well, after he got a new car, paid his bookies, and paid off his back child support. She never asked for anything, Ginny. She was a good woman. “Poker is a game about communication. It’s about reading people, knowing what they are thinking. You can’t communicate over the Internet. You can’t have a relationship with a keyboard and a screen—well, at least not an honest one. You can’t learn poker with a machine. Ain’t natural.”
“Have you got any old tricks up your sleeve?”
Clutch looked at the frayed fabric of his dress shirt. The stripes were so old that there was just a hint of color in the thin cotton. He looked at the gray hairs sticking out of the cuff. He touched the bony point of his wrist, imagining the heavy weight of the bracelet. His grandpa had left his bracelet to Clutch’s cousin, Alf, who had never even played poker. Clutch had wanted it for so long—every year scraping the money together to get into the tournament, playing with infants, hacks, and women who thought they could flirt him out of the game.
He was good. He knew he was the best, and he should’ve won a hundred times. He shook his head. A thousand times. It came so close, so very close, only to escape his clutches.
“Clutch…” Kevin’s insistent voice interrupted his wandering mind, pulling him back. “Clutch, you were saying?”
“Oh, we gonna teach that lil’ doggy how to make pee pee on a wee-wee pad.” The screen faded to black.
Kevin’s shoulders shook with laughter. He turned to Stu. “That Clutch—he is something else.”
“I’ll say. I think he has his metaphors confused. He may need a can of Raid instead of a wee- wee pad. Oh, the Ant is back from his break. Let’s see how the game is going.”
Clutch and the Ant sat opposite each other, the room tense and silent. The older man pressed his cards into the table, bending just the tip to glance at the letters or numbers in the corner. Kings, a good solid hand. He kept his face impassive, stifling a yawn. The Ant simply ignored him, a bored expression on his face. Between them, a colorful cascade of chips littered the table. The room crackled with excitement.
Clutch looked up at the dealer, who stonily stared into space. He smiled, and the dealer turned and nodded respectfully, revealing perfect teeth against his dark skin. They both looked to the Ant, who bristled with hostility.
Clutch narrowed his eyes, and a trickle of sweat began to make its way down from his temple. He stared hard at the Ant, whose dark glasses made him an enigma. The Ant was looking everywhere except at him. Why wasn’t the kid studying him, looking for tells, the signs that hint at what he is holding? He watched his opponent intently. The Ant glanced upward before he made a move, as if asking permission from the atmosphere. While he couldn’t see the kid’s eyes because of the dark glasses, Clutch knew he was looking toward the ceiling from the tilt of his head. A few times, Clutch caught his own eyes gazing in the same direction, wondering what the punk was up to. The room became hot. He was willing to take this to the mats. Based on the kid’s whitened fingertips, Clutch’s gut told him the younger man had nothing.
Clutch had a decent hand. He peered at the Ant’s cards on the table, as if he could see through the design to the faces hidden underneath. The kid liked to bluff; he had watched him do it all through the tourney. Clutch was willing to bet his last chip that the Ant had a junk hand. “Check,” Clutch said quietly.
“No check, old man. I bet three million.” The Ant pushed five stacks into the middle of the table. The crowd hummed with excitement. The Ant pulled off his glasses to glare hard at Clutch, his mouth pulled tight with intensity. Clutch looked into the younger man’s eyes and saw nothing. Nothing.
Clutch shrugged. “You wannabes sure think you know how this game is played. Lemme tell you something, partner…” He placed his Stetson on his head as if to make a point.
“Spare me the sage advice, Cowpoke. You’re done. I’m waiting to stick a fork in you.”
“Eight million,” Clutch said, his voice serious. The crowd applauded loudly as he pushed in a huge pile of chips.
“I just started, Pops, and you want to go down in flames already. Raise! All in,” the Ant sneered.
Clutch waited. He had patience. A murmur echoed through the room. He could swear he heard the ticking of a clock. He wanted to draw out the moment. His heart started to pound in his chest, pulsing so hard he felt it all the way to his toes. “Call,” he said so quietly that the dealer leaned forward to confirm.
The Ant dramatically turned over his cards, revealing an ace and a seven, both of them hearts. The red cards reflected back at Clutch until they filled his vision.
A slow smile spread across Clutch’s impassive face. He watched the younger man, savoring the glory as he slowly flipped his cards, revealing pocket kings. He had two kings—a good hand. Not unbeatable, but the kid had nothing but an overcard.
“Here comes the flop,” Clutch said aloud as he watched the dealer place the ace of spades and Clutch’s own heart sank in his chest. Now the Ant had a higher hand: two aces. The crowd’s gasp turned into a roar as the dealer spread the next two cards on the baize, revealing a king of hearts and deuce of hearts. He’d dodged a bullet; his three kings would beat the Ant’s two aces. Clutch took off his cowboy hat; the sweatband was soaked. His silver hair lay plastered against his head, the imprint of his hat looking like he had worn a vise. “Trip cowboys, pissant.” Clutch drew out the last word into a hiss.
On the table were two hearts. Two cards were yet to be revealed: the Turn, and then the River. Sixty-forty in Clutch’s favor, he estimated. Clutch felt his heart quiver with uncertainty.
The kid had a draw, two cards to go, and all Clutch needed to do was avoid a heart that did not match the table to claim his prize. The crowd exploded. The Ant stared at the card on the table, his expression hostile.
“We don’t need a commentary, old man. I got eyes. I can see,” the Ant snapped. The Ant’s dark eyes glazed over for a minute; he looked away and then turned back, his attention restored.
Clutch sat back in his chair, suddenly tired. His shoulders ached, and he longed to be back home in bed watching television. But the bracelet. He was so close. He glanced at the Ant’s cards and then studied his own. The patterns swam before his tired eyes as though they were alive. He was there, almost there. He could feel the heavy weight of the bracelet on his skinny wrist…the cash in his empty pocket.
Sweat dotted the Ant’s upper lip, and his eye twitched. There were so many chips spread across the table that the pot seemed obscene.
The Ant half rose from his seat, his face eager. His dark eyes glowed hotly, with red pinpoints in the pupils. He looked demented. His fingers pressed whitely against the green baize of the table. All he needed was another heart, and there were two cards left to go.
The Ant stood completely; Clutch was surprised at how short he was. He would barely reach Clutch’s shoulder. “Great hand, Pops,” the Ant nodded sarcastically. “But you need heart to play this game.”
The dealer barely breathed as he waited for the right moment to deal the next card, the Turn.
The crowd stood together as if on cue, the babble of thousands of voices drowning out the pulse in Clutch’s head. His body thrummed, and his face grew as red as the cards, sweat drenching his shirt so that it was plastered against his tense body.
Feeling his collar choke him, Clutch undid the top button of his shirt. Suddently it occurred to him that he might come in second. It would be a nice purse, four million at least. But after taxes and the funds to pay off the loan sharks, he’d barely have enough for his kid or Ginny’s teeth. Truth was, he didn’t give a shit about the dough—he wanted the bracelet. He needed that trophy to wear on his wrist for the rest of his miserable life. Too bad Buster wasn’t alive to see it. He wanted to shove it in his face and gloat. It sparkled from its spot on the table. Clutch swallowed convulsively, his neck feeling tight. He looked at the creep across the table. The Ant didn’t deserve it; Clutch did. This was the closest he’d ever come. He stared at the bracelet, the gold at the end of the rainbow. He could hear his grandfather’s voice, dead these last forty- five years, saying, “It’s about the game, stupid. Not the gold.
You play like crap. You never listen to me, boy.” Yeah, Clutch sneered, easy for you to say. You won a bracelet in 1954. Clutch glanced down at his two cards, his kings. With the third on the table, he had three kings, a good hand. He had to piss…really bad.
The dealer turned over a six of clubs. The audience moaned. A black card, not a heart. Without the fifth heart, the kid would bust. Clutch’s breath stilled in his chest. He was almost there. His heart pounded in his chest as if it were a kettledrum. One last card to go. He looked at the insect’s hand. The kid’s hands were trembling, his knuckles bony white like a skeleton. He had nothing. This was it. He had this. The dealer paused, his hand hovering over the deck. His manicured fingers caressed the top card, and then he flipped it onto the green table. An eight of hearts lay on the baize, earning the Ant a winning flush. The crowd buzzed, a thousand voices washing over Clutch’s numb face. His breath left him in a slow deflation until he felt flat. He wanted to disappear.
The Ant yelled like a little girl, his hands high up in the air. He pranced in front of the bleachers to the screaming fans and then mugged the camera. Kevin raced from his spot, mike in hand, to the older man. “Clutch! Clutch! What happened? That was so fast.”
Clutch stared at the cards, his face impassive, the pain of his broken heart heavy in his chest. “I…I…” Words failed him. He couldn’t breathe. The room was stifling, closing in on him. His vision narrowed to the cluster of cards on the table and the bracelet winking at him. They shimmered before him; the noise of the spectators was muffled. His ears rang. He still had to pee. In fact, he was drowning. He heard laughter. It was familiar. He looked around frantically to see who was laughing at him. The pain started in his chest and radiated to his shoulders, clamping around his jawline. His eyes dimmed.
He felt Kevin’s chubby hand grip his shoulder. It hurt. The announcer’s voice came from far away. “Clutch…Clutch, are you OK?”
No, he wanted to scream, but his own voice seemed foreign, the words coming out jumbled and thick. No, my dream died. He watched the room recede, the world strangely quiet, as the floor came up to meet his chin.
The Ant turned to see the older man fall. Oh, he thought as he heard Clutch’s head connect with the floor. That’s gotta hurt. He turned to his adoring fans and pumped his fist into the air, the bracelet gripped in his clenched hand.
Kevin struggled to get down on his knees. “Clutch…Clutch.” He shook the old man’s shoulder. His face drained of color. “Get an ambulance,” he screamed. He looked closely at Clutch. “Help…” he said sadly, knowing it was too late for an ambulance. They needed a hearse.
Boo-graphy: Michael Phillip Cash is an award-winning novelist and screenwriter. His novels are best-sellers on Amazon under their genres – Young Adult, Thriller, Suspense, Ghost, Action Adventure, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, and Horror. Michael writes full-time and lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wonderful wife and screaming children.
This story is about an adventurous boy named Ony Lantern, who made a promise to save Halloween. He must deal with four missions attached to four folktales and overcome the challenges in the Himalayan mountains. This is where he will face the wildlife who create mayhem in Halloween-land. Jack, his younger brother, would join Ony on his fourth mission, where he would practice on an exceptional flair he had built up. Casey is a pretty little witch on a broomstick. She must lead the adventurous brothers on their missions. When she found out she could bring her parents back from another dimension, this brought Ony and Casey’s missions to a whole new level.
Jack and Ony Lantern know they will be the perfect superheroes for the adventure.
Put your Halloween costume on, grab a Halloween treat, and get ready for a ride to a land filled with Halloween madness!
Author: Sylvie L. Gionet Genre: Children, Children’s Halloween, Grades 2-12 Publication Date: September 28, 2020 Pages: 187
Setting: Earth, another dimension in a place called Halloween-land.
Protagonist: Ony and Jack Lantern, along with Casey, were situated as our leaders.
Problem: Someone was eating the delectable desserts in the warehouses, amongst other things.
Antagonist: A variety of wildlife in the Himalayan mountains got a whiff of the fresh baked goods in Halloween-land.
Conflict: Ony and Jack have a blend of unique pumpkins seeds for the wildlife.
Goal: To bring the wildlife to Halloween-land, so they could be a part of the Lantern family.
Chapter One: A Family Legacy
It’s a chilly, breezy evening in Ponchatoula—a small city in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.
One mile down the dirt road, there’s a thick forest leading to a driveway. At the end of the road, you will arrive at the Lantern family farmhouse: 369 Hucks Hollow. Flickering Jack-o’-lanterns border an old wooden veranda, and plenty of bats drift on a cord from the overhead beams. Strings of fake cobwebs with lifelike spiders stream across the old timber windowpanes. The Lantern family has placed tombstones and scattered imitation bones and a skull across the lawn. White sheets bundled together form a ghost dangling from the towering bushes and trees.
Paul and Olive Lantern inherited the old and roomy farmhouse from Paul’s grandparents. The spacious farmhouse was ideal for their two young Halloween fans. Olive and Paul were thrilled that their children had a flair for this special event. Every year they would let their excited boys dress up for one week in an assortment of costumes. Eleven-year-old Ony Lantern, and his nine-year-old brother Jack, gear up for the creepy night by parading around the old house while their mom prepares lots of pumpkin treats. The children’s excitement about living on a spacious farm was also due to a huge pumpkin patch out back.
Chapter Two: The Pumpkin Patch
The splendor of the fall leaves could be seen at the Lantern family home. Late October in Louisiana was when the frigid winds whirled the foliage everywhere. Orange, red, and golden shades of leaves were piled out the front and the back of the old farmhouse.
Paul had already put the boys to work in the second week of June. He took them to the barn and taught them how to plant four types of seeds in peat pots. The seeds grew for three weeks and were then ready for transplanting. Paul had instructed the boys on how to plant the seeds in a raised mound, one foot across in a wide patch. The eager boys dug a generous amount of aged compost into each planting hill before transplanting. They used no insecticides when the pollinators were active.
“Pumpkin plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The bees or insects transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female,” Paul had told them.
Ony and his dad’s favorite seeds were the Big Moon and Ghost Rider seeds. He showed Ony and Jack pictures of these two types of pumpkins. The Big Moon and Ghost Rider pumpkins had a black and orange ribbed rind, and a dark-green or black stem that sprouted up through the center. They were the best pumpkins for carving. Jack’s favorite was the Happy Jack pumpkin seed, and Paul had mentioned the plump pumpkins were the best for baking. He picked up a popular-selling seed for Olive, but no one knew the name of the seed, so he named it after her. When they were ready, her sweet globe-shape pumpkins were smooth, and a bright orange. Paul knew this popular pumpkin seed was excellent for baking too.
It was now the third week in October and Paul was ready to spur his boys into action for their first harvest in the pumpkin patch.
The fall morning was cool and the enthusiastic youngsters looked forward to a second day of harvesting. After breakfast, Jack and Ony asked their dad for more pumpkins.
“You fellows need to put on warm clothing, it’s chilly outside this morning,” he suggested, and smiled at Olive.
Olive reached into the wardrobe and gathered hats, scarfs, mittens, and winter coats. Jack struggled to put on his bulky winter coat, but Ony breezed along putting on his own clothing. She flipped a Halloween cloak over each of the boy’s shoulders and fastened the clasps around their hero costumes.
“Thanks, Mom. I am positive I will sweat to death in this bulky, bodyhugging jacket.” Jack could barely move.
“My goodness, you have grown out of that jacket, Jack. You are almost as big as your brother. Let me get you another coat.” Olive searched through the winter clothing and found a bigger lightweight coat. Ony stood ready and tapped his foot, waiting for his finicky little brother. Jack obviously thought he had grown as big as him.
Paul reached for a winter coat on a hook by the backdoor. He put on a knitted hat and a pair of leather gloves and threw a scarf over his neck. Paul unfastened the latch on the back door and stepped outside and closed the door. Earlier in the morning, he had hooked up two horses to a wagon in front of the barn. Pulling himself up, Paul sat and waited for the boys. Jack and Ony shoved the back door open, slammed it into the wall and dashed outdoors. When they arrived at the barn, both boys jumped up onto the wagon. Ony and Jack stretched out beside their dad. “Let’s go, Dad,” they both said excitedly.
Paul looked at the enormous smiles on his sons’ faces. “Giddy-up,” he said and flicked the reins. The horses trotted along a path. When Paul stopped the horses, Jack and Ony jumped off the wagon and went straight to harvesting.
As the pleasant morning whizzed past to lunchtime, Paul’s ambitious sons entertained him the whole time they wandered around in the patch. The choosy boys explored the jam-packed patch for the biggest and tiniest pumpkins.
Olive, meanwhile, kept herself busy. She baked a variety of pumpkin treats for the family, but most of her creations did not appeal to her. She reflected for a moment . . . “The boys give me ideas for desserts daily—I wonder where they get their ideas from? Hmm, actually I believe I know!” Olive then sorted through the wooden recipe box on the counter filled with pumpkin recipe cards.
The back door was flung wide open and hit the wall. Olive jumped. The energetic boys proceeded to haul loads of pumpkins onto the back porch. She spotted them both through the window in the kitchen, placing the pumpkins here and there in the old farmhouse.
“You boys certainly do have grand ideas when the days start to count down to Halloween!” Olive wiped her hands and placed the towel on the counter. The boys were actively going in and out, so she sauntered into the hallway to watch her adventurous sons.
“No worries, Mom, we got this.” Jack spoke in a high-pitched voice. Olive observed their flushed cheeks and smiled. “Okay.” She looked around and checked out at what two days of harvesting had done to decorate the old farmhouse. Her eyes were wide as she scanned the surroundings carefully, then she sighed and set her sights on the kitchen and returned to baking.
Before bedtime, Jack rushed up the stairs to his bedroom to change into his star trail pajamas. Then he darted over to Ony’s room. When he showed up, he assumed a cyclone had struck this enormous bedroom. It was a serious disaster zone! Several costumes hung on the old brass handles on the wooden wardrobe. Ony even had Halloween socks spread out on the floor, and they were here and there and everywhere! His skull lantern on his worktable was lit, but at least his homework was done. Jack’s eyes were bright as he peeked around the spacious room. Decorations from Dad’s favorite Halloween store dangled from the walls. There were skeletons, grim reapers, ghosts, bats, witches, spooky spiders, mummies, and tombstones.
He gazed at the unusual poster Dad had given his brother today. Ony had fastened it to the wall and trimmed the bottom with four orange lanterns. On it, on one side, an iron gateway led to a graveyard. On the other side, a skeleton pirate guarded the entrance. Unlit candles and lampposts lined a stone walkway, and beside it was a wishing well. A ghost dangled from a decrepit tree, and it had a creepy-looking spider dangling from a bare branch. Scattered underneath another tree were skulls, tombstones, and bones. But what caught his interest was the full, bright Hunter’s Moon. The big moon bathed the twisted tree branches in a gleaming light. Its moonbeams shone between and on top of two dark, closed wooden coffins just below. Two skeletons stood alongside them. The stars sparkled in the background and made the mountain peaks shine. Pumpkins lined the stone walkway, and one was lit from inside. The poster looked mysterious, and it seemed virtually alive.
This looks amazing, but my room looks just as good as this, Jack thought to himself. His bedroom also had an original poster on one of his packed walls. The universe fascinated him, and this poster he had received from his dad showed the solar system surrounded by mountains whose peaks were covered with snow.
One of the carved jack-o’-lanterns flickered, so Jack took a quick look. Ony had them in every corner of his room, and they were lit with solar candles. Jack thought back on how he watched him polish the orange to a deep shine using a dab of olive oil and Dad’s old rags. That is when he had decided to ask Ony to help him with his.
Jack asked his parents for pictures of the universe for his bedroom, while Ony asked his mom for Halloween socks and Halloween decorations for his bedroom. Both boys had plenty of these items from their parents and grandparents, along with countless costumes, but Ony could never have enough!
Ony turned around and noticed Jack standing at the doorway. Jack smiled at the surprise on Ony’s face—Jack knew how quiet he had been!
“Hey, Jack, are you finished checking out my room?” Ony asked, while he sifted through a stack of Halloween socks. Jack had a stake in his stash of treasured socks because Ony had promised him a pair.
His hands clutched at each other tightly, and he hoped today might be that day. Jack watched Ony closely.
“Here, have a pair.” Ony passed him a pair of Halloween socks decorated with hunched black cats on top of pumpkins.
“Finally, thanks, Ony.” He snagged the socks before his big brother changed his mind. Jack took off his own and put on the new socks. “Wow, the same socks as yours,” Jack said in awe.
“Mom bought me the same ones as last year, so you can definitely have those.” Ony slipped on the same pair.
“How about we sort through our costumes? You can help Mom place the Halloween spider sticker on the calendar tomorrow.”
Olive put these weird-looking tally marks on the calendar every day. The boys saw the tally marks, but they ignored them as they didn’t know what they meant.
“Five more days until Halloween. You know what that means, Jack? We can dress up as a scary creature or a hero,” he said and laughed at him. “Yippee,” Jack said. He sat on the edge of Ony’s messy bed and flipped both feet up to admire his new socks. “I’ll meet you after school. It’s hero day for me tomorrow.” He bounced off the bed and left Ony’s room.
“Okay, see you tomorrow, Jack.”
As Jack turned to say goodnight, he saw Ony had picked out his Frankenstein pajamas for the night.
When Jack arrived at his room, he marched straight to his closet full of costumes. As he entered, a bright glow caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He looked to the left and then to the floor. That is when he realized his ghost costume had a pile of glowing pumpkin seeds on top of it. Jack sank to his knees and wrapped the costume around the tiny seeds. He sprang up with the costume in hand and strode into Ony’s room.
Ony turned. “What’s that in your hands, Jack?”
Jack lifted the costume and showed him how it glowed.
Ony took the bundled costume from his hands. “What’s going on, Jack?” He raised his one brow as he waited for more details.
“I’m not sure,” Jack whispered. “Look at what I wrapped up; this is super strange. They’re inside the costume.” Jack’s face showed how surprised he was.
Ony nodded and placed the costume on the bed. When he unfolded it, he eyeballed the glittering seeds. He gasped. “Wow, Jack, where did you find these seeds?”
“In my closet. They weren’t in there last night, I swear it.” Jack put both hands to his face. He suddenly realized that he continually asked his big brother for the best explanations for everything since he always had the answers. Jack stood in front of Ony and waited for the answer expectantly. Ony passed his hands through the pile of tiny glowing pumpkin seeds, which glittered brightly.
“Shush, tell no one. These seeds are out of the ordinary.” He stared into Jack’s bright eyes and thought for a moment. Ony rubbed his chin. “Mm . . . I realize what is going on. Dad must have done something to these seeds— he lives for a good Halloween prank.”
“Whatever Dad did to them, I’m sure you can deal with it, brother,” Jack said, giving Ony the benefit to solve the mystery.
“Okay, I will hide your costume and these mysterious seeds in my closet.” Ony paced around the room and then turned to him. “But what if Dad didn’t put them in your closet? Where did these glowing seeds come from? Did Mom put them in there?” he wondered out loud and shrugged his shoulders.
Jack shook his head from side to side. “No, I don’t think Mom put them there. If she knew we had more seeds to plant, she might have something to say to Dad.” Jack covered his mouth and giggled.
“Once again, I am sure Dad is playing another Halloween prank. After all, every year he arranges something around the house for us to find. Remember how he put plastic spiders in your bed at our old house last year, and you lost it?” Ony said and chuckled.
“Yep, but he put plastic lizards in your bed too. So Dad is at it again. I will not tell anyone, I promise. This stays our secret, brother,” Jack said truthfully.
They both gazed at the glittering seeds and wondered if this was definitely a Halloween prank. Was it a trick or treat?
“It’s getting late. I can hear Mom and Dad; they are coming up those creaking stairs. Oh, Dad said tomorrow night is a great night for stargazing on the tractor. He said it’s almost a full Hunter’s Moon. That is awesome. Hurry, go to your room and pretend you’re asleep.”
Jack nodded and darted out of Ony’s room. He headed across the hall and leaped into his car bed and pulled the covers over his head. Ony carefully wrapped the tiny glowing pumpkin seeds back in the ghost costume and hid it in the closet. He hurried to his bed and jumped right in and pulled the surrounding covers to his face.
Olive sauntered into Ony’s room. She peeked over the bedclothes and noticed him sleeping.
Sylvie is giving away TWO signed copies of A Halloween Adventure with Jack & Ony Lantern, each including a bookmark and keychain. To enter, all you have to do is LIKE this post below. For an extra entry, you can LIKE the link to this post on Meghan’s House of Books’ Facebook Page. Have you joined the Halloween Extravaganza Facebook Group yet? There’s a third chance at an entry inside. You simply have to LIKE the post there as well. That’s THREE – count ’em – THREE chances to win a signed copy.
Boo-graphy: Sylvie Gionet is a writer of fiction and an accomplished photographer. A Halloween Adventure with Jack and Ony Lantern is her first children’s book. If you like a dark folktale but a pleasant story, then you will enjoy Jack and Ony’s mystical journey.
It was cold when they kicked him out of the pub. Joseph only wanted to buy a bottle to take home. They hadn’t sold it to him after he vomited in the gentlemen’s. But tonight, of all nights, he needed it.
Just like every other night, really.
The rain drenched him, but he didn’t care.
All he wanted was a drink.
He didn’t want to see his family, sitting around the table praising his brother John for the promotion at the bank. Declining the inner invitation, Joseph had made excuses before John’s mocking laughter caught him at the door.
“Let him go, mother, he’s tight already.”
Joseph had proven to himself that his level of sobriety was nigh on angelic then, compared to what he was now. The world swam, and he struggled even to see in the dreary night.
He was lost.
The streets kept turning about, the normal route that should have taken him up Beverly and onto Gardner found him on Vista. Rain turned to sleep as he stumbled through the sleepy streets.
It was lucky, he thought, because if he hadn’t been drunk the cold would’ve bothered him. He’d get home. The rain had momentarily confused him. As the downpour turned to frozen slush on the pavement, the slippery surface caught his unwary feet.
There was a flash, and the sidwalk was level with his eyes.
He blinked away stars, feeling an echo inside his head, and the world went black, streetlamps dying out… only to come back. Joseph studied them, fading in and out, waiting for it to stop.
A part of him assessed the damage, cold and distant. This was bad. He’d fallen and given himself a severe concussion. It wasn’t the first time. The last time had been… had been…
Joseph tilted his head to the side so he could retch, agony rushing through him, sharp this time as he spat out the contents of his liquid dinner.
“This no’ good,” he muttered to himself, staring at the amount of vomit on the pavement.
Joseph got to his knees, and his stomach regurgitated yet more liquid, the stench of alcoholic bile bringing up everything until his body was curled in its own excess.
Pain lanced through his head, an iron spike that squeezed his eyes shut, and he didn’t see the men talking toward him.
“Tad ossified, sir?” one asked.
“Might be.” Joseph slit an eye open to see two policemen there and breathing a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t about to be robbed. That would have been the highlight of the evening. Or possibly it had turned worse; it was the police after all.
“I’m trying to get to 161 South Gardner,” he said, searching for excuses not to be dragged to the drying out tank. His father wouldn’t bail him out, and when he treated like he had tonight, he meant it.
“All good, sir,” the policeman said. “We’ll get you home.”
They picked him up under the arms, the journey foggy until he was standing in the porch’s light. The policemen knocked on the door and Joseph couldn’t stop them in time.
The maid opened it, her mouth dropping open at Joseph’s state and the presence of two officers.
“Oh, I’ll get Mr. Norman.” She dashed off.
Joseph tried to pull away, to stand on his own two feet, but even with his stomach empty of alcohol he was still drunk. His head hurt, thumping in pulse to the angry pounding of his father’s footsteps.
“Thank you, officers,” his father said and shook their hands, a glimpse of paper in his palm. The officers’ smiles were wide at the thick wad of money – the cause for their kindness, which continued as they tipped their hats and left.
“Walk around back and get in the guesthouse, boy,” his father intoned, not letting Joseph in. “I will not disgrace your mother by letting you into this house. I will not let you ruin John’s good fortune because you’ve pissed your own pathetic life away. You were a doctor, and then you drowned in a bottle. I should have told you I was disowning you, but I didn’t want you to come home like this, you’re a disgrace…”
It went on.
Joseph stopped listening, and he didn’t even notice when his father shut the door. How long he’d been standing out on the porch he was uncertain, the world’s tears falling on his shoulders. He turned around, walking around the outside of the house and down the side path to the guesthouse.
The door handle didn’t want to open.
The deck chairs around the covered pool were inviting, even with the cold, but the bitter chill was getting worse. He had to get into the guesthouse. There was a gas heater inside if he could concentrate long enough to open the door.
Another shove pushed the door open, and it slammed when he fell against it. Stumbling steps took him to the center of the room, but looking about it was as welcome as the rain covered chairs outside. Dust sheets covered the furniture and became the ghosts of his past. Silent and accusatory, he waited to hear their pleas to make the pain stop, though they were naught but memories.
Standing alone in the dusty space, Joseph fell to his knees and cried.
Friends dead in the war.
Few who understood what being in the medical tents was like, what it did to you, night after night. The endless screams and the visions that haunted him.
During the day now, it was worse, he could see them during the day… he could see them right now…
Letitia wrenched herself away, manifested as physical reeling, and her hand slapped down on the table. The end had been so subtle, it had wrapped about her with the tentative touch of a spider, coming closer to bite her and share the death with Joseph. She gripped the wood, absorbed the warmth in her palm, sweat on her upper lip, and a chill on her skin from the cold of Joseph’s death.
“Ms. Hawking, are you all right?” Mrs. Norman asked.
“Please,” Letitia said, before quieting her tone. “A moment, please.”
The traces faded, fingers of death slipping her by as she recovered her breath and grounded herself in her own body.
Letitia didn’t know what she would tell those patrons. They wanted to know if it wasn’t their fault and to be sure Joseph hadn’t passed with regrets. The guesthouse was an eerie reminder of their transgression, but it wasn’t because Joseph was there, since he was glad to be gone from the world. It was their own guilt.
“Ms. Hawking,” Mr. Norman said, voice gruff, disbelief on his face. Opening his mouth to contest her, she cut him to the quick.
“You were there, at the door, when the policemen brought him home.”
She watched the skin of his pale cheeks become reddened, and she pushed on.
“You told him how… unimpressed you were after the police left.” Letitia didn’t stop, even as Mr. Norman glanced with shame at the now sobbing Mrs. Norman. “You told him to go out the back, not to make a fuss.”
Letitia changed the sentence, rephrased it so Mr. Norman wouldn’t be any more embarrassed than he already was, and at least now Mrs. Norman knew what had happened. She could guess for herself what exchanged between her husband and son.
“And… at-at the end?” Mrs. Norman asked through a series of tearful hiccups.
Letitia chose her words with care, wanting the Normans to go away at peace but warier of how to treat their other children.
“Joseph was relieved to pass on,” Letitia said, watching the father close his eyes in reprieve. “You were right, Mr. Norman, he wasn’t fine after the war, and he didn’t know how to make it better. This would not be the first time someone has come to me with a son or husband who was stolen by the war long after it ended. But Joseph saved many lives, he did dreadful things for those lives, but there are men who went home because of him. Not whole, but they went home.”
She let silence fill the space.
“But he never said,” Mr. Norman exclaimed. Letitia didn’t expand as he stared at her, fury and shame burning pink brands on his cheeks.
She let silence fill the space.
“But he never said,” Mr. Norman exclaimed. Letitia didn’t expand as he stared at her, fury and shame burning pink brands on his cheeks.
“He isn’t here,” Letitia said, “and he’s far better for it.”
Mrs. Norman clung to her husband, who was now wrapping an arm around her.
“I’d like a moment with my wife.”
“I cannot leave the room, Mr. Norman,” Letitia said, apology in every nuance of her words, “since what I have done today is difficult and leaves behind a residue.”
“We should leave, William,” Mrs. Norman said, composure returning as she rose with the help of her husband. “Thank you very much for your time, Ms. Hawking.”
“I hope I’ve brought you some level of closure,” Letitia said, coming to take Mrs. Norman’s outstretched hand and allowing a brief embrace before she pulled back, both arms on Mrs. Norman’s shoulders. “Now, go home, and when spring comes clean the guesthouse from top to bottom. There is nothing there than an echo of another victim of the Great War, and he does not reside there.”
Suffering, Mrs. Norman went to the door.
Mr. Norman was behind her, holding out his hand for Letitia’s, and like the incident with the policemen, there were folded notes in his hand. At least another twenty dollars.
Letitia stared down at them before lifting her eyes to see the desperate hope of Mr. Norman.
If she took them, he would close the matter, the last page of a book. That certainty was so stark in the lines of his face she didn’t need to open herself to se his personality. He was revolting enough as it was, and it left a sour taste in her mouth.
“Mr. Norman,” Letitia said, low enough for his ears alone. “You’ve paid me for my services already. And now you need never bring your family the shame of disowning your son.”
“You saw-” he stopped, hands clenching around the money. She met his gaze, and after a long moment, he was the first to break away.
Letitia went to the door where Mrs. Norman had put on her coat, and the pair left, Mrs. Norman the only one to look back for a final goodbye.
There was no sinister figure on the landing, and Letitia closed the door.
But something about the session was wrong.
Nothing too untoward occurred. It was smooth from beginning to end, except for one small anomaly.
Letitia went to the table and sat back in her chair, and instead of looking at the bowl, she tilted her head back to glance at the chandelier over the table. It had candles in some of its holders, placed to cast the right light on the mirror that hung from its center.
Round and twice the size of the scrying bowl, the mirror was suspended from three chains, making it secure and avoiding sway as much as possible. It was tilted at such an angle so that when Letitia looked into it, she saw the scrying bowl.
This was a different type of seeing. The bowl would drag her in and take her to the critical moments before death to experience it herself.
Letitia always found the exact cause before she sought a person’s end. Innocent and accidental deaths were easy – she’d take a few gentle moments to relate to loved ones without getting too close to the cause. Others were in sickness or injury, even the battlefield itself. She’d be with them until their death approached. Those who died at the hands of a murderer were no forewarned, or what little they saw came too late to Letitia. It was why she would not take murder cases. There were instances where the victim succumbed to shock before death or were even taken unaware. Delving into their fate when she wasn’t sure what was coming risked her dying with them.
Old Mother Borrows hadn’t wanted to talk about what happened if Letitia got that far. But then she hadn’t needed to tell Letitia. Her own expeirence had cut her to the bone, tore her soul to shreds, and left her a wreck. Old Mother Borrows was lucky to find enough sense within to repair.
When Letitia used the mirror, there were simply visions, the sensation akin to the images that played in her head as she read works of fiction or watched a silent film at the cinema. But like the bowl that could drag her into the death, so too was the mirror dangerous. She could become lost in reading…
The chair was her safety. She would fall to one side, or on the table, when she became too tired.
There was no such safeguard against the scrying bowl.
She read the scrying mirror.
It was far easier to slide into its vision, which reflected the remnants left in the scrying bowl of Letitia’s last visit. Though it was still distant to her, she knew what she thought.
Joseph’s death replayed in her mind, but this time she was only an observer, not lost in his emotion. She was a figure on the street, following him home, watching him fall over, remembering his subsequent pain. The humiliating scene at the front door was a thousand times worse at a distance without the alcohol or splitting pain to distract her from the horrible words of Mr. Norman. For a moment Letitia wished she could have made Mr. Norman squirm all the more, but it was a brief and selfish wish. His tirade abated when Mrs. Norman came looking to see who it was, and Mr. Norman shut the door without a backward glance.
Letitia studied the scene from across the street, but now she came closer to Joseph, not watching him but the shadows.
Nothing alerted her senses or was wrong about the situation, but she followed, fading into the guesthouse. Joseph stood in the center of the room, crying before falling to the floor and curling up into a ball against the cold and all the nightmares the world had given him.
Letitia knelt beside him, aware of what was coming and unable to stop it, but still she touched Joseph’s forehead with a cool hand.
A figure leaned over her.
She shrieked, slamming onto the floor as she came off her chair. Broken out of the vision, she stared around her ordinary session room. The shadow had disappeared, but there was no mistaking its presence.
The figure, while terrifying her, had a discernible difference from the one she’d seen behind Mr. Driscoll. In the world of visions, she would evade it’s form, even if the sense of dread was triggered by her own underlying fear. Unlike the being who’d glared over Mr. Driscoll’s shoulder, this figure had emanated no such ill intent within the vision of Joseph’s death.
But if a being of shadow haunted her session, then being anywhere near Mr. Driscoll could risk the very damage that left her body scarred and her mind on the edge of insanity.
No amount of money would bring Letitia willingly back there, not when she’d already experienced what lay beyond the veil.
Boo-graphy: Beginning a writing journey with an epic 21 book series, Ejay started her author career in 2014 and has taken on the ups and downs of self-publishing with her fantasy series The Last Prophecy since 2016. At the start of 2019, she put the series on the backburner to write Behind the Veil in 25 days, and signed a publishing contract for the gothic noir novel to independent publisher Literary Wanderlust. Behind the Veil is set for release on the October 1st 2021. She resumed self-publishing a scifi series, Queen of Spades, released across 2020 and 2021, as well as signing another contract with Literary Wanderlust for NA fantasy, Echo of the Evercry. Believing in more than one path to a career in publishing, Ejay pursues self-publishing alongside querying traditional publishers with multiple manuscripts.
Behind the Veil — Can she keep the secrets of her past to rescue a girl tormented by a ghost?
In 1920s Los Angeles, Letitia Hawking reads the veil between life and death. A scrying bowl allows her to experience the final moments of the deceased. She brings closure to grief-stricken war widows and mourning families. For Letitia, it is a penance. She knows no such peace.
For Alasdair Driscoll, it may be the only way to save his niece, Finola, from her growing night terrors. But when Letitia sees a shadowy figure attached to the household, it rouses old fears of her unspeakable past in England.
When a man comes to her about his missing daughter, the third girl to go missing in as many months, Letitia can’t help him when she can’t see who’s taken them.
As a darkness haunts Letitia’s vision, she may not be given a choice in helping the determined Mr Driscoll, or stop herself falling in love with him. But to do so risks a part of herself she locked away, and to release it may cost Letitia her sanity and her heart.
I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”
The crisp, clear sunlight was not her friend. Dayna Dalton winced at the bright light that squeezed in through the slats of the venetian blind. She reached over and gave the cord a hard tug, sending the pint-sized bathroom into near darkness. Behind her, the shower head dripped with a steady plop, plop that reminded her of the exposé she did on water torture in Guantanamo Bay that never got published. It was deemed too harsh to print.
The Bulwark Advance preferred her to write…fluffy pieces. She sneered thinking of the crap on her computer, the half-written article about the elusive Easter Bunny that awaited its final edit. She hung her head in shame, thinking of what her sorority sisters from Georgetown would feel if they knew where Dangerous Dayna Dalton had ended up. There’d be hell to pay in the form of eternal humiliation.
Dayna twisted the faucet, her freckled knuckle turning bone white from the effort. It was no use; the leak continued relentlessly, driving a hole in her throbbing head. Oh, that last round of shots was totally not necessary.
No matter how hard she wrenched the faucet, the dribble continued. She thought she should ask her guest to fix it before he left. He was a plumber, after all. She was sick of this place. Dayna peered at her reflection in the mirror. She was sick of her life.
Skip Benson’s bearlike yawn turned into a growl from the bedroom. “Dayna.” His voice grated on her nerves.
“Dayna rolled her kohl-smeared eyes.
“Dayna, come on back to bed.”
Dayna took a steadying breath and used both hands to grip the sink as if it were holding her up. What was she thinking last night? Skip Benson? How low could she go? A shudder ran through her lithe frame. That left only Trout Parker, and she could now report she had officially and irrevocably scraped the bottom of the barrel of Bulwark, Georgia.
She rubbed her forehead where a hammer banged against the inside of her skull.
Skip wailed for her to return to the warmth of the bed. Dayna wrinkled her nose, thinking about Skip’s performance, or rather what she remembered about it. Oh yeah, too many tequila shots will make anyone desirable, even stupid Skippy Benson.
She ran her fuzzy tongue over her dry teeth, fighting the urge to gag.
“Skip Benson had never been on the football team, the basketball team… Hell, he’d never even made the chess team. He had been the school screw-up, and now he could brag that he and Dayna had…
Dayna turned away from the mirror with disgust, her cheeks flushing. She staggered to the doorway of the bedroom. Using the frame to hold herself erect, she shouted, “Get up!”
“Wha–?” Skip rose, the comforter bunched at his flabby waist, his chest bare and the pathetic tattoo of a red devil across the front of his right bicep.
Vague memories of kissing that image flitted through her foggy brain. Dayna picked up a pillow discarded on the floor during their frenzied arrival and threw it at his head.
“I said, get up and get out of here!”
Skip ducked, then slid off the bed, his behind exposed, another image of a werewolf on his left butt cheek. Dayna convulsed a hazy memory of talking to that tattoo.
“You weren’t so eager to get rid of me last night.” Skip stood in all his naked glory, which wasn’t much.
“Ugh. I’m never drinking again,” Dayna muttered under her breath. “I said get dressed and get out of here.” A shoe sailed past Skip’s head.
Her unwanted guest scrambled to find his clothes. “Hey, cut it out, Dayna!” Skip was living up to his namesake as he struggled into his work pants, bouncing toward the door.
Dayna’s face split into a demonic smile that was known to strike fear in the hearts of single men everywhere. Here, she thought, was the elusive Easter Bunny. She watched Skip hop toward his escape as though he were in the Fourth of July potato sack race.
Dayna picked up a shirt that had been discarded on the floor and threw it at him. The garment appeared to have a life of its own and engulfed his head. Skip’s muffled cries were nearly smothered by the material. His hands tore at the shirt to no avail.
His fingers—Dayna looked closer, grimacing at the dirt under his nails, and watched his wrestling match with the clothing. She pushed him into her shabby living room, then out the door of her condo. Mrs. Sweetpea, an antonym for sure, watched in revulsion as Dayna shoved her guest out of her apartment.
Dayna lived in Shady Oaks, a rundown condominium community, where she reluctantly shared a front porch with her neighbor. The building was a connected row of apartments that bordered undeveloped land, as though a builder had left the project unfinished halfway through. It was hot real estate when they released the first phase, and half the town bought investment properties. Then the real estate bubble burst, and the whole thing came tumbling down.”
“Dayna had an inside scoop about what was really going on, but once again, the paper wouldn’t print it. The mayor had sold the land and gotten a back-end deal for it. He made a ton of dough and then skipped off to Colombia—the country, not Columbia, South Carolina. The builder had used inferior products, and once he went to jail for money laundering, the whole place went to seed. There was no one to call when things broke.
Dayna cast Mrs. Sweetpea a jaundiced eye, daring the nosy neighbor to say something about her guest. While the old crone might have appeared to be like the proverbial sweet grandmotherly type, Dayna knew her to be an ornery bitch with a sting as sharp as an angry wasp.
She hated her; had for years. Thelma Sweetpea had been her babysitter back in the day when she was a small child. Dayna’s mother had dropped her off at the old lady’s house for the first nine years of her life.
Dayna looked at Mrs. Sweetpea and shivered. The old woman had moved into the complex a year and a half ago, cutting up Dayna’s peace. What were the odds they’d end up living next door to each other? She was a mean old woman, and Dayna felt judged every time those beady eyes settled on her.
Dayna considered moving but was so underwater with her mortgage, she couldn’t think of selling. She was stuck at Shady Oaks, and she was stuck with the prying eyes of Thelma Sweetpea.
Mrs. Thelma Sweetpea took out her aggression with a broom and started to sweep as though the hounds of hell had just taken a shit there. Dayna fought the urge to say something. Speaking with Mrs. Sweetpea usually ended up in a hissing contest. Dayna’s compressed lips turned up just a bit with a smile at the result of this morning meeting. Mrs. Sweetpea was in a frenzy of spring cleaning, as if she could wipe the interlopers from reality.”
“The sky was overcast, and even though it was springtime, the air was decidedly chilly. A wave of cold air stole under Dayna’s shirt, making it billow out. She tried not to shiver. Her bare feet felt the shock of the freezing concrete. She’d be damned if she would show that old biddy any weakness, even if it was unseasonably cold.
Dayna looked up at the watery sky, searching for a glimpse of the sun. Global warming was playing havoc with Georgia’s weather. Either it was extremely hot when it was supposed to be cold or freezing when the time of year dictated heat. It didn’t rain anymore; it stormed with funnel clouds that touched down, ripping homes and trailers from their moorings.
Mrs. Sweetpea stopped her sweeping to look at Dayna, her lips pursed as if she’d eaten something sour. Dayna returned the stare, her eyes observing the wrinkled face, watching the older woman judge her half-naked form.
“Dayna’s freckled shoulder peeked out from an oversized tee shirt. It was paired with her long, bare, coltish legs underneath. Dayna looked down and cursed when she realized she was wearing Skip’s tee. Glancing up, she realized he was struggling with her shirt from last night. Watching her neighbor’s shocked face, Dayna ripped Skip’s shirt over her head and tossed it to him. He paused in his scuffle with her clothing to admire her perfect breasts.
“I don’t have to leave,” Skip said with a broad smile.
“Oh yes you do, and don’t come back here.” Dayna turned around, her shoulders straight. She paused to look at the older woman, who stood with her jaw hanging in shock.
“Have you no shame?” Thelma Sweetpea sputtered.
Dayna looked back at the gawking plumber, then her scandalized neighbor. She shrugged indifferently. “Apparently I have no shame at all.”
Boo-graphy: Brit Lunden is a prolific author who’s written over 50 books in assorted genres under different pen names. Bulwark was her first effort in adult fiction and was chosen by several of her fellow authors as the basis for a new series, A Bulwark Anthology. Using her characters, they are creating new denizens in spin-off stories to this bizarre town. Brit Lunden lives on Long Island in a house full of helpful ghosts.
Bulwark Anthology .5: Bulwark — Clay Finnes is the sheriff of a small town in Georgia called Bulwark. Recently separated from his wife, all he can think about is what went wrong, and will Jenna ever come back to him. He’s troubled by a bothersome reporter trying to build a story from what he thinks is a normal day in his life. Clay has to admit that the fantastical stories, told by an accident victim as well as unusual sightings of wolves, things are getting a bit strange. A visit to the ominous Gingerbread House makes him realize that his life as he knows it will never be the same.
Bulwark Anthology 1: The Knowing — Bulwark- a wall or stockade that protects or sometimes hides the truth from the outside world.
Bulwark, Georgia, isolated, hidden. Who knows what strange things can happen when the rest of the world can’t see you? JB Stratton is alone in the world, and all he has left are the memories of his beloved Ellie. Dirt poor JB and wealthy Ellie feel an instant connection that is as intense and primal as the blood red earth of their home. Unseen roots connect them, pulling them into an impossible relationship. Will the memories of past lives help or hinder the path of their love? Based on the original novella Bulwark, by Brit Lunden, The Knowing continues the story of a town isolated from the rest of the world where the impossible becomes plausible, and logic is determined by reality.
Bulwark Anthology 9: The Devil & Dayna Dalton — Reporter Dayna Dalton’s reputation has been ruined since birth. The daughter of wild child, Becky Dalton, is expected to follow her mother’s footsteps; never given a chance to prove she’s different. Dayna’s been in love with Clay Finnes since she was a teenager. Her unrequited love for Sheriff Finnes leaves her empty. He’s happily married and unavailable. Instead, Dayna finds herself stuck in the revolving door of bad relationships. But this is Bulwark, Georgia, a town where strange things are always happening. Dayna is doomed to this loveless life until she can find someone who will appreciate the depth of her character. Can she overcome her fears and look beyond her own perceptions to accept a greater love?