Book Excerpt: What A Guy 1

Life is like a game in which God shuffles the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps. – Yugoslav proverb


Come Fly With Me

Everyone watched. A few people muttered and a businessman clapped sarcastically as the big man finally arrived. While he didn’t actually delay their departure, Guy Carnac boarded the plane twenty minutes after everyone else.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now that all passengers are on board we’ll be getting underway. It’ll just be another minute or two,” the captain’s voice soothed.

Guy found his seat, swallowed another pill, and pulled down the shade. He didn’t have a seat behind the bulkhead with legroom, but at least he had a solid wall to lean against. Too bad it had a window.

He tried to settle down, and in. He almost convinced himself that he was ready, doing fine – and ping! The fasten seatbelts lights blinked on. Guy buckled his belt and like the signal for a race, his heart began an adrenaline gallop.

The plane moved away from the gate with the slightest of jolts.

Systematic desensitization, Guy. The laws of aerodynamics will keep the plane in the sky. Calm breathing! But, he reminded himself, you know better than most people that planes crash all the time.

He breathed faster. Get a grip! The facts, doctor, the facts! Fiercely he recited, My name is Dr. Guy Carnac, I’m a respected – highly respected – Seattle-based therapist, I’m a fifty-four year-old male, maybe overweight, maybe my hair’s thinning, but my libido is still intact and not thinning, thank you very much. I’m heading to an international conference of my peers. What’s there to fear?

What’s to fear? For starters, what happens when we can’t lift off? The plane’ll keep rolling, too fast to stop. And we’ll hit a building, or cars on the freeway, or another plane as it taxies in.… Smoke will billow as we’re all engulfed in a fireball. He gripped the seat arms. I’m wheezing. I can’t breathe, is there oxygen? Should I pull down a mask? Why haven’t the meds kicked in? Is it too late to turn back? Can’t they halt the plane? DON’T THE PILOTS REALIZE THEY HAVE TO STOP THIS FLIGHT, RIGHT NOW? Oh God oh God oh God Oh Godohgodohdgodgodgodgod.

The little girl in the middle seat eyed him as she whispered with her mother. Guy closed his eyes and pushed his head hard against the side of the plane. Machinery vibrated under his temple as they accelerated. He whimpered. They left the ground: Breathe!

For the next ten minutes he was afraid he’d pass out or vomit. He fought a need to do both and kept his eyes firmly closed.

Something scratched his right arm.

Guy opened his eyes and blue candy ribbons, pink ponies, and tiny hearts swam in his vision. For a few startled seconds he was sure he was hallucinating. The child in the next seat wore colored barrettes in her braids and a serious expression.

She looked down. Guy followed her pointing finger and saw that he’d wrapped his right hand completely around the seat arm separating their seats.

He unclamped his fingers as they continued to hurtle through space. Was that the start of a nosedive we’re going down I’m trapped really trapped even if I make it out of this seat I’m stuck on this goddamned plane until we crash and – He yanked his thoughts hard from the eventual, inevitable spiral. Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

The scratching returned, more insistent. “Mister?”

He peeked cautiously.

The child patted his forearm and then his hand for good measure. “I’m scared to fly, too. This is my first time. If you want, you can have my medicine. I aksed my mommy and she says yes. I told her, this guy needs it and I don’t! He’s more of a ‘fraidy cat than me!”

“Than I, Tia. Asked, not ‘aksed’. And we don’t call people names!” Tia’s mother leaned across her daughter and took Guy’s clammy hand in her own warm brown one. “I’m sorry, a little six-year-old here is excited to fly but still learning about verbal filters. This is Tia, and I’m Denice. But the offer is real. Tia was scared about such a long time up in the sky so her doctor suggested we bring along Benadryl, just in case. Somehow I think she’s not going to need it.” The little girl wasn’t listening, her attention focused on the flight magazine page that listed cartoon offerings.

Guy looked at Denice. She was dressed not in loose terry cloth ‘jogging clothes’ but rather in a flowing skirt for comfort, pretty slip-off shoes on her feet and a soft scarf around her neck. Denice smiled, and her aura grounded him.

He loosed his grip on her palm. “I’m Guy Carnac. Thanks!” His smile wobbled. “I’d sure love to take you up on that Benadryl. My own anxiety pills never kicked in.”

“Glad to. It’s in my carry on, Guy, so you just hang on til the all clear to get up. I’ll get it for you.”

Tia had followed their conversation and now she turned back to him. “Your name is Guy, and you’re a guy. You’re funny!”

“Tia! Remember what we tell you about how to address people who are older than you, namely, with respect? This is Mr. Carnac.”

“Thanks for the comment about respect, Denice. I’m not sure I deserve a whole lot right now! How about Tia calls me, Mr. Guy?”

Tia patted Guy’s forearm with her little hand again and gave him a wide grin. “Hey, Mr. Guy, smile. This plane’s not going down!”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: Precognitious 2

The next morning as Ronnie ate a quick breakfast she asked, “Hal, do you ever have a dream that feels like it’s trying to tell you something?”

She’d blow dried her hair after showering, but wasn’t completely dressed. Hal grinned at her over the table, enjoying her curves and the lacy black slip peeking from under her bathrobe. “Something sure jolted you awake in the middle of the night. Why? What’d you dream?”

“It’s silly,” Ronnie qualified, but told him anyway. He listened to the surprisingly detailed description of what she remembered.

“Honey,” he said fondly when she finished, “it’s a no-brainer. Losing your marbles? Magic and games? Waking up just before you die is classic. Freud would probably say it’s an anxiety dream, fear and desire. Thanatos and Eros fighting it out. What were you afraid of?”

“That’s not it. It wasn’t me who died.” Restless, she began to clear away the breakfast things.

Hal checked the time, then got up and helped. “How can you know?” he queried as he put leftover rolls in a bag. “With dreams no one knows. Personally, I think the brain’s just clearing the decks for the next morning.” Hal was a big man with shaggy hair and precise mannerisms; as always, his reasoning was logical.

“No, that’s not it, either!” Ronnie’s words were louder than she intended. “It was uncanny. I need to get ready for work,” she muttered, and headed off to iron a skirt.

At the office she was preoccupied and distant, thinking back to the college mixer where she’d met Reggie. Reginald and Veronica, both anxious to shed those old fashioned monikers as fast as possible. “Reggie and Ronnie, how perfect is that? Like in the comics, right?” he’d said. “We just need Archie. You really ought to go out with me! With these names you know we’re fated.”

She gave him her number, charmed and intrigued. They’d had a grand time together. After college they parted with great affection, headed for destinies in copywriting (hers) and medical research (his). That had been eight years ago.

At lunch time Ronnie headed down the boulevard and waited at a corner with a long stoplight. Who strode across the street? Reggie.

Her old lover, beardless with short hair, didn’t look up until he was at the curb and almost ran into her. “Ronnie!” He stared, taking in the sight of her wind-blown curls and maroon blazer buttoned over a short skirt and high heels. “Good god, woman. You look great! Man, it’s good to see you!” Reggie gave her a bear hug.

She blushed. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

“I don’t,” he said regretfully. “I promised my wife I’d buy her a couple mystery novels. Jane always takes at least one when we do a trip. We’re flying to Greece!”

Ronnie took a step back and almost fell off the curb.

“What is it?” Reggie smiled. “The news I got married? We met at the lab, five years ago.” He looked down at her hands and saw Ronnie had a wedding band of her own. “Looks like you did, too!”

She trotted down the sidewalk alongside him to the bookstore. He chattered as he picked over newly released murder mysteries. “We booked a cruise to mark our anniversary. We finally get the honeymoon trip I wanted. It starts with a flight to Athens. Business class,” he bragged.

They joined the line of customers waiting to pay, and Ronnie felt a crushing anxiety. “When do you fly out?”

“Friday.”

She blurted, “Reggie, do me a favor? Please? If you get delayed, don’t feel like you have to break speed records getting to the airport.”

Reggie fumbled and dropped the books cradled in the crook of his elbow. She ducked down to help pick them up. They bumped heads. He gave her a searching look and rocked back on his heels, still crouched in the middle of the line. “What’s up, Rondicious?”

Everyone around them stared, openly eavesdropping.

Ronnie blinked back unexpected tears at the old endearment. “Just, there are plenty of other flights if you miss that one, okay? I know what I’m saying sounds insane. I have this premonition, and I’ve never had one like it. It’s, a sense of foreboding,” she clarified. She felt like a complete idiot.

But as they stood back up, he nodded. Reggie wore a thoughtful look. “You know, for some reason I’ve got a weird feeling about the flight, too.” He plopped the books onto the counter and got out his wallet. “Must be that old connection we always had. I don’t think you sound silly at all. You never did.”

Back on the street they exchanged addresses and numbers. He rewarded her with one last, fast hug. Ronnie watched as he hurried down the block.

“Have a great honeymoon-wedding anniversary-vacation!” she called after him. Reggie disappeared around the corner and she felt a strange tug, as if the sense of foreboding had let her go. She wasn’t sure what had just happened, and hoped that it was a renewed hello rather than a goodbye.

On Friday night, the opening news story was the perplexing crash of Flight #423. The report ended with a telephone number and website for people to contact. Ronnie felt like a stone dropped from a great height, falling with the gravity of the gruesome details.

She barely made it to the bathroom and threw up. Then she picked up the telephone and punched out the digits to ask if Mr. Reginald Broadmaster and his wife Jane had taken that flight.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This third chapter is titled, Precognitious.

***

 

Book Excerpt: Precognitious 1

“We swim, day by day, on a river of delusions, and are effectively amused with houses and towns in the air, of which the men about us are dupes. But life is a sincerity.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uses of Great Men” in Representative Men, 1850.

 It’s All Greek To Me

On the Summer Solstice Ronnie turned thirty-two, and that night she dreamed the future.

Three things happen. A truck from ‘The Magnificent Mario’s Curio Shop’ drives down a highway. It scrapes against the dividing railing and the back doors spring open. A crate falls out and bursts. Jacks and marbles scatter across the asphalt.

The scene shifts. Her old college boyfriend Reggie climbs in a cab. He no longer has a beard and his hair is shorter, but otherwise he looks exactly the same. Reggie’s with a female companion; somehow Ronnie knows it’s his wife Jane. The cab driver, Jane and Reggie watch as highway employees in neon orange overalls scrub the road. Marbles roll this way and that, dodging the broom bristles. Glass bits glitter in the sunshine.

Lanes filled with cars, trucks, motorcycles and busses all wait for the cleanup to finish. Ronnie doesn’t sense horns honking in any dimension. The people stuck in traffic watching the bizarre sight taking place are too stunned. They laugh as they climb out of their vehicles to snap photos with their cell phones. Check it out! W8’ll u c this!

Jane leans over the seat. “Is there anything you can do?”

The taxi driver shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders. But he turns off the meter, acknowledging they’re all stuck. The cabbie won’t try to make an extra buck off the bizarre incident.

Yet another shift. A plane lifts off the runway, gains altitude – and plunges from the skies. Ronnie doesn’t see the actual crash but knows that everyone on board just died.

All at once she’s weirdly cognizant that this is a dream. The back of her brain deduces she must be half awake, swimming up towards consciousness. She sinks back into the dream but retains that awareness. Just as she wonders whether she’s dreaming or awake, with the growing sensation that something very strange is going on, Reggie looks away from the clean up. He turns his head. And he stares her right in the eyes.

The next thing Ronnie knew, she was in her bedroom and sitting up in bed. She shook her husband. “I just had the weirdest dream! Wake up!”

Hal grunted and turned over. She lay down and tried to go back to sleep, but the strange images stayed fresh. Colored marbles rolled around in her head and winked, vivid and insistent. Finally she fell asleep, wondering what had ever happened to Reggie.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This third chapter is titled, Precognitious.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: The End of the World 2

Emory Steen walked home with Coreen after Math Club. Autumn leaves covered the sidewalks and Emory crunched through them making as much noise as possible. “See you tomorrow,” he said.

Coreen waved a goodbye as her friend slouched down the street.

Goldy waited inside the front door. Her parents had let her get the puppy as a reward for good grades. He trailed at her heels as Coreen followed the sound of voices; the Bible study group had started. Mr. and Mrs. Tennant were decent people, trying to raise their children as Christians. Both of Coreen’s brothers went to meetings. David was almost eighteen, and the eleven-year-old Junior worshipped him. Little Sweetie was only five, and she was bundled off to bed halfway through the evening.

The Siemens family, the Whites, the Bartlets and their two cousins visiting from Holland were in the dining room. The group met Tuesday and Friday evenings at the Tennant home. The adults passed earnest hours in spirited debates, trying to understand what Bible passages signified.

Bibles covered the dining room table. Red silk ribbons marked open pages, but they’d set them aside. Everyone stared at a laptop screen, filled with yellow letters in a blue background. An image of the Earth floated, circled by what looked like the rings of Saturn. The largest ring ended in the letters VOG.

Goldy’s wagging tail thumped against a chair and the group finally noticed Coreen had entered the room.

Her godfather Richard turned from the computer and placed an arm over her shoulder. Richard White was old enough to be her grandparent, and he enjoyed the authority that came with age. “We’ve been waiting for you. Good thing you’re in that Math Club!”

“I told you, Richard. She’ll follow the proof just fine.” Coreen’s father gave her a hug.

Richard pushed a sheet of paper across the table. “Take a look,” he said eagerly.

“What is it?” Coreen picked it up.

“Just, see for yourself.” The gathered members held their breaths as they waited.

Coreen bent her head over a page of proofs, then back up to meet a roomful of expectant eyes. No one spoke, waiting for her to add two and two together.

She looked back at the sheet. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see.”

Richard patted her arm. “It’s okay. It took us a week of prayer before it became clear, and then suddenly it was all wonderfully clear. Look.” Richard took a second piece of paper from Mrs. Siemen. He tapped the page. “A day for God is a thousand years. Christ was crucified on April 1st, 33AD. Five equals ‘atonement’, ten equals ‘completeness’, and seventeen equals ‘heaven’, so the time between Christ’s crucifixion and next year is 1,978 years. Follow so far?”

Coreen’s brow furrowed as she listened.

“It’s right here.” Richard patted the sheets of paper and leaned over the table to point at the computer screen. “It’s clearer than clear, Coreen: the Rapture’s on the way!”

Mommy spoke up. “Honey, God’s lifting two hundred million people directly to Heaven, and then He’ll cover the earth in tsunamis and quakes. It’s very near. In fact, it’s less than a year away. The end’s coming in a series of earthquakes on May 1st. Six p.m. for each time zone.”

“What about everyone else?” Coreen asked in a small voice.

“God’s judgment.” Mommy was a middle-aged woman with an affect as comforting and warm as a meal of pot roast. Tonight, incandescent, her face glowed. “Six months later, November 1st, the final destruction arrives.”

Dad broke in. “Someone’s found the Biblical passages proving the Rapture begins in May. All believers ascend to Heaven. Those left behind will experience the end of the world. Six months of it, before fire consumes whatever’s left. We can be ready for it!”

He leaned across the table and turned up the sound. The voice speaking from the computer terminal was both tinny and gravelly, like metal clanking over heavy rocks. VOG sounded otherworldly. “My friends, now is the time to prepare! The end is on the way. But don’t wait for the Lord to send the first sign. You will feel it in your own lives down here on Earth. Pay attention my friends, little by little He will peel away all that no longer matters. Welcome the changes! Welcome the signals of His arrival! Trust in the Lord!”

Dad turned the sound back down and turned expectant back to his daughter. “Well? What do you think?”

“There’s a paradox,” Coreen began. The End of Days sounded as if the final agonies stretched out, God Himself unsure when to end them. “Does the world end in May, or in November?”

“Which part of Armageddon don’t you understand?” David sneered. Coreen hadn’t noticed her older brother in the corner. He sat, so no one could see how short he was compared to her.

“Yeah, VOG said so!” Junior parroted.

Coreen ignored them, knowing skinny little Junior would go along with anything his brother said.

David recited, “The Bible tells us that exactly one hundred and eighty-four days later God destroys the whole world. The name says it all. The Voice Of God. VOG.” David had learned about the Rapture end date before Coreen. He understood it better, too. For once, he was doing something first.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This second chapter is titled, The End Of The World.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: The End of the World 1

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! —Psalm 8:8

Revelations

Lynn turned off the classical music on the CD player and yawned, pleased. She’d gotten a lot done. Summer session hadn’t begun yet and the campus was quiet. Cars loaded with new graduates and their belongings had left days earlier.

She’d propped her office door and windows open. When she leaned back an afternoon breeze fluttered across her skin. Outside, three crows argued from the top of a Douglas fir as a radio blared. And someone cried. Sobs swelled in waves as the crier gained and lost, regained and relost control.

The crying came from inside the building. Lynn got up and went to the door to listen; it was a woman’s voice. She walked down the hall and came to a stop outside the bathroom. As she hesitated, wondering if she should go in or not, the door opened with a yank.

The young woman in a rumpled blouse over new jeans jumped when she saw Lynn. ‘Ask me about my frontal lobotomy’ suggested a pin on her chest. Her face was blotchy and dripped with tears.

“Aren’t you the Girl Friday who started working here the end of the semester? Coreen, right?” Lynn held out a tissue.

The girl tried to answer, but could only hiccup. Her face grew redder.

When Lynn touched her shoulder she trembled. “I’m Professor McCready. Coreen, are you okay?”

Coreen fell forward into the older woman’s arms.

Lynn propelled her down the hall to the corner armchair in her office. Coreen kept shivering. Lynn returned to the bathroom for a stack of paper towels. When she brought them back, she touched Coreen’s shoulder to get her attention. “Somehow I don’t think regular tissues can handle all the tears you’ve got in you.” She handed them to Coreen and placed a tall glass at the girl’s elbow. She touched the shoulder again, and returned to her desk.

The simple props of a water glass, a comfortable armchair and a large supply of utility paper towels were exactly what Coreen needed. She cried for another fifteen minutes. The hic! hic! staccato slowed as her crying jag spent itself. When it finished she sat damp and exhausted, her body folded tight.

Lynn set down the article proof she was editing. “Come on,” she said, and got to her feet. “I could use something to eat. I bet you could, too. Do you like Vietnamese?”

Over dinner the girl stayed silent, picking at her food and chewing her fingernails. Finally she blurted, “Did you ever think the world was ending?”

“Literally?”

Coreen hesitated and then nodded her head. Yes.

“That it would end, no. That it might break me, once.”

“What happened?”

“I discovered the heart of darkness when I was your age.” She knew Coreen was bracing herself to open up. Quietly Lynn revealed, “I went through an experience I thought would scar me and follow me around forever. Like, it would identify me for life. And then it didn’t. But I know what it feels like when a wave of panic hits. Or a crying jag. If you can, tell me what’s got you so terrified that you hide in the bathroom.”

Coreen put down her fork, took a deep breath, and told her.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This second chapter is titled, The End Of The World.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: TNT 2

They stood at the long service counter. Just a single table in the room had free seats. A dark-haired girl sat at it, and Todd looked her over. She had delicate features in a heart-shaped face and wore the stock student fashion of jeans and short-sleeved sweater. Todd noted embroidery around the sweater’s shiny buttons, and that her long hair was pinned back with a wide silver clip. The girl was simultaneously young and very grown up, poised and alone in the din.

He set down his beer. “Watch the master.”

Donny watched. His buddy claimed the empty captain’s chair beside the stranger. Todd touched her shoulder to get her attention as the musicians returned to the stage for the next set. “I’m Todd Taft.” The band picked up their instruments and began playing, and Donny couldn’t hear the rest.

The girl shook her head as she spoke. Todd’s brow furrowed and he added something. But she laughed as she shook her head again.

The guitarist started to sing.

“Ready?” The man who’d reached the table ignored Todd, eyes only for his date. She got up and they left the bar. She looked great from behind; her escort wore a sports jacket over faded jeans and looked like a preppie out slumming.

Grinning, Donny brought their beers over to the deserted table. “Nice going, cowboy.”

Todd rolled his eyes as he cupped his crotch. “I’m in love!”

Donny laughed and ordered another round. They remained until the bar closed, drinking a few last beers as the band played Eagles cover tunes. Todd drove home with the girl’s brown eyes impressed on the lyrics of Peaceful Easy Feeling.

He kept thinking about her. It was the challenge of being turned down, or maybe it was the boredom when work finished up and he had nowhere to go. Or the way he’d felt inside when she gazed at him. The attraction rolled over him in a gigantic wave, pulling him under with a siren’s lure.

He headed back to Cumberland in the hopes of finding her, the girl who’d refused to tell him her name.

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Book Excerpt: TNT 1

For your reading enjoyment: excerpts from my coming book. I’m writing madly, aiming to finish by December. A pre-Christmas book release sounded like a no brainer. Unfortunately that’s just what I feel like half the time when it comes to promotion. I’m still figuring out the marketing end of self publishing.

Anyway.

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel (Name being withheld until publication date). This first chapter is titled, TNT.

 1976: A History of the Hunt

TNT: Noun, 1. A yellow crystalline compound, CH3C6H2(NO2)3, used mainly as a high explosive. –Dictionary definition

The lot attendant waved his hand and vehicles inched forward. A Camaro was next in line, and he motioned wearily for it to advance.

He was in his late twenties, with short hair and a carefully shaved face. He wore worn-in work boots with metal tips shined to a high buff, jeans, and a nylon jacket over a tee shirt. The jacket flapped open suddenly to reveal a shirt printed with tangled stick figures. Red letters advertised Certified Muff Diver. Demonstrations upon request.

The attendant bared his teeth and closed the jacket as the teens in the car stared. “Five bucks parking, make sure you place the receipt on the dashboard or plan on paying to retrieve your vehicle from the towing company.” He handed over a parking stub and pointed to the farthest corner of the lot. “Over there, champ. You’ll want to keep this nice conveyance safe.”

No one in the car said a word. “Nice shirt,” the teen in the back seat commented once they were out of earshot. “Who’s that?”

“You don’t know? That’s Todd Taft. My sister Janine graduated with him. Todd was a big hero back in the day,” the driver recalled. “They called him TNT. Now he’s just a guy with a bad attitude who works parking cars.”

***

The last sports fan drove off with a wave after the game ended. “So long, pal,” Todd called cheerfully. The driver turned into the street and Todd stopped smiling. “Dim mother fucker,” he added under his breath. The rainbow painted on the side of the microbus faded in the distance. Todd watched until it vanished from his sight. The work keys jangled as he attached the chain link fence across the entryway. He walked back towards his booth, whistling.

The part-time attendant strolled over from the other end of the tarmac. Donny Shoemaker wore a clean pair of jeans, his ponytail tied back with a rubber band.

“Feel like a beer?”

“Well, that depends. Got somewhere in mind?”

“I thought I’d head over to Cumberland. Dante’s has a live band on. It’s Ladies’ Night! And in Cumberland that means college women.”

“I don’t need someone who can debate, Donny. I’d rather get laid.” But Todd reopened the booth where he always kept a clean tee shirt behind his crossword dictionary.

Donny waited impatiently. “It’s quicker if we take the back roads.”

“It’s all back roads, remember? This is upstate,” Todd said dryly.

“Christ, Taft,” Donny remarked when he was finally done. “Don’t you ever buy clothes in the right size?”

Todd looked down at the fresh shirt, tight on his barrel chest. “What are you talking about? My shirt?” he asked innocently. “Oh, it fits. Free advertising, Shoemaker, free advertising.” Todd ran a comb through his short black hair and let out a rebel yell. “It’s Saturday night. Look out, ladies, here we come.”

Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. Look for this novel in book and eBook form on Amazon.com in December.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars

She placed the wooden box on the red bedcover, reluctant to open it. As soon as she recognized the odd sense of fate she laughed at herself, It’s not like he’s Blue Beard or something and anyway the box isn’t big enough to fit a head into! – And besides, it wasn’t as if the box had a lock she’d need to break open.

Charlene pulled the wooden lid back and peered in. Sure enough, Linda’s missing photograph of Rob and herself laying on their sofa was on very top of the box, just where Carl had claimed it would be. Underneath lay a jumble of boy’s treasures, the usual collection of any adult. Charlene lifted the picture out carefully, the old photo thick and heavy in her fingers. Careful as well of her husband’s privacy, gently she placed the lid back and returned the box to its place at the bottom of the closet floor.

Charlene began to dial Linda’s number on her cell phone as she turned back to the room to retrieve the photograph. The image of Linda and Rob looked up at her from the red bedspread, stained a color like wine in the bright afternoon sunshine from the window. Linda would be relieved to hear it was safe and sound.

Charlene picked the photograph back up and more photos fell and fluttered down to the bedspread. Apparently they’d stuck to the back of the first photograph after years of laying in the darkness of Carl’s treasure trove.

Charlene stared down at photos she’d never seen and hadn’t known her husband possessed. The first one was a gray photo, slightly blurry and out of focus, taken from the railing of a ship. A whale’s flukes were just visible in the background. The only elements clearly in focus were Rob’s huge grin and outstretched hand, pointing excitedly at the gigantic mammal.

Two photographs were close ups of a radiant, exhausted Linda holding Jennifer, their newborn baby. The infant couldn’t be seen through the swaddling of the baby blanket wrapping her, but it was clear these were photographs Rob had snapped as he welcomed home his wife and first born child in the middle of winter, snow piled at either side of the front doorway.

Charlene fanned the photos out on the bed and she sat down. She looked the images of a baby in winter and felt frozen. What in the world? Charlene dropped the cell phone. The phone call to Linda would have to wait.

Carefully she put the photos in a perfect stack and set them on the mound of the pillow on her side of the bed. She pulled the box back out of its hiding place and placed it in the very center of the bedspread where she’d have the most room. Her heart pounding, Blue Beard indeed! Charlene reopened her husband’s childhood box.

Charlene grimaced as she looked down into a jumble. It was a random collection, the emotional residue of any small boy’s life. But this didn’t explain what the photographs belonging to Linda and Rob were doing there. She began to slowly remove objects to review each of them more carefully.

The sun moving across the bed winked at her when light glinted off ruby glass in the box. Charlene gasped out loud as she recognized the eighth Venetian cordial glass that had gone missing so many years ago. The last time she’d seen it was at the dinner party to introduce Carl into her circle of intimates. In all the years since, she’d thought two glasses had broken. Carl had never bothered to correct her assumption and now Charlene knew why: that night, he stole one of those glasses.

Charlene sat very still. Then, with one swift motion, she upended the box and dumped its contents out onto the bed. A golf ball rolled off the spread and bounced over into a corner. She retrieved it and turned it over in her palm, biting her lips. It was signed in red ink with the name Jack Nicklaus, 1980.

“I hate golf,” Carl claimed; he found the game mind numbingly boring to watch on television, and not much of a sport to play in real life. Charlene thought, What’s he doing with a golf ball signed by the man considered to be the greatest PGA Championship player of all time?

Terry Rundell, she thought with the next breath. Terry and Carl worked together, and Terry was an absolute golf freak. Charlene had no actual proof that her husband stole the ball. But she knew. In light of all the other tokens she was looking at on the bed, Charlene knew.

Suddenly they were no longer random. With her fingertips Charlene picked up the single, ominous pearl colored silk stocking she’d overlooked. Charlene draped it over her left forearm and held it out in the sunlight in front of her where she perched on the red bedspread. One stocking. One. Stolen from a clothesline, maybe. Or filched from the back of a dresser drawer from a house where they’d been invited for dinner, or drinks, or an innocuous social gathering. Who had it belonged to, and what was it about the woman to compel Carl to steal her stocking?

Her mouth twisted in disgust and she dropped the silky, filmy thing into a pile. She continued to sort through the other items.

An old paperback had landed on the bed half-opened. Its cover was yellowed, the edges of the pages cracked and cuThuvia Maid of Mars-1920.jpgrling. Charlene placed it with the cover up in front of her. Thuvia, Maid of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Her brain racing, Charlene recalled that Edgar Rice Burroughs had written the popular Tarzan series. This book must be one of his potboilers.

She turned cautiously to the first page. For Timmy, as promised! With love from Grandpa Brent was written on the flyleaf in an old man’s shaky, old-fashioned penmanship. Underneath he’d added, Xmas 1966. It had to be the treasured present of a boy from Carl’s grade school class, or later. Charlene knew adults have even stronger emotional attachments to items from their childhoods than children do. Well, wherever Timmy might be, this book left his possession years ago. She placed a tender palm on the cover as she closed the book and set it by the crumpled stocking.

Next Charlene opened a little bag with a drawstring and dumped out a bizarre collection of markers from children’s board games. The doll’s house teacup and Barbie shoe in the bottom of the bag bothered her the most. Those items were just too weird to find in a man’s box of memories… Charlene placed all of them back into their bag, firmly retied the strings, and went on to the next objects.

She frowned as she turned over used beer coasters. Those might be from the wet bar in the basement of one of Carl’s friends, someone he admired. Had Carl taken them as mementos of a night out drinking? Or were the coasters part of some guy’s foolish beer decal collection?

Charlene thought over who the friend might be as she jiggled the box absently. An object bumped against the bottom, and Charlene peered back into what she now considered Bluebeard’s box. Dislodged now, inside rolled a rare, colored, tiger-eye marble belonging to the little kid next door.

Determinedly Charlene picked up the box and shook it upside down. “What next!” she muttered, and out fluttered a single stamp. She plucked it from the bedspread and held it up in the sunlight. It was from The Cook Islands, 3 cents. Charlene didn’t have to use her imagination to picture a stamp collection belonging to someone who had the misfortune to come within Carl’s orbit. If the owner hadn’t noticed it yet, he or she or they, young or old, new to the hobby or an impassioned and seasoned collector… somewhere at some point, the person would notice a tiny object they had once thought theirs was gone. And they would lament the loss without knowing where it had gone, or who had removed it.

– from my short story “Carl Possessed” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Thuvia, Maid of Mars & A Princess of Mars, A. C. McClurg Publisher, 1920. (Photos from Wikipedia)

Speed Dating – Part 2

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

Maricela took a deliberate slow swallow from her non-alcoholic beer. “I would go out dancing on weekends, with my friends.” She looked away, her gaze on somewhere in the past. “I drank,” she answered quietly. “I went on short term binges. I didn’t really have relationships, or if I did, they sure were fluid ones. All high-percentage based.”

She gave him a wry smile and raised the near beer in a toast. “I had one black out too many. Finally I figured out I could get the smallest of buzzes from a near beer and it tastes just close enough to the real thing. Most people thing women drink these because they’re trying to avoid the calories.”

Maricela laughed softly; Rick thought she sounded sad. “I don’t judge you,” he was prepared to say, wanting to comfort her. He was shocked when she turned her face to him and he saw she was grinning.

“Holy shit! I was such a wild thing. I had fun, that’s for sure! I only regret I can’t remember more of it.”

Maricela’s utter candor and what sounded like a total lack of shame were attractive. She had no idea how sexy it was, the unfolding mystery of her past – her honesty about it – and the acceptance of both who she was now and what she had been like. She had no idea of the affect this had.

They sat in a bar and grill, perhaps an odd place given Maricela’s most recent story. But when he looked across the table at her she seemed at peace, happy to be with him eating lunch. Maricela talked on, unconcerned. “My friends, the women anyway, sit around and do the ‘Woulda coulda shoulda’ game. Where it went wrong, why it might have gone wrong, how they should have been stronger, or more assertive in their careers, or better mommies, or more giving to their ex-husband. Or rather most of the time, how they should have been less giving to the s.o.b.! In the end it’s all the same.

“Not me.” Maricela pierced Rick with a look. “Regretting the past doesn’t make it go away, or erase the mistakes. As nice as that would be… It’s mental masturbation. You root around in old dirt and feel guilty or bad about yourself over, and over, and over again.

“At first there was no way I was going to do a 12 steps program. Who needs to go into critical self-analysis when you can grow up Catholic? The gift that goes on giving: guilt. When I finally decided to stop drinking, I got a year of therapy to help me figure out why I liked drinking so much.”

“And?”

She laughed out loud again and the sound was truly joyous. “Well, it’s the reason I still drink non-alcoholic beer. I like the taste! I like beer! When I drank, I drank too much. There were no big revelations, which might have been the biggest revelation of all. We go hunting for deep answers, if my father had been more affectionate, if my mother only praised me more. I drank because I worked so hard. And since I weigh 130 pounds, it didn’t take much to help me unwind. I don’t have any buried family trauma, and I don’t have tendencies to be drug dependent. I never even smoked cigarettes, so I didn’t like smoking pot. When I tried smoking a joint it just tore out my lungs.

“But now I am sorry, I’m blathering on suddenly about all this! It’s old history, it’s really ancient. I haven’t gotten drunk in over a decade! It’s no big deal, Rick, I’m not a heroine or anything; I just got a little smarter about how I was living my life and what I want from it. One of the major things though, is I decided, if I met someone I wanted to see again, I have to be up front about who I am and who I’m not. And I am definitely not a drinker any more.”

“Yo, I’ve done some drinking in my time too. Not to worry. I think it goes with the territory of being young and getting older and wiser.” Inside he exulted.

They sat silent for a few minutes and Maricela resumed eating her cooling food. The silence wasn’t awkward; she really did seem at peace with herself and with the long speech she’d just given him. Rick waited until she finished eating and her hands were back in her lap before he reached over and, taking her left hand in his, silently raised it to his cheek. It was dated, the gesture: but Rick meant it.

Much later, Rick woke to feel Maricela’s presence in his bed beside him. She lay curled on her left side, the hand he’d held to his cheek earlier at lunch brushing against him.

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

 

Speed Dating – Part 1

Slowly Rick garnered the pertinent facts about Maricela. She came from a large family where education was a priority. All five of the Howard siblings had at least some graduate school time or professional training under their belts. Maricela was an intellectual prodigy and had gone to college entirely on grants and scholarships. She’d been a natural scholar, the acknowledged golden child of any seminar class. Ironically, his parents moved briefly to Brookville when Maricela had finished up her undergraduate work there; they’d just missed one another.

She worked as a financial advisor with an ethical investments firm, a job she loved since she began there eight years ago. She had been promoted twice and refused the next offer for further advancement, preferring to keep close to her individual clients. Her field of expertise was alternative energies and fair trade. Maricela firmly believed the phrase sustainable and responsible investing was not an oxymoron.

She’d had one, failed, live-in relationship. When she discovered his coke habit she ended the relationship. “It wasn’t just that he lied to me about how much he used,” Maricela explained. “And it wasn’t the way I found out: catching him in the kitchen over the butcher block, for God’s sake. He promised he’d ease up on what he was using, but I know too much about how much fun partying is.

“Speedy drugs weren’t ever my thing. They just made me nauseous and I preferred alcohol anyway, so it wasn’t like I felt holier than thou. It was the way he wasn’t willing to stay clean, and how cagey he was being about the realities of that fact. He kept pretending he was in control of his habit and lied about how much he did. Typical user behavior. It was the set up for more hiding and bullshit stories that eventually made me end it.”

The tone might have made Rick suspicious, because in the voice of the wrong woman it sounded phony. Worse, it sounded like what someone with a martyr complex might say. But Maricela was simply stating the facts. Her ex hadn’t wanted to be honest about needing to snort coke; and Maricela was unwilling to settle for a relationship based on prevarications.

Maricela’s friends held her in affection and quite often in awe. Despite her formidable brainpower her personality was easy and accessible; there was nothing of the intellectual snob about her. She’d cohabitated for the last 3 years with a long time friend named Sarah. Together the two of them had rented the converted loft space.

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer the prior spring, Maricela put her own social life on hold in order to be there for her friend. That was the reason why she’d been out of the dating pool. It had nothing to do with an unwillingness to engage with other people. On the contrary: a deep commitment to the people she cared about led Maricela to prioritize how she used her time.

Almost every bit of information Chris and Sybil had offered to describe Maricela turned out to be accurate. The only piece of information they’d gotten wrong was her choice of alcohol. Instead of wine, most of the time Maricela drank near beer.

Rick noted all of these things and thought, This woman is someone worth getting to know, no matter where it leads. Surprised, Rick actually asked himself if he’d be willing to just be friends with her if the physical chemistry didn’t pan out. He was even more surprised when the answer to that question was, yes.

“I’m not being coy about bringing you home with me, you know,” she informed him one day; the two were having lunch. “Trust me on this one. In my earlier days we’d already be there! But Sarah’s really sick. She’s going through chemo, and the procedure is quite simply hell. It’s really important right now that we keep the apartment as germ-free and sterile as possible. You understand, right?”

“Sure,” Rick said, and hesitated. “No, actually, I don’t. I doubt if I can even begin to understand. I don’t think I’d know how to handle it if someone I was close to got cancer,” he admitted. “Or if I could be as supportive.”

Maricela turned what he’d said over in her mind and shrugged. “She’s my best friend. I sit with her when she’s awake half the night throwing up because the poisons in the chemotherapy mean she won’t keep anything down for long. The other half the night she can’t stop crying because she knows she’s getting weaker and weaker, and feels sicker and sicker. She’s really terrified that this is it, she’s going to die, and in the end all the chemo and medical attention in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference. She’s scared maybe she’s putting herself through hell for nothing. And me along with her.

“Next,” continued Maricela relentlessly, “Sarah lost her hair. It was coming out in patches so Sarah had it all shaved off. Then she went through this awful period where her face puffed up. Her skin was reacting to a combination of the drugs, and she couldn’t go out in bright sunlight because of allergic reactions to some of the other meds. And when you’re a friend, all you can really do is just, be there. It’s not your sickness or your pain.

“Trust me. When you see it, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

“The only thing you can do is fetch the bucket, get a cup of herb tea, and offer to do the shopping. Just being there for your friend and not being afraid to do that little extra helps more than anyone imagines. A person with cancer needs you to be normal, because nothing else in their life is any more. Nothing else around them will ever be the same again. I won’t go into the gruesome details about the bouts of depression Sarah endures, but picture your blackest, darkest thoughts. Magnify those by about a thousand and maybe you have some idea of how deep the depression of a person with cancer and on meds is. A cancer patient doesn’t know if it’s her or the heavy-duty medications doing the talking, or thinking, or feeling all those awful things.

“Every day becomes a big surprise, and not one you want to wake up to. Are you going to manifest new symptoms? How’s the old mood going to be, will you feel incapacitated or can you function again? What fun tests, and diagnostics, and medical procedures do you have scheduled this time? What will the news be, and how are you going to be able to bear to hear it? There was a phase where all the test results were bad; every one of them was really horribly grim. Sarah started going in and out of depressions where she couldn’t stand to be around anybody at all. What she was feeling, the agony, the fear, and exhaustion finally overwhelmed her.

“It’s not a question of staying supportive,” Maricela repeated. “Cancer survivors travel to hell and back. All I do is let her know I’ll be waiting there each time she returns.”

Rick listened to Maricela with both admiration and dismay. “I’m not so sure. I’d be scared I’d react the wrong way and make things worse,” he persisted. “Or that I wouldn’t be able to face someone else’s illness. I don’t know if I’d be up to being supportive.”

He looked at Maricela’s face as he admitted that, afraid to see her light brown eyes darken. But he didn’t want to present himself in a false light, especially when compared with the relentless clean light of her frankness. Only honesty was admissible.

He was silent, thinking about all of the relationship games he’d so willingly played over the years. One set of games to get close enough to climb into bed; another set to extricate himself from the mussed up sheets afterwards. When he realized she was waiting patiently for him to talk, or to remain silent, just as he wished, Rick surprised himself for the third time in an hour. He opened his mouth and as if in the third person, Rick heard himself really talk.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone I loved was ill, much less going to die. I’ve never been in that situation! My mom was always great. She’d make home made chicken soup with egg noodles, nothing fancy, but it was like the great home remedy for anything that ever made a little kid feel bad. I would pretend to have a really, really bad cough, just to get her to make it.

“It’s the only dish I ever make for someone on a regular basis.” Rick was thinking out loud; silent, Maricela listened without judgment as he began to peel away protective layers.

“My mother made soup, but it was about emotional support. When I make it for anyone it’s, soup. The emotional support’s what I get, by recreating the atmosphere of my mom. It’s never about doing something for another person at all.

“Jesus! Why didn’t I ever notice this before? For me,” his voice was almost at a crawl. Maricela actually leaned across the table so she could hear him without having to interrupt to ask him to speak more loudly. “For me, relationships were, are, something to have fun with. It’s all speed dating. I never put much energy into the mutual support aspect of it, beyond being honest and not cheating on a girlfriend as long as we’re together.

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.