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Aug 29, 2012
The Book of James, by Ellen Green
Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Description: After a tragic car accident, moments before his death, Nick warns his wife that someone from his past may try to harm or kill her. “Go to Philadelphia to the house where I grew up. Find James. It’s the only way out…”
Mackenzie dismisses her husband’s warnings, assuming his words were a result of blood loss and morphine…until the things he had spoken of start to come true.
Her search brings her to a 19th century mansion in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and face to face with a mother-in-law believed to be dead. Together in the same house the two women’s stories spin together, each with an agenda. Cora is desperate to protect secrets from the past. Mackenzie is determined to uncover those very secrets before time runs out. They circle around one another hunter and prey, but which is which?
A gallery of photographs in the bowels of the house holds clues to generations of abuse, treachery and possibly murder. Messages hidden in Nick’s childhood Bible within the Epistle of James have Mackenzie racing against time to put the pieces together, unearth the reasons her husband chose to vanish when he was sixteen years old, and locate the person mentioned in Nick’s dying breath.
When James is finally found, the results are more horrifying than Mackenzie could have ever imagined.
Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:15.
Nick was dead. The memories of the morning he was buried aren’t strung together in my mind in one long continuous chain, but more like a patchwork quilt stitched together loosely. Strange details remain vivid, like the fact that the sleeves on the simple black dress I had chosen were too long. They came down almost to my knuckles and irritated me. I yanked at the sleeves all day long but the material was slippery and fell back down within seconds. And my nose kept running, partly as a result of my nonstop crying and partly because it was cold outside. I do remember the cold. It was only early September but the stiff Portland air came in off the bay and poked at my face like needles, making my long wool coat feel like nothing more than a sweater. I also remember the shiny surface of the casket. If I close my eyes and concentrate I can still see the grain of the cherry wood. I watched as they lowered that polished box into the hole with my husband inside. One white rose was visible amongst the dirt that had been scattered across the top. I stared at that rose and found that I couldn’t look away. People were leaving but I didn’t look up to watch them go. I sat there in my black dress, thin coat, and runny nose until a cold hand took my wrist.
“Mackenzie, are you ready to go now? Everyone’s gone back to the house.” I looked up, always surprised by how tall Samantha was. She stood nearly six feet even in flat boots. Her blonde hair was pulled back tight; tiny tendrils had broken free and danced in her face.
“He gave me white roses on my birthday last year, remember?” I asked. I continued to stare at the freshly dug hole. “I need a few minutes alone. To say good-bye.”
“Okay, I’ll wait in the car for you. Take your time.” Her words were soft as she turned and headed for the gate.
I squatted near the gravesite and stared at his coffin. I should have felt some emotion. Something. And although there were tears, I was numb. It was like that black hole that would caress my husband’s body forever was really in me. I was the black hole. Hollow, echoing and empty. That numbness followed me from the grave all the way to the car.
The gray roughness of theCasco Baywas a blur through the window on the slow drive back to the house. I lifted my head to get a better look at the water as we moved along. It was cold, dark, ugly. A ship hugged the harbor, fishermen dressed in various shades of rubber busied about the docks talking in huddles, loading, unloading crates of lobster and shrimp. Once this sight would have made me feel at home, alive, content. It was where I’d grown up, where I’d spent most of my thirty-one years, it was where I belonged. So much time, hours upon happy hours, I’d spent inOldPortas a child, eating, walking by those docks. Now, as the car sped by, the smell of raw seafood, the sounds of seagulls fighting over bits of rotten fish and garbage, nauseated me. The harbor looked bleak, industrial, unwelcoming. The city hadn’t changed much at all but over time everything inside me had.
I closed my eyes briefly and took a breath, determined to erase that fatal drive toBostonfrom my mind, the argument we were having when the white truck slammed into us, the impact. Nick flying forward and then sideways across me. My face hitting the airbag. Blinding light, grinding metal and blood. So much blood. It covered his face, splashed across the dashboard. It was on me. All over me. Days later I would sit up in bed from the deepest of sleeps, screaming, still wiping at my arms trying to get the feeling of his blood from my body. That feeling would never really leave me, I knew.
I glanced over at Samantha. She’d been quiet during the ride; her eyes were partially shut. She’d been my closest friend for as long as I could remember, kindergarten maybe, and had endured each blow in my life with me. This particular loss seemed to take a toll on her. She looked exhausted, spent.
“It’s going to be fine, Sam,” I murmured.
She rubbed her forehead and nodded. “I’m sure it will. But you can’t hold everything in like this. It makes me nervous.”
My silence and steadfast refusal to discuss the accident had upset her. I tried but I couldn’t. The graphic details were mine and mine alone and right now I had them mostly where I wanted them. Tucked carefully in the back of my head in an airtight compartment. Until I tried to sleep and then like Houdini they escaped captivity and danced provocatively before me making me weep and scream until my voice was a whisper. I could only control my conscious thoughts and I refused to give up that teeny pretense of power over my own mind. Not now.
Nick had extensive abdominal injuries as well as a crushed spine when he was finally extracted from the wreckage and rushed to the nearest hospital. A team of doctors with long serious faces told me they needed to try and stabilize him before they could take him into surgery.
Nick wasn’t going to live. I knew it when I looked at his misshapen form connected to tubes and hoses. I knew it when he started mumbling what seemed to be death bed confessions to me quickly, as if his time was about to run out. What began as fragmented lucid conversation twisted into morphine inspired cycles of self disclosure.
In the five years I had known him, he had been resolutely silent about his past. He told me both of his parents died when he was sixteen, within months of one another. Family friends took custody and moved him toMaineto finish high school. He said little more. It had been a strange uncomfortable void in our relationship but I never pressed him because I assumed it was all so painful.
I didn’t leave his side during those hours before he was finally rushed into surgery to repair the constant bleed from his pancreas. Each time he opened his mouth, I leaned in to listen to the whispers that escaped on exhaled breath. It was an elaborate maze of disjointed thoughts about a house inPhiladelphiawhere he had grown up. Whenever he drifted off, he would wake and begin again to describe the stone structure, the woods that surrounded it, filled with twisted paths and a swimming hole. He told me he could never go back again because something terrible had happened there. In the end it was just a hash of stories without endings. This house had haunted him in some way, if only in his dreams.
The doctors told me not to pay too much attention; he had suffered severe internal injuries, and his concussion might have impaired his thought, speech and reasoning centers. But it was in these scattered moments that I felt closer to my husband than in all the moments that had come before.
“You have to go. Find the house. Just don’t trust them. None of them. No matter what, don’t trust them,” he’d said.
“Why? Where is this house?” I leaned down near his mouth to catch his words.
“Promise you’ll go. On your mother’s grave.” He was becoming visibly upset.
His face was unrecognizable, almost twice its normal size from impact against the dashboard. His eyes were two purple balloons. I could see only a hint of a pupil through one of the bloody slits. “I want you to bury me here, inMaine. NotPhiladelphia.”
I choked back tears. “Nick you aren’t going to die.”
“No. This is important. After the funeral someone will contact you, to go toPhiladelphia. It will all make sense. But when you get there, you have to go to the house. It’s the only way.”
“The only way to what?”
“If you don’t, as soon as they know I’m dead, they’ll come after you.”
“What are you talking about?” I squeezed his hand.
“They’ll come after you. Hurt or even kill you. The only way to end this is to get to them first. Stay there. Find James.” These last words floated off into the air as he was wheeled from the room.
Nick died on the operating table a half hour after his last utterance. But grief pushed his words out of my mind. I chalked his ramblings up to blood loss. Drugs in his system, nothing more. In the days following the funeral I occupied myself by reading cheap mysteries from the used bookstore. My eyes ran over the words but I didn’t really comprehend them. I’d wake up in the morning and immediately make a pot of coffee. Then I’d wander back to my chair, mug in hand, and flop down with a book. Coffee and Oreos, that was my sustenance. That and an occasional Bloody Mary because I thought it created a nice balance of salt and sugar in my blood stream and it numbed whatever emotions that made their way to the surface.
Whenever I did get up, I would inevitably stumble upon some remnants of my life with Nick. A dirty coffee cup he’d left on a shelf, his belt carelessly thrown over the towel rack in the bathroom, the sneaker he’d been looking for tucked under the couch. The emotions I’d kept under control finally burst. Tears and more tears.
The thought of returning to work loomed over me; I just kept putting it off. Everyday in the weeks following the funeral, I really did think that before the day was over, I would call work and maybe just stop in for an hour or so. Not to actually see any of the walk-in appointments at the Portland mental health clinic, but to just sit at my desk, to smell the hint of disinfectant that was always in the air, to rifle through my old charts, and talk to the people who’d shared my office for over five years. I did try to adjust my frame of mind to make myself want to go, but sometime around one in the afternoon, I’d give up the pretense and shuffle back to bed. I didn’t have the energy to do therapy with the disadvantaged and downtrodden. As far as I was concerned there wasn’t anyone more disadvantaged and downtrodden than me right now.
One afternoon I passed by the mirror in the foyer and inadvertently caught a glimpse of myself. Something that I had not done in weeks. My wildly curly reddish hair jutted up every which way, seeming to defy gravity. Clumps were matted to my scalp where I had slept on it. Purplish bruise-like marks spread out beneath each eye; the rest of my skin was just about the color of Elmer’s glue. I stared, aghast
I pulled at one cork screw lock that was hopelessly tangled. “I’ll never get this out. I’m going to have to shave my head,” I whispered.
That revelation had passed through my lips when my front door flung open with such force that it whipped around and hit the wall. Light poured into my living room; I squinted and backed up. Samantha was there with the day’s mail in her hand. She looked almost superhuman with the light at her back and her form nearly filling the doorway. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a French twist. Her tweed suit was chic and form fitting. I wasn’t really prepared for company. I didn’t want any, not today, not even Samantha.
I knew she’d show up. She always did. She’d been my school yard play mate, my side-kick all through my school years, my confidant, my ally against the world and in the end, my family when I no longer really had one. She’d been by my side in first grade when Tommy Evans pulled my red curls hard calling me Ronald McDonald. She’d fought my battles with me, distracted me with chatter during study hall when I was trying to read Return of the Native, and held my hand when my mother was dying. Now here she was again when I was dying.
She’d been with me after the accident and at the funeral, but I’d discouraged contact since then. I wanted to be alone. She gazed at me for a few minutes and then took a breath, trying to choose her words carefully.
“I wanted to come by and see you. I’m going on vacation tomorrow.” She hesitated. “This can’t go on, Mackenzie. You did the same thing when your mother…”
“Don’t talk about my mother,” I snapped.
My years had never been measured by faded hatch marks against a white wall, but by the significant losses I’d suffered as a child. My grandmother died when I was nine, followed a year later by my cousin Bobby. His death was tragic, a motorcycle accident. He was only eighteen. But my mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer shortly after had nearly been my undoing. The two years that followed were a nightmare of hospitals, surgery, chemotherapy, and sickness ending with her eventual death. Cancer. The word doesn’t mean disease to me. It means grief, despair, empty aching lonely sadness. It ripped my family apart and left nothing in its wake.
My father disappeared into himself after her death and I haven’t seen him since. He shuffles about, hands in his pockets, a vacant stare in his eyes, refusing to reengage in life. In the absence of a parental figure, a bloody anarchy reigned in our home between my brother and me reminiscent of the Lord of the Flies. It continued until the day I left for college. My mother’s death was not just another hatch mark against that wall of losses in my life. It was three furrowed slashes that had taken out my whole family.
“Here. I’m going to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.” She hugged me, handed me my bundle of mail and disappeared.
Flipping through the pile quickly, one stark white envelope stood out amongst the assorted junk mail. My address had been scrawled across the back with black magic marker. The return address was from a law office in Philadelphia. Davis, Lupinski & McBride. The words blurred across the page. A lawyer in Philadelphiawas requesting my presence at the reading of Nick’s will on Tuesday. Someone will contact you after I’m gone. They will want you to go to Philadelphia. I could almost feel Nick’s breath in my ear. My hands started to shake and the envelope slipped to the floor.
The Book of James, by Ellen Green
Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Aug 28, 2012
Syeribus Creatures of the Night, by L. M. Boelz
Description: Carol had the perfect family, in a small English province during the late 1940′s. A place where she feared nothing, as her imagination took her from one adventure to the other. This, was unfortunately was all too soon to change. After hearing stories warning of a mysterious troll-like creature that hid under your bed at night, Carol began to wonder if the recent foreboding sounds and shadows in her room were more than the normal sounds of the house settling.
Carol continued to be faced with uncertainty, when she learned that she was moving to America. Her mother said it was a place full of wonder, where your dreams could come true. However, she soon found herself wishing her dreams would just go away. Carol hoped that by moving to America she could leave her fear of the dark behind. Instead, her fear of the unknown began to unfold as the darkness began to reveal secrets, which were better off left hidden beneath the shadows. In an effort to help herself face her growing fears, Carol began weaving tales of heroic deeds where she always saved the day.
As she moved progressively across America, Carol found others also interested in creating tales of fantasy and adventure. Encouraged by this, Carol started The Weaver of Shadows Club.
Carol found herself falling deeper into the darkness. In the club, she was able to explain away her fears, and bad dreams. Until unexpectedly, the tales told by other members in the club began to mirror her dreams a little too closely. Carol found herself questioning whether they were really dreams at all. Most of all she Carol was left with a haunting unanswered question: Was “the troll-like creature, referred to as Syeribus by the old man, behind it all?
Stomping her feet on the doormat and brushing the dirt off of her pants, Carol twisted around to survey herself.
“There, I think that’s pretty good,” she commented to herself, while feeling satisfied that she had done all that she could not to track dirt into the house.
Carol was through the front door and approaching the living room, as her father was trying to convince her mother of something.
“It would be fun. There are going to be other families and lots of other children there too,” he offered, using his best pleading voice.
Becoming very excited with the possibility of going on a trip somewhere, anywhere, Carol bounded into the living room and came to a halt, just short of where her father was sitting.
“Where are we going? I want to go!” Carol burst out.
“You don’t even know where it is that you want to go, Little One,” Mom replied coyly.
“It doesn’t matter, Mom. I heard the words fun and lots of children to play with. That’s all I need to know!” Carol almost shouted.
“Since it’s a company camping trip, it’s all paid for, and you’ll know most of the people there.” he continued to explain.
Carol’s imagination wasted no time in coming up with guesses on where they might be going. Carol waited while her mother playfully tortured them by making them wait for her answer.
“Well… alright. I don’t see much harm in going,” she finally relented.
Not wanting to waste any time, Carol raced off to her room to start packing.
The next weekend, with the car all packed, it was time to head out for their first camping trip.
“This is going to be a grand adventure!” Carol declared, as she climbed into the back seat.
Pulling into the campsite parking lot, Carol bolted out of the car and began marveling at all the different sights and sounds to explore, not to mention the sweet smell of pine trees coming from everywhere. The trees stood so tall against the sky and the breeze was cooler than back home, but it felt so good. Stopping for a moment to close her eyes against the sun, Carol took in a deep breath and wondered, Why couldn’t we live here?
With all of their things unloaded from the car, everyone carried what they could to the campsite.
“I will have this up in a jiffy. I have pitched my fair share of tents in my day. I will see you up at the end of this trail, at campsite number three,” her dad stated matter-of-factly.
Stopping to close the trunk, Carol followed her mother up the trail. At first, Carol walked closely behind her while trying to look into the trees, to see if she might be able to spot any deer or even a bear!
Knowing they would be cooking hotdogs later, Carol scanned the trail for the perfect stick. Spotting one, she stopped for a second to stoop down and pick up a long stick. Seeing that she was falling behind, Carol hurried to catch back up.
“What do you have there?” her mother queried.
“This is my hot dog stick, Mom. Isn’t it a beauty?” Carol asked, while holding the stick up.
“Don’t the tents look grand?” Carol asked, as they came into view. “Which one is ours?”
“Your dad said ours was number three.”
As they walked past a few campsites, they both read the numbers aloud, “seven, six, five.”
“Here, Mom, our tent is over here. And what a great job Dad did of putting the tent up, too,” Carol called out in a triumphant voice, at having been the first one to spot the site.
After everything had been put away, everyone attending the company camping trip gathered down at the fire-pit shortly before sunset. Carol sat examining the stick that she had found for roasting hotdogs, when her attention was drawn away by the sound of people laughing and having fun.
“You know, Little Lady, I think I can hear people out by the water. I wonder if someone should go check and see if that’s where your father has gone off to,” Carol’s mother wondered aloud.
“I’ll do it!” Carol almost yelled.
Laughing softly at how animated her daughter could be at times, Carol’s mother sent her to look for her father. “I think it would be okay, for you to go ahead and play with the other children at the water’s edge, as long as you are down there anyway,” her mother added.
After a full afternoon of unpacking and playing, it was time to come back to the campsite to get ready for dinner, which was to be followed by campfire stories.
Arriving back at the campsites, the adults, and children, who had gone into the lake earlier, quickly changed into some drier and warmer clothes, before returning to the shoreline to watch the sunset with their co-workers and their families attending the company camping trip, before dinner.
Carol watched in silence, as the sun slowly melted into the water. Oh, the colors were magnificent! The sky was filled with oranges and reds, causing the clouds that hung in the sky to look like softly spun cotton candy with their pink and blue tones. The setting sun cast ribbons of what looked like molten gold and silver gliding on the gently rippling water.
With only a little light remaining, everyone headed over to sit near the fire. Settling in, Carol sat staring into the flames, as they wickedly flickered and danced in the light breeze, as if they were alive.
Glancing to the man sitting next to her, Carol couldn’t help wondering, With a nose as big as that, can he smell things better than other people can?
Carol’s attention was taken away from staring at his nose, when he leaned over towards her and softly asked, “Did you know that some people say that if you stare into the flames of a fire long enough, you can hypnotize yourself?”
Carol’s stare went from his nose to his eyes. They were the strangest looking eyes she had ever seen. They were large and unusually close together. The round wire rimmed glasses he wore made them look even larger than they actually were.
“No, I did not know that,” Carol replied, while trying hard not to continue staring at him.
“Okay, may I have your attention,” a short, round bald man declared, as he stood up in front of the fire. “I want to thank all of you. Without the dedication of our sales team, Little Lake Bass and Hunting Shop would not be what it is today.”
Everyone sitting around the campfire clapped and cheered, as their employer took a bow.
“Okay, as those of you who have been on camping trips with us before already know…” he then paused briefly, “We have a tradition of seeing who can tell the scariest campfire story, and as usual, there will be a cash bonus going to the winner.”
Carol found herself startled, when a tall slender man who had been sitting near a pile of firewood jumped up without warning.
“Prepare to be terrified, like you have never been terrified before in your lives!” he boasted.
Taking up a flashlight and drawing it up close under his chin, he used the light to cast an eerie glow across his face.
Carol couldn’t help thinking how he looked like a Daddy Long Legs Spider, as he crouched and crept around in the firelight. The flashlight made his eyes look sunken into his face, almost as if they weren’t even there. Except for when the light would catch them just right, then, and only then, could you see tiny sparks where the eyes should have been.
His tale was about others that had gone camping, and were never to be heard from again. He went on to explain how one at a time, the campers all disappeared. When one of them would leave to collect firewood or go for a walk down by the lake, it would be the last time anyone would see them. As he continued, the gruffness in his voice helped to add a sinister feel to the story, which hung in the air like a thick grey mist.
Carol watched him, as he walked, methodically from one side of the fire-pit to the other. His slow deliberate movements began to have an almost hypnotic effect on the rest of the group as they watched his every move, and listened to his every word. He talked about how the other campers, tried to stay together in groups, but even this did not help. Each morning, when they would wake-up, there would be someone else missing. Finally, there was no one left. No trace was found of the missing people. No tracks. No clues. Nothing at all.
As the storyteller made his way to the other side of the fire-pit, Carol whispered to her mother, “If no one was left, then how does he know what happened?”
Looking down at her daughter with the oddest expression, “Oh, you are a silly little one. It’s only a story. It didn’t really happen,” her mother replied.
“Oh, I knew that. I was testing you to see if you believed it or not.”
Reaching over and patting the top of her daughter’s head, she then turned her attention back to listening to the rest of the story.
After the man finished his story, five others stood to take their turn at telling the scariest or best story, in hopes of winning the cash prize.
As each storyteller made his or her way around to the far side of the fire-pit and was out of earshot, Carol would stare into the flames or look at the faces of the people sitting around the fire. They too were lit up with the same unnatural glow as the flashlight cast on the faces of the storytellers. None, however, looked quite as scary to her as the tall thin spider man who had jumped up to present the first story of the night.
As Carol sat between her parents, clutching their arms, she could not help wondering if the stories were scaring anyone else or if she was the only one who was frightened.
“Alright!” yelled their boss, as he stood up in almost a rolling motion.
A chorus of “AH, E-E-E, OH,” shattered the calm of the night air. Most of the people had been startled by the sudden outburst, as their attention was drawn back to the center of the fire-pit, instead of looking for anything that might be lurking in the trees or bushes behind them, just out of the reach of the fire light.
Seeing that he had succeeded in getting everyone’s attention, he asked with a hardy laugh, “I didn’t scare you all, did I?” Even though the entire group, all at once reassured him that he had not, he knew that he had.
“Alright, it is…” he paused for a moment to look at his watch, as if to make sure of the time, “nearly midnight; the witching hour. Therefore, for safety’s sake, we’ll call it a night and continue tomorrow night. This way, you can all get safely tucked away in your tents before witches, demons, and the really scary things come out, looking for unsuspecting campers to carry off!”
While some of the campers gathered their things, to make their way back to their campsites for the night, others continued to talk amongst themselves about the different stories told, comparing which story they thought had been the best so far. Many of them really liked the tension that was added with the way their boss had dispatched his employees and their families to their campsites.
Peering into the darkness all around, Carol turned to her mother and tugged on her shirtsleeve. “Witches and demons, Mom! Really? Witches? What does he mean scarier things are waiting to come get us? I’m not scared, you know. I’m just making sure you and Dad are okay. That’s all.”
Pausing for a moment, Carol’s mother looked out into the still night surrounding them. “He was just trying to scare you, and it looks like it worked. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of out there. Remember, these were only stories,” she added.
Somehow, she didn’t quite sound as if she believed what she was saying, so Carol did not feel particularly reassured that there was not really anything out there.
Waking up the next morning, Carol was sure to check on the other campers who had come on the company camping trip with them. This was not hard to do, since their group, only took up eleven campsites in all. Carol was deeply relieved to see that no one had gone missing during the night.
That evening, after dinner, Carol and her parents joined the other campers around the fire-pit for roasting marshmallows and the continuation of the campfire stories.
While letting her thoughts wander off, it occurred to Carol that she had not mentioned to her mom and dad, that earlier she had seen a creepy little man, a short way off in the distance. Oddly, she couldn’t help but wonder who he was or where he had come from. She was not quite able to see his face. He kept his head down and wore a wide brimmed hat. Even though it was very warm out during the day, he wore a pair of tattered black gloves and a long black coat. Carol guessed he must not have been able to walk especially well, as she watched him walking hunched over and clutching the top of a strange looking crooked stick that he used as a cane.
Carol’s attention was snapped back to the present, as the first of the campers took his place in the center of the group near the fire, to begin his story for the night. This story started out like most of the stories that were told the night before. The next storyteller, however, had one significant difference. The previous stories were all about things hiding in the woods or near some cabins, but this one was about a lake creature.
After announcing what his story was about, he paused for a moment. Without saying another word, he slowly raised his arm and pointed his finger. As all eyes followed the direction he was pointing, they all became frightfully aware of the close vicinity of the lake to where they were currently sitting.
Carol was sitting on the lakeside of the fire-pit with a couple of new camping friends, when suddenly; she shuddered. She was sure she felt the icy fingers of the lake monster slithering up her back. Not wanting her back to the lake, Carol quickly rose and made her way over to where her parents were sitting. Nestling between them on the other side of the fire-pit, she was surprised to see that she was not the only one to get up and move to the other side of the campfire.
Satisfied that his theatrics had set the appropriate mood for his story, the storyteller dropped his arm back down to his side and began his tale.
“Sunlight or the bright light put off by a fire, are the only things that can hurt it. Because of this, it always waits for the cover of darkness, where it hides and watches for the campers to get too far away from the light of the fire.”
He continued to tiptoe around the fire-pit, as he told his story. With all eye’s riveted on his every move, he crouched down and acted as if he were trying to hide from the creature that he spoke of.
“The lake creature would ooze and slither out of the water, silently with cold, wet slime dripping off of its body,” he uttered in a deep and sinister voice.
At this point in the story, Carol found herself looking toward the shoreline for anything oozing out of the water, rather than at the man telling the story.
“You always knew when the creature was near. The ground you walked on felt cold and damp to the touch,” he whispered. Then shuddering, he drew in a ragged breath, as he pretended to be scared half to death himself.
Syeribus Creatures of the Night, by L. M. Boelz
Aug 28, 2012
The Jones Girls, by Renee Roop
Description: The Jones Girls follows three sisters, Lydie, Alice, and Beth, as they grow up in a sharecropping family, working excruciatingly long hours in hot NC tobacco fields. Despite dealing with crippling poverty the sisters have a spirit that refuses to be broken. Their often hilarious adventures showcase a bond that is something to marvel at. As long as they have each other they can survive anything that’s thrown their way; from the alcoholism of their father, the sexism of the time, to a shocking diagnosis that’s given to them as they prepare to enter adulthood. If you’ve ever had a sister or a friend that made you come alive, that you would do anything for -then this book is a must read!
Lydie Jones stood as tall as she could on her tiptoes trying to see what her sister Beth was doing to the cat. The feline had viciously scratched the six year old ‘s hand and now it was going to regret the day it ever crossed her path. Lydie was only a year younger than Beth but she was very short for her age and was having a hard time seeing over the top of the barrel that Beth had placed the cat in. Finally she realized what was happening, the barrel was filled with water – Beth was going to drown the cat!
“Beth, no!” Lydie screamed, but it was too late – Beth was beyond reproach. Her eyes had a glazed over look about them and Lydie knew there was nothing she could do now. Beth had made up her mind and that cat was going to die. Lydie watched helplessly as Beth plunged the cat to the bottom of the barrel time and time again. Part of her wanted to cry out and try to save the animal but another, much bigger part did not want to cross Beth – after all she might be next!
Finally, Lydie realized it was over as Beth put the lid on the old rusted barrel. Beth was not a cruel person, she just never seemed to mesh well with animals of any kind. Regardless, she put enough bad karma in the air that day to forever dissuade cats from coming within ten miles of her. From then on, whenever she would encounter a cat, the poor animal would immediately turn and flee in the opposite direction. There was an elderly gentleman in town, Mr. King, who swore up and down that one day he saw a cat and Beth walking towards each other on Main Street and when the cat saw Beth he violently flung himself in front of oncoming traffic. Yes, Beth and cats did not mix as the entire species seemed to innately know that she had murdered one of their own. “The
great cat murder of 1957” as it came to be called, is still discussed with much controversy among those who’ve heard the tale in the dark recesses of southeastern Rockingham County.
North Carolina has beautiful summers. The sky seems to be bluer and the air seems to be purer than in all other lands. Seemingly endless tobacco plants cascade across red dirt fields. Every now and then an old wrinkled man who looks to be about eighty, can be seen in dark blue denim overalls sitting in an old rusted wrought iron chair beneath a cool shade tree because really, what else could be as soothing on a terribly hot summer day? Black-eyed Susan’s and Queen Anne’s Lace dot the roadside, beckoning to you to stop and pick from their bountiful bouquets. An old country store is like an oasis in the desert and the soda pop sold there is more refreshing than any in the entire world. It’s a feeling that North Carolina summers give you. It’s a bit hard to explain but its as if for three months life creaks into slow motion and the worries and cares of reality all seem to become less and less important. It is in this dream like state that I find myself now. My mother and I have journeyed south from our home in Virginia to this enchanted land of her youth.
I am not a North Carolinian by birth but through my mother’s eyes and stories I feel as though I have lived there my entire life. This trip of ours was not about leisure, well not in the since that we were merely coming down for a chat about everyone’s lives and whatnot. It was about grieving, about helping my mother to come to terms with what her life was and what it could be and maybe, just maybe attaining some much sought after peace.
We were on route to my Aunt Beth’s house but for some reason my mother was taking the scenic route. She turned her signal light on in front of the house, or rather shack, that she was born in which was still some twenty miles from my aunt’s house. It was a small two story red clapboard house with three tiny bedrooms upstairs and a living room and kitchen downstairs. Its current state was dire, the front porch was almost non-existent and the upstairs had sort of fallen so that the upstairs merged with the downstairs. As we pulled into the dusty driveway that led to her birth home I could not imagine how a family of five could have ever lived in such a place. An elderly frail looking black lady was walking toward us as we stepped out of our car.
“Can I help y’all,” she pleasantly said. “I’m Minnie Jenkins, I live in the white house just over the hill. I was on my way to the mailbox when I saw y’all drive up. We don’t get many new people around here.”
My eyes drifted to the aforementioned house “just over the hill”. It was huge, with big columns that streamed down onto a never-ending front porch.
A strange look fell on my mother’s face for a moment before turning into a sweet little smile as she spoke, “Mrs. Jenkins, I don’t know if you remember me but my name is Lydie Cummings, well when you knew me it was Lydie Jones. Anyway, I was born in this little house here and I kind of wanted to walk around, if that’s all right. I haven’t been here in years. Oh, excuse my manners, this young lady beside me is my daughter Renee.”
“Good lord child! Oh course I remember you, you’re one of the little Jones’ girls! Y’all used to run wild all over the place and I used to bake y’all cookies. Do you remember that? Child, you take as long as you want and you come up to the house and see me before you leave, you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am I’ll do that. Thank you,” mom said as she hugged Mrs. Jenkins. After she left, mom and I started to examine the remains of the little house before us.
“The Jones’ girls,” mom said suddenly for no apparent reason.
“Huh?” I inarticulately replied while eying the landscape for any signs that there may be snakes present of which my fear is great.
“The Jones’ girls,” she repeated. “That’s what people used to call my sisters and I when we were growing up. We hated it! As if we were some indefinable blob and not three separate completely different individuals.” My mother was the youngest of three girls and she needn’t worry about them being grouped together because any one who ever encountered any of the girls for even a second forever realized that they were three very individualistic forces to be reckoned with.
“The Jones’ girls,” I laughed. “Sounds like a gang to me. You know mom, one thing I’ve never asked,” I said grinning. “Who’s cat was it that you and Beth offed? Did it belong to your family?”
“No, to tell you the truth I think it was Mrs. Jenkins,” she remarked. And with that we both burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Mom continued on, “And that spot right there on the hill…that’s where I got one of the worst spankings of my life.”
“How can you remember every patch of land where all these events took place?” I marveled.
“You always remember your home. You go back to it in your mind for the rest of your life,” she replied.
Maybe it was because they were so close in age but as children Lydie and Beth were inseparable. They did everything together and had this chemistry and internal language that no one outside them could even begin to understand. Their older sister Alice, was five years older than Beth so she was always a little too reserved and mature to really understand the younger siblings’ connection and besides she had other things on her mind – boys.
Farming was the family’s occupation, in particular tobacco farming and even then it didn’t bring about a lot of money. They were always just barely scraping by. However, Maggie Jones worked hard so that her children didn’t have to go without the things that other children their age acquired and she succeeded at this more times than not. She was a proud old-fashioned southern lady who had morals and beliefs about the way people should treat one another, traits that she desperately tried to pass onto her offspring. She had a slim build and stood only about five-foot-two. Her hair fell in delicate dark brown ringlets about her shoulders and her eyes were an amazing swirl of green and brown that illuminated her entire face. But her real beauty came from within. There was a glow about her that radiated all that she truly was – love, grace, and just plain honest goodness. She would do anything for those that she loved.
The undisputed head of the Jones’ household was Noel. A tall, skinny fellow that always wore a fedora when outside the house. He was a man of strictness. He did not show emotion to his children and expected them to be perfectly behaved and well mannered at all times. This is not to say that Noel did not love his children – he did greatly, it’s just that he knew what kind of a world awaited them upon adulthood and if they could survive him then he figured that they could survive just about anything that life threw their way.
Little Lydie adored Saturdays. She looked forward to them all week long for on Saturdays she and Beth would accompany Mama into the bustling nest of activity known as the town of Reidon. It was a tiny, tiny spot on a map as were most towns in that particular area of North Carolina. It was made up of only two or three streets, composed primarily of various small clothing shops, a drugstore, barbershop, and the odd hardware store but to Lydie it may as well have been the equivalent of New York City. Mama always gave Lydie and Beth a quarter each that they were to spend on anything they desired. She would then leave the girls to their shopping while she attended to hers. Beth usually went to a small corner hole that called itself a bookstore, always searching out the newest action adventure tales while Lydie most always had other plans for her twenty-five cents.
Lydie’s store of choice was Carolina Drug. Sometimes she would buy paper dolls or a toy tea set with her money but mostly she indulged in her favorite acquisition of all – grilled cheese sandwiches. The drugstore had a long white counter on the left side of the store with tall stools placed in front of it. Behind the counter stood a small metallic grill. Lydie, who was still very tiny for her six years, with great effort, hoisted herself onto one of the stools at the counter. A short, slightly chubby lady with a mountain of teased brown hair and thick black-framed glasses that sat on the tip of her nose, momentarily stopped what she was doing behind the counter to face the small girl.
“You want a grilled cheese don’t ya honey?” the lady sweetly asked.
“Yep,” Lydie replied as she handed the lady her quarter.
A short while later the lady placed a piping hot runny grilled cheese and a small glass of cold milk before Lydie. The lovely sandwich enveloped all her senses as she eagerly devoured it. It had the creamiest, most satisfying taste of anything that Lydie had ever placed in her mouth. She stifled a giggle at the thought of Beth wasting her money on such frivolous pursuits as adventure books when she herself could be experiencing the wonder and absolute perfection that was this most delectable of foods.
After the spell had broken and the sandwich was no more, Lydie placed her napkin on the counter and hopped off her stool, barely sticking the landing in the process. She walked down the street to Eakes Supermarket where Mama would be waiting. Lydie loved the feeling of freedom that Saturdays brought. She could mingle on the sidewalks with the ladies in their white gloves and hats and the dapper gentlemen in their suits and ties as if she herself were their equal in every respect. As she wound her way down the street like some princess in a fairytale her bubble was soon burst when reality beckoned to her from a storefront. She looked up to see Mama’s beautiful face smiling at her.
“Did you have a good time Lydie?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am I had a great time. I got a grilled cheese!” Lydie proudly announced.
“You mean you got another stinking grilled cheese?” Beth disapproving sneered as she skipped up to where Lydie and Mama were standing. “I got a new book and I can’t wait to go home and read it!”
Lydie stuck out her tongue at Beth when she was sure Mama’s back was turned. Beth could poke fun all she wanted but Lydie held a little nugget of happiness within her that no one could take away. It was just a brief moment but it was enough to make the upcoming week that was sure to be full of chores, school, and other maladies sublimely more bearable.
The next day Lydie stood by the big wide front window in the living room and watched as the ancient barely still yellow church bus made its way up their dusty gravel driveway.
“Bus is here!” Lydie called out to Mama and her two sisters who were still preparing themselves for this Sunday’s services.
“Don’t yell Lydie,” Mama said walking into the living room. “Alice is helping Beth fix her dress – a button popped off.”
The Jones Family was not overly religious, that is in comparison to most families in their particular part of the country. North Carolina was after all, one of the first loops on the Bible belt and most residents lived their lives adhering to its strict fire and brimstone pull. Mama had taken the girls to a church on a pretty regular basis their entire lives, though the denomination had changed from Methodist to Baptist and back again. Mama held her spirituality more on the inside than out and was more prone to believing that your relationship with god was your business and yours alone. She got easily fed up with supposed Christian individuals who were more into passing judgment and looking down on others rather than accepting any guidance on how to conduct their own lives cause apparently their own lives were perfect. If churches were handing out membership based on morally superior individuals then the pews would indeed be bare and the future of religion in this country would sorely be in jeopardy. This hypocrisy is what kept Mama from attending church more than she did.
“All right girls, let’s go,” Mama said firmly as she held open the front door for them. One by one, they all piled into the creaky old bus. Papa didn’t attend church. He had never set foot inside of one that Lydie knew of. Like a lot of men his age, Papa left the spiritual needs of the family to the women. He spent his Sunday’s riding the roads, stopping at Hopper’s Store to talk to the ever growing group of men that hung around the soda machines gossiping, and basically just enjoying a day of rest.
Mama shared a seat with Alice while Lydie and Beth sat down across the aisle from them. The bus was never crowded and today there were only two other individuals on board. A young and very blonde couple sat in the very last seat in the back of the bus.
Lydie was watching the scenery go by outside her window and was very much trying to ignore Beth who was making grotesque faces of all sorts in Lydie’s direction. Lydie refused to take the bait. She knew that Beth just wanted her to react so Mama could see this and thus punish her. Besides, she usually got in enough trouble in church without Beth’s help.
Just them Mama turned to the girls and spoke, “Lydie, when we get inside the church you had better not start that sniffing!”
This was the trouble that Lydie had been thinking of. Whenever she was inside the church, seated in a pew, a strange need would encase her entire body – the need to sniff. She couldn’t seem to help herself or be able to stop. After each sniff she would stick her tongue out and then she would feel the overpowering urge for another sniff. She was an addict! Thank heavens it was something as minute as snot and not heroin.
This habit, however essential it was to Lydie’s sanity, drove Mama crazy.
“No ma’am, I won’t start. I promise,” Lydie very earnestly replied as she looked down at her green pleated wool skirt that had suffered almost as many maladies in church as she had.
The Jones Girls, by Renee Roop
Aug 27, 2012
A Taste of Seduction, by Mary Campisi
Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Description: Love & Betrayal…Regency Style…
A young woman of noble blood, raised as a peasant girl…
An orphaned stable boy, now grown and the surrogate son of a powerful earl – the same earl who just so happens to be the young woman’s father…
Meriel and Anthony have nothing in common–she runs barefoot and talks to animals, he won’t loosen his cravat unless the bedroom door is firmly closed. Meriel believes in love, hope, and happily ever after. Anthony believes in keeping a safe distance from anything resembling an emotion. They have nothing in common but an undeniable, burning desire for one another they can’t ignore or understand, and an ailing “father” who will do anything to see them together. Unfortunately, there are others, cunning and manipulative, working behind the scenes. Others who will stop at nothing, willing even to kill, to keep them apart.
How much longer was she going to have to wait? Meriel scanned the spacious room for the fifth time, taking in the grandeur surrounding her. So this was how nobility lived, comforted with luxuriant brocades and Aubusson rugs. She pictured George burying his nails in the tan rug. It matched his coat, almost to the exact shade.
Gold and burgundy damask draperies filtered the sun, washing the room in a warm rose-colored glow. Not anything like the white and yellow curtains in her humble abode that welcomed the first rays of bright light through the last fading fingers of day. And the accessories. Her gaze settled once again on the three oriental vases sitting on the mantel. Brought over from a trip to the Far East, no doubt. Her home also boasted three vases on an old pine mantel, but they were simple pottery with a rose design. One even had a rather large chip in it which Meriel turned toward the wall.
How could Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Bernard consider Drakemoor as a home for her? Even if Lord Montrose accepted her, she didn’t belong here. Ladies in this society wore fine silks and diamonds, their delicate skin protected from the sun and wind. Meriel doubted they’d ever buried their fingers in the rich soil of the earth. Or walked barefoot in a field of clover. And certainly they’d never rolled on the ground with a one hundred ninety pound mastiff.
No, she didn’t belong at Drakemoor and the sooner she concluded her business here, the sooner she could return to the rented carriage, rattling back to her simple life. Hopefully, minus the intrusion of one, Lord Jared Crayton.
Then her life would be perfect.
A light rap at the door disturbed her thoughts. The butler, a little man with a twitching nose, entered the room.
“Follow me, Miss Linton.” He nodded and held the door for her.
Meriel grabbed her bonnet and rose from the burgundy sofa. “Thank you,” she murmured, watching the little man twitch his nose and tap his feet. He reminded her of one of the little mice at home who roamed in the lavender fields.
She pretended the opulence surrounding her was something she saw every day as she clicked down the black and marble hallway behind the butler: gilt-encrusted mirrors, more Chinese vases of varying sizes and shapes, a huge gold chandelier of ornate design. But in truth, she’d never seen, or even read about a house as elegant as Drakemoor.
They stopped before one of the oak doors and Meriel knew a moment of panic. What if Lord Montrose rejected her outright? Refused to listen to her? Refused to help her rid Amberden of Jared Crayton? She drew in a deep breath, pushing her nervousness aside. Aunt Eleanor said he loved her mother very much. Certainly, even after all these years that should count for something, if only a few minutes of his undivided attention.
The butler opened the door ushering her into Lord Montrose’s study.
“Miss Meriel Linton, sir,” he announced.
“Thank you, James,” a deep voice boomed from across the room. “That will be all.”
The door clicked behind her and Meriel forced her gaze in the direction of the voice. A man sat behind a large desk, writing. He was somewhere in his thirties, with closely clipped black hair, save an errant cowlick above his left brow. He had rough, hard features: thick, bushy eyebrows, a straight, firm nose with a slight crook to the left, high cheekbones and a jaw that was too square. Nothing soft about him, except perhaps his mouth which boasted a pair of well-formed lips.
But when he looked up, the frown on his face pulled his lips into a thin straight line and Meriel changed her initial opinion. There was nothing soft about the man. She met his stormy silver gaze, cold as a winter’s chill, and just as biting.
And then there was the scar. It ran down the right side of his face in a jagged path, from the edge of his bushy brow trailing halfway down his cheekbone.
She swallowed. This man was most definitely not Lord Montrose. Besides being much too young, Uncle Bernard told her Lord Montrose loved her mother beyond reason. She doubted this man ever loved anything in his life.
“Sit down, Miss Linton.”
He spoke with such commanding presence Meriel could do little else than slide into one of the deep green chairs angled in front of his desk.
“Thank you…sir,” she managed. Who was this man? Lord Montrose’s son, perhaps? Or nephew?
He gave a slight nod, cocked his head to one side, and stared at her as though she were a curious bug and he was trying to decide how to get rid of her.
“I’ve come to see Lord Montrose,” she said, fingering the small locket in her pocket.
The man sat back, steepling his long fingers under his chin. “That’s not possible.”
“Not possible?” She thought she’d at least get an audience with the earl.
He shook his head. “No. Lord Montrose hasn’t had visitors in over three months.”
There was a slight hesitation before the man gave a quick, almost imperceptible nod.
“Well, I hadn’t quite considered this,” Meriel said, as much to herself as the man seated across from her. The sharp edges of the locket bit into the flesh of her palm. “I don’t mean to intrude upon Lord Montrose, but I need his help.”
The man raised a black brow but said nothing.
“You see,” she rushed on, determined to tell her story, “the village I come from, Amberden, is being assaulted by a nobleman. A duke’s son. Actually, it’s not the village, but rather, the young women residing in the village who are being,” heat rushed to her cheeks, “taken advantage of.”
“Miss Linton.” The man held up a tanned hand.
“No. Hear me out.” Her voice rose with passion and desperation. “Please.”
When he said nothing, she continued, “This scoundrel seduces the young girls in our village, filling their heads with fairy tales, promising marriage in order to have his way with them.” She leaned forward, eager to share her disgust. “Then when he gets them with child, he casts them aside, leaving them to face disgrace and humiliation on their own.”
Silver eyes burned into her. “And you, Miss Linton, are you one of those young innocents?”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“I’m not.” Heat spread to the rest of her face.
“Then I fail to see why it is your concern,” he said, as though he were discussing a flock of sheep. “And I am most perplexed as to why you seek Lord Montrose’s assistance.”
“Don’t you see?” She rose from her chair to stand before his desk. “These girls are young and innocent. They trust this man. They want to believe his lies. He’s taking advantage of them. Don’t you feel any responsibility, as part of the noble class, to put a stop to his incorrigible behavior?”
“That depends,” he said, his voice cool and void of emotion.
“What could it possibly depend upon?” How could this man be so unfeeling? So disinterested?
“On why you seek out Lord Montrose, when there is a veritable list of other earls and the like, who might be more willing and able to handle this situation.”
“Because he might be the only one who would help us.”
“Pray tell, Miss Linton, why should he help you?”
She pulled the locket from her pocket and thrust it at him. “Because I am his daughter.”
Meriel thought she saw him falter, just a slight clench of his jaw as the meaning of her words sank in, before he recovered and then retrieved the locket from her outstretched palm. It looked small and fragile in his big hand. He turned it over several times, his eyes narrowed on the tiny picture of Lord Montrose.
“I fail to see the resemblance.” He thrust the locket back at her, his voice chilling her more than the wind seeping through the rented carriage had.
“But don’t you see?” Her gaze darted from the red-haired man in the locket to the dark, formidable one seated before her. “We’ve got the same red hair, curls as well. And our eyes…they’re the same blue. Surely you can see that.”
She may as well have spoken to a stone statue. “I see no resemblance,” he repeated.
She hesitated a second, wondering if she should try another tactic to see the earl. Perhaps pleading or tears. No. She would not beg or cry in front of this man who watched her with such arrogance and disinterest. Meriel stuffed the locket in her pocket and grabbed her bonnet. She would leave with dignity. Without saying a word, she pulled on her gloves.
“Good luck with your search for your father.”
Insincerity filtered his voice. He didn’t believe her story. He probably thought she was trying to cheat the earl out of a piece of his vast wealth. As though money or the like mattered to her.
It had been a mistake to come. A mistake to hope the embers of a long lost love might still flicker. If the earl were anything like the uncaring man before her, she should count herself lucky to have been spared another humiliation.
Somehow, she’d find a way to help the women of Amberden wage a battle against Jared Crayton. As for the father she never knew, well, one couldn’t miss what one never had. She clutched the locket, squeezing so hard the broken hinges dug into her palm once again.
Meriel squared her shoulders and met the man’s hard gaze across his desk. He’d been studying her those few seconds she’d given up to thought and disappointment. Had he detected her intense dislike of him? A tiny part of her hoped he had because good breeding forced her to bid him a proper farewell, despite his rudeness toward her.
“Thank you for your time, Mr….” She floundered, searching for a name. But there was none. They hadn’t even been properly introduced.
“Weston,” he supplied.
“Weston,” she repeated, nodding her head. “Good day.”
And then, before she suffered any other manner of insolence or deviation from proper comportment at the hands of the man called Weston, she turned on her heel and left.
A Taste of Seduction, by Mary Campisi
Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Aug 27, 2012
Transfer Day, by Sophie Schiller
Description: When a German U-boat officer washes ashore on a remote Danish Caribbean island in 1916, all hell breaks lose, but also the promise of love. Abigail Maduro stumbles upon Erich Seibold, a deserter from a German U-boat who is running away from his past. Abigail shelters the handsome foreigner and a tender friendship blossoms that is threatened when the island’s German Consul and Director of the Hamburg-America Steamship company discovers his true identity and blackmails him into committing sabotage and murder to pave the way for a German invasion. When Erich is arrested as a German spy, can Abigail save him a second time?
When the clock in the tower strikes noon, the policemen trickle off for their dinner and the few remaining tourists head to the hotel. Quiet descends over the hustle and bustle of town. I calculate that I have only a tiny window of opportunity to carry out my plan. If I fail, I lose everything. But failure is an impossible scenario to consider right now. Trembling, I stick my hand inside the basket, just to make sure I haven’t inadvertently forgotten the precious uniform. It’s still there. Then I stand up despite my shaking knees, gripping the basket like a lifeline and with only the slightest trace of hesitation, stride over to the fort.
When I reach the entrance I take a deep breath and rap on the wooden gate. But to my utter shock and surprise, the guard is fast asleep. He’s a handsome young West Indian man wearing the standard policeman’s uniform that consists of a black coat, white trousers and black cap. His chair is leaning against the wall so that his head is resting against the wall; his arms are crossed in a haphazard fashion over his chest and his legs dangle at the sides of the raised chair. From his mouth comes an audible snore. This puts a wrinkle in my plan, but I’m not about to give up. Peering past him, I take a good look at the inner courtyard, trying to memorize its layout. The prisoners are held in cells that line the inner courtyard, deep inside the fort’s thick outer walls. Each cell has its own door secured with iron bars through which the jailers keep an eye on them Any one of those cells could be holding Erich, but which one?
At the far end of the courtyard are two grooms hard at work. They’re laughing and joking as they polish leather saddles and bridles, on occasion splashing each other with water. A third groom is busy washing and combing a spirited brown horse nearby. The three grooms are apparently so oblivious to the comings and goings of traffic through the fort that they take no notice of anyone in particular; they won’t be an obstacle to the task I must perform. On the eastern wall at the center of the courtyard is an important-looking office that I assume belongs to the Policemaster.
“Excuse me, Sir,” I say, shaking the guard’s shoulder. But he is fast asleep. I try catching the eye of a passing policeman, but he hurries past as though I don’t exist and disappears down a staircase.
“Is anybody here?” I call out, at which point a dozen pairs of mahogany-colored arms shoot out from between the bars, each one waving, their owners hissing and cat-calling in shocking, frightful tones. Just then, a senior policeman strides with authority over to the gate.
“Yes, Miss?” he says in a deep and commanding voice. “Can I help you?”
The policeman’s white hairs peek out from under his cap and his muscles are thick and bulging. But as soon as he realizes the guard is asleep, he places his hands on his hips and gives the chair such a forceful kick that the hapless guard topples to the ground.
“Have you gone bazudi?” the older policeman scolds. The guard wakes up and rubs his backside with a painful grimace. “Now go report to the Captain for extra duty or I’ll tan your worthless hide. On the double!” The guard pulls his hat on with a great display of indignation, then hurries down a corridor.
“Now, what did you come for, Miss?” says the policeman, his voice growing impatient.
“I-I’ve brought f-food for a prisoner,” I stammer. “The one they arrested the other day.”
“Which one is that?” asks the policeman, scratching his head.
“The one they call the German.”
“Oh, de Kaiser man! Just a minute, let me first check with Chief Larsen, the Assistant Policemaster.” He pulls a black key from his pocket and opens the lock. The huge door creaks open, giving me just enough room to slip through. “Come inside, but before I allow you in, let me see that basket of food.” He opens the lid and sticks his hand inside, feeling around for any sharp objects. Satisfied that it contains no weapon, he hands it back to me.
He takes me through the blazing hot courtyard. When I pass in front of the cells, dozens of prisoners thrust their writhing, sweaty arms out through the iron bars, letting out horrifying wails. I draw back in fear, mindful that the only barrier between us is those iron bars. I pray they don’t fail me now. As we make our way through the courtyard, the prisoners shriek and hiss, begging for food and cigarettes. I shield my eyes, but one of them, a violent maniac, catches hold of my skirt and starts pulling me closer to the bars. I scream for help and try to free myself, but all in vain. When the policeman sees what the prisoner is trying to do, he takes hold of a stick and, in one swift motion, pounds it against the wretched prisoner’s arm and the bars of his cell.
“Get your damned hand back inside the cage, you worthless good for nothing, or I’ll tear you limb from limb!” he screams, the veins of his face pulsing with anger. The chastised prisoner withdraws his hand and slinks further inside his cell until just two yellow, sullen orbs are all that remain to be seen.
The office of Assistant Policemaster Larsen juts out from the fort’s interior walls into an inner courtyard—like a small fortress within a fortress—and boasts an enormous, wooden desk, an imposing green door securable from the inside, and a rotating fan whose constant whir drowns out the din of the prisoners. The policeman knocks on the door and asks for permission to enter.
Larsen, an overweight, middle-aged bureaucrat in a white, single-breasted tunic and trousers, sits stiff at his desk, composing a letter in elegant Danish longhand, with only an inkwell and a police registry book to occupy the remaining space on his desk. High on the plastered walls above him hang the majestic images of King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine, who gaze down at us with the proper noblesse oblige.
“Chief Larsen,” says the policeman, jingling his keys. “There’s a girl here says she brought food for de no-name prisoner. Says she wants to see him.”
“If it’s food she brings, then you may show her in,” says Larsen, without bothering to look up from his desk. The policeman takes a jagged key from a hook on the wall and tells me, “This way, Miss.”
I trail him through the courtyard, trying to avert my eyes from the prisoners’ sullen stares until we halt in front of a cell door in the fort’s southernmost wall. When my eyes adjust to the cell’s dark interior, I can make out its sparse furnishings. There is only a metal bed with a thin, dirty mattress and a yellowed, threadbare cotton sheet, a porcelain receptacle in a corner. A man is sitting on the bed, his back to us.
“Put down that basket and run along,” says the policeman. “These prisoners are a violent, rowdy bunch.”
“But Sir,” I plead. “I know this man. He doesn’t have any family to give him food.”
“I’ll give you five minutes but no more, then be on your way,” he commands, inserting the key in the lock and calling out to Erich. “Hey Kaiser man! You got a visitor!”
When he turns around, my relief is boundless. The prisoner is Erich.
Erich bolts upright as soon as he sees me. He rushes towards us but the jailer holds up his huge, powerful hand.
“Not so fast, Kaiser man,” he yells. “Stop right dere! Talk from ovah dere.”
The policeman turns and retraces his steps back through the courtyard, leaving us alone for a few precious minutes. With the door ajar, I slip inside his cell.
“Erich!” I say, throwing my arms around him. “Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”
“I’m fine!” he says, shocked and relieved. “But how the devil did you manage to get in here? I thought I’d never see you again.”
“I just had to see you,” I say. “I couldn’t leave you here all alone. Do you know what they’re going to do to you?”
“They say I’ll be charged with espionage, but that’s after they interrogate me for any useful information I can divulge about German war strategy.”
“Now listen carefully,” I hiss in his ear. “I’m going to get you out of here! Just do what I say…there’s no time to lose!”
“If they catch me, they’ll shoot me. You do realize that, don’t you?”
“Shhh!” I caution. “He’s coming back.”
My knees quiver uncontrollably as I hear the policeman’s footsteps approaching, and we both fall silent.
Transfer Day, by Sophie Schiller