Sunday, January 13, 2008

PSI Blue by Robert Walker

Asian American Detective Aurelia Hiyakawa is the FBI’s secret weapon—and Rea, as her friends call her, will continue to thwart horrendous crime committed by the planet’s worst monsters if only she can keep ahead of the IRS, her child’s rebellious nature, a troublesome friend with wedding plans to marry a lowlife shiftless cretin, and if she can keep her Victorian bed and breakfast’s roof from falling through before the mortgage comes due. Unable to balance her bank book, this psychic detective for the FBI’s Psychic Sensory Investigation Unit (PSI) is absolutely one hundred percent ON when she makes multiple “blue sense hits” and is herself a stormy force to be reckoned with as a blow against evil in all its undeniable forms.


The child, hopelessly tied, furiously fought against his bonds, but without result, and he felt dizzy from going round on the merry-go-round with the wooden seahorses, tortoises, dolphins, and other water animals. And he’d tired of hearing the demon ask, “Are you havin’ fun yet?” and then slapping on more paint each time he went around on the machine, and then the madman just cackling like a delighted old hag.

In a single turn of mind, the demon had taught him to hate the once loved joyous sounds of the carnival, as this particular fun-land had become a wicked carnival, creating a poisonous hatred that spread like jet black ink over the boy’s mind—a murderous hatred for his jailer.

This spreading poison of anger, horror, and hatred seared his young brain as if it lay on a hot Arizona pavement, and the mix of music, movement, and terror of a painful bondage—the cold hard reality of handcuffs--with the stench of paint the monster slapped his face with, turned the dark-skinned boy to thinking how high his level of hatred must rise before it became real--as real on the outside as on the inside? What would it take for his hatred to have a corporeal counterpart—someone big enough and strong enough and powerful enough to kill this satanic madman who taunted him and meant only harm to come. He felt the terror rising; he’d been led here by the nose, been made a fool, and amid the pretty sights and sounds had not realized that his body and soul were being bartered over—that he’d stood idle while being traded off like a slave to the madman, who was busy painting his terrible mural at the time.

The mural ran all along all the walls of the round room at the center of which stood the old merry-go-round. Somehow the massive mural had grown as if organically from a peaceful and lovely depiction of angels in a park holding onto one another and kissing. This scene stood at the center on two sides. But the carnival man--who called himself Carnivore Man--now busily and obsessively created a deplorable, grim red and orange hellish world in which Satan straddled all of the lost souls of Hades—lost souls who lay not beneath a usual dark subterranean cauldron normally depicted but rather bodies in a row below a sea of fire. All of the art was being painted over scenes portraying turn of the century cityscapes with busy stevedores working to unload packed ocean going vessels docked at the end of market street, people milling about smoking, shouting, haggling over scales and prices.

Carnivore Man was having trouble getting the sea of fire and foam to rise off the wall, to ‘sing’ as it were, to look as real as he wanted. At one instant, he pretended to want young Toby’s thoughts, and how Toby might improve the depiction of Satan’s sea if he were the artist. “What can we do with it? What should we add…what should we take out? What do you think, Toby?” When all the while, he really didn’t give a rat’s ass about what Toby thought, and all the same while, Toby suggested a white to gray foam here, a lilac blush, it had all been a charade down to the maniac’s sly use of the pronoun we.

“You be good,” he slapped on the last of the paint, covering Toby’s hair and head and the last unpainted portion of his face—even as the squealing old merry-go-round took him off again for another revolution.

“You be good, boy, and maybe I’ll let you live,” he said just before Toby spit in his eye.

Toby Slayter, whose thirteenth birthday it was, had awakened to a kaleidoscope of color and the sound of the Calliope music filling this place and his mind; so loud in fact, it seemed to fill his every orifice, pore, and cell, and yet no one came rushing to the boy’s rescue here in this strange back-of-the-yards area of the carnival. No one wanted to challenge Satan.

Sometime earlier, during the course of the evening, he’d been drugged and staked here--tied to a hard, cold brass post that spiked through the backside and out the stomach of a carved walrus. A surreal sort of crucifixion for the unfeeling walrus, but an even unhappier circumstance for Toby. As the boy found himself restrained here on the outer edge of insanity and the wood platform, his ankles dangling over the side, his shoes and clothes replaced with thick oil-based paint, he knew he’d been consigned to Carnivore Man’s Hell. He’d been placed on the outer ring of ‘the ocean’ with no sign of the saving grace of the Blue Lady except as he saw her go by amid the painted figures on a myriad of murals in this place—murals presumably painted by his conqueror. But Toby knew that the murals stood still, that it was he and the damn walrus who were moving.

Toby knew immediately and instinctively how vulnerable he was, and that he lay sprawled naked, his body almost entirely lathered in the lurid red-orange paint. The paint odor, thick and pinching, choked off his breathing with an overwhelming metallic odor.

“Just a bit more…just a bit more,” chanted the brush-wielding madman.

Only little dabs of Toby’s head, hair, and face remained to be painted now as his restrained body moved with the dizzying merry-go-round.


The villainous man in paint-streaked rainbow-colored red pants and shirt uniform dribbled orange, yellow, green, and blue from his palette, but mostly he slapped the child with a paintbrush dripping with blood-orange; Sears’s cheapest oil-base bulk buy—an exterior deck coating. He was nearly finished with his masterpiece. Just had to do the close-in work of the recesses about nostrils, the coil of the ears, and the eyelids. Usually the hardest part to deal with. Kids fought like hell during the last finishing touches, but soon after, the skin unable to breathe, they’d quit flailing.

Toby Slayter would join two other neon ‘works of human art’ in the spook house—one eye-popping chartreuse and one neon moon-glow yellow, so a blood-orange kid would just set the others off perfectly. Other of Satan’s victims didn’t get that honor or ease of passing; others—for no accountable reason that the handyman-turned-murderer could fathom—somehow invited a week-long torture session. It was satanic of him, he knew, but it was also the only way he could ever feel anything; only through the pain and suffering of a child, could he arrive at any sort of heightened sexual gratification. He understood the needs of a number of infamous child killers labeled as sociopaths, like the Red Demon of Russia who he’d seen in a film called Citizen X. Some would call him a monster. Some scientific types like those who trained under Dr. Mitchell Graham and FBI agents who understood the inner workings of DNA imprinting, or just plain old ancestral wiring in the brain, might call him a throwback to the early European Kurgans, blood-thirsty savages, survivors of the last of the ice age glaciers. Kurgans today could be found on every street corner. Such men would likely gawk and drivel and spit tobacco wads at the sight of his art, while the scientists might call his artwork the expression of the long-dormant, recessive genes of pagan ancestors. Might even say his art was an expression of primal urges.

He consoled himself that all art invariably must first pleasure the artist, perhaps more in the doing than in the final product, and he was an artist after all, however macabre the content. The children on the street and those who found their way to the carnival, and especially those who found their way to his side of the curtain, just called him Satan. They knew intuitively in their little hearts and minds and spleens that Satan always assumes on this plane a pleasing human form. The Devil made me do it had all to do with the supernatural taking on a natural shape. In this case that of a humble man doing a simple necessary job that brought a smile to the lips of a child.

But it had been proven by authorities and demonstrated by Oprah on her TV show that children did not heed warnings, and whose fault was that?

Certainly not his…and not even Satan’s. Kids gotta learn; in a sense, he dispensed a public service here. His victims brought it on themselves. All he did was put out the lure. If these damned kids were not evolved enough to avoid his simple lures, then what kind of future did they have in the first place? And if not painted and put on display here, then what else lie ahead for them? They invited him across a certain threshold when they accepted him, when they eased back on their natural instincts and their god- given fear and got comfy around him. He then took complete and swift advantage like a long-tongued frog that strikes a fly at an impossible distance. Not the frog’s fault, frog is just following its frog nature.

His close-in detail work in the eyelids of Toby Slayter was complete now. He felt confident no one had heard the boy’s cries over the music. It proved either no one cared or that the Calliope created a perfect cover for the carnival handyman and billboard poster artist.

Enough coatings and no one would recognize the child as anything but a sculpture hanging in the fun house, his body just another beacon in the darkness.

At his feet, Carnivore Man noticed the activity of fire ants that’d discovered the sticky spill from when Toby had dropped his free Coca Cola when the rufee had hit him.

“Damn bloody ants,” he muttered, stopping long enough to grab a canister of Raid. He fired off the toxic spray too close to the tiny creatures, sending them in a cascade of blown air in all directions. He cursed as the new chemical odor mingled with the paint stench. His nose twitched madly now, uncontrollably, and he feared his throat would clog as it hit him. The odors made Carnivore Man feel both nauseous and light-headed.

He left his art and the boy for the moment, found his cot in the back room and lay down to regain his bearings. It had been another all-nighter.


(a Buddhist or Japanese ideograph/pictograph or symbol as header for each chapter as per what was done with the Indian pictographs in my Edge Series—highly effective: say symbol of man, woman, rat, home, tears, etc. in Japanese lettering)

Children at play in the shadow of a wrecking ball that beats a rhythm with jackhammer screams: baparrumpf-kerrrrcrack! Baparrumpf- keycrack! Vaparrumpf-keycrack! All amid squalor and trash and discarded bottles, broken pyramids of bricks in dusky red and gray yards like a red bone factory; discards mixed with dull brown adobe crumbling to dirt…all visited by and bathed in a blinding blue light that transforms the brick yard of destroyed buildings into a lush green-carpeted park filled with stylized, rigid trees in a land where no wind blows the leaves, and no birds flirt among the branches. Within the eerie stillness, a verdant Gauguin-like green hue is cast overall, replacing all that is dirty red brick and dull adobe with a warm, glowing still life in which the children are now angels in stiff-winged pose, lifting up on tiptoe to embrace one another, some floating in the thralls of their embrace like Chagall lovers. But the children-turned-angels, like the trees, are rigid, stylized, posed as if painted onto a canvas with great care and trepidation, fear of a wrong rendering? Overall a pair of curious childlike eyes framed in a rectangle opening in the sky looks on. The eyes of God? Those of an angel, a cherub? No, Aurelia recognizes the questioning orbs as her own at perhaps age five or six. Yes, they are her own innocent eyes. She is like the artist Dali who painted himself into his own canvass, depicting himself as a child dressed in a sailor suit, holding a balloon and observing the strange life created out of his own mind, curiously wondering at its existence, purpose, and meaning-- and wondering if perhaps it came via some supernatural filter. She often felt the same way while looking on at her own visions. What did it mean, and why the dark horn-rimmed edges of a frame around her eyes, like seeing herself in a rearview mirror, only the bridge of her nose showing with her symmetrical black eyebrows, the penetrating, searching black Asian eye on the left, and the odd cerulean blue eye speckled with green that had somehow stamped her mother’s Irish indelibly upon her right.

It was as if she looked in from out if a box, some kind of trap. Caged perhaps. Only able to see from a tiny barred window in the corner of the universe of a single portion of a canvass too vast to contemplate at once. Painting, art—it was at the heart of this mystery: To all who enter this garden beware…beware its lull, its lure, its peace as mere illusion or was there more indeed than illusion here, some powerful message, some thematic counterpart, some echo of whispers, some inherent warning as when Aurelia’s mother so often said, “If it appears too good to be true…then like as not…it is too good to be true.” Some warnings go up like red flags, but the moment was shattered again by the strange music of modern construction: baparrumpf-kerrrrcrack! Baparrumpf- keycrack! Vaparrumpf-keycrack!

The new environment seems a dream, and it is just that, a dream within a dream within another dream, and from some far away place on a distant dimension, Aurelia’s Irish Wiccan mother, Loretta, reassures her in a voice deep within the coils of her cerebellum like a favored memory, a reassuring recompense—“Dear…it’s just a dream… only a dream. And a dream can’t hurt you.” Even in death her deceased mother kindly lied. “You can put your mind as ease; find pleasing sleep if you put effort into it.”

“But Mother…shouldn’t pleasing sleep come effortlessly?” she’d asked at age four, to which Mother had no answer.

“The darkness within that tells you to embrace your fears can make you strong in a dangerous world.,” had been her mother’s reply.

Now this ‘harmless’ adult dream had come repeatedly, had evolved over a series of screenings now for over a month. The children had not at first had angel wings; now the park children had angel wings, and they kissed one another in less rigid manner with each visit. Loosening up. And, they held hands and hugged and chased butterflies and sparrows streaming now through the greenery when in the early versions there were no birds. Now even the stylized trees and leaves were taken on the sheen of full-blown life.

And there was the angelic blue light batheing the entire scene. The angel children played lovely music, and they splashed in the fountain, giving vent to their sense of gaiety and mirth, when suddenly the blue light was replaced with a sinister darkness that blotted out the green until it became black, and now a red glow filled the sky like an angry single Cyclops eye, blotting out even her window on the scene for a flashbulb second.

The devastated landscape returned with added horror, bodies now buried in the rubble that had been the brickyard before.

Then the brickyard became fluid, the bricks dissolving into red clay and finally into a red mud and morphing into a red ocean. In this flaming ocean lay naked and helpless the angels joined by humans, male, female, child and adult alike. Now in a wreathing river of one another’s bodies, the features and limbs of the child angels all coalesced as if mixing colors in a jar—bodies spiraling fluidly--like blood dropped into water.

They were all caught below the surface of the red ocean current that had engulfed and obliterated the greenery and the blue light. They lay caught in a tangle of coral wreath that cut and bled them, and like a dancer with graceful moves, straddling the children as a giant, a Lucifer creature with a dragon’s tale like an external back bone thrashed as he stood dominating the helpless, writhing masses of children below him.

Nothing of kindness or caring, nothing but horror and mutilation filled the mind of the Hellion as he stabbed children with his scorpion’s tail, paralyzing each with its stinger. Then the red demon in the red sea devoured each helplessly paralyzed blood-orange-red child with a glee beyond joy. Repeatedly, the small angelic life of each prisoner in this strange coral nest disappeared into the demonic as if swallowed whole by the straddling giant.

Aurelia Murphy Hiyakawa awoke in her night slip, nestled in her bed, her wide Oriental eyes jade green, searching the room even as her brain searched the horrible dream for useful clues, images, symbols that might make sense. But nothing of the sort readily leapt to fill in the blanks of what this vision might portend.

“Does it ever?” she audibly reminded herself.

She realized now that shivers shot through her. The images had been so powerful, so real beyond mere dream to what Jung called the Big Dream—the life-altering dream. On the nature of the dream that sent her to a divorce lawyer to alter her real life accordingly or live life in a perpetual state of suffocation. Her friend Etta scoffed once, “Aurelia Murphy Hiyakawa, you are the only person I know who ever divorced a man on the say so of a little bad dream.”

“It was no little dream, it was a big-assed nightmare! A whopper of a dream and a compensatory one at that, and Carl Jung would have run screaming from that marriage long before I did.”

Now this dream. So real. So large. So much so that she prophetically guessed it related to one of her cases at FBI headquarters, but which one and how? So large this dream that her thin frame had shaken and perspired from the heat of Satan’s coral reef! A fiery bubbling cauldron red to orange reef that burned with far-reaching flamed fingers below the unnatural waters of Satan’s domain until you looked closer and realized the bloody reef was made up of bloody bodies.

“Silly,” she told herself and the silent room. “I don’t even believe in freakin’ Satan or a place called Hell.” She had learned from her Buddhist father that hell was the life many men made for themselves. Her kindly, sweet father had told her once that in a sense, planet Earth was the asylum for the universe and that this is why mankind was placed here. That the human race was a child, and one in need of much therapy. And that heaven and hell existed only in the mind; that we control the controls, and how we perceive the world and ourselves is up to us. He said one day science would catch up to mysticism and prove it right.

In any event, Hell was not a physical location where demons and devils and agents of Satan sat about contemplating attacks on mankind—much as the egocentric child wanted to believe--but such symbolism certainly floated about in the minds and genetic wiring of countless generations of Christians as well as other religious followers. So the symbolism and the sum of all such fears could certainly be counted on to have meaningful resonance.

But what were these recurrent images and sounds and that stifling, choking air filled with odors of earth and vermin and metal and decay and sweetness like the mix of flowers left too long at a gravesite?

Why did such things assail her now with these odd night sweats? Something wicked this way felt just over her horizon, coming at her with such force as to have sound and odor? And from what mysterious source? Who had now repeatedly sent these signals that held her telepathic mind in such rapt embrace? Who was it seemed bent on her receiving such horrid snapshots from the ether of an astral plane as busy and as populated with thoughts as conscious life was populated with the babble of tongues? A sea with currents filled with life’s images and symbols, and the myriad of modern new currents from electronic images. All of it bombarding every sentient creature on the planet.

Who were the angels…the children? What time frame was it? Past, present, future? Where might the green green park bathed in blue light be? Was it a real place or a figurative one? A billboard sign or a metaphor? What did these colors signify beyond hope and courage and honor and honesty? And what of the giant watery Satan and his coral hell so filled with vibrant, living fires of every shade of red? Was it an event long over or one approaching? Or was it the now?

She stared across at her image in the mirror across from her bed. She saw a beautiful woman with a mix of Asian and Caucasian features in a blue chemise nightgown alone in bed, seemingly destined to be alone for the rest of her life.

“Perhaps maybe the horror of the bad recurrent dream is beginning to take its toll,” she told her image and brushed back her long-flowing black hair with both hands.

The dream had begun soon after the divorce. Perhaps it was as Leslie Polkabla, her shrink, had said: “It merely reflects your inner turmoil, Aurelia—the angelic in you being overwhelmed by Tomi Yoshikani’s venomous and self-centered need to punish you.”

“Punish me? For what? He’s the one that broke our marriage vows, and became abusive!”

“All the more reason for him to hate you for divorcing him. The arrogant Japanese-American mogul some call the Japanese Donald Trump? And you sue him for divorce and child support? Get real.”

Aurelia knew she’d never see a dime of child support or alimony from the cheating bastard and consummate liar. He had an army of lawyers arrayed against her. Certainly, the horrid dream of an idyllic pasture—like her once comfortable lifestyle, like her once comfortable old Victorian bed and breakfast—the very roof over her and Nia’s heads--turned to a raging underwater fire in which she and Nia drowned while straddled by this Satan—certainly it could all pertain to the war going on within her deepest psyche, the war that had sent the demon in her life, Tomi, on the path to destroy the very person he once proclaimed his one true, undying love.

She desperately tried to piece the dream and the reality together, starting with the question of how Tomi had become first estranged, then verbally abusive and mentally cruel to graduate to open physical abuse that began with breaking and throwing things, and evolved into wanting to break or throw her. And she had not seen it coming. And she had not predicted his having gotten involved with other women. And yet she called herself a clairvoyant, a seer.

Her marriage ended one night in a spate of fighting and with her sending Tomi packing at the point of her Smith and Wesson FBI .38 special.

Sure, the children with angel wings must represent her and her daughter Nia, and these children were being destroyed by a demonic force that had somehow taken up residence in Tomi, once a loving, caring, tender man, and her dream was exactly what Dr. Polkabla said it was, a compensatory dream…a dream that compensated for what’s now going on at the in her waking life, her unconscious attempting to deal with her conscious decisions and choices—bad choices.

One of the children dying alongside her and the other children in the dream park kept pointing an accusing finger. Nia, she imagined. Her once loving daughter, so filled with an unconditional love for her in years past, now blamed Aurelia for the loss of her father. The poor child had witnessed the ugly final fight, and she had seen the gun her mother had wielded at her father.

Aurelia accepted what her mind now told her about the images that appeared relentlessly pursuing her. “It has to be what Dr. Polkabla says,” she whispered to hear herself again.

Then she heard a noise in the house. The old bed and breakfast she had purchased after the divorce--under the mistaken belief that payments would coincide with alimony installments--had its share of things that went bump in the night. But this…this was something new. She had bought the old place in a rash of “smart” investing with the nod of her financial advisor as a combination IRS write off and a future for Nia, an investment that would, in time, become a cash cow for Nia when she was old enough to take it over, and should anything happen to Aurelia, who admitted to a sense of fatalism. In her line of work, anything could happen. But the cash cow had already become the money pit instead! It was an exceptional day when the old place didn’t demand attention and repair.

Rae quietly slid from beneath the sheets and out of bed, and silently she found her bedside weapon of choice, a heavy Glock 9 millimeter.

She inched toward the door, down the corridor, looking in on a sleeping Nia for a moment. Knowing there were no guests in the house until tomorrow, and that the live-in maid Enriquiana had the weekend off to visit her mother in Costa Rica…Aurelia feared the worst. What was this noise?

She held the huge firearm ahead of her, prepared to fire, capable of it, trained to it. Again, more noise. The source the kitchen. Someone coming through the sliding glass doors in there.

She tentatively reached out for the light switch, an image of the satanic beast of her dreams coming through her back door, and she hesitated turning the light on. What if she were confronted with the very demon of her nightmare—Tomi Yoshikani doing some sort of O.J. number coming at her like a Ninja in the night?

Another part of her mind told her that such a fear must be faced no matter its nonsense, tantamount to a child’s night terrors.

At the instant she turned on the light, a toaster was knocked to the floor with a rattle, and she shouted, “Freeze or I shoot!”

Nia screamed in reply. “Jeeze, Ma! Don’t shoot! It’s me, Nia!”

Aurelia stared at her fully clothed daughter sneaking back into the house from a night of partying with God knows who and God knows where. Nia shook now like a leaf, terrified of the next nanosecond, certain a bullet would rip through her insides like she’d seen so many times on TV and in the movies.

“I can’t believe you were going to kill me!”

Aurelia looked at the gun in her hand and put it on the kitchen island beside the knives, pots and pans. “Damn it, Nia, I could have killed you! Are you crazy? I went by your room. Who’s in your bed?”

“Pillows McGee.”

A stuffed toy the size of a Bengal tiger beneath the sheets.

“Geeze Zeus! I might have killed you! Where in the name of heaven’ve you been? And how long’ve you been sneaking out this way?”

“I wouldn’t have to sneak out if you’d just let me be.” Nia, still shaken, pushed past her mother, going for her room.

“Stop!” Aurelia ordered.

“I just want to go to bed. Can’t we discuss this tomorrow?”

“After one thing.”


Aurelia stepped up to her daughter and threw her arms around her, tears freely flowing now from both. The long, heartfelt, quaking, more- tears-welling-up hugged lasted an entire minute. It’d been a long time since they’d been so intimate, and it felt good. Too bad it had taken a near bloody, just-averted tragedy to come to this embrace.

“Sorrry…I’m so sorry,” Aurelia repeatedly said.

Nia took up the mantra. “Me, too. Sorry…sorry…sorry.”

“I thought you were a burglar.”

“And you’ve got to stop going for that damn gun every time you hear a board groan in this old house.”

Once more, they found refuge in the word sorry, which erupted repeatedly from each, filled as it were with meaning far greater than this incident.

Tearfully, Aurelia said, “Nia…what’s become of us?”

“Whataya mean, Ma?”

“This sneaking in and out like a stranger I don’t know. The lying.”

“Lying? I never--”

“Nia, a stuffed toy tiger beneath the sheets as your decoy? Come on…. I might well have killed you!”

“Maaaaaa…it’s all right! Nobody was killed. You’re a trained marksman.”

“All right? It’s hardly all right! I could’ve killed you!” Rae repeated.

“Sit down, Mom. You want something for your nerves?”

“Nerves? I ought to have my head examined. Should’ve sent you to that camp we talked about!”

“I’m screwed up enough, Ma. I don’t need Shrink Camp! It’d only make things worse, and you can tell your buddy Polky or whatever her name is the same!”

Aurelia gritted her teeth and found a seat. Her knees did feel weak. “All right, I want to know exactly where you’ve been and with whom?”

“I was just out with Trudy and some friends is all.”

“How long have you been sneaking out this way?”

“I wouldn’t have to sneak out if you’d treat me like an adult!”

“Do you call this adult behavior?” Rae fired back.

Nia pulled away and rushed for her room, Aurelia in pursuit, but Nia was quicker on the stair, and she slammed and locked her door before here mother could put a foot in it. A person’s room was sacrosanct in this household, a place of refuge, and a closed door stood…respected…as hard as that was at such a time.

She stared at the door as if her eyes might penetrate it, and she imagined Nia inside softly crying, leaning against the door. They had grown so far apart, and for that brief moment in the kitchen when they held onto one another, it was like she was younger again, accepting of her own vulnerability and needs. Now this. She slams a door in her mother’s face, going back to the offense-defense strategy Nia had taken for almost a year now. “Damn it,” Rae said. Her words and her groan could be heard through the door, but she got nothing in return from the other side. But from the other other side--Aurelia’s Gaelic mother’s voice wafted through her mind as if her ghost meant to continue helping raise Nia, but Mother’s advice—“She needs a good talking to from your father. Ten minutes with him’ll set anyone straight.”

“You think so, Mother? Too bad he’s no longer with us any more than you are.”

“Hey,” replied the ghostly voice from within, “life has a way of working out….and remember ‘When one door closes, another door opens.’

“That’s cute, Mother. We did put it on your tombstone like you asked.”

“Who are you talking to?” It was Nia. She’d pulled the door open as Rae started back toward the kitchen to retrieve the Glock and go back to bed.

“Ahhh just to myself, Nia. Just talking to myself.”

“You’re so strange, Mother. No way I can ever have a normal mom is there?” Nia slammed the door closed again. Rae dropped her head. “N o, sweetheart,” she shouted at the door. “The Greenbrier High PTA would not accept me into their fold! Sorry!”

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