Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lilah and the Locket by Nikki Leigh

Lilah and the Locket

(Book One of the Outer Banks Chronicles)


I'd like to thank Nathan, Kristie and Lilah for their participation in the creation of this story. Many details about their appearance, background and personalities are featured in this story, with their approval and support. The story originated in a fundraising event for the Charlottesville/Albemarle SPCA. Their picture of Lilah was the perfect inspiration for this murder mystery.

I have to say a sincere thank you to Danny Couch of Hatteras Tours for his patient and invaluable assistance in my research. He answered many questions for me and took me on a tour to give me additional details for the story. While researching and writing this story I met many wonderful people who shared their thoughts and memories about the Outer Banks. Thank you to each of these people.

I need to thank Rachel Deragon, owner of Chameleon's Coat for painting the beautiful cover. She saw the picture of Lilah that sparked the idea for this story and she has visited Cape Hatteras and is familiar with the Outer Banks.

In March 2006, I met Jeffrey Deaver who shared some writing tips that were used in this story. At the same event, I met Dr. Bill Bass (UT _ Body Farm) and Jon Jefferson. Thank you both for the information. I gleaned some awesome details and ideas from speaking with you both and they created some wonderful additions to the story.

Author's Note

The Civilian Conservation Corps work mentioned in this story actually took place. In the 1950's, this work was completed and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore opened to the public. Multitudes of people vacation along the Outer Banks of North Carolina each year.

The characteristics the Outer Banks make it difficult to protect the area from nature. They are basically a chain of sand bars along the east coast of North Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean lies on the east and Pamlico Sound lies to the west. At times the ocean water washes into the sound and back to the ocean. This makes the area very vulnerable to bad weather and hurricanes.

The beating surf and fierce undertow cause serious erosion which threatens the coastline. Local inlets shift from south to north with each passing season. Over the years, especially fierce hurricanes have closed some existing inlets while they create new inlets. Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet are the most notable examples.

People and events from real life and my imagination inhabit this story. It offers a glimpse into the rugged coastal experience people enjoy when they visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It also illustrates the changes in this stretch of coastline in the last fifty years.


Anyone who has read much non-fiction or history about the Outer Banks of North Carolina should be familiar with David Stick. He has written numerous books about the region. These books tell us why this stretch of the eastern seaboard is called the graveyard of the Atlantic. The reader learns about various events and people over several hundred years along with his personal experiences living in this picturesque area.

He is best known as an Outer Banks historian. Many documentary specials about the area contain at least one interview with David Stick. In addition to being a renowned historian, he was also the first licensed real estate broker on the Outer Banks. His company, Southern Shores Realty, was instrumental in developing the town of Southern Shores between 1956 and 1970. This is the same town where he served as mayor.

But, was David Stick the only person in his family to assist in the development of the Outer Banks? If we research back a little further we learn about his father. David Stick followed in the footsteps of his father Frank Stick. In 1929, Frank moved to the Outer Banks. He was an artist and became an entrepreneur on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the 1930's Frank Stick knew Dare County was on the brink of bankruptcy. He wasn't the kind of man to stand back and watch the area go belly up. Love for the area prompted his desire to discover a way to regenerate the Outer Banks in addition to finding a way to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the area. Was there a way to bring in tourism revenue while still being able to preserve the things he loved about the area?

One of the biggest problems on the Outer Banks was transportation and the difficulty in getting from one area to another. To remedy this immediate problem, better roads and more bridges were needed. In truth, any paved roads would be a big improvement. Travelers were met by sandy paths which led in all directions and many went in circles. Many areas along the lower Outer Banks were isolated from the upper Outer Banks and the mainland. Bridges were a more effective way to connect the barrier islands which make up the Outer Banks. Sporadic and slow ferry service could only transport a limited number of people per day.

The barrier islands presented various difficulties. These flat and low-lying sandy islands had no protection from the rough surf that eroded the sand and would wash out any new roads.

Frank Stick worked with Washington Baum and they made some progress. Mr. Baum chaired the Dare County Commission and could help the project. In 1928 a toll bridge linked Manteo and Nags Head. This allowed people to travel from the mainland to the beach. Soon, a toll bridge connected lower Currituck County and Kitty Hawk. This provided two routes for tourist to reach the upper portions of the Outer Banks. Although, there was still no good way to access the lower section around Buxton, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

In 1933, Frank Stick unveiled his plan. Cape Hatteras would be the focal point of a National Seashore that would extend over 100 miles. It would begin just south of the Virginia state line and extend past Cape Lookout, NC. The small villages scattered along the coastline would remain separate from the National Seashore. Several wildlife refuges were located throughout the area.

The first paved highway would extend the full-length of the seashore and bridges would link the islands in order for tourists to experience everything the area had to offer. Large sand dunes could provide protection for a paved road and would be aesthetically pleasing. Bridges would provide a better way to link the islands. The plan offered a chance to increase tourism and provide thousands of jobs.

What better time to promote this idea, than in the middle of a nationwide economic depression? The government saw the plan as a wonderful way to provide employment for thousands and they bought existing bridges in the area and removed the tolls. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore Commission bought land needed for the project. There was some animosity about how this was handled by people who owned property in the area which would become the National Seashore.

Frank Stick headed various projects on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. One of the first priorities was to build 115 miles of sand dunes to protect the islands and future roads. The project required 600 miles of fence, 140 million square feet of grass, with two and a half million small bushes and shrubs to build the dunes and anchor them against the forces of nature that would assault them. When the dune line was complete, they built paved roads.

During this time, the United States was experiencing a major economic depression. Untold numbers of people were unemployed in 1932. The people of the United States were desperate for some relief and they needed to find work.

New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to protect the environment, by putting the masses of unemployed people to work. He called an emergency session of the 73rd Congress to announce his plan. Thousands of unemployed young men joined the peacetime army to fight the destruction of our natural treasures. Over three million men worked on the various projects.

Work camps were set up and myriads of young men traveled to areas of the country for specific types of work. The Civilian Conservation Corps were born. This story focuses on one project: the creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.

I've been reading a lot about how the seashore came into being and it was a fascinating time with a wide variety of people who were involved. There were different reasons why these people worked to help the seashore be formed. But, I think that is a story for another time.

Before the project could be completed, World War II broke out in Europe. The war forced the United States government to shift its focus. One of the many projects they abandoned was the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The government workers returned to complete the project in the 1950's.

Chapter 1

(August 31, 1954 _ Early Morning)

Sunshine glimmered across the top of the powerful waves that pounded the coastline. Storm clouds scattered across the rough sky. Lilah, my German shepherd and constant companion, accompanied me down my creaking steps which led to the beach. Patches of sea foam mingled with seaweed and crushed shells, collected along the surf line. Some broken branches littered the beach to the north and the south. Lilah raced along the ocean's edge and splashed in the churning water.

I jogged beside her, salt water soaking my legs. The stiff morning breeze was a contrast to the gale force winds from the night before. Hurricane Carol moved without hurry toward the North Carolina coast, then blasted past Cape Hatteras overnight. News reports earlier that morning stated the winds could top 100 miles per hour at the height of the storm when it reached New England.

Lilah stopped ahead of me and batted a sand crab with her paw. They danced along the water's edge and I lowered myself beside a piece of driftwood to watch them play. Lilah's tail whipped back and forth as she pranced in one direction and then the other. Her bark blended with the roar of the waves crashing onto the shore. The crab raced past her and disappeared into the sand. Terns and gulls performed their own dance overhead. The caw of the birds mixed with the pounding waves.

"Come on girl." I called to her, before I stood and resumed my jog.

Soon she splashed beside me and we journeyed closer to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. A man stood in the distance, but I couldn't see who it was. As we got closer, he bent over and poked around the base of a sand dune.

Lilah barked and ran toward him. He straightened and turned away. When we got closer, I recognized Ben Mallory from the Park Service project. He was probably checking the sheet pile groins and the dunes behind the lighthouse. The area was prone to erosion even though his crews worked to get it under control.

"Mr. Mallory." I called out, but his stocky body moved further away.

Lilah ran toward him and reached his side. She nudged his hand with her nose, but he ignored her. Lilah barked and continued her attempts to play.

"Leave me alone." His voice was impatient.

"Lilah, come." Patting my leg, I called to her. "Come." She returned to me and rubbed her cool nose on my hand. I turned my attention to Ben. "Mr. Mallory, how are you this morning?"

His shoulders sank and he stood still. "Morning, Miss Connelly."

"Did you have any damage at your camp?"

He looked toward the work camp and shook his head. "Our main concern was flooding."

"Was that what brought you to the dunes?" I reached for the branch Lilah carried in her mouth and tossed it toward the water.

"You're mistaken." His tone was gruff.

Maybe I'd been too far away to see what he was doing. "I'm sorry. I thought you were checking the dunes."

"We all make mistakes." He started to walk away.

"Mr. Mallory, it was good to see you."

He lowered his head and mumbled. "Good_bye, Miss Connelly."

Sunshine shone through the remaining gray storm clouds. An early morning news report said the storm was moving toward New England at forty miles an hour and would make landfall that evening. Damage around Hatteras was minimal, but the report predicted New England would have more damage.

Lilah dug furiously in the sand. "Lilah, what are you after?"

I didn't see anything at first, but then something caught my eye and a scream escaped from my throat. I regained my composure and shooed Lilah away with my hand.

I tugged at her collar. "Lilah, sit." She usually obeyed me, but not that time.

It would be accurate to say she was like a dog with a bone, but that was too literal for me. She held a long bone between her teeth.

Lilah lay in the sand and played with it. It would be good to mark the spot where she found the bone and run home to call the deputy. I tried to get the bone from her, but she held fast to it and ran down the beach. Her tail wagged from side to side and she ran back toward me. Lilah dropped the bone at my feet and started to run along the water's edge.

I latched a finger under Lilah's collar. "We need to go home." She tilted her head at me and I patted her head. "We'll come back, but you will have to stay out of the deputy's way." She hung her head and her big brown eyes drooped. Did everyone talk to their dogs like they were human?

We raced to the house and ran up the rickety steps with care. Lilah climbed through her doggie door before I reached the screen door. I went straight to the phone. One ring, two rings, three rings. Where was the deputy when I needed him? He could be checking for damage around the island after the storm. Four rings.

"Hatteras deputy's office." A familiar voice said.

"Morning Zeb, is the Deputy Basnett there?" I grabbed orange juice from the fridge.

"Morning, Kristie. Deputy Raymond Basnett headed to the mainland for a couple of weeks. But, Deputy Tucker is having breakfast in the back." He enjoyed putting me off.

"I wish Deputy Basnett was here, but I need to talk with Deputy Tucker." I gulped the juice, sat the glass in the sink and filled it with water.

"Hold on." That was all he said before the receiver hit the desk with a clatter.

Lilah stood by her bowl, tilted her head to one side and then the other. She made that familiar noise that was between a whimper and a growl to indicate she was hungry.

The phone cord kept me on the other side of the room. "In a minute, Lilah."

"What's important enough to disturb my breakfast, Kristie?" His words sounded abrupt, but his tone was playful.

"Sorry to interrupt, deputy. Lilah and I ran along the beach this morning and she found something."

"Was it something interesting?" He prompted.

"I'm not sure, but it may be a human femur." I twisted the phone cord around my finger.

"Are you sure it's a human femur?" He sounded intrigued but skeptical.

"That's what it looks like, but I'm not sure. I marked the spot where Lilah found the bone and called you."

"Where should I meet you?" The excitement in his voice was obvious.

"Meet me at the foot of the dunes behind the lighthouse."

"I'll be there. Don't let Lilah dig around the area." With that, the phone went dead and I placed the receiver in the cradle.

I grabbed Lilah's leash, walked behind her and attached it to her collar. She shook her head and clawed at the collar with her paw. "This is the only way you can go. You wear the leash or you stay home."

The struggling stopped and Lilah sat with her back straight and still. She craned her neck to peer out the door. People had started to mill around on the beach and she barked at them. Several neighbors glanced toward my door and waved.

"Come on, Lilah." I held my supply bag in one hand, shoved my floppy straw hat on my head and held her leash in the hand. I grabbed a small bag of dog food on my way out the door and shoved it into my bag along with a bowl.

We jogged up the beach until we reached the spot where Lilah found the bone. After we looked around, we might need to call Sheriff Frank Cahoon, but that was up to the deputy. Whenever Deputy Basnett took any time off, Deputy Tucker was sent to us. The Cape had very little crime so it wasn't a big deal, but I'm glad the deputy was around that morning.

While I waited for the deputy, I considered Lilah's discovery. The bone looked like a human femur. If I were right, a dead body might be buried in the sand. It could be the biggest news to hit Cape Hatteras and Buxton since the crews returned to finish the work they abandoned almost fifteen years ago.

It could be a victim from any of the 1,600 shipwrecks off the coast. The Graveyard of the Atlantic often washed parts of human skeletons onto our shores. It was more common up the coast in Salvo, but The Cape got some of the remains. But, I had a feeling this was different. What an exciting way to start my vacation.

There were also a lot of shallow graves on Hatteras Island. How many times had people found parts of skeletons in their garden or flower beds? It could be something totally innocent, or it could be a mystery. I'd read some books about identifying a person from their bones. This would be a wonderful chance to use that information. Was it a man or a woman? Was the person old or young when they died? The skeleton might be an Indian, or a foreigner. There were so many possibilities and hopefully we would know soon. But, first we had to find the skeleton _ if there was one.

The drone of the deputy's truck engine interrupted my thoughts. He drove along the sandy path that led to the lighthouse. His face reflected a determination born from years of driving along our horse and cart trails. These paths were usually no more than a set of ruts. People on the Outer Banks learned to drive with a purpose and not to slow down until you reached a safe spot. Deputy Tucker parked with his front tires on a grassy area near the lighthouse. He climbed down from the truck and sauntered toward us, the familiar weather_beaten hat perched atop his head.

"What do we have here?" He said in his no_nonsense way.

I lowered my voice because several people walked toward us when they saw Deputy Tucker arrive. "I think there's a body in the sand." Reaching into my satchel, I withdrew the bone. "This is what Lilah found."

At the sound of her name, my shepherd raised her head and barked. I smiled at her, but turned my attention back to the deputy.

He turned the bone over and rolled it between his hands. His brows furrowed. "Did you find anything else?"

I motioned to the marker. "This is the spot, but I wanted to wait for you." Should I mention that I wanted to help him? "I brought my supply kit to help you dig up the body, if there is one. I'm off from work at the restaurant this week and would like to help." I raised my eyes to his face. "Especially since Lilah and I found the body."

He chuckled and clapped my shoulder. "All right Kristie. We need to cordon off the area and start digging. Remember, that bone might be the only item we find."

I reminded him, "Or, there might be a body."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Share Conspiracy by Steven Roberts

The Share Conspiracy

By Steven R. Roberts

Highway 21

Fujio shook himself awake at 5 am, rolled up his futon and stumbled down the dark hallway to the toilet. If he'd known what was going to happen today Fujio wouldn't have gotten out of bed. But he didn't, so he did. He could feel the cold air leaking in around the window and he could see the trees bending in the wind. It was another cold March day and the temperature inside was nearly the same as outside, minus most of the wind. Fujio took a cold bath and combed his wavy black hair. He put on clean underwear and used the one toothbrush the three guys had in the apartment. Moving back to the dark bedroom he found his uniform and shoes on the floor and got dressed. His roommates didn't have to get up for another hour. He grabbed his jacket, walked out the front door and started down Hitachi, or Sunrise Street.

Fujio Marubeni, a 24-year old Osaka native, had moved with two friends to the small industrial city of Nakagano, Japan seven months earlier in search of work. Fujio had been a part-time truck driver in Osaka for three years until he got in an accident and was arrested for not having a license to drive commercially. In his new city, however, he took commercial driver's training classes and passed the test. A week later, with certification in hand, he showed up at the right time and place and got a job driving for Sekiyu Transport. For the past six months he had been making early morning deliveries for Sekiyu.

Two blocks from the apartment Fujio stepped into a shop for a cup of hot tea. He sat at the window bar for a moment and held the cup in both hands. The warmth of the tea and the shop allowed him to stop shaking for a moment. He pulled the collar up on his jacket and walked four more blocks to the Sekiyu yard. He checked out his truck and pulled it to the petroleum filling platform where he took on 14.2 kiloliters, (about 4,000 gallons). Fujio exchanged morning chatter with two other drivers while his tanker was being loaded. He signed for the load, pulled his rig out of the lot at 6:45 am and turned east. This morning's run was up Highway 21, through the Kinpouzan mountain tunnel and down the other side into Toyota City. Fujio made this delivery on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, supplying Toyota's plants #2 and #5 with petroleum for filling each new vehicle with a quarter tank of gas. Depending on the weather and traffic he'd be at the Toyota facilities around noon. He'd be unloaded and on his way back to Nakagano an hour later. He had to remember to buy a toothbrush when he got back.

The morning fog was rolling up the side of the mountain as Fujio ran through the gears and climbed the foothills of Kinpouzan. A heavy rain started at an altitude of 1600 feet and stayed with him all the way to the tunnel, at 1900 feet. The rather light Wednesday traffic was slowed a bit by the lack of visibility but the regular drivers on Highway 21 were used to the region's morning elements.

Fujio turned up the cab heater, switched on the radio music and settled in for a four hour run. He smiled as he thought about this coming weekend. He was going to visit his girlfriend, Yumie, back in Osaka. They had been dating for four months before he moved. He was surprised and disappointed when she seemed to keep her distance after he was fired. But now he had a good job and he was planning to ask her to join him in Nakagano. He wouldn't expect her to move in with him right away but he was hoping they could make a new start in a new town. Fujio was also looking forward to the summer months. Nakagano was less than an hour by train from the sea and he and Yumie would spend weekends walking the beaches.

The blinking yellow highway signs announced the tunnel before Fujio could see the entrance between windshield wiper strokes. He slowed to 50 and the tanker entered the 2.7-kilometer tunnel in the outside right lane. The tunnel was well lit and he was temporarily protected from the rain but the radio died into a steady low static.

Traffic was moving in unison when Fujio noticed the Nissan sedan in front of him speed up. The car created a gap of about fifty meters in front of the tanker when Fujio saw the car spilling, or possibly even spraying, oil on the highway. What was this idiot doing? Fujio steered his rig straight and resisted braking to avoid skidding. He was headed straight toward the Nissan, which by now was sliding sideways across both eastbound lanes of the tunnel.

Reacting involuntarily, Fujio jammed the brakes and he started to slide sideways and began to jack-knife across both lanes. His rig, with 4000 gallons of petroleum pushing it, slid into the Nissan with a blast of sparks and metal setting the Nissan on fire. The vehicle transporter behind the tanker slammed into Fujio and the tanker started turning over on its side. The impact of the crash caused one of the transporter's new vehicles to break loose from the top rack, the momentum causing it to fly up and over the belly of the tanker.

Glancing out the rear window of the cab, Fujio saw a flash of color as a car flew over the midsection of his tanker. The small red vehicle dove into the burning Nissan and they both exploded in a ball of flames. Yumie's smooth face appeared to Fujio as a reflection on the rear window of the truck cab. He opened his mouth to say her name one last time, but no sound came out. He closed his eyes and could still see her face as he held a death grip on the truck's steering wheel. The tanker rolled on its side and drove the burning vehicles toward the pillars between the eastbound and westbound lanes. As the burning mass of metal slid and scraped deep scars in the tunnel highway surface it crashed into the pillars and the tanker ruptured and exploded in a thundering bomb of fire. The cement and steel pillars and then the middle section of the tunnel started to collapse.

The Share Conspiracy

Motown Vigilantes Fight Back Against Japanese Auto Invaders

A Novel

By Steven R. Roberts

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Bloody Halls by Carl Brookins




You see, if you come an hour late,

you have to put up with cold meat

Later, when I’d had time to think about it, I realized it was those banging metal trash cans in the lobby that marked my initial entanglement in the Marshall affair. Sometimes, when I dream about those noisy trash cans, I wonder what might have happened if I’d followed my first instinct, left the rehearsal, and gone to the theater lobby while the killer was still there. That thought makes me sweat, sometimes, in the quiet dark of an early morning.

* * *

The day of the murder hadn’t been one of my better days. I’d stayed late in the college’s Office of Student Services because that’s what directors have to do to keep up with the workload. Now, well after the cocktail hour, I found myself in an uncomfortable seat, cold, bored, waiting. Waiting for my entrance in this creaky, drafty barn of a theater.

Weeks earlier I’d let my eagerness for the play get the better of my judgment. When the community theater group loosely associated with our college, City College of Minneapolis, announced they were going to produce Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People,” I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I happen to like Ibsen a lot. Here was my chance, I told my friend Lori, to really stretch myself. If I landed a part, even a bit part, what an experience! Ibsen. Wow! So I auditioned. And I got a part.

“Wonderful,” one would say. “Just what you wanted,” another will say.

“Rats,” I’ll say. It was a much bigger part than I ever anticipated. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was too much part for me. Besides, I knew it would take up most of what little free time I already hadn’t enough of. I should have declined, but I was the director’s first choice, so pride entered into the equation as well as opportunity, and I was lost.

Dr. Stockman. Enemy of the people. That was to be my role.

That had been weeks earlier. Now here I was, facing an obsessed director, Delton, he said his name was, a graduate student from the big university across town. The small college for which I labored had no theater department so the acting company usually hired a grad student from elsewhere. Funny, this same director, when he’d called to offer me the part, had seemed pleasant, logical, even charming. No longer. I was fast becoming convinced that this mere child of a director knew no more about Ibsen’s time and the dragons that drove the good Dr. Stockman than did that janitor, banging about in the lobby outside the auditorium doors at that moment.

What was it with that janitor? Didn’t he realize the noise would distract us? I finally rose from my seat, intending to go to the lobby and snuff out the continuing banging. I had almost reached the double doors when the noise stopped. Silence fell on stage at the same moment. I glanced back and realized most of those in the auditorium were looking at me, or more precisely, looking in my direction.

“Well, Marston?”

“Well, Delton?” I shot back. Quick, that’s me.

“I believe you have an entrance here,” the director growled.

Ummm... right. Sorry.” I’d lost track of exactly where in the act we were when I started up the aisle toward the lobby. I was still curious about the now absent noises, but decided I’d better get on stage, playbook in hand. I trotted back toward the proscenium while Delton stalked off, deep in conversation with someone whose face I couldn’t quite see.

As I approached the stage, I was conscious of the people scattered throughout the big auditorium. There were actors, stage crew members, set and costume people. Some were alone, some in small groups. All eyes seemed to be on me, but I couldn’t positively identify everyone in the auditorium because the light was strongest from the stage, which threw many of their faces into shadow. The assistant director, a student whom I vaguely recalled from one of my counseling classes, fell into step just behind me and we made a short parade.

Because I was tardy for my entrance, everybody else had to wait. They didn’t like it, although no one said anything. They were unhappy because we’d learned by this time that director Delton ran long rehearsals and delays added to the time. You’d think the guy was directing professional, paid actors. Professional actors probably wouldn’t take the verbal abuse we’d already received, and it was still early in the rehearsal schedule. I found my place, did the scene, and we made it through Act I. It got on to eleven and just when I began to think Delton was going to have us start over or, worse, go on to the next act, he took a big, tired breath and kind of whooshed at us.

He stared slowly around at the assembled cast. That night he wore a frayed, shapeless green coat of some kind over a sweater and faded jeans. The coat might have been military surplus and it seemed to be about two sizes too large. His narrow shoulders slumped forward below his receding chin. He said, “Tomorrow night at seven, please. Do-not-be-late.” He punched the words for emphasis. Another thing about Delton I didn’t like was his eyes. At times they seemed to bore into you, as if there was a recording machine inside his skull instead of just a brain. Maybe that was just me. He’d made it clear from the start that he considered me a distraction to his art. It was unclear to me why he’d chosen me for the role of Dr. Stockman.

Dismissed, we collected our belongings and wandered through the backstage area, past old flats left over from God knew what ancient production. Backstage was a vast cavern inadequately lit by a few dim unshaded bulbs hung on long black snakes that descended from somewhere overhead. The grid of lights, sandbag weights, ropes and other trappings of live theater resided about twenty feet above us. The ceiling of the building was somewhere above that. We left in a group through a back door, into the cold November night, and somebody locked up. As I shrugged into my jacket and went out, I remembered the noises from the lobby.

The tiny space where we were allowed to park was just a narrow gap between the tall dark buildings. It felt oppressive, confining. I hunched my shoulders. I left my fellow thespians and turned the other way down the alley. I walked around the building to the marquee on Eighth and peered into the dark interior. Nothing. “All’s well that ends well,” I muttered aloud.

I didn’t try the doors. Later I wished I had.

My web site:

Bloody Halls is available as an e-book from Fictionwise and will be released in soft cover in January, 2008 from Echelon Press. It will be distributed through the usual sources and available widely from chains and independent bookstores.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dark Shines My Love by Alexis Hart

Dark Shines My Love

By Alexis Hart

Love can transpose to form and dignity.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,

And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.

Shakespeare ~ Midsummer Night's Dream

December 24, 1971

Dark Garden Plantation, Louisiana

Venomous shrieks filled the Louisiana night. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Patric covered his ears and struggled to block out the angry shouts of his parents.

"I swear to you, Lucia. Nothing happened. This is all a huge misunderstanding," his father said.

"How can you deny what I saw with my own eyes?"

"I am not having an affair with her. She came out here and just as I told her to go back into the party, she kissed me. I have no feelings for her."

"Get out!"

The tumbler his mother had been holding sailed through the air and Patric ducked. It crashed against the wall over his head. Shards of glass rained over him and slid down inside his flannel shirt. He covered his face with his hands and fought back tears. No matter how much he wanted to cry out, he couldn't let his father catch him spying.

"Why do you always have to resort to violence when you don't get your own way?"

His father's voice boomed and Patric wanted to make him stop yelling. He listened to his mother's sobs and longed to run out and comfort her, but that would earn him a beating.

"Don't you dare try to make this out to be my fault. I'm not the one who's doing God knows what with the entire town."

Boot heels clicked on the brick pathway and the smell of his father's cologne lingered after he passed. Fearing punishment, Patric held himself perfectly still.

"Lucia, your melodrama bores me. I told you nothing was going on, and I meant it."

"Liar! How many times have you told me the same thing?"

"Lucia. Enough! Go back in to the party and we'll discuss this later. You have a son who needs his mother at Christmas."

To Patric, the silence said more than the hurtful words. He waited for his mother to say something, but she remained silent. A chill crept the length of his spine and he shivered. He closed his eyes and curled up tighter against himself. Silently, tears fell from his eyes as slivers of the shattered glass scraped against his flesh. The cool night air blew across the balcony and cooled the moisture on his back. He waited.

"This is it, Michael. After tonight you will never do this to me again. I'm taking Patric and we're leaving."

Patric's sadness turned to joy. "Oh, Mother!" He gave up his hiding place behind a shrub and ran to his mother.

Both his parents heads turned to him, but Patric only noticed the woman standing in the shadows.

"Go inside, Paddy." The pain quivering in his mother's voice drew him toward her like a magnet.

He ran to her side and hugged her waist. "Can we really leave, Mother?"

"No. Go inside." His father's voice echoed as the palm of his hand made contact with Patric's head. He fell hard onto the ground.

The corner of a square terra cotta planter dug into his forehead and blood trickled down into his eye. Patric held in the fear as his father advanced on him.

Temples visibly throbbing, anger flashed in his father's eyes. "Get up!"

"I'm sorry, Father, I didn't mean to hear. I was trying to see the other guests and you came out."

His mother stepped between them and Patric sighed. "It's all right, Paddy. No one is angry with you. Just run inside and Mama will be in soon." She leaned forward and extended her hand to help him up.

"No, you won't make him a sissy. You coddle him like a fragile little girl. He's a boy and if you take him away he'll never become a man."

"I will take him away and he'll be whatever he wants."

"You are so wrong, Lucia. Neither of you will ever leave Garden View. You'll never leave me."

Unable to stand the cruelty of his father's words, Patric climbed to his feet and ran. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him and as far as they could. It wasn't until he reached the bank of the river that he collapsed onto the damp grass. The cool moisture soaked through his blue jeans and he shivered.

He rolled onto his back and hundreds of tiny nerve points prickled. He stared up at the vast darkness of the sky. Where are the stars? Why couldn't he find the moon? These and so many more questions cluttered his mind, pushing in between the blocks of throbbing and haziness. Closing his eyes, he fought against the pain wearing him down. Patric lay on the bank of the Mississippi River and willed the night to disappear.

How could his parents be so cruel, and at Christmas? Why had his father said such horrible things to his mother? His beautiful, kind and loving mother, the belle of New Orleans.

Pain spread down his neck and throbbed in his back. His shoulders stung for reasons he didn't understand. His body ached, from pain and loneliness. Fear. Never in his eight years could he remember being so afraid. The fear made him angry. He could hear his father's voice in his mind, "Fear is unacceptable."

Clenching his fists, Patric lay in the wet grass and prayed for the last time. Please God make it all disappear.

November 30, 2000

Dark Garden Plantation, Louisiana

"Get the hell out of my house," Patric raged, his heart racing.

"Mr. LeClerc, I didn't know it wasn't allowed."

He sucked in a deep breath trying to find some control. None came, so he forged on. "How could you think I would pay you to do God knows what with your boyfriend in my house?" Patric LeClerc fought against the crushing press of pain rising inside him. He collapsed into the dining room chair and lowered his head to rest against his forearms.

"Are you all right, sir?"

"Get me my damn pills and then get out. Tell the service to send the next incompetent wretch over." He listened to the retreating footsteps growing softer as the nurse hurried down the long corridor. He cursed the hardwood floors and the echoing of every little noise in the God forsaken house.

She weighed considerably more than the last nurse they'd sent and the rapid clicking of her heels indicated her to be shorter as well. The scent of her lilac perfume lingered in the air, its cloying fragrance intensifying the pounding in his temples. Clutching his head, he struggled to gain control of his pain. Calm. He had to calm down or the throbbing would only increase.

Clicking heels echoed in his head, only they weren't in his head. Patric sensed the nurse as she entered the room. He gritted his teeth and waited for her to hand him his pills. The shadow of a hand passed in front of him then moved back and forth before disappearing.

"Don't play games with me. Just put the damn things down and leave me alone." He waited for the tapping of the prescription bottle hitting the table. Silence. "Are you deaf?"

"Sir, I was told not to leave you alone. I'll lose my job if I go."

Patric clenched his jaw against the hum her annoying voice caused in his ears. "That's where you're wrong. I pay your salary and you've already lost your job. Now give me the pills!"

She slammed the pill bottle against the table, the sound ringing out like a gunshot in his head. Groping with trembling hands, Patric fumbled with the bottle. Several of the tiny pills scattered onto the table. Damn it! He scanned the marred wood table with his palms, searching desperately for his relief.

Finally, his fingertip brushed against a tablet; he picked it up and shoved the pill into his mouth. Patric swallowed against the bitter aftertaste, then laid his head back down on his arms, and waited for his reprieve, limited as it would be. Peace never came for long. He slipped away to a different place as he waited. The place was never better or happier, just different. Again he wondered what he had done to be so cursed.

As the agonizing moments passed, his mood dipped dangerously low. His mind continuously replayed the moans of his former nurse engaged in some sexual act in his house. What the hell right did she have enjoying herself? What right did anyone have? God, he couldn't even remember what a woman's body felt like. He drifted to sleep, bored with his own self-pity and loathing.

What he assumed had to be several hours later, Patric awoke. Alone. Before he could get his bearings the shrill ringing of the phone startled him. He let it ring. If Alexander Graham Bell were still alive, he'd gladly strangle him.

* * *

The windshield wipers on Callie's old model Volvo scraped across the window. The scratching noise grated on her already taut nerves. I must be insane. The wind and rain whipped about outside, casting eerie shadows down over the secluded road. She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned cold and white, struggling to keep the car under control.

The path curved and without warning she saw the monstrosity, standing ominously dark in the middle of a strand of trees. Dark Gardens Plantation. Home. The single word struck her as peculiar; she'd never called anyplace home, and yet in some twisted way, this came naturally.

Lightning flashed up toward the sky and she got a better look at the hell house, as her boss had referred to it. Dark shutters covered floor to ceiling windows along the front of the house. She counted ten just on one side of the front door. The double entry stood dead center in the middle of the house, at the top of a ridiculously long flight of stairs.

Why would anyone build a house you had to walk up so many steps to get into? At least she didn't have much to carry. Callie pushed her remaining questions aside and shifted the car into gear. The answers didn't matter. She wasn't here to like it. She was here because she didn't have anywhere else to go. As she got closer to the house, her apprehension only grew worse.

"Geez, I think I took a wrong turn and ended up in Transylvania." Weeds choked down the trees and bushes, obviously ignored for too long. She hoped with all her soul that things would look better in the light of a sunny day-and not only for her sake.

A small gray kitten purred a vague response and poked its nose out of the hole Callie had cut for him in the top of the box. When her life had fallen apart, she'd only been able to save two things. She looked down at Mardi and smiled. The curious feline had managed to get locked out of her apartment while everything was going on, and was so saved from a fate worse than-well he was just saved. Now she had her clothes and two priceless treasures.

She glanced up at the house. Shaking her head, Callie concentrated on navigating the gravel driveway. She peered out the window and looked at the surrounding landscape. "Kinda dark out here, Mardi. You gonna be okay?"


"I am not afraid of the dark. How could you say that?"


"I know it's just a house. But have you seen how big it is?" Callie laughed for the first time in weeks. "Of course you haven't. I've stuffed you in a box like some kind of animal."


"Soon, baby. We're almost there, and then I'll let you out. No more boxes for you. With a house this size, it's party time for Mardi Gras." She rubbed the small pink nose poking from inside the box.

By the time she parked the car in front of the house the rain had lessened to little more than an annoying drizzle. Not enough to matter, only enough to get you wet. Callie stepped out of the car and leaned against the roof. Her black and white polka dotted slicker kept her arms dry, but cold drops of rain slid down inside the collar and made her shiver.

The house looked more like an over-sized mausoleum than a plantation. All she knew about Dark Gardens was that its owner was blind and obsessively reclusive. Her report said he hadn't been out of his house in over eight years. Thankfully, he was mostly self-sufficient. Her job would entail cleaning, cooking, and companionship. She would make good money and they'd have a roof over their head.

"Well, Mardi. Lets go."


"Yeah, I hope he's awake too."

* * *

Callie rang the bell again. She'd been standing on the porch for ten minutes and hadn't even heard a rustle from inside. Finally, she twisted the knob, thankful when it turned.

"Hello. Mr. LeClerc? Are you home?" Of course he's home. He's a recluse. "My name is Callie Carpenter. I'm the new nurse."

Callie stepped into the vestibule and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The front foyer held no decoration or furniture. She saw a doorway directly to the left and another directly to the right. Both doors hung slightly ajar, but no light came from either. Several more steps in and she saw it.

Lightning flashed and the grandest staircase she'd ever seen blinked before her. The wide steps ascended to a platform that branched off in either direction. Then she realized the lightning flashed above the staircase. She set her box down on the floor next to her.

"I'll be right back, Mardi."

When her foot landed on the first step, an odd sense of foreboding seized her. Attributing it to nerves, she continued. When she reached the landing, she looked up. Centered above the stairs, hung an enormous crystal chandelier. Suspended from beams under a magnificent skylight it dangled in ominous brilliance. "Incredible." Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't tear her eyes away.

She jumped at the sound of a thump behind her. "Mr. LeClerc is that you? I'm the new nurse."

"Stop yelling. I'm blind, not deaf."

The cold brusqueness of his voice sent a shiver creeping up her spine. She could barely discern his shadow at the foot of the stairs. He began to retreat as she moved closer. By the time she reached the last step, she caught only a glimpse of his back before he disappeared into a room. Hurriedly, she checked on Mardi then followed her new employer.

Like the main room, this one held no light. A few steps into the parlor she bumped into a small table. "Do you mind if I turn on a light?"

"Yes, I do," he snapped. "What do you want?"

"I'm the new nurse. The agency told me I needed to be out here tonight. I tried to call before I came, but no one answered, so I packed-my things and drove out."

"Bully for you, Mrs. Cartwright."

Sarcasm swam around her as he spoke. "My name is Callie Carpenter, and its Miss."

"Whatever your name is, I don't need a damn nurse. So you can take your self and your things and go home." She heard him move in the far corner of the room, but still couldn't see him.

"I wish I could," she whispered softly.

"Then do it!"

She gasped at his harshness, surprised he'd heard her. "I'm sorry I said that. It's just-I don't have anyplace to go."

"That's not my problem. Now get out."

Callie could almost hear his teeth grinding against one another. His words sounded so clipped that she wondered if he weren't in pain. Her sympathetic nature justified his rude behavior, and she chalked it up to loneliness.

"Sir, I need this job. I don't have any family and I don't have an apartment anymore. I'd appreciate it if you'd at least give me a chance to prove I can do this job."

She stood in the darkness, listening to the silence for several minutes. Finally, she heard him move.

"Miss Carson, I've lived in this house for most of my life and I assure you I can take care of myself."

"I have no doubt about that, Mr. LeClerc. I'm not actually here to take care of you. I guess I am more of a housekeeper than a nurse. The fact of the matter is, I need this job."

Callie knew she didn't need to beg. If he made her leave she could get another assignment, it may not offer her a place to live, but she'd manage. She found herself wanting to stay and find out more about this mysterious man. He ex-husband, Jason, would accuse her of living in another of her Florence Nightingale fantasies. Maybe because she hadn't actually seen her new boss yet, or maybe because of the house he lived in, whichever, she'd convince him to let her stay.

"I really would like to stay."

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I'm the Salvation Army and that I care what you want."

He hesitated before he went on, and Callie cut in. "No, Sir, you are not a charity organization." You'd need a heart to be that. "I only hope-"

"Lets get something straight right now, Miss Carter. This is my house and you will stay the hell out of my way.

"Yes, sir."

"If you so much as breath in my space, you're out of here," he snarled.

Callie sighed a breath of relief. She could stay. "It will only take me a minute to bring my belongings in." How sad was that statement? Nearly everything she owned fit into a few small boxes and her car.

"Your room will be at the top of the left stairs. Second door. If you need anything, get it yourself."

"I'll have to go back into town in the morning to pick up a few more things and take care of some business. Is it okay if I bring my-"

"Bring whatever you have to. Just remember, you have the left side of the stairs and I have the right. Stay out of my way."

Callie stepped forward to thank him-a door closed across the room-and then she closed her mouth. He'd walked out and left her standing alone. She hadn't even seen his face. Switching on a lamp, she looked around the room. Upon noticing the sparse furnishings, she justified the reason. Maybe since he's sight impaired he doesn't like a lot of things in the way. He just doesn't like anything. "And it's Carpenter," she whispered.

"I know," he whispered softly. Patric stood inside the tunnel listening to her move around the room. He saw the shadow of the table light she'd turned on. Leaning against the panel, he let the cool wood ease his tension.

She was different. He couldn't quite figure out how, but he sensed she wouldn't be as easily bullied as the others before her. He'd definitely heard fear in her voice, but he perceived it as a confident fear. A week or two would do little to interfere with his hectic schedule. Yeah right.

His body acknowledged her presence on the other side of the slide panel and he remained perfectly still. The secret door vibrated as her hand rested on against it. None of the other idiots had discovered the locations of his hidden panels, but he had a feeling he'd need to be more careful with Miss Callie Carpenter. He'd tried to get more of a sense of her, but she hadn't gotten close enough. He hadn't let her get close enough.

When he heard the study door click shut, he made his way down the narrow corridor and up the stairs to his room. Not bothering to turn on the light, he undressed and climbed into bed. He lay on top of the crisp sheets, listening to the house. Timbers creaked, shutters rattled, and even from across the expanse of the house, he could hear her moving around in her quarters. The floorboard at the foot of her bed creaked and she stopped. He knew she'd stopped because the next six boards also creaked. He'd meant to get them repaired-for nearly six years-but hadn't bothered. He'd seen no point in it.

Her bedroom door opened and she walked down the hallway. Where was she going? Probably snooping around the other rooms in the west wing. They all did it. One nurse had even stolen from him, but a few years in prison would cure her of that mistake.

Patric dozed off to sleep while listening for his new companion to return to her room.

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!”