A sneak preview of Catalogued for Catastrophe

“I think it’s a mistake to dig up your yard, Phee,” Juliet said, sipping her cup of herbal tea.

“Nonsense,” I replied. “It’s not every day my baby sister gets married. By the time I’m done with this yard, it will be the ideal spot for your wedding.”

Despite Juliet’s protests, I knew she was happy I had agreed to host her wedding in my backyard. Her original plan to hold the wedding at the lake had been thrown out the window when an ugly red algae bloom had taken over the lake and the odor that emanated from the water could bring a grown man to his knees.

The two men I’d hired to tear down the old garden shed in the backyard had loaded the last scraps of wood into the back of their beat-up Chevy pickup. The elder Mr. Gant stuck plugs into his ears and started the jackhammer.

“If the neighbors weren’t already awake, they will be now with that thing running,” I said.

“You want to go running? Since when have you ever wanted to run?”

I raised my voice so she could hear me over the racket. “I said…oh, never mind.”

The jackhammer made quick work of the cement pad. The younger Mr. Gant wheeled load after load of cement rubble to the construction dumpster. When he bent over to pick up a large chunk of cement, he dropped to his knees.

“What’s he doing?” Juliet asked. She stood up and walked off the porch into the yard to get a closer look.
I followed her down the steps and walked across the yard to speak to the men.

“Phee, I don’t think you should come over here,” the elder Mr. Gant said. His wrinkled, sunburned face had a grayish cast.

“Why? What’s wrong?” I asked. I tried to move closer, but he held up his hand to stop me.

“It’s a skull, Phee. We found a human skull.”

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Phee and Juliet are back!

I put Phee and Juliet on the shelf for the past several months while I dealt with some health issues. One surgery later, and I’m on the road to recovery and back to writing! I’m excited to say that Phee and Juliet will be working on a cold case as they plan for Juliet’s upcoming nuptials. I’ll post a preview of the first chapter this weekend. Thanks for your patience and understanding on the delay writing Catalogued for Catastrophe.

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Browsing for Trouble paperback

Initially, I planned to release the latest Phee adventure only in ebook format. Due to popular demand (and protests from some of my avid readers who hate using a Kindle), I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version will be available later this week!  I’m reviewing the proof copy and once I give the thumbs up, it will be available for purchase.

The next book in the series, Cataloged Under Catastrophe, is slated for an early fall release. I can’t wait to see what happens at Juliet’s wedding and see if Lu changes her mind about including Anthony in her life!

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NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2017

It seems I’m destined to write horror for my challenges with NYC Midnight. My draw on this year’s challenge was horror, substitute teacher and surprise party. I think my short story successfully met each requirement. What do you think?

 

LITTLE GIRLS

“Daddy said Mommy’s head was broken like an egg,” Chelsea said to Amanda. “I tried to wake her up to fix me breakfast, but she just laid there. Now she’s gone, and I don’t have anyone to play with at home.”

“Chelsea. Amanda. It’s time to finish your lunch and put up your tray.”

“Yes, Miss Presley,” the girls said in singsong voices causing goosebumps to appear on my arms.

The two girls stood up and pushed in their chairs. Grabbing their trays, they marched together to dump the remains of their lunch. Their small, blonde heads leaned together as they shared secrets that only other seven-year-olds could know. Chelsea glanced over her shoulder at me and gave me a smile.

It was the end of my first week as a long-term substitute teacher at Mount Holy Cross Catholic School for Girls. Chelsea Pickerall had been my biggest challenge in the classroom. She was sneaky, and I knew she was the kid who had filled my pencil holder with glue. The first grade teacher, Roberta Newsome, told me that Chelsea’s mother had died the previous year, so I knew it was probably normal behavior. Chelsea was processing her mother’s death and acting out. I was a sub though, not a trained psychiatrist. Stuff like this was way above my substitute teacher’s pay grade.

I needed cash, so no matter how much grief these little girls gave me, I had to stick it out until I had enough money to move out of the basement room I rented. Gary, the guy who owned the house, didn’t understand the concept of boundaries and personal space. Two weeks ago, I had caught him rifling through my panty drawer. He had claimed he had spotted a mouse running into my room and was trying to catch it, but I had my doubts. I needed to move before I ended up down in a hole as Gary lowered lotion in a bucket to me.

When I got home that afternoon, Gary the Perv was still at work. I had a surprise party to attend that evening, so I kicked off my sensible shoes and shucked off my kid-friendly, boring brown pants and white blouse. I planned to meet my friend Angie for drinks at her apartment before heading to the party. I wanted to be long gone before my roomie came home.  I showered then slipped into a shimmery black dress. I paired it with some black strappy sandals with heels so high I could almost touch the angels.

I thought I was home-free as I closed my bedroom door behind me and started up the basement steps, but just like most of my life, I was the unluckiest girl in a town full of leprechauns and four-leaf clovers. Gary the Perv stood at the top of the steps, a huge grin on his face.

“You’re looking mighty fine tonight, Morgan. Hot date?” His gray, lizard-like tongue flicked across his chapped lips. His watery pale blue gaze crawled up my legs and took up residence at my cleavage.

“Something like that.” I tried to push past him, but his bulging belly blocked my passage to freedom.

“Stay and have a drink with me before you go. Surely, you can spare a few minutes. I’ve got some cold PBRs in the fridge. A cold beer might cool down some of your hotness.” He smoothed his thinning gray ponytail with his grease-covered hand and wiggled one eyebrow at me.

“Uh, no thanks. I’m running late. Maybe next time.” With a final push, I squeezed past his bulk and practically ran through the living room and out the front door.

“I could give you a night you’d never forget,” Gary called after me.

I slid into the front seat of my trusty old Volvo and fired up the engine. If I could have spun tires getting away from there, I would have, but I contented myself with a small backfire as I sped away.

“You could stay here with me,” Angie said as she poured me another glass of red wine as I related the latest bout with Gary.

“Nah. Your apartment’s so small you have to stick your leg out the bathroom window just to shave it. I value our friendship too much to make you share a space with me and my habits.” I took a sip of wine. “I’ve got to get a better job than substitute teaching. There’s the weirdest little girl in my class. I should feel sorry for her because her mom died, but she gives me the willies. Little girls are so creepy.”

“For tonight, forget about Gary and scary kids and just focus on fun. The house where this party is being held is a mansion. The guy that owns it does something with stocks. I’m not really sure, and I don’t really care. I plan to eat, drink and pick up a handsome man and let him have his way with me,” Angie said. She clinked her wine glass against mine. “You in?”

“Most definitely.” I gulped down the remains of my wine. “Let’s get this party started. Whoop whoop!”

An hour later, the taxi was pulling up to the biggest old house I’d ever seen outside of the movies. There were two cars parked out front, but the house didn’t look like it was lit up for a party. “Who did you say this surprise party was for?” I asked Angie.

“Oh, some friend of a friend. Who cares? We’re here to get our drink on and have some fun. Life is too short to sweat the details, Morgan. You really do need to lighten up and live a little. Come on!” She climbed out of the back of the taxi and handed the driver a twenty. “Keep the change.”

I followed behind her as she sashayed her way up the steps to the front door. Angie and I had only been friends for the past few months, but we’d clicked when we met at the nail salon where she worked. She was the ultimate party girl and exactly what I needed after my last relationship crashed and burned so badly I had to leave town and move here to Lawrenceville. Angie opened the front door of the house.

“Ang! Shouldn’t you knock?” I asked.

“It’s a party. Quit being such a stick.” She walked in and left me standing outside on the steps. I hesitated. My mother would have killed me walking into someone’s home unannounced. Mama wasn’t here though. She had died three years ago leaving me with a mountain of debt as my only inheritance. Shaking my head at Angie’s boldness, I walked up the steps. As I stepped into the house, the door slammed shut behind me. Startled, I jumped. A breeze had been stirring the leaves in the trees outside. It had probably caught the door and slammed it shut.

I looked around the entry hall. A few candles set on a long table flickered and cast shadows that danced across the pale walls. A center staircase led to a darkened upstairs floor. Where in the hell was Angie?

“Hello? Where is everyone?” My voice echoed. Maybe they were in a room somewhere else in the house and couldn’t hear me. I walked towards the first closed doorway. Opening it, I peered inside. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling. In the center of the floor was a zebra skin rug with what looked to be a stone altar in the center of it. I moved into the room to get a closer look. I laid my hands on the cool grey stone. It hummed beneath my touch. I snatched my hands back.  Peering at the shelves, I noticed that the titles were mostly in Latin or Greek. I wished I’d paid more attention to the nuns as a child. I pulled one of the books off the shelf. It was bound in pale leather. The title, Oera Linda, was embossed in a dark reddish-brown font across the front. The hairs at the nape of my neck stood on end as my fingertips traced the title. I heard a sound behind me and quickly shoved the book back onto the shelf.

“Hi, Miss Presley,” a small voice said behind me.

Turning, I saw Chelsea standing in the doorway. “Why hello, Chelsea. Is this your house?”

“Uh huh. Me and my Daddy’s.” Her wide blue eyes stared at me, unblinking. “What are you doing here, Miss Presley? Did you come to play with me?”

“Um. Not tonight. My friend brought me here for a party. Do you know where everyone is?” I wanted to get out of this room and away from Chelsea. The last thing I wanted to do was spend more time with her after the hell week I endured with her in my classroom.

“Yeah, but I’m not going to tell you.” Chelsea gave me an odd little smile. “If you come to my room and have a tea party with me, then I might tell you where they are.”

Screw this! I thought. I’ve had enough of this kid. I walked up to Chelsea and grabbed her arm. “Where is everybody?” I barked.

Chelsea leaned down and bit my hand. Startled, I released her arm and stepped back in shock. A perfect ring of tooth marks marred my hand “What the–?”

“Miss Presley, come play with me. If you don’t, I’ll tell Daddy that you touched me. He’ll get very angry like he did with Mommy.” She turned and started to leave the room. She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Come play with me.”

Fuck my life, I thought. Angie will come rescue me from this little terror, and then I’m out of here.  I followed Chelsea as she led me out of the library and up the dark stairs to the second floor. I could barely see to walk. If not for the candles flickering in wall sconces and reflecting off Chelsea’s pale hair, I would have gotten lost. The house was huge. The twists and turns down the dark hallway and up another flight of stairs made it seem labyrinthian.  Finally, Chelsea opened a door at the top of a final flight of stairs and as she did, light cascaded down. I practically dashed up the last few steps in my eagerness to leave the darkness behind me. The room Chelsea brought me to was wallpapered in a dusty pink flowered pattern with white stripes. A small canopy bed occupied the center of the room, and numerous dolls and stuffed animals littered the floor. I practically collapsed in relief at the normalcy of the scene in front of me.

“Come try some of my special honey tea,” Chelsea commanded. She sat primly at a small pink and white table, a doll clutched tightly to her chest.

“Okay,” I said. Anything to stay in this light-filled room and out of the dark recesses of the rest of the house. Surely Angie would come looking for me soon. After all, it was her idea to get me to come to this party.  I folded my adult frame into the child-sized chair and watched Chelsea pour tea from a petite teapot painted with dancing bunnies. When she was done pouring, I picked up the teacup and pretended to take a sip.

“That’s cheating, Miss Presley. You have to really drink the tea, or I won’t tell you where the party is.”

I rolled my eyes at this mini-dictator holding a doll and drank the entire cup of tea down in one gulp. It was surprisingly good. “Yummy,” I said in a saccharine sweet voice. “Where is everyone, Chelsea? A deal’s a deal.”

“You suck,” Chelsea pouted. “I want someone to play with me. I’m lonely since Mommy left. You need to stay here with me forever.” She slammed the teapot down on the table causing brown liquid to splash out of the spout.

My head started to pound. I tried to stand up and leave, but my legs suddenly felt like two sacks filled with concrete. I looked at Chelsea. Her petite features seemed to melt together into a pale blur. Her small, gray tongue flicked out across her chapped pink lips. “Don’t you want some more tea to cool down some of that hotness, Miss Presley?” Her tiny voice echoed Gary the Perv’s earlier words. She giggled.

I grabbed the small table and hauled my body up from the tiny chair. My lids felt too large and heavy for my eyes, and I struggled to hold them open. “Where’s Angie? Where’s my friend? What did you do, Chelsea?” My tongue thickened and tripped over the words as they left my mouth.

“She’s right behind you, Miss Presley. Angie’s my daddy’s new friend, but she doesn’t like to play with me.” Chelsea pointed behind me. “Daddy said I need to have my own friends.”

I slowly turned my head to see Angie standing behind me, her body wrapped tightly around a dark-haired man. One breast hung out of her dress as his large hand pinched the nipple. She arched her back in pleasure, then she moved her face close to mine. “Surprise!” Angie trilled. Her teeth were large and sharp in her red mouth as she laughed.

“What are you–”

“What am I doing?” Angie finished. “Poor Morgie Porgie. You really are a sad sack, aren’t you? It’s simple. You don’t appreciate the life you have. Whine, whine, whine. Your job sucks. Your place sucks. Face it, Morgan. Your life is one big suck festival. Chelsea needs a new playmate. Ding ding ding! You won playmate of the year. Sorry it’s not the kind that gets you a cool car and bunny ears.”

“She’s a little girl, she doesn’t–”

The room filled with laughter, the sound booming in my ears so loudly my skull seemed to crack from the sheer volume of it. I couldn’t hold my eyes open much longer. I stumbled away from Angie. My heel caught on one of the dolls, and I slammed to the floor. Before I sank into darkness, I saw Chelsea creep slowly towards my leg as her mouth widened and her tongue licked my ankle.

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Browsing for Trouble

I hope you enjoy this preview from Chapter One of Browsing for Trouble which is set for release in mid-December.

“No men and no murder,” Juliet declared as she lifted her glass in the air. “This girls’ vacation will be margaritas, Mai Tais and manicures.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” I said, clinking my margarita glass to hers. “It was awesome of Willow’s parents to let us stay here for free. I plan on relaxing by the pool, reading the latest mysteries from my favorite authors and catching up on my sleep.”

“Uh…can anyone say boring?” Juliet pretended to stifle a yawn. “You can read anywhere, and you can sleep when you get back home. This vacation is all about fun and the sun and spending time with your soon-to-be married baby sister.”

“The sun makes me freckle and what I suggested is fun.”

“Wear sunscreen, for Pete’s sake. What are you ninety?” Juliet complained. “I’ve created a list of all the things I want to do while we’re here in Sedona. I want to go on one of the Jeep trips through the desert, go hiking and see the place where gravity doesn’t exist-”

“Gravity always exists here on Earth. There’s no way it can’t exist. If it didn’t exist, we would weigh ten pounds and float,” I said with a skeptical look.

“Look!” Juliet thrust a guidebook under my nose. I grabbed it from her.

“It’s called an energy vortex.” My eyes skimmed through the description. “People come from all over the world on vision quests or missions to feel the energy. Hmm…this sounds right up you and Willow’s alley. A bunch of woo woo healing and crystals. Have fun with that. I’ll be in the spa getting a massage.” I put my sunglasses on and took a sip of my margarita.

“Dang it, Flea! You promised we would have a real girls’ vacation before Wade and I get married. This is my last taste of freedom before I settle down, clean house and maybe make babies one day.” She snatched the guidebook back and glared at me.

“Fine. I’ll go to the healing crystal woo woo vortex if you promise to go with me to some of the museums.”

“Deal.” Juliet grinned. “This is gonna be the best trip ever!”

“Well, before I get blisters on my feet hiking in the desert, I plan on getting pampered. It’s time for our mud bath.”

“Willow said her parents don’t like to call them mud baths. They’re restorative body treatments. I signed us up for the Prickly Pear Garnet treatment. It’s supposed to make your skin soft and silky smooth. Plus, it pulls out all the toxins and bad mojo with the stones they place around you.”

“If they can keep me from having any more murder mojo, I’ll declare this trip a success. My skin is already soft and silky smooth,” I said. I sipped the last of my margarita and stood up to head indoors to the spa.

“That’s not what Clint said,” Juliet snickered. “He told me to make sure you get buffed and bedazzled and to make sure someone takes care of those horse hooves you call feet.”

“What?” I cried. “Look at these toes. These are the feet of a movie star.” I showed her my short, fat feet with the pearly pink toenails.

“If you’re a hobbit.” Juliet laughed. “I’m just kidding. Clint just told me to make sure you had fun. He worries about you, Phee.”

“I know he does,” I said softly. “I’m okay. I worry about Nellie Jo. She seems so sad now that Mike’s gone. He was her whole world and now she has to figure out how to live without him.”

“Nellie is tougher than you think. Did you know she’s signed up for yoga and a college class?”

“No. Really?”

“Yep. She told me she’s going to try all the things she was too scared to do before. She said each time she does something new, she can hear his voice in her head telling her she is being a Nervous Nellie. It makes her smile.”

“I’m glad,” I said. “We should all try new things even if they make us nervous.”

“Um…yeah…didn’t I just say we needed to go to the vortex? Hello? New. Different.” Juliet gave me an incredulous look.

“And we are.” I pulled open the door to the room where Juliet and I were scheduled for our spa treatments. A woman was lying on the table with clay covering her arms and face. The rest of her was covered by a white sheet. “Oh! I’m sorry. I thought our appointment was at two o’clock.” She didn’t move or even acknowledge we had entered the room.

“Maybe she’s deaf,” Juliet whispered.

“If she’s deaf, why are you whispering?” I hissed back. “Ma’am? Is your aesthetician here? I think there’s been a mix up in times.”

The woman still didn’t move. I moved in closer and noticed that she did not appear to be breathing. “Ma’am? Are you okay?” I asked in a loud, clear voice. I turned to Juliet. “Maybe she’s asleep.”

Juliet stepped forward and shook the woman to awaken her. As she did, the woman’s arm fell off and clattered to the floor.

Juliet screamed and shattered the quiet tranquility of the spa. “Oh my goddess! Oh my goddess! It’s some kind of horrible flesh-eating zombie disease and now I’ve got it! I’ve got the plague. I’m gonna lose my arms and maybe my teeth. I’m not going to be able to wear my sleeveless wedding dress because I won’t have any arms!” She hopped around the room flapping her hands and squawking like a hen in heat.

In shock, I looked at the woman who still hadn’t moved. It was then that I noticed something strange about her mud-covered body. I leaned down and picked her arm off the floor and thrust it towards Juliet.

“What in the blue blazes are you doing, Phee?” Juliet screeched. “Now you’ve got the plague! Poor Mom and Dad will be heartbroken!”

“It’s not real,” I said. I tried to hand her the arm, but she just shook her head and backed away from me in fright.

After a moment, Juliet calmed down enough to ask, “So it’s a prosthetic? Is she…dead?”

“Not quite, Jules. What we have here, my dear hysterical sister, is a mannequin. Someone just played a very nasty trick on us.”

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NYC Midnight 2016 Screenplay challenge

NYC Midnight assigns the genre, subject and character and you have 7 days and 12 pages to write a screenplay.  I was assigned ghost story, horoscope and kidnapper.  You have to make sure all three are used in the story.   Forewarning: R-rated language for those faint of heart!

(Link opens PDF file.)

Speak

 

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Character profile: Clint Mason

A reader asked me about my character, Clint, and why he didn’t want a commitment. In my mind, Clint is a character who carries the burden of his youth and his past on his shoulders. It colors how he sees the world and views relationships. His parents had an unhealthy marriage which has now skewed Clint’s view on all romantic relationships. Phee’s flaw is that she thinks she can fix him. She has the rose-colored idea that if she loves him enough, it will fix what’s broken inside of him. I think this is a reflection on many real-life relationships, so I wanted to show it in my characters. The question that I, as the writer, must decide is should Clint change as a character or should Phee change how she views him and love him anyway? Decisions, decisions. We’ll reveal more of Phee and Clint in my next book –

Couple hand by hand at Sunset.

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One more excerpt before the book is released!

(Warning: Unedited excerpt so may contain errors.)

An hour and a half later, we pulled into the parking lot of the Lamplighter. I pulled out a compact from my purse and checked that my disguise was still in place.

“I feel ridiculous,” Juliet said. “This thing is making my face itch.”

“It’s only for a little bit longer. Remember it’s for Nellie.” I stepped out of the car and adjusted my wig. Operation Pole Dancer Recon was in play. “Remember my name is Ralph Hutchins, and you’re John Wiggins. We’re feed salesmen from Des Moines on our way back to Iowa from a big pig feed convention.”

“I hope I don’t have to pee,” Juliet complained. “I have no magic to pull that act out of my hat.”

“I’m glad I kept all the costumes from the Founder’s Day play. Who knew Ben Franklin could be pimped out to look modern. A little haircut on the wig, a ball cap, a denim shirt and jeans…Bam! Instant man.”

“I look ridiculous. This beard is over the top. I look like I’m Amish.”

“You look like a feed salesman from Iowa. It’s perfect. You only need to do one more thing to pull this disguise off.”

“What’s that?” Juliet asked.

“Lose the purse. It’s a dead giveaway.”

Juliet grabbed her keys out of her purse and tucked them into her jeans.  She wore an old shirt of our grandfather’s that had been tucked away in a box waiting for my next trip to Goodwill. I adjusted her baseball cap and decided it was now or never.

We stepped inside and I sidled up to where Bruce was tending bar again. In the deepest voice I could muster, I said, “Gimme whatever you got on tap.”

“Sure thing. How about your friend?”

“John? You wanna a beer?”

“Uh, sure, Ralph. That’d be awesome.” Juliet croaked.

I rolled my eyes at her. Feed salesmen didn’t say awesome. “Me and my pal here were just at a pig feed convention.”

“You don’t say,” Bruce said, bored. He slid two mugs of beer across to me. I dug around in my front pocket and pulled out some money to pay.

“Yep. Got some new product coming out this fall that’s going to make those hogs bacon-producing machines.” I made a show of looking at the stage. Fortune shined upon me because it was Dusty dancing. “That sure is a nice- looking filly on stage. What’s her name?”

“That’s Dusty Rose. You got lucky. It’s her last night here. She’s moving back to Louisiana this week. Why don’t you boys go and enjoy the show. Dusty will give you a private lap dance for the right price.”

“I think I’ll do that. Come on, John. Let’s cop a squat close to the stage so I can check out that prime filet.” I grabbed my beer and swaggered across the floor.

“You look and sound ridiculous,” Juliet hissed.

“At least I didn’t say that a beer would be awesome. Oh my god, are we Valley Girls?” I hissed back. I grabbed a chair next to the stage and sat down.

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