Here’s a sneak peek at my new project The Coffin Bell.

            In 1829, in an effort to combat a rampant scourge of misdiagnosis of death; Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger invented a device that would allow the unfortunate not-so-dead corpse to signal those above that they were, in fact, alive.  A bell, affixed to a wrought-iron bracket, would be attached to the finger of the alleged corpse in an effort to be saved.  At first, the doctor was on his way to not only becoming the world’s first millionaire inventor, but he was certainly on the path to potentially save lives.  Many lives for that matter, because the paranoia of being buried alive or in fact, burying a loved one alive, had spread across all of England; not unlike the black death.  However, it was later discovered that many of the victims were actually in a coma and therefore unable to ring the bell to save their own lives.  Thus, Dr. Taberger halted the production of the bell and fell into poverty.  He died from an overdose of arsenic at the age of 57; buried with his own bell attached to his gravestone.

1854

2:32 A.M.

Reginald

            Reginald Winslow sat, bored and miserable on a rickety wooden desk chair; hollowed from termites and weak with age.  The cream-colored stain having long since worn from the seat.  He had debated to himself several times whether or not he should toss it into the fire, but Mr. Phelps might not think too highly of it.  He was allowed to burn only one single log an hour.  This rule did not include the only settee in the entire 20 by 20 square foot caretakers shack.

            He sat, breaking up the dried earth from his boots while his wool socks warmed on the stove.  He had been walking for most of the evening.  Sometimes on the path and sometimes not.  He carried a gnarled stick to fend off wolves; and the occasional grave robber; bent on pilfering jewels – buried along with London’s wealthy dead.

            A wolf howled from beyond the hills and the moon shone through the single small window – smeared wet with mist.  He picked at his teeth and attempted to relight the dottle in his pipe.  Other than a few flakes of dust, his pouch was empty.  A thick fog moved in; creating a dense, choked atmosphere.  Quickly, he became aware of something.  He bristled and instantly sat up straight.  He dropped the lit match into the fire and stood – placing his ear against the door.  He heard something; he was certain of it.  It rode along with the fog like a voice across the water.  At once he assumed it was Mr. Phelps coming to check on him.  The man loved to whistle.  Reginald promised him that he wouldn’t drink on the job any longer.  It was disrespectful to the dead to wander about the graveyard toting a whiskey bottle.  This was a lie, of course.  His whiskey was secretly warming in a flask near the fire.  It was the whiskey that helped him keep warm on those long lonely nights, especially when the dole of logs was getting low.  He opened the door and peered out into the fog.

            “Mr. Phelps?”  Mr. Phelps did not answer.

            The sound increased in volume and Reginald became aware of an uneasiness.  A dreadful feeling that poked and prodded at the back of his neck.  He stepped out further into the fog and directed his hearing towards the western gates.  Mr. Phelps continuously instructed him, every day prior to the beginning of his shift, to ensure that the gates were smartly locked and secure.  He turned his slightly misshapen ear towards the north.  The sound was an echo; a stone cast into an empty chasm.

            Retreating into the shack, Reginald pulled his socks and boots on and hoisted the leather rucksack over his shoulder.  On the trail towards the western gate; he leaves the shack with a shiver and pulls his cap tighter.  Thirty yards ahead the first group of graves came into view.  Martin Albright, Frederick Thompson, Angelina Sams – they were there to greet him as usual.

            Martin Albright had lost his life suddenly when he had stumbled off the west bridge and into the river.  Being too drunk to realize that he was drowning, his body let go of all interest.  His estranged wife had identified the body but said that it was only possible that it was her husband and she was glad he was dead.  Fredrick Thompson had been driving his handsome a bit later than usual when a man in dark clothes with a dark hat and a dark bag hefted himself into the cab with an even darker purpose.  He pulled a knife on Mr. Thompson.  Unfortunately, Mr. Thompson had but a shilling to account for.  Because of this, the knife entered his heart.  Angelina Sams died from the noose.  Justifiably so.  She had taken a candle from her dining room and lit her husband on fire while he slept.  Rumor has it he was having an affair.  This rumor has yet to be substantiated, but before his skin caught fire, the woman had severed his manhood and gave it to the family dog as a table scrap.  Reginald could recite from memory the cause of death for each of his departed friends, somewhat of a tour guide for the dead.  It was a skill that Reginald was quite proud of. 

Reginal tipped his cap and turned towards the pond and stopped quickly in his tracks.  He strained his neck somewhat and eyed the whitewashed grave of Walter Badlove.  Walter passed away at the tender age of 13; his young body destroyed by tuberculosis – or so the doctor’s thought.  His parents, well, mostly his emotionally delinquent mother, had believed that the doctors were wrong.  Her son was alive and merely sleeping, and she would tell them as such, as often as they would listen.  Though after twenty-two days, she conceded that it might be likely he was not.  In order to appease the woman, a Taberger bell was attached; in the off chance that the boy truly was alive.  However, that was fifteen years ago.  If he had been misdiagnosed and was buried alive, he wasn’t alive any longer.

            Even so, the noise that had brought Reginald from the warmth of the stove, was the bell attached to little Walter’s headstone.  It was ringing – not aggressively of course; like the bell on Witches Bridge.  That bell rang like a church bell under the slightest breeze.

            Reginald turned and faced Walter’s grave.  The small bell hung from rusted wrought iron.  He stepped closer.  The hairs on his arm stood upright.  There was the slightest breeze wafting through the glen.  Surely that’s the source.  Or perhaps it was all his imagination.  He stood – planted in place; watching the bell as it didn’t move.  It was at that very moment, somewhere behind him, that the sound of another bell was heard quite clearly.  Then another, and another.  Reginald turned back to young Mr. Badlove’s grave just in time to witness the bell ringing, louder then he thought possible. 

            Without another thought, Reginald Winslow ran.  He ran towards the front gate; faster than the rats he chases down Berkshire Lane.  Once outside the cemetery walls; leaving the gate open of course, he kept running; through the park – towards Whitehall – towards London, where Mr. Phelps slept soundly next to his wife – unaware that there could possibly be anything out of the ordinary.

            William Phelps slid across the wooden floor in slippers too large for his feet, his bedclothes wrinkled from heavy slumber.  He took a match and lit the candle nestled in the small alcove next to the bedroom’s door.  The knock upon the front door was startling enough at any time of the day, but at 4:30 in the morning, it was especially alarming.

            “Who’s there?”  He yelled from the inside.

            “It’s Reginald, sir.”  The caretaker’s voice was muffled.  “There’s a problem at the cemetery.”

            Mr. Phelps’s head tilted.  A problem at the cemetery?  He thought to himself as he grasped the door handle.  In truth, there was never a problem at the cemetery.  It was the one thing that he could actually count on.  Dig a hole.  Put the body in it.  Cover the hole, then leave me alone.  Those were his rules.  Along with locking the gates and staying sober, William Phelps cared to know nothing else.

            “Reginald?”  He opened the door and noticed a strange odor emanating from the gangly caretaker.  “What in the bloody hell is that smell?”

            Reginald instinctively checked his current condition then shrugged. His hygiene was not important at the moment.  He removed his cap.

            “Mr. Phelps, sir”  He bowed somewhat.  “I’m sorry to wake you at this hour but I had no other choice.”  Reginald, while having trouble catching his own breath, explained to Phelps what he had witnessed at the graves near the western gate.  William stomped angrily away from the front door; fully aware that he would have to investigate the situation himself.  He would not alert his wife.  Elizabeth would not be interested in the least.

            “Reginald, how many times have I told you?  The more you insist on abusing your body with that poison, the more likely you will experience hallucinations such as these.

            “Yes, sir.  I understand sir.”  Truth be told; Mr. Phelps never once offered Reginald that advice.  Mr. Phelps was not one for advice: sound or otherwise.  “I would agree with you on any other occasion sir but…”

            “But what?”  Mr. Phelps shouted.  “Out with it!”

            “I haven’t touched a drop this evening sir.”

            Mr. Phelps smirked at his subordinate, not knowing whether yet to believe him.  Either way, he needed to investigate.  He pulled on his boots and wrapped a wool muffler around his neck.  It wasn’t all that cold but he hated the cold – the bleak stiffness of the never-ending rain.  It soaked into his marrow and made him forever chilled. 

            The two left the warmth of the lavish dwelling and stepped into the rain.  Without hesitation, a calash pulled up; driven by a large black man Reginald only knew as Moe, and they jumped in.  Reginald hated riding in cabs.  The speed unnerved him so.  He held onto his cap as they turned one corner after another until they arrived at the west gate of the cemetery.

            “How many times have I told you to lock the gates at night?”

            Reginal rubbed the scruff of his chin and reflected upon the logic of this statement.  He thought better of responding and followed Mr. Phelps out of the handsome.

            “Yes, Mr. Phelps sir.”

            At the entrance, Reginald listened intently – with both ears, taking each step as lightly as he could.  The loose gravel would not make that a very easy task.  As quiet as that was, he took notice of nothing out of the ordinary.  No bells were ringing.  They reached the intersection at Walter Badlove’s grave and stopped.  Reginald looked around as if something had quickly been lost.  Mr. Phelps was not pleased.

            “I swear to you, sir.  All these bells were ringing.  If I had to guess, I would say that every grave was ringing sir.”

            “Mr. Winslow.”

            “Sir.”

            “If it is your intention to drink yourself to a point of hallucination every evening, that’s fine with me.  Our customers don’t care.  Just please do me a favor, would you?  Leave me out of it please.”

            If there was one thing that Reginald knew about Mr. Phelps, it was that one could not impress upon him a matter that which he was not familiar with.  Despite this complication, it would be in Reginald’s favor for William to witness the ringing first hand.  Frustrated, Reginald reached down and retrieved a loose stone from the trail with the intention of tossing it at one of the previously ringing headstones.  As if on command, the menacing sound of a bell’s jingle could be heard from the grave of Felicia LeClair.  She had died at the hands of her abusive mother when she was 17 years old; exactly 22 years ago.  The bell on her headstone was ringing with some ferocity that could not be attributed to the wind.

            William Phelps turned his face to the sound.

            “Is that what you woke me for?”  He sneered at Reginald.  “The wind and rain are to blame you fool.”  The caretaker put out his hand and felt not a drop.  Phelps was not blind to this observation.  They both quickly noticed that there was only a slight breeze.  Phelps pulled his coat tighter then instantly snapped his focus to the gravestone directly to his right.

            Kathrine Nichols had been walking down Savile Row on her way home one cold afternoon when she came upon a man sitting upright against a cold door leading to Wellshire’s Butchery.  He was holding his ankle and had a grimaced look upon his face.  It appeared that he had dropped a stack of books as well.  Kathrine stopped to help the man to his feet when she felt a burning pain in her abdomen.  She doubled over and screamed at the dagger stuck in her liver.  She looked up to find the man had vanished.  She took his place in front of the butchery and bled to death.  She was only 30 years old.  She and her sister Martha had owned a dress shop four blocks away.  She had been dead now for a mere 4 years.  Her headstone was one of a handful that was not outfitted with a bell.  Clearly, she would not be found buried alive.  However, the obvious sound of a coffin bell was coming directly from the ground in front of the stone that bore her name. 

            William Phelps took a frightened step back; visibly shaking.  Before either of them had an opportunity to understand the situation, the cacophony of bells could be heard from all directions.

            “Reginald.”

            “Sir?”

            “Run and get Constable Hildebrandt.”  Reginald cocked his head slightly but remained in place.  Phelps expressed his urgency.

            “Reginald!”

4:47 A.M.

Quintin Phillips

            The always sharpened blade of Quintin’s shovel penetrated the cold earth like melted butter.  He was not very bright, but his utility services could certainly be counted on.  Luckily, his was not the lone shovel at work.  Twenty men of varying size and ages dug at the ground of several graves.  The bells had oddly stopped ringing.  The silence was music to Mr. Phelps’ ears.

            The name engraved on the plaster headstone atop the grave that Quintin Phillips was currently disturbing was Wilhelmina Horvath.  The cause of her death 7 years ago is unknown.  She was found naked floating in the Thames.  It was assumed she had drowned, though there was no sign of foul play. 

They were to simply discover evidence of death; whatever that meant.  Quintin thought that there was evidence of death all around him.  The smell of death rolled towards them on the wind – on the very hills themselves.

“Q” as his mates referred to him, has been a gravedigger as long as he could remember.  He carried his shovel as early as seven years old.  He learned the trade, along with the drink, from his father; an abusive drunk that placed the well being of the dead far about that of himself and his mother.  But still, digging a hole in the earth alongside his father made him happier than anyone.  Now he wished his father hadn’t taken a knife to his mother.  He wouldn’t have had to wrestle that knife from him; that same knife that he plunged into his father’s neck.  Quinten shrugged as he usually did and threw another shovel full of cold dirt to the side of Ms. Horvath’s grave.

His frozen hands blistered and bled as the shovel finally struck wood after an exhausting hour of digging.  With instructions from the ornery constable, who had been standing near the grave the entire time, they were to only open the lids.  There was no sense in bringing the box up if they were truly dead.

“Bleedin waste of time if you ask me,”  Quinten said to his fellows.  “Once you’re off, no comin back from it.”  Nimbly, he jumped and lands square on the top of the wooden casket.  With a pry bar and some extra effort, he opens a portion of the box.  Without any hesitation, he climbs out of the hole; his face white with fear.  His coveralls muddy with dirt and death.

“What is the problem now, Quinten?”  Asked the constable.  But he chose not to wait for an answer.  He removed his cap and peered into the grave.  The gasp that was produced from the copper’s mouth was loud enough to be heard on Church Street.  The lid had been pried open haphazardly and was left in splinters.  Quinten had fallen and he crawled away from the hole.

“Never gaze into an empty grave.”  He said out loud.

Quinten ran up the lane and out of the cemetery; never to be seen again.  Reginald took a step toward the void nervously.  The other diggers toiled away impervious to such distractions.  Mr. Phelps elbowed Reginald aside and glanced down into the broken coffin.

“Empty?”  He looked around at everyone yet no one at all.  He then turned in bewilderment to officer Hildebrandt, who was just as frightened.  “Whatever does this mean?”

In a fury of unbridled haste, Mr. Phelps instructed the other diggers to hurry.  And one by one; all the caskets were opened, and likewise, all the graves were empty. Seven graves in all; the previous occupants: missing.  Truth be told; perhaps missing wasn’t the correct word, as William Phelps was never in attendance during internment, so how could he possibly say for certain that the departed were actually placed in the coffin at the moment of burial.  He scratched at the balding area on the crown of his head.  Reginald did the same.  He always looked up to Mr. Phelps and was confident that he should follow his direction in all matters regarding life and business.  He chose not to mention the whiskey.   

10:15

On the following Thursday evening,

Susan

            Susan Donahue walked briskly through Kennington Park on her way to Cooks Road.  London was wet but not raining.  The wet hung in the air as a mist, turning her bonnet into a soppy napkin.  Her handbag clenched in her gloved hands as she lost her footing and slipped on the wet cobblestones of Cooks Road.  She most certainly would’ve fallen directly on her face had a hand not grasped her delicate arm in time.  She righted herself and immediately turned to see the frail old gentleman that had assisted her. 

            “My dear,” the man exclaimed.  “Are you alright?”

            Susan addressed the slight man.  “Yes, thank you.”  His hand still held her arm.  “I thought someone had pushed me.”  The man, who had introduced himself to her as Charles Beakon, escorted her across the slippery road and inquired.

            “What is a lovely lady such as you doing out at this time of night, in this weather, and in such proximity to the park?”

            “I was leaving the theater and unfortunately, there wasn’t a single carriage available.  I chose to walk.”

            The man named Charles was old but not ancient.  His suit, dark gray with a crisp white shirt front.  His bowler smelled of fresh linseed oil and sat comfortably on a slightly messy head of unkempt silver hair.  There was a fresh growth of stubble on his chin.  Susan had never seen this man before and yet she felt comforted by his presence and welcomed his request to see that she made it home safely.

The man was silent for a block and a half before he asked Susan how she liked her tea.

“Tea?”  She asked, surprised at the notion.  “At this hour?”

“I have a special blend that I keep in a flask for just an occasion.”

The old man unscrewed the top of an antique flask and handed it to her.  She was wary at first; being not much of a drinker and she didn’t think too kindly of drinking from a stranger in public.  She had stopped beneath the glow of a burning streetlamp and glared at the man.  He was at least six full inches shorter than her.  She held the flask to her nose.  This was absurd, what harm would a small sip of tea do to anyone.  It smelled of black licorice and orange peel; very inviting.  When the warm liquid reached her tongue, she was surprised at how delightful it tasted.  She smiled at her small companion and he smiled right back; indicating that he agreed to allow another sip.

Susan handed the flask back and the two continued up Cooks Road.  The mist that was only somewhat heavy had thickened and turned into a solid fog.  So thick, in fact, Susan could barely see anything in front of her.  She stopped, afraid.

“Sir?”  She called out for the old man.  “Charles?”  No answer.  She began to feel something strange on her skin, much like oil, as if the fog were spreading it.  An odd taste traveled to her throat; a taste she was wholly unfamiliar with.  Now, the fog had become so thick she could no longer see.  She panicked and dropped to her knees.  She called out again but was met with only silence.  The last thing she saw was the white glove that was placed over her mouth.  The lights went out.  Forever.

The Photograph (new short story idea)

An annoying mist hung on the air as I sat on the bench outside the bookshop on Wells Street; the bag of flour I so desperately needed resting beside me.  No birds, just mist and flour.  The mid afternoon sky was the color of metal.  Not a color at all actually.  My coat, heavier then I needed, was just barely darker.  I had chose this spot on purpose, so many years ago when the smell of the sea brought with it a joyful feeling.  Children laughed, carefree on the beach front.  Music played from a phonograph through some open window.  Lily’s hand rested in my own.  The smell of the sea remains in abundance.  However, the joyful feeling has left for more auspicious surroundings.

I had just left the bookshop, purchasing a copy of Tom Sawyer to replace the first edition she had taken with her, when an odd looking man passed in front of me.  I got no good look at his face but he limped slightly as if there were a pebble in his boot.  A curious gait indeed.  His charcoal newsboy cap fitted snuggly atop a mass of long grey hair; matted and unkempt.  His black trousers were stained with what appeared to me to be bird droppings; not unmatched by a dirty, black pea coat, two sizes to large for the man’s frame if you asked me.  Despite his unruly appearance, I found the man rather mysterious and interesting.  And in stark contrast to my normal routine, I pocketed the book, grappled the bag of flour and followed him along the beach road.

The man pushed his hands into his pockets and turned left up the steep incline of Falls Hill Road towards the church.  Clearly, I thought to myself, the church was his destination.  He was in need of boarding.  But when he stopped at number 302 to take a seat on the steps, I must admit I was a bit confused.  Confused because his unwelcome appearance would offer him no assistance at that particular house.  Number 302 Falls Hill Road belonged to Miss Corrina Holmes.  An attractive young lady to be sure, but she was in no state to take in a boarder.  Certainly not one as suspicious.  Her husband had recently passed during a terrible robbery while he was in the states on business.  Many a gentleman have called on Miss Holmes, only to be turned down flat.  Corrina has confessed to me on more then one occasion that she considers me her only male friend.  I am honored, of course.  I wonder though: what would my Lily think?

I passed the gate at number 302; to keep up my pretenses, and hurried along as If I were simply on my way home.  I glanced back, and to my shock, saw that he was walking up the steps to the front door.  I stopped and turned; not giving a damn if he saw me.  He was about to enter Corrina’s house uninvited.  It was ghastly.  I simply could stand no more.

“See here now!”  I yelled to him while marching towards the gate.  “What are you doing there?”

His attention did not waiver.  He peered through the front door window and I climbed the steps towards him.

“You there!”  I should’ve brought my cane.

Before I could grasp his collar he turned at once in my direction, stopping my momentum, and I was once again caught by his odd and interesting way.  His face was clearly not what I expected.  It was not full of scars or infected by pock marks.  He was quite handsome if I must say.  How could such an unruly brute have such a charming face?  He held a gnarled finger up to his lips to calm my shouting and set his attention back to the door where he slowly turned the knob.  I was silent and without any such protest.  I was bothered just as much by my unwillingness to stop him as I was him entering.  But without a single word of objection, I followed him in.

I was still carrying the bag of flour as we entered the house at 302 Falls Hill Road.  Inside Corrina’s home I felt, for lack of a more logical word, uncomfortable; as if I had entered her bedroom while she was undressing.  I cringed uncontrollably.

The man searched quickly from room to room; looking for something.  I stood just inside the doorway and watched.  He ran to the kitchen, then to the bathroom, then back to the kitchen.  He rummaged through a stack of books in a sitting room.  Then he stopped at a tiny shelf in the hallway by the dinning room.  He plucked an item from the shelf and peered at it through dark brown eyes then shot a glance back to me, still waiting by the door.  The item was a photo and with a finger motioned for me to join him in the hallway.  Anything to get this entire business over with.

The photo that the man was staring at was of Corrina and I having an afternoon cup of tea for her birthday last July.

“So?”  I had seen the photo many times.  “Have you led me into this home to discover a photograph of me that I have seen several times?”  He smiled keenly and reached into his dirty coat pocket.  Exasperated, I looked around the home and wondered why Corrina had left her front door unlocked.  Those of us that had lived on the island for more than a decade never felt safe enough anywhere to leave our homes unlocked.  Corrina arrived from America only 5 years ago.  The idea made no sense.  I warned her of the evils in the world but she never would listen.

From his pocket, the man who would not speak, presented another photograph and held it out for me to examine.  Which I did.  The photo depicted the same café as in the previous photo.  I held the photo closer, puzzled by what I was looking at.  It was summer, and not too long ago for that matter.  Corrina looked the same as she does now.  It was the person that Corrina was sitting with at the café that gave my stomach a bit of a turn.

It was only two years ago, on a pleasant autumn day like today.  I had returned home from my daily walk along the shore.  Sometimes Lily would join me, but not on this day.  She chose instead to enjoy the day from the inside; with Tom Sawyer on her lap and Chopin on the record player.  Personally, I prefer Miles Davis.  Those old dusty nocturns were so depressing I would tell her.  She didn’t care.  She loved that music and I loved that she loved it.  We had many things in common but it was our taste in music that set us apart and kept our marriage interesting.  So when I heard one of these oppressive nocturns as I entered, I assumed she was there still; reading her favorite book.  She wasn’t.  The east window in the living room remained open and the throw blanket she had used rested on her leather chair.  I checked the kitchen.

A pot of freshly brewed tea sat unused on the stove top and a plate of scones waited on the table.  I was yet to feel concerned.  I took a bite and made my way to the stairs, thinking that she had decided to take a nap.  She was not in bed.  Nor was she anywhere to be found within the home.  Neither was she out in the garden.  I rang the constable but was unable to convince him of foul play.  After a day or two, I was forced to come to the understanding that my Lily wasn’t taken.  She hadn’t befallen some monstrous incident.  No; this was much, much worse.

Her wardrobe was empty.  Not a single article of clothing remained.  She had left.  She had left and taken Tom Sawyer by the hand.  This was what I believed.  That was until this last summer when I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Brent Farhey.  The man, who was from California; told me that he had spoken to my wife a few days prior to her disappearance and that she had spoken very highly of me.  Brent, a journalist by trade, expressed to me that he had know my wife in school when they were a few years younger.  Mr. Farhey’s call brightened my spirits a bit but I never got over the pain.  If she had left, I needed to know why.  If she was taken; was she alive?  Where were the usual ransom demands?  Demands that I would not be able to meet.

I looked closer at the photograph and tried to quell the feeling of anger that was swelling inside me.  Her dark brown hair fell just below her slender shoulders.  Her light blue eyes glowed in the warm summer sun.  It was her alright.  Sitting there next to Corrina;  the only good friend I had on the island, was my wife Lily.  This photo was clearly taken after she had left.  More mystifying to me however, was that my dear Corrina never told me that she had even knew or met my wife.

“Where did you get this?”  I demanded.  He shook his head and stumbled towards the front door.  I grasped his color, dropping the flour.  “Answer me, would you!  Where did you find this?”

The dirty speechless man pointed up and I took that as meaning that he found the photograph upstairs.

 

 

“A Mother’s Whisper.”

I’m so excited to be nearly finished with this.

 

Walter is in trouble.  Not from the law or from his place of business, but from himself.  Walter Kirk is suffering from severely debilitating nightmares.  As he struggles to reattach the frayed fabric of his existence, he learns more about his life than he cared to.  At the center of this struggle is a mysterious box.  Inside the box; well, that depends on Walter.

The trouble begins when Walter meets a girl: Penelope.  Upon meeting this wholly beautiful woman, Walter’s world comes crashing down around him in a single lightning flash of terror.  Once the Nightmares begin, Walter becomes unable to free himself from his own mind.

In order to free himself and discover the mystery behind his Mother’s death, Walter must place himself in grave danger.  What that danger is, only Walter can know.  And what he has yet to learn is that things are not always what they appear to be.

This just in…

Bob Scott Publishing.

We are pleased to announce the signing of Brian Kelly Irons and his Princess Jessie series. The debut book, Princess Jessie And Her New Friend, will be released early in 2019, with more to follow.

The Blood Red Box cont…

A fire must be lit.

 

I awoke with a shudder to a sound that I can only describe as sawing wood.  And as my eyes adjusted to the glow effusing through the portiere, I was relieved at the realization that it had all been a dream.  I was safe at home; in bed – worrying about nothing more than the unrelenting din of life from down upon Herald Circle.  I smiled with childlike mirth on the occasion.  Summer had finally arrived.  I stepped onto the cold oak floor to retrieve a match from the mantle.  T’was still early and a fire must be lit.  With loving posture, I kissed my mother’s picture and opened the flue.  A curtain of dust-filled sunlight caressed the wood floor and I halted.  Something was amiss.  Perhaps my mind was having its way with me, or maybe this was a residue leftover from the previous nights horrible dream, but I had always known sunlight to be golden yellow.  Yet the glow of light radiating through my bedroom window was a fiery burnt orange.

The clock on the mantle read 7:32 AM.  I quickly ran to my night table to reference my wristwatch.  The time was accurate.  I stood staunch before the window with my hand upon the draperies.  My body went cold as I pulled the curtain apart and spied the scene below.  The world as I knew it; or as I had once come to know it, was gone.  In it’s place was an inferno.  A blazing mass of fire.  The library on the corner of Wilshire and Primrose was engulfed in flames as large as the building itself.  The market where I was to purchase my rice for this evening’s supper was all but gone; a pile of red and white embers infused with soot black as night.

I quickly thought of the helpless people that might have been caught in this hell on earth but noticed almost instantly that there was an odd lack of movement.  Where was everyone?  Where were the sirens, the emergency crews?  Why was there no effort being put forth do stop the blaze?  The only vehicles in view were those left abandoned on the street – gutted by fire.  Walter, get a grip on yourself.

I spun on my heels to face my bedroom door.  The voice had come from that direction.  The room had gone cold and turned a dark grey like the color of a winter evening.  The room itself felt smaller and the fire that I had only recently lit had gone out with out even a memory.  My heart began to palpitate and I reached for the glass of water sitting innocently unaware on my night table.  The voice that I had heard was the same.  The same from my dream.  My nightmare.  I placed the glass onto the sill and turned back to the horror below.  What will become of me now?  I thought.  All that I know is gone. 

I wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my nightshirt and regained my composure.  Absurd.  My rationale had returned in earnest and I moved with haste to my wardrobe.  I must go down and help whoever I can.   I dressed for the occasion, as I always do: jeans and my new white Provatchi t-shirt.  One must look dashing even during the worst of situations.  While lacing my boots I stole one last glance out my window.  There, in the middle of the westbound side of Sweetwater was a child.  And if my eyes did not deceive me, it was a girl.  I was guessing of course but she appeared  to me to be no older than 7 or 8.  I put the laces in God’s hands and ran down the stairs and burst though the front door and out into the heat of purgatory.

Down on the street my boots fell upon an endless beach of broken glass and debris.  The smell of rot covered my once beautiful city, and at once I turned round to see my own building engulfed in flame; the windows broken, shutters turned to ash.  The very front door that I had just exited was in black pieces upon the steps themselves.  But I had no time to ponder.  I turned east down Herald Circle and quickly turned left onto Sweetwater.  The girl was there, just as I had seen her from my bedroom window and I was forced to look back upon my apartment that was no longer standing.  Her dress was blue like the sky once was.  There was a ribbon of white silk holding ruby red curls in place.  White stockings were worn underneath shoes of shinny black.  She had her back turned to me as I approached. 

    “Walter.”  She said – her back still turned.

I came closer and asked her if she was alright and where her parents might be.  I would be more than happy to help her to find them.

    “Walter.”  The sound was that of a whisper yet vociferous in my ears.

 

Her Face

 

The flames from the surrounding neighborhood threw intense heat on my face as I circled her.  I stood, yes, but my legs felt as if they were no longer holding me erect.  I must say now that it is quite arduous and painful to describe what I saw once I faced her.  Her hair, once bouncy with curls was dirty with soot and matted to her face,  Her dress was burned and fell in rags off her shoulders.  The skin of her limbs was blistered and broken; puss oozed from open wounds.  Her face was a mask of death.  Charred pieces of flesh hung off of her face like torn meat.  There was a gash that ran from her chin down to the top of her neck; open and black with dried blood.  Her nose was flat as if she had fallen directly on it.  The eyes – no, I cannot speak of her eyes for she had none.  In their place were two black marbles – lidless – that dripped down her burnt cheeks as if they were melting from the intense heat.  When she opened her mouth, her teeth appeared to match the color of the surrounding devastation.  Her breath was that of rotten flesh.

She raised her arms and it was then that I saw that in her hands she held a box.  I gasped at the sight of that box.  Yes, the same box from my dream of the night before.  The same glossy red finish.  The same boar’s head clasp, with hinges made of brass.  She held it aloft towards me – urging me without words to take it from her.  I resisted.

    “Walter.”  My name, issued from her, but not her mouth set my skin to chill.

Without warning or fanfare, the box opened of it’s own purpose.  I had expected to see the same thick crimson blood that was my own, but I was momentarily relieved when the box appeared to hold nothing at all.  The girl held the box higher, willing me to relieve her of it.  Reluctantly I did.  And upon doing so, the girl changed.  Gone were the charred pieces of hanging flesh.  Black, lifeless eyes were replaced by eyes as green as a meadow.  Her hair was a dark red; bordering on mahogany.  And when she smiled, the sun reflected off of her pretty face.  She had changed, but she was no longer the little girl that I had seen; that I had spoke to, and taken the box from.  As if some sort of magic or trickery was taking place, the girl was now a beautiful young woman; easily the age of 35.  She was tall and slim, but not too slim.  Athletic yes, that’s more like it.

I had forgotten about the cursed box I was holding and continued to stare at her.  The holocaust that had taken over the city was now gone.  The colors of summer had returned and all around me was life.  The sound of children rang throughout the streets and shop owners turned their welcome signs to “open”.  Cars and busses drove passed me as I stood still, in the middle of Sweetwater Drive as she lifter her hand to touch my face.

    “Do I know you?’  I asked.  She didn’t speak.  A nod of her head and a smile was her answer.  “How do I know you?”  Again, she did not answer, or refused to answer, I’m not sure of which.  She held my face and my gaze and smiled a smile of the heart.  The smile of an innocent child on a snowy Christmas morning.

I noticed a silver bracelet on her wrist as she touched my face.  It was small and inexpensive but with inscription: “To my darling Beatrice” and knew right there who she was.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Mom?”  It was the only word that I could say.  Again she nodded her head – unable to speak.  “What are you doing here?”  She pointed at the box that I held and stepped back to leave.  I wanted to ask her how she was: what was it like there?  I wanted to know why she had to die.  I wanted to tell her about all the nights that I lay awake dreaming of all the times she sang to me; that it made me feel safe and protected.  I wanted to tell her that I loved her and miss her so very much.  But most of all I wanted to say thank you:  Thank you Mom.  Thank you for my life.  I wanted all these things but she just kept pointing at the box as she faded into a soft blue mist.

If I seemed at the time to be somewhat apprehensive, It may have been because I was standing in the middle of the busiest street in the city, holding a box that once held my blood; given to me by my Mother who had been long dead.  Once on the sidewalk and out of harms way I looked again at the life around me.  I felt my cheek and could still smell my mother’s hand upon me.  I breathed a well earned sigh of relief.  And it was then that I saw the box.  I had placed it down on the concrete after reaching the side of the road.  I could see the window of my apartment from where I stood and I felt comforted that I was okay, and that I was going to be okay, and that the world was okay.  So I lifted the box.  It had closed after the dead girl had given it to me.  I quick glimpse of fire in my mind held me fast and within a second, it was gone.

I carefully lifted the clasp and opened the box.  The hinges once again protesting.  To my surprise, the box was not empty.  Though it did not hold the gore that was in my dream, I still remained on guard.  Inside the box; resting on soft, red velvet, was a folded piece of torn notebook paper, like a note passed in English class to the girl you want to take to the dance.  I retrieved the note and placed the box carefully on the grass.  With this, the air around become like ice.  The colors of my long awaited summer were gone, replaced by grey and black.  There was a hideous growl from behind me and the ground shook under my feet.  cold breath expelled visibly into vapor from my mouth as I unfolded the paper to read one word written in still wet red ink. 

Run!

Why do I bother?

I write. I sit and I write: words of meaning strung together to form sentences. Paragraphs large and small. I worry over punctuation and structure. Arduous yet obligatory amounts of semicolons; much more exciting then commas.

Best selling author Dan Brown has been quoted as saying that “The first order of business everyday should be to write.” However, as for most of us; we trudge along at the toils of our day jobs without the luxury of choice. So we write when we can; when the opportunity arises. Like now. I choose to write these words now.

But why? Why do I bother? Why do I care how many spaces there should be after the end punctuation? (2 please). Oftentimes, with pen in hand, I pour through my thesorous; searching for an alternative to the perfect expression of a particular emotion needed to make my paragraph move in one direction or another.

As I’m certain you are aware, this is not an easy task. Like any other endeavor, we strive to be the best. And we often fail miserably. Then with a fresh, crisp new page – we try again and hope that one day, someone will enjoy reading what we’ve worked so hard to finish.

Currently, most of my words exist in a vacuum. My finished works go unpublished; professionally anyway. And yet I continue to write; 2, sometimes 3 thousand words a day. A number of times, the words I write end up being gibberish and I’m required to edit and mold them into a coherent and intelligent thought.

Is the end goal to simply be published? I suppose that could be true. We all want to see our stories bound together by the perfect looking cover. A book store is a writer’s dream isn’t it? And yet I wonder.

If I were to never become a published writer, would that alter my love of writing? I’m not so sure. I enjoy the stories, poems, and essays that I’ve written over the past ten years. But, like my children; I want them to do well. I want them to be successful and to accomplish great things. Though, isnt it enough that I have them all to myself?

Thank you for joining me on this miniature journey. And remember, as a writer; the struggle is part of the journey.

Photo of the Day

photo-of-the-day

I ran a google search on “photo of the day” and this was the first photo that came up.  I thought it might be a fun little exercise to pick a photo then write about it.  Clearly this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

I sat right here at this desk that I purchased from Pier 1, along with the abnormally soft chair that is currently holding me and my favorite zip up hoodie, and looked at the above photo for at least 37 seconds – thinking that it might just be that easy to be inspired by a tree in the desert.

I quickly started thinking about French fries.  Not just any French fries though; cheese fries.  No!  Cheesy bacon fries.  NO!!!  Bacon ranch fries with scallions.  Clearly I was not ready to write about this tree.   I looked at it again and felt a surge of concentration.

There was something of meaning here; regarding roots and branches.  Family maybe?  Maybe.  Too sentimental.  Too personal.

Jason called me a woman today.  We do that a lot at work.  Silly boyish banter that keeps us fresh and free of the bitter “I hate customer service” feeling for the rest of the day.  Unless of course I get a call about something that they want to blame me for.  Insert middle finger here.

Truth be told…  I loathe this photo.  There is so much emotion in its shadows.  The partially blued sky seems contradictive to the arid bleakness of the dry death looming over the small village nestled harshly in the background.  The cracked earth existence is compelling.  For all impractical purposes; I wish I were there.  Time has stood still yet life moves along slowly but with blood flowed purpose.  Time will move once again.  It will tear at the very bark of the tree, rip the fabric of this world in two.  Where will you be when this occurs?  Will you be sitting on your lush leather furniture – sipping your latte with your BFF?  Or will you be providing meaning to your photo?  Will it also be a photo that I will loathe?