A huge thanks to Amelia Curzon for having me again at her blog. Initially she had asked me here to talk a little bit about two charity anthologies I recently contributed to. But there was something else I needed to say…
A wise man named Edmund Burke said once that all that was needed for evil in the world to triumph was for good people to do nothing, and he’s right. It is f-ing hard to live in the world today and contend with all the hassles that a normal day requires, plus make that extra effort to help someone in need. It’s much easier to make excuses and not help, especially when it’s not a life or death situation. The consequences of non-action don’t always have to be personally dealt with, or the resulting suffering seen firsthand. As time goes on, it usually gets easier to pretend that everything worked out okay without your help.
Before anyone thinks I’m casting stones self-righteously, I admit that I’ve done this. One night last April as I was going down to town with my husband to a friend’s party, he remarked that we had passed a cat hit in the road. I didn’t make him go back because we were already late. Two or three hours later, going home, we both saw that there were now two cats hit in the road only a few feet apart. This time I made him stop, and got out to pull them off….and found to my horror that one of the cat’s was still alive, just paralyzed. I got him off the road, but he still died in my arms. And I will wonder the rest of my life if I had pulled the initial cat’s body out of the road when we first went past if the other cat—who was likely his friend/companion—would have gotten hit at all.
In short, I’ve felt overworked and overloaded and let a situation slide that I should have addressed (or instead addressed it too late, as above). But these are always the moments I look back on with shame, because I know—and I knew then— I should have acted differently. And I don’t want to be that person. I want to be someone who tries her best to help to the best of her ability, and looks back with satisfaction that she did the right thing. Maybe I won’t get it right every time. But I’m sure as hell going to give it my best shot.
Now onto the charity anthologies!
Fear: A Modern Anthology of Horror and Terror brings together, for the first time, tales of murder, monsters and madness, by sixty of the world’s best indie horror authors. My short story “Grandma’s House” is in Volume #1. All royalties from sales will go directly to the international charities, Barnardos and Médecins Sans Frontières (a.k.a. Doctors Without Borders). At 99 cents, it’s a steal!
Excerpt from “Granma’s House”:
Granma’s house was huge, by most standards. It wasn’t a mansion by any means, but there were a full 3 floors, and a large basement, though there was no way in hell I was going down there, not even if the furnace shut off…
Where had that thought come from? I’d never been scared of anything in my life. And why should I be afraid here? No one had been murdered here, or anything…
There was a soft noise from upstairs, so soft I wondered if I’d heard anything. God, what was wrong with me? I was imagining something out to get me. No wonder my doctor had prescribed tomorrow’s procedure.
Angry with myself, I turned on some lights, then settled into my Granma’s chair. What should I read? I’d brought a novel—horror, of course—and some old Flinch comic books, and also some stationery with sailboats on it to catch up on letters. I sifted through the paper, only then realizing that it had been my grandfather’s. His name and this address were on each page across the top
I had the crazy thought that if I wrote my thoughts down and left them in his room upstairs, he would be able to read them. We could communicate that way…
“Stop it,” I told myself angrily, setting down the cards. “You know that’s not true. What has everyone been telling you?”
I got up again, then looked at the clock. It was near nine, definitely time for bed. But as I got my duffel bag and went to grasp the old hallway door, I heard that noise again upstairs, a soft sound.
“Stop being stupid!” I said aloud angrily, then wrenched the door open and went to the base of the stairs.
Plastic still coated the thick carpet. But my grandfather had been a big believer in plastic. We had teased Granma after he died, telling her that we’d expected she would get covered in plastic bags and labeled, then put in a closet, as he’d done to practically everything else they owned.
But she had, didn’t she? a voice inside my head said. She got covered in plastic bag in that kitchen, when she died there.
I pushed the thought aside, then put my foot on the step. A slight creek answered the pressure, louder as I put my full weight on it.
Should have remembered these stairs, I thought. Every single one creaks.
The noise from upstairs came again. This time I couldn’t tell myself it had been my imagination.
I waited, fear sliding up my spine.
The sound came again, footsteps maybe. Soft creaking, too slow to be anything else.
Someone was up there? Who? Grandpa? I couldn’t see. The staircase was a split level, with the upper part at a right angle to the first, and hidden by a wall, I wouldn’t see what it was until it stood right in front of me..
The sounds approached, until they were at the top of the stairs.
“Grandpa?” I said, my voice creaking more than the stairs, so it came out like a child’s plea.
There was silence, then a creak, deliberate. And close.
Whatever it was, it was coming down the stairs.
I held my ground, fighting the urge to run. This had to be a ghost, and it if was, it surely meant me no harm, Hadn’t I just been asking to communicate? If my grandpa was making the effort, what kind of jerk would I be to run away?
Another creak came, another step descended.
What if it wasn’t a ghost? What if it was someone crazy who’d broken in and was using the empty house for a base? A serial killer or something? Maybe the noises I’d heard had been him killing a victim!
Another creak, another step.
That couldn’t be true. It wasn’t logical, the doors had all been locked, everything had been secure. There was even a layer of dust on the floor I’d disturbed coming in here…
Another creak. Another stair. Whatever it was, it was halfway to the landing.
I just had to be brave…I had to trust that my fear was irrational. It had to be a ghost. And I would be woman enough to stand here and face it.
The sounds stopped. Whatever was there was waiting. But waiting for what?
Wild at Heart Young Adult Stories (Vol. II) is a collection of short stories that includes a wonderful variety of contemporary and paranormal tales, and was produced by the Diamond State Romance Authors as a project of love to benefit the residents of the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. All profits from this collection will go directly to the refuge to help with the care and feeding of the rescued animals. This anthology includes my short story, “Heart’s Solace.”
Excerpt from Heart’s “Solace”:
The next few months were magical. Nazdeha was a perfect companion, following Tasha everywhere. They explored the forest, her on horseback, and he in the trees shadowing her. They spent hours lounging in the sun, Tasha reading to Nazdeha as the great cat lolled with eyes closed, her head pillowed on his flank. He slept in her bed, his bulk curled on one side of the great king size bed, Tasha on the other.
The great cat communicated through nods and shakes of his head. He purred when he was pleased or thankful, and distanced himself from her when he was upset. Encouraged, Tasha made an alphabet from large pieces of paper, and laid them out on the floor, telling him to step on the letters, to spell out words for her. “Tell me who you are,” she said excitedly, pencil and paper in hand.
Instead of the expected grateful purr, Tasha’s efforts instead got her a shake of the head, and the silent treatment for the rest of the night.
Tasha was undaunted by Nazdeha’s refusal to communicate beyond yes and no answers. She remained convinced he was a man under a curse, like in fairy tales Several times, she pleaded with him to change his form, to show her the man she knew he must be.
But Nazdeha would only look at her, as if he couldn’t understand. Afterwards, he always would retreat away from her and curl into a ball for at least an hour.
Surmising he was trapped in lion form, Tasha stopped mentioning it. Talk of what he had once been only upset him. She had no way to break a curse. That he was here with her was enough for Tasha.
Late summer became fall. And with the winter wind came a letter from Tasha’s father, telling her he would not be home again for Christmas, but that she was welcome to meet him in Moscow, if she wanted to make the trip.
Tasha tore up the letter. “He knows I hate the city,” she said. “Besides, I couldn’t take you there, Nazdeha. I’m not leaving you here alone for the holidays.”
The cougar nuzzled her shoulder, his loud purr a vibration she felt through her thick sweater.
“Do you need to go out before bed?” Tasha asked. “It’s close to midnight.”
Nazdeha nodded, then jumped up off the bed, and walked to the bedroom door.
Tasha followed, opening the door so he could leave.
The lion trotted out.
Instead of readying herself for bed, as she usually did, Tasha paused, and then looked out the door, watching the shadow of the lion as it traveled down the long hallway.
Nazdeha had headed for the kitchen, not outside to relieve himself.
Curious, Tasha hurried after the cat, creeping down the long hallway and into the kitchen. A naked man was in front of the refrigerator, his scarred back to her as he ate pickles from a jar. She let out a gasp.
The man heard her and swore, then grabbed a dishtowel to cover himself. “Don’t look at me!”
Tasha turned away, her cheeks burning. “So you can change form.”
“Yes,” came the hesitant reply. “Go upstairs, Tasha. I’ll leave—”
His voice was rough, either naturally or from disuse. It was the sexiest voice she had ever heard in her life. “You’ll do nothing of the kind. Don’t you dare change back, Nazdeha. I think I deserve some answers.”
“It’s Theo, actually,” the man said sadly. “That’s my real name.”