Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wrap-up of Homesdead

This is the wrap-up of the story 'Homesdead'. The story began here.

Pampa, Texas

The best way to begin this wrap-up, is to open with the sentiment that spurred on my writing of the story: gratitude. Thank you, my friends in Pampa, Texas, for your love and support. You know who you are. Several of you chose character names for this story, and cheered me on as I wrote your smiles and charm into the tapestry of my fictional world.

A few years ago, I hit a spiritual low point that I couldn't come back from alone. Even writing wasn't enough. Normally under those circumstances, I would have turned to the stage to cheer me up. This time, it didn't pan out. I talked to a good friend about my problems, and she came up with a unique solution. She talked to some friends in Pampa. And that's how I was introduced to the world of the Pampa Nutcracker. The men and women of the Pampa Civic Ballet welcomed me with warm hearts and open arms. It was exactly what I needed. Thank you.


I pulled a Hitchcock in this story, a little cameo. Here's a hint – last chapter, someone you haven't seen before.

My Pampa friends don't need the hint, of course. They know.

In the early parts of the story, our heroine and Charlotte talk about the lyrics of a Sonia Leigh song. They're referencing the artist's latest album, titled December 1978. It's loaded with great driving music. I listened to it during my last trip to Pampa, there and back again.

I actually have a specific 'Maryanne' playlist. It has tunes from Alabama, Asleep at the Wheel, Janis Joplin, Sonia Leigh, Sass Jordan, and odds 'n ends from soundtracks like Twister and Cars, to name a few. I don't listen to it when I write, but its my go to playlist when I drive.

Where this story fits in the big picture

This story stands out from the other UBA stories in the three ways. First, the geographic location within Texas is made very clear. Second, there's a healthy dose of Texas law thrown in and tied directly to the supernatural aspects. Three, there's a major timeline jump.

The first two aspects are what they are; I want to focus attention on the third. Part way into the story, Maryanne leaves Pampa and goes to Paris. She comes back despondent and taciturn. The focus of the short story is on events in Pampa, so events in Paris are not explained. Regular readers of this blog have heard Paris mentioned before...Absola emailed Maryanne from Paris. The chain of emails and attached documents, mentioned in the current story, were included in full in the story 'Doubled Jeopardy'. The details of Absola's adventures, and Maryanne's misadventures, will come in a later story.

In a previous blog entry I mentioned publishing Absola's Paris story soon, on the blog. Double change of plans – it won't be soon, and it won't be on the blog. I'll explain the why in the next blog entry.

The Vildru, while not actively present in this story, are far from forgotten. They're part of the main story arc that runs through the series. The development in this story: there are two factions of Vildru, and they've experimented on the same person. Maryanne knows who that person is, and regular readers may have already guessed. If you haven't guessed yet, read / re-read 'Doubled Jeopardy' and this story for the clues. And don't forget, our darlin' heroine has already made a mistake that leaves her and the rest of the UBA vulnerable. It's all connected.


We saw the departure of a long time UBA member during this story. Rest in peace, Anthony.

Hmm. Is that an appropriate thing to say to a dead ghost? And what is he now that he's no longer undead? Dead-dead? There's something to debate over a cup of joe.

Do note my choice of words. We did not say farewell. We said rest in peace. If I'm successful in bringing this series to my envisioned finale (in the distant future), there will be reason to recall the semantic distinction.

The next blog entry will address the future of the Undead Bar Association blog and stories. I hope you'll tune in.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Homesdead - Part 31. Maryanne Wells.

This is the final part of a serial story.  The story began here.

In the weeks that followed, I almost forgot about Pampa and the Johnson case. There was plenty going on in Amarillo that kept my busy. But a stream of e-mails from Steve and Alfredo reminded me of the friends I had waiting in the town to the north. Then Deedee and Renee started messaging me, too. It was clear I'd get no rest until I returned to Pampa for the Nutcracker ballet. So, on a chilly day in December, I put on a dress and hauled myself back to Pampa.

When I saw the Nutcracker as a child, the story made no sense to me. There were too many plot holes. I found that time hadn't really remedied that failing.

The Nutcracker opens with a party scene, during which a little girl, Clara, is given a nutcracker doll. She falls asleep in the living room. She dreams that the nutcracker comes to life. The wooden doll, with the help of a small army of toy soldiers who have also come to life, battles a bunch of local mice. The king of the mice almost wins. Just as he's about to mortally wound the nutcracker, Clara steps up and whacks the mouse king over the head with her shoe. Either she's unusually spirited, or feminism was alive and well in her otherwise rigid, Victorian family. The Nutcracker steps up and kills the mouse king. For some reason, the death of his rodent foe turns the nutcracker into a real prince. The prince takes Clara off to some sort of magical candyland, which he may or may not rule. Either the Sugar Plum Fairy rules the world, or she's acting as the prince's regent. Regardless of who's actually in charge, the Sugar Plum Fairy thinks Clara should be honored for hitting a mouse with a shoe. Clara gets a flower, a giant lollipop, and the chance to view a series of ethnic dances. With such grand rewards, there's little doubt Clara became a serial rodent killer by the time she hit puberty.

What any of it has to do with Christmas is beyond me.

Don't get me wrong; attending the nutcracker can be a great holiday tradition. I tend to over-think things. I know that. It's what I've done my whole life. Really, if I let got of the nutcracker storyline and just enjoy the dancing, it's fun. And in Pampa it was easy to let go and just enjoy myself, because I knew some of the performers.

I smiled when Dee Dee came out on stage as the family nurse. She led a small herd of children in a dance then settled them on the floor near the Christmas tree. Alayna popped out of a box, dressed as a life-size doll. She danced across the stage, to the delight of everyone at the party. The children had barely calmed down from the excitement of giant dolls and presents when Alfredo moved to the center of the stage. He raised his arms in a grand gesture, and the adults on stage moved forward into a line.

My eyes went to Renee. She was wearing a grand frock with a long, blue skirt. Renee took her partner's hand and danced with graceful ease. If she was that good in the opening scene, I couldn't wait to see her dance in the second act. As for her dance partner, my cousin Steve, he didn't mess up. Some people would even say he did well.

A woman dressed in pink, Clara's aunt, I think, flirted shamelessly with her on-stage beau. I chuckled at the very Victorian shock on Renee's face. Then someone seated in the row ahead of me shifted in their seats, pulling my attention from the stage.

It was Nora Johnson; I was sure of it. The tilt of her head was a dead give away. She turned her to say something to a man seated on her right. I saw her profile, and in the dim light caught a glimpse of her smile.

She smiled? Truly? Something coiled tightly around my heart loosened a few degrees. Somehow, after all the darkness and hate, this woman found joy in living.

I looked for Nora during the intermission. It was surprisingly difficult to find her. The lobby quickly filled with people. The crowd ebbed and flowed around the various themed Christmas trees. I saw more motion than individuals.

The lights in the lobby dimmed, signaling the end of the intermission. I joined the crowd filing slowly back into the theater. Suddenly, I felt a gentle touch on my arm.

“Hello, Maryanne,” said Nora Johnson.

I turned and smiled at her. “I hoped I'd find you,” I said; “looks like you beat me to it.”

“Frank and I saw you, and wanted to say hello.”

“Frank?” I queried. Looking at the man next to Mrs. Johnson, I recognized Frank Barton.

Nora looked at Frank fondly. “We've known each other for years. Recently we've had a chance to talk and, well...” she trailed off and blushed.

“Nora agreed to let me take her out this evening. Dinner and a show,” Mr. Barton said jocundly. He offered Nora his arm. She accepted with a smile.

“I'm so glad,” I said. “It's not often I get to see a client after a case is done. And you're happy.”

“Yes,” Nora said contentedly. “I was able to buy a little house down the road. And I got a job at the elementary school, as administrative secretary. Life is good.”

Mr. Barton looked around at the churning crowd. “I think we're gumming up the works, ladies. We should go in.”

I nodded and led the way. At the entrance to my row I paused to watch the happy couple go past. Nora Johnson looked back at me one more time, and said, “Merry Christmas, Maryanne. God bless you.”

Something caught in my throat, and my vision blurred. I nodded. When I could speak again I whispered, “Merry Christmas, Nora. And Happy New Year.”

Homesdead - Part 30. Maryanne Wells.

This is Part 30 of a serial story.  The story began here.

Steve insisted on being present when Hank was removed from the house.

“It's not entertaining,” I warned him. “It's not like going to the movies and seeing a lot of special effects. You can walk away after you've been to the movies without a mark on your soul. But seeing a ghost removed impacts you, in inexplicable ways. Your own spirit will shiver when you it bears witness to another being forced forever out of the mortal realm.

“I would think my soul would rejoice. Aren't we righting a wrong?” Steve asked.

“Yes, but we're using force to do it. Souls don't like to be forced. Your own won't want to see this happen.”

“I'm going,” Steve insisted.

Father Blackman accepted Steve's presence without question. He handed my cousin the incense burner, and told him where to stand.

“Will you call the ghost?” Father Blackman asked me.

I nodded and pulled a cheese-cracker out of my pocket. The orange squares had taken on almost as much significance as a communion wafer. Which reminded me...

“Did you ever talk to Mrs. Johnson about Hank's obsession with food?” I asked Father Blackman.

He smiled. “When Hank was alive, it was Nora who obsessed about food. Hank choked once, here in the kitchen. He performed the Heimlich on himself using the rounded top-post of a chair.”

“And after that, Nora nagged him to take smaller bites,” I concluded. Father Blackman nodded. “Good to know,” I murmured.

“Why? Is is helpful?” asked Steve.

“Choking, I'm told, is a very unpleasant experience. Hank's experienced it twice. I suspect he remembers quite vividly what it feels like.” I held the cracker high above my head and crushed it between my fingers.

“SMALLER BITES!” screamed Hank.

Instantly, Father Blackman threw a handful of fine, white salt in the air. He signaled to Steve, who made quick circle with smoke from the incense burner. The salt and the smoke blended together. They hovered then settled slowly into a vaguely human form.

“Greetings, Hank Johnson,” I said.

The form took on definition. A tall man in his early eighties, bald, but still strong with a workman's bulky build. “You,” he growled.

“Yes. The name's Maryanne Wells, by the way. Not that I expect you to care.”

“I don't.” Hank Johnson looked around the room slowly. He spied the priest and sneered. “Going to try again, are you?”

I rubbed the cracker bits between my fingers to get Hank's attention. I wanted him focused on me, not the priest. Hank turned around and glared at me.

“Don't toy with me,” he said. Suddenly, he grabbed the edge of the table. Hank lifted the unwieldy piece of furniture and tossed it across the room. The priest and Steve ducked, dropping down to the floor.

I laughed. “What a dangerous power,” I said. “Has it occurred to you, Hank, that if you are sufficiently corporeal to lift up furniture and throw it, you might be subject to physical things hurting you?”

“What do you mean?”

I pulled a fresh cracker out of my pocket. “I wonder what it would be like to choke to death twice. Say we were to force this into your throat whole, and the little corners got caught. What would it be like for you to feel the sharp edges digging in, to know your air was being cut off, to feel fluids seeping back from your mouth and getting caught in your throat.”

Hank backed away from me. His eyes were fixed on the cracker. “You can't do it,” he said; “It's impossible.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe if you can lift a table, a cracker can choke you.”

He drew himself to his full height and swelled with range. “You can't force it into me. You have no power.” He raised his ghostly arms and shouted, “Try and hold me down.”

“If you insist,” I said mildly. I looked beyond Hank to a spot near the window. “Now, Anthony,” I shouted.

Anthony materialized through the wall and grabbed Hank from behind. He wrapped his arms around Hank's trying to pin down the stronger ghost's limbs. The two struggled and stumbled around the kitchen.

I dodged around the ghosts and joined Father Blackman. “Open the portal to the next realm,” I ordered him.

Father Blackman stared at the sight of the wrestling ghosts. “Why...why are there two?” he gasped.

“The new guy's on our side. Quickly, open the portal.”

Fumbling a little, the priest pulled out his bible and began to read in Latin. I closed my ears to the words and turned back to the ghosts.

“Hold him down, Anthony,” I shouted; “I'm coming with the cracker.”

Hank struggles instantly increased.

“It's done,” Father Blakman

“Now, Anthony,” I yelled.

Anthony nodded and dragged Hank to the portal. The suction from inside pulled at them both. Father Blackman gestured for Steve to wave the incense, as he began to pray aloud. Anthony released Hank and floated back.

Hank choked on the incense and stumbled closer to the portal. I looked into his eyes and saw the resolve – he would fight us, to the better end.

“You'll have to drag him,” I told Anthony.

He looked at me mournfully for a moment then floated over to the portal. With one hand Anthony grasped the edge. He let the bulk of his form drift inside. The he reached out his free arm and grabbed Hank around the neck.

“Time to go,” Anthony said.

Hank screamed and clawed at Anthony's arm. Father Blackman prayed louder. Hank glared and tried to kick the priest. The motion threw Hank off balance, allowing Anthony to yank him into the portal.

“NO,” Hank screamed. He hovered for a moment in the center of the portal, before the force sucked him in. We watched him disappear from sight.

“He's someone else's problem now,” I said. “Anthony, climb out of there.”

The ghost gasped and shook.

“Quit playing,” I said, alarmed.

Anthony looked at me. “I'm not,” he said weakly. “The pull is too strong. I don't have enough energy left to fight.”

I grabbed Father Blackman's shoulder. “Close the portal, quickly.”

He flipped through the bible. I watched him scan handwritten notes in the margins. “I'm not sure I can,” he confessed.

“What? What do you mean?”

“After my last encounter with Hank, I realized he was stronger than other ghosts. For this battle I changed the nature of the portal, to better deal with Hank. It absolutely will not close until it's captured every ghost in the house.”

No. Oh, no.

When I'd goaded Anthony into helping me, I hadn't really believed there was any danger to him. I wanted to scare him, that was all. He needed to know there were worse things to fear than our mortal enemies. I never meant for him to face those things.

“Anthony,” I cried out. I lunged for his hand, only to see my solid fingers pass through his own. There was nothing I could do to keep him here.

He smiled sadly. “My time's up. We both knew this day would come.”

I shouldn't have told him to come. “I'm sorry,” I choked out. I started to cry. It was all my fault. “I knew you betrayed us, but I could never think of you as a traitor. I thought...I thought...”

“It's okay, baby.” Anthony grabbed the lip of the portal with both hands. He used the last of his strength to pull himself forward. “Got to tell you something,” he gasped. I stepped as close as I dared, and looked him in the eye.

Anthony said, “The Vildru sorcerers are falling apart. They're arguing with each other. Two groups. Two plans to rule the world. Winner takes all.” He grimaced. I looked beyond him and saw the vortex growing in strength.

“Paris...was just the beginning,” Anthony gasped. “It was a test.”

“What will they do next?” I asked.

“One group is stronger than the other. A natural winner. But if you take down the strongest, first...then the weakest...save...the world.”

“Who? Who's stronger?”

“Don't know. But they experimented on...the same...victim.” He reached out a trembling hand. The vortex roared and grabbed at his feet. “You have to save her,” Anthony shouted; “you have to save -”

He was gone. The portal folded in on itself then shut with a bang.

“What the hell was that about,” demanded a wide-eyed Steve.

I wiped away my tears. “You don't want to know,” I said thickly.

“Is someone in danger?” Father Blackman asked.

“Everyone. But if you're wondering if Anthony was referring to someone in particular, he was. And I know who.”