FREE Flash Fiction ~ The Hungry Games

The Hungry Games first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Stinkwaves Magazine.

 

The Hungry Games

By Shannon Hollinger

 

The experiment has gone horribly wrong. I was going for an exercise that would result in a Mother Teresa-like experience, but somehow ended up in the middle of Jurassic Park instead. Now I have a roomful of savage toddlers ready to tear me to pieces.

This semester I’m taking a social psychology class. I’ve just finished reading about dozens of studies that have proven the altruistic nature of chimps, the willingness of one to help another earn a treat even if it doesn’t result in a reward for themselves. This kindness can be seen across the animal kingdom. Was I really so misguided in thinking that a roomful of preschoolers would be capable of displaying the same behavior? Apparently, I was.

            In my hand is a box of popsicles. There’s only enough for everyone if the double sticks inside each package are split and shared. The hand that holds the box trembles under the intense gaze of every pair of eyes in the room. There will be no sharing today, that much is clear. Let the hunger games begin.

            Little Timmy Holbrook is closing in on my left. He’s the established biter of the group, our very own Hannibal Lecter. He’d gladly eat his Popsicle with some jelly beans and a bite of his auntie. There’s no reasoning with him. Timmy’s tiny baby teeth gnash together and I know it’s only a matter of seconds before I lose some skin. I toss a packet of popsicles in his direction and he grabs it out of the air with a chubby fist. Timmy retreats to a corner of the nursery, eagerly shredding the paper from his prize.

            This causes the rest of them to begin closing in on me. I feel like I’ve fallen into the tiger pit at the zoo. Sally Morgan rushes to the front of the pride. She stares up at me with two huge, baby blue eyes. An evil smirk contorts her round face as her little fists ball up at her sides. Sally is a screamer. The kid has a set of lungs any opera prima donna would envy. Her lips part and I watch in horror as her lungs begin to fill. Sally is priming herself for the wail of the century. My free hand fumbles into the box of popsicles. Sally snatches the package in a flash, leaving a trail of red scratch marks across the back of my hand.

            I glance around the room, desperately searching for a way out, but there is no escape from the nightmare I’ve created. The pack of wolves is advancing. Only one member is hanging back. This deviation in behavior draws my attention away from the closer threats at hand. I crane my head to see who the child is who seems to have lost interest in the popsicles, the kid with his back to me as he fiddles behind my desk. My jaw drops in dismay, a lump forms in my throat. It’s Billy Williams-the flusher.

            Billy’s pointy ears add to the mischievous expression on his face as he rounds the corner of my desk, my keys dangling from his hand. He looks from me to the bathroom. I follow his eyes and know I’ll never make it in time. Billy’s body is angled, his left leg twitching as he assumes a sprinter’s starting pose. His head slowly swivels back to face me.

            “Billy! I’ll trade you.”

            For a moment, I think the desperation in my voice promises more enjoyment for him than the sugary snack melting in my hand. My heart races and I fear he’s going to go for the flush, anyway. Then he darts through the throng of his classmates and rips the proffered gift from my hand. The keys land between the scuffed toes of my Nikes.

            I bend my knees, lowering myself close enough to reach them, careful to not take my eyes off the hair puller, the hitter, the liar and the curser. My finger loops through the key ring and I straighten just in time to see the toy thrower winding up. Patrick Doyle is standing next to the basket of playground toys, a dump truck raised behind his ear like a quarterback. The florescent lighting glints off the metal toy, the glare holding my attention like I’m hypnotized.

            Priscilla, the potty-mouthed princess, seizes the opportunity the distraction has provided. Dashing forward, she filches a package of popsicles out of the box. Priscilla hisses a few foul words in my direction and then retreats with her stolen goods. There are only two Popsicle packets left, but four kids. It’s not too late for them to share.

            “Patrick, would you split a popsicle with Blake?”

            Patrick looks at Blake and sneers. Blake is a liar. His weapon will be of little use until the parents come to pick their children up at the end of the day. Patrick’s eyes flit between me, the other kids, and the basket of toys, as he realizes launching an attack from where he now stands would enable his classmates to get to the goods before he could reach them. Patrick grabs a front end loader from the basket as backup and stalks forward.

            I hear the patter of petite footsteps and turn just in time to stop Tammy in her tracks. Her legs are bunched under her, one arm fully extended. The hair puller is ready to launch.

            “Tammy, will you share with Melissa?”

            Melissa shifts her focus from me to Tammy. She lifts her hand, stretches her fingers like she’s clawing the air, her digits settling into a fist. Melissa’s knuckles look sharp and dangerous. On my other side, Patrick has closed the distance and has his arm tensed to throw.

            “I’ll give you each a popsicle and a dollar.”

            Small heads cock to the side, regarding me with suspicious eyes.

            “I promise.”

            Four little hands appear palm up before me. Sighing with relief, I divvy up the treats and give them their money. It’s a small price to pay for escaping unscathed.

 

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Monday Book Madness

It was a really good week reading wise. I lucked out and found two awesome books that held my attention!

This week I read:

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Now that it’s over, it seems strange to me how much I loved this book, but I really, really did! I’m usually not a fan of sci-fi or fantasy, and this book had a touch of both, but I didn’t care. I was emotionally invested in the main character and her plight for survival. The suspense and stakes kept me riveted to the page, and the tension kept me reading well into the night. I’ll definitely be looking for more from this author!
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Usually books surrounded by a lot of hype are disappointing, but not this one! I kept seeing rave reviews for this on Litsy, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon – and I’m so glad I did! Suspenseful and well written, this mystery interwoven with a ghost story had all the creeps and chills! A fun escape full of tension and atmosphere!

I just started:

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To join me in bookish fun, click the links to friend me on Litsy or Goodreads

Free Fiction ~ It’s All About The Cat

A woman is dead in her apartment. The only witness? A cat. This cozy mystery featuring Detective Shaw first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

 

It’s All About the Cat

By Shannon Hollinger

 

It’s clear that the cat is a narcissist. Detective Shaw watches the cat stare at its own reflection in the window, licking itself with long, self-indulgent strokes of the tongue. On the floor beneath the window ledge where the cat preens, a woman lays dead in a pool of her own blood. Tiny red paw prints cover the floor. One could almost fool themselves into thinking the cat had been distraught over the woman’s death. The missing flesh from the tip of her nose and the way the cat cavalierly ignores all the humans in the room, suggests otherwise.

“Bet you wish he could talk, don’t you?” a uniformed officer says, nudging the detective with his elbow.

“He?”

“It’s kind of hard not to notice.”

Detective Shaw turns toward the uniform, nose wrinkled in distaste.

Mistaking Shaw’s reaction, he says, “You must be a dog person.”

“Bird, actually.”

“Oh! You’re the one with the parrot. I’ve heard about him. The Professor.”

“Gilligan.”

“I’m Sam.”

“The parrot. His name is Gilligan.”

“Oh, right. I suppose that makes more sense.”

Detective Shaw nods as the crime scene technician gathers her samples and flashes him a thumb up. He squats next to the corpse, his eyes inspecting the body from head to toe.

“So, if it was you lying here, Gilligan would tell us what happened and who did it, right?”

Shaw squints over his shoulder like an annoying gnat is buzzing in his ear.

“Hey, Petie? This guy’s the detective that has the parrot.”

“No kidding? I’ve heard about him. Skipper, right?”

“No, Gilligan.”

“Not that, I know the bird’s name, dummy. I meant him. Detective Skipper, right?”

Shaw sighs. Standing, he claps his hands together and says, “I’d like to thank everyone for your help, but now it’s time to clear the scene.”

“What about Percival?”

“Who?” Shaw spins to face the cop called Petie.

“Percival? The cat.”

“Oh. If you want to wait around until we’re done here, you can take him with you until we notify next of kin if you want.”

“Really? Thanks, Detective Skipper.”

Shaw closes his eyes, counting until he hears the door shut. When he opens them, he finds the crime scene tech, Shirley, regarding him with sympathy as she tries not to laugh.

“Have you processed the cat yet?”

“Nope. Want to pin him down for me?”

Shaw glances at the cat. Percival yawns, his cat mouth opening impossibly wide, the gaping maw lined with tiny, razored fangs.

“I’ll pass.”

“Oh, come on. You two are going to have to become friends. You might as well get it over with now.”

“What do you mean?”

They stand staring at the cat. Reaching a hand up to his shoulder, Shirley gives it a squeeze. She looks up at him from the corner of her eyes, and says, “It’s not just the nose. Look at the left hand.”

Shaw follows her suggestion, his gaze zeroing in on the left hand, tucked tight against the body. His pulse quickens as he registers the bone protruding from the bloody stump of the ring finger.

“There’s no telling what he may have eaten. That cat is evidence. He’s going home with you tonight.”

“The hell. Why can’t you take him?”

“Can’t. Husband’s allergic.”

“Well, then your husband can stay with me.”

Shirley laughs, gives him a grin, then says, “Bet you wish you had a partner right about now, huh?” Shouldering her collection kit, she gathers her evidence bags.

“Where are you going?”

            “I’ve got to get these samples to the lab to process.”

            “But what about the cat?”

            “I lied. I processed him while the M.E. was clearing the body.”

            “But, wait. You can’t leave.”

            “I’ll tell you what. I’ll break the bad news to poor Petie. Now, you gentlemen have a good night together, alright?”

            He can hear her laughing long after the door shuts behind her.

*****

            “I’m sorry.”

            Another seed pelts the back of his head.

            “I said, I’m sorry.”

            A corn kernel grazes his ear as it zooms by.

            “Gilligan.”

            Feathers rustle as he turns to face the parrot.

            “I’ve locked him in the bathroom, what more do you want from me?”

            The bird rolls its pale eyes at him.

            “You want to join him?”

            Gilligan’s head cocks to the side. He shuffles on his perch, turning his back on Shaw.

            “Like I don’t have enough on my plate.”

            Detective Shaw returns to his notes, trying to recover his train of thought. The victim was a single white female, early forties, worked as a CPA for one of the larger local accounting firms. According to her neighbors she was quiet, kept to herself. No one could remember her ever having any visitors over. She lived in the coveted top floor apartment in a building with narrow halls and narrower walls, so their assessment on that front was probably accurate.

            Her coworkers, who had reported her missing, considered her a hard worker, thorough, dependable, but couldn’t remember her ever mentioning any family, friends, or significant other.

            The apartment had been beyond neat; every item had its place; every place was a neatly labeled container of some sort. Nothing appeared to have been taken. She didn’t own a car. She had no debts or vices that he could detect. As far as he could tell, the victim and her life had been completely unremarkable save for the fact that she had bought the apartment building before moving in, and that she was murdered.

            A scratching against the bathroom door is immediately followed by an angry shriek from Gilligan. Shaw walks to the bathroom and cracks the door open. Percival sits staring up at him, fluffy tail curled neatly around his paws. If Shaw didn’t know better, he’d say the cat was smirking. Opening the door a little wider, he sees the shredded roll of toilet paper, a puddle of yellow using the grout between the tile as a flood channel, and a pile of brown on his bath mat.

            He shuts the door with a sigh. How could he have forgotten the litter box? Grabbing a wad of paper towels from the kitchen, he wonders how such a small creature could hold so much mess, then freezes as he’s struck by another thought. He hadn’t brought any food or the cat’s water dish, either.

            Sinking down onto one of the kitchen chairs, he goes over the apartment in his mind, mentally revisiting each room. For the life of him, he can’t recall seeing any of the accoutrements that one would expect to accompany cat ownership. Even his own place bore traces of Gilligan in every room, and the parrot spent most of his time in a cage, albeit with an open door.

            Rummaging through his cupboards, Detective Shaw finds an out of date can of tuna, which he dumps onto a paper plate. Filling a bowl with water, he presents both to the cat, hoping to not incur any additional wrath. Bagging the evidence, he shoves the bathmat in a trash bag and gives the floor a quick cleaning before returning to his desk.

*****

            Shaw arrives at the station early the next morning, and he’s already made two stops. The first was the apartment building of his crime scene, where he had hung a poster displaying the very best of his limited arts and crafts skills. The second was a pet store, where he spent a ridiculous amount of money purchasing cat food and a litter box, and though he’d never admit it, a cat bed and a few toys.

            After leaving several baggies of ‘evidence’ on Shirley’s desk, he heads over to the Medical Examiner’s Office to check on his victim. Entering the autopsy suite, he finds Doc Hastings working over the deceased on the examination table.

            “Morning, Doc.”

            “Detective Shaw! Heard you have yourself a new roommate.”

            “Don’t people have anything better to talk about?”

            “Good news travels fast.”

            “I think your definition of good differs from mine.”

            Hastings smirks.

            “Do you have anything that would help with, oh, I don’t know, the case?”

            “You’re no fun today.”

            “I’m no fun every day.”

            “True.” Returning his attention to the body, Hastings says. “The findings on your victim are pretty cut and dried. She suffered from a single stab wound to the chest. The left ventricle was severed. It’s likely she was immediately incapacitated. Would have been unconscious as she bled out.”

            “What can you tell me about the weapon.”

            “I took a cast of the wound for you, but I feel fairly confident that you’re looking for a pair of scissors.”

            “Really? You ever work a case where scissors were used in a pre-mediated act?”

            “I’ve actually never worked one where scissors were used in a murder. I had one where a lady was running and tripped and stabbed herself once.”

            “That actually happens?”

            “Apparently.”

            “Hmm. Any defensive wounds?”

            “Not even a scratch. Poor gal never saw it coming.”

            “That’s consistent with the theory I’m working.”

            “Care to share?”

            “Not really.”

            “Ouch. At least tell me about the decedent. Who was she? The cranky spinster? A crazy cat lady?”

            “I don’t think either would really apply.”

            “But she had a cat.”

            “Maybe. Maybe not.”

            Placing the victim’s liver on the scale, Hastings spoke the weight into his Dictaphone, giving Shaw a dirty look over the top of his glasses. “Why are you being so difficult today? Are you missing the cat?”

            “What?”

            “Nothing. So, we’re thinking it wasn’t premeditated. Do you concur?”

            “I do.”

            “Which means it was either a crime of opportunity or passion.”

            “There are other options.”

            “Such as?”

            “An accident.”

“Is that what you think this was?”

            “No, not entirely.”

            “Are you trying to crush my last nerve?”

            “I am not.”

            “Then say something useful. Or interesting. Either will do.” He dictates the weight and appearance of the kidneys, then peers at Shaw over his glasses once more. “You may begin.”

            Crossing his arms, Shaw leans against the empty dissection table behind him, the metal cold through the thin fabric of his slacks. “We agree that the crime was not planned.”

            “Correct.”

            “And the victim doesn’t have any defensive wounds, which would support that she didn’t see the attack coming.”

            “Tell me something I don’t know.”

            “The cat belongs to the killer.”

            “Wait. What?” Hastings stops, arms frozen in the act of running the bowel.

            “There were no signs that the cat belonged in the apartment. No water dish, no food, no cat box. Nothing.”

            “Now, that is interesting.”

            Shaw nods. “I think the cat belongs to one of the other tenants in the building. I think the cat followed his owner upstairs when they went to talk to the victim and got left behind when the killer panicked after committing the crime.”

            “So, what are the other tenants in the building like?”

            “They’re all women.”

            “Ah, so it’s the killer who’s the crazy cat lady, not the victim. What are you thinking for motive?”

            “I haven’t a clue.”

            “Then, for your sake, Detective, I hope your theory pans out.”

            Detective Shaw’s phone sounds the Jaws theme from his coat pocket. He glances at the screen, then heads towards the door. “With any luck, this’ll be my proof.”

            Shaw waits for the doors to swing shut behind him before answering.

            “Hello.”

            “Um, yes, I think you found my cat.”

            The voice on the other end of the line is that of an older female. He quickly matches it to one of the faces he saw while interviewing the neighbors the day before.

            “I just may have. Can you describe the cat for me?”

            An irritated sigh is followed by a beat of silence. “Really.”

            “Well . . .”

            “If you insist. He’s a Siamese, blue eyes, tan and chocolate fur, has a collar with the name Percival on it.”

            “Yep, that’s the cat I found.”

            “When can you return him?”

            “When would be convenient for you?”

            Another sigh, like he’s being difficult. “I’d like him returned as soon as possible.”

            “Well, I’m at work, but if I left now, I could pick the cat up and be there within an hour if that would work for you?”

            “I suppose it’ll have to, won’t it?”

            “And what’s the address?”

            “What kind of question is that? You put the flyer up, don’t you remember?”

            “I put flyers up in several buildings in the area, ma’am,” Shaw lied. “I found the cat out by my trash cans. I wasn’t sure which building the cat may have come from.”

            “My Percival never would have gone outside on his own. There’s no reward, you know.”

            “I’m not interested in a reward, ma’am, I just want to return the cat to his rightful owner.”

            “Hmf. Well, it took you long enough. He’s been gone almost three days already.”

            “The address, ma’am.”

            “82 Elm, #3. I’ll expect you within the hour.”

            Pocketing the phone, Shaw pokes his head back into the autopsy suite and asks, “Hey, Doc. You got a time of death for me, yet?”

            “Myofilament decomposition would place death between 60 to 75 hours.”

            “Perfect, Doc, thanks. Gotta run.”

            “Yeah, yeah. You detectives are all the same. You only want me for my . . .” Finding himself alone, Doc Hastings sighs, returning his attention to the task at hand.

*****

            The door opens, revealing a sturdy looking woman in her sixties, a scowl below her glasses, frown lines in heavily creased folds above them.

            “Where’s my cat?”

            Shaw flashes his badge. “I’m Detective Shaw, ma’am. We spoke yesterday about your neighbor.” He gestures with his eyes to the apartment above them.

            “I told you everything I have to say. I’m busy.”

            “Waiting for Percival?”

            Her face scrunches, eyes narrowed, lips puckered. “What do you know about that?”

            “You called me earlier. I made the flyer.” Hearing a snicker from further down the hallway, Shaw clears his throat loudly. “I’m the one who found your cat.”

            “Percival would never leave the building. He never goes anywhere without me. I’ve had him since he was a kitten. He follows me around like a puppy dog.”

            “That’s just what I suspected.”

            “It is?”

            “Yes. Which is why I have this warrant here granting me permission to search your apartment.”

            She snatches the paper from his outstretched hand, glaring at him as she skims the text.

            “This is ridiculous. You’re not coming in. You’re not welcomed.”

            Footsteps approach as Shaw says, “That piece of paper says I don’t need a welcome. Now, if you’ll step aside, ma’am.”

            “I most certainly will not!”

            Two uniformed officers step up, one at each of Shaw’s elbows.

            “You don’t understand,” she says. Her body deflates as Shaw squeezes past her into the apartment.

            “I understand enough,” Shaw says. “I understand that your cat, the one that follows you around like a dog, was found in the victim’s apartment upstairs. I understand that you’ve already put a call in to the property management company, requesting to move to the victim’s apartment. And,” Shaw says, pointing to a sheet of paper on the kitchen counter, “I understand that you have a piece of the victim’s mail in your possession. Ask Shirley to bag this, will you, boys.”

            “You don’t understand,” she repeats. “Look at that bill,” she gestures to the piece of stolen mail on the counter. “Look at what she pays. $60 in the middle of winter in Massachusetts. $60! Do you know what I pay? Closer to $300! I can’t keep paying that on my pension. What was I supposed to do? Keep letting her steal all my heat for free after she stole my apartment?”

            Shaw lifts an eyebrow.

            “My ability to get by on my retirement was based on living in that apartment with that heating bill. I started out on the ground floor of this place almost twenty years ago and have been working my way up since. When the last tenant was moved to a care home, somehow that witch swooped in and stole the apartment from me. Then, when I went up there to ask her to split the electric bill since I was paying for her heat, she refused. Threatened to have me evicted for stealing her mail.”

            “Got it!” Shirley came out of the bathroom, a pair of scissors held up triumphantly in one of her gloved hands. In the other, she held a cotton swab with a pink tip.

            “I didn’t mean to . . . I didn’t mean what happened. Honest. I was just so mad. When she refused to tell me how she finagled her way into the apartment that was rightfully mine . . .”

            “I’ve got the answer to that one,” Shaw says. “She actually had every right to the apartment.”

            He watches her face turn several shades of purple.

            “You see, she bought the building.” Without waiting for a response, Shaw gives the uniformed officers a nod and leaves, the click of the handcuffs following him out the door.

*****

            Detective Shaw struggles to unlock the door, maintaining a precarious grip on the bags he’s juggling. “Gilligan, I’m home.” Shaw sets the bags on the table, untwisting the noose one of the plastic handles has dug into his wrist. “Gilligan?”

            Entering the living room, the first thing he sees is the open bathroom door. The second is the empty birdcage.

            “Gilligan!”

            A halfhearted squawk carries from the couch. Shaw stares at the scene, sinking slowly into the armchair behind him. The cat opens his blue eyes just a slit and smirks at him, then stretches his back legs farther across the couch. Behind him, the parrot continues to groom the fur behind the cat’s ear with his beak. Pausing, he cocks his head at Shaw, whistles, and says, “Pretty kitty.”

            “Don’t be an enabler,” Shaw says. Covering his face with his hand, he can’t help peeking through his fingers. He grins.

END

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Monday Book Madness

I missed last week, so I’m including it this week.

Last week I read:

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I don’t know how the heck I missed this one when I was a kid! Seems like it would have fit right in with my Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock mysteries for young people phase! The author skillfully handles a large number of characters, and while I wasn’t loving it in the beginning, by the end I was!
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Fast-paced, twisty, and much better than I had anticipated. A nice (and much needed) vacation from reality. 

This week I read:

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This one was good, but for some reason I had trouble keeping the characters straight, and I felt underwhelmed at times. There was no urgent need to find out what happened next – the tension to keep me glued to the pages just wasn’t there.

 

All Your Twisted Secrets
I feel like I waited forever for this one to be released. All the hype had me salivating over myself once I finally had it in hand. I enjoyed it, and it had everything it needed to have – tension, twists, high stakes, the imminent threat of death – but ultimately I felt a litttle disappointed, which, in the author’s defense, usually happens when a book is built up so much for so long. I’d read more by Urban, I just wouldn’t spit on myself to do so. 😛

 

I just started:

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To join me in bookish fun, click the links to friend me on Litsy or Goodreads

Free Short Fiction ~ A Campfire Tale

A Campfire Tale first appeared in issue 18 of Dark Moon Digest Magazine. It was also chosen for the Best Horror Shorts 2015 anthology.

 

a campfire tale cover

“Tell us a story Aunt Fran,” Lilly-Anne suggested.

“Yeah, Aunt Fran, please,” the other children chimed in.

Aunt Fran gave them each an apprising look. The sun was fading fast past the horizon, the last of the golden rays casting long shadows about the campgrounds. She looked over at her siblings, across the site with their spouses starting a large bonfire which they no doubt planned to drink by until all the wood was burnt and alcohol consumed, leaving her to watch their spawn.

“OK,” Aunt Fran conceded. “What kind of a story do you want?”

“A ghost story,” Lilly-Anne said.

“No, a scary ghost story,” Samantha said.

“How about I tell you a true-life horror story?” Aunt Fran asked. The children eagerly edged closer to the small campfire, their marshmallows abandoned in hopes of a good tale.

“Yeah, right,” Frankie said. “As if.”

Frankie, being eleven, was at the age where he was convinced he was too old and cool for any kid stuff. Aunt Fran remembered his father, Jeff, being the same way at that age too.

“Honestly,” Aunt Fran promised. “I’ll tell you about the most horrible, terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Frankie rolled his eyes but moved closer on his roughhewn log.

“Well,” Aunt Fran began, “When your parents and I were younger, our parents used to take us camping. Not like this.” She gestured around. “Not a picnic where you stay late, then drive home. No, they used to drive us way out into the woods, hours past civilization to the most secluded spots they could find, and that’s where we’d pitch our tents for the night.”

“Our parents would stay in one tent, and all us kids would stay in another. My parents would put a padlock on the zipper of our tent. They said it was to keep the bears out, but we all knew it was to keep us from sneaking out and roaming around the woods at night, which, given the opportunity, we would have done.”

“I was seven the year they drove us way out to the wilds of Canada to go camping. It was summertime, but I remember it still being so cold that you could see your breath in the air. They had zipped us up in our tent for the night, me and your parents, and we huddled together for warmth and fell asleep.”

“This is stupid,” Frankie interrupted.

The other children hushed him and returned their rapt attention to Aunt Fran.

“The thing about being in the woods,” Aunt Fran told them, “is that even though it’s quiet, it’s not.” She held up a hand to stop any questions, a signal that she would explain. “There are no noises from civilization in the woods, no sirens or car horns or barking dogs or blaring TVs. That’s why people go camping, for the peace and quiet. Only it’s not quiet. There are little noises everywhere. An animal chewing. A bug buzzing. Twigs cracking, branches bending, the wind blowing. And when you’re a little kid, it’s really quite spooky.”

“I was the last of us to fall asleep that night. I remember listening to the sounds of the woods, imagining every type of creepy crawly that might be prowling around in the dark on the other side of the thin fabric of the tent. Finally, I focused on everyone’s breathing, as one by one my brothers and sisters fell into the easy rhythm of sleep. It made me feel safe, knowing they were there with me, and eventually the thoughts of bears and wolves and snakes that I attributed all the noises to fell away and I joined them in sleep.”

“To this day I don’t know what woke me that night. I was sleeping soundly, and then I awakened suddenly in a complete fright.”

The children clustered closer, anticipating the good part of the story.

“I laid still, on my back, unable to see anything in the pitch dark, listening to the noises around me. For once there was silence outside. All I could hear was my siblings’ breathing, but something didn’t sound right. Not how it had before. Someone was breathing too hard, and, well . . . anyway. My heart was racing and the hairs on my arms were standing straight out. I was trying to lie still, to pretend to still be sleeping, but I was going crazy, being so afraid and not knowing why.”

“So, I whispered into the dark to my sister. I was so scared to make a sound. The first two times I tried nothing came out, but I worked up my nerve, and I called her name. I put the words out there into the night. But she didn’t answer.”

Aunt Fran looked around at the children, who were hanging on her every word. “I was terrified to move, frozen with fear. It took everything I had to move my fingers, inch by inch through the dark until I found her hand. I took her small, cold hand in mine and squeezed, trying to wake her up. But she didn’t respond. I squeezed again and again, but nothing.”

“I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to wake anyone else up, afraid they would think I was being silly, just their dumb little sister. I felt that if only I could see, could look around for a moment, I’d feel better. I had stolen a lighter from Jeff, your dad,” she pointed to Frankie, “earlier that day. I could feel it in my pocket, heavy with the weight of the guilt of stolen goods. I moved my hand, ever so slowly, fearful of making any movement fast enough to be detected in the gloom where God knows what lurked, until I had my hand in my pocket. I wrapped the lighter in my sweaty palm and began the painfully slow process of bringing it up.”

“I don’t know if it took minutes or hours, but it seemed like an eternity. Finally, I had it, in my hand, right up by my face. I was so scared to light it. To discover what it was that was in the tent with me, concealed by the dark, making me feel so frightened. But then I rolled my thumb on the lighter, the flint sparked, the fluid lit, and I could see.”

Aunt Fran paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. The children gathered even closer, clutching at each other, waiting for the moment when the adult yells “Boo” and they all got to scream and laugh.

“What did you see?” Lilly-Anne asked, biting her nails.

“I saw,” Aunt Fran said. “I saw my sister Georgia.” Her voice faltered.

“Georgia?”

“Yes, Georgia,” Aunt Fran snapped. “There used to be seven of us, but I’m sure your parents never told you that.” She closed her eyes for a moment, lost in the memory. When she opened them again, she had regained her composure. “I saw my little, baby sister Georgia, laying there in the dark beside me. Her eyes were open,” Aunt Fran recalled. “Those beautiful gray eyes. They were open, but they weren’t blinking.”

The children shifted uncomfortably, feeling awkward. They exchanged nervous glances.

“I screamed. I screamed like I have never screamed before or since. Everyone woke up. Our parents came running over with a flashlight, opened the tent, and then they saw too.” Fran sniffed and wiped at her eyes. “My mother scooped me up and carried me out of the tent. She made the other kids come with her. But not before I saw. Not before I knew.”

“What did she die of?” Frankie asked, curiosity overcoming his need to be aloof.

“My parents said it was just one of those things. Like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That it was just her time.”

“Why did you tell us this?” Samantha asked.

“Because that wasn’t the truth. I saw with my own eyes, the bruises around her neck. Someone had strangled her. We were locked in that tent. No one could get in or out. One of your parents killed her.”

The kids recoiled in shock. One of the younger ones started crying.

“That’s bull,” Frankie challenged.

“Believe what you want, but it’s the truth,” Aunt Fran said. “If you don’t believe me, tell your parents you met a little girl named Georgia with curly blonde hair and pale gray eyes and see how they react.”

“Who . . . who do you think did it?” Lilly-Anne whispered.

“I wish I knew for sure.” Aunt Fran swallowed hard. “At first I thought it was your dad,” she said, pointing at Frankie. “I thought he may have believed that Georgia was the one who stole his lighter. But to be honest, it could have been any one of them. Your mom, or your mom, or your dad, or yours.” She pointed at each of the children in turn. “They all have anger issues, I’m sure you’ve seen that. All I know for sure is that one of your parents killed my baby sister.”

Aunt Fran rose from her seat by the campfire. “I’ve got to go. It was nice seeing you all. You guys be good. And be careful,” she added as an afterthought over her shoulder. She exchanged distant waves with the adults as she made her hasty exit, forcing a smile to her lips before she got in her car.

The thought that none of their kids would sleep that night, or possible ever look at them the same way again, provided her with little solace. She started the engine and backed slowly out of her parking spot. She would never forgive her siblings. Not any of them. She drove down the narrow dirt road that led back to the highway. One of them had killed her little sister, making her the youngest. If Georgia was still alive, she’d be the one stuck living at home, caring for their invalid parents, not Fran.

The children were silent until the taillights from Aunt Fran’s car were swallowed by the darkness. “Do you think she was telling the truth?” Lilly-Anne asked, eyes wide with fright.

Samantha picked up a photograph from the spot where Aunt Fran had been sitting. It was faded, well-worn with time and use. She looked at it closely. “I think maybe she was,” she said in a hushed tone, showing the picture to the others. The image was of their grandparents, much younger but still recognizable. Before them stood seven children, the smallest of which was a young girl with blonde curls.

“What do we do?” Lilly-Anne asked. She looked at the younger children, feeling suddenly burdened with the task of their safety.

“Sleep in shifts and watch each other’s backs,” Frankie said, taking the photo from Samantha. He balled it up and threw it in the fire. “And never say a word of this to any of them.”

END

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Monday Book Madness

This week I read:

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I guessed it, then I changed my mind 5 times, then I changed it back. Not a five star read, but it was twisty and held my attention.

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I can’t say enough good things about this book! I couldn’t put it down! Well crafted and suspenseful, it grabbed me from the start and wouldn’t let me go until I reached the last page. I feel like I’m still catching my breath. Highly recommended!

Next up:

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Monday (Book) Madness

This week I read:

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This book had ALL the feels. It grabbed me by the throat and pulled me along on an emotional rollercoaster, keeping me breathless and slightly dizzy. I couldn’t put it down – even though the most eventful part happens near the beginning, I had to keep reading. Right book, right time. 😍

 

Drowning With Others
An interesting premise, well written, but I didn’t connect with or care about any of the characters, and the stakes never seemed quite dire enough for me. While I wouldn’t not recommend the book (it kept my attention and I enjoyed it), I feel like I liked the idea of the plot better that the book itself. 

 

I just started:

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When Your Dog Learns To Spell & Other Methods Of Mayhem

My 13 year old rescue, who I’ve had for the last 11 years, loves to play. With the exception of a couple of teeth that will be removed soon, he appears to be in wonderful health, squeaking his toys incessantly, running at full speed around the house and yard, and developing the definition of the term he-diva.

But there’s a problem . . .

With the exception of his life companion, who we unfortunately lost to a brain tumor last year, he hates everything with fur. And he screams his hate from the top of his lungs in his best warrior princess cry.

And I worry . . .

He needs exercise. Companionship. Another member to his little lone wolf pack. As much as he disagrees, I can’t help but feel that I’m doing him a disservice by allowing him to have his way.

When I adopted him all those years ago, I was told that he got on well with all other animals. (Not true.) I was fortunate that he got along with my other dog, but he didn’t have much of a choice. She was a boss in the way only Jack (or Parson) Russell terriers can be. An overconfident little girl who knew that her way was the best (and only) way.

Yet he screams at every other creature . . .

I spent months sitting with him along the side of the road, giving him chicken or porkchop or some other delicious treat whenever another dog walked by as ‘positive reinforcement’. Each time he’d spit the food out to yell (what I imagine are) obscenities. I hired a trainer, who worked with him for one afternoon before advising me to, “Just keep him away from other dogs.” Easier said than done, especially now. Even a walk around the neighborhood is a nightmare of epic proportions.

See the source imageDon’t get me wrong – he loves to walk. Nothing makes him happier (besides food) than racing full speed like the wild wolf he is, conquering the world and claiming it as his own. Until he sees, hears, or smells another dog. (And we live in a neighborhood where almost everyone has a dog.) When that happens, my little angel shouts his hate with the endless wrath of a hell hound. A demon who can break glass and shatter eardrums with his high pitched notes.

See the source imageThe other day when we were walking, someone asked me what breed he was. “A Singapore Shrieker. They’re used to hunt parrots and monkeys. Their high pitched calls make their prey fall right out of the trees.” While complete BS, it’s possibly believable, and I wanted to say it so bad because it would explain a lot, but instead I hung my head and said, “Schnauzer mix,” which translates as my dog is horribly behaved in public while we both winced at the sound of the little man’s madness.

Needless to say, there’s no such thing as a casual stroll when it entails enduring a headache and humiliation. My husband and I do our best to make sure we’re both up for the walk of shame before pup knows it’s on the table.

Only, there’s been a new development . . .

See the source imageA few nights ago, after dinner, we discussed a W-A-L-K. Spelled. And pup went to his leash. Then proceeded to bounce his front paws off the door like the he-diva he’s become. Several experiments have confirmed it. There’s no mistaking it. He’s learned to spell (at least that word, but who knows what will follow next).

This. Changes. Everything.

In a sheer panic we texted (while in the same room). We’ll use code words. Nonverbal communication. Sign language. Anything to hold on to the last shreds of control that we have, but who knows how long that will last. All the while, pup smiled at us, rather smugly.

I had a brief flashback to my childhood, to my parents spelling the things they didn’t want me to hear, and the day I cracked the code. My own feeling of triumph at having leveled the playing field. Did I (smugly) spell back to them? Do I deserve this? Ugh, I think maybe I do.

At the end of the day, I’m incredibly grateful to have such a smart, healthy pup, but still . . . if anyone has any suggestions, please, send help. And if not, and you see us coming . . . cover your ears and run!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter To My Possible Future Literary Agent

Dear Possible Future Literary Agent,

There are some things you should probably know about me.

I love words. I love reading. I love writing. I write for myself but also because I hope to entertain people and help them to escape the reality of life from time to time. Awards are good, I have nothing against them, but I have no desire to win a Pulitzer. If you’re looking for the next Toni Morrison, it probably won’t be me.

Image result for cheeseI’ll listen to what you say, because I’m well aware that I don’t know everything, but there are some things I do that you might not like. Sometimes I get bound by the bonds of alliteration. I can’t stand the way a properly executed em-dash looks, so I use spaces around it. And I like to do things in a series of three for emphasis. Why? Why? Why? I don’t quite know, but if you tell me to stop, I will try.

I’ll need to know your favorite treat, because I believe in celebrating everything, and if you give a Shannon a contract, she’s going to want to send you a cookie food. I’m not going to assume it’s chocolate, and hope you’ll do likewise. I enjoy chocolate like most people, but sometimes the sugar doesn’t make me feel so great, plus my husband will probably eat most of it before I get a chance.Image result for cheese

But don’t worry, because I also like cheese. Said husband likes cheese, too, but I believe I can eat more cheese quicker than him, plus, I’ll take the best cheese, the tastiest one, and put it in the hidden part of the refrigerator, the secret vortex that keeps things hidden from the husband’s eyes. There’s a reason our vegetable drawer is always full – so no one can see what’s at the back.

But, if a treat for you is hot yoga, I can arrange that too. I understand that while it may not be my thing, it might be yours. I have nothing against hot yoga, it’s just that it’s hot. And sweaty. And sweaty leads to stinky. Then you’re in a room full of hot, sweaty, stinky people, and the teacher wants you to move around and stuff, which means you’ve got to breathe. Deeply. If you’re into all that, it’s cool. But I’ll stick with the cheese, please.

Image result for cheeseYou should also know that I’m not afraid of hard work, and I won’t give up. I’m not just saying that. I’ve got proof.

I get out of bed every day, even the days meant for staying in bed, like rainy Sundays when I’m in the middle of a book I don’t want to put down. On those days it’s mainly because a girl’s gotta eat, and said husband is willing to exist on things he can dip into mustard and salsa (with a side of cheese) if it allows him to maintain his claim that he can’t cook. That, and I’d have to get out of bed to open the window for the delivery driver, anyways, so I might as well just stay out of bed.

Also . . . I know SO many ways to dispose of a body, which makes me the ideal person to be that friend everyone should have on hand. Unless that offends you. Then you can be that bastion of levelheaded wisdom friend for me. We don’t even have to be friends if you don’t want. I’m not very social, anyways. You’ll probably have to do most of the work. So, I’ll let you decide.Image result for cheese

My point is, I’m well aware that I need you more than you need me. Everyone and their uncle’s a writer. Not everyone and only some uncles are agents. I’ll do my best to make you proud. And if you’re having a hard day and feeling blue, I’ll do my best to cheer you up with a song I create just for you. (Actually, I might re-appropriate one of the ones I sing to my dogs, but I’ll change the name to yours and throw in a couple of other details to make sure you feel special.)

My songs, by the way, are delightful, engaging and entertaining. (There’s that three thing again!) And you’d like more tempting, tasty tidbits about me? (Score once more for alliteration! Do you see what you’re missing out on?!?!)

I love horror movies and have a tendency to laugh at the worst parts. I bar-tended through seven years of college, and not just how most college students bar-tend, but professionally, so I could cater all your lunches with acquisitions editors and make them super strong drinks that taste like candy. And what else . . . oh, yeah. I like cheese.

Most Sincerely,

Shannon

 

 

 

 

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