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Archive for February, 2008

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Welcome to The Dark Phantom Review! It’s nice to have you here.

Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Smell of Death is the fourth in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series. In each book, different member of R.B.P.D. are spotlighted. In this book, Officer Stacey Wilbur is the main character. I wanted to let the readers know how a small, female police officer is able to stand on her own among all the men she works with. As for the story itself, in movies and on TV, no matter how gruesome the murder, the viewer can’t imagine how horrible the smells are. Also, my police officer son-in-law used to always say that movies and TV crime show weren’t realistic because in real life, there is never just one case going on at a time. In Smell of Death Rocky Bluff P. D. is searching for a missing toddler, investigating a stalker and some strange burglaries and in the end, some of them intertwine.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

I usually have a fair idea of where I’m going when I’m starting a novel. I always develop my characters first before deciding what is going to happen to them and why. Of course, once I start writing, the characters often take off on their own. It usually takes me about six months to finish a book. I always run my manuscripts by my critique group—and sometimes I let them sit for quite a long while before going back over them.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Actually, I’ve never really had writer’s block. I have too many ideas squirming around in my brain waiting to get out. I try to stop writing each day at a place where I know what will happen next. Makes it much easier to get started again.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

For this book, I sent it to the publisher who did the third in the series, Fringe Benefits, Tigress Press.com. Before sending a query off to anyone first make sure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be. Have someone edit it for you—and that someone needs to know what they are doing. Be sure your query has absolutely no typos or spelling errors. Publishers are looking for a reason to reject you because they have so many submissions. Keep your query short and to the point, tell what the book is about in one paragraph, why you were the one to write the book, and any publishing credits.

If you’re young enough and have time, try to find an agent first. All the things I said in the above paragraph pertain to agents too.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I’ve been thrilled with the virtual book tour. The last one I did brought my Amazon numbers way down—and that’s a good thing. I also have a monthly e-newsletter that I send out that keeps readers informed about what I’m doing. And I’ve learned if I can talk, I’ll sell books. Which means library appearances and places where I can give a presentation work better than a regular book signing.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

I don’t really have a favorite book of all time. There are lots of books I love—but often it’s the one I’m reading at the moment. I have favorite writers like Jan Burke, Wm. Kent Krueger, James Lee Burke, but there are many more.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

My website is: http://fictionforyou.com and all my books and first chapters are there. Plus you can order most of my books directly from my website. http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/ is my personal blog where I’m liable to talk about most anything.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

In August, the next in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Kindred Spirits, will debut. I will be sending my next Rocky Bluff P.D. novel off to the publisher as soon as I go over it one more time. It’s titled, No Sancturary.


Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

Thank you for letting me chat.

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Three Novellas
By Sandra Shwayder Sanchez
Wessex Collective
www.wessexcollective.com
sss(at)wessexcollective.com
ISBN: 978 0 9797516 0 8
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 154 pages, $15.00
Literary

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Sandra Shwayder Sanchez continues to prove herself as a powerful voice in the serious, literary scene. Her latest book, a collection of three novellas, is a darkly compelling work filled with complex characters, vibrant images, and sparklingly insightful prose.

Each novella depicts the lives of various characters and their connections to one another. Sometimes the connections are because of family ties, sometimes because fate ironically brings their lives together. The novellas are about the journeys, either conscious or unconscious, that the characters take, while seemingly they roam aimlessly, lost in a vastness that’s too large for them to figure out.

In The Last Long Walk of Noah Brown, we meet Noah, a kind, innocent soul in a world of evil. Though he’s not aware of it, Noah is developmentally disabled. In other words, a person who is “too innocent for the guilty world.” (29) Noah is the product of incest, a fact he learns from his mother later in life. He begins his journey in Annapolis in 1965 and we go through his ups and downs (a lot more downs than ups) all the way to New Orleans in 2007. During his journey he meets many people, some good, other evil. He learns and experiences many things, including the carnal love of a woman. He develops a close, warm relationship with his mother, whom he had always believed to be his sister. Most intriguing of all, Noah has an ambitious dream—to build an ark (he sees this as his destiny, having being named ‘Noah’) and save people and animals from a flood. And, in New Orleans, he finally lives to see his dream come true.

The Last Long Walk of Noah Brown is filled with vivid images, at times touching, at times dark. All throughout, however, there is a quiet atmosphere of sadness and doom, of helplessness. The story has the tone of a fable and some segments are dream-like and sparkle with beautiful, sensuous writing.

“Noah started walking to the water, watching its oily darkness, the soft sound of it lapping up against the sides of the boat. The moon glimmered on the water, a mother watching him, and he stared at it for hours mesmerized and soothed. Eventually he had to leave, go back home, he couldn’t stay here forever, watching the moon’s reflection on the water…unless… he did nothing that first night by the water. He returned every night and stared at the moon until it had grown from a silver crescent to a large full round moon and it was simply too lovely to leave so he looked for a way into the water, and finally jumped, shocked by the coldness of it, the breath knocked out of him and he let himself sink, stopped breathing even before he was completely under and passed out.” (34-35)

Sanchez accomplishes a marvelous rhythm and cadence by combining short sentences with very long, run-on ones. At times her paragraphs are made up of only one long sentence, a la Garcia Marquez. Although this can be annoying with some writers, Sanchez seems to have a talent for it.

In The King and the Clockmaker, the author examines the origins of evil and the meaning of time. The story itself is a nightmarish dream, a dream the narrator consciously has in order to avoid the pain of loss, and the random, senseless violence of the real world. In this dream, which reads like a sinister fairytale, there are two main characters—the king and the clockmaker. The clockmaker builds the most magnificent clock for the king, who’s always been obsessed with time. Afterwards, however, the king sears the clockmaker’s eyes with molten iron. Thus begins their disturbing relationship, for the kind clockmaker is set on getting his revenge, and the terrible king, in some ill way, seeks his forgiveness. As they come to know each other, bonded by the infamous clock, truths emerge about the king, his childhood, and his gruesome nature. They become oddly dependant on one another until the king’s demise. Afterwards the clockmaker’s journey continues, a journey that takes him through many pathways.

This novella in particular is filled with complex metaphors and allegories, and some scenes shine with vivid, haunting imagery. More poignant segments include the king killing a bird, then impaling it to bury it; or another even more lingering, the king happily lying under the bleeding body of his servant, whom he has just stabbed to death, and afterwards needing three bronze tubs of fresh water to cleanse himself of all the blood.

Sanchez also uses elements of magical realism to add intricacy and symbolism to the writing, like in the scene where a woman is turned into a stone and later on, when someone splits the stone, the woman’s heart is found inside it. She also gives forest animals preternatural attributes, as in the case of the buck and the mountain lion, thus adding to the magical realism effect.

The dream in this novella is an allegory of the perverse cruelty of the world, of “the accumulation of violence that is everywhere around us.” (109) “ However vast the expanse of time and space that surrounds us,” reflects the narrator, “every soul entrapped in a human body is trapped in a cell with the poisonous snake of violence coiled in a corner ready to strike.” (109)

In the last novella, The Vast Darkness, we meet Sara, a young student of anthropology who, temporarily, takes residence in the mountains to study the influence of isolated mountain living upon its residents. She soon becomes acquainted with Robert, a sinister young man who arouses fear in people and who enjoys manipulating them into committing ‘evil’ acts. In fact, he’s like the devil himself, whispering words into the characters’ ears, tempting, gently provoking, until murder and violence ensue. Without meaning to, Sara causes a man—a good man who’s committed murder to avenge the crime committed against his young, innocent daughter—to go to prison. Afterwards, Robert softly coaxes this man to take revenge against Sara.

As with the other novellas, this one also deals with the concepts of evil and violence and how they are inherent in all of us, a theme that often surfaces in Sanchez’s works. “I think God made us in his image and God has a mean streak a mile wide is what I think,” (131) says Robert to Sara.

Dreams, often violent, are always an element used by this author to add insight and symbolism to the writing. Sanchez also enjoys including wild animals in the story, not only as tools for magical realism, but to somehow show the paradox of the beauty and brutality that is nature—another one of her recurrent themes.

Three Novellas isn’t an easy read. For the average reader, it is a challenge. For the sophisticated booklover, it is a tasty morsel to be savored slowly and patiently in order to absorb all it has to offer. What stands out, above all, is the purity and splendor of the writing. Sanchez’s works are rare delicacies.

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Author Camille Marchetta is touring the blogosphere to promote the release of her latest book, The River, by Moonligh. She was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time to talk about writing and publishing. 

Welcome to The Dark Phantom! It's nice to have you here.

Thank you. I'm so pleased to have this opportunity to visit with you. It's an interesting site. I've been having a good time wandering around in it.

Why don't you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Friends on vacation wandered into an exhibition of paintings by a young woman artist who had died in mysterious circumstances. They were so impressed by the work that they mentioned it, and her, to me when they got home. I found the story haunting. I couldn't get it out of my head. Finally, I wrote THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, my third novel, as a way of dealing with the issues raised for me. The book is set in New York City and the Hudson River Valley in 1917, just as the United States is on the verge of entering World War I. It's about the death of a young woman, Lily Canning, and the effect of it on her family and friends, all of whom are devastated by her loss and tormented by questions of how and why. But it's not a "true" story. The setting, the characters, the plot, everything is as I imagined it.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

No, I didn't work from an outline. I always find that too restricting. But I did a huge amount of research, and I took endless notes. Then I just sat and thought, really, until I found a way to tell the story, until I found its "voice." Once I had that, I was off. I would write page by page, letting things happen as they did. Frankly, the whole process is a mystery to me. But the writing isn't what I would call "stream-of-consciousness", which has, I think, a more fluid and interior quality than this work. It's been "polished" too much, I suppose, to seem spontaneous. I began actually writing the novel in 2000 and I did the last draft in July of 2007. I wasn't working on it constantly all that time, but I did do a good number of drafts.

Have you ever suffered from writer's block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

I think I suffered from writer's block for all the years before I began writing. Finally, though, all the pent up desire just burst through and I began a screenplay. Since then, I do get blocked from time to time, but it's never crippling. What I do when it happens is play a Mozart CD, get on the sofa with a pad and pen, tell myself I don't have to write if I don't feel like it, all I have to do is listen to the music. Amazingly, I'm writing before I know it. Peanut butter helps, too. I used to think that was insane, but then I read that peanut butter is full of vitamin B, a natural tranquillizer. It seems to help dissipate the tension, the anxiety. Or maybe I just like to think it does because I love it. But every writer has to discover his or her own trick for getting around the block.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

My first two books were submitted to publishers by my agent, and both sold within a few weeks, with no problem. This time, it was more difficult. My previous publisher turned down one of the first drafts of THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, which didn't surprise me much as it was so different from my preceding books. The first two, though I always considered them "literary" fiction, could be marketed as more commercial works, which was impossible for this one. When my agent didn't want to submit it anywhere else without changes, I didn't know what to do, but then I thought, well, I'll just find another agent. (In my experience, editors never read anything unless it's submitted by an agent.) Though I had lots of credits, that turned out not to be so easy. And after two years of looking, I gave up, decided not to waste anymore time, and to publish the book myself. I can understand someone not wanting to do that. If I were younger, I might have been willing to wait longer, try harder, and who knows but I may eventually have found an agent who saw in the book what I (and, by then, many other readers) did. So, I suppose my advice to a novice author would be to follow the rules, to read the literature, find the agents who handle books like the one you've written, send the query letter, the sample chapters, whatever the agent requests, and hope something good will come of all your hard work. It usually does. It just takes time and persistence.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Ask me that a couple of months from now, and I'll be able to give you a more informed reply. I'm not sure what works best, yet. But, so far, I think this online touring is the most interesting and potentially most productive kind of promotion I've ever experienced.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

I don't have one favorite. I have lots of them. And each time I'm asked that question a different book pops into my head. At the moment, it's WUTHERING HEIGHTS demanding a mention. Every time I read it, it just blows my mind. The power of the prose, the mastery of the story-telling, the violence of the emotions. How could Emily Bronte, a nineteenth-century vicar's daughter living in a remote Yorkshire village, know all that?

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I do. I have a website. As well as links to related sites, it's got information about me, and about all my books, including excerpts.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

I've been so busy first writing and then publishing and now promoting THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT that I haven't really settled on my next project. And I confess that's making me nervous. I need to get back to work!

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

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Tha Author

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Born in Brooklyn, Camille Marchetta received her BA in English Literature from the College of New Rochelle, in New Rochelle, New York, and later studied fiction with noted writer Anatole Broyard at The New School. Shortly afterward, on a visit to England, she fell in love with the country, decided to stay, and was fortunate enough to find work with Richard Hatton Limited, a theatrical and literary agency, in a few years becoming a literary director of the company.

The agency was small but powerful, its client list including well-known writers, directors, and actors such as Sean Connery, Malcolm McDowell, and Leo McKern. Among the writers with whom Ms. Marchetta worked were Robert Shaw, author of many award-winning novels and plays (though he is best known in the United States for his acting performances in To Russia With Love and Jaws); the playwright Richard Harris, whose Stepping Out appeared on Broadway; and Anthony Shaffer, who wrote Sleuth, a hit in the West End, on Broadway, and as a feature film.
Returning to the States, Ms. Marchetta went to Hollywood, found herself an agent, and eventually got an assignment on the Dallas mini-series. Asked to join the staff, she remained until the series soared to the top of the ratings. With that, her career in television was established. She wrote television movies, pilots for new series, produced Nurse, which won Michael Learned an Emmy, and Dynasty in the season it finally crept past Dallas in the ratings and reached number one.

In 1985, Ms. Marchetta took a sabbatical from television, returned to London, and, fulfilling a lifetime ambition, wrote her first novel, Lovers and Friends, which was published in the United States in 1989 and subsequently in England, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Following its publication, Ms. Marchetta co-executive-produced Falcon Crest, co-authored two best-selling novels with Ivana Trump, and worked as a story consultant on the television series, Central Park West. St. Martin’s Press published her second novel, The Wives of Frankie Ferraro, in 1998. The River By Moonlight is her most recent book.

You can visit her website.

The Book

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ON A RAINY APRIL NIGHT in 1917, a passing vagrant sees a young woman fall (or is it jump?) into New York City’s Hudson River. He tries to save her, but fails. The police tentatively identify the woman as Lily Canning, twenty-five years old, from Minuit, a town in the Hudson Valley.

But is it Lily? The question torments her mother, Henrietta, as she awaits confirmation. And when it comes, even more anguishing questions arise, for neither accident nor suicide makes sense. Lily could swim like a fish, and with her looks, and wealth, and talent, with an exhibition of her paintings about to open at a prestigious New York gallery, she had everything to live for.

In the days following her drowning, her heartbroken mother, her estranged husband, Edmund, her family, her friends, even the servant girl, Nuala, try to unravel Lily’s secrets and to come to terms with the devastating consequences of her loss on their own lives.

Set in New York City and the Hudson River Valley, when the country was poised on the brink of the First World War, The River, By Moonlight is a vivid evocation of time and place, and a poignant portrayal of what happens when individual actions and national events collide.

Above all, it is a deeply moving study of grief and despair, of the resilience of human nature, and the triumph of determination and hope.

Excerpt

Nuala awakened her, coming into her room without even knocking, saying, “Sorry, missus, but there’s a telephone call.” For an instant, Henrietta clung to the comfort of sleep, to the pleasure of the dream she would not later remember. But Nuala would not let her be. “Missus,” she repeated, “the fella says it’s urgent.”

The “urgent” did it, the word a brush fire in her mind, clearing it of everything but the fear it left in its wake. Alert now, Henrietta sat up and allowed Nuala to help her out of bed and into her robe and slippers. Ignoring the erratic thud of her heart cautioning her to move slowly, she hurried down the stairs, clutching the wooden banister for support, thinking as she went, It’s Lily, something’s happened to Lily; then, just as quickly, fighting back the rising tide of dread, telling herself, Don’t be foolish. It won’t be anything too awful. A wrong number perhaps. It was just past six o’clock in the morning.

The black candlestick telephone sat on the oak table in the center hall between the Tiffany lamp and silver desk set. The receiver was off the hook. Picking it up, she held it to her ear and said into the round mouthpiece, “Henrietta Canning speaking.”

“Mrs. Canning? I’m Detective Malone. New York City Police Department.” She could hear the beat of her heart, the rasp of her breath, the detective’s voice, halting and apologetic, difficult to understand at times because of the crackling on the wire, telling her that at shortly before midnight a young woman had entered (that was the word he used, absurd as it was) the Hudson River from a slip at the Columbia Yacht Club at Eighty-sixth Street in Manhattan. “A vagrant walking along the New York Central tracks saw her go in,” the detective said, though jump in was what he meant, Henrietta knew. “The man raised an alarm, and attempted a rescue, but . . . by the time he found her and pulled her back to shore, it was too late.”

“What has this to do with me?” Henrietta asked. She was surprised by how calm her own voice sounded, and how faint, as if she were hearing it from a vast distance.

In the woman’s purse, the detective explained, among other belongings, was a key to a room in the Pelham Hotel. “We found that the room was registered in the name of your daughter, I believe. Miss Lily Canning?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know where she might be?”

Henrietta fought back the tears, the desire to scream. “In her room there, sound asleep, I should imagine,” she said, her voice steady, confident. “There must be some mistake. Someone’s confused the numbers.”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am.” When they got no response to their knocking, the police had entered the room, and the night clerk had absolutely identified its contents as belonging to Miss Canning, said the detective. He sounded as if he would rather be talking to just about anyone but her, thought Henrietta. He sounded like a very nice young man. “Of course, there’s always the chance the purse was stolen, and your daughter is . . . elsewhere.”

“Yes. I’m certain that’s it,” Henrietta said, determined to grasp whatever straws blew her way. “No doubt she decided to spend the night with friends.” Teddy and Alice, she thought. Lily’s stayed over at their studio. Or she’s with Edmund. If she were not so frightened, Henrietta would have laughed at the relief she felt at the idea of it when, at any other time, she would have been overcome with anger, and shame. Edmund!

“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, ma’am, and it may well be a waste of your time, but could you come to New York? Today, if possible? We have to try to identify the . . .” He had been about to say body, or worse, corpse; instead, he finished lamely, “the young lady.” After again giving her his name, and his number, which Henrietta wrote down carefully with the pen from the desk set, he said, “If you’d let me know when you’ve made your travel arrangements, I’d appreciate it.”

Her hand was barely shaking, Henrietta noticed as she replaced the receiver and put the telephone down; but then, however cynical experience might have made Detective Malone, it was not her custom to believe the worst until she must. The whole matter was undoubtedly a mistake, a ghastly mistake. Lily’s purse had been stolen. She was with friends. She was safe.

That was the only reasonable thing to think. Turning toward Nuala, who hovered anxiously near the steps leading down to the kitchen, Henrietta said, “They think something might have happened to Lily. Silly girl. Out gallivanting when she ought to be getting a good night’s rest.”

Again her voice sounded very faint, very distant. Go back upstairs, get dressed, go to New York, she urged herself, but she could not seem to move. Please, dear God, she thought. Please. Don’t let it be Lily.

What reviewers are saying…

“One phone call and a widow is left distraught. One visit to the hospital and a young woman loses her best friend. One letter and a selfish cousin sees new opportunities. One obituary and a reporter goes straight to New York. One woman dies and the stage is set for “The River, By Moonlight,” an extensive and emotional novel by Camille Marchetta.

The story takes place over a few days in 1917, focusing on the drowning of Lily Canning, a young artist and prominent member of the small Hudson River town of Minuit. Her death – possibly an accident, possibly suicide – sets a wave of grief among the town’s residents, all wondering how this talented girl could have come to such a tragic end.

Emotionally, the novel connects fiercely with readers as it takes us through Lily’s friends and family. Each chapter is set from the mindset of different characters, ranging from Lily’s emotionally battered mother Etta to her empathetic best friend Rosaline and estranged ex-husband Edmund. Though written in third-person, there is a definite change of voice between each chapter – in addition to grief we see callousness, artistic distraction and unrequited love.

“The River” works not only as a story of loss, but as historical fiction. Beyond frequent mention of America’s entrance into World War I – and the debate of several male characters on enlisting – Marchetta details the era’s newspapers, river industry and the advent of Pablo Picasso’s modern art. The writing also has a vintage feel to it, with character voices matching their station: old-fashioned precision for the wealthy, calm and conversational for servant and rougher everyday for Edmund’s newspaperman background.

Though Lily’s chapter takes away some of the momentum, it is quickly restored by the last chapter taking place five years later. Characters have died or moved on with their lives, and Lily becomes an image that they turn to on occasion to simply ask “why?” With this feeling of loss and recovery the book closes, ending on the themes which make “The River, By Moonlight” such a forceful read.”

–BookReview.com

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Cosmic justice has many faces, and this time it has the face of plants…

For egotistical, arrogant Bertram Luce, life couldn't get any better. He's a famous author. He's rich. He lives in a gorgeous mansion and drives luxurious, expensive cars. Oh yes, and he's also gotten away with murdering his kind, plant-loving wife. That is, until the world of vegetation decides to avenge her death and make him pay; and pay he will, in the most bizarre, unusual way possible…

In the beginning, Luce believes the strange incidents to be coincidences, but it's not too much later when he realizes the 'accidents' he's been suffering have a lot more to do with premediated acts than with mere chance. But is he going insane? For how can a tree branch or an orquid mean him any harm? Is there such a thing as a unified, vegetative consciousness? Or is this simply his own guilty conscience playing tricks on his psyche?

Vegetation is an unusual, enjoyable read, one filled with bizarre and sometimes downright hilarious scenes. The writing is crisp and vivid and the pace flows well. In spite of the attacks of plantlife on the protagonist being a bit repetitive at times, the author keeps a strong sense of suspense and, to be fair, it takes ingenuity to create so many segments where Luce is attacked by the various plants and flowers. Since the protagonist is such an unsympathetic character, the reader will perversely enjoy all that befalls him until the very satisfying, surprising ending.

LaFlamme continues to prove his talent and skill as a horror writer. His first novel, The Pink Room, which I also had the chance of reviewing, makes for compelling reading as well.

 

Order Vegetation from Amazon or from your local bookstore.

–Mayra Calvani

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Available from Amazon and B&N

The Stoker File is a fascinating and ingeniously-written novel that will keep your hands glued to the pages until you've reached the ending.

Due to a tragic flood that sweeps the city, a mysterious bundle of papers is found in the basement of the University of Budapest. On closer examination, the papers appeared to be something unimaginable… the lost diary of Bram Stoker. Soon a team of researchers from the University of Columbia is assigned the job of proving the diary's authenticity. But then, people associated with the strange manuscript begin to suffer deadly accidents. Is the diary cursed or is it something even more sinister?

Brilliant and beautiful Laura Olsen Wynne, one of the researchers, discovers the secret of the diary and, at the risk of her own life, tries to prevent more deaths. To achieve this, she goes into hiding. Thus enters Detective Arnold Walters, who's put in charge of her disappearance and who becomes somewhat obsessed and fascinated by the lovely researcher. He must find her before other people–or dark forces–get to her. What is the real meaning of the diary and why are so many willing to kill for it? Will Walters find Laura in time to save her–and his own–life?

This was a highly enjoyable novel to read, not only because of the mystery, but because of the author's writing style–traditionally toned and reminiscent of those writers from the 19th Century. He makes Stoker's diary and voice sound surprisingly genuine. The atmosphere is dark and threatening thoroughout, and the puzzle will keep readers guessing for the conclusion. The story switches back and forth between the present and Stoker's narration in the diary, so we're transported to two very different worlds and times, each one vivid and filled with its own kind of suspense. Highly recommended to all who enjoy a dark, spooky read.

 

 

–Mayra Calvani

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The Book:

Have you ever thought what the world might be like if the present-day vices of society are allowed to continue to run rampant? That is the subject of The Last To Fall, a look at the legacy we leave our children. Civilization as we know it has fallen and the United States has been broken into a series of dictatorships, each with its own army. Death and disease, poverty and starvation, walk hand in hand with greed and madness. Three teenagers seeking a safe haven are caught up in a commune’s battle for survival against the armed might of a power mad resident and his henchmen.

The Author:

Anne K. Edwards enjoys writing in various genres and experimenting with new ideas for stories. She likes writing mystery novels, children’s stories about the misadventures of a dragon named Elvis and the little boy named Jeremy who outwits him. Anne also writes short stories about Death and the Detective that are published occasionally in an online mystery ezine. She’s editor of The Voice in the Dark ezine. Visit her website.

The Excerpt:

Jeanne Foster brushed a weary hand over her stinging eyes. It was impossible to see anything through the hanging mist that mixed with the smoke of burning buildings. What streetlights there were cast shapeless, bluish blobs of light. Buildings appeared as shapeless blackened ruins in the yellowed haze.

Worried, she studied Lester as he sagged against a grungy brick wall for support. It seemed hours since they’d started for the hospital, and their goal was no closer. He sank to the sidewalk coughing, a nerve-shattering sound in the predawn silence.

His thin body shuddered as he tried to draw the polluted air into his damaged lungs. “Jeanne, get help,” he gasped.

She felt a rising hopelessness. “But nothin’s open.”

“Get someone,” he begged as a new spasm seized him. His bloodshot hazel eyes pleaded with her. “Please.”

“I’ll try.” Unhappily, she moved away. The swirling yellow murk immediately engulfed his skinny body as he sprawled on the walk.

Turning her head in an effort to keep him in sight, she collided painfully with a public phone stand that loomed out of the mist. Rubbing her bruised shoulder, she shoved the lowered plastic privacy shield up into its groove and fumbled in the change slot seeking a stray coin. Nothing! The box was greasy and smelled of souring humanity. The line was dead. Just like all the others.

“Damn–” She set her jaw and fought against the pressing tears of frustration.

The choking stink of fire thickened. Her eyes watered as she blinked rapidly, squinting to see what lay ahead. She’d never traveled alone through northwest Washington, D.C. and had no idea where she was. Through an unexpected break in the fog, she spotted the blurry shape of a blue and white police vehicle moving slowly along the street. Running toward it, she shouted for help.

* * *
Officer Delon Stimm heard a girl yelling and swung his vehicle to the curb. He and his massive partner, John Kersey, got out. They kept their hands on their weapons, poised for trouble.

“What’s wrong?” Delon asked the slim, brown-haired girl who came out of the fog like a ghost.

“I need help. My friend’s sick,” she spoke in a voice shrill with urgency.

“Jojo?” He bent to look into her frightened brown eyes. It was the latest illegal drug to take over the younger generation.

“No! He can’t breathe.” She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.

“Where is he?” he asked with a sigh. The morning was to be a continuance of the night before–nothing was going right.

“About a block from here. That way.” Impatiently, she pointed, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. “Please hurry.”

The fog closed in again.

“Get in.” He held the door for her. These kids… He shook his head. They get garbaged up and then cry for help.

Was that what the crumbling society he served did to its children? So many walked the streets looking for something solid to believe in and found nothing. So they turned to jojo and each other. It did not bode well for the future of the country. What future there was, he thought.

He exchanged knowing glances with John. Kids had to learn the hard way. In the rear view mirror, he saw the girl huddle into herself, shivering as she searched the street for her friend.

They found him where she’d left him, a convulsed heap of long blond hair and old blue denims. One of his sandals had fallen off.

“Lester, they’ll take you to the hospital,” she told the boy, bending to touch his shoulder.

Delon could tell by the way Lester tried to push himself up, the police were the last people he wanted.

In spite of his protests, John and Delon carried him to the car. Skinny kid. Not any bigger than the girl. Wonder when he ate last. They placed him on the back seat, his head on the girl’s lap. “Looks like bad stuff to me,” Delon muttered.

“I told you, he’s not on anything,” she said fiercely through renewed tears. “It’s his lungs. He’s got emphysema or asthma.”

“Could be.” John Kersey started the car. “Could be. The air’s rotten. All that smoke… Don’t know why anyone would start fires now. My nose burns all the time from this polluted rot we call air.” He grunted as he turned the car around.

Delon nodded in agreement. As soon as the sun rose above the haze enveloping the city, the smoke would mix with heated humidity, making the air almost too thick to breathe. His sweat-soaked, light blue uniform shirt was already clinging to his spine against the plastic seat covers. Everything smelled of smoke. He shuddered involuntarily.

This wasn’t the first trip they’d made before daybreak to The Old University Hospital, nor would it be the last.

“The hospital isn’t going to like this,” he mumbled over the boy’s wheezing gasps. He hoped they didn’t run into any of the roving military groups searching for looters or streeters. He’d have to turn these children over to them.

John caught his meaning. “We’re becoming an ambulance service,” he said as he steered the car into the emergency entrance, passing the remains of the sign that bore the once-proud name of Georgetown University. Peering through the rounded swaths the wipers made on the windshield, he said, “Going to be an ugly day. Sun isn’t going to break through this muck.”

* * *
White-coated attendants wheeled out a squealing gurney to meet the cruiser. Jeanne waited impatiently as the dark-skinned officer opened the rear door so she could stretch her legs to get rid of the cramps caused by holding Lester’s head in the confined space.

Sniffing at the stale odor of heavy pine-scented cleanser used to cover hospital odors, she reluctantly followed them into a dim, green-walled corridor.

Officer Stimm drew her to a battered counter set to the left of the scratched glass doors.

Twisting a lock of her long brown hair, she watched sadly as the guerney carrying Lester’s twitching body disappeared through double steel doors on the right.

A round-faced clerk with green-tinted hair and discontented mouth handed Jeanne a sheaf of forms and a pen. “Are you a member of his family?” she queried, eying Jeanne suspiciously.

Jeanne shook her head.

“Where have you been living?” the officer asked, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin.

“Two thousand two Connecticut Avenue in Northwest,” she mumbled, twisting the hair over her left eye. The old hotel, once an uptown address, had long ago been condemned. It was home to dozens of young streeter couples like herself and Lester. She’d miss it, but without Lester, she didn’t belong.

“I see,” he said flatly. “One of those old places beyond DuPont Circle. Not a safe neighborhood for a girl.”

She didn’t answer.

“Do you know his family or where he’s from?” he prodded.

She shook her head, avoiding his kind brown eyes. His unspoken sympathy would only increase her need to cry. She had no idea who his people were so she focused on the forms, placing them on the counter. “I can’t fill these out.”

“They have to be filled in,” the clerk tapped her chewed pencil on the counter.

“I can’t. I don’t know if he’s allergic to things. I don’t know if he’s been sick before.” Jeanne’s temper edged into her tone.

“Does he have hospitalization?” The girl flashed Jeanne a quick look.

“He never told me,” Jeanne snapped. Most people didn’t have it.

“Does he have a bank account?” The clerk reddened, scrawling angry notations on a pink form.

“No. He’s unemployed.” Jeanne turned away.

The girl chewed her fleshy lower lip in silence. “I see,” she said after a pause and picked up the telephone. She toyed with a pulled thread in her blue knit top. Something red stained the shoulder.

“Will they take care of him?” Jeanne asked, pulling on her own clothes to straighten them. It had been so long since she’d fussed over her looks, she rarely thought about it. All she had was what she wore, jeans and a faded blue blouse.

“Yes. Now, can you answer a few questions about yourself?” the policeman asked in a kind voice. “Do you have a family?”

She shook her head again. No sense in getting her mom involved. She’d only say she didn’t know where she failed, her excuse for everything that happened in her life. Jeanne didn’t want any more of those horrible crying scenes with the well-remembered recriminations. The recollection of the hurt they caused each other nudged her conscience.

“Do you have anyone at all?” he persisted. He guided her to some chairs with patched red-cloth seats along the wall.

“No, nobody.” She took the one nearest the exit sign. The fabric was unraveling and it wobbled when she shifted her weight.

“How old are you?” He sat next to her, putting his hat on his lap.

“Twenty. I left home last spring after papa died.” Tears pressed in her throat. In some ways Lester had reminded her of her dad. Now he was gone again.

She straightened her shoulders and looked at the policeman. Knowing he would want proof of her age, she handed him a driver’s license she’d found on the street. The plastic coating had cracked and water had distorted the features in the picture, but it looked a little like her.

“This is expired.” He handed it back, his expression reflecting his belief the photo wasn’t her.

Jeanne shrugged. “Don’t have a car anyhow.” She shoved her hair back from her face with shaking fingers. She clamped her lips shut. The license said she was twenty, but she felt more like a hundred.

He studied her intently. “We’re just trying to help. You kids come here looking for God only knows what. I see it every day. You get hooked on jojo or sick like your friend.”

She remained silent. The police always knew all the answers.

The officer stood. “If you have a family, go home and make up. This way doesn’t work.” He peered down at her, adding, “Wait here. I have other questions for you, but I want to check on your friend.” He put on his black hat, pushing it back, and walked away.

Jeanne eavesdropped as he spoke to the nurse who chewed the end of a pencil. She wanted Lester to be all right, but doubted he would be. He’d been spitting up blood this time. Fear formed a knot in her chest.

“How is he? Good news might help me get the truth out of her.” He nodded toward Jeanne who read concern in his gaze.

The nurse took her pencil out of her mouth. “You know University takes no public cases now that our federal funding has been cut off. The new owners are very specific about accepting only paying patients. The boy was been sent directly to Cartersea in Northeast with a few others. He was on oxygen when they left.”

“Thanks.” Officer Stimm turned to John Kersey, who stood near the unplugged coffee machine. “I guess that’s better than nothing. We’d better get the signatures on these new service cards to show how we spent the last hour. I miss the old days when all we did was patrol through our shift. This new paperwork is a pain.” He sounded tired.

The waiting gave Jeanne the jitters. If I stick around, I’ll get sent to the juvenile center. And they’ll get word to Mom. She felt the tears pressing again. I don’t wanna go home. It’s always the same thing.

She’d lost count of the times she’d been returned only to run away again. The burden of guilt her mother shifted onto her for her troubles was too much to face any more. The thought of it impelled Jeanne to her feet as the two officers were distracted by the nurse inquiring about the identity of another patient they’d brought in earlier. Catlike, she moved to the door to make her escape. Lester didn’t need her now.

He’d probably never leave the hospital or, if he did live, they’d send him to one of those detainment camps where people without permanent addresses were held. She shuddered. Much as she didn’t want to go home, she didn’t want to wind up in one of the horrible camps she’d heard about. Even if the rumors or torture and death weren’t true, the people were still prisoners.

Sadly, Jeanne accepted that she’d never see Lester again. The best thing to do was get away from D.C.

She headed into the thickening mist where she felt secure from curious eyes, but as dawn broke, the smoky tendrils began to lift and thin. Another ugly day in an ugly city.

Purchase the ebook from Twilight Times Books.

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Hi all,

For those of you who read Mary Castillo’s excerpt, “Por un Amor” and participated in her drawing, the winner of the $10 Starbucks Gift Card is………. Kristine H !!!!!

And now for my story… After reading it, simply answer the question at the bottom for a chance to win a box of yummy Belgian chocolates. The winner will be announced tomorrow on Jamie Martinez Wood’s blog. Good luck! I hope you’ll enjoy my dark (and yes, a little creepy) Valentine’s Day story!

The Painting
by Mayra Calvani

I was sitting in front of the fire with The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes on my lap. It had been a rough semester, without let up, and my only escape from the constant pressure was my crime and mystery collection. All day, I’d looked forward to reading the stories in the book. This particular book was a limited, leather-bound edition which I had purchased at the famous 221b Baker Street—now the official Sherlock Holmes Museum—on a short visit to London a couple of weeks ago. The illustrations were the original ones from The Strand Magazine, and were so engaging I could look at them for hours. I had also bought a little bust of Holmes; this one stood proudly on top of the mantelpiece.

It rained heavily outside and the wind blew like the endless howling of a wolf. I still had not gotten used to the Belgian weather. I sneezed for three times in a row and cursed whoever was up there in that idealized cave they call heaven. This cold was not getting any better. I could picture the savage battle going on inside my body. I was obviously far behind on the battle field, my little cells running away like cowards. I had to eat better and stop drinking so much. At least I didn’t smoke or drink coffee.

I focused my watery eyes on the page and another sneeze came out like an explosion. Then the sweetest sensation made me float in the air and settle down again. I thought I had reached salvation. I put the book down and stared at a small cockroach crawling up the wall. I wished I could defy gravity like that. The intruder disappeared behind a bad painting of a clown. I hated clowns, but the painting came with the apartment. The first day I moved in I tried to take it off, but the damn thing was completely glued to the wall. It was a clown like any other clown. That’s why I despised it so much. It had a broad smile on its face and sad looking eyes. But if you looked closely you could see that it wasn’t really smiling and that its tightly shut lips were the embodiment of solemnity.

“Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day,” it mocked me.

Big deal. I glared at it. If the clown thought it was going to have some power over me, it had another thought coming. Valentine’s Day was another capitalist invention to steal money from the ignorant masses. Hearts and roses everywhere. Sickening.

From the apartment above mine came the irritating sound of high heels clicking on tile floor. Oh no. Not now. This cold was unbearable enough as it was. I certainly didn’t need the help of my noisy upstairs neighbour to turn my headache from bad to splitting. Everything the woman did was noisy. She constantly fought and argued with her husband, and her hobby seemed to be moving furniture from room to room, which by themselves were pretty normal activities, but she had a strong preference to do these after midnight. Flushing the toilet at three o’clock in the morning seemed to be another of her favourite pastimes. Maybe in another building this would not have been a problem, but here the walls were made of paper. I could hear everything—even her piss in the middle of the night. What a way to wake up, with a sensation of drowning.

The clicking continued for about ten minutes. I finally put the book down. What on earth was she doing? Walking up and down her corridor for the sole purpose of driving me mad? Maybe she was trying to hypnotize me with the monotone clicking. In an absurd way it seemed to be working. I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Silence.

I sighed. I was so tired and drowsy from the medication I fell asleep with the book on my lap.

***

The sound of loud voices woke me.

I glanced at my watch, trying to fight disorientation. It was almost midnight. I had slept for sixteen minutes. My body felt as though it had been clobbered while I slept.

A major fight was going on upstairs. I recognized the baritone voice of the husband. Some time during the past sixteen minutes he had come back home. He kept shouting and she lashing back in a whining voice. To make matters worse, they were Italian and were using their native tongue to “communicate.” She began sobbing, which seemed to send the husband into an even greater fury.

To appease my murderous thoughts, I rose and staggered into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of orange juice. After finishing a glass, I calmly fetched the mop from the small kitchen closet. Then, like a madman—hair messy and oily, the shadow of a one-week old beard covering my face, wrinkled bathrobe stained with juice—I began to hit the ceiling in a frenzy.

Finally I stopped.

I looked up to the ceiling, which was marred with dents.

Silence.

Feeling much better, I set the mop against the wall and went back to sit by the fire, the only place at the moment which seemed warm enough for my feet. I turned the armchair a little to be closer to the burning logs, which kept crackling and sputtering.

I, a sensible, practical person, tried to consider the situation logically. Ever since I had moved in, two months ago (I was an exchange student from the University of Bridgeport), I’d had to endure the continuous noise from my upstairs neighbours. I had complained to the building manager twice, to no avail. I had even walked upstairs and talked to the lady—a suntanned woman with coppery hair, buttery teeth and insane-looking green eyes. Her eyes reminded me of a one of those marsupial night creatures which live in constant terror of being eaten. Maybe her look had to do with her husband. In any case, we had been unable to communicate. She spoke no English. She did ask, using sign language, if I spoke French or Dutch. I shook my head. In the end I tried to get my message across in Spanish, but there was no way getting through to her, so I came back downstairs. Since that day all I’d been able to do was hit the ceiling when it got too unbearable. I didn’t want to move out, either. The rent was okay for a sophomore literature student from abroad and I had fallen in love with the fireplace, which was the perfect place to read mysteries.

I got the terrible sensation of wanting to sneeze, but nothing came out. I dozed off for a little while longer, but not before scowling at the painting of the clown, which, once again, appeared to be mocking me. I turned back to the fire. From the corner of my eye I caught movement. I glanced back at the painting, but everything looked normal.

At about two in the morning I managed to pull myself from the armchair and stagger to my bedroom.

Not bothering to pull the covers over me, I collapsed face-down on the hard European (must have been imported from Russia) mattress and shut my eyes.

Not much later something made me stir… the faint yet distinct sound of moaning. Apparently they had decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day early. Their bedroom was above mine. I endured the whole thing, complete with the crescendos and grand symphonic finale. Moments later the not-to-distant sound of piss came from the toilet upstairs. Flushing.

The piping system had been built in a way as to give the impression of a Tsunami each time the toilet was flushed.

Too weak to open my eyes, I cursed inaudibly, my head still plastered to the sweaty pillow.

***

The next day, when I saw I was not better, I realized I had the flu. I had missed the last two days of school and it looked as though I’d have to miss the rest of the week. After a skimpy breakfast of toast and juice, and two tablespoons of cold medication, I went to the living room to prepare a new fire.

As I crouched and began to arrange the logs, I heard the whisper… Happy Valentine’s Day.

I stopped moving, startled.

The sound had come from my apartment, not from upstairs. In fact, the whisper had come from the same room. I glanced about the room, my eyes finally settling on the clown. In some bizarre way it seemed to reach deep into my soul, somehow absorbing the essence of who I was and reflecting it back at me. I averted my eyes.

When the fire was ready I sat in the armchair and extended my cold feet close to the flames. I reached for the leather-bound book on the little table beside me and opened the page at the bookmark.

After reading a few lines I put the book down. It was very quiet and I wondered what my upstairs neighbour was up to. Her silence somehow made me restless. Maybe she had gone out. I tried to concentrate on “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” but found the effort exhausting.

Since the cold medication wasn’t having any effect on my symptoms, at noon I took a double dose. Holmes used to take cocaine and even heroine; that was much worse. Then I took a glass of water with me into the living room and stood in front of the painting. I took a sip and held the glass in front of my eyes and saw the image of the clown through it. The image was nothing but a mass of hazy colors forming something indefinite.

Then I heard it, the exquisite clicking of stiletto heels on tiles. I looked to the ceiling. I sighed. I wanted this to happen. My whole being longed for it. My attitude could be compared to victims of kidnappers who in some deranged way grow attached to their tormentors.

Almost involuntarily, my eyes returned to the clown. I thought it had called my name. It was smiling as usual and looking at me. No matter where I was in the room, it would always be looking at me. A sharp pain in my temples blinded me for a moment. I felt dizzy and had to hold the back of the armchair for support. Yes. I was right. It had called my name and now it was talking to me. Its mouth was moving and it had no teeth. Inside its red mouth there was only a black empty space. I wondered how it could talk and still smile like that.

Slowly I went out of the apartment and crossed the empty, windowless hall towards the stairs which led to other floors. Once on the upstairs hall I was happy to see that it also was empty. My heart thudding, I knocked on my neighbour’s door and waited.

A moment later the door opened and I gazed with fixed fascination at the color of her hair—only a consummate professional could achieve such an unnatural hue.

She appeared to recognize me, displayed her buttery teeth, and began talking in another language—probably Italian, though it might as well have been ancient Sumerian. She moved her hands in all directions as she talked, and gestured me to come inside. Not uttering a word, I obeyed. She continued her enigmatic speech. The vibrations of her voice entered my ear as if they were coming from another dimension. My body felt as hot as a kitten’s belly, and my head as if it had been implanted with electric wires.. I just wanted her dead.

I fixed my eyes on her neck and silently closed the door behind me (I grasped the knob with my robe, not to leave fingerprints; I’m not an imbecile) as she bent over to pick up a cleaning rag from the floor.

In spite of my drowsiness, my hands felt incredibly strong.

***

Later that evening I sat by the fire and wrote what I had done, a fictional confession of sorts. I filled seven pages of longhand, doctor-like scribbles only I could decipher.

I glanced at the painting. Earlier I had covered it with a sheet. The clown could stare at me no more.

The door bell rang and, papers clutched to my chest, I got up and went to answer it.

Though I had been expecting them, my heart skipped when I saw the two Belgian policemen standing outside my door.

After I made it clear I spoke only English and Spanish, they quickly introduced themselves in English and stated the reason for their visit. My upstairs neighbour had been strangled and they wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything.

I adopted a surprised expression and shook my head.

“Did you know her?”

“I saw her just once. I’ve been living here for only two months,” I said. “Though I could often hear her. She was always fighting with her husband—I assume it’s her husband. That’s the reason I once met her. I went upstairs to ask them to keep their voices down. It was late and he was shouting and she was screaming. In fact, I almost called the police that night. They had a big fight last night, too. It sounded pretty bad. If you ask me, I think the husband was abusing her.”

One of the policemen wrote furiously on a note pad.

The other policeman glanced at the papers I held against my chest.

“I’m studying for an exam,” I said.

The policeman nodded. He looked like a toy policeman. Both of them did.

“Ironic, huh? To be murdered on Valentine’s Day. That husband of hers, he must be a poet.”

After several more questions and answers, they apologized for the inconvenience and said goodbye.

Holding my confession close to my heart, I closed the door and went back to sit by the fire.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” I murmured. One by one, I fed the pages to the flames. Even Holmes would have been proud.

***

©2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.


Now for the question: What does the protagonist have clutched against his chest when the police come to pay him a visit?

To enter the drawing, simply email me your answer at mgcalvani (at) hotmail.com. Good luck!

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The Blurb:

Amanda Thorne is an embattled clairvoyant, who refuses to believe in God or the afterlife, even when the ghost of her murdered husband confronts her from his grave. More ghosts confront her when she finds herself stranded in a tiny town in Arizona.

Two of them mistake her for a prominent woman who was murdered 79 years ago. One of them wants to avenge him for the murder, and the other wants to kill her all over again. She and her misplaced deputy friend must uncover the truth about the murder before history repeats itself.

The Author:

Deborah Woehr is a writer, artist and problogger who lives in San Jose, California. She is well-known for her blog, The Writers Buzz. Currently, she writes for Syntagma Media’s Paranormal Watch.

The Excerpt:

“You’re dead.”

“I know. You put me here.”

Amanda Thorne gazed at her dead husband, who stood five feet in front of her, his head and face perfectly intact when they shouldn’t have been. She had gone to the funeral home to view his body. He had no business standing here, in front of his grave, accusing her of killing him.

“You’re not going to get away with this!” Joel’s eyes darkened as the familiar rage grew inside of him. “You should be here, not me.”

“I didn’t do this,” Amanda said in a tight whisper. “You did this to yourself!”

He punched her square in the chest, sending her sprawling across the wet grass. “You sent him after me, you lying, sneaking, conniving bitch.”

Joel stood over her. “I’m going to get you,” he promised her.

“Ma’am?”

Amanda stared at the overcast sky, Joel and his punch an instant memory. She pulled herself up, aware of her bare feet and her silk pajamas. A middle–aged police officer stood on the road that separated the section where Joel’s grave lay from another section of the cemetery.

“What are you doing here?” he said, as he appraised her with bloodshot eyes. He had caught her in here at least an hour before the cemetery opened to the public.

“I don’t know,” she said hazily. The last thing she remembered was going to bed, but her house was four miles away. “I don’t know how I got here.”

“You look familiar to me.”

Amanda shrugged her shoulders. She looked past him, and then to her left, towards the cemetery’s entrance.

“What’s your name?”

“Amanda Thorne.”

The officer turned to his side so he could see what she was looking at, and to keep an eye on her.
“What are you looking for?”

“My car. I don’t see it.” She hugged herself against a sudden cold gust of wind. Did I walk all the way out here?

“Where do you live?”

“The Garden Apartments. Do you know where that is?”

“Yeah. How did you get here, if you didn’t drive?” The officer was intrigued.

Amanda cleared her throat. “I think I walked. I woke up in here.”

“Ho! No, shit? That’s a pretty long way to sleepwalk, Mrs. Thorne.” He stared at her as though he were still trying to place her.

She didn’t recognize him, although she had had many interviews with the San Jose Police detectives, both before and after Joel had died. He was just another uniform, as far as she was concerned. “Will you take me to Valley Med? I think I’m having a reaction to my prescription.”

“I don’t think that’s the cause of this.” The cop walked past her and up to Joel’s grave.

Amanda let her gaze wander around the cemetery. Monterey Highway was visible from her vantage point, allowing her to watch the beginning of the morning commute.

“Amanda?”

“What?” She looked over her shoulder at the cop.

“Let’s go.”

“Are you taking me to the hospital or to jail?”

“I’m taking you home.”

Amanda walked with him to the entrance. The chapel sat on the left side of the gate. She couldn’t figure out if it was an English or Dutch style building. The walls were painted an ugly cream color, mottled with dark brown stones.

It had stained–glass windows and a stone chimney. The roof matched the stone insets, but it didn’t look like any roof she had seen in San Jose. It looked like someone had draped a wet, scaly skin over the top of the building, and left it there to dry. The eaves curled inward, giving the impression that she was looking at a fat toadstool.

She knew what it was, a chapel and a mortuary. Joel’s casket had sat inside that chapel. His father and sister were the only family who had attended the funeral. The rest of his family stood by his mother’s “deathbed,” making sure she didn’t OD on martinis and Valium. ‘I just couldn’t bear the thought of burying my Joely,’ she would later tell Amanda.

“You okay?” the cop said, shattering her reverie when he laid his hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry.” Amanda gave him an apologetic smile when she realized that she had stopped to stare at that awful building. The wind was picking up again, carrying the spray of the water fountain with it. She clutched at her pajama top in vain.

“You want my jacket?”

“No, thanks.”

The cruiser sat next to the curb, its yellow lights flashing. Amanda walked alongside the cop, grateful that she wasn’t wearing handcuffs for the world to see. It was bad enough to be walking around in her pajamas and bare feet.

“Do you have anybody you can talk to?” Moreno asked with sincerity.

“Yes,” Amanda lied. Joel had alienated her friends, but his murder had chased them away for good. She had no one but her psychiatrist, who was more interested in doping her up with Paxil than listening to her.

This experience was a fluke, she told herself. It won’t happen again.

Moreno sat her in the front seat of his cruiser as another cruiser pulled up behind him. Amanda turned around in her seat after he closed the door, and watched the two cops meet on the sidewalk. They began talking about her in hushed tones.

A lot of people had talked about her after the murder. Few had approached her with direct questions, or to ask her how she was “holding up.” As far as everyone was concerned, she had killed her husband. Five months later, the police were still watching her and waiting for her to confess to the killing.

Amanda turned away from the officers, who were laughing at some private joke. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed or smiled. It had been a long time.

Without warning, the radio belched out static. Then a female voice uttered some cop code, followed by plain English. A shooting had occurred in the Capitol and Quimby area, which was nothing new. Most likely, it was gang–related. Amanda tuned out the radio and looked at the cops through the side view mirror.

They were still talking.

“Open the glove box.”

Amanda’s eyes widened at the urgent whisper of a male voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a jean–clad leg. Someone was sitting next to her, and it wasn’t Moreno. It was a Mexican gang–banger, with a ragged bullet hole in the side of his neck.

“Come on, bitch! Open the fuckin’ glove box before he comes back! I don’t want him to see me like this.”

Amanda gaped at the kid’s neck. “What?”

Before he could answer, the driver’s side door opened. “You okay in there?” the cop said, hesitant about getting in the front seat with her.

“Could you take me to Valley Med, please? I’m hallucinating.”

*******

PROSPERITY: A GHOST STORY VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 will continue until the end of February. If you would like to follow Deborah’s tour, visit http://www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/. Leave a comment and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of her tour! One lucky winner will be announced on this page on February 29!

Purchase the book from Lulu.

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Five Latina authors, five stories, five prizes! From February 10 to February 14. All you have to do is leave a comment in order to be eligible for the prize.
Here’s the line-up:

February 10 – “Por un Amor” by Mary Castillo, a $10 Starbucks gift card

February 11 – “The Painting” by Mayra Calvani, here on the Dark Phantom, a box of Belgian chocolate

February 12 – “A Box of Valentines” by Jamie Martinez Wood, a one pound bag of homemade toffee

February 13 – “Missed Connections” by Margo Candela, Prize: B&N Gift Card

February 14- “Dream Catch Me” by Barbara Caridad Ferrer,

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