An October Read

I want to welcome C.S. Boyack back to my blog. I love having him here. He’s a friend and fellow writer, and I’m a fan. This time, he’s promoting his latest book perfect for October reading, THE BALLAD OF MRS. MOLONY. This is the third book in his Lizzie and the Hat series, but it can easily stand on its own. I’ve downloaded it, and it’s next on my TBR list. I visit Craig’s blog many times, and he’s a contributor to Story Empire, offering valuable tips on all things writing. Please show him some love while he’s here. And with that, I’ll let Craig take it from here:

Thank you so much for having me over, Judi. We’ve all had a good time on this tour, and the Ballad of Mrs. Molony is still only 99¢ for a limited time. I’ll put it at its regular price sometime in early November. Don’t miss out on this fun bit of Halloween reading at the introductory price. I’ll let the blurb sell the story at the end.

I like to make all my tour posts unique, and our topic today is the evolution of the series. Specifically, recurring characters.

As the series extends, it occurred to me that Lizzie and the hat don’t operate in a vacuum. They are going to revisit some locations and come across some people more than others.

In the first story, The Hat, it was all about getting acquainted and forging the bond they have. I mentioned some people from Lizzie’s life, but we didn’t really get to meet them. There’s Mike with the landscaping company, along with Dave & Sandi. All of them own places Lizzie works for. It was functional, because of the focus of that specific story.

Viral Blues was the second story, and because these are supposed to be campy and silly, I wrote my version of a comic book team up adventure. The participants all appeared in my previous books. It took some doing, but you can read this one without having ever read any of the other stories.

Then came The Ballad of Mrs. Molony, the current story. It dawned on me that Lizzie is going to need some recurring characters to take this much further.

Our heroes have a small cover band, and I fleshed that out in Viral Blues. These characters give some of the continuity I’m looking for, but they have nothing to do with the paranormal world. They wouldn’t even understand it. That leaves me with Evelyn, the witch from The Hat.

I needed some recurring characters that fit into the paranormal side of these stories. Welcome Kevin Mugford. He’s a vampire, and has to be the crappiest vamp in history. He has gnarly teeth to the point of deformity, and a speech impediment to go along with it. In Mrs. Molony, he’s a frequent target of the hat’s barbs. He might even be more trouble than he’s worth.

I figured if The Rockford Files could have Angel Martin, maybe Lizzie and the hat could have their own street informant. I probably won’t drop him in every book, but he’s going to stick around.

Since I decided to pull characters from other books, I decided why stop now? Once upon a time, I wrote a book called Will O’ the Wisp. One of the supporting characters was Pete Rogers. Pete earned a short story in one of my collections called Night Bump Radio. I brought Pete into this series with his late night radio show. Callers dial in to tell Pete what goes bump in their night. Turns out it’s Lizzie and the hat, who they’ve given a terrible nickname. This helps me add a bit of tension and keeps them looking over their shoulders. I intend to make this a regular part of the series.

I have more recurring characters planned for future stories. The trick is to keep the focus on Lizzie and the hat. These won’t be regular characters, but recurring. Think Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The even bigger trick is to keep writing the books in such a way that people can read them out of order without feeling lost. I’m determined to do this. I don’t want someone to discover these stories years from now and feel like they can’t pick up any volume they’re interested in because it’s part of a series.

I can afford a tiny little intro for Kevin whenever he appears and not lose the long term readers. They might appreciate a reminder if it’s been a while.

One example happened in Viral Blues. Lisa Burton, the robot girl, helped Lizzie out with some suitable outfits for her nocturnal monster hunting activities. The fact that Lizzie is wearing some of these things in Mrs. Molony doesn’t leave new readers feeling lost.

I’ve rambled long enough, and I promised you a cover and blurb to get you excited about the new story. I’ll also throw out a purchase link and some links for the previous stories. Hope you’ll give The Hat Series a chance for your Halloween reading.

***

Blurb: Lizzie and the hat are back, and this time they’re chasing vampires across a subculture of America. A pair of rodeo cowboys are holding a woman captive to use like a milk cow since they joined the undead.

The person who put them onto the trail is also a vampire, but he has to be the worst vampire in history. Is he really that pitiful, or is he setting a trap for our heroes? Does the woman even exist? Can Lizzie and the hat find her before she also takes up blood sucking?

Follow Lizzie and the hat as they use their cover band to stalk vamps across the country music scene.

Purchase your copy here: The Ballad of Mrs. Molony

Other stories in the series are:

The Hat

Viral Blues

Image preview

You can contact Craig at the following locations:

BlogMy NovelsTwitterGoodreads | FacebookPinterestBookBub

Thanks so much for stopping by, Craig. I enjoy reading (and writing) series. When I like characters, it’s fun to see them in more stories. I’m excited about vampires and monster hunters for Halloween reading! Along with your ever present dose of humor. Have a great October!

A teaser

HEIRLOOMS TO DIE FOR will be out Nov. 9th. It’s on pre-sale now, so I thought I’d share a snippet to tease you. If you like it (and I hope you do), don’t order BAD HABITS now. I’m making it free Nov. 8-12, so I’m trying to save you some money:)

Keon had a knack for reading my thoughts.  He smiled now.  “You’re not going to hug Cook so tight, you crush her bones, are you?”

I snorted.  “Like I could.  You haven’t met her.  She’s short and plump and full of energy.  Don’t let her gray hair fool you.  Or the housedresses she always wears.  They make her look old, but it’s hard to keep up with her.”  And I loved her.  She was the constant in my life growing up. 

I had a string of nannies who came and went.  I wasn’t attached to any of them.  Only two servants lived in our home—Cook and the maid.  The maid was devoted to my mother and avoided me if possible.  When Mom and Dad died, they’d left each of them five million dollars in their will.  As far as I was concerned, they’d earned it.  Everything else went to me, their only child.

When I left Chicago to follow Gabbie and her brothers to Summit City, I never expected to see Cook again.  She’d moved into an apartment close to her sister and her sister’s boys, and she planned to travel a lot. 

I snickered.  Keon raised an eyebrow.  “What’s so funny?”

“Cook was going to see the world when she retired, but only traveled to Scotland to see where her great-grandparents lived.  She hated the airplane flight, didn’t like the people in her tour group, and came home, swearing she never wanted to get on an airplane again.”

“So she’s decided to move here instead?”

I went for a second cup of coffee and brought the pot over to pour him another cup, too.  “Her sister, Margie, is in her mid-seventies, and she can’t get around as well as she used to.  Cook bought one of those condos we looked at for your parents—the ones close to the Outback restaurant and the big grocery store.  It has enough room for Margie to move in with her.  They’re looking forward to living together.”

Keon grimaced.  “She’s going to be a caregiver again.”

“It’s what she likes.”

NANO

I know there are writers who are girding their loins, adding to character sketches, and working on plot points to prepare for NaNoWriMo, the National November Writing Month, the sprint where writers sign up to pound out 50,000 words in one month–supposedly a novel in thirty-one days. Every time I read that, it makes me tired. But in truth, IF a person wrote ten pages a day, and each page had 250 words on it (though most of mine don’t), then in theory, he’d be writing 2500 words a day, and in 20 days, he’d have 50,000 words.

Put like that, NaNo sounds do-able, especially since most writers who sign up for it don’t polish as they go. They just vomit words on paper. Which is fine if you know those words add up to something, and when you finish, and then take time to polish what you have, you’ll end up with something good. But that means you need to be prepared BEFORE you start on November 1st.

Mae Clair wrote two good blogs about NaNo for Story Empire. Here’s the link to one of them, and once you’re there, you can find the other one: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/10/14/clearing-time-for-nanowrimo/ She’s going to give it a go this November. It’s never tempted me. I can’t turn off my inner editor. I prefer to rewrite as I go and make any tweaks while I’m working, so they don’t get more out of control as I go. No time for that if you’re dashing down words.

I understand the appeal of NaNo, though. Some of my friends never polish their work until the first draft is finished. They swear the momentum inspires them, and they’d lose creativity if they edited their thoughts and words as they worked. I’m the opposite. When I know something doesn’t feel quite right or fit like it should, it drives me nuts until I fix it. Which is why one writing technique doesn’t work for everyone. We’re all different.

I avoid NaNo, but it might be perfect for you. People encourage one another to meet their goals. And if you can keep up the pace, you might have 50,000 words to start December. I’m wishing any of you who try it swift writing and a Muse who smiles on you. Good luck!

The Secret of my Success – Maybe

Some of the best writing advice I’ve read for a while. It’s according to what you call “success.”

Story Empire

Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. Honestly, there is a fudge in that title, because it depends upon what you call success. If you’re all about sales, volume, and bestseller lists I don’t have success.

I’m more motivated by delivering a good story that readers will enjoy. In that regard, I’ve been quite successful this year. As a small recap, I have a science fiction novel, a longer fantasy novel, and a noveloid length publication that is more designed for the short-read market. Oh, there is also one short story that was included in an anthology. This post isn’t about tooting my own horn, it’s to give you some leads on how I accomplished all that.

In the interest of full disclosure, most of the science fiction story was written in 2019, but I also published three books that year. I do all this and hold down a full-time…

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Tale of a Story: Within the Plum Attic

Kathleen Palm wrote a wonderful ghost story for our anthology, MURDER THEY WROTE, but it wasn’t easy:)

Finding Faeries

Earlier this year, a person from my writers’ group decided to get authors together and publish a mystery anthology. Introduce fans of certain authors and genres to a wonderful world of words they might not find otherwise.

And she asked me to contribute! Not that I have “fans”…seriously, some of the authors in this anthology have several books out. But a chance for me to put more of my weird out into the ‘Verse was tempting.

However, as I prepared to e-mail back a “yes, I sure will”, I paused. For the word MYSTERY stared at me with its little beady eyes. Mystery? I don’t do mysteries. To help connect the different genres and styles, we would use the game of Clue as inspiration, each choosing a color, murder weapon, and room.

How could I pass up the opportunity? I told her I would try to come up with an…

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Out and About

I’ve been invited to stop in and visit at two new sites at the end of this week. Yay for me! A chance to meet new friends. On October 23, I’ll be a guest blogger on The Wickeds blog: https://wickedauthors.com/. I hope you can stop by to meet me. I’ll be dropping in, off and on, during the day to check on comments.

On Saturday, the 24th, I get to do a Facebook chat with readers from 3:00 to 3:30 CST during the Tattered Pages Scare-O-Thon. When it’s my turn, try not to be too scared by George, Ansel’s pug. He can look ferocious:) The whole day is going to be fun on their site. If you have time, you might want to drop in to meet some of the other authors:

https://www.facebook.com/TatteredPages

Hope you have a great week, and maybe I’ll see you on Friday and Saturday:)

Blackie’s a REALLY BIG black dog

I returned to Muddy River for this Halloween story. The veil between our world and the next grows thin on Hallows Eve…too thin.





A Fire Demon’s Familiar
 
by
 
Judi Lynn
 
After the last student left the building, I locked my school for witches and crossed the street to our tall, yellow Victorian house.  Claws padded beside me, our breaths showing in the cool, late October air.  It was Friday, and we had Monday off—a three-day weekend.  Sunday was Halloween.  Every witch in Muddy River was readying to celebrate Samhain.  This year was special.  There was a blue moon on the thirty-first, the second one in the month. 
When I reached our driveway, the orange lights flicked on that decorated our front porch.  Raven must have beaten me home.  My fire demon was starting to enjoy Hallow’s Eve as much as I did.
I circled to the back of the house to enter through the kitchen door, halting in surprise when I saw Raven sitting at the wooden table, a black dog on steroids lying at his feet.  I stared.  “Is he hurt?”
“No, and he should be.” 
What did that mean?  The beast rose, his tawny eyes focused on Claws, and my ocelot arched his back, a low growl thrumming in his throat. 
“No, boy, he’s a friend.”  Raven stroked the dog’s thick, black fur.  “He’s Hester’s familiar.”
The beast sat, studying me and my familiar.  I frowned.  He was a perfect match to Raven’s ebony hair and amber eyes.  Still, when he padded toward me, I raised my palms, ready to defend myself until he stopped and leaned his head forward to lick my hand.  The top of his head was higher than my shoulder.  I’d never seen a dog this big.
“What is he?” I asked.
Raven stood and came to rest a hand on his back.  “I think he’s a hellhound.”
“One of Diana’s pack?”  I knew the goddess called for her beasts when a new moon blackened the sky and she went on the hunt.  If a worthy woman prayed to her for rightful retribution, Diana listened.  But the new moon was long past.  “Why is he here?”
Raven rubbed his chin, shaded with stubble.  I loved his dark coloring.  “I don’t know, but I think he searched me out.  When he raced toward me, I blasted him with fire, but it didn’t even faze him.  He knocked me to the ground, and I wrapped my hands around his neck to strangle him, but then I noticed he was wagging his tail.  When I hesitated, he started licking my face.”
I took a deep breath.  His answer troubled me.  If Diana sent the hound to Raven, there was a reason.  And it wasn’t to reward him with a pet.  “I’m worried.”
He stroked the hound’s head and nodded.  “So am I.”  We both knew all too well that sometimes goddess’s blessings came with strings attached.
I was surprised by how well Blackie and Claws got along.  When Claws wanted outside to hunt at the river banks, Blackie went with him.  That evening, they curled together on the floor in front of the fireplace while we read and did the same in our room when we went to bed at night.  But where Raven went on Saturday, so went Blackie.  And Claws stayed next to me each time I left the house.  It was sweet, until they both hovered underfoot as Raven helped me cook for the town’s carry-in for Hallows Eve. 
I sighed in vexation.  “Who knew hellhounds begged for treats?”  The beast liked everything—even pumpkin bread and popcorn balls. 
“I don’t want to know what Diana tossed him as snacks.”  We’d both heard the myths of her and her dogs, how she fed them pieces of her prey’s heart after they’d torn him to shreds.  Raven bent to sniff the aromas coming from the oven.  Each member of my coven, including me, was bringing platters piled with BBQ ribs to the harvest table this year.  Suri and Noira, the two exceptions, since they owned the town’s bakery, were bringing biscuits and cornbread. 
When the preparations were done, I seared salmon for our supper.  Blackie liked that, too.  Claws, as usual, turned up his nose. 
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” I told Raven as we ate.  “Magic is at its strongest during Halloween and a full moon.  Maybe Diana sent you Blackie to keep you safe over Samhain.”
“Safe from what?  Together, our townspeople have managed to defend ourselves against just about everything.”
“Maybe that’s about to change.”
He reached for his wine.  “I certainly hope not.”
So did I, but Diana sent us a hellhound for a reason.
 
###
 
We were washing up breakfast things on Sunday when Raven’s cellphone rang.  He listened to the caller with a scowl, then said, “I’m on my way.”
A chill raced down my spine.  This was it.  Trouble had found us.
Raven started to the door, Blackie plastered to his side.  “Paws called.  Something’s going on in the forest past his farm.  Strange balls of fire are erupting into the sky.  It hasn’t crossed our town’s border and your wards, but something’s wrong.”
“I’m coming with you.”  Paws, a shifter, and his wife lived at the farthest edge of Muddy River and owned a poultry farm.  They were the first to let us know when rogues snuck into town from that direction.  But rogues didn’t shoot fire higher than tree lines.
He gave me a grateful smile.  “I might need backup this time.  Thanks.”
As if I’d let him go alone!  Claws followed me to my white SUV, jumping on the backseat when I held the door for him.  Blackie jumped in behind Raven.  My fire demon always drove.  He had no patience for people like me who only went five miles over the speed limit.  We zoomed past Paws’s place in record time and kept going.  When fire burst a short distance away, we headed there.
We had to park and hike into the trees to find the spot.  A crack had opened in the earth, a deep one.  We looked down, down, down to see a flowing river of fire at its bottom.  As we watched, tall, crimson human-like things with long, pointed tails scaled its side.
I gulped down panic.  “Are those demons?”
Raven’s dark brow rose in irritation.  “I’m a demon.  I don’t know what those are, but they don’t look friendly.”
Blackie’s fur rose.  He bared his teeth and growled. 
“I don’t want to fight them here.”  I sprinted away from the crevice.  “We’ll need some room.”
We stopped in an open meadow, the four of us lining up to battle, and the things rushed toward us.  The first one sprang toward the hellhound.  Raven shot fire at it, but it kept coming.  After all, it lived in a pit of fire.  Flames were its home.  The hound turned at the last second and ripped out its throat. 
It twitched in death throes, and I smiled.  We could kill them.  I’d wondered. 
Another thing charged at Raven, whipping its barbed tail over its head and aiming its stinger at him.  I threw up a protective shield, and the tail bounced away, its stinger bent sideways, virtually useless.  I squared my shoulders.  Fire might not harm them, but magic might.
Three more crawled over the edge of the crevice and ran toward us.  I raised my palms and blasted them.  They flew into the air and screamed as they fell into the gaping crack. 
“Give me a shield again,” Raven called.  And when it was in place, he ran to the edge of the meadow, returning with a heavy branch larger than most saplings.  “If my fire doesn’t work, I need a weapon.”
“I wish I could conjure a knife or a sword.”
“So do I.  Maybe I should start carrying one.”  But he’d never had to before.  His fire was enough.
A half dozen more sprang out of the ground.  Then the crack spread farther, opening halfway across the meadow.  I called for a wind that pushed them back toward the earth’s lip and toppled them over it.
“Can you close the ground with your earth magic?” Raven asked.
“I can try.”
Two more crawled over the lip of the chasm. 
“I’ll deal with these if you close the crack.”  He held the branch like a bat, ready to bash heads.
With a nod, I turned to the growing opening and began to chant.  It started to close, crushing a few of the things climbing its sides.  But when I turned to hurry back to Raven, I saw one of the crimson beings dart its tail toward him.  Raven raised the branch, blocking it, and the pointed tip buried itself in the old wood.  With a grin, Raven whirled in a circle, dragging the monstrosity with him, knocking its friends off their feet so that Blackie could dash forward to finish them.  I’d almost reached Raven’s side when the earth heaved, and a new crevice opened almost to Raven’s feet.  Five creatures dashed out of it, one of them flicking its tail toward Raven, but Blackie jumped in front of him. 
The stinger sank into the hound, and the dog’s legs buckled.  Raven let out a roar, and rushed the thing, choking the life out of it.  “Save him!” he cried to me.
I blasted the four other creatures before turning to place my palms on Blackie to pour healing magic into him.  He’d sagged to the ground, whimpering, but when enough magic filled him, his eyes opened and he focused on me.  Then his gaze shifted to Raven, who was beating another creature with the branch as it tried to reach the hound.  Claws leapt on the thing, scratching at its eyes and body. As my familiar’s poison spread through its limbs, they turned gray until the monstrosity gave a final gasp and died. 
When I was sure Blackie would be all right, I patted him, then leapt to my feet to toss up a shield as even more creatures poured from the opening.  Behind me, the hellhound struggled to his feet, lifted his face, and howled.
The howl sent goosebumps up and down my flesh.  It was more intense, more frightening than a werewolf’s eerie call.  But in less than a minute, more howls sounded close by.  The creatures who’d been advancing toward us paused.  Twigs snapped and branches swayed as more hounds ran in our direction.  Soon, a pack stood beside their friend, teeth bared, growling, itching to kill the creatures who’d hurt Blackie.
Raven turned to the advancing crimson monsters and grinned.  They’d been joined by others, but they still cringed.  “Drop the shield,” he told me.
The minute I did, the hounds raced forward, tearing and shredding anything in their path.  But more creatures crawled from the molten pit.  This time, before they could take a step toward us, arrows whizzed past us, imbedding themselves in their heads.  They fell backward into the crevice. 
I turned, shocked, to see the shimmering form of the goddess loading more arrows.  When another swarm of creatures climbed out of the ground, she let them loose.  More bodies fell.  Then she strode forward, standing on the edge of the cracked earth, and looked skyward.  With a few words, the clouds parted, and as if aiming a flashlight, a powerful shaft of sunlight filled the parted earth.  Screams drifted from the depths of the ground.  She sent more light into it, erasing every shadow.  And with a giant tremble, the crevice closed. 
With a grim smile, she turned to walk back to us.  I shivered.  I’d never expected to see the goddess, and Raven reached for my hand.  Her smile turned warmer, and her pack settled at her heels.  “I must thank you for coming to my aid.  Fallen angels from the pit and their progeny have been stalking me for months, lusting after my hounds.  I knew if I left one on its own, they’d make a grab for it.  And I knew that if I sent it to you, you’d keep it safe.”  She looked at Blackie.  “My brave one here volunteered for this duty.  He had faith in you, and I believe he grew fond of you, too.”
Raven blinked, turning to his hound.  His expression warred between victory and sorrow.  He reached to scratch Blackie behind his ears.  “Are you all right?”
Blackie leaned forward to lick his hand.  Claws went to sit beside him.
Diana’s smile grew wider, studying them, then she returned her attention to us.  “No one will dare challenge me again for centuries.  For that, I’m grateful.  I’ve watched you make your world safer one battle after the next.  You’ve done it again, but now I must leave you.  Blessed be Hallows Eve.”  She tilted her head to her hound.  “You’ve served me well.  Choose what you wish.  I give you my blessings.”
Blackie rose and walked to sit at Raven’s side.
Diana beamed.  “He risked his life for you, and you for him.  I understand.”  Then she and her pack walked away, fading as they went.
I swallowed a lump in my throat and took a deep breath.  Then Diana’s voice came back to us.  “Go.  Enjoy your town’s Samhain celebration.  You deserve it.”
Samhain.  I’d forgotten. 
Raven grinned and tugged on my arm.  “You made BBQ ribs.  Everyone’s bringing a dish.  And there’ll be music and dancing.  We won.  A perfect way to celebrate.”
He was right.  My nerves were still on edge, but there was nothing like a Hallows Eve celebration to set them right.  Loading Blackie and Claws in the SUV, we hurried home.  An hour later, we sat at the long tables set up on Main Street, along with everyone else who lived in Muddy River.  One dish after another lined the center of each one, and music spilled from the speakers set up in front of Raven’s office. 
Claws nudged Blackie and led him to meet the other familiars in our town.  And friends came to greet us.  I’d tell my coven what happened later, after we partied.  For now, it was time to enjoy all things magic.

Jazzi meets a ghost

This week, for my October Halloween story, I have Jazzi and Ansel attend a house walk, and Jazzi sees a lot more than renovations and decor.

Halloween Open House

by

Judi Lynn

Jazzi climbed out of the pickup before Ansel could circle to open the door for her.  Her tall, handsome Viking grinned.  “Excited much?” he asked.

She pulled the booklet with the houses open for viewing from her jacket pocket.  “We get to see what other people have done to their houses.  Maybe we’ll get some ideas for our next flip.” 

The older neighborhood north of town was full of stately, larger homes.  The entire street, from Lake to State, about five blocks long, had banned together to do a Halloween walk to raise money for the Philharmonic, and twelves homes were open for viewing.  Cobwebs stretched across bushes in front yards.  Oversized spiders dangled from tree limbs.  Orange lights glittered in bushes and trees. 

Ansel grinned when they walked to the first porch and three life-sized witches, stirring a cauldron, cackled as they passed.  He’d bought the same decoration to put in their basement. 

A skeleton greeted them in the foyer of the three-story Georgian home.  A nice touch.  The volunteers inside were all dressed in costumes, but Jazzi’s gaze slid to the marble floor in the hallway, the wide dramatic staircase that led to the second floor, and the high ceilings with chandeliers.  A hostess gestured for them to start with the room to their left and circle to the back of the house, then the front room on the right before going upstairs.

The first room took Jazzi’s breath away.  The study was paneled in dark wood and lined with bookcases that went from floor to ceiling.  Every shelf was filled with books, some of them with worn leather covers and yellowed pages.  A velvety easy chair nestled in the corner with a floor lamp spilling light beside it.  As she admired the chair’s deep crimson, a lovely young woman chose a book from a shelf and settled onto its cushions, curling her legs under her.  She’d pulled her lustrous, dark hair into an updo and wore a long dress with puffy sleeves, a tight waistline, and a floor-length bell-shaped skirt.

Jazzi stared.  “Is that girl part of the Halloween theme?” she asked Ansel.

He followed her gaze and frowned.  “What girl?”

“The one in the chair.”

He shook his head, giving her an odd glance.  “I don’t see a girl.”

“But she’s. . .”  Jazzi stopped in mid-sentence.  The young woman was gone.  She rubbed her eyes, straining to see, but she wasn’t there.  Had she imagined her?

A man cleared his throat behind her, impatient for them to move on.  They were holding up the line.  She and Ansel hurried into the dining room, one of the largest she’d ever seen.  A gleaming mahogany table stretched long enough to seat twenty people comfortably.  White wallpaper sprinkled with violet-colored flowers adorned the walls, and a huge bouquet of white and purple flowers sat in the center of the table, directly under the heavy chandelier with its three tiers of crystals that lit the room. 

Jazzi could imagine dinner parties given here with the table set with fine china and crystal glasses.  Not her style.  She and Ansel invited twenty people to their family meal every Sunday, but they preferred casual entertaining.  Nothing fancy.  Still, she could appreciate a formal setting like this.

As they moved to the kitchen, she stepped back into a corner so people could pass her.  She wanted to take her time to enjoy it.  Kitchens were her and Ansel’s favorite rooms.  Every inch of this one had been renovated with white cupboards, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances.  As she was admiring the hand painted tiles of the backsplash, the scene before her blurred.  The cabinets morphed to solid maple, and a pump provided water for the sink.  A black cast iron stove sat in the corner.  Blinking, she tried to make sense of what she was seeing and was about to leave when the same young woman entered the kitchen door.  Her arms full of produce from her garden, she spread it on the wooden worktable, then went to a simmering pot on the stove to check its contents.

“She isn’t real.”  Jazzi said the words aloud, and the woman turned to lock gazes with her.  Her cobalt blue eyes filled with tears and she whispered, “Help me.”

Goosebumps raised on Jazzi’s arms.  When she rubbed them to get warm, Ansel lowered his head to study her. 

“Are you all right?”

She shook her head.  Nothing was right about this.  Swallowing hard, she whispered, “She’s here again.  She asked me for help.”

He turned to the stainless-steel, six-burner stove, pinching his lips together.  “I can’t see her.”

“I can.”  But as she said the words, the woman disappeared.  Ice ran through her veins.  What was happening?  She looked up at Ansel.  “Do you believe me?”

“Yes, but I don’t understand it.” 

Bless him!  He didn’t doubt her, even when she doubted herself.

He sounded concerned.  “Do you want to see the rest of the house, or would you rather leave here to go to the next one?”

“I want to finish this.”  She wasn’t sure if she meant the tour or the woman’s story.

Ansel nodded and reached for her hand.  He held her close to his side. 

The living room was wide and spacious like theirs.  It had several seating groups and two easy chairs facing the large fireplace.  Fake flames crackled in the gas insert.  The room was warm and inviting with overstuffed furniture and antique tables.  They left to climb the stairs to the second floor. 

Five large bedrooms and three baths opened off a hall wide enough to walk side-by-side.  When they reached the last bedroom at the end, Jazzi took a deep breath.  The room ran from the front of the house to the back with its own private bath.  A king-size bed with a canopy was the main focal point.  Again, she stepped to the side to let people pass. 

The soft gray walls morphed to soft brown wallpaper with rose and white flowers.  The young woman bent to make her bed, pulling up a heavy rose-colored comforter and fluffing pillows to lean against the walnut headboard.  Then she turned, smiling at a man chuckling at some private joke, standing on the opposite side of the bed.  He was as dark and handsome as she was beautiful.  But as Jazzi watched, he faded from view.  When he was gone, the woman turned to her, tears spilling down her cheeks, and whispered again, “Help me.”

Jazzi had to stifle a sob.  The woman looked so sad, so stricken.  How could she help? 

Ansel tugged her closer to his side, offering her comfort.  He waited until she regained her composure.  When there was a lull in viewers, they went to see the master bath.  The tiny tiles on the floor suited the gracious style of yesterdays.  A clawfoot bathtub nestled against the far wall, and double vanities took up the wall on their left.  A walk-in shower sat opposite them. 

Jazzi motioned to the long, wood framed mirror above the vanities to comment on it when the double sinks faded, becoming an old-fashioned wooden wash stand, holding a bowl and pitcher of water.  She heard water sloshing and turned toward the tub.  With a gasp, she stared.  The young woman struggled in the clawfoot tub, raising her head above the bubbles in her bath to gasp for air, as a tall, heavy man with gray hair pushed her head back under the surface.  Water splashed across the floor until the struggles stopped and the man straightened.  When he turned to leave the room, Jazzi got a good look at him.  An aged version of his son.  He walked past them, unseeing.

Jazzi’s body shook, and she reached to hold on to Ansel to steady herself.  He gripped her and put an elbow under her arm to lead her down the stairs and out of the house.  The backyard was alight with pumpkin lights strung from one tree to another.  He led her to the back corner to stand in the shadows.

“What did you see?”  He studied her face in concern.

She choked out the words.  “Her father-in-law drowned her.  I just watched him.”

His lips pressed together in an unhappy line.  “She wanted someone to know.”

“I feel so sorry for her.  She looked so happy with her husband.”

“This happened a long time ago?”

She nodded.  “No running water.  A pump in the kitchen and wash stand in the bathroom.”

“It had to be close to when the house was built.  Probably at the beginning of this neighborhood.”

She let out a long sigh and leaned against him.  “I’ve never experienced anything like this.  I hope I never do again.”

He gestured at the pumpkin lights.  “It’s Halloween.  The time the veil between the two worlds is supposed to thin.”

“It’s never thinned for me before.”  And she liked it that way.  They stood there a little longer, letting her heartbeat slow down and the cold leave her bones, but when they started to leave, she jerked to a halt and tightened her grip on Ansel’s hand.

She was standing in a cemetery, surrounded by gravestones.  A tall, impressive carved monolith rose in front of her with DORANTE carved into it.  Her gaze shifted to the seven granite stones in a row ahead of it.  Ogden (1822-1901).  His wife, Hilda (1826-1904).  His daughters, Martina (1854-1942) and Lenore (1856-1879).  Martina’s husband, Lawrence (1853-1940).  Ogden’s son, Pierce ( 1859-1894), and Pierce’s wife, Camille (1861-  ).  As she frowned at the empty date for Camille’s death, movement caught her eye.  Camille’s ghost rose out of the ground from Pierce’s grave and whispered, “Help me.”

Jazzi nodded.  Now she knew what Camille wanted.  Turning to Ansel, she said, “We have to dig up Camille’s body and bury it where it belongs.”

“Do we know where to find it?”

“Her father-in-law buried her in her husband’s plot.”

“Are we going to finish the tour?”  He didn’t look as enthused as he had before.

“Not this time.  I need to call Gaff.”  Her detective friend had worked with her long enough, he might believe the story she was about to tell him.

###

Gaff not only believed her, he helped her dig into the cold case.  They found old newspaper clippings about how a young, beautiful wife disappeared three days after her husband died of a high fever from diphtheria.  She left no note, no way to find her.  She simply left and never returned.  The father of her husband reported that she was never a stable or dependable person, and that it didn’t surprise him that she’d run away.  She came from a rich family that spoiled her, and that while she gave a substantial amount of money to his son to start his business, her only interests were giving large dinner parties and entertaining herself. 

When Jazzi read the aged article to Ansel, he grimaced.  “The dad wanted his son’s business and knew that if he got rid of the wife, he could do as he pleased.”

That’s what she thought, too, and when she went with Gaff to meet Martina’s granddaughter, she was sure of it.  The young woman had the same dark coloring as Pierce’s ghost.  The girl sadly shook her head when Gaff explained that they’d come to question her about her missing relative, Camille Dorante. 

“My grandmother could never understand why Camille ran away.  She often told me what a beautiful, kind woman Camille was, and how perfect of a wife she was for her brother.”

“But Ogden never liked her?” Jazzi asked.

She shook her head.  “She was everything he despised—graceful, loving, generous.  According to my grandmother, her father was a hard man.  Her mother was just as cold.  But her younger sister, Lenore, was an indomitable spirit full of life and laughter.”

“But she died young?”  If Jazzi remembered, she was only twenty-three.

“Polio.  Everyone swam in the river in the summer, and Grandma suspected she contracted it there.  But Lenore never believed in clinging to sorrow.  She believed in living life to the fullest and instilled that in her siblings.”  The girl leaned forward.  “By the way, I’m Jennifer.  And I’m curious.  Why are you asking about this now?  It happened before I was born.”

Jazzi took a deep breath, feeling uncomfortable.  “I had a weird thing happen when I went on a house tour and saw Camille’s ghost as we went through her home.”  She explained.

“Camille’s buried in Pierce’s grave?”  Jennifer thought about that.  “The ground would have still been freshly dug three days after his death.  It would have been easy for Ogden to bury her over his casket.”

Jazzi nodded.  “We’d like to dig up his plot to find her bones.  I think she wants people to know what happened to her and to have a proper burial.”

The girl nodded.  “If you find her, my family and I will pay for her funeral and we’ll be there when she’s finally laid to rest.”

Two weeks later, it came as no surprise when Camille’s bones were found where she’d shown Jazzi they’d be.  No grass grew on Pierce’s plot or the empty one next to his.  It was as though Ogden’s sin had blighted it. 

True to her word, Jennifer and her husband paid for a lovely casket and were there when Camille was lowered into the ground.  They all sucked in deep breaths when the minute Camille’s grave was filled, lush grass spread over it and her husband’s.

Jennifer blinked back tears.  “She’s free now.  So is he.  He must have stayed behind with her.”

Her husband cradled her shoulders just as Ansel cradled Jazzi’s.  Even Gaff looked caught off guard.  Finally, they all turned to leave the cemetery.  On the drive home, Ansel reached to pat her hand.  “You did a good thing, but I don’t want to meet any more ghosts on Halloween, not even nice ones.”

She took a shaky breath.  “Agreed.”

Mystery Musings

I recently finished reading Anna Lee Huber’s A STROKE OF MALICE, a Lady Darby novel. Her writing is so rich in detail, it always takes me longer to read her than most of my favorite authors. I’d been reading a little more than I usually do, anyway, and I wasn’t ready to pick up another book. Then I remembered that she had a novella in an anthology with three other authors. The idea of shorter reads appealed to me.

I’d recently written a Jazzi and Ansel story for MURDER THEY WROTE, the anthology I put together with six other writers, so I was curious to see what THE DEADLY HOURS was like. I haven’t finished reading the entire thing, but the concept interested me.

I like short stories, so for years, I used to buy the Sisters In Crime annual anthology of top women mystery writers. These often had twenty different authors in them, and the stories were short and usually had a punch. I found I liked anthologies more than story collections, where each story was by the same author. Anthologies had more variety of voices and styles.

Our anthology had seven longer stories by seven different types of authors: historical, speculative, psychological, literary, and cozy. And each story was different. THE DEADLY HOURS has four authors, and each story is novella length. What interested me the most, though, is that instead of being a variety of plots, they each continue the theme of a cursed gold watch.

Susanna Kearsley starts the overall story with her novella in Italy, 1733, and tells how the watch came into being and how it was cursed. At the end of her tale, a Scottish assassin steals the watch and takes it to Scotland with him. Anna Lee Huber takes up the watch’s evil doings from there when Lady Darby and her husband Gage desperately search for it to put an end to the disease that’s ravishing Edinburgh, 1831. Lady Darby tries to rid the world of the wretched thing and its curse, but of course, Christine Trent finds a way to bring it back in her Edinburgh story in 1870 when a series of murders rocks society. And that’s as far as I’ve read so far. But fingers crossed C.S. Harris finally puts an end to the foul time piece in her novella, set in England, 1944, ending the anthology.

It was fun to see how four different authors advanced the story in each quarter of the book. The longer novellas made a nice bridge between short stories and full length novels. I enjoyed it. But when I finish the last one, I’m going to be ready to dig into a book again. I’ve had my break, and I’m ready for the long haul and luxury of more pages focused on one tale.