Thursday, November 28, 2013
Here are a few things we've been up to lately:
Here we have my mom working with the girls and some modeling clay and pottery pieces. The frog lost his accessory, so she and Emily crafted him a new one. They haven't finished yet what with Thanksgiving hubbub but they will soon I'm sure.
Madyson attended an art class where they made felt stockings. Every creature, great and small, receives a stocking here at Castle Vaughan so this one is for Chile the Tarantula. I have no idea how I'm going to put crickets in there.
Here's a small assortment of wash cloths I whipped up for Castle Vaughan as we were getting low. I always have a large spool of cotton yarn in various colors, for just such things. Wash cloths and dish towels are a quick, easy knit for when I'm watching a movie and don't need to pay attention to what I'm doing.
Finally, the yarn I needed to complete these socks arrived from China. One year later. You may not be able to tell, but the one on top was my first toe up sock (as opposed to cuff down progression). I was amazed at the difference a year makes. I've definitely improved my sock making skills.
And there are more projects I can't show you yet! What have you crafty crafters been making?
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I haven't been on here much lately as I've been preparing for the holidays and knitting a ton of gifts as quickly as possible! I'll post those after the Christmas holiday as I don't want the intended recipients to know ahead of time.
I'm meeting with my editor Friday afternoon to go over the YA novel "Dead in the Water" which is due out in January. I haven't been writing much lately because I'm focused on getting "Dead" out by the deadline (ha!). So mostly editing and revising rather than actual new material but hey, that's part of it! I'm four chapters in on my asylum book and "Sideshow #2" is cooking on the back burner for now. I'm up to Chapter 7, however, so I don't feel worried about that one. My paranormal romance is in its infancy and so is my children's book. And last but not least, my Beethoven book is in the research and development phase. How many is that?
Today has been about cooking and preparing for the big feast tomorrow. And while I have of course made the requisite pumpkin pies, I also made this little number (below). I don't have the appropriate lighting to take a good photo right now and I probably won't think of it tomorrow but here is the picture and recipe from the blog from which it originated. Try it! It smells divine!
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Ok, I've had a couple of readers begging for more of Hailey and the folks in the Labyrinthian family. Is Tito ok? What happens to Hailey and the tiger, Shardul? So I'm giving in to peer pressure and posting the first chapter of the second Sideshow book, called Straw Houses, due out next fall. Don't worry! I've got a lot of books I'm working on but Hailey and Company are never far from my thoughts. Hope you enjoy!
Hailey Ames shook her bobbed length black hair out of her eyes and sighed with exasperation. The mane of the African lion she was brushing was hopelessly tangled, and she eyed him with a suspicious expression. Hearing her mental voice chastise him for neglecting to groom in even some small way, the massive animal began to wheedle imploringly at her. “It wasn’t my fault, Hailey,” he said, his mental signature managing to sound completely wounded. “Aphrodite promised she would help me…”
“You great lazy thing!” she said out loud, startling her companion, a tall, slender young man of about sixteen who was tentatively holding several grooming items in his scarred hand and awaiting her instruction. Tito Fratelli had been found wandering in the Florida swamp, nearly delirious and dehydrated after he had attempted to run away a few years ago. Now, he followed Hailey like a silent shadow, quietly hanging on her every word and gesture.
“Not you, Tito,” she assured him. Turning back to the task at hand, she resumed chiding the lion mentally. “It is NOT the job of the lioness to groom you! She only does that when she’s pleased with you and clearly, you have some making up to do.”
Tangles finally removed, Hailey ran her hands down the smooth, coarse fur of his back and he purred like a house cat. His lioness, Aphrodite, lay nonchalantly in the shade a few feet away inside the menagerie tent emblazoned with the title of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth: Daedalus Figsby’s Labrythian Enchantments’.
Turning her attention to the handsome young man waiting silently beside her, Hailey thanked him for his help and returned the grooming items to their carrying case. The lions had been the last of the animals that required her attention today; her adopted father, Bamidele Jones, was working with some of the ring stock horses and would attend to them this afternoon after practice was over. She smiled fondly to herself, imagining the scene she had witnessed many times; her Papa’s nearly eight feet in height towering over the pureblood Andalusian horses as they cantered around the practice ring like so many carousel horses. Calliope Schreiber, the circus music director and equestrienne would likely be there as well, adding a few bits of flash to her liberty act with the horses.
In many parts of the world, it would be ill advised to let massive lions roam free, but the circus was currently wintering at the enormous compound owned by the Ringmaster’s oldest friend, Coco, and therefore safe from the misunderstandings of the “normal” world. The circus had wintered here every year that Hailey could remember, beginning with her first year on the show and now into her fifth year as a seasoned circus performer. Hailey’s mind wandered back to that horrible season when the Pale Man had come and killed her very best friend, her dog Charlie. A small, sad smile played around her lips as she recalled some of the best times they had spent together. She had been only nine years old then, but had lived the lifetime of two adults by the time the Pale Man had killed Charlie. Tito still blamed himself for the role he had played in bringing the Pale Man to the circus grounds, Hailey knew, even though her adopted Uncle Fig and Aunt Florica had told him over and over that he had been a child, used by his evil clown father, but Tito clung resolutely to his opinion. Having never known love or human kindness when his father was alive, Tito was suspicious of people and trusted the words of no one, except Hailey. He watched her now, as he always did, with disconcerting intent.
Not all of the circus family trusted Tito's innocence like Fig and Florica. Fig’s best friend Coco didn’t trust the boy and watched him watch Hailey, just in case. He remembered the gypsy's vision from Hailey's childhood, the one following the death of the Pale Man:
Take care the girl with the broken heart
Whose loyal spirit did depart:
Her tears did fall
And cast a pall
Where the pale man’s shadow dies
Remember the blood that spills
From the boy who kills
Heals the heart that tells no lies
He believed the vision was related to Tito, and knew the boy's power was a dangerous one. Coco was a grizzled sort of fellow, given to speaking in riddles and who, Hailey suspected, was just like the rest of the circus: more unusual than he appeared to be. He spoke a great deal of his army days, leading warriors to battles that no one living remembered, and of the times he and Fig had traveled around Greece, Italy, Spain and beyond, back when it was just the two of them juggling for coins. The show had certainly come a long way, over the centuries. He'd also encountered a great many dangers which seemed harmless, on appearances.
There was not much Tito could have done to Hailey, even if he had wanted to, however. Hailey’s other shadow released itself from the inner sanctum of the menagerie tent and stalked behind her as she headed out toward the caravan city parked out behind the plantation house, a massive form nearly dwarfing her slender frame. Shardul, the Bengal tiger, padded silently along behind the girl, and Tito Fratelli took care to tread very lightly where Shardul was concerned. Her adopted father, Bam, called the animal “alsasa,” which meant “porcupine” in his native African tribal language, to match the tiger’s prickly personality. He and Fig had gone to India on an acquisition expedition many years before Hailey had arrived at the circus, and found him as a cub, wounded and hissing like a nest of snakes. The cub had already killed several children and wounded grown men and women, a massive and powerful creature even at a very young age. Fig had darted the tiger with a sleeping aid, and Bam had laid his enormous, healing hands on the glorious striped body of the tiger. His wounds had magically reknit themselves, and his breathing had evened out into normal sleeping patterns. As a service to the Indian village whom the tiger had terrorized, they’d promised to dispose of the animal but instead had pressed him into service in the circus. Shardul had never forgiven either man for their deceit and had no gratitude for their intervention. It was not until Hailey had arrived, with her special ability to speak to animals, a gift Fig had dubbed “anthropomorphizes,” that the tiger had ceased attempting to murder everyone and everything that came near his cage.
Now, he followed her as docilely as any dog, only occasionally rumbling very deep and low in his chest whenever he felt the boy was getting to close to her. He possessed, like all of his kind, a very keen sense of smell and to him, Tito Fratelli smelled like fire and brimstone. As Tito’s ability was pyrokinesis, the tiger was not wrong. He store bore the scars of his unsuccessful attempt to end his life; Tito had set himself on fire the same day the Pale Man had killed Charlie. Tito's scars weren't too bad, all things considered. His hands had suffered the least, but his back and chest were a network of melted flesh. Some very light scarring could be seen creeping up the sides of his neck when he was wearing street clothes, but fortunately his ring costume covered him from head to toe. The worst of his scars were on the inside, where no one could heal them but Tito. Fig told Hailey that would come in time.
She'd asked her Papa to heal him as he had healed the knife wound she'd suffered during the confrontation with the Pale Man, but Bam was unable to heal most humans. At best he could induce a sense of peace by the laying of his hands on a person. No one knew why he had been able to heal Hailey, but he and Fig suspected it had been some combination of his strong love for her and her closeness with the animals he healed on a regular basis. Still, it could be none of those things. Every person on the show had some sort of ability, and none of them was an exact science.
Hailey made her way through the caravan town what would be the circus’s back yard if they’d been set up to show. Approaching the far end, she was comforted by the sight of the behemoth motor coach owned by her Uncle Fig and Aunt Florica, the circus’s fortune teller and her sort of adopted mother. She and her Papa usually stayed in their teepee like hut that sheltered in the shade of the huge caravan, and sometimes Hailey would stay with one of Florica’s three daughters. Pani and Calliope were both married, Calliope to Jakob Schreiber the rubber eel man, and Pani to Ambrose Thessalia, the sword swallower. Thalia Vadoma was unmarried, and ran the slanging buffer act, or performing dogs to the non circus person. Thalia was twenty-eight now, and her mother despaired of marrying her to a nice Romanian boy, and her father despaired of marrying her to a nice Greek boy, and her sisters despaired of marrying her to any type of boy at all, but Thalia held firm to her convictions that the right man would come along or not at all, whichever one suited her fine either way! She and Hailey spent a lot of girl time together, especially since Hailey had turned fourteen and entered puberty, and it was from Thalia that she learned about womanhood, eye makeup, and the proper way to flirt should the occasion arise. Unbeknownst to her family, Thalia had dated a few of the young men from the seats in various towns, but none had been able to pass the inspection of her pack of performing border collies. The alpha male, Mojo, was getting along in years, and his approval of new people waned more and more as his age progressed.
Tito was given a bunk in the giant caravan, as he’d had no place to go once he’d been found wandering in the swamp. Several people had wanted to turn him over to Florida’s child protective services, but Fig had shamed them by pointing out that his monster of a father had been the problem from day one, and he’d only accepted them on the show for the boy’s sake in the first place. Were they monsters, too, to turn out the boy now that he had no one, not even that pitiful excuse for a father? Bam and Florica had agreed with him, and as the principles of the circus, they had the final vote; any who refused to work with the boy on the show were welcome to draw their final wages and depart for other circuses or carnivals. Florida was the wintering town of many such outfits, a few miles away in Gibsonton (known as Gibtown); anyone who wanted to jump the show could likely find employment elsewhere. Though there was grumbling, no one had left and Fig remained vigilant in his efforts to acquire new acts. His circus was made up mainly of misfits anyway, people who possessed certain talents that were either unappreciated or that they preferred remain private. The Labyrinthian was crafted in such a manner that these gifts and abilities were a help, rather than a suspicion or hindrance.
Hailey knocked blithely on the door to the caravan and opened the door without waiting for an answer. Any who wanted to be alone inside would be in their allotted bedroom, and it was starting to get warm outside. Hailey wanted to wash the lion’s stinky mane from her hands and grab a bite to eat before starting on a new trick with the tiger. Tito, of course, followed her inside the dark interior, while Shardul placed his magnificent self on the bright green grass just outside the door, waiting patiently for his mistress to return. He did not say anything to her as she went in, and she didn’t say anything to him either; their bond was very deep and required very little conversation. He felt, more than heard, that she would return soon and he was happy to remain here for that brief time. When Hailey had first arrived, the stubborn creature wouldn’t even acknowledge her existence. But when the Pale Man had attacked Hailey in the menagerie tent, and killed her beloved Charlie, the tiger had finally broken his silence and commanded her to open his cage door. Without hesitation, she had done so, and Shardul had killed the Pale Man easily, in spite of having knives thrown telekinetically into his striped flesh.
Hailey was delighted to find Fig and Florica at the enormous mahogany table in the very center of the caravan, separating the kitchen and living quarters from the front living space. The entire thing was operated by a spacious cockpit, where Hailey sometimes rode with Ephraim, their driver and the best roustabout on the show. She threw her arms around each in turn, exchanging merry greetings. Tito waited patiently behind her for his turn to greet his benefactors, before quietly excusing himself and heading off to his room. Hailey knew he would be firing up his iPod and blasting music for the next couple of hours. They didn't have homework until evening time; Fig, Florica, and Bam all agreed that the two children would have the very best education possible and the pair worked for several hours in the evenings on various correspondence course to obtain their high school diplomas. It was Fig's greatest wish that both Tito and Hailey would further their education in spite of their assured roles and continued success with the circus.
However, he had another wish that superseded even Hailey's college degree, and that was the topic of conversation that Hailey and Tito had interrupted with their arrival. Grabbing a juice box from the fridge, Hailey gracefully fell into one of the ornately carved seats at the glorious mahogany table and regarded the conspirators with an unnervingly jaundiced eye for one so young.
"What are you guys up to, Uncle Fig?"
"Now, Hailey, my dear, whatever do you mean?" was the rejoinder.
"Come on! You both look pretty pleased with yourselves. What gives?"
"We will wait for your father, Miss Ames, if you please," Fig replied, his voice stern but his blue eyes twinkling with excitement. Her own anticipation ratcheted up a notch; usually when Fig was excited about something, it had to do with the show, and Hailey's turn on the show. Whatever had he cooked up now?
She sighed and leaned back in her chair. He was never going to tell her until her Papa arrived and who knew how long that would take. With an exasperated look at two of her most beloved and cherished and obnoxious family members, she got up from her seat, tossed her juice box in the trash under the sink, and prepared to help train horses.
"Sheyorra, do not forget to wash your hands, you know Rocinante does not like the stink of lion on his precious hide, for you yourself haff told me this many times," chided Florica gently.
Grumbling a bit, Hailey did as she was told, knowing the gypsy was right. The vain herd stallion to their prized ring stock horses was every bit as prideful as the lion. And while there were no real rivalries among the circus animals, but centuries of instinct still meant that the horse disliked it when she stank of predators.
She kissed them both on their cheeks, proclaiming loudly that she would return as quickly as possible with her father in tow, and made her exit. Jogging lightly down the path to the stables and paddocks, her inner shield was opened just enough to hear the tiger's oddly metallic voice chuckle in her head. He had, of course, heard every word and relished her forced patience. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Those that wait are often rewarded. UGH!"
Hailey continued down the path to the barn and corrals, lost in her own thoughts, shields firmly in place. She mused idly about the many new structures that had been built on the plantation compound over the last few years. Coco and Fig had decided that this swampland out past Gibsonton and Egypt Lake, FL was private enough and had purchased the house, the land, and several surrounding miles of acreage to ensure they would not be bothered. Once the purchase was final, they immediately began planning and building, and now the sprawling grounds contained several smaller houses tucked into the trees as well as a large, permanent barn and practice arena for the animals and circus performers to practice during the short winter months.
Hailey approached the entrance to the barn, still musing on the changes around the place, when Shardul surged ahead of her and leaped in front of the barn entrance, snarling at her in warning. She dropped her shield instantly, seeking his mind with her own.
"What is it?!"
" Go back, and seek the bearded one!" His tone was urgent and unyielding.
"What?! NO let me pass! I want to see!"
Hailey turned and ran back the way she had come, legs pumping hard and her lungs burning. She felt in his mental signature that he would not yield and that time was of the essence. She knew the "bearded one" was Fig, so she sprinted to the travel trailer and wrenched open the door.
"Shardul is blocking the barn and won't let me in, I think something has happened, please hurry up Uncle Fig, come NOW!" she shouted at the astonished faces of Fig and Florica. At her urgent pleas, Tito flung open his door and rushed down the hallway, pushing her out the door in front of him. He grabbed her hand and they ran back to the barn as fast as their legs could carry them, Fig following as quickly as he could but lagging badly. Florica raced to the main house to seek reinforcements, meeting her daughter Calliope at the door. Calliope had finished her training with the horses and returned to the big house to shower but at the sight of her mother's frantic face she dropped her towel and ran for her husband Jakob. Florica found Coco and they both headed toward the barn, meeting up with Calliope, Jakob, and Florica's other daughter Pani, her husband Ambrose, and several roustabouts. They converged on the barn entrance, where Fig had finally caught up with the two teenagers and a very agitated tiger.
"He says no one can go in there except for the bearded one, the rubber man, and the red devil," Hailey cried in exasperation. Jakob, Ambrose, and Fig exchanged a glance, and eased past the tiger, who began to pace back and forth in front of Hailey. She opened her shields farther, to see if she could hear or feel any animals in the barn who could tell her what was going on, but there was nothing. Shardul was shielding her tightly, and she was unable to crack his defenses. She knew her Papa had been in the barn with Calliope, and she turned to the elegant woman in despair.
"Calliope, where is Papa?" she cried.
"I don't know Hailey! He said he was going to work with the convicts, the zebras, for some new turn on the show!"
Hailey used mind speak to reach out to the convicts in the stables but there was nothing; she was too far from them to hear much but she'd had to try.
By now, the rest of the troupe had gathered near the barn door, anxiously asking one another for details they didn't have. The sight of Fig at the entrance raised the tension level, as his face was grim and bore no good news.
"Thalia, Calliope, and Pani please fetch some hot water, plaster, and bandages." He turned and addressed Coco. "Old friend, we will need some pain alleviant. Go, quick!"
"Uncle Fig, what's going on?! Let me in!" Hailey begged.
"Not yet, Hailey, please be patient." He disappeared back into the barn. There was no sign of Ambrose or Jakob.
Tito was still clasping Hailey's hand tightly in his own; he gave it a little squeeze and dropped it. She smiled distractedly at him and went back to pestering the tiger with her mind. Suddenly she cried out, falling to her knees in the dirt, gasping with sobs, her body wracked with pain and grief. Tito bent down, put his arm around her, and tried to gather her close, to hold her and share her pain no matter what it was but the tiger disapproved of his nearness to her and hissed menacingly, sounding like an enormous and deadly tea kettle. Tito let go of Hailey and backed away slowly, but did not leave for once; he stood his ground in case Hailey needed him.
"Sheyorrah, what is it my sweet? Tell me!" Florica implored, taking Tito's place at Hailey's side and sliding a comforting arm around the girl's slender shoulders. Shardul had stopped his pacing and crouched down in front of Hailey, waiting for her to need him.
Her voice choked, Hailey responded. "Shardul dropped his shield so I could see. I saw Papa lying on the ground, and there was blood, and his eyes were closed. Both Olo and Tiko are dead! I could see them lying in the dirt, their stripes gleaming under the floodlight, their heads bent too far backward and their legs broken. Oh my god, what happened!?" she directed this last at Shardul, placing her hands on either side of his massive head and placing her forehead against his wider one, her tears wetting the orange velvet of his hide.
There was murmuring among the troupe at her words, and several roustabouts took the opportunity to slip past the tiger to enter the barn. He growled at them absently but remained where he was, focused on Hailey.
Inside the barn, the scene was as Hailey had described: the giant African lay sprawled on the ground, blood covering his torso. One leg was bent in an unnatural angle, and his normally dark chocolate skin had an appalling grey cast to it. Off to the right, the indoor arena was set up with the boom line, an apparatus which allowed the trainer to hook up horses, or in this case zebras, and train with them for various acts. The two zebras still lay in the traces of the boom line, but they would no longer run and caper under the lights of the Big Top. Their beautiful and elegant necks were bent backward nearly touching their tails, and all four legs on each zebra was broken in numerous places. Blood congealed slowly in the sultry Florida afternoon, pooling in their nostrils and drying stiffly in their stand-up manes. Ephraim, the head roustabout, removed his cap and made the sign of the cross at the sight of their shattered bodies.
Fig, Ambrose, and Jakob all huddled around the massive form of Bamidele Jones, the circus Equestrian Director and Hailey's adopted father. Ephraim approached, asking his boss if there was anything they could do.
"Yes, my good man, go and have your men build a very long and very large litter so we can carry Bam into the big house. Do it quickly!"
Ephraim bobbed his head in acknowledgement and beckoned to his men. They raced out of the barn through the back, searching for lumber to make a makeshift litter that would be strong enough to hold Bam.
The three sisters and Coco arrived then, everyone's arms laden with the items Fig had specified. Calliope placed a cool hand on Bam's chest and was relieved to feel his heart beating, much slower than it should have, but beating nonetheless. With a sorrowful glance at the mutilated zebras,she ran back out to the entrance where Hailey sat huddled with the tiger and her mother, motioning to Florica to come near. "Here, Tito, come sit with Hailey and don't you give him trouble you great brute," she scolded to Shardul. He did not respond with even a whisker twitch.
Calliope and her mother whispered together for a brief time, then Calliope went back inside to see what she could do for Bam. She often served as a nurse for injured circus troupers, but when she arrived back at Bam's side she saw that Thalia had beaten her to it and was applying field dressing to Bam's cleansed wounds according to Coco's direction. She began to clean more of the blood away, seeking injuries which might need stitching or other attention.
At the entrance, Florica gently pulled Hailey up from the ground, the tiger rising with her. Two sets of eyes regarded her, one pair yellow and calm, the other pair blue and hurt, swimming with tears. "Sheyorra, your Papa, he lives. Do you hear me? He lives."
Hailey dissolved into relief, as well as grief over his injuries. Florica hugged her tightly, closing her own eyes against the tears that threatened. The last thing this young girl needed was another loss, she thought. When Hailey had come to them all those years ago, she was an odd paradox of strength and fragility. She endured so much, and lived through both an evil stepfather and an even more vile biological father. Bam was the only positive father figure she'd ever known, and with Fig and other male members of the circus, had proven to Hailey that not all men were created equally badly. She was at a tender age in a young woman's life, Florica knew; the loss of the only father she had ever loved would be devastating. Florica sent a prayer out into the universe, vowing to read the cards that evening and see what she could about Bam's recovery, if any.
"Tito, take Hailey and Shardul to the big house. They need quiet now. Hailey, don't worry my sweet, they are bringing your Papa to you soon."
Hailey nodded and allowed Tito to take her hand once again. She plodded listlessly along next to him, Shardul's massive body a forlorn shadow on her other side. For once, he did not grumble at Tito's presence but merely lent his own.
Florica returned to the barn to oversee the loading and transportation of Bam to the main house. Calliope and Pani followed after the teenagers, to prepare a room on the ground floor near the entrance. At nearly eight feet tall, Bam weighed about 320 pounds and it would normally take several men to carry him. However, this was no ordinary circus and no ordinary circus performers. Heinrich and Klaus, the two strongmen, possessed a unique ability that only worked when they were together. And together, they had joined the throng outside the barn entrance, waiting to see if they could assist in some way. Fig trotted over to the entrance and gestured them inside. Neither twin had ever spoken that anyone could recall within living memory, but they bore eager and determined expressions as they followed Fig into the barn.
Fig explained what he wanted them to do, and with Ephraim and the other troupers supporting various parts of Bam's body, the pair lifted him as though he were made of feathers and placed him gently on the litter. Florica and her daughters rushed to cover him with blankets, as they'd had to cut away his bloodsoaked leather workpants to apply bandages to various lacerations. At Fig's count of three, the two strongmen each lifted one end of the litter and made their way carefully to the main house.
Hailey watched from the front parlor as they carried in the oh-so-still form of her father. She could see them lower the litter to the floor, and then Heinrich and Klaus lifting his body onto the bed, really two beds shoved together and tied in order to be long enough for him. She watched from the couch, paralyzed with fear, as Florica, Calliope, Pani, and Thalia set about making him comfortable and finishing the cleansing of his wounds. The men all went back outside, leaving the women to see to Bam, while Fig made his way back to the caravan to find his cell phone. He knew someone who might be able to help them recover their Equestrian Director's good health and he wished to reach that individual straight away.
Hailey closed her eyes against the sight of him, lying on his pillow. He didn't look like he was asleep. He looked like he was dead. Shardul rumbled slightly from his place on the floor, and then laid down on his side, seemingly unconcerned. She could feel him though, watching her through slitted eyes.
Tito remained by her side, silently waiting for her to speak to him or need him. Coco had joined them and was seated to her left, watching the goings on in Bam's sickroom. Finally, Florica and the girls emerged and Florica beckoned to Hailey to come join her. Hailey got to her feet woodenly and brushed off Tito's hand. As she approached Bam's bedside, she could feel herself losing control and she heard Shardul's voice telling her, "Courage is for the brave. You are brave. Show courage." She stiffened her spine and summoned a tremulous smile as she gazed at her father's sleeping face.
She slipped her small hand into Bam's massive one, where it lay limply on the brightly striped blankets covering him. "Hey Papa," she whispered. He did not respond. "I'm here, right here, waiting for you to wake up."
"Sheyorra, Fig has gone to fetch the doctor. Then we will know what has happened to your Papa. You should come with me, now, and we will get some of Bam's soothing tea. Thalia has said she will take the first watch."
"NO! I will take the first watch!"
"As you wish. I will have Thalia bring the tea. Will you want Tito or Shardul to come in with you?"
Hailey shook her head. She just wanted to be alone with her father and her thoughts. She sank into the wooden chair near the head of the bed, holding on to Bam's hand and gazing blankly at him. Florica left, speaking in low tones to Coco, Tito, and Shardul.
"She is in shock, I think. Coco, she will want to stay in the big house while her father is her. Where can we put her nearby that will accommodate both her and the tiger? You know he will not leave if she is here."
"That beast? In the house? Pah!" he spat. He glared at the tiger, who remained lying on the floor and patently ignoring the grizzled old soldier. They had a mutual loathing of one another. Coco regarded the tiger as an overgrown, and very pampered, housecat while never losing respect for what that housecat could do with his claws and teeth. He'd seen first hand what the tiger's weapons had done to the Pale Man. The tiger felt mutually contemptuous of the decrepit human but he could smell the history of ages seeping from the old man's pores and understood that this human was something beyond his appearance.
"I will stay with her," Tito said quietly.
"Great! A whole slumber party, why not!" Coco grumbled and stomped off, muttering about giant mouse catchers and firebugs.
Florica turned to Tito and smiled. "Don't mind him, Tito. Come with me to the caravan and gather some things for Hailey. And you, if you insist."
He nodded and glanced into Bam's room where Hailey was sitting motionless. He sighed, wondering how Bam had been injured and wishing there was some magic trick he could perform to make it all better. Bam never evinced any great affection for him, but he knew Hailey was devastated by what had happened. And Tito had vowed to live for whatever made Hailey happy. No matter what.
Shardul the Tiger
Sunday, November 17, 2013
I like to know things. Like everything about Egyptian/Greek/Roman mythology. Or the circus. Or what Beethoven was like as a person. I'm curious about an array of eclectic topics.
But I'm especially curious about how to *do* things. From the origin to the end. I like to make my own...everything. Pies from scratch. Paper for letter writing. My own tea blends. And yarn; oh, yes, yarn.
I love knitting. Perhaps you've noticed? An essential item for knitting is the yarn. I set out a couple years ago to make my own yarn. So my husband got me a spinning wheel, I ordered some wool roving from the internet, and I taught myself to spin. I am by *no means* an expert but I'm not bad. I learned to control my twists and ply my yarn. I learned to dye it and wind it. But I was nagged by one thought: I'm starting in the middle. I wanted to complete the process from shearing the sheep to knitting with the yarn I made.
Unfortunately, I don't have any sheep. I was lucky enough that a friend of a friend allowed me to help shear once so I did get that far. My friend Ginger use to have sheep and she has helped me complete the process. Here's a couple pics of her and her sheep:
Sheep are deceptively adorable. I've learned that their fleece is infested with maggots, which the aspiring spinner must first clean from the fleece, along with other unmentionable disgustingness. Here are the sheep preparing to be shorn by Ginger and some friends:
Clearly this was a few years ago. The fleece we used for this project was not this old. Promise!
Here is the fleece after it's been shorn from its host. This is where we picked up the process, as I'd gotten the shearing part under my belt:
Next we picked the fleece clean using a process called skirting. Then we washed it with lukewarm water and Dawn dish soap to remove the greasy lanolin. Our hands were super soft afterward though! Here is a giant pile of washed wool, drying by the fireplace:
Or rolls that are called batts or batting:
This is single ply at this stage. You can twist two, three, or four strands together, using the wheel, to ply the yarn. Next...the knitting!!! I'll post a photo of the boot cuffs I'm planning to make with this lovely yarn once they're finished.
It's so rewarding to learn a process from beginning to end. What do you like to learn about?
Saturday, November 16, 2013
It occurs to me, after reading my last entry, that I posted Chapter Two of the "Thirty Jesuses: and Other Bedlam Stories" book. Chapter Two doesn't really explain the title of the book, and makes reference to a previous character from Chapter One, Vinnie (Vincent). Perhaps you're interested in Chapter One? If so, here it is! (again, language warning)
Every year around Christmas time, the Jesuses would begin to arrive. On Ward E (what we called the Asshole to Hell) at New Mexico State Mental Institution, we'd have about thirty Jesuses by Christmas Eve. I worked there at NMSMI for 27 years as a registered nurse and let me tell you I saw and heard some crazy shit. That's not a word I use lightly.
I was the batty nurse, the patients would call me Crazy Colleen. I always told my staff that the only thing separating them from the patients were their key rings. I was the only nurse who lasted any length of time on E Ward; most of them were afraid of the patients they were charged to care for. I found a sort of beauty in their madnesses, the way they lived in their own worlds and made it work or not work, according to their own designs. Don't get me wrong. They suffered, oh how they suffered. Every one of them was locked away in prisons of their own minds, their rebellions as pathetic as they were lovely in their grand illusions, tragic and flawed. I did what I could to make their lives easier.
The District is what we called the higher ups in hospital administration. At that time, for example, young women could be lobotomized for sneaking out at night, if their parents wished it so, and the District would authorize the surgery. They'd have the poor unfortunate wretch transferred, scared and shaking, to one of the other wards. A doctor would show up with his ice picks and mallets, and a few moments later, Ward E would have a new patient. We were not huge fans of the District on Ward E, let me tell you. The District would hand down notice, often merely hours in advance, that they would be touring the facility with some bleeding heart types. These were the cash cows, the ones whose rich donations salved their consciences for several months before guilt crept back in. They would tour the facility, clucking their tongues, thinking how fortunate they were that such craziness had not touched their lives, yet quick to come up with stories of a mad aunt or uncle way back in the genealogy. To make the patients feel that they had something in common, you see.
I was often in trouble with the swells, because I treated the patients as if they were humans rather than animals, people who needed help rather than inmates. The District didn't dare get rid of me though; E Ward was where they sent the worst of the worst and I was the only one who could handle them and the staff. Plus, I was stubborn, you see. I liked to stick it out.
Disruptions, like the bleeding heart tours, often upset some of the patients and they'd have to be buckled down to beds in the restraint rooms. The District people and their lackeys would despair the poor things, lashed down and foaming with their madnesses, and beseech me to let them free. My response was to inform them that they were the reason these people were locked down in the first place, that their presence upset the patients. This was met with stony silences and the cold shoulder. I didn't care. I didn't want these people here upsetting my patients and I made no bones about it.
So, back to the Jesuses. The District never visited at Christmas time, so they never knew about this. As soon as December began, and the snow flakes would swirl on the wind to be swept away by the cold winter desert, I would begin to prepare for the arrival of numerous messiahs. They would emerge from sandstorms with the lower half of their faces covered, long wild hair and beards matted with debris. They would come stamping and rubbing their arms, cluttering up my receiving area and tracking mud and god knows what else in with them. Without fail, they would each claim, in some form or another that they were Jesus, son of God, and they required asylum from the Philistines who persecuted them. Some of them were very good, quoting Bible verses that supposedly hadn't been written in Jesus' time yet but well versed in the good book anyway.
I'd let them stay awhile. They weren't hurting anything and no one dared tattle on me. But then they'd have to leave sooner or later. I got a routine after some years; the day after Christmas, I would gather these Jesuses together in the common room and line them up along the back wall. Then I would drag a couple of my more damaged patients into the room, sit them down, and demand a healing. The reactions to my prayer were invariably humorous.
"MaryMotherFullofGrace,Hallowedbythyname,thyKingdomcomethywillbedoneAMEN!" one particularly scruffy specimen intoned in a voice that was surprisingly deep and resonant. Other Jesuses followed suit, invoking the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son-forgetting for the moment that they were supposed to be the Son.
Several Jesuses just grinned sheepishly at me, and slunk away to gather their things. We called these the modern day hoboes. These guys would travel the country, bouncing from institution to institution with a well-worn patter of crazy to see them through. In the winter months, they headed for warm climates like Texas and the South. In summer months, they sought balmy weather like Wyoming and Montana, where the food was good and the people were sparse. But for some reason, rain, sun, snow, or shine, a large population of hobo Jesuses would come to me during the holidays, knowing I wouldn't kick them out in the cold. They could count on three hots and a cot, and company during lonely holidays. And always, there would be entertainment.
One year on that particular day, when the false Jesuses were weeded out and the hobo Jesuses had departed, I turned to my regular patients and thanked them for their help in getting rid of the imposters. See, the truly mentally ill don't like people who play games at being mentally ill. It's like an insult or something. I felt like we needed a diversion. I divided the group into two sections, and placed half of them on the left of the common room, and half on the right. With the help of Vincent, a very large black man with schizophrenia and a penchant for crushing skulls, and Margie, a hefty lady and former nurse with a shock of bright carrot colored hair and bi-polar disorder which caused her to drown her infant patients, we took all the chairs and turned them over so that their legs stuck up in the air and formed a long double line down the center of the room. Positioning my troops on either side of these makeshift barracks, I handed out several bags of marshmallows down the ranks and ordered my soldiers to arm themselves.
Grinning like fools, even the most disturbed and dangerous patients grabbed handfuls of the fluffy white treats. Several troops ate their ammunition but that was ok. Fun was what I was after, to lighten the mood after the false messiahs had turned the day sour.
"ON MY COUNT!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, a little unhinged myself. "ONE...TWO...THREE! FIRE!!!!!!"
They let loose with a volley of marshmallows back and forth across the upturned chairs. Drifts of sugary confections gathered in the legs and crannies of the chairs, and several patients got down on their bellies, crawling commando-style across the floor, to retrieve these fallen treats only to pop back up with several in their mouths and several more to fling at the "enemy" on the other side. Curtis Eldridge, a young man who was there for killing his parents after they'd kept him tied to his bed until the day they forgot, was singing jingles to commercials at the top of his lungs in a surprisingly wonderful alto voice. Vinny and Marge were feeding each other marshmallows and then spitting them back at each other, using their hands to clap distended cheeks and force the sugary projectiles out at top speed.
I watched with a sense of satisfaction. These damaged people, who came to me broken and unable in many cases to communicate with any "normal" people always seemed to do best when under my care. I loved them all, the crazy bastards, and many years after they came, stayed or went, and even died under my watch, I can still hear them laughing and singing and waltzing around the room, slipping on marshmallows and crawling on the floor like children, without a care in the world or a Jesus in sight.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I have been writing, writing, writing! My cover illustrator wants to strangle me, I'm sure. My editor is constantly pushing for more chapters, which is good because it keeps me on track. And my proofreader is a new addition to the team but SO helpful!
Currently, here is the list of projects I'm working on:
Book #2 in the Sideshow series, which will be called Straw Houses. Due for publishing by next fall; currently on Chapter 7.
Misunderstood Monsters, a tale about a clever girl who unravels the mystery of her father's death, appropriate for ages 8 and up. My youngest daughter is so distraught that my books are too graphic for her to read that I decided to start writing something she could read and it is a lot of fun!
Dead in the Water, a YA novel about love, romance, and the ghost of a dead boy. That is due for publication in January, 2014. I need to hurry on that one! I have a little ways to go, as it's only 20,000 words right now.
The Thirty Jesuses (and Other Bedlam Stories), a novel about a mental asylum as told from the point of view of a nurse who worked in one for over 25 years. These stories are based on some that a couple of friends have told me that worked in the mental health field. Some of the stories are very sad, and others are frightening. All of these stories have been changed from the originals, and of course none of the names or locations are remotely close to the names of the patients (which I do not know) or the nurses who worked in these places (all of that is changed). What remains is some of the humorous, poignant, and frightening experiences they endured as they performed these often thankless jobs and I hope I'm doing them credit, while capturing their voices accurately.
Here is an excerpt from The Thirty Jesuses (warning! There is some bad language in this excerpt!):
“Frisky" was one of my first patients on Ward E, way back in the 1960s. Frisky was considered at that time to be “shell shocked” from the war. His real name was Christopher Hall, a young boy from the farm who returned home after his draft time was up in the military. Only his body returned from the battlefront; his mind remained there in the jungle. While he appeared perfectly normal, with regular features and no distinguishing characteristics, he had himself a good case of the PTSD. Most nights, if he wasn't medicated quite heavily, he'd wake up screaming and then the whole ward would be up clamoring with fear and excitement.
He spent the rest of his time on earth with us on the Ward, looking for his, “black box." No one, including his family and friends, knew what the black box was, and no one ever learned what was in that box. Christopher was such a happy young man most of the time, always smiling. Gentle and kind until evening time...then, he became Frisky the demon. His sweet nature went out the door and that beautiful smile turned into the most horrid ugly grin, like he could cut you up and eat you if you didn’t turn over that damn black box that you stole from him. The only way I could deal with Frisky was to make sure he got his pills every three hours. Otherwise I'd close a door and find him behind it, grinning at me with that devil look. Most patients didn't bug me much, but Frisky was hard to take. Unfortunately, not everyone was as diligent as me.
Now, most nurses stayed in the office unless there was a problem or if they needed sedate someone. They'd stay in there until their shift was over, all day, and the only human contact these patients would have was that of other patients, unfriendly orderlies, and perhaps the occasional doctor. Well, and me. The other nurses were terrified of most of the patients, and with good cause I have to say. Many of them were violent offenders of the worst kind, but all of them were there for another, deeper reason too. Frisky had only killed in Vietnam but it had sure messed him up good. Most nurses threatened him with the old room if he didn't quit scaring them, popping up in the medicine window regularly and flashing that wicked grin at them, whispering, "Where's my back box, bitch?"
Ward E of the New Mexico State Mental Institution was set up in a way that ensured the nurse's safety so they didn't have a whole lot to worry about if they stayed in the cramped office. See how it worked was like this: patients entered through a double blind entry, where one hallway led to a different hallway and both were blocked off by heavy doors that could only be opened with a key. Once you got past the second door, you went around another hallway into the general population. Each doorway had bullet proof glass and a little teeny sliding speakeasy door underneath the window. So the nurse's station was situated in such a way that a nurse could talk to the incoming or the ones already in there just by going from one side of the room to the other. That way the nurses could talk to either the patient in between the two doorways, waiting to be let into general population, or she could talk to the patients in the general population through the other door. Most nurses did just that, and rarely came in contact with any of the patients. Should a patient require restraint, the nurses would call for orderlies to come help, usually four on duty at any given shift. Only then would the nurses dart in with their ampules of medicine or tranquilizers so that the orderlies could take them to one of the four new restraint rooms that were built right off of that last hallway. This way the nurses only had to go through one door and very little of the general population area to check on these poor unfortunate bastards strapped down to beds or tied to the walls.
But the really scary part of Ward E was the old ward. It was before the double blind entry in a section of the building that was now blocked off. But I had to go through there on my tour of the building when I was hired. I can tell you that those rooms were made of rocks, just rock walls, and there were long rusty chains hanging at various intervals along the wall. A low bench ran the length of these rooms, bolted to the ground and not all of the rust colored stains on the concrete floor were from the chains. Walking through those rooms made every cell in my body freeze until it felt like I had battery acid flowing through my veins. I felt as though I would never be warm again. It was like the screams of all those poor souls who had been tortured there were trapped in those rooms, left like the images that remain on your eyelids after a strobe light, bouncing off those bloodstained rock walls for all eternity and now bouncing off of my skin only to bounce back again, and again, and again.
Ol' Randy Jenkins had given me the tour personally, down from Salem like a hero on a white stallion or some such nonsense.
"Some of the nurses like to show these rooms to the new patients, you see, so that later if they become unruly, you can use them as a threat when taking away privileges no longer works. It's quite effective; as you can see, these rooms are somewhat unsettling. Patients who spend an hour in here are often quite tractable for long periods of time," he told me in his best smarmy know-it-all voice. Like he was here enough to know what went on. I could tell I wasn't going to like him from that moment on.
I vowed to myself that I would never threaten to put a patient in those horrible rooms. It wouldn't be long before I broke that promise.
Frisky had been pretty quiet up until the moment he decided he was going to hold Margaret Collins, another patient at NMSMI, hostage in return for his damnable black box. I went out on the Ward one evening, about three weeks into my employment and as soon as my feet hit the general population floor, Frisky grabbed Margaret up from the chair she'd been sitting and watching "I Love Lucy" in and held a plastic fork to her throat, screaming, "I WANT MY BLACK FUCKING BOX YOU BITCH!!! GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA KILL THIS CUNT!"
His face was literally red with rage, suffused with blood as the veins in his temple throbbed in time to his heartbeat. Margaret, to her credit, just sat there limply as if she'd done this a million times. She looked kinda bored actually, like she might start doing her nails any moment. Margaret was rumored to be a mob boss's moll, put here to shut her up. I half believed her in that moment.
"Now Frisky," I said, "nobody here has your black box. You need to let Margaret go, so you and I can go look for it, ok?"
I was planning to help him look for it with good old Mr. Shot of Valium in his Bum as soon as he let Margaret go. But he wasn't having none of it.
"I'LL PUT THIS FORK THROUGH HER FUCKING THROAT I SWEAR TO GOD!" His head dropped down to her shoulder, his eyes rolled around wildly in their sockets, and out came that horrible grin, the one that chilled me to my marrow.
Vinnie, thinking he was helping, called out from somewhere behind me, "I got your black box right here honey!" I hollered at him to shut up.
I knew that Frisky was real superstitious. He always made me look under the bed before lights out to make sure no "gooks" were hiding under there. I would use a broom and sweep under the bed, making sure nothing could cling to the mattress and reach up to get him when the lights were off. And I knew that he felt the ghosts of all those people he'd killed in Vietnam, because you could hear him screaming about them in his sleep. Many of our patients screamed or cried out in their sleep. It's like their demons were louder when they were unconscious.
So I broke my own first rule with Frisky that day, and I said, "Frisky, if you don't let Margaret go, I'm going to let Tom and the other orderlies drag you into the old restraint room, chain you up, and leave you in there all night long. You want me to do that?"
It might not have been ethical but it worked like a charm. Frisky dropped the plastic fork with alacrity and dropped Margaret like a sack of potatoes. She picked herself up and went back to her seat. The old bird even had the presence of mind to grab the clicker and turn that sucker up a notch.
It didn't really end well for poor Frisky. He did end up in a restraint room, though one of the new ones and not the old haunted one. He was pretty drugged up from that point on and I never had anymore trouble with him. I wish I could say that I never used that old restraint room as a threat again too but, well, I'm trying to tell my story along with theirs and won't do any good to start telling lies now.