Sunday, October 30, 2011

Writing For a Cure- Indie Chicks

Is Your Life Whispering to You?

By Cheryl Shireman

I believe life whispers to you and provides direction. I call that life force God. You can call it whatever you want, but there is no escaping it. If we are open, and brave enough to say yes, life will take us in directions we never expected, and you will live a life beyond your wildest dreams.

Those whisperings often come in the form of a “crazy” idea or a nudge to move into a certain direction that seems odd or silly or daring. Then there is that moment when you think, Well, that’s weird. Where in the world did that come from?

And then there’s the second moment, when you have to make a choice. You can dismiss the crazy notion, and probably even come up with a dozen reasons why it’s a bad idea. You don’t have the time, the money, or the resources. Besides, who are you to do such a thing? What in the world were you thinking? So, you dismiss the idea. We always have that option - to say No.

But it comes back - that whisper. Sometimes again and again. But if we are practical, and safe, we can squash the notion until it is almost forgotten. Almost.
Such a notion came to me a couple of months ago. I began to think of an anthology composed of women writers. An anthology that would be published before the rapidly approaching holiday season. The title came to me almost immediately - Indie Chicks.

It was a crazy notion. I was working with an editor who was editing my first two novels, and was also in the middle of writing a third novel. Working on three books seemed to be a pretty full plate. Adding a fourth was insane.

But the crazy notion kept coming back to me. It simply refused to be dismissed. So I sent out a “feeler” email to another writer, Michelle Muto. She loved the idea. I sent out another email to my writing buddy, J. Carson Black. She loved the idea, too, but couldn’t make the time commitment. She had just signed with Thomas & Mercer and was knee deep in writing. I took it as a sign. I didn’t have the time for the project either. Perhaps after the first of the year, when final edits were done on my own novels. I dismissed it, at least for the present time. I’d think about it again in another couple of months, when the timing made more sense.

A week later I surrendered, started developing a marketing plan for Indie Chicks, and began sending out emails to various indie writers - some I knew, but most were strangers. I contacted a little over thirty women. Every one of them responded with enthusiasm. Most said yes immediately, and those who could not, due to time commitments, wished us well and asked me to let them know when the book when the book was published so they could be part of promoting it.

One of the first writers I contacted was Heather Marie Adkins. Earlier this year, while I was browsing the internet, I came across an interview with Heather. The interviewer (oddly enough, Michelle Muto) asked Heather, When did you decide to become an indie author? Heather’s answer was: About a month ago. My dad had been trying to talk me into self-publishing for some time, but I was hesitant. One night, I sat down and ran a Google search. I discovered Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Victorine Lieski; but it was Cheryl Shireman that convinced me. This is the field to be in. I was shocked (Astonished! Flabbergasted!). I had no idea that I had ever inspired anyone! To be honest, it was a bit humbling. And,okay, yes - it made me cry. So, of course, I had to invite Heather to be a part of the anthology. Heather not only said yes, but she also volunteered to format the project - a task I was dreading.

As Heather and I exchanged emails, I told her about how I had been similarly inspired to become an indie writer by Karen McQuestion. My husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas of 2010. Honestly, the present angered me. I didn’t want a Kindle. I wanted nothing to do with reading a book on an electronic device! I love books; the feel of them, the smell of them. But, very quickly, I started filling up that Kindle with novels.

One day, while looking for a new book on Amazon, I came across a title by Karen McQuestion. I learned that McQuestion had published her novels through Amazon straight to Kindle. Immediately, I began doing research on her and how to publish through Kindle. I had just completed a novel and was ready to submit it through traditional routes. Within 48 hours of first reading about McQuestion, I submitted my novel, Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake. Twenty four hours later, it was published as an eBook on Amazon. Within another couple of weeks it was available as a paperback and through Nook. Did I jump into this venture fearlessly? No! I was scared to death, and I almost talked myself out of it. Almost. The novel went on to sell over 10,000 copies within the first seven months of release.

As I shared that story with Heather, another crazy notion whispered in my ear - Ask Karen McQuestion to write the foreword for Indie Chicks. Of course, I dismissed it. We had exchanged a couple of tweets on Twitter, but other than that, I had never corresponded with McQuestion. It was nonsense to think she would write the foreword. I was embarrassed to even ask her. Surely, she would think I was some sort of nut. But, the idea kept whispering to me and, with great trepidation, I emailed her. She said yes! Kindly, enthusiastically, and whole-heartedly, she said yes. Karen McQuestion had inspired me to try indie publishing. I had inspired Heather Adkins. And now the three of us were participating in Indie Chicks, that crazy whisper I had been unable to dismiss.

The book began to develop, and as it did, a theme began to form. This was to be a book full of personal stories from women. As women, one of our most powerful gifts is our ability to encourage one another. This book became our effort to encourage women across the world. Twenty-five women sharing stories that will make you laugh, inspire you, and maybe even make you cry. We began to dream that these stories would inspire other women to live the life they were meant to live.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted the proceeds of this charity to go to some sort of charity that would benefit other women. While we were in the process of compiling the anthology, the mother of one of the women was diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost immediately upon learning that, Michelle Muto sent me an email. Hey, in light of *****’s mother having an aggressive form of breast cancer, can I nominate The Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer? I mean, one of our own is affected here, and other than heart disease (which took my own mother’s life), I can’t think of anything more worthy than to honor our sister in words and what she’s going through. A daughter’s love knows no bounds for her mother. Trust me. I know it’s a charity that already gets attention on its own. But, that’s not the point, is it? The point is there are 25 ‘sisters’ sticking together and supporting each other for this anthology. I say we put the money where the heart is. We had our inspiration. All proceeds would go to the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research.
The stories started coming in. Some were light hearted and fun to read. But others were gut-wrenching and inspiring - stories of how women dealt with physical abuse, overwhelming grief, and a host of bad choices. It was clear; these women were not just sharing a story, but a piece of their heart. I felt as if I were no longer “organizing” this anthology, but just getting out of the way so that it could morph and evolve into its truest form.

Fast forward to just a few days before publication. Heather was almost done with the enormous task of formatting a book with twenty-five authors. We were very close to publishing and were on the homestretch. That’s when I received an email. An unlikely email from someone I didn’t really know. Beth Elisa Harris and I were involved in another indie project and Beth sent an email to all of the authors in that project, including me. She attached a journal to that email. For whatever reason, Beth had been inspired to share a journal she wrote a few years ago. She cautioned us to keep her confidence and not share the journal with anyone else. I tend toward privacy and don't tend to trust easily. This is a HUGE step for me. I've only read it once since I wrote it. Intrigued, I opened the journal and began reading. It dealt with her diagnosis, a few years back, with breast cancer! Before I was even one third of the way through the journal, I felt I should ask Beth to include this journal in the Indie Chicks anthology. It was a crazy notion, especially when considering her words about privacy and trust. We didn’t even know each other, how could I ask her to go public with something so personal? I tried to dismiss the notion (are you noticing a pattern here?), but could not. I wrote the email, took a deep breath, and hit send.

She answered immediately. Yes. Most definitely, yes.

Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories, with foreword by Karen McQuestion and afterword by Beth Elise Harris, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. The book includes personal stories from each of the women, as well as excerpts from our novels. And it began as a whisper. A whisper I did my best to ignore.

What whisper are you ignoring? What crazy notion haunts you? What dream merely awaits your response? I urge you, say Yes. Live the life you were meant to live. Say yes today.

Stories included in Indie Chicks:
Foreword by Karen McQuestion
Knight in Shining Armor by Shea MacLeod
Latchkey Kid by Heather Marie Adkins
Write or Die by Danielle Blanchard
The Phoenix and The Darkness by Lizzy Ford
Never Too Late by Linda Welch
Stepping Into the Light by Donna Fasano
One Fictionista’s Literary Bliss by Katherine Owen
I Burned My Bra For This? by Cheryl Shireman
Mrs. So Got It Wrong Agent by Prue Battten
Holes by Suzanne Tyrpak
Turning Medieval by Sarah Woodbury
A Kinky Adventure in Anglophilia by Anne R. Allen
Writing From a Flour Sack by Dani Amore
Just Me and James Dean by Cheryl Bradshaw
How a Big Yellow Truck Changed My Life by Christine DeMaio-Rice
From 200 Rejections to Amazon Top 200! by Sibel Hodge
Have You Ever Lost a Hat? by Barbara Silkstone
French Fancies! by Mel Comley
Life’s Little Gifts by Melissa Foster
Never Give Up On Your Dream by Christine Kersey
Self-taught Late Bloomer by Carol Davis Luce
Moving to The Middle East by Julia Crane
Paper, Pen, and Chocolate by Talia Jager
The Magic Within and The Little Book That Could by Michelle Muto
Write Out of Grief by Melissa Smith
Afterword by Beth Elisa Harris

Indie Chicks is available for your Kindle on Amazon and your Nook on Barnes and Noble. You may also read it on your computer or most mobile devices by downloading a free reader from those sites.

Stop by our Facebook page -

Follow our Indie Chicks hash tag on Twitter! #IndieChicksAnthology

Saturday, October 29, 2011

#samplesunday Coming in 2012 - Bet you can't....FIND ME.

A Psychic Thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and turning pages. This isn't the official cover, but one I've played with until the official cover can be designed.


Leaning against the cold steel door, she closed her eyes in prayer. "Father, why have you forsaken me? What sins have I committed that were so bad that you would punish me in this way?"

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.

"Fiank-o," she screamed opening her eyes and spreading her hands in front of her. Blood rimmed the manicured nails.

Her gaze fell to the blood soaked blouse sticking to her skin. So much blood from such a tiny body. Her clothing was soaked in it.

Ripping at her blouse she mewed like a wounded animal. "Then take my eyes so I no longer have to see the blood of my angel on my hands. Take my ears so I no longer have to hear the shrieks from below, the clanging of the chains."

Only silence met her cry. God was no longer listening. Sinking to her knees she ripped at her hair, bordering on madness. How could they do this to her? Had she not served them well for more than ten years?

"You know what you must do, Aggie. I have seen the feux-folet. She is the child of Diable and she has cursed you."

For a moment rage blocked the pain squeezing at her heart. "You!" She screamed, her eyes filled with hatred, fists clenched at her side. "You brought this upon us. You with your superstitions and your curses."

"Mom chere ti chou, you know I speak the truth. I was here when she was born without life. Her body blue, her soul already beyond this world. Five years have come and gone. As she grows so does the evil. They warned you this day would come."

The old woman's words washed over her like a river of ice, extinguishing the fire of her rage, leaving only a cold still emptiness. "I begged them, Mother. Begged for her life as her blood seeped slowly through my fingers. I BEGGED THEM!" She screamed.

Her scream tapered to a whimper, her voice a mere whisper. "She is only five. I have lost one already. Must I lose them both?"

The old woman knelt beside her. Taking her right hand she prized open the fingers and closed them around the cold steel of the knife.

"You can't cure a mad dog, Aggie. You can only put it down."

The silence in the room was broken only by her whimpers. The old woman had left as silently as she'd come. The knife lay heavy in her hand, like the task before her lay heavy on her heart.

Rising she opened the door to the basement, ignoring the shrieks and clanging of the chains. Her feet descended the steps slowly, the old woman's words echoing over and over inside her head. "You can't cure a mad dog, Aggie. You can only put it down."

I hope you enjoyed this prelude of things to come, and I hope you'll check out The Jacody Ives Mysteries while you're waiting. Tentative release date for Find Me is February 2012.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Excerpt - Sacred Secrets

Charity woke with another splitting headache. She struggled to sit up, her huge frame cramped in the tight space. Memory returning. He’d come back, made her lie down in the back of the jeep. Then he’d drove for what seemed like days. Made her get out, walk down steps. That was the last thing she remembered until now.

It was dark as a cave and smelled of mildew. Charity felt around in the dark, looking for something, anything to tell her where she was. Her fingers closed around what felt like a candle. Pulling it close she continued to feel blindly. Where there was a candle surely there had to be matches. God just wouldn’t be that cruel. Her fingers closed around the box. She shook it gently. One rattle. Okay, so she had one chance of getting light into this place. Did she really want to do that?

Charity chided herself for her cowardliness. What would Ms. Laveau think if she saw her, sitting here on the cold concrete shivering like a baby.
Opening the matchbox, she took out the single match, set the candle between her legs and steadied herself. Holding her breath Chastity issued a silent prayer before running the match along the side of the box. It sputtered, flickered--caught fire.
Charity swallowed the urge to laugh hysterically, the effort of holding her breath making her somewhat giddy. She held the candle to the flame, her hand trembling so badly she was afraid for a moment she’d drop them both. The candle caught, its flame casting eerie shadows around the small room.

Charity looked around her, her heart fluttering as reality closed in. She was in an old farm cellar. From the looks of it no one had been here for years. Tears formed, she bit her lip, steadied the candle. Her whispered words stirring fear into full blown terror. “Yous’ in trouble now, sugah. Yous’ done been buried alive.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Excerpt - The Gifts - never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee

“Fire’s out, Sheriff. We opened the windows, but the smell is still pretty bad.”

Sarah nodded, her eyes misting. “Thanks, Billy.” Swallowing hard, she tried to stop the gagging reflex that hit her the second she entered The Lodge. There was nothing in the world worse than the smell of burned flesh. Tommy and three of the volunteer fire fighters were still outside vomiting, and Joshua looked slightly green, although he was holding up better than most. Dammit! They weren’t prepared for this. She wasn’t prepared for this.

“Are you okay, Doc?” Sarah noted the grayness of the doctor’s face, the blueness around his mouth as he slipped on his mask and nodded.

Sarah allowed her gaze to drift around the room, looking for something, anything to look at besides the badly charred body of what she knew must be Marisa Hutchins. They had caught the fire in time to save most of the room, but the body was burned beyond recognition. She swallowed hard again, concentrating on breathing through her mouth. She had to focus on her job, not her feelings. Her gaze fell on the small pink card on the dresser. Picking it up, she shivered as emotions ran up her arm, making her skin crawl, chilling her to the bone. Evil had its own special feel, and this was evil. A gift from me. You’re next.

“Anything on McAllister’s whereabouts?”

Sarah felt Joshua’s keen gaze on her face. She would have to look at him eventually. Struggling to control the overwhelming fear that threatened to pull her into the darkness, Sarah placed the card inside a plastic package and handed it to Joshua. She wanted a hot shower.

“He told me he was going to Richmond, but I didn’t ask where. Said he’d be back tomorrow.”

“I’m finished.” Doc Hawthorne rose, his shoulders drooping more than usual. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He’d delivered these children, watched them grow up. He shouldn’t have to sign their death certificates. “Not much more I can do here. I’d say it’s Marisa Hutchins. You can wait for the autopsy to make it official.”

Sarah grimaced. She didn’t need an autopsy.

“The Edgewood forensic team is on their way. Said they’d be here within the hour,” Joshua stated.

“Thanks, Joshua.” Sarah had hated calling in outsiders, but they just didn’t have the equipment, or the expertise, to handle this type of situation. Nothing like this had ever happened in Glade Springs. Gavin McAllister had a lot to answer for.

“What do you make of the card?”

Joshua was turning the package over in his hands. Sarah glanced at it, a cold chill running down her spine. . . . never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

“You’re next.” Joshua read the card out loud and glanced at Sarah. “Who do you think he means?”

“Not a clue,” Sarah lied. “We’ll run it through the system, see if anything like this has happened anywhere else.”

“Good idea.” Joshua hesitated, “Sarah, I think this card is for you.”

Sarah didn’t bother answering. She’d known the second she touched the card it was for her. You know, echoed in her mind.

“Joshua, stay here, lock it down and wait for Edgewood. Go ahead and do the photographs and sketches of the scene. I have to go tell the Hutchins.” Sarah knew her voice was quivering. She cursed silently at life’s cruel joke of giving her the ability to feel what others felt. She was having enough trouble controlling the pain and fear she’d picked up in this room. She didn’t know how she was going to handle the parents’ emotions.

“Sarah, why don’t you stay? I’ll go.”

Sarah met the concerned green eyes, not trying to disguise the pain in her own. “It comes with the territory, Joshua. It’s my job.”

“What do I do if McAllister shows up?”

Sarah considered her answer carefully. She knew Gavin McAllister hadn’t killed Marisa. The evil she’d felt in that room wasn’t attached to him. He could, of course, sue the city, but at the moment she didn’t give a damn. It wouldn’t hurt him to cool his heels for a couple of hours. And, dammit, he was partially responsible. If he hadn’t come here none of this would have happened. At least in jail he’d be safe and one less thing for her to worry about.

“Book him.”

Joshua nodded. Sarah was in charge. “The Hutchins are pretty religious people. Why don’t you call the new minister, have him meet you out there?”

“Bless you, Joshua. You always seem to know the right thing to do.”

“Comes with the territory, remember? It’s my job.”

Sarah exited The Lodge, her thoughts serious. Joshua would make a good sheriff. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about that when she left. She turned her thoughts to the new minister. She hadn’t had an opportunity to meet him or his wife. What was his name? Cooper. Picking up the cell phone, she automatically dialed the number and hoped it hadn’t been changed. How was she supposed to address him? Was it Reverend, Father, Pastor?


“Mrs. Cooper?”


“This is Sheriff Burns. I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to call on you and welcome you to Glade Springs, but I wonder if I could speak with your husband, please?”

“He’s asleep, Ms. Burns.”

Sarah frowned. No Sheriff Burns, and the Ms. Had been spoken with disapproval. It was apparent Mrs. Cooper didn’t believe in women sheriffs. She probably didn’t believe women should work at all.

“Could you wake him, please? It’s an emergency.”

“Oh, no, I could never do that. Never.” The voice had changed, a slight tremor just beneath the words.

Good Lord, she’s afraid of him, Sarah thought. What kind of minister instilled fear in his wife?

“Mrs. Cooper, I’m sorry, I’m a little upset, and I’m afraid I haven’t made myself clear. I know it’s late, but we’ve had a,” Sarah paused. “We’ve had a death in the community. The family is going to need him. Please put your husband on the phone.”

“I’ll have him call you in the morning.”

“Mrs. Cooper . . .”

The phone went dead. And people wondered why Sarah didn’t go to church. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in God; she just didn’t believe in organized religion. As usual, she was on her own.

A half hour later Sarah stood outside, breathing deeply in an attempt to control the tears streaming down her face as she waited for Doc Hawthorne. Thank God he’d been here. She should have known he would feel an obligation to do just that. He’d been there for thirteen years through every broken bone, every cough or late night fever. He wouldn’t desert them now.

Sarah watched his approach, realizing for the first time just how old he was getting. She’d ignored the Mayor’s ravings at the council meetings that they needed to start looking for a younger doctor, someone more up to date. How much longer could he last? And getting a doctor to come to a small town like Glade Springs wouldn’t be easy. Of course, there was always Edgewood. It was only a two-hour drive, but what about emergencies? The next time the mayor brought up the subject, Sarah would be more open-minded. Not a replacement, because no one could ever replace Doc Hawthorne. Maybe a partner.

“I gave Irene a sedative. She’ll sleep until morning.” His eyes never left Sarah’s face, the question left unspoken between them.

“Dammit, Jim, I can’t stop him if he wants to see her.”

Doc nodded. Edsel Hutchins wanted to see his daughter. “Call me when he comes in. I’ll be there.”

Sarah nodded, not trusting herself to speak. He would be there, sedative in hand. They both knew sedatives weren’t going to help Edsel Hutchins when he saw his daughter’s body. It was almost two a.m. and Sarah felt a desperate need to hold Nikki. To know she was safe. That, like sleep, was a luxury she didn’t have. It was going to be a long night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wayfaring Stranger - A short story

Another first draft, and not my normal genre, but I hope you enjoy.


Carrieanne Burton felt her feet stop in mid stride, a strange chill washing over her. Something was wrong. A feeling of urgency started deep in the pit of her stomach as she turned around and sprinted back towards the apartment. She'd left Lizzie's breakfast on the table, just like she always did, knowing her mother wouldn't wake from her drunken stupor for hours. The apartment was locked. What? A fire? Had her mother fallen asleep again smoking?

Her breath came in ragged gasps as she continued to run, arms aching from the load of books she was carrying. If she missed school again the welfare people would be back. What if they took Lizzie away from her? They'd threatened that the last time. Told her mother to straighten up or else.

Another thought crept in, one that terrified her even more, causing her to toss the books and run even faster. She should have checked. What if her mother had brought one of special "friends" home again? What if. . .

The stitch in her side threatened to take her breath, as the mist behind her eyelashes threatened to overflow. The rundown apartment building came into sight and she paused for a second. No smoke billowed out from partially opened windows. No abnormal screams echoed off the bricks. Just the normal sounds of the angry, hopeless residents as they struggled to meet another day.

Grabbing the railing, Carrieanne took the steps two at time, almost colliding with old Mr. Fodderman as he opened the door.

"Where's the fire, girlie?" He called over his shoulder.

"Sorry, Mr. Fodderman," Carrieanne called back never breaking stride as she raced toward the last door on the right. The door was still locked and Carrieanne fished around in her purse for the keys, opening the door slowly before closing it softly behind her. If nothing was wrong she didn't want to wake her mother, or alarm Lizzie.

The apartment was cold, colder than normal, and dark with a musty smell. She could hear the sound of sniffles coming from the bedroom she shared with Lizzie. A feeling of relief washed over her. Lizzie was okay. Opening the door she glanced in, eyes searching the dim room for the small figure. Lizzie was hunched in the corner. Closing the door softly Carrieanne flipped on the light. "What's wrong, kitten?"

"I spilled the milk." Lizzie managed between sobs.

Carrieanne sat down on the floor and pulled her into her lap, stroking the auburn mess of curls. "It's okay. I'll get some more milk."

"Anna was mad." Lizzie snuggled in closer.

Carrieanne felt the chill once again wash over her, followed by a flush of rage. Pushing Lizzie away just enough to raise her head, she examined the tiny face. The full imprint of her mother's hand covered the left side of Lizzie's face.

Pulling Lizzie back into her arms, Carrieanne struggled to control the influx of emotions raging through her. Anger, helplessness and hopelessness. She wouldn’t turn eighteen for another seventeen months. The date was circled on the calendar above her bed. The one star in her otherwise miserable life. The one goal. Graduate, get a job, take Lizzie away from this.

Lizzie shivered in her arms, the small body suddenly seized by a deep, hacking cough. Lizzie wouldn't last another seventeen months. It was bad enough their mother made them call her Anna because she didn't want her "friends" to know how old she was. Bad enough that she had to spend hours in school, knowing Lizzie was locked in the bedroom while her mother entertained. Bad enough that she had to then work to buy the few groceries that kept them alive before coming home and cleaning the apartment and giving Lizzie the few moments she could spare before bed time. But none of that was as bad as the thought of losing Lizzie.

Standing up Carrieanne picked up Lizzie, amazed at how light her five year old body was. Was Lizzie losing weight? Carrying her to the bed she covered her up, and gave her a quick kiss. "You get some rest. I'm going to clean the kitchen."
Lizzie raised her head, blue eyes open and trusting. "Can we go outside later?"
Carrieanne felt the vice twist around her heart. Since she'd gone to work after school and on the weekends Lizzie had been confined to this hellhole twenty-four seven. No wonder she was so pale. Summoning as much bravado as she could, Carrieanne smiled at her. "Let me talk to Anna, get the kitchen cleaned and make you some breakfast and we'll go to the park."

Lizzie nodded before lying back down and pulling the cover over her head. Her normal excitement about going to park totally overshadowed by the "let me talk to Anna".

Carrieanne closed the door softly, taking a deep breath and swiping at the single tear that had finally escaped. She felt like she'd been holding back an ocean for a long time. Eventually she was going to drown in her own unshed tears.

Taking a quick glance into the kitchen she shook her head. Anna hadn't even bothered to pick up the half empty gallon of milk, or wipe up the spill. She could deal with that. What she couldn't deal with was the image of that handprint on Lizzie's face.

Going to her mother's bedroom door she knocked. "Anna?" No sounds came from within, not even the sluggish snore she'd become accustomed to. Carrieanne knocked louder. "Anna, we need to talk."

She reached for the doorknob just as someone began pounding on the front door. "What now?" Carrieanne muttered as she headed for the front door opening it slowly and peering out into the darkened hallway. Stepping into the hallway she closed the apartment door behind her.

"Mr. Johnson, how are you?" Carrie smiled at the landlord her efforts met with a stony glare.

"Rent's due, and I ain't waiting this month. Pay or get out."

Carrieanne knew she had to think fast. She'd given her mother the money yesterday to pay the rent. "I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson, my paycheck couldn't be written until today. I was just getting ready to go get it and then I'll be right back to pay the rent."

Mr. Johnson eyed her suspiciously, gaze going to the closed door behind her. Carrieanne kept smiling.

"Why ain't you in school?"

"Lizzie wasn't feeling good this morning, so I stayed home to take care of her. She's doing better now though, so I can go get my check and pay you."

Mr. Johnson gave her another cold glare before turning away. "Ain't paid by five o'clock you better not be here when I come back."

Carrieanne leaned against the closed door. Her strength was fading, and even her anger at Anna wasn't going to hold her up much longer. She'd lied to Mr. Johnson. There was no check to pick up. And if Anna had wasted the rent money they would be out on the street before the day was over. Lying to people was becoming a habit, and much too easy. That wasn't what she wanted Lizzie to learn from her. It wasn't the way things were supposed to be. Swiping at another tear she opened the door and headed for Anna's bedroom while she still had the strength to deal with her.

Not bothering to knock this time, Carrieanne opened the bedroom door, her earlier anger resurfacing. "Anna, what did you do. . ." she stopped just inside the doorway. The room was icy cold and silent. An unnatural silence. Swallowing hard she approached the figure lying prone on the bed. Bloodshot eyes were open and staring, but clearly seeing nothing. Carrieanne closed the eyes, felt for a pulse even though she knew it useless.

Stepping back into the hallway Carrieanne leaned against the wall. Mr. Johnson would be back soon. And once the authorities were notified the welfare people would come and take Lizzie away. She couldn't let that happen. Lizzie was all that kept her going. All she had in life. Without her she'd die.

Going back into her mother's room she made a quick search. A hundred dollars was all that was left of the two hundred and fifty she'd given her yesterday. Stuffing it into her jeans pocket she closed the bedroom door quickly crossing to her own bedroom. They wouldn't be able to take much with them, just a change of clothes maybe, and one toy for Lizzie.

Lizzie had fallen back to sleep and Carrieanne shook her gently. "Lizzie, get up baby. We have to leave, and we have to leave right now."

Lizzie sat up, wiping the sleep from her eyes. "Is Anna going too?"

Carrieanne knew she'd have to tell her, but not yet. Not until they were far away from here. "No, kitten, Anna isn't going with us this time."

Lizzie smiled, her tiny face lighting up with pleasure as she hopped off the bed and began looking in her drawers for something to wear. "Where are we going, Carrieanne?"

"It's a surprise," Carrieanne stated, realizing that she had nothing to carry their clothes in. Two kids on a bus with a sack, or a pillowcase full of clothing would stand out. "Think Carrie. Think." Her mother had that big old purse she sometimes carried. She hated the thought of going back into that bedroom, but she hated the thought of leaving without a change of clothing even more. "You finish dressing, and I'll be right back."

In less than a minute she was back, pulling out her second pair of good jeans, a shirt and one change of underwear. She rolled them carefully and stuffed them in the purse before going to help Lizzie with her shoes.

"I thought Anna wasn't coming with us." Lizzie whispered, staring at the huge purse on the bed.

Carrieanne fluffed her hair before going to the battered chest and pulling out a change of clothing for Lizzie and rolling them together to fit inside the purse. "She isn't. She just loaned us her purse."

Carrieanne knew she'd made a mistake the moment the words were out of her mouth. Anna never "loaned" or gave them anything. Lizzie was back in the corner, thumb in her mouth, eye's misting as she hunkered down, waiting for the bedroom door to burst open and the screaming to start.

Kneeling in front of Lizzie, Carrieanne removed the thumb from her mouth, and forced her to look at her. "Do you remember Mrs. Simpson's poodle, Lizzie?"

Lizzie nodded, her eyes growing huge. "Someone poisoned it and it died."

Carrieanne nodded. "Well, the liquor poisoned Anna. She's dead, Lizzie, and we have to get out of here before anyone finds that out. Okay?"

Lizzie nodded, her gaze straying to the door again, her words a mere whisper. "Where are we going, Carrie?"

Carrieanne pulled her close. "I don't know, kitten, but as long as we're together we'll be okay."

Carrieanne knew her words were much braver than she felt inside. First she had to get them far away from here. Then she'd take a moment to think about the future.

Carrieanne felt her last hopes sink as she took Lizzie's hand and walked out of the bus station. She didn't have enough money for two tickets to Miami, and they needed to go somewhere warm until she could find a place for them to live. A job. Some way to survive.

"Hey, did we hear you two say you were trying to get to Miami?"

Carrieanne turned toward the voice and the older couple standing next to a motor home. "Yes, we were planning on visiting our aunt, but I guess we'll have to wait."
The older man stuck out his hand. "George Matthews, and this is my wife Maude, but I call her momma. We're heading that way if you want to tag along."

Carrieanne opened her mouth to say no, but Lizzie was tugging on her hand. "Please, Carrie. I'm tired of walking. And I'm hungry."

Carrieanne took the outstretched hand and shook it. "Carrieanne, and this is Lizzie. We could use a ride if it wouldn't be too much trouble."

Mr. Matthews smiled, opening the door to the motor home and hefting Lizzie inside. "No trouble at all. Momma was just getting ready to fix us a sandwich for the road. Hope you girls will join us."

Carrieanne tucked the blanket around Lizzie, fighting the urge to join her on the cot. She could hear Mrs. Matthews snoring next door. The old couple seemed nice, and they'd gone out of their way to make sure the girls felt welcome. Still, she should be teaching Lizzie not to trust strangers. Walking towards the front of the motor home she took a seat next to Mr. Matthews. "How long before we get to Miami?"

"At least another six hours, honey. Why don't you join your little sister and get some sleep. I'll be waking Momma in another three hours to take over for me."
Carrieanne stared at the passing scenery. Her eyes were heavy, her body tired. She should sleep while she could. Giving Mr. Matthews her best smile she stood up. "I think I'll take you up on that. Would you like something to drink, or anything before I go?"

Picking up the thermos next to him, he grinned and shook it. "Momma fixed me up with a fresh pot of coffee before she retired. I'm good for at last three hours."

Carrieanne said goodnight and went back to the cot where she'd left Lizzie. Moving her gently to the side she lay down allowing the gentle motion of the motor home to lull her into a deep sleep.

Carrieanne woke to the sounds of hushed voices. Lying completely still she held her breath listening.

"George, are you sure we're doing the right thing? I mean any fool can see they're runaways."

George grunted and cleared his throat. "Did you see the handprint on that little 'un's face, Momma? Whatever they're running to has gotta be better than what they're running from."

"But we can't just leave them. They're babies."

George turned the motor home into a gas station and stopped. "We'll check out this aunt story. Make sure they've got a place to stay before we go back home."

Maude laughed softly. "Wonder what they'd think if they knew we just got back from Miami?"

George shook his head and smiled. "Gotta go where the Lord sends us. Wasn't no other reason for us to stop at that bus stop except He wanted us to be there."

Carrieanne made a noise to let them know she was awake. She didn't want to hear them talk about God. There was no God in her world. Just endless days and nights of fear, struggle and hunger. That's all she'd ever known. All Lizzie had ever known. If there was a God He'd deserted them a long time ago.

Making her way to the front she covered her eyes against the glaring sunlight she smiled at Mrs. Matthews. "Good morning. Are we there?"

"Almost, sweetie. Now where did you say your aunt lived?" Maude busied herself pouring a cup of coffee and adding cream and sugar.

Carrieanne sat down behind her. It was getting harder and harder to come up with new lies. "I'm not sure. She said somewhere near the ocean, but she won't be here until tomorrow. We were just going to get a room and call her to let her know where to pick us up."

Maude continued to stir the coffee. "No sense in you two staying in a room all alone. George and I can find a place to park and you can stay with us until she picks you up."

Carrieanne searched her brain for a counter to the proposal but could think of nothing that wouldn't sound exactly like what it was--a lie. "That sounds wonderful, Mrs. Matthews, but we can't keep imposing on your generosity. Lizzie and I will be fine for one night."

"Call me Momma, and it's no problem at all. Why George and I will be happy for the company. Be good for us to spend some time in the company of young people. Take that little one for a romp on the beach. Put some color in her cheeks."

Carrieanne heard Lizzie stirring and went to check on her. There was no way she could really argue with the Matthews. Nothing she could argue with. She would just have to wait until they fell asleep tonight and then sneak away.

Eight hours later she dried Lizzie's hair and dressed her in her one clean outfit before putting her to bed. "Why am I sleeping in my clothes, Carrie?"

Carrie brushed the curls away from her face, noting the pink tinge from the wind and sun. It had been a good day. She was glad Lizzie had been able to experience that. The road before them was long, and with less than a hundred dollars in her pocket the future bleak. "I'm going to wake you up later, and we'll have to be really quiet okay? We have to leave."

Lizzie stuck her thumb in her mouth, a clear indication the words upset her. Mist was gathering beneath the long dark lashes. "I don't wanna leave."

Carrieanne hugged her, her own eyes misting again. "I know, baby, but we have to. It'll be okay. I promise."

Lizzie rolled away from her, hugging the blanket as her small shoulders shook with silent sobs. Carrieanne continued to rub her back until she fell asleep.

Carrieanne joined the Matthews outside, her eyes scanning the area. She needed to
plan their escape carefully. Maybe there was something on down the beach.

"Would you mind if I took a walk?"

George glanced up, glad for the diversion from the checker game Momma was slaughtering him on. "Like some company?"

Carrieanne shook her head and laughed. "No, I think you need to finish your game."

Mrs. Matthews picked up a red checker and jumped around the board capturing the majority of George's pieces with a satisfied, "got you."

Giving Carrieanne a sly wink she reset the board. "Don't you stray too far, honey."

George shrugged and sighed as he reset his own pieces. Handing Carrieanne the key
to the motor home, he smiled. "Just in case we're asleep when you get back."

George and Maude watched as Carrieanne set off down the beach. "That child's carrying a whole lot weight on some awfully small shoulders," George muttered, moving a checker.

"Planning her escape, I imagine." Maude answered, moving a checker in place to block his move. "Have you noticed how much she looks like Maryanne when she smiles?"

George studied the checkerboard. If he moved right she'd take his game piece. If he moved left she'd take two. Might as well let her have two. Then maybe he could get to bed early. "Hardly smiles enough for me to notice. What are you thinking, Momma?"

Maude jumped his two pieces, sacrificing one. "I'm thinking we need to do something to help these children, George Matthews. And you need to stop letting me win."

Carrieanne walked slowly, letting the cool breeze from the ocean lift her hair away from her neck, enjoying the warm salty mist. The key the motor home felt hot in her hand and she stuffed it in her jean's pocket feeling even more dejected than she had before. They trusted her. Why did they have to trust her? It would be easier if they'd just dumped them on the beach and walked away. They'd done their civic duty, given them a ride. Fed them. Why did they have to be so damn nice?

Finding an outcropping of rock, Carrieanne took a seat, letting the tears that had threatened for days, perhaps even years slowly fall.

"It can be a cold world at times, but there are good people in it."

Startled Carrieanne leapt from the rock, turning toward the voice. She fought the urge to run as she studied the man sitting on the opposite side of the rocks. She was pretty sure he hadn't been there when she sat down. So where had he come from? He looked clean enough, but the tattered clothing gave him away. Another homeless soul seeking refuge on the beach. Is that what she and Lizzie would look like in a few days? Fresh tears flowed from beneath her lashes.

"Please, sit back down. I didn't mean to startle you, and I assure you, Carrieanne, I mean you no harm."

Carrieanne sat back down on the rocks, more from the weakness in her legs than a desire to be there. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"

He walked toward the water, picking up pebbles along the way and tossing them into the surf as it rolled onto the beach. "I know you're running way because you think you had no choice. I know deep down inside you hate lying. I know you love your little sister more than life itself."

He turned and smiled at her, showing even white teeth, his clear grey eyes full of compassion. "Turn around, Carrieanne. Go back to the motor home. Tell the Matthews the truth and go home. Something awaits you there. Something you haven't had in a long time."

Carrieanne shook her head, pulling her knees into her chest and wrapping her arms around them to stop the trembling. "I can't go home. If I do they'll take Lizzie away from me."

He walked back to her, taking her face in his hands and turning it upwards. "The Matthews trusted you tonight. Isn't it time you trusted someone? Trust me, Carrieanne. Go home."

"Who are you?"

He smiled again, touched her face gently and turned to walk away. "I'm just a wayfaring stranger."

Carrieanne watched him as he made his way down the beach around a corner and out of sight. The wind picked up. The mist was no longer warm, but instead seemed to chill her to the bone. She couldn't keep Lizzie out here at night. The Matthews were good people. Maybe they'd take Lizzie in until she could finish school and get a job. At least Lizzie would be safe and cared for.

Carrieanne walked quickly back towards the motor home. She hoped the Matthews weren't asleep yet. She didn't know if she would still have the courage in the morning to do the right thing. She breathed a sigh of relief when they came into view.

"Have a nice walk, sweetie? I've got some fresh hot chocolate on the stove if you'd like a cup. Gets kind of chilly out here after the sun goes down." Maude pulled out the third chair and motioned for Carrieanne to have a seat. "You can finish my game while I refill the cups."

Carrieanne glanced at the board, noting there were only a few red checkers left. She glanced at Mr. Matthews who gave her a grin and wink. "She likes to win. I don't care to lose."

For some reason Carrieanne couldn't quite fathom the thought of loving someone that much tipped the scale and the tears she'd been holding in broke through the floodgate as sobs racked her body.

"George Matthews, what did you do?" Maude set down the cups of chocolate and pulled Carrieanne into her arms. "There, there, sweetie, you just go ahead and have a good cry. We all need one at times."

Carrieanne felt herself snuggling into the warm embrace much like Lizzie snuggled in her arms. The feel of the gentle hands softly stroking her hair. She cried until there were no more tears, only a slight hiccupping as she tried to breathe. Pushing back, she took the Kleenex Mr. Matthews held out to her, and wiped her face and blew her nose. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Nothing to be sorry about, child. That storm's been brewing for days." George sat back down, clearing away the checkerboard and setting the cups around the table. "Momma and I are pretty listeners any time you want to talk."

Maude picked up her cup of now cool chocolate. "The child's worn out, George. We'll do this in the morning."

Carrieanne shook her head, sitting down in the seat across from them. "I need to do it now, Mrs. Matthews if you don't mind."

Maude took a seat, reaching for George's hand. "We're listening."

"I think you already know there isn't an aunt in Miami."

George and Maude nodded.

"I was on the way to school yesterday when I just got this crazy feeling that I needed to go back home. Mom drinks a lot, and sometimes she falls asleep smoking or sometimes she. . ." Carrieanne looked at them, pleading for understanding. "The welfare people said if I missed any more school they were coming back and they would put Lizzie and me in foster care. But I knew something was wrong."

George took a sip of his chocolate, anger boiling just beneath the surface. "Seen the imprint on the little un's face. Figured something like that."

Carrieanne shook her head. "It's worse than that. When I got home I found Lizzie in our room and I went to talk to Anna--our mother. I don't know if she drank too much, or her heart gave out or what happened, but she was dead and the landlord had already told me we had to pay by five o'clock or get out. I knew he was coming back, and I knew the welfare people would take Lizzie." Carrieanne hung her head, tears once again streaming down her face. "I didn't know what else to do, so I got Lizzie dressed and we ran."

Maude rounded the table and placed an arm around her. "Don't you worry that pretty little head. George will take care of it, won't you George?"

The trip back to Knoxville was a much more somber occasion. George, a retired attorney, had been totally honest with Carrieanne, giving her the pros and cons of what could happen, and what most likely would happen if no family could be located. She would have to be patient as the system was slow, but it did work and George and Maude would do everything within their power to make sure Carrieanne and Lizzie stayed together until a suitable home could be found for them. And if the state would allow it, they were more than welcome to stay with the Matthews until Carrieanne finished school and could provide a home for the two of them. But first they had to go through the system, and Carrieanne would have to be patient.
The closer they came to Knoxville the more nervous Carrieanne became. The stranger had said something awaited them there. Something she hadn't had in a long time. She thought he'd meant the Matthews, but they were with them now. "Trust me, Carrieanne."

It was almost dark when the motor home pulled up in front of the rundown apartment building. George parked on the street, raising one eyebrow and frowning as he looked at Maude before turning to Carrieanne. "This it?"

Carrieanne nodded and waited for him to open the doors and let them out. "You're going with us aren't you?"

"Actually I thought we'd leave Lizzie here with Momma and you and I would go inside. How's that?"

"I think that's a good idea," Carrieanne stated.

George felt more than saw Carrieanne stiffen beside him when she saw the tall young woman standing outside the last door on the right. "Someone you know?"

"Welfare worker." Carrieanne whispered, fighting the urge to turn and run.

"That's a good thing," George stated, placing his arm through Carrieanne's. "You just let me do the talking okay?"

Carrieanne nodded, letting him pull her slowly down the hall.

"Carrieanne? Thank God. We were worried to death. Where's Elizabeth?"

George stuck out his hand, placing himself between Carrieanne and the woman. "George Matthews, ma'am. Elizabeth is outside with my wife."
"Sherry Moberly. I'm a social worker. We've been looking for these children for the last twenty-four hours, Mr. Matthews."

"Don't doubt that at all, Ms. Moberly. Carrieanne, why don't you go on inside and pack a few of your things and Lizzie's things. Let me and Ms. Moberly have a little chat."

Carrieanne worked quickly, stuffing things into pillowslips. She still had most of the hundred dollars. If worse came to worse she could grab Lizzie and run. She glanced up as Ms. Moberly came into the room.

"I'm sorry about your mother, Carrieanne. We did try to help her, you know. Sometimes we fail."

"Thank you." Carrieanne mumbled as she kept stuffing things into the pillow cases. The quicker she got out of here the better. Mr. Matthews was nowhere in sight. She'd been stupid to come back here. "So what happens now?"

Ms. Moberly smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed. "I made a phone call. Your grandparents are coming to get you and Elizabeth. We've been looking for them since the first time I came here, but your mother had changed your names. Your grandparents are James and Maryann Barton. Your mother changed your names to Burton. We found them two days ago. I stopped by yesterday to tell you, and talk with your mother, but," Ms. Moberly shrugged, "I guess you know what I found."

Carrieanne felt the pillowslips fall from her hands as a forgotten memory nudge its way out. A Christmas tree surrounded by bright packages and a gentle voice reading Little Red Riding Hood. She'd buried that memory along with the harsh words screamed by her mother before she'd been dragged into the night. "You will never see your granddaughter again."

Her hands trembled as she picked up the pillowslips and continued stuffing clothing into them. "And what if they don't want us?"

"We never stopped wanting you, Carrieanne. We've searched for you for eleven years."

Carrieanne turned toward the voice. Her grandmother stood in the doorway, eyes wet with unshed tears. She had aged, the years of searching, not knowing if her daughter and granddaughter were dead or alive, etched in deep lines on her face.

"Look what I found outside."

Carrieanne recognized the voice, even before her eyes searched the gentle face, noting the strong arms holding Lizzie. More memories surfaced as her trembling hands once again let go of the pillowcases.

Lizzie wiggled in his arms, her face alight with joy. "Carrie, I found grandpa."
Carrieanne swallowed the lump in her throat as Ms. Moberly stood up to leave handing her a card. "I'll check in on you in a couple of days. If you need anything don't hesitate to call me."

"Hey, Lizzie poo, why don't you and I go out and see what George and Maudie is up to. Let these two get your things packed."

Carrieanne swallowed again. The lump in her throat seemed to be growing, and she couldn't find her voice. Her grandmother came to the bed, picked up one of the pillow cases and placed the remaining clothes in them. "Your grandfather and I would love it if you'd come home with us, Carrie. We'll understand though if you need some time."

"You know the Matthews?" Carrieanne picked up the second pillowcase, pulling at the frayed edges.

"Why, yes, sweetheart. They're our next door neighbors. We've known them for years."

Carrieanne felt the weight slowly lift as realization dawned on her. Was it mere coincidence that of all the people they could have met, they met the Matthews? "Gotta go where the Lord sends us. Wasn't no other reason for us to stop at that bus station except He sent us there."

"Grandma, what's a wayfaring stranger?"

"Why, that's a soul, sweetheart, heading home. Almost an angel."

Carrieanne remembered the gentle touch, the compassion in the light grey eyes. "Something's waiting for you there. Something you haven't had in a long time."

The last of the weight lifted, as the last of the pent up tears flowed down her face. Turning into her grandmother's arms she held on tight. "Let's go home, grandma."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

#samplesunday Soul Retrieval

Sometimes I enjoy looking back at things I wrote years ago just for fun.  This one still makes me chuckle just a little.  Hope you enjoy a bit of Sunday humor.

Soul Retrieval

Prophetic. The things we say. The things we do. They all move us in a general direction, pushing us toward our final destination.

At ten a.m. this morning, Hon. Jeremiah Sed Mason had opened his mouth and sealed his fate.

Now here I was. Standing on a street corner. Waiting for fate to intervene. Destiny to arrive.

The cigarette tasted kind of strange. Not at all like I'd remembered them. The body was nice though. A real traffic stopper. Not like the last one. Seniority had its benefits.

"Hey, sweetheart, I've got a hundred bucks, if you know what I mean."

Tossing the cigarette I turned toward the voice. I knew exactly what he meant. I even knew who he was. George Chatman. By day a floundering accountant. Tonight a pawn in destiny's plans. He'd been standing across the street for over an hour trying to get up the courage to make this move. Problem was poor Gina had officially retired about ten minutes ago. Letting my gaze move slowly down the oversized, unattractive, virtually repulsive frame, I smiled slowly, coming back to the nondescript beady eyes. "Sorry, I'm busy."

Gina had a nice voice. Deep and rather sultry. She probably had a lot of repeat clientele. Undoubtedly she would be missed.

"Oh, I see, my money's not good enough for you."

Lighting another cigarette I took a deep drag, blowing the smoke in his direction. The taste might have changed, but the world hadn't. Still full of pompous jerks who believed that money was God and bought all things. I'd like to believe that even Gina would have turned this one down.

"That's right, sweetheart, your money isn't good enough, and neither are you."
I could feel the rage growing inside him. One too many rejections in a world full of rejections. And this time by a woman he considered low on the scale of humanity. Someone so beneath him that the mere possibility of rejection had never entered his mind. The beady eyes twitched, hands clenching and unclenching just as the red convertible pulled up to the corner and parked. Right on time.

"Hey gorgeous, you ready?"

Without even a glance at my would-be suitor I let those long, luscious legs carry me towards the car. Throwing in a little extra swing of the hips. After all, Gina had the package. I might as well work it.

I wasn't surprised when the bullets struck, but Jeremiah was. I liked the look of shock and pain that crossed his face right before his soul exited his body. Pain was something he would need to get used to.

Things happened rather fast. People screaming, rushing for safety. The police officer yelling at George to drop his gun. Which of course he did. Putz.
Pushing out of Gina's lifeless body I waltzed over to Jeremiah. Another benefit of seniority. I got to keep Gina's image until the next time.

"Let's go, Jeremiah," I stated in that deep sultry voice taking him by the arm.

"Where are we going? What happened? Are we dead?"

Always the same. "Don't you remember what you said this morning, Jeremiah?"

"What I said this morning?"

Some jerks were worse than others. "Yes, Jeremiah, this morning. When you signed those documents to let an innocent man take the fall for your good friend Judge Lehman. Don't you remember how the two of you laughed, and Judge Lehman asked you where you were going?"

I loved the look on his face as realization slowly dawned. I smiled. Gina's warm, sexy smile.

"You said, 'To hell if I don't change my ways'. "

Love mysteries with great plots and subplots that keep you guessing all the way to the end? Take a moment and download a sample of The Jacody Ives Mysteries or Catherine Mans Psychic Suspense. Not your cozy mysteries. Contains strong adult language and some graphic scenes, so be sure to check out the sample first.