Poppi by Dorlana Vann
The hillside mansion was huge, old, and cold and spotless. As soon as Riley stepped inside his childhood home, he felt uneasy. Even though he’d visited many times since he had lived there, it seemed different now, even more eerie than when Mother Gothel was alive.
Lola, his ex-wife, walked in behind him, chomping on a piece of gum. “Why didn’t Poppi come to the funeral?” she asked, looking around as if she felt the same strange vibe he did.
“She’s probably just really upset.”
“Or too busy celebrating.”
Riley frowned, but unable to keep his fake grieving demeanor, he chuckled.
“What are you two doing here?”
Riley and Lola looked up to the landing to where Poppi stood. She then made her descent down the grand staircase. Her long golden hair cascaded over her shoulders to her waist, covering most of the front of her pink robe. “Didn’t take you long, did it?” she said after reaching the bottom step.
“Excuse me?” Riley said lowly, trying to decipher the sarcastic tone of her voice.
“The vultures. Mother told me the family would be here to pick her bones clean before she was even in the ground.”
“We’re here to see you,” Lola said. “We have something we need to tell you.”
“Not now,” Riley whispered. He appreciated Lola’s anxiousness, but he didn’t want to frighten Poppi. Even though his mother was not the best human being, she was all Poppi had known. The situation had to be handled delicately.
“It’s okay, Uncle Riley. Or should I say … Dad.” Poppi raised her eyebrows and gave a satisfactory shrug before walking through a doorway and into the dining room.
“But, how?” Lola’s eyes were wide and wild. “Does she know I’m her mother, too? Or did that old bitter leave me out of the picture again? Because obviously, she told Poppi about you.” Her hands shook as she placed an imaginary piece of loose hair over her shoulder and looked to where Poppi had gone.
The way Lola fidgeted reminded Riley of how they ended up here. How they had lost their only daughter. At the time, he’d explained to Lola that the reason Poppi should go live with Mother Gothel was because they just couldn’t manage financially. It was true enough, he was working two jobs and they didn’t even have a baby bed for Poppi.
But they both knew the real reason: Lola was an addict. She had accepted his decision with quiet yet tearful submission; so thankfully, he never had to express his severe anxiety over the thought of leaving his baby alone with Lola when he had to go to work.
As well as raising Poppi, Mother Gothel offered to help with hospital bills and Lola’s rehab – but there had also been an unknown fine print: their silence as to who Poppi’s real parents were.
But now that the situation had changed, Lola had changed, and Riley hoped that someday they could all be a strange new family.
Lola was now saying, “I bet she didn’t. She hated me. Do you think she did?”
Riley put his hands through his hair. “I know as much as you do.”
“Come on,” she said. “It’s time to tell her everything.”
Riley followed, covering his mouth, as he did, to hide the sudden involuntary smile. Poppi knew. After all the years of pretending, after all the years of wanting to hug his daughter and take her home with him, she finally knew the truth.
The dining room didn’t hold fond memories of his childhood. You will not leave this table until every crumb is removed from that plate. Nevertheless, it had been the only place he had been able to visit his daughter over the years. He had been invited to formal dinners with many guests once a month. Guilt swept over him because Lola hadn’t even been given that. Lola had been invited only during holiday parties; given glimpses of their daughter and the occasional “How are you” conversation.
Poppi sat at the end of the grand table—in Mother Gothel’s chair. She had paperwork out in front of her and a pen in her hand. “Sit,” she said without looking up at them.
“Poppi,” Riley began as he took his seat beside Lola. “Are you all right? You’ve just suffered a loss, and I’m sure finding out about me was a shock.”
“I’m fine,” she said and continued to write.
“Tell her,” Lola whispered to Riley. “Tell her about me.”
Riley cleared his throat, thinking it was the least he could do. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but since you already know about me, I thought perhaps you would like to know about your mother.” Gently he said, “Lola is your real mother.”
Poppi raised her head and squinted as if she were staring into a bright light. “Biologically, I guess, but Mother Gothel was my real mother!”
Lola blurted a sob and made a loud exit from the dining room.
Poppi pointed at the doors with her pen. “What’s with her?”
Riley stared at his daughter, unsure of his next move. “You don’t understand what she’s been through. This has really been hard on her. She loves you very much.”
“I find that doubtful,” the young girl said. “She loves drugs and that’s all.”
“I see. I have no way of knowing what Mother told you about any of this. But Lola has come a really long way over the years. For you.”
“And what about you? You sold me.”
Riley sat back in his chair. Tears of horror gathered in his eyes. “I didn’t sell you. I did what I thought was best. I did what I did because … I love you. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life.”
“Okay, okay,” Poppi said, waving her hands with impatience. “Whatever. I forgive you. Live and let live.”
“Just forget it. I have. Now, we need to go over a few things.”
Riley wondered how he had missed so much. Maybe his mother had treated Poppi differently than she had him. Poppi was not the result of a strict, mind-controlled, cold childhood. She acted … spoiled. He wasn’t sure, yet somewhere in his mind, he was relieved.
“There is the matter of Mother Gothel’s will. I get the house and ninety percent of the money and you get ten. Okay?”
“I’ll have the lawyers send you a check.”
He blinked several times, trying to clear the confusion from his mind. “The lawyers?”
“You can leave,” she said.
“You’re only fourteen.”
“You can’t live here by yourself. There’s the matter of a legal guardian. The courts will never allow it. If you refuse to live with me, they’ll send you somewhere.”
Poppi huffed. “Too young. I’ve never been very patient.”
“You can come home with me, right now.”
Poppi laughed. “Where you can play daddy—No, I don’t think so.”
“What about your … what about Lola?”
“I’d rather hang myself with my beautiful hair,” she said with sweet sarcasm.
“Well.” Riley took a deep breath. He was about to say something that he never imagined he would ever have to say. “I guess I could move in here with you.”
Poppi stood up and adjusted her robe. She seemed to be thinking it all over. Finally, she said, “All right. You can move in, for now. But don’t try and get paternal with me. This is only to keep the hounds away. Understand?”
He nodded, however he didn’t understand. He hadn’t known what to expect when he arrived to tell her he was her father, but this … it was strange and upsetting. He was sure Poppi would be in shock, maybe even a little frightened, because Mother Gothel had died. But his little girl was so cynical.
“You can stay in your old room,” Poppi continued. “It is the same as when you left. Bring only what you’ll need for a week because that should do.”
A few hours later, Riley climbed out of his car, suitcase in hand, and cringed at the ominous familiarity of the water induced toad assembly. He had forgotten about their overwhelmingly loud rain songs. The frogs used to keep him up all night—his head under his covers—just waiting for them to jump through his window. Mindful of each footstep, he made his way to the front door.
Instead of letting himself in, like he had before, he knocked. He didn’t want Poppi getting agitated for any reason before he had a chance to show her that he wasn’t a threat. Finally, someone answered the door, but it wasn’t Poppi.
“May I help you?” a woman in a maid’s uniform asked.
“Riley Gothel. I’m expected.”
The maid led Riley upstairs to his former bedroom. Poppi was right. It looked exactly the way it had when he left years back. He’d tried to get his belongings several times, but his mother told him anything she paid for, stayed with her. He wondered now if that was meant to keep him there; he had split days after his eighteenth birthday.
“Can I see Poppi?” he asked.
“She has retired for the evening. She says she will speak to you at breakfast. 8:00 a.m., sharp.”
Riley sat down on the red quilted bed. He relaxed for a moment, finally acknowledging how harsh the day had been on him. Falling backwards, staring at the familiar ceiling, a shiver ran through him, and he felt like a little boy again. He reached over and snapped off the lamp, immediately wishing he hadn’t. The frogs seemed louder in the dark. But his eyes were heavy and soon he slept.
Riley sat straight up in the darkness. “Who’s there?” Remembering where he was, he reached his hand out to snap on the light but stopped short and inhaled a quick breath. There, beside his bed, stood a silhouette highlighted by the moonlight that seeped in through the tiny holes of the worn drapes.
“The tower,” the female voice said.
Before he had a chance to change his mind, he proceeded with his previous action and turned on the light. No one was there. He looked around the room, noting his door was now open.
As far as he knew, there were only two people in the house with him – his daughter and the maid. He went to the doorway and looked in both directions down the hall. Nothing.
The tower. The east end of the house was a full story taller than the rest, a third floor. The only window pointed toward the forest in the back. From the front of the house, the roof just looked a bit taller.
As a child, he had never been allowed to go near “the tower.” He had been so terrified of his mother, he never did. But his mother was no longer alive.
He kept telling himself he was a man, no longer a child, but it didn’t help much as he walked down the dark corridor. The closer he came to the staircase that led up to the third floor, the more his hands trembled. He shivered and thought about going back to get a jacket, and after thinking he saw someone behind him in the shadows, he considered going back to find a flashlight.
He made it, without incident, to the bottom of the staircase. He gazed up the wooden steps. “Not as monstrous as I remember,” he whispered and proceeded to climb. He arrived at the doorway before he was mentally ready, but he turned the knob anyway. Surprisingly, it was unlocked. The door screeched open. He searched the wall to his right and easily found the light switch.
He really didn’t know what he would see in that room, so there was no real prerequisite for decor or content. But the room was rather odd and out of place. Instead of finding a dusty old attic room with cobwebs and forgotten items, it was sterile and bright. The walls were hospital-white and the floors were clean, smooth concrete. Not a dust bunny in sight.
Noting the kitchen-like atmosphere, he frowned as he walked into the room. There was a stove, a refrigerator, and a large table. Obviously, the table was not for dining. It was neatly cluttered with jars, cylinders, measuring devices, and other strange paraphernalia. He picked up an hourglass shaped tube, its contents blue and thick. And then something caught his eye. He almost dropped the container when he realized Poppi stood by the window watching him.
“Oh, Poppi,” he said, like a nervous child who had been caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar. “I didn’t see you. Did you just come in, or have you been here the whole time?”
She wore a blue dress, and her hair was pulled back, revealing a soft face that so resembled Lola. The Lola he had fallen in love with; the young woman that time and circumstances hadn’t had a chance to harm.
She didn’t answer. She turned and looked out the window.
He thought he heard her whimper and instinctively went to her. “Are you all right?” he asked. He wanted to comfort his daughter but knew better than to touch her. “What is it? What’s the matter? Was that you earlier in my room?”
Poppi pointed out the window.
Riley stepped up beside her. The window was broken, the glass below glinting in the moonlight. “Oh my. This is where she fell out the window,” he said. “Wait, that’s not right. I thought they found her in front.”
“She moved the body,” Poppi whispered.
“Who moved her? Did that woman, the maid, did she have something to do with this?”
Poppi turned to face him; her eyes were round, unblinking, and impassive. “Mother Gothel,” she said.
“I know,” he said tenderly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about everything.” He began to feel rather uncomfortable—off-nerved. “Maybe we should just talk about this in the morning.”
“At first,” she said, “I didn’t know what happened. She drank this stuff, something from over there.” She nodded toward the table. “And then she jumped out the window.”
“Are you saying Mother Gothel killed herself?”
“No,” Poppi whispered. “She killed me.”
“What the hell are you doing in here?”
Riley jerked his head toward the room’s entrance, where the voice had come from.
Poppi stood at the door, her hands on her hips, her hair flowing down the front of her cozy robe.
He looked next to him, where she had stood before. She wasn’t there. “What? You were just here.”
Poppi shouted, “What the hell are you doing in here?”
Riley wasn’t sure where to begin. Perhaps he had dreamed the entire conversation with his daughter, manifesting a child who needed him. That would have been a nice rational explanation; one he could have gone back to sleep with.
But then the second Poppi appeared out of thin air, wearing the blue dress. She stood beside the Poppi in the robe. “It was so strange,” she said, staring at the Poppi at the door. “I was looking out the window at her broken body, and then I felt as if I was being choked.”
Riley’s chin quivered.
“You are not allowed in this room,” the Poppi wearing the robe said.
The first Poppi looked at Riley. “The next thing I knew, I was here, and she in there.”
“You have no business up here. I’ve told you that a thousand times.”
“Don’t you see her?” Riley whispered.
“Who?” she asked, suddenly anxiously peering around the room. “I think this was a bad idea. I’ll take my chance with the state. I think you should leave. Now!”
Riley began to understand. He didn’t want to, it was too chilling, but it was there. “What is all this stuff?” He walked over to the table.
“How should I know? Mother never allowed me in here.”
The day replayed in his mind. Poppi had acted so strange. She had been behaving just like … his mother. “How could you do this?” Riley asked, his nose tingled as his eyes maddened with tears. “She was your granddaughter.”
“You’re insane,” she said. “Get out before I call the police.”
“Oh, I’m insane, Mother. She told me everything. She’s here … my real daughter. You killed her.” Riley put his hand over his mouth, the pure vulgarity of the moment being realized. “How could you do this?” he finally said.
Mother Gothel lips sneered in self-satisfaction. “You gave her to me to do as I wished. This is your fault.”
“She was your granddaughter.”
“That would mean that you are really my son. You’re not. Someone sold you to me, just like you sold Poppi to me. Unfortunately, you left me before my work was complete. So I needed another body.”
“This is not happening. There has to be a way to reverse it.” He began picking up containers from the table, trying to read the labels through his tear-blurred eyes. “I will not sleep until you are stopped.”
Mother Gothel walked over to the other side of the table. “I will be very mournful over my father’s sudden death. He was so grief stricken over Mother Gothel’s death.”
“Father watch out,” Poppi yelled.
But it was too late, Mother Gothel flung liquid into his eyes that instantly blinded him with pain. He covered his face with his hands as he cried out in agony. The fluid ran down his face, and entered his mouth, and he scratched at his tongue and spit, trying to rid himself of the burning, blistering heat. Then he felt himself being pushed and pushed, and then, ultimately, the feeling of flight hit the pit of his stomach as he fell from the tower.
He opened his eyes. Had it all been a dream? He was standing alone in the tower. But then Mother Gothel, the way she had always been, old and hunched back, appeared, and she was screaming and holding her neck. “Nooo! Look what you did! Look what you did! You stole my body!”
“What?” Riley was lightheaded and heavy at the same time. Being pulled down into the floor but his head felt as if it were being stretch toward the sky.
Mother Gothel came at him, and he put his hands up to stop her. He inhaled a “what the hell” as he beheld small delicate fingers, the nails chipped pink.
He pulled his hands back, staring down at them in disbelief. He looked back up to question Mother Gothel, but she had disappeared.
Poppi appeared in front of him. “That was the same potion Mother Gothel drank before. You must have ingested it.
“No!” Mother Gothel voice came from behind Riley.
“Come now Mother Gothel. All has been set right. I can go now. We can go now.”
“All is not set right! That’s my young beautiful body I’ve been working on for fifty years. That’s mine. Mine.” She appeared in front of him again.
Poppi said, “Thank you, father, for helping me.”
“But I didn’t help. This can’t be happening.” But as he said the words, they sounded like sweet and light as air. Poppi’s voice. He covered his mouth with his hand.
“Don’t worry,” the ghost of his daughter said. “Soon your mind and soul will merge with the body and you can have the childhood you always deserved. The life you deserve.”
And with that, Poppi and Mother Gothel vanished, leaving him all alone.
What had Poppi said? His mind would merge with his body? Then he remembered falling from the tower. He ran and looked out and down the tower’s window. His body was all grotesquely contorted on the ground. It was true; he was dead. But he wasn’t. He was here and thinking and breathing.
He ran over to a mirror, a mirror Mother Gothel had probably used for the same reason. He stared at Poppi’s face, now his face, licking his ruby lips and pulling his long beautiful blonde hair and wiping the tears from his pretty blue eyes. “It’s not me … but it is me in my daughter’s body. What am I going to do?”
No one was going to believe him. No one would believe this story! They would lock him up. He could never tell anyone what really happened.
He walked down the tower stairs and to his boyhood room in a daze. He picked up his phone and easily found the number. It rang on the other end and was answered with a groggy, “Hello.”
“Mom, it’s me Poppi,” he said softly. “Dad is dead, and I need you.”
They could now be a strange new family.
Poppi was inspired by Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel from Children’s and Household Tales. Germany: 1812. It is one of the short stories in my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales – And is free with Kindle Unlimited
The Kingdom of Pillars
A fairy tale
by Dorlana Vann
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Do you want father’s wings to be taken off? Is that what you want? You march yourself right back there.”
I stared at my sister, all blue and getting bluer by the minute. If we would’ve had this conversation a couple of months earlier, I might have turned my back to her and aired her out. Instead, I smiled.
“What are you up to, Rose?” she growled.
“I understand everything now. I’m happy and miserable at the same time.” I sighed and sat down on a buttercup. “I even understand love and how it can fill your heart and break it at the same time.”
“You did go to the Kingdom of Pillars, right?” Indigo glared at me.
“I didn’t have a choice. Remember? Guards with sticks and mean words.”
“Are you telling me you fell in love in there? With what? Your reflection?”
“It is a lovely sight, isn’t it? But no, you see, I was once like you, only able to see outer beauty.”
“Is that so?” she mumbled. “Let me get this straight. You think the Kingdom of Pillars is beautiful … or is the King?” I could see her thinking herself into a small gag and look of distaste.
“When I first arrived there, I perceived them the same way everyone in fairyland does. It’s like an invisible line between the lands. On one side, the fairy side, it is bright, green, and lush. But then, suddenly, after one tiny step, the world became scary and dark and murky. And I was scared.”
Indigo looked a wee bit uncomfortable, almost guilty, so I kept going.
“I understand why father picked me to go instead of you. You were already betrothed to Emerald before you were born. He had no choice but to send me. It wasn’t your fault I was born second. Always second. I understand that a princess had to be sent in order to bring peace. Besides, if I hadn’t gone, the curse might not have been broken.”
“Wait a minute.” She smoothed her long, sparkly blue hair behind her ears. “You’re telling me that you broke the five-thousand-year-old curse?”
“It was the most wonderful sight in the whole entire world. First, let me tell you what happened in the beginning, when I arrived in the Kingdom of Pillars.”
Indigo arched her eyebrow as she sat down in the morning dew.
“Okay, I was a bit grossed out when I first met the King. You know how Pillars look, right? Kind of round and prickly. Those black and yellow spots and rings aren’t very flattering either. Oh, dandy me, he crawled so slowly … on the ground. He had tiny little legs and those black little dot eyes. He was nowhere near as hideously handsome as Emerald.”
Indigo had been staring at me with curiosity and a growing grin, but at this, she looked down.
“I suppose I wasn’t the best guest,” I continued, “but I was in shock, you know, out of my element. Could you blame me? I was surrounded by these dirty grubs. Not to mention, I felt like my own family had deserted and sacrificed me.”
She shot me a look. “Now you’re just being dramatic.”
“Really? I married a man with sixteen legs.”
“You just told me you thought he was beautiful,” she said smugly.
“Well, maybe at first, I didn’t. I hated him, the place, … you.”
Indigo crossed her arms.
“The first night I did nothing but sulk and refuse anything offered to me. Really now, how could I eat that foul food? Everything was brown and mushy. It seemed strange to eat and live in such sadness. That was how I felt; alone and sad as I sat there and watched them eat and eat in the madness of the day. King looked at me and ask if I was okay. I’m ashamed to say that I turned my back to him and fluttered my wings.
“He kept asking, again and again, so I let him have it. I told him exactly what I thought about him and his ugly kingdom. I hurt his feelings, and I was glad … until he said, ‘I’m sorry, my Queen. I will not bother you again. Even though your presence makes this gloomy world bright, you are free to leave.”
“So you did?” Indigo jumped up and put her hands on her hips. “You came back home! How could you, Rose?”
“But I didn’t!” I smiled. “At that moment, I felt special. More special than I had ever felt in your shadow. Indigo this, and Indigo that. I was Queen, no longer a little princess.” I wrapped my arms around myself and flew into the air, twirling around as I did.
“Get down here, Rose,” she shouted.
“Come with me,” I said. “You have to see.”
She sluggishly stood, but a second later she was beside me, and we flew through our forest.
“Oh, how he lavished me,” I gushed. “He was kind and made me feel like I was the most important creature in the world. He brought me flowers and dewdrops and honey. The food didn’t taste as dull as it looked, it was fine.”
“If it is such a paradise, why are you here?”
“One day he told me not to worry, that he would be sleeping for a couple of days. He said the kingdom did this every couple of months. Still, when it happened, I grew scared and cried and cried over him.”
“You cried because he went to sleep?”
“No, not just asleep; it was bizarre. They were all wrapped in these web-like cases.” I tried to explain it with my hands. “I didn’t think he could breathe in there. It had been days and he hadn’t made a peep or moved an inch. Something was wrong. I thought he was dying, so I sprinkled my life-dust on him.”
Indigo’s mouth grew into a giant circle and she stopped mid-air. “You used your personal dust on him? Rose, you know you can’t use it on yourself any longer! If something happens to you—”
I held up my hand. I understood the consequences. “It doesn’t matter. The most amazing thing happened. His prison started coming apart, and the most beautiful, amazing winged creature emerged. It was my King! He had huge double-like wings, oh so much bigger than any fairies. So many colors! Not just one, like ours. He was bright yellow and white and orange.” I put my hands to my face. “And then, and then … they all emerged. The entire kingdom, all so colorful and beautiful, floated into the air. They reminded me of buttercups, daisies, and roses, being blown by the wind. Even the dark, gloomy clouds drifted away, and the sun began to shine.”
Indigo’s face froze with an expression of bewilderment. Then she said, “I didn’t think it was true. I had heard that they used to be beautiful creatures before one of us cast a spell.”
I closed my eyes as my thoughts turned bittersweet. “We played and flew and chased for days on end. Even when the sun set, the splendor of the colors was almost more than one could bear. But then …” I grabbed her hand and flew faster to my destination.
“What?” She asked, letting me drag her through the air. “What happened? Why do you look so sad?”
I choked back a sob with a smile as I looked at my sister who seemed genuinely concerned. “Like snowflakes they all slowly began to return to the earth. I went to the king, who balanced on a leaf barely able to move. I asked what was happening.” I held my hands to my heart as I remembered his words. “He told me not to worry, that I had broken the curse. That he and his kingdom owed everything to me and my sacrifice. My little fairy dust did all of that. They had been trapped and unable to evolve for thousands of years He said he had finally been able to live out his cycle and now it was time for them to move on—to die.”
Indigo gently pulled free to wipe her eyes. “That is so sad,” she said.
“The fluttering of their wings quietly died away. The last words my king said to me were, ‘Long live Queen Rose.’” I pointed down to the valley below. “Look! Can you see them?”
Indigo sucked in a quick breath. “I thought you said they all died.”
“They,” I said looking at my adopted children, “are the next generation. A generation that will live, fly, and die like they are supposed to. This is why I came back to see you one last time; I needed to tell you, to tell father, that the feud between the two lands is truly over. And from now on, my home is no longer to be called the Kingdom of Pillars, but the protected Land of the Butterflies.”
The Kingdom of Pillars was inspired by Beauty and the Beast (French: La Belle et la Bete) by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. France: 1756.” It is one of the short stories in my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales.
For #fairytaleTuesday I’m posting my Hansel and Gretel inspired sestina I wrote when I was experimenting with combining poems and fairy tales. A sestina has six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet. Each stanzas has the same six words at the end of each line that follow a fixed pattern. My words are: life, covered, candy, unpleasantness, bitter, and tasted. This was one of my favorite types of poems to write because it is such a creative challenge. It’s been awhile so I don’t remember how disciplined I was with all the rules, but it’s all in fun. 🙂
I’ve tasted the bitter unpleasantness of this candy-covered life.
At the break of dawn, we were taken when the grass was covered
with the dew from the morning and the smell of candy.
We thought we were leaving everything that we knew as unpleasantness.
Sometimes the reality of what is out there is the more bitter
but how would we know the flavor unless we tasted.
We would have never dropped breadcrumbs if we had tasted
anything that would have been meat or potato or even life.
All we knew was of mother and father, and that was bitter.
We probably would have eaten anything that was covered.
We were expected to give ourselves because their lives were full of unpleasantness.
So anything that was put before us would have seemed like candy.
We couldn’t believe when we saw the cottage made of candy.
If we had not been so hungry, we probably wouldn’t have tasted.
But how were we to know that who lived there was unpleasantness.
And that she took joy from draining girls and boys of life.
Our situation was bad no matter how you would have covered
it in sugary lies and twisted tales of parents who are so bitter.
When she came out of her house, the little old bitter
offered us the world with a side of candy.
We didn’t know that her words were severely covered
with poison and toxins but nothing we would have tasted.
We would have given gladly to her what she wanted, even our life
just to rid us of the feelings of sorrow and unpleasantness.
What we discovered was far worse than unpleasantness.
The hag was insane with detestation, ugliness, and chilling words of bitter
resentment against all creatures on this earth that were full of life.
No longer did she offer us lovable things like cake, honey, and candy.
Instead, she took pleasure in cages, terror, and effects that tasted
of hate. Nothing to protect us, and we so wished to be covered.
Test the fire, I was ordered to keep that covered.
But it wasn’t to see if it was prepared, but for much more unpleasantness.
She really wanted to cook me and see how I tasted.
But instead I did trick her but didn’t eat her in fear she’d be bitter.
I grabbed my brother and everything else I could, except for the candy.
For nothing tasted better or sweeter than life.
Instead of being covered in all that is bitter
I’ve learned the unpleasantness can soon change sweet as candy.
I know to take my time for I have tasted and love being every part of life.
Love, Laughter, and Fairy Tales,
by Dorlana Vann
Since Jackson couldn’t channel his frustration onto the blank page, he used his fist to pound it into the desk. “Ahhh,” he cried, swooshing his fountain pen and several loose pieces of writing-paper to the floor.
His caged birds squawked with excitement from the sudden movement.
Jackson stood up, his breaths labored and lonely. “I’m sorry ladies. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He draped a stack of dark sheets over his arm. “Are you ready for your beauty sleep, my Echo?” He covered her and moved on to Valley, giving her several sweet kisses. Continuing his ritual, he covered all twenty birds, leaving Isis as his last goodnight. The two-foot Scarlet Macaw blinked her yellow eyes at him.
“Sleep well, Love.”
He ran his fingers through his slick hair, noticing how dark and stale the room had become. He opened the window, lit a lantern, and picked up the paper and his pen. He thought about writing another letter but knew they were only stall tactics. “I’m a novel writer,” he tried to reassure himself. “Now write something novel!”
But he didn’t know what else to do. He had moved to one of the most crime-ridden areas of London to conduct his research. When observations had stopped inspiring his writing, he had taken his study to the next level. The firsthand accounts had given him dozens of pages: a feel for the weapon in his hands; the reaction on the faces of the women when they knew they were going to die; and the color and temperature of the blood. After each attack, he had sped home and written feverishly. But soon the words stopped, died on the page.
“Why am I still blank?” he said in a sob. “Why?”
Isis began to squawk.
“Shush,” he said off-handedly. “I’m having a difficult enough time as it is.”
“Let me out.”
Jackson turned his head slowly toward the covered cage. He listened. Sure, Isis could talk: “Pretty lady.” “I love you.” But never “Let me out.”
She said it again.
Jackson scooted his chair back and stood abruptly. “Was that you, Isis? Did you learn something new?”
“Open the cage, Jackson. Let me out.”
Jackson shook his head. Obviously, because he was exhausted and tense, he was hearing things. That was all it was. Still, he walked to the cage.
Swiftly, he uncovered Isis.
She sat on her perch, head down, asleep.
“Isis?” he whispered. “Was that you?”
Jackson’s heart thumped when he heard rustling coming from the other cages; the sheet coverings were moving.
Remembering that he had just opened the window, he laughed nervously and walked back over to it. He stared out into the still evening, deciding to take a stroll to clear his head.
When he turned around, all the cages were uncovered, and the doors were open.
Jackson gasped and backed up against the window—arms stretched out and palms wide—trying to keep the walls from closing in on him.
It was like morning: birds were inside and outside their cages bouncing, stretching out their wings, walking, and singing. Isis’ eyes were open now, but she still sat on her perch.
Jackson peeled himself away from the window and cautiously moved toward her.
“Come closer, Jackson.”
He felt terrifyingly wonderful. Sweat gathered on his brow and above his lips. “Isis? Do you understand me?”
He tried to steady his sudden continuous blinking; he shut his eyes hard and then reopened them. “Why now? Why not before? I have told you my most intimate secrets and feelings and you never spoke an intelligent word.”
“The time was not right. I am here when you need me most. Let me be your inspiration.”
“Oh, Isis! How I do so need someone to talk to. I have many troubles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me now.” He put his arm in her cage, enduring the sharp claws he usually protectively wrapped his arm against. He stroked her red feathers. “My beautiful, Isis, what words do you have for me? Do you know what I must do to finish my story?”
“You have watched, but you have never felt. In order to achieve realism and depth, you will need to experience the pain for yourself.”
“Yes, yes! I see. I see what you mean. But how? How can I achieve this insight?”
“I will be near whilst you sink the edge of your knife into your skin. Not too deep my dear, just enough to feel a twinge.”
“Marvel upon marvel, you are my muse!” He set Isis on the back of his chair and ran to his bedside table and pulled out his knife. Its long thick blade was still stained from his latest research project. “Where? Where shall I feel it?” He sat on the edge of the bed.
Isis moved her head to and fro with tiny jerks. “The same as you wrote. The same as you gave.”
The coldness of the blade against his neck caused his heart to quicken with excitement. “Just this fills my head with ideas, with words.” He sucked in his breath and pressed a little harder, the sting bringing quiet tears to his eyes. “How absolutely stimulating.”
He heard them before he saw them, but only by a second. All his beauties came at him, Isis in the mix, their feathers, and beaks, and claws causing his hand to yank deeply inward and then slide to the side. Falling backward, Jackson still imagined how his ghastly and perfect pain would translate onto paper.
As the feathers settled and the squawks calmed to a low murmur, Jackson’s last breath was accompanied by his last vision: five female ghostly figures swayed above him. And then he heard the words, “Jack the Ripper, our story ends in revenge,” as his eyes closed.
Muse is one the short stories from my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales. It was inspired by Prince Ariel from, “The Fairy Tales of Madame D’Aulnoy” France: 1697
I have observed some really upset writers after they’ve received written or verbal suggestions about their stories. And I think most writers at least wince (I know I do) when they receive tons of edits on one copy. But you can actually learn to see these as gifts, huge favors, and even unexpected muses instead of personal attacks on you and/or your writing. I’ve used a few famous quotes to help demonstrate my views on how to develop a thicker skin by looking at every critique in a positive way.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway
I would like to add to this – The second draft is readable. The third draft is better but not perfect. So negative feedback is positive. You want your novel/chapter to come back from your critique partner completely marked up. However, the first reaction to getting your pages back that look like someone rewrote your story will probably be one of these:
“I should have caught this.”
“I’m a horrible writer.”
“This is bull.”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
These responses are normal, and you’ll probably never be able to completely shut them off. Give yourself that second to pout, but then you have to get over it – you’ve been given a gift that you could never give yourself – another person’s perspective.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ― Neil Gaiman
After you’ve read over the critique and are finished cussing, think about any notes as a whole. Mull them over. Do you agree with them?
Yes – Awesome. Do the necessary tweaks.
No – Whatever you do, never completely dismiss a suggestion. If something takes the reader out of the story – makes them stop reading to write a note – then something is wrong.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ― William Faulkner
You still don’t agree? You might be too close to your story (your baby) to be objective. Ask someone else. If they agree with the critiquer, you really have to consider deleting/changing it. This might take some time. But just keep an open mind, think about it, talk it out, and struggle with it a little bit. You might be surprised with the outcome.
If others agree with you, the critique could still be useful. Turn it into your muse, an idea for a new direction, or fill in a gap somewhere else. On one occasion, I didn’t agree with what a writer friend said about my character’s career choice. I asked several other people, and they agreed with me. But then after weeks of trying to figure out why she thought this way, I decided that my friend’s opinion would work great as the character’s father’s opinion on the same subject. This set a lot of other changes in motion too, which gave my story more depth.
Learn from Your Mistakes: If you don’t know why a critiquer/editor changed something, even something as small as a comma, ask them why they changed it, or, better yet, look it up. And guess what? Sometimes even the grammar pros make mistakes. It is really important that you take control of your story by getting involved in every aspect of your craft. Every correction is a chance to learn. And things are constantly changing, so you might have missed something.
Always Say Thank You: Thank your critiquer as soon as you receive your critique – no matter how crazy you think they are. You asked for the critique, and they used their time (The more marked up the copy the more time they took.) to do you a favor. And if they are a writer, you can always get them back when it’s your turn to critique. Mwah ha ha!
Love, Laughter, and fairy tales,
The Trouble with Snowmen
By Dorlana Vann
“I had him pegged as a snowman the moment I met him,” Regina said. “It was only a matter of time before he melted.”
“What are you talking about?” Haley Monroe appreciated Regina, the owner of the four-apartment multiplex they lived in, for jumping out of bed at 5 a.m., but now she wondered if she should’ve called Maximilian instead. “You’re not making any sense whatsoever. I’m talking about Travis. You know, my boyfriend.” Her throat threatened to close up as she forced out a high-pitched, “I mean, my ex-boyfriend. Here, look.” Haley gave Regina her phone with the text from Travis that said ‘I want to break up.’
“I know who you’re talking about.” Regina glanced at the phone before she sat down on the loveseat next to Haley. “I’m sorry, but Travis is a snowman, and snowmen never, ever last forever.”
Haley’s eyes burned as she wiped her tears on the shirt she had clutched against her chest. “Really, a snowman? A man made out of snow? I’ve never even seen a real snowman.”
Regina nodded and gave Haley a sad smile. “You have now. You see, snowmen drift into your life like they were sent from above, and you can’t believe that y’all have so much in common. The relationship is great, rolls right along and builds. Everything seems perfect . . . until a little heat is introduced, and then they melt. They melt, disappear, leaving only their hat, their scarf, or in this case, their shirt. That is Travis’s shirt you’re sobbing into, right?”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean anything. He’s forgetful, like me. That’s why we’re so perfect together.” Haley felt the heaviness in her chest as she forced out her reasoning, “We both love the same type of foods, love to do the same things . . . What?”
Regina shook her head and tsked a couple more times before saying, “The snowman’s snow job. They’ll tell you anything to keep you hopping into their beds. Travis most likely pretended to like everything you like in order to please you.”
“How is that a bad thing? I think it’s kind of sweet that he does things that I like just to make me happy.”
“Okay, fine. What about talk of commitment? Did you want to take the relationship to the next level? That would be the heat, because if he’s a snowman, there would’ve been something that caused him to melt.”
Haley thought of herself as a mature, independent, and smart twenty-five-year-old. True, she hadn’t really lived on her own for very long. After college, she had to move back home with her parents for a while. But now she lived in downtown Houston and worked two jobs. She was a legal assistant at the law offices of Skinner and Skinner during the day and a bartender at night. And she thought she’d had a sufficient amount of relationships to know when a man only wanted to play.
But crap! A moment of clarity banged around in her weary head as she thought about the night before. She’d told Travis she loved him. She could have sworn he looked straight at her, but then he started snoring. And who could blame him after their passionate night together? Well, that’s what she’d thought up until a second ago. Had that really set him off? Had that been stupid of her to say? “Nope.” Haley sat up straight, determined to be strong, even though her squeaky voice gave her away. “Can’t think of anything.”
“Right.” Regina sighed in defeat. “Well, I’m sure it’ll come to you.” She patted Haley’s knee. “Next time you hook up with a guy, maybe you should try to stay away from his type.”
The door swung open, and Maximilian walked in. He was fully dressed, eye-lined, and hair-sprayed. He lived down the hall from Haley in Apartment Three and, since living there, he had become one of Haley’s closest friends.
Maximilian took one look at the situation and said, “Aww, your snowman melted.”
Regina stood up. “He texted her. The bastard.” She handed the phone to Maximilian.
“You too?” Haley whined and wanted to curl up in a ball, her pretend strength not even fooling her anymore. “Why didn’t y’all at least warn me if this is what y’all thought?” A little sob and string of snot escaped. She considered wiping her nose on Travis’s shirt but just couldn’t do it, so she used the back of her hand instead.
“Would you’ve listened to us?” Regina said as she headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Maximilian said, “I wouldn’t have listened to us either if I had that tall, blond, muscled cowboy.”
Regina came back with a paper towel and handed it to Haley.
As Haley cleaned up, she thought about the question. Besides being gorgeous, Travis was easy-going and they never fought about anything big. So none of this made sense. She didn’t know if she bought their snowman theory. “Maybe I misunderstood the text. I should call him, and—”
“No!” Regina and Maximilian shouted in unison.
“Let him seep into the ground where he belongs,” Maximilian said.
Regina said, “Since reinforcements are here, I guess I’m going to go pee, brush my teeth, and get my coffee.”
“Wait, Regina,” Maximilian said. “I was actually looking for you. Can I have a séance in Apartment Four tonight?”
Regina crossed her arms. “There are no such things as ghosts, Maximilian.”
Mr. Chase had died before Haley had moved in. She’d heard the story, though, of how they’d found the eccentric old man’s body amongst his hordes of canned goods that he’d stored for the end of the world. Maximilian speculated that his food had fought for freedom and buried him alive. All Haley knew for sure was that Regina couldn’t keep the apartment rented.
Maximilian put his hand on his hip. “Peter Jackson ran out screaming.”
“So did that biker dude,” Haley added and then blew her nose, grateful that the subject had changed.
Regina looked from Haley to Maximilian before saying, “Fine, it’s all yours.”
“Will you be there?”
“That old fart still owes me two month’s rent. You bet I’ll be there.”
After Regina left, Maximilian sat in the seat next to Haley. He handed her the phone back. “Tell Uncle Maximilian all about it.”
“Not much to tell. Seems like you and Regina knew Travis better than I did.”
“We just have more experience in reading people and not letting them manipulate us. The sad truth is, snowmen don’t fall from the sky preassembled. You had to help build him.”
“What? Me? What did I do?”
“You probably let him get by with little things because you didn’t want to lose him. Each time he got by with not calling when he said he would or blowing you off to go hang with his buddies, he grew. But honey, I’m not saying it’s all your fault. He took advantage of you because, let’s face it, you’re still a little green.”
Now that Haley thought about it, the reason they never fought was because he’d look at her with his baby blues, smile, and then take off his shirt and say, “I’m sorry, babe, let me make it up to you.” And she thought about what pretty babies they would have. Had he never planned on having a future with her? Haley looked down in disgust at Travis’s shirt. “Maybe y’all are right.” She went to throw the crumbled-up shirt to the floor when Maximilian grabbed it.
“Of course we’re right!” He stood up holding the maroon shirt with white shoulder yokes against his chest. “I could make cowboy clothes.” Maximilian slipped the shirt on over his white V-neck T. “What do you think? Is it me? ”
All it did was make Haley think about her and Travis’s night together and how sexy he had looked in that shirt. “What am I supposed to do? Regina told me not to date his type. Am I not supposed to go for guys I’m attracted to? Am I supposed to stay away from hot guys?”
“Of course not. You have to teach yourself to know the difference between a real man and one made of white fluff.” Maximilian arched a thin eyebrow. “You know, there may be a way to speed up the process of IDing the snowmen, but it might seem a bit extreme.”
“Okay,” she mumbled. “I’m curious. What is it?”
“Simple. It’s like the old saying goes, It takes one to know one. You have to become the snowman.”
“Simple? I’m still not positive what a snowman even is.”
Maximilian plopped back down on the couch.
Haley got a strong whiff of Travis’ musky, citrusy scent. She fought back the tears by squinching up her face and holding her breath.
“Oh, peaches, it’ll get better. Looking at you, I think this is a good idea. You just have to make sure you protect yourself by finding someone you’re not attracted to. Cozy up to someone who is totally not your type. Don’t even spit at anyone who you think is hot. Got it?”
She shrugged and puttered out her breath.
“As soon as they indicate that they’re in love, or almost in love, or at least in lust with you, you dump them. Don’t forget to leave something behind. It’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on the ice cream sundae, the cigarette after sex. It’s an ego trip. See, snowmen hope their victims do what you did with this garment.” He sniffed at the shoulder of his new shirt. “You know, I bet he dabbed extra deodorant or cologne on this before he left. I must say, he’s one of the best snowmen I’ve ever met. I’m a little in awe.”
Haley put her hands over her face and let out a muffled, “I don’t think I can do that. It seems really mean. It feels really mean.”
“Sacrifices must be made in order for you to get your education. You have to experience it from the other side. You’ll get over Travis, and whoever you snowman will get over you. And everyone will be the better for it.”
“I don’t know.” Haley dropped her hands to her lap and shook her head.
“Why don’t you come tonight? To the séance. I promise there will be a couple of single, straight men.”
“No offense, Maximilian, but I don’t think anyone going to your séance will be anyone I’m interested in.”
Maximilian sighed with vigor. “You are a slow pupil, aren’t you? That’s who you need, sunshine! Someone you will never ever fall in love with. If you don’t do this now while you hate men, you probably never will. Use your anger and pain. Grrr. Put your cowgirl boots on and do some ass kicking.”
“I’ll have to think about it. Right now, all I feel like doing is nothing. Maybe I’ll go back to bed. Wait, do you have any of that double chocolate espresso ice cream left? Better yet, tequila. Yes, tequila. Oh wait, it’s breakfast time. What was I thinking? I mean a tequila sunrise.”
“Don’t you have to go to work?”
“The last thing I want to do is face Brenda Fishlips this morning.”
“Come on. Get up and get dressed. Moping around won’t do you any good.”
“Fine. I’ll go to work, but I’ll have to let you know about the séance later.”
“Well, you know I’m not one to pressure, but this time I must insist. It’s for your own good.” He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and then stood up. “Midnight, of course. Be there or be snowman bait forever.” And he was out the door.
Haley thought back to the night she’d met Travis. Did he do as Regina had said he’d done? Had he drifted into her life? What did that even mean? True, she hadn’t known him before.
He had caught her attention that first week she’d tended bar at Kicker’s nightclub. He was built and bulged but moved gracefully with this girl and the next on the dance floor.
When he made it up to the bar to buy a round for his group, they locked eyes. He smiled and slowly tipped his cowboy hat. Haley tried not to look at him while she helped other customers, but every time she sneaked a glance, she caught his stare. When she got to him, her heart pounded, and she couldn’t keep the smile from giving her excitement away.
The first words out of his mouth had been “What time do you get off work?”
She expected to get hit on by customers, kind of part of the job, and she usually brushed them off, but this guy actually made her cheeks heat up. She told him the truth. She had to close and then get up early to go to work the next day.
He leaned on the counter and said, “That’s okay, babe, I can wait all night for you. In the morning, I’ll make you a hot breakfast in bed before you head out to work.”
She remembered the thoughts she had at that moment. What a shame. The hottest cowboy I’ve ever met is a walking cliché of a playboy.
But then he said, “I’m sorry.” He removed his hat, his blond hair bringing out the sparkle in his blue eyes. “I didn’t mean to come on so strong. I panicked. I usually don’t get so nervous, but I’ve never met anyone like you before . . . you’re breathtaking.”
She’d given him her number, and they went out a couple of nights later. On the third date, they slept together, which she thought had shown tremendous restraint.
As she thought this all through, she guessed she had had some type of gut feeling about him being what Regina and Maximilian called a snowman. She totally ignored it because she had been blinded by his dynamic looks and charm combo.
Haley closed her eyes and moaned. If she were to be honest with herself right now, Travis wasn’t the first snowman she’d ever dated. How many times had she felt this sickening feeling that she would miss them to death, but they wouldn’t even glance back? She didn’t like it one bit. Maybe it would be possible to learn how to trust and pay attention to her instincts more. Maybe Maximilian was right. Perhaps it would “Take one to know one.”
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Jaclyn’s Ghost by Dorlana Vann
Ghosts, Mystery, & Fashion
Can this diva solve her own murder, or will she be stuck in limbo forever?
Another One Bites the Dust
Jaclyn Jade felt a prickling sensation as if a trillion tiny needles penetrated her entire body just beneath the surface of her skin. Gradually, the tingling faded, but the overwhelming contentment made it difficult for her to shake the suspicion that something was terribly different. As her eyes began to focus in the dark room, she searched her surroundings for answers. Okay, so she was in her bedroom, and since even the earliest part of the morning brought an orange glow through her sheer curtains, obviously, she’d woken up in the middle of night. Besides the eerie serenity, the other oddity was that she stood in the middle of her bed.
Her scan stopped abruptly when she spotted an unfamiliar six-foot silhouette in the shape of a man. It moved, causing an involuntary shriek to burst out of her mouth. As she attempted to run, she stumbled over a huge lump in her bed and fell, face first, onto the floor. She regained her footing in a flash and then dashed out the door.
She stopped in the hallway, right outside the bedroom door, placing her hand on her chest and tried to regain her composure. Feeling the fabric of her clothes, she looked down. Crap, she’d slept in her Keten Maye original cream-colored gown. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered.
She listened now, doubting what she had seen because no one had followed her out. She reached inside her room until she found the switch and turned on the light.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” a man said who suddenly stood right across from her.
She sucked in a deep breath and responded appropriately with another piercing scream and ran back into her room.
“I know you’re confused,” he said from behind her. “If you will give me a moment, I can explain everything.”
“If you don’t get the hell out of my house this instant,” she cried and turned around, “you’ll be explaining everything to the police.”
The intruder stood in the doorway, his face covered by the shadow of his hat.
She needed her phone, but it was on the table by the bed. As soon as her focus drifted toward the bed, the heap that had caused her to trip earlier grabbed her attention. Was someone under there?
“What’s the last thing you remember? Give yourself a moment. It’ll come back to you.”
She smoothed her dress. “The party,” she blurted. “That’s it; all that champagne.” She nodded her head in satisfied realization. “I just partied a little more than I should have. Keten must have brought me home and stayed over. He does that all the time. I must have been sleepwalking and caught you in the middle of, who knows what. “Keten! Wake up! Keten.”
“Pretty shoes.” The man nodded toward the bed.
“I say, your boyfriend sure has pretty shoes.”
Jaclyn located a foot, wearing a pink, pointy-toed sling-back, which stuck out from under the blankets. Not Keten. When she recognized the shoe, she pulled her dress up a little bit to see her feet. She wore the same pair. Did a friend, who had the same exact shoes, spend the night? She would have noticed that before. She would have remembered shoe duplicity.
Jaclyn put her attention back on the stranger. He wore a black jacket over a double-breasted vest and dress pants. Clearly, the suit had been bought off the rack, but still, it was a bit much for a burglar. Nothing made sense. She wondered why he hadn’t left when he had the chance. If he wanted to hurt her, why hadn’t he even tried? The way he leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed, made it seemed as if he was amused by her chaos.
“Did someone hire you to pull a prank on me? Is that it? Are you an actor? Just tell me what’s going on, who you are, and who’s in that bed, and maybe I’ll tell the cops to go easy on you.”
“If that’s truly what you want.” He held up his hands and took a couple of steps inside the room.
“Now you’re starting to piss me off. Just tell me what’s going on!”
He sighed. “Poor bunny, that’s you in the bed. Well, the former you. You see, now you’re you, and that’s just a body.” The man walked until he stood a handshake away.
Jaclyn tried to ignore the hazy luster around him—too much to think about at that moment—but she couldn’t disregard his attractive face, his square jaw, and his deep black eyes, which at that moment seemed insanely sincere.
“Oh… my… goodness.”
“I know. It’s really crazy.”
“No. You’re psychotic.” Without giving herself another chance to chicken out, Jaclyn marched over to her bed and tossed back the bedspread.
Her mouth fell open as she took a step back. It had to be a trick. It was just someone who resembled her and had gone to lot of trouble to play a joke. The girl had the same long dark hair, the same skin tone, the same nose, the same one-of-a-kind party dress …
Jaclyn decided to wake the imposter and tell her to take her boyfriend and get the hell out of her apartment. But when she reached down to shake the woman, her hand went smooth through the shoulder like it was made of smoke. Jaclyn jerked her hand back and took an apprehensive breath. Was this really happening?
“It’s screwy seeing yourself like that,” the man said.
She stood there, examining her body in the bed as the same peace she’d felt earlier embraced her. “Why am I not freaking out? Shouldn’t I be upset, screaming, and freaking out?”
“When you die, the psychological need for your physical body ends. You instinctively know that you don’t need that body anymore.”
“I look really pitiful,” she said. “What happened? I’m not sick or anything.”
She eyed her phone, close enough now that she could grab it and call someone if she wanted, and laughed to herself. Who? What could she say? She noticed a container of pills and a bottle of champagne beside the phone on the nightstand. She tried to pick up the pills. Yet again, her hand had no substance and went through the bottle. “Ahh, this is driving me crazy. Can you pick those up?”
The man stared at her blankly, and then a small, concerned expression seemed to grow across his face. “What?”
“Something’s wrong with me. Would you mind?” She moved out of the man’s way so he could get to the table. He inched his hand really close to the bottle and then snatched it back again.
“Oh, just forget it,” she said.
“No, it’s no problem. I want to help.” He picked up the bottle and studied it, turning it one way and then the other.
“Well? Does it say what they are?”
“There’s no marking of any kind. The torpedo must have left them. I would have tried to stop him, but by the time I arrived—”
“Hit man, assassin, hired gun, torpedo.”
“Hit man? That’s ridiculous. I’ve accepted every ludicrous thing you’ve said so far, but now you’re actually trying to tell me, what? That I was murdered?”
“You must have your share of enemies.” The man nodded as he stared down at the body in the bed.
Jaclyn couldn’t believe his gall. “Wait, who are you, and why are you in my house?”
“The name is Logan Smith.”
“And why are you here?”
“I live here.” Logan crossed his arms as he leaned back against the wall. An arrogant smile appeared on his lips as well as in his eyes. “Just your friendly resident ghost.”
“As in boo?”
She ran her hands through her hair and exhaled in defeat. “Well, that would explain your glow.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Does that mean I’m a ghost, too?” Jaclyn stared at her hands. “I look the same.”
“But you’re not.”
She thought about it for a second. “Okay fine, I’m a ghost.” This warranted sitting down, but when she went to sit on the edge of the bed, she fell through to the floor. She stayed there with her head poking up through the mattress. She crossed her legs under the poof of her dress and sighed as she considered her demise. “You’re wrong,” she finally said. “I don’t have any enemies. At least not ones who would want to kill me.”
Logan sat on the bed. “Then, it’s a mystery.”
Jaclyn glared at him. “How did you do that? How is it that you can sit on the bed?”
“There are things you’ll have to—”
“And where the hell is my light and tunnel and stairway to Heaven?”
“It’s complicated,” Logan said. “Well, not really. Some people go straight to Heaven and others, for some reason or another, are rejected.”
She stood up and faced him. “Rejected? You’re telling me I didn’t make it into Heaven. What then? You can’t seriously be saying I’m going to—”
“Hello,” a man’s voice spoke from behind her.
Jaclyn shook her head and turned around. What now? She had her hands on her hips, ready for combat, but was ambushed by the new man’s appearance. His beauty rivaled Logan’s masculinity. What was this? An audition for a Calvin Klein ad? She opened her mouth to protest his intrusion, but her voice turned out to be just as flabbergasted as she was.
“Give her a break,” Logan said. “She just bit the dust.” He stepped beside Jaclyn and then gestured to the new arrival. “May I introduce Charles Charles.”
“Charles Charles?” Jaclyn said, coming out of her trance.
“I’m taking her now,” the man said.
“Taking me? Taking me where?” Panic caught in her throat. She had just found out about this rejection thing and needed more time to process what had happened.
“Exactly where you should be, Butterfly … Hell.”