Category Archives: writer inspiration

Coming Up For Air

What a whirlwind six months it’s been! I assure you my MIA status was not because of slacking. Ok, maybe a little. 🙂

Our travels took us to Albuquerque where the hubmeister and our rig were pummeled by high winds. Both lost the battle. A 70 mph gust hit our fifth wheel head on, lifted it up by the extended slides and set it back down. Even though it was only a few inches, it was jolted enough to delaminate the exterior shell from the frame. Our insurance company (USAA) was awesome and agreed to honor our claim. Even though the final amount wasn’t enough to pay for a complete new panel, we finally found someone who agreed to repair the damage and stay in our financial budget. RV body repairs are not cheap! In the meantime, those pesky winds followed us all over northern New Mexico. Terry is a Vietnam Vet so his lungs are not the best. The blowing dust took its toll and he ended up in the hospital. He’s fine now but still requires oxygen from time to time. If you think living in an RV is tight quarters, try adding oxygen tanks and breathing machines to the mix. Sheesh!

We ended up spending the summer south of Tucson in a little hamlet called Amado. The area is rimmed by mountains and so pretty. And so hot! We traded a little workamping for our RV spot and hookups which allowed hubs to finish his follow-up care at the VA Center in Tucson. Since we were stuck in Amado for the summer, I also scheduled long overdue cataract surgery. I’m stunned by how much better I can see! And absolutely no pain. Between doctor visits, we dropped a thousand dollars at a couple of veterinarians until we found a good one. Our cat is diabetic and now receives insulin shots twice daily. Um, that was a bit of a learning curve on technique but we mastered it. Our dog has low thyroid and takes the same meds as me. Ha! We also renovated the interior of the rig by removing those dated valances and ugly furniture. It was replaced with wide slat faux wood blinds and Ikea Pong chairs. We removed the dining table and chairs and replaced them with a real desk! Squee!!!

I was deployed to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence and returned feeling drained and depressed. It was a tough one with some brutal sights burned into my thoughts and heart. Of course, as any good writer knows, those experiences will find their way into a future book. Actually, I’m working on it now . . . a gritty thriller set in the aftermath of a hurricane. While the story is fictional, the disaster scenes are pretty realistic.

Upon my return, we ventured up to Cottonwood, Arizona for a month or so. I hiked a lot, mostly in Sedona where the good vibes helped heal my soul. We explored the area, met good friends in Prescott, enjoyed the warm weather and drank a little wine. In November, we returned to one of our favorite areas, a small RV park on the T’Ohono Oodham reservation near Ajo and north of Organ Pipe National Monument. Love the miles and miles of remote desert and mountains for hiking. There are seriously dark skies here that rival the beautiful evening panoramas at Bryce Canyon. The first three nights we were treated to a display of meteors and impressive stargazing. Thanksgiving was spent at a VRBO house with family and extended family in Phoenix. It was the best holiday I’ve had in years!

And now we’re back on the rez surrounded by wonderful friends, some old, some new. A perfect way to end 2018 and herald in 2019.

I have a lot of exciting things planned for next year. Unfortunately I can’t share them just yet so let me say this . . . put on your reading glasses and prepare to join me at some wonderful events!

Happy New Year! Wishing you the most marvelous, exciting, crazy wonder-filled year you’ve ever had. Thanks for the company in 2018.

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EGO – Everyone’s Got One

I’ve often wondered at what point A-list celebrities become jaded to their success. Recognizable folks from any walk of life are at risk but since the world (especially Americans and Brits) obsess over the antics of the rich and famous, it must happen more quickly with those prominent, newsworthy folks. However,  even photogenic “beautiful” people have flaws.

Authors are a different lot for the most part, perhaps because we hide behind our characters. I seldom see that nose-in-the-air snootiness with a well-known author. Oh, there’s a few, don’t get me wrong. I won’t name names but every aspiring or mid-list writer knows who they are. Unapproachable. Kiss-my-ring, peon attitude. “I’d be happy to speak at your event but I must have Evian water and no red M&M’s at my table” type requests. “Certainly I will be a keynote speaker but keep those autograph hounds away from me.” Sadly, I’ve even met some of those ego driven folks at chapter meetings for various author organizations.

Sad, isn’t it? My parents stressed that I should never forget my roots – which came from an archaic middle class, hard working, respect your elders, have pride in your work, look at those less fortunate and say “for the grace of God, there goes I” type upbringing. That being said, today’s world requires caution when dealing with the public because the values I was raised with got thrown out with the bathwater.

Old habits die hard. I’m a writer. A good writer but not the best or most recognized writer. I’m not sure I would even classify myself as mid-list. I love spinning a good yarn and am flabbergasted when others seem to like it, too.

Today I received a 5 star review for one of my older books. A book I considered irrelevant to today’s market. It’s not graphically sexy. My characters are not as contemporary as those written by my peers. It’s kinda hokey, I guess, but back when romantic suspense was popular, it did okay. I like it. In fact, it’s one of my favorites. A nice blend of things I love like strong men, sassy women, Native American culture, and a bad ass (IMHO) villain. I actually thought about taking this book off my availability list. But now, because of one kind and expressive person who cared enough to leave a short review saying they liked it, I will keep Red Hot and Dangerous active in hopes someone else might find respite form the craziness between its pages.

Thank you to all my reviewers. Remember, most authors are an insecure lot. It makes us feel good when you enjoy our hard work that probably took months, or even years to release. Writing a novel is like giving birth to a child. We carry it inside us for ages, allowing it to grow and nurture. When our manuscript finally takes its first breath as a published work, we are proud.

If you don’t like it, there’s no reason to be cruel. Just let us know what you think would have made it better. The majority of us want to know. Believe it or not, we listen – and also realize it’s impossible to please everyone. But as writers, we’re probably still going to try.

 

Picher Perfect

The Lore:

Northeastern Oklahoma is often called “Green Country” due to the abundance of man made lakes and heavily treed, rolling hills. Tucked a few miles from the Kansas border lies Picher, a modern day ghost town described by one local news source as “The biggest environmental disaster you’ve never heard of”.

Picher is surrounded by huge piles of “chat” – white, chalky tailings – the aftermath of lead extraction from nearby mines. The small rock byproduct was used by local residents to fill their driveways. Children rode bicycles over the mounds. Picnics and family reunions were held there. The chat symbolized the town’s major employer and folks paid dutiful homage. They had no idea the towering mountains of rock concealed toxic hazards.

Nearly a hundred years of unrestricted subsurface excavation eventually destroyed Picher and left many adults and children with physical and developmental disabilities.

It all started in 1913 when zinc and lead were discovered in the area. The town sprang up overnight and was named after O. S. Picher, owner of the Picher Lead Company. By the 1920’s, the population neared 15,000 – with more workers commuting from other communities to labor in the mine or for service-related businesses. Lead and zinc mining consumed the tri-state corner consisting of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas – and Picher was the crown jewel, producing more than $20 billion in ore over a thirty-year span. Fifty percent of the bullets used by the U.S. military during World War I came from the Picher mine. Production surged again during World War II.

The mine waste, or chat mounds – some as high as 150 feet tall, were piled all over Picher. They shadowed residential neighborhoods, schools, churches, and businesses. Fine, toxic dust blew over the town – and residents breathed it on a daily basis.

Water runoff from rain polluted the area’s creeks and water supplies. When mining finally ceased around 1970, underground tunnels were no longer pumped out. They eventually filled with even more toxic wastewater, infiltrating trees and soil.

Perhaps the worst consequence of the mine operations was the subsurface excavations. The huge caverns were tunneled so close to the surface; tree roots were later discovered in the roof of some of the shafts. Parts of Picher began to collapse into deep sinkholes. The Army Corps of Engineers determined 86 percent of the town’s structures were in danger of caving in.

Creeks where residents had gathered for swimming and fishing were contaminated by cadmium and arsenic. The people didn’t know. They attributed their chaffed, red skin to sunburn, not realizing it was actually chemical burn. Cancer in residents skyrocketed.

The EPA finally labeled Picher as a Superfund site – which means it was too toxic to clean up. Federal buyouts began with the government paying people to relocate. Even then, a handful of residents refused to leave.

It wasn’t until a destructive tornado hit the area in 2009 that the town ceased municipal operations.

Today, Picher is a modern ghost town. Tar Creek continues to run red from metal contamination. Chat piles, though not as tall, still dot the landscape. The clean-up and reclamation project is moving at a snail’s pace. It could be twenty or thirty years before the area is habitable again.

Read more about Picher and other strange tales in ROAD TALES, Myth, Lore and Curiosities from America’s Back Roads. 

Amazon – eBook and Print

The Story:

Picher Perfect

by Debra S. Sanders

“Oh, lawdy, I’m a dyin’ and ain’t nobody can save me.”

Dolly Mae Jarvis rocked back and forth, wrapping her arms across her stomach. The pain in her belly grew more intense with each breath, exacerbated by a thick, fetid salvia forming in her mouth. Her legs crumbled beneath her, sending her withering body to the floor.

It was the eighth attack in three months and the worse by far.

The first time, she thought premenstrual cramps had brought on the pain but it came at the wrong time of the month. A week later, it happened again – only this time it was so severe she spent the day in bed with a heating pad.

Her neighbor, a kindly old widow named Maude, tended to her with homemade soup and herbal tea. When that did little to ease her discomfort, Dolly went to the local clinic. Seventy-five dollars and a sympathetic smile later, she was told, “It’s stomach flu. Everybody’s got it. Just let it run its course.”

Dolly Mae went back to the clinic between attacks four and five. After extracting a vial of blood for tests, it was determined she was anemic. The doctor administered a B12 injection and sent her home.

During the seventh attack, the pain rendered Dolly unconscious. Maude called her mother, a woman devoid of parental instincts, and demanded she take the twins while Dolly Mae recuperated. It was a full week before the poor girl regained her strength, primarily due to Maude’s nurturing and home cooked meals.

But now she was back to square one, rolling from side to side, racked with pain and guilt. I’m dying. What will happen to my babies? They were only three. They needed her. She couldn’t die. Not yet. If anything happened to her, the state would surely send her children to foster care. Her mother wouldn’t take them and their daddy ran off a month after they were born. There was no one else but her to give them the love they deserved.

A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Dolly Mae! Oh dear, are you sick again?” Maude was at her side, smoothing the hair from her face. “C’mon, honey, let’s get you in bed.”

“Mama’s bringing the kids home tomorrow. How can I take care of them like this?” she sobbed.

“Tsk, tsk. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about those children. I’ll help you.”

“Who will raise them when I’m dead, Miss Maude?” The woman’s laughter irritated Dolly to the point that she rolled away in disgust.

“Look at me.” The sharp tone commanded obedience. Dolly rolled over, timidly meeting the woman’s stern expression. “You’re not going to die. Do you hear me?”

“The pain is awful. I can’t take much more.”

Maude’s face softened. “Do you want to get well? I can help but you must promise to follow my instructions without question.”

Dolly nodded. “I’ll do whatever you say.”

Maude placed her hands over Dolly’s stomach and closed her eyes. She began to hum a low, indistinct tune under her breath as she rotated the palms over her pelvic region then up to her sternum.

An intense heat flowed from the old woman’s hands even though they hovered a good four inches above the afflicted area. To Dolly’s amazement, the pain began to ebb. Minutes later, she sat up, feeling much better.

“Why ain’t you done that before?”

“You weren’t ready. This is only a temporary fix. You’re not healed yet. I need to get you on your feet for the next part. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“Yes, Miss Maude,” Dolly exclaimed enthusiastically. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Very well. I’ll have you in perfect health by tomorrow but you must do exactly what I say and not tell anyone about our plan. Do you promise?” The girl nodded. “I need a photograph from when you felt good. A time when you were smiling and happy. Then tonight, meet me at nine o’clock by the chat pile where the creek runs under the bridge. Bring a change of clothes. Something pretty.”

Dolly frowned. “I don’t understand. Why the chat pile? And why after dark?”

Maude tilted her head, shaking her finger. “No questions, remember?”

“Okay, sorry. I’ll be there and bring everything you said.”

“Good!” The older woman leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Not a word to anyone, dear.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Dolly waited until her neighbor was gone before getting out of bed. None of the woman’s instructions made sense but it didn’t matter. Maude had made the pain go away. Dolly had heard stories of people laying hands on diseased folks. She reckoned Maude must be one of those gifted healers.

Fishing a shoebox from her closet, Dolly sorted through a stack of old photos until she found the one she wanted. She barely recognized the happy, smiling face. The picture was taken right after she met Ben . . . right before she became pregnant. At eighteen, she was the prettiest girl in Picher, Oklahoma and the photograph proved it. Black hair cascaded across slim shoulders, framing almond eyes and full lips.

Dolly always wondered if her dark, good looks was the reason for her mother’s hatred. She bore no resemblance to the blonde haired, blue eyed woman who gave her life, only to the man who drank himself to death and left his wife in a mountain of debt.

But on this day she basked in the glow of new love. Ben had just asked her to marry him and happiness shone in her face. It was exactly the kind of picture Maude wanted.

A few hours later, Dolly closed the small overnight bag on her bed and headed for the door. She’d carefully folded a pink floral dress and placed it inside. It was the only dress she owned but at least it was pretty.

At eight forty-five, she began the ten minute walk to the chat pile, using a flashlight to illuminate the darkened street. Half the residents of the small mining town had already moved away. More were planning to do the same because they believed the lies from a bunch of nosy environmentalists.

They said mining sludge had contaminated the water and ground. Ridiculous, Dolly sniffed, picking up her pace. It was because of them the mine closed down. People lost jobs. Those meddling no-gooders ruined the whole town.

She glanced at the glistening mountains to her right – mountains of tailing. They were a reminder what life had been like before the do-gooders showed up. Children played on those hills. Families gathered for picnics on Sunday afternoons. If taking a dip in the swimming hole at the end of a hot summer day was bad for folks, why hadn’t anyone complained before now?

Dolly arrived at the low bridge and turned right, following the uneven ground to the chat pile rimming the creek. She shone her flashlight near the pool of dark water and spied Maude standing at the edge.

“Hello, dear. You’re right on time.”

Dolly picked her way down the sloping bank. “I brought everything you asked. Here’s the picture.” She pulled the photograph from her pocket and handed it to the older woman.

Maude glanced at the glossy image and smiled. “It’s perfect!”

“So what now?”

She returned the photo. “Chew this up and swallow it.”

Dolly’s eyes widened. “I ain’t eating that.”

Maude arched a brow. “We discussed this, young lady. You promised to do exactly what I say. Don’t you want to feel better for your babies?”

Dolly nodded. Her shoulders rose and fell before tearing up the photograph and stuffing the remnants into her mouth. After a few minutes of vigorous chewing, she managed to swallow.

“Good girl. Now take off your clothes and step into the water. You can leave your underwear on.”

Dolly took a step back. “It’s cold! And I didn’t bring no towel.”

“You won’t need one. Trust me.”

After a moment of hesitation, Dolly began to undress. She’d come too far to stop now. The thought of those awful stomach pains spurred her into action. She dropped her jeans and sweater on the ground and stepped into the slow moving stream. “Brrrr, it’s freezing.”

An effervescent laugh trailed over the water. “Just wade in past your knees. That should be enough.”

Dolly did as the woman asked, moving her bare feet through the soft silt until the water lapped at her thighs. She wrapped her arms around a shivering torso, struggling to stay warm. Suddenly, something touched her ankle, slithering across her calf. Dolly squealed and twisted from side to side, searching the ripples. It had felt like a snake but Cottonmouths wouldn’t attack like that. She tried to step back. It was as if her feet had settled into quick sand.

“Miss Maude, help me! Something’s out here and I can’t move.”

“No worries, child. You’ll be fine.”

Her breath came in short spurts as she struggled to free herself. That thing was crawling up her leg, circling itself around her like a boa constrictor. Dolly thrashed her hands against the water, twisting violently until she lost balance and fell backwards. She went under. When she emerged, her feet came out of the water. They were covered in a black sludge.

Sputtering through a mouthful of water, she called out again. “Miss Maude . . . help me!”

“It’ll be over in a minute, dear. Try to stay calm.”

Dolly didn’t understand why the old woman just sat there. She managed to regain her footing and stood up. The sludge slid past her waist, climbing up her torso and arms . . . like it was alive. The pain in her stomach was back, ten times worse than it had ever been before. It was as if her insides were being shoved into her throat.

Dolly tried to scream but it was too late. The black substance covered her mouth, her nose, her eyes . . .

Maude hummed a little tune as she watched the sun rise above the chat pile. Another beautiful day. She glanced at the black cocoon near her feet. Oh, good. It’s almost ready.

A few minutes later the pod began to wiggle, much like an egg in the process of hatching.

This one went better than any of the others, she smiled brightly, running a hand over the top of the murky water. The oily black substance crawled up her arm to the elbow.

“Yes, yes. She’s almost ready. We’ll bring the twins to you soon. It will be the start of a new generation.” Maude giggled as the sludge rolled off and disappeared beneath the surface.

The mine unwittingly awakened the entity from a centuries old sleep. It was now her lord and master. Maude had been serving it for nearly three decades. Those silly government bureaucrats thought they could close down the town and make it go away but they were wrong.

She’d been transitioning hybrids into society for years. They were positioned in local politics where talk of reclamation and rebuilding the town were going surprisingly well. It was only a matter of time until they went national. And international. It would be a global transformation. A perfect world built from a perfect host.

The cocoon shuddered. A large piece fell into the water. Then another. And another . . . until Dolly Mae emerged looking exactly like her photograph. Young, flawless, happy.

Maude handed her the overnight bag. “Get dressed, dear. We have much to do.”

A few minutes later, Dolly twirled around, smiling at her benefactor. “Does this body look okay?”

Maude nodded as her eyes turned completely black. “It looks picture perfect.”

SHORT TALES

Great Balls of Fire

The Lore:

The Hornet Spook Light, Near Joplin, Missouri

I was raised in Northeastern Oklahoma and knew about the Hornet Spook Light long before investigating the area for my book. As a child, we referred to the mysterious phenomena as the Joplin Spook Light because sightings occurred along a rural county road just 12 miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri. Those who viewed the light describe it as a ball of fire the size of a basketball. Others say it is a blue orb that hovers in mid-air with the ability to divide or separate. While descriptions vary, one thing most people agree on is the spook light’s capacity to frighten unsuspecting travelers.

Explanations for sightings typically lean toward the paranormal – the ghost of two young Quapaw Indians with a Romeo and Juliet type ending. A decapitated Osage Chief looking for his head. A miner with a lantern destined to search for his missing children through eternity. But skeptics will tell you it’s nothing more than swamp gas or headlights from a passing car.

Most local residents believe the light has been around since the late 1800’s. Others say it was first documented in the mid 1930’s. As with most legends, origins are murky and details vary. During the 1940’s, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study on the Spook Light, hoping to curb the intense public interest. Their final determination only created more questions when they cited it as “a mysterious light of unknown origin.”

If you’re ever in northeast Oklahoma near sundown, wander over to East 50 Road, four miles south of the tristate junction. Stop and sit a spell. Chances are you won’t be in the dark long.

The Story:

Great Balls of Fire

by Debra S. Sanders

Henry Tuttle peered through heat radiating off the road in a scintillating haze. It was hot. What Okies call the “dog days of summer”. He dropped his chin so the bill of his faded John Deere cap blocked the afternoon sun from his eyes then watched a white Prius slow and turn into the long drive leading to his farmhouse. Dust formed in a thick, brown cloud behind the vehicle as it crept over potholes and ruts on a road more suited for high clearance vehicles. The right side of Henry’s mouth lifted. Settling into a corner of the wooden porch swing, he began to rock back and forth in a slow, steady rhythm.

The Prius stopped in a wide gravel area next to the house. A young man emerged, running his finger across a layer of dust coating the shiny paint. Seconds later, the passenger door opened and a girl with puffy red lips and large sunglasses stepped out.

“City folk,” Henry muttered with a quick assessment of the man’s baggy pants and loose t-shirt. The woman wore skinny jeans over even skinnier legs. Massachusetts plates confirmed his suspicion.

The man looked up, spotted Henry on the porch and waved. “Hello,” he called in a distinct Bostonian accent. “Fine day, isn’t it?”

“Almost over,” Henry grunted.

“Yuh, it is.” His chuckle sounded forced. “You lived here long?”

“All my life.”

“Ah, that’s great. I wonder if I could ask you a few questions.” The man glanced at his companion. “We’re journalists, researching a bit of local lore.”

Henry took a deep breath then let it out with a whoosh. He knew the minute they pulled into his drive what they wanted – information about the spook light. It wasn’t as if they were the first out-of-towners who fancied themselves ghost hunters.

“I reckon I got a few minutes.”

“Super! Do you mind if we join you on the porch?”

“Suit yourself. Supper’s in an hour. You need to be gone by then.”

The woman giggled. “Yuh, suh. We promise.”

They brushed dried leaves from two wicker chairs before settling onto the worn seats. The man leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “My name’s Peter. This is Emily. We’re writing an article for our travel blog about Devil’s Promenade . . .”

“The spook light,” Henry corrected. “Figured that was it.”

“Yuh, well, we’re researching paranormal activity in the heartland and this particular myth kept popping up so we thought we’d look into it.”

“Have you seen it?” Emily chimed.

Henry pursed his lips, staring at a spot above her head as if conjuring up a memory. “I’ve had my share of run-ins with the damn thing. Most everyone around these parts has seen it at one time or ‘nother.”

Peter licked his lips. His pupils turned to pinpoint as he shifted in his seat. “We’ve read several theories about the light but since you live right here on the road where it is seen most often, we hoped you would have the inside scoop.” His laugh faded into silence. “What is it? Swamp gas? Light refraction? Some sort of geophysical anomaly?”

Henry kept a straight face as he met the young man’s gaze. “Ain’t none of those things.”

“Well, what is it . . . exactly?”

“Riley Crow’s ghost.”

Silence greeted Henry’s announcement. Emily was first to respond, keeping her voice low and pleasant. “We’ve actually heard a few of those myths. I think one source said it might be the spirits of an ill-fated Native American couple. Another suggested it could be a Civil War soldier. However, I don’t think anyone mentioned the name Riley Crow.

“Riley passed on about ten years ago.”

Peter cleared his throat. “But people first reported seeing the light during the 1800’s.”

“Oh, I’m sure it was around back then. Some say this area is cursed so I figure it holds a lot of souls who won’t move on, just like the Quapaw lovers you heard about. Legend goes they wanted to get married but her pappy didn’t think the young brave had enough dowry. He refused to let them join up so they eloped. Pappy sent a hunting party after ‘em. Rather than be separated, they ran to a cliff and jumped off. Died right away.”

Peter cast a condescending smile. “Part of our paranormal research involves debunking stories like that. I mean, there’s really no factual evidence to back up the myth. Is it true the Corps of Engineers investigated the light?”

“Yep, back in the thirties or forties. They ran a bunch of tests and came up empty handed. Look, son, if you talk to ten people around here, you’ll probably get ten different stories about the spook light but one thing’s for sure – anyone who has seen it, don’t want to see it again.”

“Why do you think that is?” Emily inquired. “What makes it so frightening?”

“The unknown, I reckon. I’ve had the damn thing run right in front of my truck. Then in a matter of seconds, it was behind me. One time, it floated towards me, broke into four different orbs and then went and sat in a tree. It’s a crazy sight to see.”

“Have you ever touched it?”

“Nah, but George Stoddard tried to shoot it. He can’t hit the broad side of a barn in daylight so I don’t know why he thought he could hit a moving fireball in the dark.”

Peter chuckled. “Tell me about this Riley Crow. Why do you think the light is his ghost?”

Henry pushed his cap back, scratched the top of his head then reset the hat to its original position. “I have a theory. I think this area is a sort of purgatory for souls who can’t rest.”

“That’s an interesting concept. Why do you think Riley is not at peace?”

“He’s searching for his balls.”

Emily’s eyes widened. “His . . . balls?”

“Yep. Old Riley was missing his testicles when he died.”

Once again, Emily and Peter exchanged looks. “I don’t suppose you’d care to expand on that?” Peter said.

“It’s a pretty gruesome story. Sure you want to hear it?” They both nodded. “Well, okay, then. Riley was a bit of a womanizer. Everyone around here knew he had a strong appreciation for the ladies – everyone except his wife, Lulabelle. She was a big, full figured gal. Good looking in her own right but real jealous. Needless to say, she watched Riley like a hawk.”

“One night, he came home after cozying up with Nancy Brown. Lulabelle took one sniff of the perfume on his collar and knew it wasn’t hers. After an all-night brawl, Riley finally confessed to his indiscretion. He promised never to see Nancy again. ‘Course, Lulabelle’s green eyed monster was all riled up by then. She just couldn’t find it in her to trust him.”

Henry paused to catch his breath. Peter instantly encouraged him to continue.

“About a month went by before Riley got the itch and started tom-cattin’ around. One night, he told Lulabelle he had to go back to the office for a late meeting. She decided to follow him and sure ‘nuff, Riley met up with Nancy at the No Tell Motel up in Joplin.  Lulabelle was fit to be tied. She hid in the backseat of Riley’s car and waited. When Riley came out and started the engine, she popped up and scared the poor man half to death. He listened to her rant all the way home. There was no denying his tomfoolery. She’d caught him red handed.

After they got home, Lulabelle kept readin’ the riot act to him, not even pausing to take a breath. Riley finally told her to shut up. He’d had enough. Vowed to file for divorce the next day . . . which sent Lulabelle right over the edge.

From what I heard, the first thing she did was knock the poor man unconscious with a cast iron frying pan. When Riley woke up, Lulabelle had duct taped him to a kitchen chair. He was nekkid as a jay bird and scared half to death. He tried to reason with her but she didn’t want to hear it. Taped the poor man’s mouth closed. All he could do was sit there and listen. She’d cry, then curse, then cry some more, accusing him of all sorts of things. I’m sure he was guilty of most of ‘em but that weren’t no reason to do what she did next.”

Peter leaned in even further, eyes wide. “What did she do?”

Henry shook his head, staring at the toe of his boot for a full minute before conitinuing. “It was awful, just flat out mean. Lulabelle ran down a list of names of every woman she could think of in a fifty-mile radius, asking Riley if he’d slept with them. I suppose he said yes to just about all of them. He probably thought if she got mad ‘nuff, she might get so disgusted she’d let him go. But there ain’t no one more vindictive than a woman with a broken heart.”

Emily’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, dear. What happened?”

“She castrated the man. Cut off his balls with a kitchen knife right where he sat.”

Peter’s complexion paled. For a minute, Henry thought the kid might vomit but then he swallowed and urged Henry to continue.

“Riley passed out, of course. I think any man would. He was bleeding real bad. While he was unconscious, Lulabelle took his testicles, pounded ‘em out flat with a mallet, rolled ‘em in a little cornmeal and flour and fried ‘em up in lard– just like calf fries. I think she intended to feed them to Riley.”

“Nuh . . .” Peter ran to the far end of the porch, leaned over the railing and heaved. When he returned, his shirt tail was wet and stained. “Sorry, man. That was more than I could handle.”

“No problem. I had the same reaction when I first heard it.”

“What happened to Riley?” Emily’s voice was barely more than a whisper.

“He bled out right there in the kitchen while Lulabelle was cookin’.”

“Was she arrested?”

“Nope, and that’s the curious part. She really loved the old scallywag. Once she realized Riley was dead, she slit her wrists and died on the kitchen floor next to him.”

“That’s an . . . interesting story but what makes you think the spook light is Riley Crow?”

“I hear Lulabelle wailing some nights, usually when the spook light is out there bobbin’ around. I think she’s chasin’ Riley, trying to beg forgiveness. Ain’t gonna happen, not for a while. He’s still pretty mad. I reckon they’re stuck in purgatory for the time being.”

Peter sucked in a deep breath and glanced at Emily. “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.”

“But you don’t believe me.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you. The legend of Devil’s Promenade has been around for over a hundred and forty years. Logically, it doesn’t make sense it would be Riley Crow’s ghost.”

“Son, nothin’ about that spook light is logical. You kids believe what you want. That’s all I got.”

Emily was first to stand. “It’s getting late. If we’re going to film the light, we should be going.”

“Don’t keep anything sharp in your vehicle. Lulabelle has been known to throw knives and scissors through the air. Wouldn’t want y’all to get hurt.”

Peter swallowed, joining Emily at the top of the steps. “Perhaps we should discuss our research at the motel. We can return in a few days.” His suggestion met no resistance.

Henry waved as the Prius drove away, travelling down the lane much faster than when it arrived. He lingered on the porch after it disappeared, staring off into the distance. The front door opened and a grey haired woman emerged, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

“Supper’s almost ready. Better wash up.”

“Sure thing, Mama.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Who were those people?”

Henry shrugged. “Just some city folk wanting to know about the spook light.”

“Have you been making up stories again, Henry Tuttle?”

“Now, Mama . . . I was just havin’ a little fun. No harm done.”

Her eyes rolled upward. “I swear, old man. Some days I don’t know what to do with you.”

“I was tryin’ to keep the peace. I don’t think those kids will be back,” he chuckled, “but if they do park down the road, I’ll get out my big spotlight and really give ‘em something to write about.”

His mirth was met with a warning scowl from his wife. She turned on her heel and marched inside, slamming the door behind her.

Henry waited a few minutes longer, enjoying the quiet of the early evening. As he turned, a hazy blue orb bobbed near the far end of the porch. Henry paused, arched a brow, then shooed it away with his hand. “Go on, now git, Riley. I ain’t got time for you and Lulabelle tonight.” He watched the orb float into a tree followed by a low wail in the distance. “I don’t reckon you two will ever get along.”

Shaking his head, Henry shuffled inside and closed the door.

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you but I’m sooo happy for a new year. It’s not that 2016 was horrible. More like unstructured. As in Murphy’s Law unstructured. Few of my plans came to fruition in the way I had hoped. Some of those “detours” turned into delightful experiences. A few . . . meh, not so much. There were ups and downs as there are in any year but 2016 just felt awkward.

I’m not a big New Year’s resolution gal. As much as I like having a “plan” for my activities, resolutions feel more like prison i.e. I’m being forced to comply. My gypsy spirit flat out rebels! Kind of crazy since I’m the one making the rules but that’s how my brain works. (I’m sure I could drive a psychiatrist nuts with that one!)

So here’s the deal. I’m not making a resolution but I will “plan” to diligently promote some facet of my author life every . . . single . . . day. Oh, geez . . . the pressure! It’s already starting so please consider this blog my good intention promotion for Jan 1, 2017.

I just added a sidebar calendar for author appearances in 2017. If you plan to be in Arizona during one of my events, I’d love to meet you. If not, I understand. “Plans” sometimes don’t work out the way we hoped.

Exploring Mark Twain’s Boyhood Haunts


I’m back! It’s been a while and I apologize. Now that family visits, medical issues and whatnot are out of the way, we are back on the road enjoying new adventures. So here goes . . .

Hannibal, Missouri . . . just the name evokes visions of lazy riverboats puffing down a wide river, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer atop a wooden raft, and the man who gave them

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Historic Hannibal

life – Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. I’m not exaggerating when I say I almost piddled myself in excitement when the day finally arrived to explore this quaint, historical town. After all, Hannibal’s rolling hills and riverfront access provided the inspiration for Mark Twain’s most famous works. It flavored his writing as it flavored his wit. And I was about to see all the places I’d read about in my youth! How cool is that?

Reality seldom matches expectations. The more we dream and visualize about what lies ahead, the more we risk disappointment. Hannibal is a perfect example. The town itself should be renamed “Mark Twain City” because everywhere you go is reference to the famous author and humorist . . . understandable. One might never venture to Hannibal were it not for Mark Twain’s legacy. And everything tagged with his name comes with a price.

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Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

Yes, Hannibal is a tourist trap. But if all I came to see were paid attractions, I’d miss out on the true ambiance of a historical town.

Driving into the outskirts from Highway 36, it was as if we entered a time warp. Hannibal is firmly rooted in the past and the period architecture reinforces that aura, beckoning with untold stories of days gone by. Had I never heard of Samuel Clemens, I would still be lured to this incredibly picturesque albeit decaying community. A great many of the clapboard houses and brick storefronts remain unrestored which supports the character of an aging 1800’s riverfront town.
I enjoyed a short walking tour along the river and railroad tracks, meandered along scenic Cardiff Drive to where it meets the lighthouse replica erected in Mark Twain’s honor, absorbed majestic views from Lover’s Leap, explored Mark Twain’s childhood home and the wooden fence still fresh with whitewash. What I wanted to do and didn’t was visit McDougal’s Cave, popularized in Twain’s 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The property is part of an adjoining campground and gift shop and is only viewable on special

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Mark Twain Sightseeing Riverboat

tours. Adult tickets ran about $20 and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for what I felt should have been free. Perhaps if I’d visited the nearby winery and tasted a few glasses, I might not have been so put-off by the entrance fee. Bottom line is I’m a cheapskate.

I suppose the real reason I wanted to see the cave, aside from a trip down Tom Sawyer memory lane, is the wickedly strange events that took place there. During Twain’s childhood, the property where the cave is located was owned by a St. Louis surgeon, Dr. Joseph McDowell. The man was brilliant by all accounts, and genius sometimes borders on the edges of insanity. When Dr. McDowell’s fourteen-year-old daughter died of pneumonia, he decided to “petrify” her body. After constructing a copper tube lined with glass, he filled it with alcohol and placed the corpse inside, suspending it from the ceiling of the cave.

According to Twain, the local youth discovered the contraption and began to gather there, telling ghost stories to frighten each other in the flickering light of their torches. Even more macabre, the top of the cylinder could be unscrewed so the girl’s face was visible. After two

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View from Lover’s Leap

years, the adults in the community got wind of the girl’s unofficial interment. They complained, forcing the doctor to relocate his daughter’s body to the family mausoleum in St. Louis. However, some people believe the girl’s spirit is still there, following tourists as they navigate the dark cavern.

The cave is not the only place where hauntings occur in Hannibal. A year-round ghost tour features many allegedly active sites for adventurous souls. If we had planned a longer stay (and might have if the weather were not so damnably hot and humid), this cheapskate would have coughed up the bucks for the tour since I’m fascinated by the paranormal.  Perhaps another time.

Would I return to Hannibal for an encore visit? That’s hard to say. I love the ambiance and historical significance of the area. Unfortunately, this area of the Midwest doesn’t generate the same fascination as other places we’ve visited. We like less populated areas like mountains, remote coastlines, and high desert.

That being said, we’re enjoying our slow loop around the Great Lakes through Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. We may not venture this way again so if you know of any unusual, oddball or off-the-beaten track destinations, please let me know. I’m always up for an adventure!