Inner Sanctum Blog

Being a writer isn’t about trying to win

Being a writer isn’t about trying to win.

So why do so many writers act like it is, guarding their experiences, both good and bad, like they are state secrets? Or worse yet, piling on unwarranted criticism on fledgling writers trying to find their ‘writer legs’.

Whether I’m editing a piece for a client or a friend, I’m always encouraging. Writing is a very solitary volition, hours invested in discovering the proper voice for the piece, getting the dialog to crackle, and bringing the setting alive with engaging characters. All of us, no matter how vast our publishing history is, need some kind of validation, whether from a friend’s comments after giving it a read or a family member. But nothing compares to those comments from contemporaries, the other solitary souls wringing out their fears and dreams within the pages of their manuscript just like we are.

Think about it.

When you were growing up and your mom and dad said you’d done well on a test or in a game, it didn’t mean the same as hearing those things from a teacher, a student or a fellow teammate or coach. Those people toiling with you day in and day out knew what it took to produce on the field and in the classroom. They were there with you in the trenches.

It’s the same for writers.

Hearing your mom say what you’ve written is the greatest thing ever, is not the same as a fellow writer saying those same words, particularly if they have some publishing credits to their name.

All of us, who take up the pen to pour ourselves on the page, should help each other. There is nothing more rewarding then helping a fellow author by leaving a review, editing a piece, or providing encouragement.

Doesn’t take much.

A few words.

A few minutes.

It can mean the world to a struggling author.

 

 

 

Cover Reveal – Mad Maggie and the Wood Witch

Just over two weeks from now, the second book in my Mad Maggie series will be released. Entitled ‘Mad Maggie and the Wood Witch’, this story follows Mad Maggie Dupree and her friends as they investigate a legendary spirit haunting the grounds of the Stillwater Pyschiatric Hospital.

CleanReads sent the cover this past weekend!

 

MadMageeDupree_Book2_500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Please!

I’m writing the fourth book in my middle-grade mystery series ‘Mad Maggie Dupree’ and need help with a title.

Maggie Dupree lives on the grounds of the Sillwater Psychiatric Hospital. Her dad is the new hospital administrator. She and her family had to move and live on the grounds as part of her dad’s new job.

While placing coins on the railroad tracks, waiting for the train to run over them, pushing them flat, Maggie and her friends stumble across a homeless man living in a nearby abandoned box car.  When they try to follow him, they find a $50.00 bill scattered by the railroad tracks. Following him into a dilapidated supply tunnel, they find a necklace that looks like the same kind a mean spirited carny at the Darke County Fair had worn a few nights before along with empty money bags from the Stillwater Bank.

As they begin to investigate, an odd looking young boy starts to appear at random times. Always wearing the same brown striped shirt, his face pale but marred by dark smudges, he never speaks, only watching them.

Ideas on a title?

 

Mad Maggie and the Lost Gifts Contract!

I’m so excited! Received my contract from Clean Reads Publishing for the third book in the Mad Maggie Dupree middle-grade thriller series. It’s entitled ‘Mad Maggie Dupree and the lost Gifts’.

Kenny, one of the bullies on the grounds, challenges Maggie and Jackson to a bike race through the legendary body chute, where the tuberculosis patients were taken after they’d died. While there, Jackson and Maggie see odd smoky looking apparitions. Looking into the hospital’s checkered past, the realized a terrible accident occurred on the grounds involving a bus fire and four students attending the hospital’s gifted program.

The first book, ‘Mad Maggie Dupree’, is available now on Amazon. Click the cover below for print or Kindle versions. The second book ‘Mad Maggie Dupree and the Wood Witch’ will be available on October 30, 2018.

MadMageeDupree_453

Editing isn’t so terrible, is it?

If you cringed just reading the title of this blog post, you’re not alone. Most writers I’ve talked to about their craft lament that editing is the worst part of the writing process. They would much rather simply create, getting words on paper and not think about editing.

I used to be in the same boat until I started submitting my work, suddenly realizing nothing was ready to be sent out. It was a huge undertaking getting my stories ready. It was my own fault, but it did nothing to lessen my hatred of the editing process.

When I took over as Managing Editor for Storyteller Magazine, something changed. I found editing other author’s work to be rewarding. Helping them grow as writers and learn the craft was incredible. It also made me a better editor. The more pieces I edited, the quicker I found inconsistencies, errors, and areas in need of improvement.

And then something really weird happened.

I found I loved editing my own work as well. I honestly think it had to do with the fact I had honed my editing skills to the point that it wasn’t a huge undertaking any longer. It wasn’t like pulling teeth. It was honestly just part of the process.

What I find happens now while editing is I get excited about what I created. Sometimes it leads to writing a second book and turning the original idea into a series, while other times it just fuels the idea machine in my head for something entirely different.

I would urge you to try and not shy away from it. Embrace editing as part of the process. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you will become. Who knows, you might surprise yourself and grow to enjoy it the way I do. (I ducked in case you were throwing something at the screen)

Keep writing!

 

 

Writing a Series

I’ve written a number of series and each one has tugged at my heart in different ways. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the Mad Maggie Dupree series. The first two books are under contract with Clean Reads Publishing. The first book was released June 26th of this year. The second, entitled ‘Mad Maggie Dupree and The Wood Witch’ will be out October 30th, 2018. The third book, ‘Mad Maggie and the Lost Gifts’ was just submitted with Clean Reads.

I’ve written a number of posts about my writing technique. I’m definitely not a plotter nor a planner, so it’s been interesting keeping things moving forward from book to book keeping them connected.

I keep notes on each book and combine them into one word document to keep names, places, dates, and occurrences straight as I’m writing. It’s been a lifesaver.

How do others handle writing series?

Mad Maggie and the Lost Gifts

I’m currently editing the third book in the Mad Maggie Dupree series. Right now, it’s title is Mad Maggie Dupree and the Lost Gifts, but it might change as I go through the manuscript. The title has already changed twice, so it might very well change a third time.

Unlike the first two books (Mad Maggie Dupree and Mad Maggie Dupree and the Wood Witch) which already had titles even before I finished the rough draft, the third book is being a little ornery. It’s not that I haven’t liked the working titles I’ve used (Mad Maggie Dupree and the Forgotten, Mad Maggie Dupree and the Dark Spirits) it’s just it doesn’t feel quite right.

Once I finish the editing pass, and a get the internal voices to agree on the title, I’ll submit it to Clean Reads and hope they pick it up to continue Mad Maggie’s adventures.

Bats in the Belfry

BATS IN THE BELFRY

By

David J. Gibbs

@Copyright 2014

 

THE POINT: 1989

 

It wasn’t something she liked to talk about, certainly not at her advanced age. They would send her to the loony bin for sure. And that brat Andrew would smile, as he wheeled her in. No she wouldn’t let that happen. But, there was no denying that something was happening. And it was something that she couldn’t readily explain away or even control.

Ida had been born just south of the 20th century mark and witnessed war swallow the known world twice over. She had witnessed a level of poor she had once thought impossible and had endured hunger leaving her too weak to move. She had witnessed three assassination attempts of presidents, two of which were successful. She remembered being a little girl and the world stopping as the Titanic took a nose dive to the depths. Ida remembered being scared when the astronauts died on the launching pad in that terrible fire and then just a few short years later, being so excited when Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for all mankind.

She could recall all of it, but somehow the more time that passed the less real it seemed. It was as if she became more and more removed from it each time she thought about those things. There were even times when she almost questioned whether it had happened or not. And still other times when she felt the things around her were whisper thin. It was almost as if she could push her hand through the lamp on the end table or her book would fall to the floor, her hands suddenly unable to grasp it. And it was that in part which made her start to begin wondering about how fragile a state of mind could be.

Could there be too much whispering?

When she had been a young girl, she remembered her Aunt Lottie and how her parents had whispered about the aged woman behind her back. They would constantly talk about how they didn’t think she was safe by herself out on the farm being so far away from neighbors and doctors. It was the same small farm Lottie had been born on, and the same one both of her parents were buried on, but that didn’t matter when there were bats in the belfry.

Thankfully, Ida had been quiet about those certain little things and so no one was the wiser. Well no one, save herself. And she wasn’t foolish enough to think that she would be able to outlast the darkness she knew to be coming. But for now, she was in control.

She could still cook a meal and not be too worried she would burn the house down. Honestly though, if it did burn down, as long she was in it, she didn’t care. It was hers, bought and paid for, well before Lyndon had made his appearance in the White House, and it would remain hers, until she was no more. Yes, and then Andrew could gut it or sell it or do whatever he damn well pleased with it.

Ida looked up at the small framed picture of her late husband Edward, or Eddie, as she had fondly called him. In the picture he sat on an old wooden barrel beside a split rail fence, one foot resting on another smaller barrel, both arms crossed on one of his knees. He clutched a worn cowboy hat in his hand and had a wry smile crossing his face. She’d always wished he would’ve waited for her to sit down on the barrel beside him before the photographer had taken the picture, but he was in too much of a hurry.

Smiling, she turned on the gas for the stove and then lit it with a diamond tip kitchen match. Andrew always insisted on having her use one of those butane lighting sticks, but she thought they were unsafe. As the blue ring of flame danced around the burner, she shook the match out and then put the kettle of water on it.

The wind always tended to catch the south corner of the house and whisper through almost constantly. The incessant handfuls of sand that were wrought with the wind’s venom had worn the wooden shingles along that part of the house to an almost impossible smoothness. The whispers were music to her ears and she longed for more of it each and every day.

She knew that Andrew had never liked it on The Point while growing up. He had hated the sand and the wind, but mostly he had hated the isolation. He had hated her and his father for keeping him in such a place. As if they were punishing him for something he had done. It had so little to do with him that he probably wouldn’t understand even if she tried to explain it to him.

It was more than a little frustrating that a place that had always held an allure to her couldn’t be understood by her own son. The thrill she felt each time the sun fell to the sea’s edge and spilled color across the sky. The way she felt when she watched the lightning crash to the sea, the flickering light show making the sea spark and the clouds glow. The ebb and flow of the tides each and every day and the way the sea would take away sand in one storm season only to deposit three times as much sand the following season. It was all something wonderful to her. It was as if each day was a secret slideshow for her and her alone.

Ida breathed with this place.

It was her air.

It was her.

She knew that she was but a fraction of the person she had been thirty, forty, fifty years earlier but she was still more than able to take care of herself. God she hated when one of the snooty visiting nurses would say things like ‘hey you’re really with it’ to her. The typical comments that might seem like compliments by the person saying them were always like quiet daggers in a dark room. ‘No bats in the belfry’. ‘No rust upstairs with this one’. ‘Oh you seem sharp as a tack darlin’. She’d like to show her a tack a time or two as much poking and prodding the nurses did all over her. Ida never understood how if her hands or elbows ached why they needed to check her feet or listen to her heart.

She had always had nervous hands. A smile burrowed across the weathered landscape of her face as she thought of Eddie again. He had always asked her if she had ants in her pants because of the way she would tug at the hems of her dresses or pick at her fingers. She had been so embarrassed when he commented on it, that first night at the mixer. He’d been dead almost thirty years now, but she could feel him with her every step of the way, even more so lately it seemed. It was odd how many voices she heard on that same wind each night. His was one of them.

Her hands kneaded themselves atop each other as if they were somehow separate beings from her body, moving atop her quilted throw which covered her legs. Even they couldn’t keep her from thinking the thoughts that kept her company on days like this. Actually more and more lately, it wasn’t just days like this. It was almost every day.

The days no longer held much difference to them. They were becoming more and more, one long strange voyage, through which she walked. She didn’t go anywhere and had very few visitors. She spent long hours just sitting on her porch and watching the tides as they would come in and then softly shuffle out just as easily and was more than content.

She hated when her son came to visit, because he was only interested in where she had her money and what she planned to do with it and oh yeah by the way did you forget to sign the power of attorney forms and did you finalize the updated last will and testament?  If she had her way, she’d leave it all to the damned seagulls that cried across her small finger of beach.

She knew Andrew was going to sell it all when he had the chance. Developers had been after her eleven acres of The Point, for as long as she could remember, always raising their price to something they felt she couldn’t possible refuse. Ida never failed to surprise them. Oh sure, she’d listen to them. Her mother raised her to be polite. But once they were done with their folding easels and big glossy pictures and gave her the bottom line, she always politely thanked them for their interest and then showed them the door.

She heard a car door shut and knew the nurse was about to make an appearance. It was Thursday, so that would mean it was Mary Jane that would be coming through the door. The woman was one of the more pleasant ones that the service sent out.

A large smiling woman dressed in white stepped through the door and said, “Well good morning Ms. Ida. I brought you the paper from your stoop.”

“Morning,” Ida said, resting her elbows on the arms of her chair, her eyes looking out at the ocean. “Thank you.”

“You’re looking well this morning. Did you eat anything yet?”

“I had something earlier. Was just waiting on the kettle to warm up for some tea.”

Mary Jane nodded her head and said, “I’ll just tidy up a little bit and then we can do your blood pressure and other things while you drink you tea. How about that?”

The question came in a voice that sounded like the woman was talking to a toddler. Ida nodded, hoping that the conversation would end so that Mary Jane could finish up quicker and get out of the house faster.

“My goodness but that wind is sure whipping out there. ‘Bout blew me off the bridge coming across to see you today,” Mary Jane said, as she went into the other room. The sounds of her putting things away could be heard, as Ida continued to stare out the window. The sunlight was making the small ripples sparkle. She loved when that happened. Mary Jane was right the wind was definitely talking plenty outside.

Just then, she heard footsteps coming up to the porch and for a minute and Ida wondered if Mary Jane had brought some help. But that thought quickly went to the wayside, as she suddenly recognized the footfalls. She heard the spring creaking as the storm door opened to the screened in porch. Ida heard him dutifully wiping his feet on the small worn welcome mat. She knew it was Eddie coming up the steps. She knew it for certain in her heart. She had heard him follow the same routine hundreds of times before.

It was him.

Mary Jane’s humming came to her as Ida waited for the doorknob to turn and her Eddie to walk through the door. He hadn’t turned that doorknob in three decades and although part of her knew he couldn’t be there, another part of her that had been listening to the whispering wind all this time, knew he was there none the less.

Her heart shuddered with that sweet ache, as the doorknob turned and she watched Eddie step into the room. He was so handsome, always had been. She’d oftentimes wondered how she managed to hold onto someone with such dashing good looks. Ida knew she was no looker. She was a Plain Jane if there ever was one. Her sister Marie had always had the boys fawning over her, but not Ida. Not until Eddie walked into her life that is.

“Hey there Peaches,” he said, his voice hinting at laughter just below the surface. He tossed his worn hat onto the table beside her. She loved when he called her Peaches. It was his pet name for her.

She could only smile.

“What do you say we take a walk?  Weather’s nice and the water looks beautiful. It always is this time of year. We shouldn’t waste the day now should we?”

She could only nod, as she reached for his outstretched hand. It was so warm, and rough from labor, just as it always had been. They left together side by side and stepped down from the screened in porch. The pair headed for the sparkles in the water.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.

“Well I’m right here. No reason to miss me now when I’m right here with you Peaches.”

They stumbled down over the rise of the dune and she could feel the water kiss her toes. Her one hand pulled her dress up so it wouldn’t get too wet, while her other held on to Eddie’s hand for dear life. The wind still talked to them as they walked through the shallow water near the shore. They walked through the shimmering water that glittered with the sunlight. The sun warmed water teased her feet as they walked together. Lost upon the pair, the wind continued to lash out across the sandy expanse of beach with even more strength.

***

“I can’t believe the wind finally died down,” Mary Jane said a little loudly from the other room, so that Ida could hear it.

She grouped the magazines together neatly and tucked them into the side pocket of the Lay-z-Boy chair by the television before trying again, “Miss Ida that wind finally gave up I think.”

She walked into the small sunroom just inside the screened in porch. It was Miss Ida’s favorite spot in the house. Mary Jane saw her sitting in the chair, her cane with four rubber feet stood dutifully at her side.

“Miss Ida?” she asked, with no response.

It was eerily quiet with the wind completely gone. Mary Jane had never known The Point to be this quiet. It was always windy, always.

As she moved closer, she heard a few drops of water tap against the floor. She knew that Miss Ida was prone to fall asleep and reached out to gently rouse her, when she saw the water dripping from her bare feet. The bottom few inches of her nightgown were wet as well.

At first she thought Miss Ida may have had an accident, but she knew that wasn’t the case almost immediately. She could smell the salt water. But that wasn’t what chilled her to the core. First was the weathered hat on the table. She knew it wasn’t there when she had come in just a few minutes earlier. The second was the wet sandy footprints that came in from the screened in porch.

There were two sets of them.

She picked up the phone and dialed Andrew’s number. As she waited for him to answer, Mary Jane looked up at the framed picture on the wall. In it, Ida was leaning against Eddie’s shoulder and they were sitting on two old wooden barrels. Her arm was tucked inside of his, and his large hands held a heavy saw. There was something that struck her about the photograph, but she couldn’t say exactly why. Something about it seemed different.

And then, the wind finally mercifully began to pick up again, whispering around the edges of the house.

Something’s Wrong With Mother

 

SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH MOTHER

by

David J. Gibbs

@Copyright 2016

 

 

 

“Then something went wrong with her. Something went wrong with mother. There wasn’t any stopping her. Those hands, those words, it was all too much. The frantic nature of her manners was exacerbated by what happened. And, she could talk in tongues so fast. She never recovered.”

“Dad left her. You remember that. There was no recovering from that,” Lily said, her frail form lost in the flower patterned dress, her mousy hair held at bay by a stained bow.

Carla shook her head, “It was a decision she made. You know that and I know that. She could’ve rejoined society and remarried someone. Mr. Harris was always helping around the house, I’m sure he was interested in her.”

The two elderly women sat in front of the long window looking out over their street and the impressive rail yard, serpent like fingers of track rooted in the riverside earth. The river had steam coming off of it, the frigid temperatures daring the water to freeze.

The wrinkled map of Carla’s forehead deepened for a moment when she asked, “How long do you think we’ll have to do this?”

When her sister didn’t answer, she asked, “Tea not to your liking?”

“It’s always so bitter. Something with the water here.”

“It’s always the water,” Carla said.

 

***

 

Hank hated referral jobs. They always ended up being such a waste. They were basically favors for either friends or family members that were trying to help him. It also meant he had to curb his normal methods and rein in his panache as his mother had called it growing up. He had plenty of panache. Hank had that in spades.

Reluctantly, he had taken the job. It had come from his Uncle Toby. He hadn’t seen or talked to the man in a decade, but he appreciated the work thrown his way. Besides, it was just a home check. Sitting out front in his beater of a pickup truck, ten years past its prime, he sighed heavily. It was a hand me down from his brother, just like most of the stuff he owned. Pulling the handle, the door wouldn’t open. Rolling his eyes, he put all of his weight against it to finally wedge it open. Metal creaked loudly as he pushed the door shut.

Walking across the street, he looked up at the house, the upstairs window a black eye with a stained board filling the space where glass once was. Looking up and down the street, he made sure he was alone as he moved up the steps to the worn, paint flecked front porch.

He knew the power was cut off along with the water, which meant it wasn’t occupied. Hank didn’t need the yellow warning tape and eviction notice to tell him that.

It smelled of rot and animal urine, the porch soft beneath his feet. After checking the windows, he made his way to the back door. Moving up the four steps, he opened the screen door and then picked the lock.

 

***

 

“I think she just gave up,” Lily said quietly, setting her tea cup down on the small table.

“Or gave in,” Carla said, nodding to her sister. “I think when that happened, it made daddy realize he had no hope of saving her. He packed up and left shortly after those terrible sounds started.”

Carla closed her eyes and shivered, finally shaking off the memories, she looked at Lily who said, “Those voices were so odd. And whatever those smells were just chilled me to the core. It wasn’t like anything I’d smelled before.”

“You’re right. I think the voices coming from momma were the worst for me though. But, you’re so right, the incense combined with those other smells made me not go into the basement anymore.”

“I never did like our basement. Daddy had me get a hammer for him, when he was fixing the gutters and I swear there was something down there watching me look through the drawers for his hammer. I thought I heard something scratching behind me. I just couldn’t look. I didn’t go back down, even when he asked me to get a few nails for him. He used his belt, but it didn’t change my mind.”

“Do you think she fed it?” Carla asked.

“Fed what?”

“Whatever those things were.”

Lily blinked a few times rapidly before asking, “You think there was more than one?”

 

***

 

Tucking his tools into his back pocket, he opened the door and walked into the kitchen. Large sections of the linoleum had come unglued from the floor, pieces curled along the edges. The outdated yellow tile had fallen away in sections from the walls too. A stained refrigerator beckoned to him with its door open, shelves missing, mold rampant around its gaping mouth.

Standing still, he listened to the house breathe around him, that dusty wheeze of the old house settling. He waited to hear any telltale sign that someone was there, someone listening, someone waiting, someone watching, but none came. He’d come across a few squatters in his time, but they were never real stealthy and pretty harmless. Not hearing anything, he realized that this might turn out to be the easiest three hundred he ever made.

Dust was thick everywhere he looked, cobwebs having taken the corner of the rooms, light fixtures like dying spider web laced sculptures watched forgotten. He felt the urge to sneeze but managed not to.

It was funny, when he had first applied for his P.I. license, he thought he would have exciting cases, solving crimes and helping people. The longer he did this job, the more he realized that was all Hollywood fluff. This gig was all about wallowing through the seedy waters of broken people’s emotional baggage. He hadn’t solved a single crime and hadn’t helped many people at all, at least not in the way he had hoped.

He hadn’t found a lost child that the police had given up on, or a forgotten will giving a destitute family a fortune, nothing so dramatic as that. No, instead, he managed to end more than two dozen marriages, caught one local politician with his car in the wrong garage so to speak, and managed to chalk up countless injuries along the way.

Walking through the first floor, peeling wall paper and piles of plaster dust were scattered over the floors. He didn’t think any of the damage was new. It all looked so completely covered with dust and grime, that there was no way that someone did any of this recently. Besides, if they were going to damage the house, they would’ve spray painted all over everything and knocked holes in the walls, not pulled up the linoleum from the floor or tiles from the walls.

None of it made any sense.

He noticed animal tracks, either raccoon or a possum he guessed, in the dust choked attic. It was obvious it hadn’t been opened in a long time. The door at the foot of the steps seemed swollen in the frame and it took him a bit to open it. The stairwell was blocked by another door that closed it off from the attic above. It was weighted by rope threaded carefully through a series of pulleys.

It opened easy enough, the stairwell suddenly awash with putrid smells that cascaded down from the sealed second floor. It was a single large open area, but unlike the lower floor it had no belongings in it. Hank had expected to find boxes and old furniture, but there was nothing.

The dusty floor however was something entirely different. Spreading out from where he stood was a dizzying canvas of tracks. Something about it struck him odd. Hank paused again, listening and waiting for some sound to come to him. He listened for the scurrying of rodent feet or the sound of teeth gnawing on something behind the walls, but nothing came.

He wondered where the smell was coming from. He remembered the broken out window when he approached the front of the house, and wondered if animals had managed to get inside. Hank walked around, trying to get his bearings and headed toward the front of the house in search of the window.

 

***

 

“I was surprised when Joey went missing that dad stayed. I thought he would leave when that happened.”

“But, I think that gave him the out he needed. It opened the door anyway.”

Carla refilled her tea cup before answering, “I’d have to agree. I don’t think he ever really found himself after that. How could he? What do you think he made of the smells and the sounds?”
“I’m not sure.”

“Certainly, he had to have heard them, right?”

Lily said quietly, “Carla, honestly, I don’t know.”

“What if he couldn’t hear them?”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“Lily, why on earth would the man stay, if he could hear the things or smell those things?”

Carla drew the blanket around her legs a little tighter and looked out the window again. The street below was empty of traffic and the rail yard remained relative devoid of activity as well. It seemed the world had less use for trains than they used to. She remembered as a little girl watching the bustle of it all, enjoying the way the rail cars moved like a synchronized symphony of motion.

“Why did we?”

 

***

 

He wasn’t spooked easily, but something about the way the animal tracks merged and parted across the floor made him a little uneasy. The board was fastened securely by the window and he didn’t see any other way they could be getting inside. Hank’s arms broke out in goose bumps for some reason when he turned from the window.

He didn’t like that feeling.

Walking back across the floor, he checked the other windows once again and even inspected the joists above him, trying figure out how the animals might have gotten inside. The tracks definitely seemed relatively fresh. He’d definitely have to make a note of that in his report.

Coming down the steps, he pulled the rope, so the weighted door sealed off the upstairs. As he came down into the first floor, he paused and listened again. This time, he thought he heard something coming from the basement.

 

***

 

“We didn’t have a choice. We were children Carla,” Lily said an edge in her voice.

“Now, now. Don’t get upset with me. I just asked a question.”

“A baited question.”

“Aren’t all questions baited?”

“What?”

“Well, they are all baited in a way, because they all want a response, right?”

“Oh, Carla.”

The older of the sisters smiled at that comment. It was the same one Lily had used when they were growing up and suddenly they were young again in her mind’s eye, playing in the front yard, innocent of the dark things they now understood.

“After dad was gone, it fell to us. Mother certainly wasn’t going to be able to help. It was lost on her.”

“Her spells started to get worse too. Remember how they seemed to stretch longer and longer, until you couldn’t really tell where one started and another ended?”

“I didn’t like that time much.”

“Me neither.”

“I almost had to repeat the sixth grade,” Carla said, fiddling with the blanket again.

Lil smoothed her thick gray hair a bit at the back and adjusted her glasses before saying, “Are you sure we did the right thing?”

“How is anyone sure they did the right thing? When it comes to hard decisions, one never really knows, do they?”

 

***

 

He stood quietly at the head of the basement stairs, looking down into the darkness. He had tried the light switch now four times, somehow hoping it would work. The longer he stayed in the house, the more certain he was something just wasn’t right. Not a superstitious man, he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was that made him feel that way, but in his gut, something told him to finish up quick and get the hell out.

Hank considered not going downstairs and just saying he did. He thought about the way the house looked and wondered how they would even know if he didn’t completely check it out. In the back of his mind though, he knew he couldn’t do that. It wasn’t in him to not do a job right.

As he put his foot down on the first step, he heard the sound again, or at least he thought he did. It sounded like something scratching across concrete. He didn’t think it sounded like an animal scurrying away from him, bumping into things either. It didn’t have the light metallic sound of a soup can or an empty beer can; no, it held some weight to the sound and he didn’t like it. That didn’t stop him from stepping down to the next step, nor the next. It did make him wish he had stopped back at his truck for his flashlight though.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the light with each step and the darkness didn’t seem as complete as it had at the top of the steps. He noticed that there were a few dirt encrusted windows offering a meager bit of light around the walls on either side. Looking around, his eyes tried to pick out shapes in dim light.

“Hello?” he asked, his voice coming back to him off the stacked block walls of the foundation.

He felt stupid for saying anything, his voice felt out of place. Something else struck him odd. He thought that for lack of a better word, the house felt too quiet. Like it was somehow holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen. Another thought followed quickly on the heels of that one and it was that he hoped he was out of the house when it let that breath go.

That’s when he heard the sound and this time he knew what it was immediately. It was the sound of cinder blocks scraping across a concrete floor. Hank thought he might’ve felt the vibrations in his feet from the sound, but couldn’t be sure. But, it wasn’t the sound itself that chilled Hank and made his stomach feel like it was dropping to his knees, no, it was the thought of what was dragging those blocks because it sure as hell wasn’t a raccoon or a possum.

Turning, he reached out for the handrail and launched himself up the steps. Just as his feet were finding the second step, he heard a squeak and looked up. He saw a bit of rope passing rapidly through a pulley and then watched as the rectangle of light making up the doorway shrunk, the basement door slamming shut with a powerful thud.

“Shit!” he yelled to the darkness.

This time, the cinder blocks sounded much closer.

 

***

 

“Well, I think it’s definitely better this way.”

“I guess.”

Carla reached over and tried to reassure Lily by patting her arm, as she stood unsteadily. She looked out the window at the beat up looking pickup truck Hank had parked in front of their childhood home across the street.

“Think mother’s done yet?”

“Oh, I think so. I definitely think so. I’m going to call and get the pickup towed, so no one snoops too much.”

Lily sighed before asking, “How long will we have to do this?”

“As long as it takes.”

“Do you remember what daddy told us the night he left?” Lily asked.

“Yes. He looked right at me and said ‘There’s something wrong with mother’. His shotgun was on his shoulder and he looked more a little scared.

“Yes, he did,” Lily agreed.

“And, he was right,” Carla said, her eyes hardened shards of blue.

“Yes, he was.”