Free Chapters: Nuts, Chapter 3

Chapter 3

 

When I returned, I found Titus still staring at the wall. He seemed frozen, like a permanent fixture resembling the table and bed on his either side. He said nothing when I pulled him to his feet, and did not resist when I laid him on the bed.

“What are you doing?” he said when I rolled him towards the inside.

“I want to sleep with you.”

“Absolutely not,” said Titus. “It’s bad enough I’ve ruined your life. I don’t—”

He tried to sit up, but I pushed down on his chest. “I don’t have my bear anymore, so you will have to suffice.”

“You did not need one last week,” he said.

“I had a friend last week. But since you’ve stopped speaking to me, you’re going to serve some function besides decorating my room. I don’t like cluster and I don’t want to be alone.”

When Titus said nothing, I climbed into bed and pulled the sheets over us. He was much broader than my teddy bear, but he smelled nice, like the sea and autumn air. I put my arms around him. It was close enough. At least Titus did not fidget.

“It’s not so bad here,” I said. “The other ghosts have gotten used to the place. You will too. Why not make some friends?”

“Who told you there were other ghosts?” said Titus.

“Brenda,” I said. “She’s another patient at the ward. She’s got her own version of you, a man named Darcia.”

“And you’ve seen this Darcia fellow?”

“No, but he’s her ghost so why would he appear to me?”

Titus turned so that we were face to face.

“Your ability is universal,” he said. “You can see all ghosts. Even if we vanish, you can still feel our presence.”

“Are you sure?” I said. “I can’t see Darcia, and I haven’t seen any new ghosts since you arrived.”

“But you’ve seen more than one at a time?”

“When I was younger, yes.”

“Then ask your friend if she has as well. If this Darcia is her only ghost, he may simply exist as an outlet for a lonely and desperate woman.”

“Possibly. Then again, she might say I’m the crazy one.”

Titus looked down at his hand as I slipped my fingers through his.

“It’s alright. I know I’m not. You are tangible. To me alone, but you exist, as did the others. But no one has ever verified my presence either, and look…” I put my other hand against his cheek. “See? It’s all there. I’m not crazy. I can see you, clear as day, and touch you…” I ran my hand down his arm. “Has anyone else seen you? Or touched you before we met?”

Titus said nothing. He took my hand in his and held it up to his mouth.

“Then we are at an impasse,” I said. “It’s alright. Regardless of who’s crazy, Brenda said we can’t leave. Apparently the hospital is cursed, and anyone who tries to escape dies.”

“Do you believe her?” said Titus.

“No, but just the same, there’s no harm in staying put and making friends. Who knows? If we do decide to leave, we might take some of them with us.

Titus paused for a moment. “Are you sorry?”

“For what? We’re free, aren’t we? At least in the nuthouse we have company. It’s better than living alone outside.”

The next morning, I found Titus on his back, staring at the ceiling.

“Good morning.”

Titus said nothing.

I got to my feet and dressed quickly. One of the orderlies would arrive by nine with my breakfast and pills.

As I slipped a dress over my head, a pair of hands pulled the fringes down and tied the ribbon behind my back.

“If you wish to go outside, I will come with you.”

“What brought about the sudden change?”

Titus picked up my hairbrush. “Since I cannot make you leave, I want to meet the people in this hospital, see for myself that they’re not dangerous. It is as you suggested, if we cannot leave, we might as well proceed to live as comfortable to us.”

The door rattled. I heard the jingle of keys before the door swung open. In came the orderly I saw in the courtyard: he towered over us, over six feet in height, and he couldn’t have been more than twenty-five in age. From the front he looked less like a human and more like something from a romance novel. His black hair matched perfectly in shade with his eyes and goatee, and his olive skin suggested tropical origins.

“Hello,” he said in perfect English. “So this is where they put you.”

He produced a clipboard and grinned in a way that suggested he intended to share an inside joke.

“Lucille Dane. Fifteen. Claims she can see ghosts.”

He scanned my person.

“You don’t look crazy to me.”

“I’m not,” I said, “But you’re not supposed to believe me.”

I held out my hand for the pills. The orderly chuckled.

“Your pills are outside with your breakfast,” he said. “I’m Peter, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.”

I sat on my bed as he wheeled in a cart with a tray. He had toned arms, Peter, slender but well-defined. For a moment I wondered if his wife would not feel jealousy for him working in a hospital of shut-ins. Perhaps she did not care. Perhaps he did not have a wife.

As I ate, Peter watched from the chair by my desk. I purposely left the medicine where it sat, though neither this orderly nor the one before him seemed to care. The previous one had been a woman, a brunette with a a scowl for all but the door every time she entered my room. I got the feeling she didn’t want to be here, though the one time I tried to talk to her resulted in threats to report me to the doctor.

“Need a napkin?” said Peter, holding one up.

I shook my head and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.

“You’ll get your dress dirty,” he said. “It’s a nice one. Bright, like the color of stars. You’re well dressed for someone locked in this place.”

“I’m new,” I said. “I will learn their habits soon enough.”

Titus said nothing during the exchange. His figure, slumped against the wall behind the bed, continued its inspection of the window. Several times I glanced at him, waiting for his verdict of the new orderly. When he remained useless, I finished my cereal.

“All finished?” said Peter. “That’s a good girl. Don’t change too much, alright? I’d rather not add another shabby, shaking patient to my route. It’s what that needle jockey wants; subjugation. She likes to rule while the rest of us toil for her benefit.”

I swallowed some milk. I hadn’t expected further conversation, much less bitterness from an orderly. The previous one just dropped off my food and left. She never made eye contact, and I suspected she feared either the patients or her boss.

“Why are you here?” I said. “If you don’t like the doctor, I mean.”

“My sister got me the job. She works here with her fiance. You’ve probably seen him, big guy, toned, goes by Ted? No? Well, it’s not so bad, save the doctor’s ridiculous rules about bedtimes and noise. Otherwise, I’d invite you to watch me rehearse with my band.”

“You play in a band?” The words sounded ridiculous coming out of my mouth, yet he sounded as if he wanted to talk. Perhaps he felt isolated from the pack; the lone orderly in a game of doubles.

“Bass,” said Peter. “It’s not glamorous, and I’d be kidding you if I said I had what it took to be a professional musician. Everybody needs a pastime, and there’s not much to do around here unless you count feeding the Corner Man.”

I said nothing.

“No pressure,” said Peter. “But if you’re up for breaking the rules, my band and I practice in the old warehouse across the street. Bring the other patients with you. It might be fun.”

I considered. He didn’t seem intimidating, Peter. Quite the opposite. He had an honest voice, kind of goofy, but no rumble and smolder. I thought of asking Titus for his opinion, then reminded myself he no longer spoke.

“Are you always this friendly?” I said. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“Yes you have,” said Peter.

We stared at each other. My chest deflated. How did he know?

“Yesterday, in the courtyard. I saw you behind me, looking up. I’ll be very disappointed if you weren’t looking at me. You seemed happy, and it’s hard for me not to notice a happy person in a sea of vacant stares. I saw you head this way after dinner, so I traded routes with my sister.”

He smiled and mentally, I noted the relationship between him and my previous orderly. Perhaps their parents raised them separately: what his sister lacked in personality Peter compensated for in abundance. He seemed more alive than anyone I had met, like he knew something I didn’t or had seen parts of the world I didn’t know existed. I thought about taking his offer to see his band, then reminded myself not to be forward. I should discuss this with Titus, when we were alone.

“Well, I best get going,” said Peter, getting to his feet. “Lots of other patients on this route, and the old bird will flip if I’m late with their medication.”

“Will you come by tomorrow?” I said.

“Of course. I didn’t trade shifts for nothing.”

As an unfamiliar thrill ran through my body, I caught sight of Titus, slumped against the wall behind the bed. He rained expressionless, though his eyes followed Peter out the door.

“What’s wrong?” I said when the door closed. I got the impression he found the man distasteful. Strange, Titus was not the possessive type. He normally took pleasure to people who showed interest in me.

“Are you planning to sneak out?”

“Of course not,” I said. “But you have to admit, it was nice of him to offer.”

“Maybe,” said Titus.

“Why don’t you like him? He’s more pleasant than that other girl. She keeps calling me ‘Lily.’”

“I don’t care what she calls you as long as she does her job. That man though…he’s might be dangerous.”

“Isn’t that a bit dramatic?”

“Is it?” said Titus. “There’s dry blood under his fingernails.”

…..

“They all do every once in a while,” said Brenda some two hours later. “Most orderlies assist with surgical treatments. We have very few nurses. Working here is not an ideal job, even given the generous pay.”

I looked at Titus. He didn’t seem convinced.

“So where is Darcia?” I said.

Brenda raised an eyebrow. “He’s right here,” she said, gesturing to her other side. “Can’t you see him?”

I looked at Titus. He shook his head.

“Has he made himself invisible?” I said.

“No, but he might have lowered his visibility.” Brenda turned to the empty space beside her. “It’s rude to play jokes on our friend, Darcia. Turn your opacity up right now.”

I waited with little anticipation. Despite Brenda’s repeated requests, nothing appeared in the lounge.I had hoped that in bringing Titus, he could confirm Darcia’s existence. Surely ghosts could see other ghosts.

“Like I said, she must be an actual patient,” said Titus. “There’s no one there.”

I tapped Brenda on the shoulder. “You never told me what you thought of Titus.”

She turned to look at the space next to me. Titus waved. Brenda furrowed her brows.

“I can’t see him,” she said. “Do you mind asking him to turn up his opacity too?”

Titus put his hands to his temples. His body began to glow, filling the room with a bright, white light. The lounge crew shied from our direction, and the cross-legged man in the corner stopped talking to his shadow long enough to scowl at us. Brenda stared ahead, her expression unchanging.

“Did he do it?” she said.

Titus and I exchanged glances. Brenda pushed past me, kneeling in front of the couch and face to face with Titus. She squinted.

“Oh I see,” she said. “Good-looking guy, for a faded, pasty outline. Taller than I expected. I thought he’d be your size and age. What do you think, Darcia?”

I waited for more. Titus surveyed her, scanning her face as she conversed with the space behind her.

“She’s bluffing,” said Titus. “She feels the need to acknowledge my existence in order prolong her delusions. You have yet to deny Darcia’s existence, so she feels she must do the same.”

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Of course,” said both of them at the same time.

“He looks twenty,” said Brenda.

“Ask her for the color of my eyes,” said Titus.

The bell on the wall sounded.

We stood in line in the cafeteria, waiting for lunch. The lounge crew shuffled in front of us, Willy lecturing about the proper etiquette of bidding in Spades. He stopped when he saw us.

“Ladies.” He nodded in our direction. “Darcia.”

Titus raised his eyebrows.

“You can see him?” I said.

“Of course,” said Willy. “We’re telepaths. We can sense more than cards from the other realm.”

“He also indulges Brenda,” whispered John. “He’s got a thing for her, ever since she started playing cards with us.”

I thought about Titus’ theory. Perhaps Brenda is the type to indulge others in hopes they will indulge her delusions.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” said Chris, extending a hand in our direction.

“Yes, we have,” I said.

“I mean the gentleman next to you,” said Chris. “I’m Chris. You look like you could use a towel.”

“Titus,” said Titus. Slowly, he extended his hand. The telepath attempted to shake it, but his hand fell through and he clutch at nothing.

“That’s a bit of a problem,” said Carol. “I’m Carol. Have you thought of wearing a glove? Might make you easier to spot.”

“What are you two blabbering about?” said Willy. “There’s no one there.”

“Yes there is,” said both Chris and Carol.

“No, there isn’t,” said John.

As they bickered about who was right and who was delusional, it dawned on me that the lounge crew may not be on the same psychic wavelength. Chris could see Titus, but not Darcia. Carol seems to see both. Willy is only conscious of Darcia, and John saw neither. The espers’ argument grew louder as they neared the front of the line. Titus said nothing, and Brenda exchanged words with the space next to her. Perhaps Willy’s control over the lounge crew was only artificial, and it was his personality rather than his powers that bound the others.

“There are only three people there,” said Chris.

“Four,” said Carol.

“Both of you are insane,” said Willy. “Your powers are giving out. You’re seeing kids that don’t exist. Keep it up and you’ll be no better off than the actual crazies in this place.”

“Look who’s talking,” said Chris. “You’ve been struggling to maintain control of your powers. Who tried to play the Ace of Spades twice last game?”

“That was Carol!”
“No it wasn’t!”

“SHUT UP!”

All four of them stopped at once. We turned to see the bandaged girl behind Brenda, her brows furrowed as she held on to a gaunt, vulture-like man with half a head of hair. He wobbled next to her, towering like an obelisk on wheels with arms like those of a gorilla. I would have thought him ready to pass out had his biceps not pulsed and tightened.

“Alice, Jeffrey…” said Brenda.

“No!”said the girl. “No more outbursts. You’re adults, not children. Yet you’re always fussing and disrupting Jeffrey with your ghosts and make believe.”

She rounded on us, but turned a foot too far to the right. While Alice lectured, I made a mental note that her voice rang clear despite her bandaged face; it seems only her eyes were damaged.

“And what about poor Jeffrey?” she said. “Do you ever think of him? The poor man can’t create. How is he supposed to play?”

“He can start by going to his room,” said Willy. The rest of the Lounge Crew apologies; Chris shuffled his feet, John turned to the food line and started loading his tray, but Willy threw his scarf over his shoulder and nodded towards the door.

“If you want silence, there’s a morgue on the seventh floor. Otherwise, be quiet and mind your own business.”

Alice let go of the old man. “You’re not one to talk, Mr. Pretend Esper. Always banging your hands on the table and acting like you control the lounge. It’s no wonder people don’t go there anymore.”

“They have no more right to the space than we do,” said Willy. “At least we’re not paint the walls with our own feces.”

Alice turned a shade pinker. “I do not paint my walls with feces. I paint pictures with brushes.”

“And other people’s blood,” said Willy.

“I do not!”

Suddenly, the vulture-like man threw up his hands.

“It’s gone. It’s gone.”

He clutched the side of his head, thrashing left and right. The other patients back away from the line. Brenda reached for his shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!”  

A loud slap echoed through the room. Willy stepped forward. Titus raised a hand.

“No,” I said. “He’s not dangerous.”

“He is out of control,” said Titus. “Something’s been lost, and he blames the lot of you.”

Alice managed to find the man’s shoulders again. “Shame on you, Willy,” she said. “Just wait until the doctor hears about this.”

She helped the man shuffled past us and placed a bowl of something on his tray.

“It’s alright,” said Brenda. “Alice’s a bit strange, and Jeffrey’s just temperamental. All music prodigies tend to be.”

When the other moved out of earshot, she added, “Jeffrey composes a new piece everyday. They’re unique, brilliant, and unlike anything you’ll ever hear on the piano. He would’ve been famous, if he didn’t also have dementia.”

My eyes followed the hunched man. He moved from the meatloaf to the silverware, taking a set for himself and another for Alice.

“Why is he here?” I said.

“Tantrums,” said Brenda. “Because he doesn’t know how to write music, he has no way to record the pieces before he forgets them. His sister found him smashing furniture one day after he had forgotten a particularly endearing piece. It took five men to restrain him, and the judge had him locked down when he started ranting about lost loves. They say the madness started when he lost his first love twenty-five years ago, though no one knows if it’s a girl or a song.”

The two made their way to a table in the back. Alice wobbled as she ate, splashing soup all over her white patient’s gown. Jeffrey handed her a napkin.

“Are they—?”

“No.They’re just friends. The creative types tend to stick together. Alice used to be an artist in New York until an accident left her blind. She still sculpts and paints, and well. She also claims she can tell colors apart by their smell.”

“That sounds more like a virtue than a vice,” I said.

“Not when she’s throwing them at you.”

I eyed the artist as Brenda continued to explain. Like Brenda with Willy, Alice had a special friendship with the crooked musician; she was the only person Jeffrey permitted to touch him. The two had been friends since Alice was first committed. She had a habit of throwing paint balloons at her canvases. Since she couldn’t see, her aim suffered nine times out of ten, and some unfortunate object or animal became the target of her inspiration. To the frustration of her aged grandfather, she took up sculpting to compensate for her lack of two-dimensional output, and after stabbing her landlord by accident, Alice was removed from her studio apartment and placed in Dover Hill.

When everyone finished eating, the orderlies gave us our medication and escorted us out of the room. When afternoon came, they informed us we could spend an extra hour in the courtyard. They thought fresh air would benefit us all.

“It’s possible they’re bringing in a new patient,” said Titus. “We saw no one during our first hour.”

As we followed the short, squarish orderly down the stairs, I caught Titus looking over his shoulder. Brenda rushed in to join the rear, looking more disheveled than she did at lunch.

Our group wandered around the courtyard, admiring a new sculpture the doctor had purchased. It looked like a man, bent, hunched, its metal splattered with red, blue, and purple paint.

“Nice, right?” said Brenda. “Looks like something Alice might have made before she went blind. They say she had her own exhibit back in the day.”

“Do you think she can really smell colors?” I said. Brenda nodded, then went into a reverie about the first time she and Darcia met Alice. I got the impression she enjoyed indulging other people. She liked every patient in the hospital and she wanted them to like her as well.

“Colors cannot be smelled,” said Titus. “Likely the woman keeps her paint systematically organized. She may be a genius, but that doesn’t exclude her from being a charlatan.”

“Why don’t we ask her ourselves?”

Brenda paused. “Ask her what?”

“Alice,” I said. “Titus and I would like to speak with her.”

Brenda looked around. The artist was not in the courtyard.

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Free Chapters: Nuts, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

 

They put me in Room 606, next to the other “schizophrenics”. Some, like the man down the hall who thought he was a tree, were real. Others ranged from clairvoyant to folks avoiding social proprieties by pretending to be sick. Our rooms were arranged in numerical order, first by floor, then from left to right. I hadn’t toured the first five, but an orderly explained that each floor hosted a different ward — the fifth floor had comatose patients, the second floor had a visiting area. The sixth floor contained two corridors, a lounge, a game room where patients could dance and engage in other types of indoor activity, and the cafeteria. The orderly said there was another on the fourth floor. At the end of my corridor, a large window covered the wall intersecting Rooms 601 and 623, and I was told to stay out of Room 607 due to vacancy.

Titus refused to leave our room during the first week. He sat silent in a corner, staring at the wall as if willing it to disappear.

“You are overthinking this,” I said. “No one will care if you join me in the garden. They already think I’m crazy.”

Titus continued to stare. For a second, I wondered if he had frozen, or died some horrible ghost death I knew nothing about.

“Titus…”

“They will release you if you recover.”

“I don’t want to be released,” I said. “I like Dover Hill. No one yells or makes fun of us. They’re nice Titus. They talk to us. They understand.”

Titus said nothing.

“We can’t go home anyway,” I said. “The neighbors already think I’m crazy, and Father will lock me up again. At least here, I get to go outside.”

“For how long?”

I thought for a moment. The doctor quarantined patients who refused to recover. Some of the terminal ones lost privileges for refusing to take their medication, and on my third day, I watched her orderlies pry open the mouth of an elderly man. She forced the pills down his throat and had him escorted to his room. We haven’t seen him since.

“I won’t be obvious,” I said. “I’ll pretend I’m talking to someone else when orderlies come.”

Titus stared at the wall. I employed additional schools of reasoning, in case one might penetrate his antiquated breeding, but our conversation eventually devolved into a monologue similar to that of another patient’s with a brick wall. The ghost had all the virtues and vices of the 18th century, and for a moment, I wondered if I should hit him, maybe pull his ears so he would fill our room with something besides silence and dread. He would never yell at me; he never did, though once he made for better company than a dresser drawer or mop.  

“Might I trouble you for shelter?”

It had rained for three days. Since Memorial Day, the streets had emptied, and our neighborhood fell silent save for the occasional passing car. Out of mercy, Father permitted me to open my window, in case mildew should accumulate in my second floor bedroom. I had seen no one for several months. I was not to interact with boys, much less than the ghosts of the departed same.

“I will only be a moment,” said Titus.

I opened the window, and a whiff of fresh air hit my face with sprinkles of water. The ghost fell in, bringing with him a dampness that filled my room with the scent of dew.

“Thank you,” he said. “Wind does not benefit those who float.”

I giggled. “You can stay as long you like,” I said. “Just don’t leave this room. I’m not allowed to have guests, especially when I’m grounded.”

“Why are you grounded?” said Titus.

“I made a mistake. Father says I have to stay here until he figures out what to do with me. Mother brings me food twice a day.”

“How long has it been?” said Titus. “A week? Two?”

“Six months,” I said. “Eight, if you count the two before I tried to escape.”

Titus stopped wringing his hair. “What happened?” he said. “They are your real parents, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” I said. “They’re just upset. It hasn’t been not all bad. Ghosts like you have come and gone, and Father will eventually me out.”

“I hope so,” said Titus, “for your sake.”

He slept in a corner that night, a shimmering semi-transparent mass shaped like a boy. I watched him, fascinated by the company though careful not to make a sound. In many ways, he reminded me of an old friend, silent but warm. It was as if I could go outside again. I shook my head, dismissing old memories and the weather. Father had instructed me to sleep, and Mother would notice in the morning if I did not. I hid under the covers and tried not to dwell on my visitor.

The next morning, I found my room clean and my textbooks arranged neatly on my desk. Mother rewarded me with a piece of licorice, which I offered to share with Titus.

“Ghosts do not eat,” he said. “But I appreciate the sentiment.”

I munched on my treat, scribbling through my worksheets as rain beat against my window. Titus watched, correcting the occasional spelling errors. It was nice to have his company. Father worked all day in advertisement, and Mother spent her time in her room.

“Have you always taken lessons in here?” said Titus. “Why don’t you go to school?”

“Mother doesn’t like school. She says girls used to pinch her when she went, and all anyone cared about was burning rubber and back seat bingo.”

“What is ‘back seat bingo’?” said Titus.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I have no idea.”

When the rain refused to relent, I invited Titus to stay another night.

“You can have a blanket if you like,” I said. “Do ghosts get cold?”

“No,” said Titus, “but we appreciate the concept of warmth, like you. There is a certain therapeutic effect to keeping company with the living, though whether it’s purely psychological is up for debate.”

I got the impression that he was smarter than me, but took solace in establishing a mutual understanding. Even before my grounding, I spent most days by myself, alone in the cold except on the days the gardener brought his son to work. I used to bother the boy when he passed by, insisting that, since he had planted flowers everywhere else, he should do the same beneath my window.

Months passed, and Titus remained due to my insistence and the rain refusing to relent. He told me stories of his adventures at sea, of getting ambushed by pirates, and swearing to the code of the dead so that he could remain in this world. In return, I told him stories from my childhood and of the visitors like him that came before him.

“When did you first realize you could see ghosts?” he said.

“I don’t know. It must have been sometime last year. We had a storm in late autumn and…well…”

“Well?” he said.

“I went outside to check on a friend. It was my fault for getting wet, and Father got very angry when I came back.”

“Is that why he locked you in?” said Titus. “For getting wet?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I brought my friend into the house. He fell asleep outside and I didn’t want him to catch a cold.”

“Oh,” said Titus. “Your father dislikes your friend?”

“No, he just didn’t want him in the house.”

Titus paused. “Did your father think your friend was a gentleman caller?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Father doesn’t like to talk about the incident.”

“I see,” said Titus. He glanced around the room. “You like flowers, don’t you? I’ve never seen so many references to horticulture.”

“It’s not a bad pastime for a shut in,” I pulled a book from the bookshelf. “My friend gave me this. He said I could read it during the days he doesn’t visit.”

“Is this the same friend that got you in trouble?”

“He didn’t mean it,” I said. “He used to work in our garden with his father. We’d talk about the flowers, our hobbies…” I paused. “You’re not going to haunt him, are you?”

Titus waived the question away. “I told you,” he said. “Even a single transgression again the living will damn a ghost to hell.”

Back in Room 606, Titus continued staring at the wall as if he hoped to bore a hole in it. I pulled him towards me, shaking him and hoping to elicit some kind of reaction.

“Will you please come with me to the garden?” I said. “It’s five o’clock. We’ll miss the flowers if the sun sets.”

Titus remained frozen. I rolled my eyes. If he wanted to behave like furniture, he could have stayed at the house.

While the ghost moped, I joined a group of patients on their way to the courtyard. We trudged slowly, guarded by orderlies on either side. A tall one with short black hair stood but a few feet in front of me. I could not see his face, but the animation of the patient next to him told me he must be handsome. The woman spoke rapidly, waved her hands and gestured towards the gates.  The orderly turned. His profile, at least, was handsome.

Something bumped my shoulder, and a girl drew up beside me, also watching the orderly. She had bandages around her head so that only brown hair and one eye remained visible. I thought I saw her flinch when the other patient laughed.

“Hi,” I said.

She continued to stare at the orderly.

“Do you know them?”

She turned to me. Clouds swirled in her exposed eye, milky save a faded circle of green at the circumference. I apologized, moving quickly towards the front of the line so that I would not have to explain my train of thought. The girl was blind; she had not been watching the other patient.

A passing wind reminded me that I was outside. I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath as the evening chill brushed against my face. I relished the taste of freedom, its dance past my lips and through my windpipes and stomach. Prison or not, at least here, I could breathe. I sat on the grass and shoved my hands in the dirt by the flowerbeds, allowing my fingers to curl around the damp, dark earth. It did not fall through my fingers.

When the other patients settled, I noticed one of the other female patients sitting beside me, an older girl, maybe seventeen, nice-looking, as if she could be in the pictures with a little extra weight. Her chestnut hair bounced against her chest as she too shoved her hands in the dirt.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” she said. “So refreshing. Did you know it’s good for your skin?”

I shook my head.

“I’m Brenda,” she said. “You must be the new girl. I hear you can see ghosts too.”

“Yes,” I said. “You–”

She gestured to her left. “This is my friend Darcia.”

I looked at the empty spot to her left.

“He’s handsome, isn’t he?”

I stared at the spot a little longer, wondering if a ghost might appear with time. Brenda looked on my other side, then around me before frowning.

“Where is your ghost?” she said.

“In my room. Titus didn’t want to come out. He’s upset we’re here in the first place.”

“That’s how Darcia felt as well,” said Brenda. “When we moved here two years ago, he declared this place unsuitable for a man of his position and insisted we return to New Hampshire. He’s gotten used to it by now, though he’s also gotten a bit scruffy, don’t you think?”

Again I looked to her other side, waiting for signs of movement or a disturbance to break the silence. The flowers tilted with the wind, and trees rustled, but nothing out of the ordinary happened save a passing dung beetle rolling his ball. For a ghost, Darcia certainly did not care if we acknowledged his presence, if he had a presence.

“He still won’t call this place home,” said Brenda. “Not that I blame him, but we can’t leave. Despite his own condition, Darcia refuses to let me join him in the afterlife.”

“It’s sweet of him,” I said. “But there’s nothing wrong with this hospital. It’s safe, it’s got amenities, and a courtyard. It’s supposed to be the best in the country.”

“Sure,” said Brenda. “It’s great… until you try to leave.”

She lowered her voice to a whisper. “In case you didn’t know, this place was a state asylum twenty years ago, complete with mayhem and mismanagement. It only came under Dr. Clayton’s care after the Hatman incident.”

“What is the Hatman incident?” I said.

Brenda scanned the area, then leaned towards me.

“It all started when the first doctor killed himself. He had been discovered experimenting on patients, and police found a pile of dead bodies in the hospital’s basement, all rotting at different rates and all bearing signs of misused insulin shock therapy. Most of them were orphans or the elderly, people no one would miss. The only exception was the doctor’s own son, a little boy around grade school age. His father had gouged out his eyes and slit his throat, then duct taped him to the ceiling of the basement with a note that read ‘No One Leaves.’ As a last act, he set himself on fire, dressed in a full suit, including his wide-brimmed hat. It was a nightmare for the community; the state gutted the building and only erected a new hospital after several years. For a while, things were fine, then patients started reporting strange encounters. Objects went missing, mostly pens and writing utensils, and scribbles started appearing on walls that no one claimed credit to. Eventually, even the staff started seeing shadows around corners. Several folks reported being followed by the shadow of a man with a wide-brimmed hat–the Hatman, they called him. They didn’t know whether to be scared; nothing happened unless they tried to leave. A old woman vanished shortly after being discharged, as did a young man, a middle-aged lady. Finally, after several months, a doctor who had quit his job disappeared the day after he resigned. The entire hospital searched for him and the Hatman. The orderlies even issued flashlights for the night patrol. Only the problem was… he got them first.”

Brenda took a deep breath, then looked around again.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just… the police found a second pile of bodies, including the missing doctor’s. Most ended up the same as the boy from years before: gouged eyes, slit throats, duct tape everywhere with a sign that says ‘No One Leaves’. The state closed the hospital and sent everyone from the police to the church to investigate. When they discovered nothing, they sold the property to a wealthy investor, who sent Dr. Clayton to establish another asylum. Locals complained, but stopped when Clayton promised to admit only the chronically ill. The hospital has been incident-free for almost a decade, but no one leaves, and some of the older patients are afraid of their own shadows.”

As Brenda rambled, I couldn’t help questioning the veracity of her story. How could she, a girl from another state and but a few years older than me, know so much about murders that occurred decades before? Had she heard the story from someone else? Did the doctor or an orderly spread it as a deterrence from escaping? She certainly didn’t improve her credibility certainly by claiming clairvoyance; no ghosts, named Darcia or otherwise, had appearing during our conversation. Maybe Brenda was a pathological liar. Maybe ghosts only appeared to their designated humans, and the cosmic laws prevented more than a handful of spirits from bothering the same person.

The latter I accepted as true, since it was better than the alternative: that either Brenda or I, or both, had lost our marbles.

We had dinner at seven, a silent affair involving rows of patients, like inmates, with steel trays and liquid consumables. The orderlies delivered medication to each of us, and Brenda and I swallowed our pills without thought. I couldn’t tell if the pills were meant to affect me outside of giving me chills. They tasted like peppermint, sweet, icy, like wind.

Before leaving the cafeteria, I looked out its window at the city beneath the hills. The ashen sky blended well with the skyscrapers, melting together, save the subtle outlines of edges and antennas. Lights flickered on and off, marking the departure of their workers, off on another journey, some home, some to buy a night’s dream with a week’s worth of compensation.

Brenda pulled me away before the orderlies noticed my behavior. “Come with me,” she said. “I’ll introduce you to the others.”

She led me into the common area separating our ward from the depressed and demented. Unlike the game room, this place had couches instead of chairs and cabinets filled with trinkets and games. Four teenagers sat around a coffee table with hands held in front of their faces as if holding cards. They varied in height, but not presentation. Each donned a gray shirt with matching gray jeans.

“They’re the Lounge Crew,” said Brenda. “Telepaths playing Spades with no cards.”

The four men introduce themselves as Chris, Carol, John and Willy. They had been friends for years, and patients for most of their lives. It was Willy’s family who discovered Dover Hill, after the four attempted to fly off the roof of Willy’s house in order to test the limits of their powers.

“You’re welcome to join us,” said Carol. He seemed the youngest, a square-faced boy with a wide mouth and thick glasses. My first impression was that he could not see despite the glasses; he spoke at Brenda when addressing me.

The others made space. Willy changed the game to poker, or so he said when he pat the table to signify folding his cards. Unlike the others, Willy sported a blue scarf that matched his eyes. The boy would have been handsome, if he had a stronger chin.

“The game is simple,” said Willy as Carol made shuffling gestures. “Five cards each with one round of discard. Chris will start the bets. I’ll get the chips.”

I waited for him to get up, but he remained seated, hazy-eyed as Chris, John, and Carol called out their bets. On my turn, I echoed Carol’s claim. Brenda did the same.

“Excellent,” said Willy. “You may look at your cards.”

He touched the table. The others did the same, except Chris, who slapped his hand against its wooden surface. My hands hovered over the spot before of me. There were no cards. I looked over at Brenda. There were no chips either.

She tapped the table with her hand.

“Discard three,” said Chris. He withdrew, but not before stretching and accidentally kicking John. At six-foot seven, with a sharp, hook-like nose, Chris took up an entire three-seat couch by himself. Unlike the others, he refused to sit, and instead lounged with one knee up and his other leg over the armrest. John shot him a dirty look.

“Discard two,” said John. His brown hair turned a shade redder along with his face. I admit I was impressed by the chameleon effect.

“Discard two as well,” said Carol. The group turned to me.

“Discard two?” I said.

They continued to stare. I waited for one of them to speak.

“Which two?” said Willy. “Hand over your cards.”

I stared at them. Surely, there must be an unspoken rule.

“Well?”

I tapped the table. They waited for more.

“She might not know how to play,” said Carol.

“Then she shouldn’t have joined,” said Willy.

“I change my mind,” I said. “I won’t discard any.”

Willy shifted his attention to Brenda.

“I fold,” she said.

Willy announced he would discard three and again the group spoke their bets. I added nothing. Willy, though small, seemed more assertive than the other three combined. I did not want people to hate me so soon after arriving.

“Everyone done?” said Chris. A grin spread across his face. “Read them and weep.”

The others groaned.

“Damn it, Chris,” said John. “I had two pairs.”

“I only had one,” said Carol.

Chris wagged his finger at us. “Not my fault. Next time, bid less when you have terrible hands.”

Willy turned at me. “Well? Show your cards.”

I looked at Brenda. Surely she knew the secret of their mental realm. She knew to fold. Could she not read my signal for help?

“I fold,” I said, echoing what seemed to be the only course of action.

“You can’t fold. The game is over.” Willy pushed me aside and tapped the table in front of me.

“You have a straight,” he said. “Chris, hand over the chips.”

“She said she folded,” said Chris. Willy snapped his fingers.

“Hand over the chips.”

“They’re my win,” said Chris. “She doesn’t even know how to play.”

“She’s doing just fine,” said Carol.

Chris pointed to the table. “What cards do you have?” he said to me.

I looked at Brenda again. She shrugged.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“They’re right in front of you,” said Chris.

The table sat unmoving, still brown, still wooden. I tapped it with my knuckles.

“What are you doing?” said Carol. “Your cards are over there.”

“There’s nothing there,” I said. “There’s nothing in front of any of you.”

A hush fell over the room. Willy’s eyes bulged and Brenda hurried to put her hands on his chest to keep him from rising.

“She didn’t mean it,” said Brenda. “She’s new, aren’t you Lucy?”

I said nothing. John shook his head, and Carol and Chris murmured to each other. Willy settled down, but not before leaning over and lecturing Brenda about keeping proper company.

“Sorry, sorry,” she kept saying.

I excused myself, leaving the Lounge Crew men to their suspicions. A part of me kicked at the idea of being called crazy by men playing imaginary cards.

As I trudged down the hall, careful to tune out the debate between lounge crew members, I considered the logistics of their game. The men saw that which didn’t exist, at least in this realm. Did the Lounge Crew’s cards function like ghosts? Would Titus be able to see them?  

I turned into a different corridor, past the rec room where a man sat cross-legged on the floor, his head drooped over an empty bowl. The lights flicked above my head, buzzing alongside the soft thuds of my footsteps. The ward had so many patients, so many interpretations of reality.

My ears twitched. A crescendo echoed behind me. Brenda appeared by my side, panting for breath.

“You left so suddenly,” she said. “Don’t be mad. Willy’s not mean, he’s just impatient. He wants you to play by their rules.”

“What are their rules?” I said.

“I don’t know. But next time, ask them to look at your cards for you if you cannot see. Willy isn’t above helping the less gifted. He only hates being called a liar.”

“Can you see them?” I said. “The cards.”

“Well… no. But I play sometimes and let one of the boys check for me. They never play anything but Spades and Poker, and only Spades among themselves.”

I said nothing. Again, her story seemed fabricated, stupid, as if a figment of imagination created by four children living in their own world. Spades was a four-player game, involving secrecy and partnership. It was impossible to remember which of the fifty-two cards had been played even with physical indicators. How could the four men simultaneously remember the same sequence? Were they really psychics playing cards in another realm? Or simply geniuses who convinced themselves of a nonexistent gift through mutual assurance?

I glanced back at the lounge. The fireplace cracked as the four Lounge Crew members  resumed their game. Again, their hands rose to their faces, with no cards in them or on the table. Another theory rose in my mind. Could there be no homogeneity? Could the lounge crew simply be a group of schizophrenics, clinging to their last shreds of sanity as they indulge each other’s delusions as atonement for their own?

Free Chapters: Nuts, Chapter 1

Dear Readers,

Apologies for disappearing — it was not because I forgot how to write. I took a job this past year that left little time for my projects (or as an unfortunate side effect, sleep). I have since found a new job.

After some thought, I’ve decided to post chapters of my projects here, in case anyone is interested in a preview or leaving feedback. The first chapter of Nuts will be posted below. Please let me know if you have any questions (or if you just want to chat). Final compilations will be on Amazon.

Thank you for your continued support.

Blanche


NUTS

Chapter 1

My reverend once said only God serves as a control for the truth, the referee between dreams and delusions. The rest we must discover for ourselves: the sights we cannot see, the voices we cannot hear–

“Ms. Dane.”

The sound of my name jolted me back to the doctor’s office. I shook my head. The woman sat behind her desk, my report in hand, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Her muttering seeped into my head, slow like a mist, rolling, as if passing through my forehead instead of ears.

“Do you believe you can see spirits?”

Her clipboard knocked against the mahogany desk, a divider that sat between us, the sane and insane, its edges flawlessly varnished on her side and chipped on mine. I counted the scratches along my edge of the wood: ten, twenty… a deep set paralleled my chest, just inches apart. One of the patients had been a child. Maybe five. Six, at most.

“Ms. Dane.”

I looked up.

“Ghosts,” I said. “Imprints of the dearly departed. No one can see spirits. They’re souls. They don’t have shape.”

Mother’s nails dug into my shoulder. Father interested himself in the curtains.

“And these ghosts,” said the doctor. “Are they here with you?”

I glanced at Titus.

“Are there ghosts here with you, Ms. Dane?”

He shook his head.

“Lucy, answer the question,” said my mother.

Titus adjusted his collar in the mirror.

“Ms. Dane.”

Titus drifted to where my father stood, sat down on the couch, and folded his arms. He was a relic from the golden age of sailing, a permanently wet boy, physically, as if recently dredged from the sea. More than once, I tried to towel him off, only to have him remain sopping, much to my consternation.

“Don’t follow me with your eyes,” said Titus.  “The doctor can tell.”

I shifted my gaze to the doctor’s face. Its wrinkled prune-like texture wrapped tightly around her heavy jawbone. She looked as if someone drained the juice in her face with a syringe, or at least, had tried and found only dust. Her head bent downward, just enough to show the degrees hanging on the wall behind her: Harvard college, Harvard medical school.

“Ms. Dane!”

The doctor snapped her fingers. “Is there a ghost in here with you?”

I stared past them at her nose. It tilted upward, advertising the imprints on either side of her bridge and noting that, at least that part of her anatomy had been constantly rubbed.

“Lucy, answer the doctor,” said my father.

I fixated on her nose.

“Lucy!”

I blinked. “Would you believe me if I said ‘no?’”

A wail escaped my mother. Titus stood.

“Your daughter shows symptoms of schizophrenia,” the doctor said to my father. “The hallucinations, the hostility, even the conviction that she alone is correct in her perception of the world.”

My father’s hands clenched at his sides. “Is there no cure?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the doctor. “There was the possibility of therapy during the early stages, or of electroshock therapy years ago, but with government regulations and Lucy’s condition being what they are, your only solution is to have the patient committed and hope for a miracle. I will provide you with a list of available hospitals.”

Mother’s sobs grew louder. Father patted her back.

“What about here?” he said. “Dover Hill has a unique reputation, a new hospital with revolutionary methods. I saw it in the news. Many of your patients have recovered despite their hopeless cases. Can’t you take Lucy?”

“We have limited space,” said the doctor. “Due to high demand, we only offer in-patient care for a substantial fee. It’s not the money. It’s to ensure our quality of care stays high. We are a new hospital after all, you understand.”

“Of course,” said my father. He chewed on his lower lip. “How much will it be?”

While the doctor and my father negotiated, Titus crossed the room in two strides and grabbed my arm.

“We’re leaving,” he said. “They’ll lock you up if we don’t leave.”

“I don’t mind,” I said.

Titus pulled, but I remained in my seat. I didn’t want to go home. Dover Hill had a garden full of tulips and petunias. I hadn’t seen a garden in months. I hadn’t seen anything in months, and I heard Dover Hill allowed its residents to watch TV on the weekends.

“We’re leaving, now,” said Titus.

The doctor’s head turned sharply in our direction.

“Do not try to escape. You will not make it out of this room.”

We both stared at my floating arm. Titus released me.

“This is not your fight, doctor. Why must Lucy be confined for your lack of foresight?”

The doctor ignored him. So did everyone else.

“Old woman!”

The doctor continued to ignore him.

“This is the necessary paperwork,” she said to my father. “If you complete them now, I shall have the orderlies arrange a room for Lucy in the next hour.”

With an apologetic look at my mother, Father took the papers and began to write.

“How-how long does Lucy have to be here?” said Mother.

The doctor took off her glasses. “We can’t be sure. Short of a miracle, late stage schizophrenia cannot be cured, only quarantined. We will do our best for her.”

“There’s nothing wrong with her!”

Titus’ voice rose above the scratch of my father’s pen.

“You can’t just lock up a fifteen year-old because she can see things you cannot. What kind of monsters are you?”

“Initial here,” said the doctor, pointing to a spot on the page in front of my father.

Titus’ eyes glowed, and I suddenly became aware of the sound of waves and sea shanties. An antique wooden clock shook on the doctor’s shelf. Titus pointed two fingers at the doctor. A revolver appeared in his hand: old, rusty, loaded–

“Stop,” I said. “It’s not worth it.”

“Who are you talking to?” said the doctor.

I grabbed Titus’ sleeve. “You know what happens to ghosts who harm the living.”

“For God’s sake, Lucy, sit still,” said Mother.

Titus shot me a pained look. “This is my fault.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “I asked you to stay. If you hadn’t, I might have actually gone insane.”

“Andrew, it’s happening again,” said Mother.

My father stopped writing and pushed my arm down by my side.

“Enough!”

His eyes bore into mine with a hatred I had only seen once before, when he found me introducing Titus to the neighbors.

“Lucy…” The revolver wavered in Titus’ hand.

“Please,” I said.

He pointed his own chest.

“That won’t work either,” I said. “They’ll put me away, with or without you here. ”

“Then on my honor I swear I will get you out,” said Titus.

I giggled. “So dramatic,” I said. “Come with me to Dover Hill. The house might be boring after I leave.”

The doctor pressed a button under her desk.

“We need escorts for Ms. Dane. Prepare a room for immediate transport.”

A voice on the other end answered in the affirmative.

Within the hour, orderlies arrived to escort me to my ride home. I tried to smile at my parents before the door closed, but they wouldn’t look in my direction. My mother cried. Father patted her back as he stared at his signature on the dotted line.

My parents took me home to collect my things. Mother sobbed quietly into a napkin on the way. Father drove. When we got out of the car, he ushered me into the house and up the stairs. Titus followed me into my room. Father disappeared for a moment, then brought a suitcase into my room, along with the books and toys I had left around the house. He threw them on my bed, then turned on his heels, careful to avoid eye contact. I guessed he made peace with the fact that he has no child.

As I packed, I heard the door click behind me.

“They locked you in,” said Titus.

“They’re afraid I’ll run away.”

I rummaged through the piles of my belonging. The ruffled dresses, the paperback novels, the dolls whose hairs I had meticulously braided. Everything I owned had to fit in the five-by-five suitcase. Whatever I didn’t take with me would end up in the trash.

“You don’t…” Titus held up a bear my father had given me for my fifth birthday. Its fluff had worn out from years of hugs and snuggles, and one of its eyes was loose. I held it for a second. It had been my favorite toy for years before I realized I could see dead people.

A thud against my window drew my attention outside. Pebbles bounced against the glass.

“Hey Crazy! Is it true you’re really crazy?”

The voice belonged to a boy from next door.

“My mother says you’re a nutter!”

Another voice giggled, little Suzie’s, from across the street.

“Go away Crazy! No one likes you.”

“God hates you,” said the boy. “God’s going to punish you.”

A potted plant broke through the window, shattering against the wooden floor. Soil spilled over my clothes. Titus got to his feet.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Someone else will get rid of them.”

Moments later, my father’s voice sounded, yelling at the children to get off his property. I heard their screams of mirth and mocking fear, then the pitter-patter of footsteps told me they had run away.

I dusted myself off. A pair of hands joined mine, brushing dirt from my midriff.

“Why are you doing this?” said Titus.

I took his hands in mine and pushed them into the soil. A tiny, shriveled crisp crumbled under the pressure.

“Can you feel it between your fingers?” I said. “It’s dry. Too dry to keep the flowers alive.”

His fingers shook as I curved them into a scoop. We watched dirt trickle across the floor.

“No one’s watered them in months,” I said. “Not since you came. Not since we’ve been locked in here.”

“I don’t–”

“They need water, Titus, just like us. When hydrated, soil is solid, but without, it cracks little by little until it turns to sand. I don’t want to crack, Titus. I don’t want to be swiss cheese. Father’s kept me here for over six months. Six months without fresh air or company, except you, of course. If I stay any longer, I shall actually go mad.”

He stared at the soil, then uncupped his hands and let the soil plop.

“I’ll help you pack.”

We loaded my suitcase with clothes and toys. I put my father’s bear in the discard pile and took instead an extra sweater. Titus suggested we bring some tape, in case we need something immediately fixed.

An hour later, the door clicked and my father appeared. He picked up my suitcase and towed me towards the car. I asked where Mother was. He did not answer.

In the hallway I caught a glimpse of a shadow peeking out of my parent’s room. I waved at Mother. I guess it was her way of saying goodbye. I tried to smile, but my father pushed me out the door before I could open my mouth. As the car pulled away, I saw a face by the window. It was the last time I saw my mother’s face. I don’t remember what she was wearing or what her expression was, but I felt warm, knowing she had come to see me off.

Outside, the car waited on the seemingly abandoned road. The neighbors’ windows were open, many with their curtains drawn and the silhouettes of people visible through them. Father ushered me into the back seat. We drove in silence, Father obscured from my view by his headrest. Titus rode in silence beside me.

Three men in white stood at the gates of Dover Hill. One spoke with Father while the others collected me and my things. I looked back at my father. He looked older than I remembered. I tried to smile at him. He did not smile back.

Reflections & Book Update on Nuts

One of my friends reminded me yesterday that The Almshouse is approaching its one-year anniversary.

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I must say, I’m proud of the little book. Though it dipped in rankings, the book held out its own since early February 2016. I feel a little like a parent whose kid is self-sufficient, and claim no credit to its ventures or its friendship with its readers.

Thinking back, the story used to be just questions floating in my head, keeping me occupied in class while my teachers went on and on about some form of math. I found an old copy of the manuscript from my teenage years, back when I still scribbled in notebooks. For some reason, I thought clam chowder served as a better soup than chicken, and Lyle had spent a great deal of time teaching Julia to dance rather than playing his violin. It’s a good thing I wrote the story in drafts.

Along the same lines of nostalgia, I thought of the little girl who inspired the story, and wondered what she’s been up to. She had been a pretty little girl: blond, with curly hair, around my age at the time I saw her. We had both been preteens, though she a much better dressed one than I. I should also revisit the cemetery that inspired Mansion Park, maybe finally read the epithet on the headstone the girl had been staring at. (When I was younger, I tried to make out the words below the date, but had to leave because my friends wanted to go for ice cream.)

Anyway, I’m working on a prettier cover for the paperback version. The sequel is ~ 33% done, and the third book is ~20% done. Sincerely, From the Other Side is a spin-off, written long ago during homeroom and English, and tags on after the third book. I should probably learn to write in order.

nutsBook update on Nuts: It’s 95% done. I had originally planned to finish the book by September and launch it this month. Instead, it’s November, and Nuts sits one chapter away from completion. It’s been this way for months. (I will ramble about it below.) The copy editor has already started reading the beginning, and I’ll finish it by the end of next week in time for him to get through it.

I really shouldn’t make excuses. The trouble started after I returned from a business trip in early August. I’m an attorney by trade, working in a large law firm with rules, regulations, and people that remind you of the TV shows Suits and The Good Wife. If those shows teach anythings, it’s that law firms are no strangers to bad news. So when I got back to the firm, I found that the partners funding our practice area left with the business. Skedaddled, vamoosed, ran away and left behind a handful of associates. As the most junior person (I graduated law school last December), I found myself with half a team left at a firm targeted by major legal news outlets and headhunters. It was open season on our business, our associates, our clients. Every week, someone left. Every week, headhunters poached us. The legal news outlets went crazy: our firm is sinking, they said. Our firm might collapse, they said.

Well, they’re wrong. We did not collapse, thanks to management rescuing as many folks as they could. The remaining younger associates got sent to different departments, and older partners called in favors to help rescue the team. We’re now a different firm, but at least we’re stable… only we won’t be “we” anymore. I’m off to a new venture, to clerk for a judge. It was something I had planned for next year, but given recent developments, I thought I’d head off now and come back later. Hopefully, this will allow me to do what I really want to do: be a prosecutor.

Proposed Author Feature: Ron Ripley

Greetings everyone.

For my next author feature, I thought I would review one of my favorite new authors, Ron Ripley. Unfortunately, I’m having some trouble locating him. If anyone knows him, please give him a shout out and let him know I would love to interview him, if he has time. Please and thank you.

I will update this if I find him.

Best,

Blanche

Author Stories: C. Gockel

Good morning everyone!

Apologies for the lack of updates. I am still writing, though I wish I had more time. One of my cases is gearing up for trial, so as the most junior grunt at my law firm, I’ve been doing a lot of this:


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I’m still hoping to release either Nuts or the sequel to my first book by the end of the year. I don’t want The Almshouse to be my only book. (One is the loneliest number you’ll ever know…) One of them is half done, but it needs thorough scrubbing. One of my copy editors is on it.

Anyway, to the purpose of this post. Some time ago, I decided to give urban fantasy a try and was surprised by how much I liked it. Specifically, I really liked C. Gockel’s

I Bring the Fire (A Loki Series)

Take a sweet young lady and mischievous Norse god, add a pinch of sarcasm, a hint of romance, and a whole lot of “why is this happening?” and you get the story of a young woman introducing a technically old-man to a new world.  (Seriously, go take a look. I strongly recommend this series, and I don’t have much time to read anymore.) I admit I’m a sucker for elegant prose, and C.Gockel has a beautiful style, so much so that I thought I should ask her if she has tips for us new authors. Lucky for me, she was happy to help!

1. When did you start writing and when did you publish your first book? What inspired you to tell that story?

I started writing Star Trek AOS fanfiction in 2009. There simply wasn’t enough Spock/Uhura in the world, so I wrote my own “how they got together” story. And then I wrote a Sarek/Amanda story, a boy!Uhura/girl!Spock story, a Kirk/T’Pring story (they’re perfect for each other, can’t you tell?), and many more. At some point I started writing Darcy Lewis/Loki. As I wrote it, I started exploring Norse Mythology more and more and discovered that I found Marvel’s and Snorri’s interpretation of Loki unsatisfying. Snorri was a monk in Iceland in the 1100s. He was trying to convert Icelandic pagans to Christianity, and he shoehorned the Norse Gods into a Christian framework. Odin got to be God, Baldur got to be Jesus, and Loki got to be the devil. Marvel made Loki a bit more hapless than the devil, but they definitely made him evil. The more I researched, the more I realized the interpretations of Loki varied wildly across the pagan worshipping world. Even his ultimate evil deed, the slaying of Baldur, was not always attributed to him. Moreover, Baldur wasn’t interpreted as “good” throughout the pagan world. Loki in some of the tales was one of the creators of humans, was the guy you called when no one else could help you, and was worshipped right alongside Odin. He wasn’t evil, he was change and an agent of rejuvenation. I liked the idea of Loki not good or evil, but as chaos incarnate. We tend to think of chaos as “evil” sometimes, but chaos at its most fundamental is change. “Order” is stasis. These things aren’t good or bad unto themselves, the negatives tend to come about when they are out of balance.

2. Why mythological fantasy?

Well, myths are fantasy. Why urban fantasy is probably the better question. I think we live in an age of Chaos. Change is happening at lightening speed. We’re in the age of Loki, so I thought I modern times would be an appropriate setting for the series.

3. How did you get your first book off the ground? What was your first week like as an author?

Before I released I Bring the Fire, I released a short story called Murphy’s Star. I released it only because my husband was nagging me about writing so much fanfiction. I think I made $30 my first month? After that it sold only sporadically.

I started writing I Bring the Fire also to keep my husband from nagging me … but also, by that point, fanfiction was becoming like a shoe that was too small. I couldn’t say what I needed to say within the scope of fanfic. When I released Wolves: I Bring the Fire Part I, I had a brief rush of sales, and then I sold about 1 or 2 a day. That remained the case until I went permafree with Part I.

I kept writing fanfiction until after In the Balance (the novella in between Chaos and Fates.) At that point, the allure of “living” in my own universes was too great.

4. What’s your favorite book so far that you’ve written?

What a horrible question! Why not ask me which of my children I like more? If I’m honest though, I like Monsters a lot, and I like Warriors. Warriors is probably my least well-liked book, but I love the story arc, it’s all internal. Chaos’s incarnation goes from being resentful of his fate to embracing it, and realizing that he can use his power to save the human race from Odin’s repression.

5. Did you always know you were going to write a series? How did you plan it out and how long did the process take?

Yes, I knew I would always write a series. I expected it to be only 6 books though and it became 6, a novella, and three short stories. But I knew how it began, and I knew how it ended. The scenes at the end of Ragnarok with Amy, Bohdi, and Steve were in my head from the day one. It was energizing. When I felt like I couldn’t get through a part I could think, “Oh, that amazing climax is coming! I can’t wait to write it!” And I would write more.

6. How do you deal with criticism/low reviews/trolls?

It depends. I try to be open minded to criticism if it is logical. You should really read your reviews, even the bad ones. I’ve had some technical issues that came out in reviews. Also, I’ve seen what my fans want more of. Obviously, you can’t please everyone. I can only be responsive to criticism if changing the story doesn’t contradict my central theme. Also, you occasionally get reviews that complain about things that simply did not happen in the book. You can only scratch your head at those and move on. I did have a troll when I began. It was very upsetting; it’s hard to understand how a person can put so much energy into trying to bring you down. But something you realize quickly; trolls have much more free time than you do. It’s best not to respond. Eventually, you’ll get more reviews that will cover up their hate, and, not surprisingly, hateful reviews get downgraded and marked as “not helpful” a lot.

I have to say, writing fanfic really helped me learn to deal with criticism. I got betas for my original fiction by being responsive to logical criticism. I also got some serious hate writing fanfiction. One of my stories in particular just made a group of people so angry. Someone wrote an online essay almost as long as the story saying how very wrong it was. I did try to respond … but then I realized, trying to respond was taking me away from writing, and despite the hate I also had a lot of people who were really enjoying the story. They were way more important than my “reputation” among a group of people who were never going to be happy unless I took the story down.

7. What other genres have you considered writing for besides Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

I might write a paranormal romance at some point, and possibly a YA coming of age story.

8. Any words of advice for new or aspiring authors out there?

Just start writing. Write things you enjoy, publish them, and solicit criticism. You can publish in a group like Critique Circle or start with friends. You need criticism. Criticism that makes you cry (or throw your computer against the wall.) It’s the only way to grow as a writer.

So there you have it! Thank you CG for sharing!

You can find C. Gockel’s fanfictions here: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1959218/StarTrekFanWriter

And her books on Amazon, and other platforms:
http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Fire-Part-Wolves-ebook/dp/B008UUIGB2/
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/i-bring-the-fire-part-i-wolves/id655735120?mt=11
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-bring-the-fire-part-i-c-gockel/1115457768?ean=2940044551565
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/i-bring-the-fire-part-i-wolves

Also, here is Murphy’s Star, her very first original short story: http://www.amazon.com/Murphys-Star-ebook/dp/B006RCYQUA/

Story Update: Day Dream – Book 2 of The Spirit World Series

First, I want to thank all the readers for being patient with my lack of progress. It’s been an interesting couple of months; I got assigned a big case and it’s been nothing but work, work, coffee, work, sleep, and more work. Some days have turned into a 7:30am-9pm workday, but I realize that’s still pretty lenient compared to New York attorneys. On the bright side, I managed to get an interview with a great SciFi/ Fantasy author, which I will post in my next feature.

COVER_THUMBNAIL

For now, I am putting up the beta chapters of Day Dream, the second book in The Spirit World Series (and the sequel to The Almshouse). The picture above is a link. I’ve resorted to writing them during lunch break, so please excuse the formatting. I hope to get this out as soon as humanly possible. Maybe if I stop leaving the office…