Two New Releases

•Website Redesign In Process• (2)

I am currently collaborating with the incredible team at Design For Writers to create a new website. The URL won’t change, but I’m looking forward to unveiling an intriguing new look before the end of September 2017.

Also, I’m getting ready to launch a new supernatural suspense series – White Crow Chronicles. For a limited time, free Advanced Reader Copies of the first eBook in the series – Unhaunted – will be available to anyone willing to post a fair and honest review on Amazon.

Stay tuned….

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Book Review: Maggie’s Story (Intergalactic Matchmaking Services Book 1) by Ava Louise

Women Wanted: Must have a sense of adventure and be open to new experiences. Must also be willing to relocate. Please contact…Intergalactic Matchmaking Services.
Maggie's Story

One of the best things about being an author is being asked to read and review books by other authors. That said, I am VERY picky about which books I’ll agree to feature here on the blog. As soon as I heard about this series by Ava Louise, I could hardly wait to start reading. Single women willing to look for love in unusual places? Peaceful aliens searching for soul mates? And a Meezer (a.k.a. Siamese cat) in space? This is Maggie’s Story (Book 1 of the  Intergalactic Matchmaking Series).

My Review:

After she identifies a gang member as the shooter in a local murder, Maggie Cline is trapped in a terrible situation. While the police investigators are unable to resolve the murder case, they are also unable to adequately protect Maggie from the ruthless, daily intimidation campaign waged by other members of the shooter’s gang. Alone in the world and facing a daily dose of terror outside her apartment door, is it any wonder Maggie answers an ad for a dating service that requires relocation? Her only concern is whether or not the service will allow her to relocate with her beloved cat Mamzell.

(To be honest, there were a few times during my singleton dating days when I would have answered that ad. But that is another story.)

This is a fun, light, sweet, purely escapist read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story reminded me of a Hallmark romance movie with a touch of Starman mixed in.

If you are looking for hot, lusty human-alien erotica, this is NOT your book. Instead of explicit content, the author leads you toward the bedroom door then fades to afterglow. (I did not have a problem with that, but I also enjoy Hallmark romance movies) My one criticism is that Maggie’s Story is a bit too short with the main story problem resolved too easily. However, since Maggie’s romance continues as a secondary storyline in Books 2 and 3, I would suggest you keep reading if you are unhappy with the ending of Book 1. (I’ve read and enjoyed all 3.)
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Publisher:
Amazon Digital Services (January 27, 2014)
ASIN:
B00I44AGA8

The Intergalactic Matchmaking Service series continues…

Shirley’s Story (Book 2) Just as Shirley decides to try opening herself up to a chance at love, a stalker from her past returns. How does she move forward when her past comes knocking? What’s going on with her young student, Hannah? Will her dog, Oreo, be okay with Shirley looking for love?

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Publisher:
Amazon Digital Services (March 4, 2014)
ASIN:
B00ISU9RE4

Penny’s Story (Book 3) Penny was supposed to be dead. At least that is what Claire has believed for ten years. Find out what happens when Claire’s sister comes out of the Witness Protection Program. Penny is fighting a losing battle with cancer and needs Claire to raise Sunny, Penny’s newborn daughter, once the cancer takes its final toll.
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher:
Amazon Digital Services (November 30, 2014)
ASIN:
B00OV8QBXC

All of the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services books are available as an e-book on Amazon 

Ava LouiseAbout the Author:

Ava Louise was born a U.S. Army brat overseas, in France. She is the proud mom of two wonderful young men. It’s taken her a while to figure out what she wanted to be “when she grows up,” but Ava has finally found her niche in the writing world. Since writing came to her later in life, she likes to think she is living proof that it’s never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before writing her own stories, she usually reads from a wide array of genres. She loves Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

Ava Louise can be found online at:
Email: AvaLouise@AvaLouise.net
Website: http://avalouise.net/
Blog: The Road to a Dream: http://avalouise.net/theroadtoadream/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ava.louise.35
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

Writing Your Way to Health with Bonnie Milani, author of Home World…

Bonnie_Milani_Head_ShotAND a giveaway! That’s right. For the first time EVER I have been given the opportunity to host a WOW! Blog Tour with a FREE book giveaway. Woo hoo!

Author Bonnie Milani is here today to talk about Writing Your Way to Health…a topic that is near and dear to my soul. I have to tell you, what she wrote had me bouncing up and down in my chair…and looking around for my notebook.

And now, Bonnie, take it away!

Writing your way to health…seems almost counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  After all, the two most fundamental physical aspects of writing involve something modern medicine regards as critically unhealthy:  hours of sitting and seeming isolation.

Now, I have no argument with the need to get out and exercise.  It doesn’t take a Hemingway to know that you have to get the blood flowing if you want the brain cells to spark.  But let’s face it: if you’re a writer, no matter what else you do there’s a little voice in the back of your mind grousing that you’re not writing.  And unless you pay that little voice heed, the gnawing dissatisfaction it generates will make you sick.

I believe completely that the need to tell stories is God’s gift to us, just as He gifts musicians and mathematicians and great engineers their special talents.  I believe storytelling is an intrinsic piece of a writer’s soul.  We have the gift because we’re supposed to use it.  I think we all know the feeling:  stop writing, or just ignore your need to write, and your soul shrivels.  You may not even know why, but the world takes on a sour tinge.  Even when you know life is going well on the outside, your innermost self just cannot be happy with it.  Ignore your gift for too long and the very act of ignoring your gift turns into a canker at the center of your soul – a canker sore that slowly poisons how you see and respond to your world.  Gradually that kind of poison seeps out of the soul and into your bloodstream.  It drips acid into your attitude, your relationships with your family, your coworkers.  Worse, it’s an attitude that attracts other bitter souls, whose own disappointments serve to reflect your own.  In short, you can’t ignore your gift without damaging your health.

Ah, but when you take even an hour each day and apply your gift … your soul blossoms.  You find yourself doing the Cheshire cat grin at total strangers on the street.  And miracle of miracles – suddenly those total strangers are grinning back at you.  The world feels brighter, happier, more welcoming.  The day to day hassles of life don’t change, but you find your response to them mellows out.  Life just feels more satisfying.  More right.   Physically, we can talk about pheromones and mood enhancement, but as writers we’ve got the control drug right in our souls.  We can quite literally write ourselves healthy.
Haven’t you ever felt that way?  Felt the happy little pop when you jotted a story idea down?  Or the intense wave of satisfaction that follows the words ‘the end’?  Bet you have.

Oh yes…YES I have! Thanks, Bonnie. You are absolutely, positively right!

And now it’s time to win a FREE copy of Home World by Bonnie Milani. All you have to do for a chance to win is post a comment on this blog post. That’s right. You can type a thoughtful response to Bonnie’s lovely article. Or you could type “Hi, Bonnie.” Or you could even type “the end” just to remember/see how it feels. The contest will be open until Midnight on Sunday 12/8/2013. The winner will be announced on Monday 12/9/13.

Home World is a fast paced, well written story about the power and the price of love. ThisHome_World_Cover story takes place amid the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Waikiki. Jezekiah Van Buren thinks he has found a way to restore Earth – Home World, to the other worlds of the human commonwealth. His goal is to restore his home to her lost glory.

Ingenious even by the standards of the genetically enhanced Great Family Van Buren, Jezekiah has achieved the impossible:  he has arranged a treaty that will convert Earth’s ancient enemies, the Lupans, to her most powerful allies.  Not only will the treaty terms make  Earth rich again, it will let him escape the Ring that condemns him to be Earth’s next ruler.  Best of all, the treaty leaves him free to marry Keiko Yakamoto, the Samurai-trained woman he loves.  Everything’s set.  All Jezekiah has to do is convince his xenophobic sister to accept the Lupan’s alpha warlord in marriage.

Before, that is, the assassin she’s put on his tail succeeds in killing him.  Or the interstellar crime ring called Ho Tong succeed in raising  another rebellion.  Or before his ruling relatives on competing worlds manage to execute him for treason.  But Jezekiah was bred for politics and trained to rule.  He’s got it all under control. Until his Lupan warlord-partner reaches Earth.  And suddenly these two most powerful men find themselves in love with the same woman.   A woman who just may be the most deadly assassin of them all.

Paperback: 423 Pages
Publisher: Promontory Press
ISBN-10: 1927559235
ISBN-13: 978-1927559239
ASIN: B00FBK3NXU
Twitter hashtag: #HWorld

Home World is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.

Home World Website: www.homeworldthenovel.com

Author Bio:

Bonnie vividly recalls the book that helped her decide she could out-write another writer: it was a junior reader’s biography of Sir William Harvey, the 17th century English physician credited (in the West) with discovering how blood circulates. After about 30 pages of telling herself “I can write better than that!” she grabbed a crayon that just happened to be blue and started editing. She was all of seven years old at the time. Unfortunately for her juvenile bottom it was a library book. She followed the dream through college and after grad school, freelancing feature articles for newspapers along the East Coast. Milani even wrote a cover story for Science Digest! Alas life and grown up responsibilities caught up with her and by her late twenties she put writing away with so many other dreams while she followed a ‘career track’. After losing her entire family, she realized story telling just a want but a need and a gift God gave her. So here she is, a self-declared “middle-aged pudge” working on getting back into a writer’s kind of real life!

OK, action time! This is the end of the post. So right now you should be clicking on the “Leave a Reply” box to win a FREE copy of the book.

Winter’s Garden (Not your typical Christmas story)

Fair warning my friends…this is a dark and twisted little Christmas story.  The first line popped into my head back in 2007 and rattled around my brain like Marley’s ghost until I was forced to sit myself down and write it out….

The Holly Bears the Crown by Jenny Downing

WINTER’S GARDEN

My mother grieved in flowers; that’s why I loved the snow.

I was only five years old when a rainbow of violas invaded the front yard the same day we watched Granny Shirley’s casket lowered into the ground.  After that, every pansy’s gaily-colored monkey face reminded me of the graveyard stench of open earth and sorrow.  Less than a year later, billows of white spider mums were blooming in place of Grandpa Ben.  Abercrombie, my lop-eared bunny, disappeared beneath a blue cloud of catmint outside my bedroom window the week before I started third grade.

On my ninth birthday, Mother shook me awake in the pearly predawn light to help her dig two identical holes for Angel Lace hydrangeas by the back porch steps.  This is how I learned Aunt Zoë’s newborn twins were never coming home from the hospital.  Is it any wonder that the sight of a freshly plowed flowerbed burned in my stomach like acid?

Most children looked forward to summer, yearning for sun-drenched days of freedom.  Not me.  At my house, warm weather brought an endless cycle of digging, weeding, watering and pruning.  Summer was crawling around the peony hedge, the swollen blooms oozing fat black ants into my hair.  Summer was fingers and forearms shredded by the thorns of heirloom roses.  Summer was angry hornets hemorrhaging from the filthy tangle of honeysuckle vine that climbed our brick chimney.  In the spring, we tilled and hoed to prepare for the flowers.  In the autumn we raked and hauled to put the flower beds down for their winter’s nap.  How I yearned for the dark, frozen months of winter!

My letters to Santa never asked for dolls or games.  My letters begged for the chance to live among the elves and the reindeer at the North Pole.  Eventually, I realized Santa wasn’t going to be rescue me, but I still clung to the magical promise of permafrost.  Somehow winter’s wonderland got twisted around in my mind so that I believed grief was impossible in winter.  Cold equaled safety.  The frozen earth’s inability to accept new plantings somehow seemed to prevent new tragedies until spring’s thaw.

“That danged ugly garden gnome,” Daddy muttered one sweltering Saturday afternoon as we dodged bumblebees to clip back an overzealous lilac bush.  “That’s where this whole mess started.”

I shrugged and kept clipping, feigning disinterest.  Daddy wouldn’t bad mouth Mother’s garden if he thought I was taking what he said to heart.

“It was a wedding gift, but we couldn’t find the card,” Daddy said, using the story as an excuse to stop and blot his neck with a limp handkerchief.  “Never did figure out who gave it to us.  Your Momma acted like that gnome was the best gift she ever received.  So I put the devil in the backyard next to a pretty little clump of wild iris.  Your momma said it was rude not to make a true garden.  Said it looked like we didn’t appreciate the gift.  She started planting a little of this and some of that…pretty soon we were surrounded by this crazy prison of white trellis, mulch and seed catalogs you see today.”

Laughing Gnome by Gareth1953Daddy tucked away the handkerchief and brandished his pruning shears. “Wish I could figure out who gave us that cursed statue.  I’d cut off their nose.”

“But I’ve never seen a garden gnome, Daddy.”

This brought out his most wicked smile.  “Hid the darned thing under a tangle of blackberry bramble when you were still in diapers,” he confessed.  “Didn’t do any good though.”

When Daddy was replaced with Bayou Red begonias bleeding along the west fence, I went looking for that mythical garden gnome.  He was a chipped and mossy mess when I dug him out of the bramble. I pounded the thing to bits and buried the powdery pieces under those horrible begonias, but the flowers of misfortune bloomed on.

It was the study of ecology and environmental sciences that finally paved my escape from Mother’s garden.  Graduate studies up in Maine led to a doctorate thesis exploring the effects of climate change in arctic ecosystems, which opened the door to my dream job—working for the United States Arctic Research Commission.  Through it all, my illogical, thoroughly unscientific belief in the evil influence of flowers and the safety of winter’s freeze remained, uncontested by fate, all the way into my thirty-seventh year.

Last year.

I arrived home for the holidays on a frozen winter’s evening to findStriped Amaryllis by Muffet Candy Cane amaryllis forcing their unnatural blooms on every single windowsill at Mother’s house and…well, I went a little crazy.  I ran around the house at least eight times cursing the red and white flowers that bloomed with smug indifference to my hysteria.

Poor Aunt Zoë had to brave the cold without a coat to wrestle me into Mother’s kitchen.  Over steaming cups of chamomile tea, she tried very hard to tell me about the star-shaped tumor deeply rooted in Mother’s brain and the importance of keeping everything calm and quiet.  But my own brain refused to listen, refused to let me sit still until every single flowerpot in the house was hidden in the basement. Then I started collecting the seed catalogs so I could throw them all into the fire.

It was the letters to Santa that stopped my manic rampage.  My letters.  I found them tied together with a green ribbon, sitting on the hearth.  Hugging these artifacts, I stumbled upstairs and curled up like a cat at the foot of my mother’s bed.  Her eyes opened long enough to focus on me and settle her hand on my head before drifting back to sleep.

“Hollyhocks,” she whispered her pet name for me.

“Just Holly,” I whispered back, more out of habit than any real defiance.

In the morning, I hunched over the kitchen table shuffling through the letters. Not one of my letters to Santa had been opened.  Each envelope was still sealed shut, each flap carefully decorated with fading-but-intact snowflakes.  When Mother sat across from me in her old brown velvet robe, I needed to ignore how small and frail she looked so I kept my eyes glued to the envelopes.

“If you didn’t want to read them, you could have just let the post office take them,” I said.

“I couldn’t risk it,” she answered.

“Why on Earth not?”

“Pride.”

I stared at her, struggling not to jump up and scream.

“You see,” she continued, looking down at the brightly colored envelopes between us, “I couldn’t run the risk he would read them.”

“Who?  The mailman?” I practically growled at her.

“No, Santa,” she replied as if the answer was obvious.  “Is there any peppermint tea?”

Aunt Zoë arrived minutes later and hushed my questions with a warm bear hug.  “Tried to warn you last night,” she murmured the words in my ear. “When she talks pure nonsense, remember it’s a brain tumor, Holly.”

That evening, Mother asked, “Have you written a letter to Santa this year?”

I told myself, it’s a brain tumor.

“Holly, where is the advent calendar?  What will Santa think if there’s no advent calendar?”

Brain tumor.

“I have to be sure I’m packed and ready when Santa gets here.”

Brain tumor.

Thankfully, our jabber-talky episodes were few and far between.  Most of the time, Mother slept.  One minute she would be listing off the classification groups for dahlias, the next minute she would be deep asleep sitting straight up.  Sometimes, she would be still and silent for so long, I had to tip toe over to her and listen for the sound of her breath.  But after a few days, as the words coming out of her mouth became more and more bizarre, I learned to love the hours when she slept.  Relief would wash over me and I would allow myself to relax.  So careless!  I should have remembered…brain tumor.

When Mother fell asleep in front of the fire around noon on Christmas Eve, I let myself totally unwind into the blissful absence of her chatter.  All my tension, stress and disbelief over the discovery of Mother’s illness must have been lurking under the surface.  There was a book in my hands, but overwhelming weariness claimed me as the day turned bitter cold and faded into the heavy gray color of snow-burdened clouds.

Christmas Lights by Jenny DowningI slept through the twilight and the first drops of freezing rain, and continued to sleep as three inches of ice encased everything around my childhood home before the winter storm ended with a final flourish of snowflakes. As I enjoyed a deep dreamless sleep, our world was transformed into the sort of glittering, gorgeous winter wonderland I used to desire with such a ferocious intensity.

I finally jolted awake just before dawn.  The air in our living room was so frigid, I could see my breath.  The fire had turned to useless ash.  The TV was black, the lights were dark and greenish glow of the electric clock was missing.  The house was entirely silent.

My first coherent thought was, too cold for Mother.

Disoriented, I stood up and stared at the front door.

Open? Impossible.  Wrong.

The strange, unearthly glow of white snow and lingering moonlight turned the house into a foreign place.

Too cold for Mother.

Mother wasn’t in her chair.  Her bed was empty.  She wasn’t in the bathroom.  From the kitchen window I caught sight of an empty black rectangle where the garage door should have been.

The garden.  In times of trouble she always headed for the garden.Enrobed by Jenny Downing  An image of my sickly mother standing in the snow wearing her thin flannel nightgown and yellow rubber clogs hit me with such force; I thought that had to be the answer.  Flashlight in hand, I rushed outside wearing my slippers and found her footprints in the fresh snow.  They led toward the back gate, but abruptly stopped just outside our fence.  From there, unbroken snow stretched as far as I could see.  It didn’t make any sense.

I called for her over and over until my throat was raw with abuse.  Still I screamed for her, desperation turning my voice into a stranger’s.  A neighbor must have heard my screaming and called 911. When the snow around me started pulsing with blue and red light, something deep inside shattered and I collapsed into a heap.

I was still in a heap when the police found me.

The rest of that Christmas day is nothing but a series of nightmare flashes.  Lights.  Faces.  Endless questions.  Neighbors wearing winter coats and boots over their nightclothes; a pajama army armed only with cell phones and shovels slip-sliding through the neighborhood.  An ambulance with no patient, the back door hanging open.  A copper furred police dog with velvet ears and a desperate braying bark.  A freckled firefighter who cried while my eyes stayed dry.

We never found Mother.  No one ever found her.

Drones with social service duties came and asked questions…always the same questions.  I knew I should be insulted, even horrified by what their questions implied, but I was empty.  When they asked if anything else was missing, I never told them the truth.  I’d found mother’s clogs in the hall closet.  Her gardening gloves and hat were hanging in their place in the garage.  But my letters to Santa were gone.

I didn’t tell anyone that tidbit, not even Aunt Zoë.  Why?  Because of the footprints.  They just stopped.  Impossible as it sounds, I saw the evidence with my own eyes.

It’s been a year since Mother vanished and another Christmas Eve is here.  I’m still in Mother’s house, waiting, unable to leave.  So I baked massive amounts of cookies and placed a heaping plate next to the fire.  There’s even a mass of fresh carrots hanging from the garden gate.

Maybe I look ridiculous.  Everybody knows there’s no such thing as flying reindeer.  Everybody probably thinks I’ve lost my mind.  But then, nobody knows every secret wish I used to write to Santa…and nobody understands how it feels to be left behind.

veronica by Monarchcreative

photos by:  (1, 4 & 5) Jenny Downing, (2) gareth1953, (3) Muffet, (6) Monarchcreative

October Ghost Stories – Annabelle

NOTE: This is my first ghost story for October, but it’s also the first chapter of my new novel-in-progress, entitled Like Broken Glass to Hold.

Moonville, Ohio 1982

“Come on outside, little Lucy. Come play with me in the moonlight.”

I’d hear her whispering from the shadow of our dogwood trees and I would go. Every time I would go. Even though it was forbidden…and so insanely dangerous. Still, I’d sneak out of the house in the dark of night to skip through the woods with my ghostly friend, her laughter stirring the leaves around us.

We’d splash in the lazy current of Raccoon Creek by the light of the moon, no adults in sight. Sometimes, we’d even tiptoe across the black asphalt of the state highway to play hide and seek among the crumbling brick furnaces. Even after Grandmother caught me with my feet in the kitchen sink washing away the tell-tale grass stains and Grandpa Max padlocked the cellar door, I still found new ways to escape the house and join Annabelle in the moonlight.

Her first visit came on a heavy, heat-soaked night in the summer of 1982. I remember that first night vividly, though our later adventures get twisted and tangled up in my mind. My grandfather had taken me to the Moonville Drive-In to see E.T. for the fourth or fifth time and my brain wouldn’t stop boiling with visions of friendly aliens and flying bicycles. After the echoes of Night Owl Theater ended and my grandparents shut their bedroom door, I crept out of bed to search the night sky for signs of spaceships from other worlds.

“Hey, little Lucy! Why don’t you come outside and play?”

That first time, she scared me so badly that I dropped down to the floor and hid beneath the window sill. My lungs wouldn’t fill with air and my ears were pulsing with the sound of my own heartbeat.

“You hiding?” she asked.  Then her bubbling laughter filled the empty space around me.

Even though it was not the laughter of a living child, the sound was pure fun. Somehow her laughter made it possible to fill my lungs with breath. With crossed fingers, I stood up and walked to the window sill. At every step, I expected some new fright, but nothing happened.

Climbing up on the window seat, I pressed my head against the aluminum screen and looked down on our back lawn. There she was, right below my window, a shade among shadows. In later years, she wouldn’t come that close, but that first night she waited for me just outside the yellow puddle of light leaking from our kitchen window.

“ There you are!” She started spinning in slow circles with her arms stretched out wide. “Now come on and play. I’ve got something to show you.”

I’d seen her many times before that night, but I didn’t know her name. Her blue-gray dress and beribboned braids were familiar to me, though I’d only seen them briefly when she skipped past me on the walking paths that wove through our woods or when she balanced precariously on the railroad trestle over Raccoon Creek.

“Can you hear me?” I whispered to her.

She stopped circling long enough to plant both hands on her hips. “I hear lots of things,” she answered, tilting her chin to look up at me.

“I can’t come out and play with you,” I explained, the regret in my voice very real.

“Oh, yes, you can,” she answered, pointing to the cellar door that led to our basement, “if you really want to.” Having issued her dare, she stretched out her arms again and started circling the other way.

For a few moments, I was frozen in place as the idea she’d planted in my brain grew and blossomed into something wild and wonderful and totally forbidden.

“Come on then,” she chimed, still circling. “Come out or I’ll go away and find some other friend to play.”

There might be worse threats to unleash on a six-year-old orphan, but the thought of being left behind that night seemed like the worst possible thing she could do to me.

“All right,” I whispered urgently. “I’ll try.”

As I carefully inched open my bedroom door, she continued singing her challenge out on the lawn.

“Try, try, try to come out and play. Try really hard or I’ll go away, away, away.”

Once I had eased my bedroom door open wide enough to slip through, I tip-toed the ten or twelve feet to the back kitchen stairs. My eyes remained glued to my grandparents’ bedroom door, looming ominously at the opposite end of the second floor hallway, as I squatted on the top step. Slowly and carefully, balancing my heels and palms on the edges of the steps, I lowered myself step by step down toward the kitchen. The ordinary groan of the fourth step seemed so loud that I pressed my right palm to my lips and waited for the sound of footsteps rushing down the hall. When none came, I continued scooting down with a little more confidence.

Once in the kitchen, my buoyancy grew even more and I didn’t bother to tip-toe across the black & white checkerboard floor to the basement door tucked beside the massive humming Frigidaire. Stretching up, I slid the brass antique bolt with the tips of my fingers and the door obliged by swinging inward smoothly, without a sound. From there it was ridiculously easy to creep down a second set of stairs, through the swinging door that separated the laundry room from the rest of the basement, then up the bare wooden steps to press both hands upward against the cellar door.

It took every scrap of my strength to lift that door high over my head, step into the grass, then twist around to lower it back into place. And I was more than a little peeved that the other girl, now standing in the shadow of our cherry tree, only watched me struggle with it. But once the door was closed and I had scanned the windows above to be sure I had really escaped, the exhilaration was indescribable.

A prisoner walking away from Alcatraz could not have felt giddier. First I threw my arms out and tried a few spinning circles in a revved up imitation of the other girl. When I got dizzy, I kept my arms wide and ran in crazy loops through the yard. My new playmate’s intoxicating laughter rang out loud and clear, but I still didn’t dare to make any noise of my own. I knew all too well how easily my Grandmother could hear me from the house. So, instead of noise, I threw myself into leaping arabesque movements in my best imitation of an Olympic gymnast.

The other girl clapped then pointed to a spot between two sugar maple trees at the edge of my grandmother’s garden before running ahead of me to lead the way. Without a second of hesitation, drunk on all this unfamiliar freedom, I followed her right into those woods.

Although the trees closed in around us, the full moon light was so powerful that it found its way through the leafy canopy overhead to illuminate everything in a greenish silver glow. The shelter of the woods gave me enough security to talk.

“So where are we going?” I asked.

The girl, ahead of me on the path, twisted around and pressed a finger to her lips.

“Is someone here?” I whispered, swiveling my head around to look at the darkened woods.

All I could see were the silver outlines of the surrounding trees. The woods were alive with a cacophony of sounds – crickets, cicadas, frogs and so many other creatures I couldn’t name – though none of it sounded human.

The girl just tapped her finger to her lips repeatedly until I nodded my head. Then we moved on. We walked in silence, single file, along the smooth dirt path. Although the trail was well-worn, my feet were bare so I kept my eyes focused on where I was stepping.

It seemed we walked on and on that first night, going deeper and deeper into the woods. In reality it wasn’t so terribly far. As the trees grew thicker, the trail became a bit rougher with weeds and I really needed to concentrate on my feet. So I was startled when the girl in front of me stopped suddenly.

When I looked up, I discovered we had reached the summit of a small hill. From here, the path descended at a gentle decline before opening into a wide, grassy clearing next to Raccoon Creek. What I saw in the clearing, made me gasp in delight.

Here the moonlight glistened wildly on the water, creating a river of tiny stars. While the surrounding trees remained outlines etched in silver, the open grass took on a deep green hue that glowed. And everywhere I looked, the air was alive with fireflies.

The other girl skipped in circles, gently stirring the fireflies along her path. Me, I couldn’t figure out where to look or what to do. Stepping forward like a sleepwalker, I let my feet carry me to our ordinary muddy creek, magically transformed into a dazzling spectacle. That water was singing a song to me, reaching out to touch me. I think I said something like, “I wanna swim,” as I peeled my sweaty cotton nightgown over my head and dropped it on the grass.

That’s when I heard a shrill, hard, tearing laughter coming from the woods. The sound broke the magic spell the fireflies, the water and the moon had worked so hard to cast. My playmate glared into the woods with her hands on her hips.

“Her again,” she growled, then looked over at me. “ Hide.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I grabbed my nightgown and pressed it to my body as I ran for the shadows outside the clearing. Once there, I picked my way through the darkness to the blackest shadow I could find and crouched down in a small hollow. The summer grasses tickled my bare tummy, calves and arms.

Seconds later, a flashlight beam sliced through the forest, illuminating the same path we’d just taken.

“Oh, would you look at this!” demanded a female voice.

It was a voice I recognized as Tonya Michaelson, my seventeen-year-old babysitter who lived two doors down from us on Poplar Hill Drive.

“Why don’t you turn off the flashlight and sit here with me to enjoy it a little more,” another voice answered.

This one was male. Though it was much quieter and softer, I recognized its owner as well. Mr. O’Grady and his wife always invited me to their daughter’s birthday parties; even though Jenny O’Grady was three years older and never invited me over to play on normal days.

More of that terrible laughter came from Tonya. Before that night, I never realized she had such an obnoxious laugh. The flashlight went off and the night was again filled with the sounds of the forest. Crawling forward in my little hiding hollow, I searched the clearing. I couldn’t spot them at first because they were pressed up against a tree, or rather; Mr. O’Grady had his back pressed to the tree while Tonya was pressed up to him. Her feet were planted between his feet and his hands were in the back pockets of her shorts.

There was no question they were kissing, but I’d never seen kissing that looked like this. Tonya was acting like she was going to swallow up his whole face and keep going. I’d certainly never seen Mrs. O’Grady do that to him. Something deep inside my belly cramped up as I watched them from behind the grasses in my little hollow. When Mr. O’Grady placed his hands on either side of Tonya’s face to pull her back a little, I thought they might be finished with their kissing.

“Let’s sit down closer to the water,” he said, nearly breathless.

When he pulled her out into the moonlight, they both just tumbled down in the grass and started kissing all over again. This time he kept one hand on her face so it wasn’t so frantic and weird, but I was still dizzy with shock.

My new playmate emerged from the shadows beyond them with a rock about the size of my grandpa’s fist held high above her head. She walked right up to the kissing couple and dropped it over Tonya, who jerked violently and sat up holding the shoulder where the rock had hit.

“What the hell?” she screamed.

Mr. O’Grady just picked up the rock and looked at it hard, like he was a gypsy studying a crystal ball.

“What… how…where…?” Tonya stammered, looking around wildly, her eyes never pausing on the girl standing less than two feet in front of her.

The girl smiled over in my direction then flung a handful of dirt at the couple with her other hand. Tonya scrambled to stand up, clutching her stomach, as her companion simply stared down at the soil scattered over his white t-shirt.

“Oh God, oh no, oh God,” Tonya chanted.

The child ran around them in a circle, slapping at the tall grasses and the low-hanging branches. Then she started laughing. Only this was a different laugh than the one I’d heard from her back at my house. This laugh rippled through all the hairs on my body, and brought up goose bumps on my skin despite the summer heat.

Tonya and Mr. O’Grady didn’t exactly run away from the clearing, but they didn’t walk slowly either.

After the beam of their flashlight disappeared back down the trail, the girl appeared in front of me.

“This is my place,” she whispered. “I’ll keep you safe here.”

And she always did. She couldn’t do anything to get me safely out of the house or back into it undetected, but once I entered her woods, we were always safe. And free.

Over the years, she came back many times. Always on full moon nights. Usually in the heat of summer when the fireflies were out.

Whenever I asked her name, she would sing, “A name is a name by any other name the game is the same. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.”

Whenever we would part, she would walk away from me down the weed choked trail behind our garden shed without turning once to look back.

A few years later, when I was old enough explore that weedy path, I found an embankment thick with blackberries and elderberries.  Right in the center of the bramble a mossy headstone peeked out with a single word carved in the stone – Annabelle.  Only the name, no dates.

Annabelle was my nighttime playmate, I had no doubt.  I just knew.  What I did puzzle over was the obvious signs of care.  Whenever I visited her grave, there were always freshly cut places where the thorny vines had been cleared to keep the stone visible.  On some visits I would even find a simple bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace, Tiger Lilies and Black-Eyed Susan tied with a blue-gray ribbon to match her dress.  It was a mystery I was hoping Annabelle would clear up for me.

I was wrong.

It was a mistake to ask her about the gravestone.  There’s always some elusive, ever changing etiquette required when speaking to the dead about…well, about anything, but most especially about their death.  There was no one to explain that etiquette to me.  I had to learn from experience.  With Annabelle, my ignorance ended our friendship.

The first night I called her by name and asked her about the lonely grave was the last night she came to play.

I watched and waited and hoped and apologized to the empty nights, but Annabelle never came back to sing or laugh or play with me.  Never again.

In later years, I would occasionally catch a flashing glimpse of her in the woods or near the train tracks.  Every time I caught sight of her I would call out her name.  Every time, my voice would be ignored.  Every time it cut, like reaching out for something soft and grabbing a fist full of broken glass.