Friday, July 22, 2022
Free Book Friday Bridging the Gap – Reducing Gender Bias in the Workplace by Alexandra McGroarty #FreeBook #KindleFreebie
Monday, July 18, 2022
I didn’t realize how long we had been out in the clearing of the woods until Tansy’s screaming snapped me back into reality. It was almost like a dream—when you fall asleep into that dream world and your story just picks up in the middle of a scene, yet you have all the memory and knowledge of the world your mind has temporarily created for you. One moment we were walking out into the forest in the purest daylight to gather fresh flowers for the chapel, and in the next instance, it was pitch black and Tansy was pulling hard on my pinafore dress and howling at the top of her lungs for us to run.
“Run, Barbara! Run! Go!” she commanded as I twirled at the edge of the clearing, awestruck at the sight that lay before me—strewn in a circle lay twisted animal parts covered in leaves and muck and blood. Symbols arranged neatly with twigs, flower heads drenched in the crimson sticky blood, and black candles burned to their nubs protruded from the ground. Something about it enthralled me, bewitched me, and I stared hard at the tableau—unafraid and somewhat curious at the peculiarity of it all.
With one final tug of my dress and a shake to my shoulder, I locked eyes with my sister. Her words finally registered in my head, and her urgency struck deep into my soul: Run. Go. Now. We both took off running, my legs swiftly carrying me to presumed safety, my hands still clutching tightly to the cluster of Bellflowers I had previously picked (with no recollection of doing so).
When we finally made it to the edge of the Black Wood, the both of us slumped forward, hands on knees, panting hard for air to fill our lungs back up.
“Did you see it? Did you see it?” Tansy struggled to force the words out.
“Yes, Tansy, I saw!” I answered.
“I… I… I thought we were done with all of that! I thought that was passed us! I thought…”
“As did I. As did I.”
Tansy’s upper body shot up with a sense of awareness. Her torso tensed and stiffened, and her face drew dark and contemplative. She furrowed her brow as if trying to piece some wild puzzle together or connect the dots to some great revelation. I saw it glittering in her soft hazel eyes, like words and images dancing in her mind, yet they were too fast for her to catch and put together. When it dawned on her, it was like a candle flame flickering to life. “Today’s the 20th, isn’t it?” she asked.
She stepped closer to me and lowered her voice. “It’s been almost three years, Barbara. Almost three years to the day that Martha Corey and the others were hanged in Salem. You know, the last of the trial judgments. Do you think it’s happening again? Do you think what happened over there is now happening here?”
“Hush your mouth, Tansy Wilkins!” I snapped back. “We are God-fearing women of our community. Peace-loving. We reject Satan and all his minions.” I paused after those words. For some reason, it didn’t feel right for me to say them. A creeping feeling of doubt entered my heart, but I pushed it aside. “Don’t you be putting that energy out into the universe,” I continued my admonition. “And for God’s sake, don’t go saying that around anyone else. You know how on edge everyone has been since all that business over there.”
“But Barbara, I’ve heard stories. Been hearing stories…”
“And stories they just are. The same ones I’ve been hearing, too. Nothing but silly ghost tales and monsters under the bed. Now shush, and don’t go putting wood on someone’s fire. Because the last thing we surely need is what happened there to infect us here. It’s still fresh. It’s going to take a little while for that wound to heal.” That much was true! I knew our town of New Haven Harbor would never be able to survive the horrors of Salem.
Her face darkened again at my words. It was obvious she wasn’t fully convinced by what I told her. I knew I wasn’t convinced myself, but I had to say the words to quell my sister’s suspicions. It would be a shame if she had opened herself to the hysteria of our neighboring town. Who knows what influence or bogeymen she might allow in?
Like a pinprick in the back of my mind, I could feel the scene in the clearing calling me—beckoning me to go and investigate. But I ignored it, and instead, I tried to convince my sister nothing nefarious was afoot.
“Winnie Gordon told me that two young children went missing over in Salem just last week.
They were playing at the bottom of the ledge where the witches were hanged, and no one has seen them since. Winnie says those little kids must have awakened something because strange things have been happening since then.”
“You know I can’t stand that Winnie Gordon. Never could,” I barked.
Tansy’s eyes went wild. “Barbara, stop that! How could you say that! Winnie has been my best friend since grammar school!”
“And pray tell, why is it that she needed to repeat her studies multiple times? Winnie Gordon is not the smartest of women, now is she? There are at least four, maybe five children in this town who bear the face of her sweet husband Jedidiah Gordon yet do not belong to Winnie herself…”
With a swift shot to the shoulder, Tansy huffed, “Barbara!”
I smirked from the corner of my mouth. “I speak nothing but truth, dear sister. And as for Winnie Gordon, I don’t think she could recognize truth if it slithered its way from between…”
She gasped again at my seeming vulgarity. “Barbara! Enough!”
I must admit, I too was taken aback by the images in my mind and the words that formed on my lips. It was no secret that Winnie’s husband was a fine catch for her. A brokered deal among their families to afford the best financial possible outcome for all parties involved. And it was no secret that Jedidiah Gordon was the desire of many of the women in New Haven Harbor, to which he heartily obliged. I envisioned all types of women in our town lying on their backs, receiving the full weight and girth of Jedidiah at once in a passionate ceremony, as if he were shapeshifter who could penetrate them at the very same time, all at once, thrusting and pulsating and rising and… I shook my head to rid myself of the thought, but the pinprick sensation was still needling its edge in the back of my head, sending electric waves down my spine.
I gave Tansy the bouquet of bluebells and instructed her: “Take these back to the chapel.
Someone will probably be wondering where we are and why we’re taking so long. Not a word of this, though. To anyone. Not even Winnie Gordon, you understand me. Someone is clearly playing a cruel joke, trying to get everyone excited and spooked for the upcoming anniversary. I’m going to go back to the clearing to tidy up so no one else sees it. I’ll be quick and come back with more flowers. Say I was unhappy with what was out there and wanted prettier ones.”
Tansy gave a quick nod and went on her way. I turned on my heels and headed straight for the clearing—straight back to the scene of grisly ritualistic murder, straight back to the scene that seemed to call to me, that drew me in. On closer inspection, I realized the twigs were arranged in the shape of a makeshift circle with the five-pointed star in the center. At each point of the star, a black melted candle was stuck into the earth. The waxy pools at their bases held them in place. A squirrel’s severed head was in the center of the star and there was blood—so much blood— adorning the center and outside of the circle.
But the blood sings.
I knelt at the end of the ground altar, entranced with the precision at which it was constructed and thought: Who could have done this? Why did they do this? What is the meaning behind it all? But my internal questions were drowned out by the song of the blood and replaced with the only thing I could describe the feeling as—knowing. The scene was suddenly beautiful to me, and a wave of guilt tumbled into my soul. I should not feel this way. I should not feel this way…
Yet something in me did.
Thursday, July 14, 2022
Excerpt Book One
The place was dark and creepy, especially on an overcast winter’s day. It was cold, too. Even so, he almost would have rather stayed outside. He sucked in a deep breath of courage and strode to the massive oak doors and lifted the heavy door knocker.
The ancient butler who greeted him at the door led him down a dark hall without uttering so much as a word. Tom tried to make conversation but gave up, instead of paying attention to the placards on the doors he passed, offices of the numerous teachers that worked at the school. This school was much larger than The Academy as it offered full-time instruction to students from twelve on up.
Set in an old castle in Northern Scotland, the exact location unknown, the school was rumored to be invisible to non-magical humans. That is, the fourteenth-century castle appeared as a ruin to passersby, with no road leading up to it to tempt would-be visitors. Should the odd hiker venture near the perimeter, they would instantly feel compelled to go around the building, never actually finding a true path to the summit of the hill.
The butler eventually stopped in front of a very ordinary-looking door. When the butler started to knock, Tom stopped him. “It’s okay,” he said. “I can take it from here. Thank you.” The butler bowed and left.
Tom stood a moment, concentrating on his breath to steel himself for this meeting before raising his hand to knock. A sound behind him stopped the downward movement of his hand. When he looked over his shoulder and saw a boy about his age leaning against the wall. The youth was staring right at him, without blinking. His eyes were a startling shade of amber.
Excerpt Book Two:
The blood on Tom’s hands sizzled and spat like butter in a hot pan. Tom felt the heat collect in his chest as his pounding heart pushed fire through his veins. Power pulsed to the tempo of his beating heart. It was frightening and invigorating. The air around him crackled with energy as though lightening was stored in his chest ready to explode. His senses sharpened.
He could hear the chanting outside. As he looked, the wards shimmered and wavered. The Master stood outside of the gate, his black robes billowing in the winds. His outstretched hands looked as though they were reaching for the gates. Three neat rows of ten disciples behind him mimicked their Master with outstretched arms. Their eyes were closed in concentration and their combined power was beginning to weaken the wards. The wards were failing, Tom feared.
Tom supposed he should have been terrified. After all, Harding Academy had sent Witches to the Callahan residence every day for a week to set and strengthen them, layer by layer. The dark magic The Master and his minions wove was stronger than the wards. They would gain entrance to the house soon enough.
Tom braced himself for a fight. He felt his body tremble. If it was from fear or from the power coursing through him, he couldn’t tell. Perhaps it didn’t matter. He planted his feet firmly and willed himself to calm down. The Warlocks attacking the wards weren’t teenagers. They were fully grown men and women, very likely trained by The Master himself. Each and every one of them was probably stronger than Tom was, in more ways than just brute force. They knew more spells, probably ones he had never heard of. Dark spells no one was supposed to use.
He spun in a slow circle, trying to work out how to set things to protect himself. The second-floor landing gave him a clear view of the front door and entranceway. What if they came through the bedrooms? They may have been minions of a dark Sorcerer, but surely, they could still climb. Tom raced down the hallway, opening every door he could find. They weren’t going to sneak up on him!
He might have thwarted their plans once before, but it was doubtful they were here to kill him. At least, Tom had hoped his powers were still too important to them. It would give him precious moments to fight back as they tried to take him alive. Every part of Tom’s body trembled. The Professor should have been back by now with reinforcements. Was the Master so powerful that he could stop Doors? The thought sent another wave of chills through Tom’s body.
He pulled himself back. He couldn’t afford to be distracted, couldn’t allow himself to panic. Tom looked around the landing for possible weapons or tools. Mirrors, paintings, knick-knacks all received his assessing gaze. He thought that he should have a plan, but none came to mind. He filed away the inventory for future reference. What else did he have?
Professor Montague had taught him a few defensive moves. The truth was, he hadn’t learned nearly enough. Certainly not enough to prepare him for such a confrontation. He mentally ran through the block and shield maneuvers. Taking a deep breath, he prayed that he could hold down the fort until help arrived.
Tom had spent weeks learning to control his emotions, while tamping down his anger so he could focus his Magick. He could hear the Headmaster advising caution in the back of his mind, but this was different. Tom allowed his blood to boil now. His family was at stake.
When his mother was shoved through the Door to safety, he willfully forgot all of that and allowed his blood to boil. Professor Thunderbolt had looked back at Tom and gave him a nod of encouragement. As soon as he stepped through to the relative safety of The Academy, the Door had vanished.
The weight of the Key Tom wore was reassuring. He was a Traveler, after all.
Escaping this place would be as easy as summoning a Door from nothing and vanishing in an instant. But this was his home. His family’s home. His father’s home. Tom would not and could not give it up so easily. Not after everything his family had been put through. He was ready to fight but he needed a plan.
The chanting at the gate grew louder. Under the cadence, Tom heard the gate begin to creak open. He took another deep breath and tried to center himself. Looking out the window, he saw the house wards still held and took some comfort in that. Still, they were not as powerful as the ones at the gate, the ones The Master had already obliterated.
He had a wild thought. If his Blood Magick could be integrated into the wards, would that strengthen them enough to buy him time? Professor Thunderbolt had promised to return with reinforcements, Tom only needed to delay long enough for him to return. Tom was alone. He would never ask a friend to put themselves in harm’s way. The sheer number of robed Warlocks, not the least of which was The Master, made it far too dangerous. Tom felt that he had a chance to put an end to this before anyone else got hurt.
The part of his mind that was not concentrating on the wards raced with questions. How could The Master even see the house? The wards were supposed to hide the house from those not invited. That was what the Witches had promised, were they wrong? Was The Master just that strong, or was there someone at Harding Academy working against them? If so, who? He began going through the roster of people he had met at the new school and, to his horror, realized that he had lost focus and the wards were failing again.
He poured more energy into the wards and felt the house shake as the wards fought to stay put against dark forces. The house moved like it rode an earthquake, doors and windows rattling. Somewhere, glass shattered. The light from Tom’s energy poured into the ley lines from both sides, and it grew painfully bright. Tom’s eyes burned and itched, and a pinpoint of blinding pain exploded in the back of his head, growing to a searing pounding. He was too afraid to look away, lest he lose focus again but just then, the light flared, forcing him to automatically shield his eyes.
* * *
The chanting stopped. For a silent moment, Tom stood in utter darkness. His eyes were so used to the blinding light that no longer existed; they took their time adjusting to the relative gloom. He strained to hear any sounds while waiting to see again. But outside, the Warlocks had gone as silent as a tomb. The hair stood on the back of Tom’s neck and goosebumps chased themselves up and down his arms.As his eyes found their focus again, the only sounds were the tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock. He tried to look in every direction at once. There were no sounds. No chanting. Nothing. Tom realized that the eerie silence was more unnerving than the chanting.
Excerpt Book Three: (spoiler)
He wiped his hands on his jeans and said those lame words again. “I’m so sorry.” “Jessica told us you were here. We’re glad you came,” said Mrs. Honeywell, her face calm, patient, understanding.
Tom stood, rooted to the spot, unable to speak as tears suddenly sprung to his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, anything that might make things right, but the lump in his throat was choking him.
Tom hadn’t cried. He hadn’t let himself cry because he didn’t feel like he deserved to cry when other people had lost so much. Because of him and his psycho family, these people had lost a daughter. And the world had been robbed of one of the most exceptional human beings who had ever lived. The floodgates had opened now, here of all places, and shame crept up his cheeks before sinking down to his heart to blend with the guilt he already felt. Try as he might, he just couldn’t stop crying. Mrs. Honeywell came into the room and wrapped Tom into a hug.
At first, he just stood there lamely, arms hanging, feeling like such a coward. When Mrs. Honeywell started stroking the back of his hair and whispering, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re going to be alright,” in soothing tones as she rocked him back and forth in her arms, Tom lost it completely.
Ugly, retched sobs wracked his body and he clung to her. He clung to her because he needed an anchor. He needed a mother, someone to take his side. But then he clung to her because she was Mandy’s mother. These arms had held Mandy. This woman’s kindness had made Mandy into the kind and generous person she had been. Through her, he clung to Mandy.
When his sobs subsided, he held on, because he understood that he too was a proxy for Mandy. He took a deep breath and released the heaviness that had weighed him down. He had come here expecting anger and recriminations. Instead, he had found solace.
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Angus stood in the center of the garden, throat tight and burning, a huge gulp of air trapped in his lungs.
Around him, a dozen diminutive flower fairies cavorted among the flora, chortling with glee. “She’s here, she’s here, our Eva is here!”
His gaze targeted the back door, body taut as he awaited his first glimpse of the female he loved. The only one he would ever love. Mo chroí, my heart. My heart walks the world, outside my body. “Come back to me.”
His voice was barely audible above the incessant chatter of the flower fairies. “We sang to her. She heard us! She liked it.”
“Hush,” he commanded, and they fell silent, vibrating with gleeful anticipation.
Seven years without her. The longest, loneliest bloody years of his basically eternal existence…
Eva stared out at the yard with haunted, brown eyes. Dark circles like the ones she’d sported months ago at the wake and funeral marred the perfection of her milky skin. He wanted to lay gentle kisses on her eyelids, nip the tip of her nose with its light dusting of freckles, lave her lips with his tongue then push it between those perfect lips…
“See me, Eva,” he whispered.
“See us,” Rosina echoed.
Eva cocked her head and touched her ear as if in response to their words. The incessant giggling of the flower fairies ceased, an expectant hush falling over the garden.
Though consumed with sorrow, Eva surveyed the yard with appreciation. Angus and the flower fairies had been tending to the yard and garden since she’d left. There was little to be done in the winter months but in the Fall, they’d trimmed and raked, then planted, pruned, and watered in Spring and Summer. Jasmine, lavender, and other blooming plants scented the air, and he watched his female take a deep breath.
Her shoulders seemed to lose some tension as she took in the neatly trimmed yard and carefully curated garden. “It’s perfect,” she said.
Angus’s heart swelled with pride at a job well done only to stutter in agony when her lovely brown eyes lingered on the central spot where he stood yet looked right through him.
“No. No, no, no,” he whispered. See me this time, Eva. Let the curse be gone.
Mrs. Murphy joined Eva near the door. “He tended it for you. From the moment you went off to school.”
“What?” Eva scanned the yard, then returned her attention to the spot where he stood surrounded by the flower fairies, all of them quivering with excitement.
“The garden, girl. He looked after it for you.”
Lines formed in Eva’s forehead, and her attention shifted to Mrs. Murphy. “I don’t understand, who did?”
He bowed his head and rubbed his brow. Each time she returns she still cannot See. My fault. All of this. Mine.
How many times have you forgotten to do something small? Shut a window before it rains? Take your phone with you? Do up a button on your shirt? Grab your homework on your way out the door? On the day that seals my fate, I forget to look over my shoulder.
Right before it happens everything is the same. I get the same rush of freedom that I always get in my stomach when I leave the school parking lot, hit the gas, and make a right turn onto St. Charles Avenue. The same line of live oak trees cast their tunnel of shadows over the street. I see their branches moving, so I turn the air conditioning off, roll my windows down, ignore the text messages blowing up my phone, and turn the Jimi Hendrix music (that I only listen to when I am by myself) way up. The sweat starts to pool up around the white collar of my school uniform, but the feeling of the wind across my face is totally worth it. What I do not know is that this is the last time I will ever do it.
I guess if you asked me what I do know for sure in those last moments I would say that I am a pretty fast runner, I am decent at guitar, and that Margot Cramer is the love of my life.