Three Stories by Jane O’Shields-Hayner and Angelina O’Shields-Hayner

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.

***

The Halloween Birthday

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

NARRATOR: “The cemetery was alive. It was October 31st and the Dia de los Muertos decorations were on many of the graves and in the aisles between the graves. It was a happy day for Cecil. It was his birthday. It was long ago when his day of birth had come and passed, more than a century now, and the past fifteen years had been strange for him.

Once, as a younger man, in his fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, he had spent his days eagerly busy in his many pursuits. He owned a produce company, and his day began before dawn, when he met the trucks and the trains loaded with fresh farm fruits and vegetables. They arrived from all around North, Central and South American, meeting their last destination in Cecil’s warehouse before they were washed, shined, boxed and appeared in the neighborhood grocery stores. Cecil worked hard and left his office in mid-afternoon. It was his choice, since he was the boss.

Everyday he had gone to the golf course to play a few rounds with his friends, or to the horse stable, where his daughter, Jane, his only child, rode everyday after school. He cared for her horse, his horses, and all their feed and tack, and he delighted in the happiness he shared with her there, and with the beautiful animals that had become members of their family.

The walk he now took from the cemetery to his daughter’s house was only three blocks, and he walked this nightly, although he wasn’t sure why. Once, he had found his old Ford truck sitting in front of her house, and remembered that he needed to check the oil. He lifted the hood, secured it with the support bar, hung the cage-covered light bulb, illuminating the truck’s engine; and he was taking care of his business when the neighbor’s daughter started screaming.”

CECIL: “Geeeee Mooneee! (he exclaimed) What’s wrong with her? He put down the hood, mumbling to himself and walked away.”

CECIL: “Jane?”

NARRATOR: “He called his daughter’s name and then became restless. The stars were still out, but an orange glow had appeared from the east, illuminating the yellow fringe of leaves on the Sycamore tree. Suddenly he was very tired. He began to walk back to the cemetery, and then he forgot. He forgot every time he remembered. Yet he still remembered that he forgot. The words: transient, ischemic and dementia held places of sadness in his memory. It was a partially forgotten sadness, and he could no longer understand it, but the low-down feeling lingered, still.

He loved the old cemetery, and it seemed that everyone there was always celebrating his birthday. Whenever he left it, a longing set in that was powerful enough to change the direction of his walk, every time, every night that he could remember.

Birthday guests were sitting on the graves, gathered into groups. Boxes of apples and pears, winter oranges, squash and grapefruits lay on the ground, completely covering some of the burial spots. How odd. “It must be the farmers’ market night here, tonight,” thought Cecil. “Yes, it must be!”

He knew all the farmers by name. Yes, he would visit them too. As always, he would first visit Jane, then maybe he would walk to the stables and feed the horses. He loved them so, even though the pain in his knees was a result of his loyalty to the white horse, May, the one that fell with him again and again and again. The black horse was Jane’s and she was elderly now, in her thirties. She had been a beautiful, high-strutting Paso Fino mare in her time. Now she was a family treasure, cared for and pampered. He would take her an apple, and a carrot for May, of course.

Cecil picked the treats from boxes of food on a nearby grave and tried to pay Mrs. Sanchez a dollar each for the two of them, but she seemed to not even hear what he said. He dropped two one-dollar bills in her lap, and they lay on the white, embroidered apron she wore. She was looking away, but when she glanced back at her lap she shrieked, and called out: “Jose! Miguel, aqui! Aqui! Andele!” Then she stood up and the two dollar bills fell from her apron to the grave below her.

The lights were out in Jane’s small, blue house on 12th Street. Cecil thought he would go down to the stable and find her there.

Two young boys stood staring at the cemetery.”

JOSEPH: “Morris, I dare ya to walk in there!”

NARRATOR: “Joseph was a black-haired boy, wearing a zombie mask and dancing; showing off his best hip-hop steps.

Morris, a boy with curly blond hair and a white sheet over his clothing, stood at the edge of the graveyard. The toes of his leather shoes touched the grass on the manicured lawn and his heels touched the pavement of the street.”

MORRIS: “I’m already in there!”

NARRATOR: “Morris shouted back.

Families knelt on the graves, placing photographs, toys, foods, and Halloween pumpkins all around them. They were starting early. Dia de los Muertos didn’t occur for another day, but many families began decorating on Halloween, because they enjoyed it.”

JOSEPH: “Hey.”

JOSEPH: “It’s not even scaarryyy! Look, everybody’s mama is here! Nobody here looks creepy at all, mostly just us!”

NARRATOR: “Morris gazed toward the bloody stains on his ripped bed sheet. His mother had splattered red paint across the sheet and cut holes in it for Morris’ arms and head.

Cecil loved children and he laughed softly when he passed the two boys in costume.”

CECIL: “Ha, ha, ha…”

MORRIS: “Did you hear that?”

JOSEPH: “Hear what?”

MORRIS: (quietly) “Did you hear that laugh?”

JOSEPH: “You’re craaaazzzy, Morris!”

MORRIS: “No I’m not.”

JOSEPH: “Yes you are!”

MORRIS: “Don’t make me wanna punch ya!”

JOSEPH: “My mama will tan your hide if ya do!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil laughed again, remembering something he couldn’t place.”

CECIL: “That’s just what my mama said!”

NARRATOR: “The red paint on the white sheet, the words the boys used, the shoes they wore, shabby, dry, worn out leather, seams busting out and strings hanging loose, all of it was like visiting an old friend, to Cecil.”

MORRIS: (in a flat, serious voice) “I heard it again.”

NARRATOR: “Now Morris’ voice was shaking and Joseph had stopped dancing and stood like a tombstone, holding his breath.”

JOSEPH: “I heard it too.”

NARRATOR: “Klop, klop, click, klop…klop, klop, click, klop….The Cinderella carriage, pulled by a shining white horse was walking down the street. Inside, four costumed riders laughed and sang “Werewolves of London,” hitting the wrong notes as often as the right ones.

Cecil looked up and saw the white horse, and recognized it as May, his stumbling, but loyal white mare.

He stepped up his pace and broke into a trot. He was amazed that his knees didn’t hurt. At one point, he remembered using a cane, then a walker, then he was unable to walk at all, even after the doctor talked him into his second round of double knee replacement surgeries.

That was when his memories became like a dense, rainy day fog, when his night walks became strange, when everyday was his birthday, when people shrieked when they saw him, and sometimes when they didn’t, when he only stood near.”

CECIL: “I’ll catch that mare. I’ll take her to the barn and brush ‘er down, give her some hay and oats and mix in a little sweet feed to make her happy.”

NARRATOR: “He trotted toward the white horse and when he got closer he slowed to a walk, so he wouldn’t frighten her. Cecil didn’t notice the carriage, the harness, the riders or the driver. His focus was May, his white horse. “How did she get here, right on the street,” he asked himself.

The horse was walking slowly and the passengers in the carriage were still singing: “ahhhooooohhh, Werewolves of London, ahhhooooohhh…” when Cecil grabbed the reigns and gently stopped the forward direction of the entire entourage; horse, driver, carriage, and passengers.”

DRIVER: “Hey, what’s wrong with you, Sally? Git, come on, ha! Cooommme on!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil held the reins in his left hand and began to guide the horse in a U-turn toward his barn. The driver was perplexed, now losing any cool she may have once had, and shouting at the horse. “You bag of bones, you turn back hah!”

The revelers in the carriage had stopped singing and looked afraid. One woman screamed, “Let me out!”

The boys standing on the edge of the graveyard watched the scene with their eyes like large marbles, protruding from their faces, and the families decorating graves stopped what they were doing and watched.

Cecil began to trot along with the white horse.”

CECIL: “I’ll get-cha home, girl. That’s right, go on home.”

JANE: (sitting on the ground of a grave) “Daddy! I’m here. Come here. Daddy, please, now!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil dropped the reigns and began the walk that always drew him back, and when he did, he came upon a grave that was decorated with black cats and orange ribbon. Jane was sitting on the grave, holding an orange and black birthday cake on her lap. More candles than he had ever seen burned dangerously on the top of the cake. The entire grave was illuminated.”

JANE: “Daddy, I know you’re here. I brought watermelon and salt, just the way you like it, and your golf clubs, your blue ribbons and trophies from your riding days, and I brought long-neck beer, too.”

NARRATOR: “Just outside the cemetery, on the street, the carriage driver now stood beside the horse, petting her. The riders stood, shaken, on the sidewalk.”

CARRIAGE DRIVER: “They say there is a wandering ghost here. It’s a man whose birthday was Halloween. That’s his grave.” (She lifts her arm and points with a long index finger straight toward Jane and the flaming cake)

NARRATOR: “She pointed with a raised arm and long index finger, right to the spot where Jane sat, alone, holding a flaming cake, burning with many candles.

The two young boys now stood at the edge of the grave, and Cecil walked up, bent forward, kissed Jane on the cheek, and spoke.”

CECIL: “Well, I’ll be dad-gummed if that’s not the purtiest cake and the most candles I’ve ever seen.”

NARRATOR: “The families who sat on the other graves, the carriage driver and all the riders, and the two young boys all joined in when Jane began to sing.”

JANE: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Daddy. Happy birthday to you!”

NARRATOR: “When the song ended, Cecil and the boys all bent forward and blew out the blaze of candles. A cloud of thick, waxy smoke blew over the cemetery and the many ofrendas that decorated the graves.

Cecil looked at the boys. The blond, curly-haired boy looked up at him and smiled.”

CECIL: “Well, I’ll be darned!”

NARRATOR: “The black-haired boy walked to a grave where a family laughed and toasted Cecil’s birthday and Morris walked underneath Cecil’s long winter coat and disappeared.

Jane cut the cake and Cecil sat on the ground, leaning on a tombstone. Only the name on it was visible. It read Cecil Morris O’Shields, October 31, 1907-October 25, 1999. Draped on the gravestone were a pair of white riding chaps and a bridle. On the ground before it was the photograph of a white horse, with a curly-haired man riding her. He was smiling and petting the horse’s shining neck.

The carriage now moved smoothly through the night street, the occupants were now laughing and retelling the tale shrieking and laughing.”

RIDERS: “Did you see him? Was he scary? I’ll bet this was all an act, just part of the carriage ride, part of the show, yeah, that’s right.”

NARRATOR: “A whoosh of air had extinguished the candles on the cake that Jane held, just as it always did. Now, for all the living world to see, Jane sat alone on the grave, telling tales of her childhood and reading stories she had written about her family. No one was apparently there to listen, just the fruit, the salt shaker, and the long-neck beer, but she smiled, offering up a slice of birthday cake on an orange napkin to whoever passed her father’s grave, on this night, on Halloween, on his birthday.”

***

Ghost Angels

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

Setting: a dark corner of downtown Riverside

Characters: Narrator, Sound Effects Person, Kevin, Teacher

Most of these roles can be shared by the same cast members, ie: narrator could do sound effects and Kevin’s voice.

NARRATOR: “The street corner was dark. Night sounds rose from several directions (SOUND EFFECTS, THE BACKGROUND SOUND EFFECTS DO NOT OVERWHELM THE NARRATOR’S VOICE)

Up the street, a drum’s beat measured time (DRUM SOUNDS) and electric guitars played rock and roll (GUITAR RIFF). A singer’s voice floated into the night, flat and struggling to catch up (VOICE, BLUESY TONES). Tires screeched (TIRES SCREECHING) from the distance and from nearby the rattle of ceramic dishes (DISHES SOUND) being loaded into a tub mixed with the drums and guitar, where the Mission Inn restaurants were now closing.”

TEACHER: “This is where I come to hear them.”

ACTION: The woman speaking wore athletic pants, a yoga top and a zip-up hoodie. She fidgeted with an iPhone, pushing buttons, making adjustments, holding it close to her ear.

TEACHER: “I hear them at night, (PAUSE) Listen! First you’ll hear the runners’ rhythm.”

ACTION: She held the phone facing the direction of her gaze.

TEACHER: (whispering) “Then you’ll notice a softer sound …Shhhhhh….. Listen! (she holds her index finger to her lips) Oh, my! (she drops the arm holding the phone to her side) It’s going to be a late run tonight. On hot days they come later. (she smiles) I guess the sidewalk is too hot for ghost angels.”

NARRATOR: “It was a hot night. The sun had set, but heat still radiated from the concrete sidewalk and the asphalt on the streets.”

TEACHER: “I was his teacher. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and I was assigned by the school district to teach him at home. He was remarkable. He was excited about everything he learned. When I assigned reading a book by a particular author, I would return in three days and he would have read not one, but two or three! It was delightful to make lesson plans for him. Our classes were more like graduate seminars than high school, and he was only fifteen!”

ACTION: She turns and cocks her head to move one ear in the direction she was looking and she stares motionless for a full minute, then begins to talk.

TEACHER: “He was an excellent student, and an athlete. He was a runner. He ran more than two hours a day, up through the rocky climb of Mount Rubidoux, through the scrubby foothills of Box Springs Mountain. He ran through the neighborhoods and streets of downtown on the days when he ran without his track team. On those days he ran with Lady… oh yes!”

ACTION: She stopped and looked directly toward the listeners.

TEACHER: “I haven’t told you about Lady… Lady was a stray dog rescued by Kevin’s family. They saw her roaming wild and hiding in bushes on the high school athletic field. They tried to catch her, offering food and affection, but she was so frightened she wouldn’t come near. Kevin and his dad took sleeping bags and camped out on the field, where they watched her roam the area in the dark of night, searching for bits of trash and discarded wrappers, hoping to turn up something to fill her hungry belly. She was thin and walked with her head low and her tail tucked tightly between her back legs. Fearing an imminent attack, she stayed in a self-protected posture.

Finally, Kevin and his dad asked The Animal Control officers for help. They brought a big cage to the field and placed fresh meat inside it. Kevin and his Dad continued sleeping on the ground and waiting. For two nights the dog came near but wouldn’t go in. On the third night, hunger won over her fear and she walked into the cage, tripped the trap and was caught.

Lady stayed at the pound for one week and Kevin and his family visited her every day. When they were able to bring Lady home, she immediately became family.

When Kevin began having headaches they were crippling, but he tried to ignore them. Schoolwork needed to be done, running became difficult, due to the pain, but he didn’t stop. The joy of flying, face first, into the wind, parting the breeze with his arms, shoulders and legs, and becoming part of the fast-moving world he saw to all sides, drew him to lace his running shoes up daily and let his strong legs loose, flying him into the hills.

One night while he was sleeping, he couldn’t ignore the nausea and pain inside his skull any longer, and he fell from the bed to the floor, unable to move. Lady was, of course, lying on the floor beside his bed, and when he fell she knew Kevin was in danger. She sniffed his breath for clues, then ran downstairs to the room where his parents slept and she barked until they awoke.”

Sound effects: (ARF! ARF!)

TEACHER: “She grabbed the sleeve of his mom’s gown between her teeth and pulled to summon them out of bed. Upstairs they found Kevin unconscious and called 911, then an ambulance came and took him to the hospital.

When I taught Kevin in his home, we sat at his dining room table, and Lady lay on the floor beside us. She was the size of a small German Shepard, with long, shining black hair and a bit of brown around her face. She won my heart in no time, and I agreed with Kevin’s family, that she was possibly the smartest dog I had ever known. She actually spoke. She used her voice in a low volume howl and pointed her nose toward whatever it was she wanted or was trying to tell you.

After teaching Kevin for a year, his medical appointments grew more frequent and his parents put him on home schooling to cope with the erratic schedule. I heard from him occasionally. When he had brain tumor surgery, I visited him in the hospital. That was the last time I would see him.”

PAUSE: The teacher looks down, then straightens her clothing and begins to talk again.

TEACHER: “Ten years later, Kevin’s mother wrote to me that he had passed away and they invited me to attend his memorial service. I learned that Lady had taken ill when Kevin went into the hospital that last time, and I learned that she died three days before him.”

ACTION: The woman stopped, took a deep breath, and ran her hands under her eyes, brushing tears from her cheeks.

TEACHER: “I was standing here one October night, several years ago, and I heard the fast-paced footsteps of a person running, clearly coming toward me from behind. I didn’t think anything of it, and only when the steps grew close did I move to the edge of the sidewalk and glance behind me to let the runner pass. To my amazement there was no one there, just the footsteps, clear and crisp. They passed me by, and I felt a whoosh of air, as they continued and moved out of my range of hearing. Then I heard a faint, familiar voice, calling ‘Lady! Lady!’ The calls became distant, and then I heard them no more. His voice was deeper, but there was no mistaking it. It was his voice.

From behind me I heard softer steps, padded steps, the steps of a running dog. Like the runner’s steps, the canine steps grew close, passed beside me and disappeared in the direction I had been staring. No dog was there to be seen but I knew the soft, galloping sounds were the sounds of Lady’s soft paws on the concrete.

I was overcome by joy, knowing these two beloved souls were nearby, even if they were ghosts. I knew they were surely ‘ghost angels,’ and I’ve called them that ever since; Kevin and Lady, Riverside’s ‘ghost angels!’”

ACTION: The woman was silent a moment, and then she raised her head, turned to the side and spoke, a smile now rising from her lips and growing across her face.

TEACHER: “Here it is! Do you hear the sounds of the runner?”

SOUND EFFECTS: Running footsteps (human), they start quiet, then grow louder and then quiet again, then disappear.

Then the soft galloping sounds begin. They also start quietly, louder, then fade away softly.

TEACHER: “They never run together.”

ACTION: Her face turns away, her eyes stare into the distance. She swallows and squeezes her eyes shut, as though she anticipates tears.

TEACHER: “It’s been three years since I first heard them pass, and they are always alone, running a few moments apart, and I always feel a wave of sadness when they pass me by.”

ACTION: She closes her eyes. The steps approach once more. The runners steps are slower.

The padded galloping steps become a walk, then a low, growling howl, soft and non-threatening.

KEVIN (in a muted male voice he whispers): “Lady.”

SOUND EFFECTS: More soft howls.

TEACHER: “Do you feel that? Do you feel the waves of JOY moving around us? It feels like warm ocean currents!”

ACTION: She closes her eyes and smiles. When her eyes open, tears roll like small rivers down her cheeks. She wipes them away.

TEACHER: “Goodbye, dear ones! You will always be in my heart.”

NARRATOR: “The runners crisp steps now keep a rhythm with the softer steps, and after another moment in which a circling, warm and blissful breeze brushes our skin, (use fans to move the air) the pair of footsteps take off together in a run and disappear into the night.”

KEVIN: “On to rainbow bridge, Lady!”

SOUND EFFECTS: A distant bark, half growling, which fades into the night.

***

ZOMBIE LOVE

By Angelina O’Shields-Hayner (Age 8)

I am a zombie and I am half human. I like to attack mansions. Their size is awesome to me. I can turn into a bat. Not all zombie humans could do that. I was once married to a zombie but after a few hundred years he started having side effects from human blood and he exploded.

I had been grieving for a few hundred years but then I started noticing something was wrong. My husband was playing tricks on me and trying to tell me he was still with me as a ghost, not a dead zombie. We loved each other so much that we couldn’t be kept apart. I was lonely because I didn’t have much family, just my annoying brother, so I wanted my husband back.

He came back and lived in the house with me and my brother went to live in the sky where the other zombie humans lived.

We were all happy.

XOXOXO

THE END

Picking Up the Pieces by Pieter Whittington

Thrills & Chills! Check back here each day leading up to Halloween for a new story written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk. This story was a selection for the 2015 Ghost Walk.

***

Setting: INT. FORMER CORONER’S MORGUE – NIGHT

(the audience interacts with ghost)

The audience fills the room. It’s cold. Pale.

A VOICE OVER narrates. Echoes the room.

NARRATOR: He was a pet doctor. A successful one at that. He could cure any illness. And fix any broken bone. He was the best… But soon after, his wife died of a tragic illness, and he could not save her. And after he laid her to rest, he turned into a lonely man… So everyday, to rid his mind, he’d walk the railroad. (the sound of a TRAIN APPROACHES) One day on a walk near the railroad tracks, old man Bennett took a walk. His hearing was low, and he could not hear the train coming from behind.

SMASH. A SKID. A YELP.

NARRATOR: His body was littered throughout the yard… Most of his body was taken to this morgue, but the rest of him was lost… And now he comes to pick up the pieces.

The LIGHTS FLICKER

NARRATOR: So every night, Dr. Bennett comes and lurks this morgue to find his body parts.

A MORGUE WORKER pulls out a crate.

NARRATOR: So after careful searching and digging, we found the rest of him. And today, we come to return it to him… Would anyone like to volunteer to return them to him?

The chosen few are handed skeleton bones. A hand. An arm. A femur. A hip. And a skull.

NARRATOR: They say when you turn off the lights. And they say, if he comes, do not run. Do not move a soul, or you go with him… Do not scream, do not touch him if you want to go home.

The sound of a TRAIN comes and goes. The LIGHTS flicker.

NARRATOR: He’s here.

The LIGHTS TURN OFF. In the dark–

A cane STUMPS the ground.

OLD MAN BENNETT: (a deep slow voice) I am here to pick up the pieces.

A loud KNOCK. And a THUMP.

OLD MAN BENNETT: I am here to pick up the pieces.

Another loud KNOCK.

The LIGHTS turn on.

An OLD MAN stands there gaunt, heavy eyes of no sleep. Pale brown suit. Black boots. And a claw that holds a cane.

OLD MAN BENNETT: I am here to pick up the pieces.

The old man scours the audience. Sniffing. Smelling. Showing his rotted teeth.

Old man Bennett carries a bag. Opens it wide. And walks to his part. The audience member drops it into the bag.

Dr. Bennett gladly ties up his bag. Satisfied, he looks up into the sky. And smiles.

He walks away, into a bright light.

THE END

The Secret of Mary Bell By Jacqueline Y. Paul

Thrills & Chills! Check back here each day leading up to Halloween for a new story written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk. This story was a selection for the 2015 Ghost Walk.

***

Narrator: 100 years ago on these very streets of Riverside, there lived a child. A very odd child. This child was about 14 when she came to live with her adoptive parents–John and Josephine Jones. They were humble people who owned a mercantile in downtown Riverside–right about where we are standing now.

It was on this very night that a terrible incident occurred. I am actually not comfortable telling you about this particular story on this particular night, in this particular place. But, since you good people have paid good money to come on this tour tonight, I will take a chance.

The child’s name was MARY BELL. She had no friends. And her history was questionable. She had a stick doll she liked to carry around. No one knows where this stick doll came from but rumor has it, it was cursed. Some say it is the physical incarnation of Satan himself!

Just a little bit of little known local lore, right? All I know is that those who tell the story warn others …NEVER say the name MARY BELL…Never in this place on this night. NEVER say MARY BELL. MARY BELL.

Oh, no…I said it! I hope we will be okay! It’ll be okay, right?

Priest: (comes from behind the crowd…maybe some fog… he’s burned in tattered clothes and walks with a limp)

What have you DONE? Mary Bell. Mary Bell….say her name and burn in HELL!!! You’re cursed. CURSED!!! Then he limps away and collapses. All of you are CURSED LIKE ME!

John: (he’s also burned …comes from behind…wearing tattered overalls and burned….kind of looks like a zombie farmer)

CURSED indeed! I will never rest in peace as long as people keep saying that cursed child’s name…bringing her back to life. Bringing her back to torture my soul.

It was 1915… Mother and I wanted a child but my wife, Josephine, was barren. Some say it was the stress of a previous life. You see, my wife and I weren’t always upstanding citizens. We didn’t mean it….but we killed someone–a poor helpless widow. We hit her over the head with a cast iron pan left on her stove.

We stole all of her silverware and the money in her safe…then we buried her under our store.

Nobody knew. (repeats) Nobody knew…

Or at least we thought nobody knew….

When we heard from my brother in Santa Rosa that there was one child survivor after a fire burned the orphanage there, we thought God was telling us that this was our chance for a child. Nobody wanted to take her in because she was…strange. We traveled all the way to Northern California to save her. We thought it odd that she had been there for 13 years–since she was 13 months old–and was never adopted. And, there were strange stories about what had happened to three other families who tied to take her in…and then mysteriously disappeared. All of their homes burned–but she survived. They all had her with them for just about a year….

Josephine: (comes into the crowd ….in period clothing all torn and burned…she also looks like a zombie)

Who spoke that cursed child’s name? I will never rest as long as it is uttered. I remember that night… I remember so well. It was closing time. I yelled for Mary Bell to come help me clean up. She had been with us for 13 months exactly.

And…it was the anniversary of the very night that I committed that horrible thing…I was young. I didn’t know better. I was desperate. And, nobody knew.

Nobody knew.

Nobody knew.

But I knew and I hated to be out on this wretched night. I ached to get home.

I yelled and yelled for Mary–“MARY BELL! MARY BELL!”

I finally found her…sitting on the very spot where he had buried old widow Smith’s body-back where we stored cleaning supplies.

Mary. Mary. I scolded. Get away from there. Let’s go. But she wouldn’t leave. She just sat there staring at that doll…chanting….“BURN IN HELL! BURN IN HELL. BURN IN HELL!!!!”

Suddenly … a wind came along—a HUGE wind! Oh, I can’t think of it! The howling wind and the smell of sulphur! I looked at Mary…her eyes had turned BLACK. She started laughing at me. Oh no! No! No! She has come back!

MARY BELL: (she should look really really scary…) You stupid fools! I’m not a child. I am MARY BELL. I came for your souls! You cannot hide your wrongdoing from GOD or SATAN! You are damned to walk the earth whenever my name is said. You will NEVER REST!

(Mary then looks at her doll…the eyes glow and maybe there’s some smoke or a loud sound or something)

(John and Josephine and the priest start writhing in pain……and there is fake fire or at least fire sounds)

NARRATOR: The Smiths’ store burned to the ground that night. They say it was actually swallowed into the bowels of the earth. The townsfolk later called in a priest to purify the ground. Legend has it that a priest also was cursed to HELL and swallowed up the minute he set foot on the ground. It was many years before anyone built anything here again….but time goes on and we all realized that nothing bad can really come from saying a person’s name or standing in this spot on this night…Can it?…I mean MARY BELL…MARY BELL…what does that do? (dismissive and sing-songy)

(then MARY BELL and a legion of cursed souls start coming up to people saying MARY BELL….MARY BELL…SAY HER NAME AND BURN IN HELL….they all have stick dolls with them….they terrorize Ghost Walk visitors as they walk away…..)

Lenora’s Monster by Evan Bonavita

Thrills & Chills! Check back here each day leading up to Halloween for a new story written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk. This story was a selection for the 2015 Ghost Walk.

***

Characters: Lenora, Coroner, Detective Ramirez

Setting: the morgue

-Enter Lenora in front of the morgue. Lenora banging on morgue door, rambling nervously.

Lenora: “They went straight to school, all three in bright yellow dresses. NO, NO, NO, RED, bright red dresses! School then straight home! They had their alert whistles with them that’s for sure, never leave the house without them! THEY KNOW how dangerous it is out there, WHILE THAT MONSTER THAT GOT THEIR DADDY IS JUST ROAMING THE STREETS HUNTING US! “Kids will be kids” is no excuse! We went over their jobs 100 times. Lilly is supposed to guide them home only using main streets, safety in numbers, Sofia and Mia are supposed to always hold Lilly’s hand and keep look out! But something happened, I just know it! What if no one heard their whistles, or their screams? No one is ever around to help! Sofia, and Mia are much too small to fight off that monster; Lilly wouldn’t be able to alone. I KNEW I WAS RIGHT. Rick wouldn’t run away from me and the girls, he’s dead and now they are too, I can feel it! I’ve lost my husband, now my girls, all the love in my life is gone, MAYBE NOW YOU GUYS WILL BELIEVE ME!”

-Lenora now knocking down door angrily.

Lenora: “WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO RUN THIS TOWN, WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO SERVE AND PROTECT!”

-Interrupting Lenora’s rant, the coroner exits the morgue, giving the appearance he was closing up for the night. His facial expression shows he’s annoyed to see Lenora but speaks politely to her.

Coroner: “Lenora, what can I help you with this time.”

Lenora: “WHERE WERE YOU! I’ve been banging your door down for what seems like FOREVER!”

-Coroner is now clearly annoyed with her.

Coroner: “Closing up like I always do at this time SO I CAN GO HOME, SO IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN HELP YOU WITH?!”

Lenora: “Where is Detective Ramirez?! I couldn’t find him at the station and we ALL know he’s not out trying to keep this city safe, apparently that’s just my job around here! SO I figured he’s in here chatting it up with you, while you guys just sit back and watch THE BODIES PILE UP!”

-Coroner now angry.

Coroner: “NOW LENORA, I’m sorry about Rick, I REALLY AM, you didn’t deserve him taking off like that, BUT HE’S NOT DEAD, he’s just GONE. You need to get over this murder nonsense for ME, for you, and for your girls.”

-Lenora’s eyes widen as she remembers again her urgent reason for finding the detective.

Lenora: “THE GIRLS! THEY’RE MISSING! They’re dead just like my husband Rick, I, I, I… I just know it. YOU GUYS LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN! THEY’RE DEAD, THEY’RE DEAD, THEY’RE DEAD, JUST LIKE THEIR DADDY! You guys didn’t search hard enough!”

Coroner: “SLOW DOWN, where were they last?! Come inside and I’ll try to get a hold of Detective Ramirez.”

-Cop appears and interrupts them before they can go inside. Cop speaking at corner.

Cop: “Sir, we need you to open up the back, we’ve got three small ones, still warm coming in.”

-Cop notices Lenora and speaks to her gently.

Cop: “Um, miss you should come with me, we need to talk.”

-Lenora yelling at cop and coroner. *NOTE: her back is still not visible to audience.

Lenora: “None of you wanted to believe me. No you all just thought I was CRAZY, you all just ignored me! I TRIED TO SAVE THEM! I told you someone killed my husband, I TOLD YOU AND NOW she’s killed my girls! AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!”

-Lenora NOW turns her back to the audience reveling large hand outlined smudges of blood on the back of her dress where it appears she’s wiped her hands. Lenora now speaking in a soft and calm voice.

Lenora: “I warned you the monster was still out there and you didn’t believe me [small pause] you didn’t stop me.”

 

On Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Child by Victoria Waddle

Glen Hirshberg is a Shirley Jackson Award winner as well as a three-time International Horror Guild Award winner. Motherless Child makes clear why he has been thus honored.

I might have passed up this October must-read except that I was familiar with the author as a short story writer. And I might have missed those stories except that I often seek writers who are connected to the Inland Empire in some way. Previously, Hirshberg was a professor of fiction at Cal State San Bernardino and helped to launch the MFA program there.

It’s not often that readers have the joy of finding genre fiction of literary quality. Add to that a vampire who uses his Twitter base to hunt his prey and this tight piece of writing (it’s well under 300 pages) is a great read for any horror fan, teens included.

Bad girl Natalie doesn’t immediately realize that her wild night with pop singer The Whistler and best friend Sophie has done her damage forever. That’s really forever rather than a lifetime; she has been turned into a vampire. The Whistler hopes to make Natalie his eternal companion. As he sees it, she is his Destiny. He turns Sophie just to give Natalie someone to hang with while she figures out what has happened to them both, while they finish their transformation.

When Natalie does realize what has happened to her and Sophie, both women give their babies to Natalie’s mother with instructions to take off and never let the women know where she has gone with the children. The ensuing loneliness and desire would be enough to keep the reader charmed, but when ‘Mother’–the woman who turned The Whistler–figures out that her eternal companion hopes to forsake her for another, she is having none of it. Mother is amoral, cunning, willful, and violent. In the midst of all the grief and longing, we are thrust into spine-tingling episodes and suspenseful cat and mouse chases.

Not your typical vampire book, Motherless Child is about many things, and most surprisingly–if you allow the title to color your guesses about the nature of the book–it is a book about the ferocity of mother love, its limitless nature.

Through well-drawn characters and continual suspense, Hirshberg pulls the reader in quickly and never lets go. With the story very nearly concluded, he manages a final plot twist that both shocks the reader and leaves the reader deeply satisfied.

A sequel, Good Girls, is coming in February 2016. I’ll leave the light on.

School Libraries: A Place at the Table by Victoria Waddle

The table is twenty-eight feet long, and made of solid oak. Its top is a single slab of wood. As I fill it with hundreds of books that our high school students will browse today, I try to imagine the giant tree, felled eight decades ago, from which it was fashioned. I’m both intent on my task and bothered by something I saw in the morning news. The author of an article was lamenting that kids today don’t have empathy toward others. The piece was an argument for providing an empathy curriculum in schools.

Of course the teens at my school should be empathetic toward others. Yet I can’t imagine wasting time and dollars to implement an empathy curriculum. Diversity and equity are key to current educational goals, and as a high school librarian, the longtime teacher in me has decades of anecdotal evidence about what makes a teen care about others, thus welcoming diversity. At the top of that list is reading. So I am adding to the table the sort of books that a decade ago would have been difficult or impossible to come by: an autobiography of a Hispanic American Supreme Court justice (My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor); a book of interviews with transgender teens (Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin); a novel about a girl sent to conversion-therapy camp (The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth); a searing yet strangely poetic novel of PTSD and the Iraq War (Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers); YA fiction about a Muslim girl who wears a hijab (Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah); nonfiction that shows shy kids how really important their personal qualities are (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain).

The reading levels among these books are as diverse as the topics. From professional review resources, I cull low-level, high-interest titles for students who are learning English. I find the most popular graphic novels that will be a springboard into other reading. At the upper end, I include nonfiction that offers depth such as Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar. I learn who the thoughtful, literary readers are and hand-sell tougher works of fiction such as Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. In between, I talk up countless titles of teen fiction, works that appeal to fans of realism, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance.

I spend so much time engaging teens with fiction because, as Barbara Kingsolver has stated, “fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous.”

Time was when we bookworms were accused of not having any evidence for such a theory. But that changed when researchers Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that fiction readers are better at seeing the world from others’ perspective.

Happily, access to literature provides teens with the opportunity to develop not just empathy, but rather the perfect trifecta of life skills: compassion; imaginative thinking; and the ability to analyze and evaluate, to engage in higher-order thinking.

The necessity of whole-brain thinking is often promoted in adult nonfiction such as Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded or Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. As Pink says, in a ‘conceptual age’ that demands its workers be creators and empathizers, people will need to fashion the big picture, forge relationships, and tackle novel challenges. So nurturing students with fiction isn’t, as some critics suggest, training them to be English teachers; it’s helping them blend their left-brain analysis of writing with their right-brain imaginative story capabilities. For students who have an innate desire to question and imagine, the library is one of the best places on campus where they can do so.

My book display table is immobile. It is so long and so heavy that it had to be built inside the library. Several someones would have to take a chainsaw to it before it would fit through a door. It has always been an emblem of the permanence of community and communion. Over the years, the community it has served has enlarged; the communion is becoming all-embracing. But like a vast banquet table where nothing is served without the behind-the-scenes work of the chef, a book collection that feeds the souls of students requires the skills of a teacher librarian, one whose goal is to lift individual students to the nearest rung of the literacy ladder and then help them climb.

Sonambulant Funambulist: Interview with Julie Brooks Barbour by Maureen Alsop

Julie Brooks Barbour is an associate poetry editor at the journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and a professor at Lake Superior State University. I’m delighted here to offer an interview with Julie along with a selection from one of her published poems which underscores the distinction of her poetry and lyrical interest.

Maureen: Where do you see the current scope/trends in poetry at this point in time and where do you see your poetry in that evolution?

Julie: I notice that contemporary poets are writing about pop culture, history, fairy tales, race and gender, but, of course, this list doesn’t begin to cover the subjects or issues poets are taking on. The scope is large and broad, and, I think, can’t be pinpointed to any certain trend, but if there is one, I’d have to say it’s that poets at this point in time aren’t afraid to take on difficult subject matter. Where do I see myself in this evolution? I write about gender issues, specifically those of women. I’m interested in the ways women are portrayed in our culture, whether through body image, fairy tale characters, ideas of motherhood, or domestic work.


Brooks Barbour’s poem “Stone” published at Rose Red Review highlights the sensuality, directness and underscores these poetic themes as demonstrated in the following excerpt:

“You are ageless, a perpetual girl. If a ship navigates

your waters, it will not be rocked. You will not be

the legend that folds its sails, that causes the wreck

on the shoreline. You are the easy route, devoid of rocks.

You are the way written about in logs and travel journals:

the sunshine, the stillness, the atmosphere of peace.”


Maureen: How do you balance your priorities when managing the multitude of roles you carry as a woman, mother, wife, educator and writer?

Julie: Each part of my life needs its own time and one thing cannot take priority over everything else. I work at switching gears between work and home, writing and teaching, editing and writing. Setting up boundaries between work and home keeps me balance, though I won’t say that my life is completely calm or that I stay that way. It’s important that I don’t think about how much I have to do, but what I’m doing at the present moment. I also have to remember to take time for myself, whether I’m reading a novel, watching a favorite television show, or watching the snow fall (which I do a lot where I live). Time to rest and refuel is important to me. During this time I might suddenly reflect on my work, whether that be teaching or writing or editing. Times of repose really energize me creatively.

Maureen: How does your teaching influence your writing?

Julie: Teaching influences my writing in different ways. Many times I’m inspired by the literature I teach, whether it be classic essays in my composition classes, poetry and fiction in creative writing workshops, or drama in an introductory literature course. Each semester I try to teach at least one text or a few pieces that are new to me so I can discover something about writing with my students. I’m also inspired by my students and their willingness to take risks with their writing, whether through form, subject matter, or genre. I may be a teacher but I’m also a student, constantly learning from other writers, and my students remind me just as I remind them that I shouldn’t steer clear of risks. (They also remind me to take my own writing advice, not literally, but when I hear myself give them advice and know it’s something I need to do, that in itself is a reminder.)


Julie Brooks Barbour is an associate poetry editor at the journal Connotations Press: An Online Artifact. Read the full poem at Rose Red Review.

Resolutions for Writers by Cati Porter

Here we are at the end of December and once again we are about to turn the corner into a new year. Many of us see this as a fresh start and set goals for ourselves for the following year. For writers, often this means setting out to finally write that memoir or that novel. To accomplish this, I recommend setting small daily goals. By breaking it up into bite size pieces, the project will be much easier to digest.

To forge a writing practice for ourselves, it is best for writers to carve out a few minutes from every day. If you’re a poet, this might mean writing a few lines of verse or even the first draft of a whole poem. If you write fiction, opt to write a paragraph or two. If your aim is to write the Great American Novel, this allows you to chip away at it slowly but steadily. Incremental goals are much easier to keep. And if on any given day you happen to have more time once the ball gets rolling, you can stay with it, but if not, you’ve at least met your goal for the day. Setting a timer helps.

For my part, early mornings—prime time for writing, where I wake long before my kids—are usually spent frittered away with a cup of coffee or three and surfing the net. What else could I be using that time for? So here is my resolution: I will write just fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but if I keep it up then I will have written for 5,460 minutes by the end of the year. This morning, those fifteen minutes have netted me about three hundred words. If I were to do this every day, by the time the next new year comes around, I will have written over 100,000 words. And, voila! The Great American Novel—Round One. Sure, there will be false starts. Sure, there will be days when I flake out. But should I fall off the wagon, I’ll just hop back on and start again the next day. Or the next.

Like any goal, it is more easily met with the support of a routine, good friends, and maybe some prompting. To begin:

First, decide on a routine that suits you—writing in the morning, on the lunch hour, at night. You may need to try different times to figure out what works best.

Second, decide how you’d like to write. If you prefer to write longhand, you could treat yourself to a nice writing journal, but a yellow legal pad works just fine too, or you could be like Emily Dickinson and write on scraps of old envelopes or whatever is handy. You can even write using your phone. I have written using the notepad app on my iPhone, or sometimes directly into emails to myself.

Third, If you miss writing one morning, don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you’ve blown it for the day—even if you write at a different time, or for fewer minutes than you planned, at least you wrote! Allow yourself some latitude.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, here are a few places to start. Two of the leading magazines for writers, Poets & Writers Magazine and Writer’s Digest, both have pages with free writing prompts on the web:

– Poets & Writers Magazine “The Time Is Now”: http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises.

– Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompts page has new suggestions about once per week from the silly to serious: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts.

Poets & Writers also has a page listing the Best Books for Writers: http://www.pw.org/best-books-for-writers with everything from poetry craft books to writing nonfiction to how to publish your memoir to Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary to issues of copyright and other practical things. Some books that I have personally found useful: Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, John Drury’s Creating Poetry, and Finding What You Didn’t Lose by John Fox.

And it helps to have the support of like-minded writers. Being a part of a writing group is a great first step. Finding one can be a challenge, but there are many ways to go about this. First, look to your friends. You’d be surprised at how many people write. Also, you can look to the web—just type in “how to find a writing group” in the search bar. Or you could join one of Inlandia’s free writing workshops, which is a slightly more structured form of writers group, offering critique and craft tips in addition to the support of other writers, plus opportunities for publication and publicly sharing your work. With workshops in six different locations throughout the Inland Empire, there’s bound to be one near you.

Whatever you decide, if you begin the new year with some reasonable yet flexible goals in mind, by this time next year, you’ll have a brand new body of work to be proud of. I’m with you. Let’s go.


For more information about Inlandia’s writing workshops, please visit www.inlandiajournal.org/workshop.

2014 Pushcart Prize Nominees by Cati Porter

For the first time, Inlandia is proud to announce that we have nominated the following works for this year’s Pushcart Prize Anthology, an annual anthology of works culled from little magazines and independent presses. Editors may nominate up to six works, and can be any combination of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and stand-alone excerpts from longer works published or scheduled to be published during the current calendar year. This year, we have nominated the following:

From Inlandia: A Literary Journey

Kathleen Alcala’s “La Otra”

Elisha Holt’s “Geology”

From Orangelandia: The Literature of Inland Citrus

Juan Delgado’s “Walter’s Orchid”

Casandra Lopez’s “Those Who Speak to Trees Remember”

Chad Sweeney’s “World”

From No Easy Way: Integrating Riverside Schools – A Victory for Community by Arthur L. Littleworth

Congratulations to all of our nominees!

And to all of our contributors, we wish we could nominate all of you!

Giving Thanks to Writers by Victoria Waddle

While this weekend is the official beginning of the season of hysterical consumerism, it is also the dawn of the season of thanks. We’ve just crossed the threshold—Thanksgiving—and will continue in our journey of gratitude through the new year, when loved ones and the less fortunate move us to act on our better impulses.

Those of us who are ‘bookies’ have another group to add to our gratitude list. Writers. Ask most avid readers, and they’ll tell you that books have saved their lives. They aren’t speaking metaphorically. Through the power of others’ words, readers learn first to live, and then to tell, their own stories.

This symbiotic relationship between readers and writers has been detailed in several recent young adult and adult bestsellers. The most popular recent novel in which a reader seeks a writer is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. So pervasive are the book and the movie that I probably don’t need a spoiler alert when I say that that journey doesn’t go as planned. And yet what a transformational journey it is. Up and coming author Rainbow Rowell does a brilliant job of taking her protagonist on the journey from reader to copycat writer and finally, to a young woman telling her own story in Fangirl. Ruth Ozeki transcends space and time in A Tale for the Time Being to bring together an adolescent diarist from Japan and an author living on a remote island off of British Columbia when the girl’s journal, housed in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washes up on the author’s shore.

This season, in an act of gratitude for writers who toil on worthy but lesser-known projects, why not make a promise to dig deeper and make a connection to authors unknown to you? As a starter, I’m recommending Out There by Sarah Stark, published this spring by the independent Leaf Storm Press.

Out There is the story of Jefferson Long Soldier, just home from two tours in the Iraq War. Wearing the high-top sneakers he’s beaded and a headband he’s finger crocheted from plastic sandwich bags, he nervously walks on his hands in the Albuquerque International Sunport to engender the courage it will take to cross the “security barrier, to the free world, to Esco and Cousin Nigel and home.” Jefferson senses that there are “snipers in the airport, explosive tumbleweeds on the highway, insurgents in stolen minivans, undercover extremists buying lattes in front of him and single mothers wired for explosives behind.” Yes, his war experience has left him with PTSD, but he has a plan for getting better. He knows that reading One Hundred Years of Solitude throughout his service has saved him. He still has the novel strapped to his chest with an Ace bandage, and many of its words seared into his brain, words that he has recited to fellow soldiers, that he reviewed whenever someone he knew—or had just met—died.

Since One Hundred Years of Solitude has saved Jefferson, he knows that he must find its author, Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez—GGM as Jefferson thinks of him—and ask him the big question, why? He knows GGM will understand all that he has been through because, upon returning from war, the character Colonel Aureliano Buendía is asked where he has been. He replies, “‘Out there,’ an incomprehensible faraway place. As in, you cannot understand where I have been.”

In taking the road trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Mexico City by motorcycle, Jefferson doesn’t know if he will achieve his goal. Garcia Marquez is very sick with cancer and a recluse. Jefferson is not sure where he lives. Yet, as we know, the journey itself is often the destination. The danger, beauty and transcendence of the crossing are illuminated with poetic language. Jefferson experiences both people and events as magically real and otherworldly as GGM himself would have enjoyed. And Jefferson will find what he seeks—that “large, unidentified piece of his spirit” that had gone missing, had remained behind in the war.

Jefferson’s reunification with his deeper being is brought about by his ability to take the language of GGM, which “had been a blanket of comfort ever since the night Ramon from Las Cruces was shot in the throat, two feet from Jefferson,” and transform it. He moves from chanting the novel’s lines as a form of eulogy to altering and rearranging those lines until he has created a paean to life and the living.

While most of us have the good fortune not to have gone to war, we have, in other senses, been ‘out there.’ Writers have brought us back with the right words at the right time—words that we inhabit as they inhabit us, until finally, we speak our own language. That’s worth being grateful for.