Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hags Episode 14


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Micah sniffed the steam rising from a stack of muffins. An oversized muffin, oozing blueberries, sat on top of the heap.

Micah reached into the basket.

Denise smacked his hand. “First, a gentleman offers a lady coffee when she visits.” She placed her hand on Micah’s Delonghi coffeemaker. “This is nice. Does it make good coffee?”

Micah rubbed the back of his sore hand. “It will when I remember which box has the Jamaican Blue Mountain. Right now it’s pouring the best decaf this side of Bob’s Coffee Emporium. Let me find you a cup.” Micah opened a cabinet door to discover it held plates and saucers, but no cups. He opened another cabinet, but it held a few plastic storage containers.

Denise turned to the cabinet behind her, the one above the refrigerator. She pulled a chair over, stood on it and opened the cabinet door. She grabbed a mug, turned around and jumped to the floor as her miniskirt billowed in the breeze. “I wouldn’t keep the coffee mugs in that one. It’s too hard to reach. I like your mugs by the way.”

“I must have put them away before heading to the coffee shop for the real thing. A guy in Phoenix makes the mugs by hand so I bought a bunch. Would you like cream and sugar?”

“You have real cream?”

“Of course.” Micah pulled a container from the refrigerator.

“And a touch of sugar.”

“Do you mind sharing my spoon? I’d hate to have to figure out where the rest of them are until I finish unpacking.”

“If I have no other choice.” Denise stared at the spoon for a few seconds. “Is this real silver?”

“Guess so. I inherited it.”

Denise shrugged her shoulders and picked the extra large muffin out of her basket. “I made this one especially for you.”

“Thanks. Aren’t the rest of them for me, too?”

“Of course, but that one has an extra portion of my special blueberries with an added dollop of goodness. By the way, you didn’t tell me why you put cream and sugar in your coffee if you prefer it black.”

Micah took the muffin and held it in his hand. “Still warm from the oven. My father drank his coffee with cream and sugar so I honor him with one cup his way. It keeps me going during the rough times. I can feel his presence when I do it, and it makes me smile.”

“Not everyone loves their father.”

“I did. He’s gone now.” Micah lifted the muffin to his mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You must miss him terribly.”

Micah pulled the muffin away from his mouth. “I do. He stood by me when no one else would.” Micah took a bite. “Hmmm, you’re right. This muffin is special.”

“Not even your mother?”

“She died a long time ago. It was me and Dad growing up.” Micah turned at the sound of loud knocking on his front door. He set the rest of the muffin on the counter by his cup of coffee.

Denise stirred her coffee. “You better answer it.”

When Micah passed the staircase, he caught a glimpse of the pioneer woman climbing the steps.

At the front door, a man in a grey business suit held up a badge. “Detective Lawson, Naperville police.”

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hags Episode 13


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Chapter Six
Despite the stream of light from the window and the brightness of two lamps, Micah could see the aerie specter of the pioneer woman. She sat in a phantom rocking chair in the corner of the room where she knitted.  He chose to ignore her as he prepared to peel the wallpaper from the front bedroom walls of his Naperville fixer-upper.

Micah couldn’t tell if the wallpaper was fifty years old or a hundred. Judging from the ghost’s costume, he guessed more like one hundred fifty. That would make it one of the oldest homes in Naperville. The wallpaper may have been light and cheerful at one time, but now a dull gray-brown depressed the atmosphere of the room.

In a corner at the front of the house, he pulled a wet scrub brush out of a dark brown plastic bucket and applied water to the paper. Once he had a large section soaked, he pulled a wide scraper out of the back pocket of his ragged blue jeans. He rubbed it along the wet paper to peel it away from the wall. The wet globs of paper fell to the painter’s plastic sheet on the floor. Micah worked his way across the front wall until he removed the wallpaper.

He descended to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Unlike Bob’s Coffee Emporium, where he drank a strong, black brew, he poured decaf. He stirred in milk and two teaspoons of sugar before raising the cup to his lips.

“You like milk and sugar in your coffee?” The female voice startled Micah. Had the pioneer woman decided to speak? He surveyed the room but didn’t see the phantom. He set the cup down on the counter and grabbed a towel to wipe splashed coffee from his shirt.

“I prefer it black.” Micah placed the dishtowel on the kitchen table and opened the screen door. “Why are you in my backyard?”

Denise Appleby carried a small wicker basket into the room. A faded flower-print cloth covered the contents of the basket. She wore a flower pattern pink dress with lots of yellow blossoms and thin, long green leaves. The dress, though new, appeared similar to the cloth covering the basket. A strip of fabric matching her dress held her raven hair in a ponytail. “What? Are you afraid I’m trespassing? The fact is, you refused to answer the front door.”

“Hmmm, something smells fresh. How’d you get into my yard? There’s no gate.”

“I climbed. I’m a suffragette; I’m not helpless.” She placed the wicker basket on a counter.

“Suffragette?”

“My mom used to say it a lot, and I picked it up. It’s an old-fashioned way of saying ‘liberated.’”

“I didn’t hear you ring the bell. Say, are those blueberries I smell?”

“I don’t think your bell works.”

“I’ll check into it, but first, may I liberate one of your whatevers you have in your basket?”

“Certainly.” Denise pulled the faded cloth off the basket.

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The big announcement
You have finished reading Episode 13 of Hags. This is an excellent moment in the story to announce the big Hags giveaway. Download the Kindle version of Hags free between March 11 - 15, 2013.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hags Episode 12


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Bob rose from his chair and faced the counter. He paced a short distance and checked over his shoulder. “You know where to find me if you need me.” Bob made his way up to Peevy. They talked.

Micah took a sip from his coffee while focusing on Peevy. In this light and distance it didn’t take much for him to picture the last time she smiled at him.

He remembered a summer day on the Prairie Path, an abandoned series of old railroad right of ways converted to hiking paths that wander through Chicago’s suburbs. Peevy in blue shorts and a white sleeveless top. And about two hundred fewer pounds. A kiss. Not one of those passionate, let’s make like bunnies in the bushes kind of kisses. Instead, they pressed each other’s lips together in a gentle promise of commitment.

A tear flowed down Micah’s right cheek. Peevy stared at him from behind the counter and her expression softened for a split second before it hardened again. Then her face lit up as she turned to the front door of the coffee shop.

“Ahlman!” she called. Several customers stood up when the man with gossamer wings hidden under his Ivy League blue dress shirt entered. They began to applaud.

“Way to go, Ahlman,” a man shouted from a table on the other side of the room.

Ahlman strutted up to the counter through a group of about one half dozen admirers who wanted to shake his hand. He smiled and shook hands like a politician.

“It’s on the house. I’m overlooking that you’re a man,” Peevy said.

“Thank you, dear lady.” Ahlman took the coffee and headed towards Micah’s table. He passed it and sat at the next table in the row and eyeballed Micah as he sat down. He placed his coffee and a copy of Twain’s Letters From the Earth on the table.

Micah nodded in Ahlman’s direction. “You must have done something right.”

Ahlman’s eyes twinkled. “Raised money for one of the local high schools, old boy. I have some friends who are generous.”

“Friends in high places?”

Ahlman laughed and shook his head from side-to-side. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Been here both days.”

Ahlman moved to Micah’s table. “How do you like our town so far?”

“I’ve always liked Naperville. Certain Napervillians are the problem.” Micah took another bite of his scone and washed it down with coffee.

“So this is not your first visit?”

“Long story. Let’s not go there.”

“Any interesting adventures since you came to town?”

“It’s only been two days.”

“So…”

Micah glared at Ahlman. “Yesterday morning a giant faerie that looked like you flew past my window on gossamer wings and landed in the alley in back of my house. Oh, and I found a body in the dumpster.”

“Tell you what, Micah, I’ll be careful of my flight patterns, and you be careful of your imagination.”

“So it was you?”

Ahlman roared with laughter. “You found a faerie? Naperville is such a straight-laced suburban community that I’m surprised you would find one around here. Then again I suppose you can find gays everywhere. My, this is noble coffee. They don’t roast it like this where I come from.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Peevy. You set the land speed record for making her angry when you came in yesterday morning. I asked her who you were.”

“And she told you?”

“She said you were the reason she hates all men.”

“About says it all.” Micah took a sip of coffee.

“Doesn’t say why she hates you, old boy.”

“No. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you.”

“She may not have wanted to make me blush. I have a certain reputation to maintain. Did you say you found a body? I don’t believe Naperville has many murders.”

Micah held up his forefinger. “It has one now.”

“We’ve had our share of rape and child molestation, but I don’t think we’ve had many murders.” Ahlman took a sip of his coffee.

“Peevy told you?”

“Told me what, Micah?”

“I’m leaving now.” Micah stood up.

“By the way, nice outfit, Micah. Nieman-Marcus?”

Micah stormed out into the bright light of the street.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Hags Episode 11


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We interrupt your reading of my novel Hags for an important message. I won't be able to post the entire novel here, but at the end of the episodes appearing  here, I'll make the Kindle version available free for a week on Amazon so you can finish it at your leisure. And if you simply must have the entire book right away, you may purchase the paperback or Kindle version at any time by clicking here.

And now back to our regularly schedule episode of Hags:

Bob’s eyes became intense as he faced Micah again. “What did you do?”

“I told you.”

“What about Janice?”

“She’s a liar.”

“And you always tell the truth?”

Micah placed an elbow on the table and rubbed his jaw with his hand. He let his hand slide up to his mouth. The hand slid over to allow Micah to rest his cheek on it. “I spent fifteen years in prison because someone else didn’t tell the truth.”

“You believe that, don’t you?”

Micah dropped his hand from his cheek and locked eyes with Bob. “Why shouldn’t I? It’s the truth.”

“Sometimes when someone does something horrible, they block it out in their mind.”

“I told you the truth. You can believe me or not. Your choice.”

Bob gazed towards the front door. No one entered. He turned to Micah. “Sounds to me like the choices were made a long time ago. Perhaps it’s time to put the past behind you and move on with life.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“You came home to put the past behind you?”

“I came to Naperville to … I don’t know … it’s more like I’m trying to get a handle on life. Do you ever wonder why you’re alive?”

“No. I know why I’m alive.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

Micah sipped more coffee. He placed the cup on the table and gazed into Bob’s eyes. “Where you are is where I want to go because right now my life sucks. It has sucked for twenty years, and I’m ready to get off this screwed up merry-go-round.”

“I can help.”

“How?”

“For starters, I could be a friend.” Bob reached across the table, his arm not long enough to reach Micah.

“You’d have to believe me before I could trust you.”

Bob straightened up and turned his hands palm up. “I believe that you believe you didn’t commit the crime for which you went to prison.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“Okay, it may not be, but it’s a beginning. The rest will follow.” Bob placed his hands on the table and stared at Micah.

“Bob, I appreciate your honesty. I do. But I don’t need friends.”

“What are you looking for?”

“When I figure that out, I’ll tell you.”

“So you need some sort of purpose?” Bob leaned back and stroked his chin.

“For starters.”

“So what are you doing in Naperville besides drinking coffee?”

A sudden rush of heat rose in Micah’s face. His voice became animated. “Eating scones.” Micah took a bite from his cranberry pastry. “And fixing up a house. It’s an experiment. I want to see if I can buy cheap, fix up and sell high. I like working with my hands.”

“Sounds like a purpose to me. A bit mercenary, but a purpose.”

“It’s more like what I’m doing until I figure out what I’m doing.”

“We should talk more about this. Your life has a purpose.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Hags Episode 10


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Chapter Five

Micah pulled a thick wad of bills from his blue jeans pocket. “Coffee, black, big, intense.”

“Screw off.” Peevy’s voice did not sound as angry as yesterday, but her lips had that same upturned, puckered and livid sweep to them. Her eyes glared against her pale face.

From down the counter, Bob said, “Peevy, you can’t even swear right. What are you doing, opening a jar?”

Peevy threw an empty paper coffee cup at Bob. “Screw off.”

“Coffee, black, big, intense.” Micah stared at the faded wood floor to hide a smile. It became a game. He raised his eyes from the mahogany kick plate up to the glass face. Micah studied the bakery items on display.

“Screw off.”

“Cranberry scone.”

“Screw off.”

He peeled a fifty from his stack of bills and placed it on the counter. He raised his head. Peevy’s disheveled blond hair draped her puffy face. She no longer possessed the figure he remembered from twenty years ago when they were both nineteen.  Frowning did not make her attractive.

Peevy opened the register and placed the fifty inside. She removed coins and paper currency. After a cold stare, she threw the money on the glass counter top. “Screw off.”

“You’re welcome, and I don’t mind if you use the F-word.”

“Screw off. I hope you never F-word anyone again in your sorry, lousy life.” Peevy stomped into the backroom.

Micah pocketed the paper bills and three pennies remaining on the counter top. He ignored the three quarters, dime and nickel scattered across the floor but picked up the coffee and scone that Peevy slammed on the counter.

He parked at a table by the window and stared at the steam as it rose from the tiny hole in the plastic lid of his coffee cup. The rich aroma of coffee filled his nostrils as the vapor formed a petite, cold female hand and arm. As the mist rose higher, it dispersed into the shape of gossamer dragonfly wings.

“May I join you?” asked Bob.

Micah jumped. An embarrassed smirk crossed his lips as Bob sat opposite him with his tiny feet dangling in the air above the floor and his face stretching above the tabletop, kid style.

Peevy returned to the front and slapped the counter top with a towel. “If you were half a man, you’d buy a rope.”

Bob twisted around to face Peevy. “Hey, I am half a man.” He spun back to Micah. “What’s the rope for?”

“To hang me.”

 “What did you do to her?” Bob’s eyes became large.

“Didn’t do anything.”

“Must have done something for Peevy to hate you twenty years later. I know Peevy. She gets pissed and then she gets over it.”

“She believes I did a horrible thing.” Micah wiped his hand across his mouth. He looked up at Bob and took a sip of coffee. The bitter taste danced on his tongue.

“But you didn’t?”

Micah locked eyes with Bob. “No.”

Bob spun around again. “He didn’t do it, Peevy.”

Peevy stopped polishing the coffee machine. She didn’t bother to turnaround. “Ask him how many years he got in prison for doing nothing to my little sister.”

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hags Episode 9


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Chapter Four

The rock rolled around in the pit of Megan McCormick’s stomach and parked on a sore spot as she entered the principal’s outer office. Megan breathed easier when she spotted Mrs. Rinaldi behind her desk in the reception area. Megan’s imaginary rock shrunk to a pebble and rolled off the sore place.

“Dr. Langdon sent for me, Mrs. Rinaldi.”

“Have a seat, dear.” Mrs. Rinaldi popped her head into the principal’s office. “Megan is here, Dr. Langdon.”

Megan fixed her gaze on Mrs. Rinaldi who returned to her desk. She became bored watching Mrs. Rinaldi pecking at her keyboard.

Megan almost bit down on her purple and green painted nails before catching herself. She placed both hands on her lap and sighed when she noticed they fell below the hemline of her short black skirt. She could see her navel with the tiny gold ring through her thin white blouse. She fastened two top buttons she had left undone.

Dr. Langdon strolled out to the reception area. He wore a brown sports coat and khaki trousers.

“Please come in, Megan.” He stood aside to allow Megan to pass into his office. She waited by Dr. Langdon’s desk and listened.

“You don’t have to wait around, Mrs. Rinaldi.”

“But you’ll be alone, Dr. Langdon. I mean with her. Is that a good idea?”

“Evelyn, you say that every time I have an afternoon student appointment, and I always tell you not to worry. It’s your choice, if you prefer to stay after hours. But there has never been a complaint since the day I took over as principal.”

“If you’re sure, I have things to do at home.”

The rock rolled back onto Megan’s sore spot and grew by several inches.

Dr. Langdon returned to his office. “Have a seat, Megan.” He indicated one of the two office chairs in front of his desk as he closed the office door.

Megan pulled at her skirt as she sat down. She wished she had worn slacks instead of her shortest outfit.

Dr. Langdon stepped behind his desk and picked up a file. He returned to the front of the desk and sat in the open seat, pulling it over so it touched Megan’s chair. He smiled while he opened the file. “Let’s talk about what we can do to bring up your math grade, Megan. I’d hate to have you not graduate with your class.”

He patted her on the hand.

Megan crossed her legs and stared at a smudge on the wall behind Dr. Langdon’s desk. She waited for what other girls said always came next.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hags Episode 8


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Chapter Three

Micah admired a pair of well-formed legs on his front porch as he returned from Bob’s Coffee Emporium. Above the female thighs, he appreciated the beauty of the woman in her short pink silk robe.

“May I help you?” Micah walked up the steps to stand behind her.

“You stole my cat.” The top of the woman’s dark brunette hair reached below Micah’s shoulders. She carried a few pounds beyond a perfect figure. “Are you the new dude?”

“I’m a new guy in town.”

The young woman pointed to the house next door with her thumb. “We’re neighbors. What are you doing with my cat?”

Micah dropped his eyes to the faded gray wood floor of the porch. He mumbled, “Didn’t steal anyone’s cat.”

“I can hear him meow inside your house. I’d recognize Fritz’s call anywhere. He puts an ‘R’ in it.”

Micah scratched his head. “Somebody’s cat stole me. Made me feed him milk. He meows with a lisp, you know.”

“You poison my cat?”

“I have a worse confession.” Micah reached for his keys.

“You killed him already and that’s his ghost I hear?”

“No. I let him sleep with me. He must have snuck in after the police found that body. Hope you’re not the jealous type.”

She stamped her right foot and pouted. She smiled. “A little, maybe. What about the police?”

“The body out back last night. Didn’t the police wake you with their noise?”

“Once I’m down for the night, that’s it. You saw a body? A dead person?”

“Murder victim.”

“I can read about it in the newspaper. And I’m sure the cops will canvas the neighborhood. So unless you plan to stop me, I’ll collect my cat.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Come on in.” Micah unlocked the door and waited while the young woman stepped into his house. The feminine aroma of flowered perfume wisped the air as she passed. The cat ran up the stairs as Micah entered. The girl charged up the steps in pursuit of the cat while her robe flew up to present an image of pink silkiness beneath.

Micah headed for the kitchen where he picked up the empty bowl of milk. When he reached for the red bowl, it was filled with blood. Around the bowl, more blood was splashed. Micah gasped and backed against the counter. He put the milk bowl in the sink. 

“I have him,” said a feminine voice from above.

Micah listened to the patter of bare feet down the steps and smiled at the appearance of the young lady in the kitchen.

“Thanks for taking care of Fritz. And I’m sorry I misjudged you. You’re not the catnapper I took you for.” She reached out her hand.

“Your cat caught his own breakfast.” Micah pointed down at the red bowl of blood.

“Looks like a bowl of water.” The girl’s eyes formed question marks that captured Micah’s own inquisitive eyes.

Micah glanced down again. The blood was missing. 

“Nice eyes.” The girl touched Micah on the arm. He jumped.

Micah wiped a hand across his face. “Sorry. I… I… don’t like to be touched, ma’am.”

“Not touching could take the fun out of a relationship.” The girl petted her cat.

“That kind of touching is cool. I mean the surprise kind, like now.” Micah dropped his eyes to the floor where he checked out the girl’s bright red toenails.

“Look at me.”

Micah looked up until his eyes met the girl’s.

“Like I said, you have nice eyes and I don’t give many compliments.”

“Wh…wha… what did you say?”

“Brown. I love dark brown eyes. Most girls like movie star blue, but I’m all about dark pools of liquid love.”

Micah’s eyes pointed to the floor again. “Whatever you say, ma’am.”

“Oh, please, stop calling me ‘ma’am. My name is Miss Appleby. You may call me Denise if you like. I live next door.” She extended her hand for the second time.

Micah gave her hand a gentle shake.

Denise dropped Micah’s hand. “I’m leaving now.”

Micah shook his head while struggling to keep his smile from slipping off his face.

“Goodbye.” Denise headed for the front door. She stopped and spun around. “What’s your name? Fritz will want to know.”

“I already told him.”

“Oh.”

“Just kidding, ma’am. I’m Micah Probert.”

“That’s not a name you hear everyday.”

“I hope not.”

“Are you famous, Mr. Probert? Your name sounds familiar.”

“Famous is not the right word.”

“Infamous?”

“So how long have you lived in Naperville, ma’am? And call me Micah, okay?”

“Okay, Micah, if you promise to stop calling me ‘ma’am. See you later.” Denise managed to close the door behind her without spilling the cat, or at least without spilling it as far as Micah could tell from his position in the kitchen by the sink.

“That long, eh?” Micah picked up the red water bowl from the floor. The blood had returned.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hags Episode 7


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“That bad, huh?”

Micah paused before he took a deep breath. “Found a body.”

“A human body?”

Micah searched Bob’s eyes. “Yes.”

“Alive, I hope.”

“No.” Micah noticed how dark brown Bob’s eyes were.

“Man or woman?”

Micah faced the window. His voice was soft. “Young teenaged girl, a kid.”

“What happened?” Bob put a tiny hand on Micah’s muscular arm.

Micah adjusted his position to face Bob. “Somebody cut her heart out.”

“Don’t tell me that stuff.”

“You asked.”

“Yeah. I can be stupid sometimes.” Bob called over his shoulders. “Hey, Peevy, you hear anything about a murder last night?”

Peevy stopped rubbing the counter and stared at Bob for a few seconds. “No.”

“Micah found a body.”

“His latest victim. Call the police.” Peevy resumed polishing.

Bob shook his head. “That’s harsh, Peevy.” He picked up Micah’s fifty, rubbed it between his fingers and handed it to Peevy at the counter. She held it up to the light while Bob returned to his seat.

Micah pointed with his coffee. “Didn’t realize Peevy worked here. I just moved back from Phoenix.”

“So you’re new in town?” Bob rose from his seat and picked up two empty coffee cups from the floor.

“New again. Grew up in Naperville.” Micah played with a rip in his faded blue jeans.

“Childhood sweetheart thing, right?” Bob tossed the cups in the trash before returning to his seat again.

“Yes, sir. High school. After high school.” Micah tried to duck as a wad of cash and several coins pelted him. More than a few customers ducked out of the way. Peevy turned her back to Micah.

“Peevy, you’re not nice,” Bob said.

Peevy turned around and stared blue-eyed bullets at Micah. “Get out means you put your rear end on the other side of the door.”

Bob approached the counter. “Peevy, give these nice customers here each a drink on the house. And stop scaring people away.”

Bob rejoined Micah at the table. “Some of us act like we’re still in high school, but it was such a long time ago for you two to be so angry with each other now. Did college break you up?”

“No.” Micah stuffed the wad of bills in his pants pocket without counting it. He ignored the coins scattered about the floor.

“Another girl?”

“Ask Peevy.” Micah took a sip of coffee.

“Ah, another boy. Tough luck, fella. Say, what’s your name anyway?”

“Probert.” He stared at the top of his coffee cup.

“That your first name?”

“Sorry, sir. Micah Probert.”

The short man stuck out a small hand with stubby fingers. “Bob. Glad to meet you.”

“You too, Bob.” Micah noticed a flash of color when a man strolled into the coffee shop.

The man wore blue jeans, a red shirt and brown leather lace up boots, the type a construction worker might use in the mud. A copy of Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth stuck out from under his arm. Blood dripped from the book.

“You know that guy?” Micah asked.

“Yeah, he’s an angel. Why?” Bob sipped his coffee.

Micah’s stomach flipped. “His book is dripping blood.”

Bob turned to the man again. “No, it’s the color of the book.”

Micah glanced over again and didn’t see the blood. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “My eyes must be playing tricks on me. Anyway, he flew by my window this morning?”

“Low flying airplane?”

“No, gossamer wings.”

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Hags Episode 6


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“Wait,” said the short man. “Anyone who can piss off Peevy O’Malley by ordering a cup of coffee is somebody I want to know better.”

Micah stared at Bob. “Yes, sir, but I didn’t order yet.”

“Even better.” Bob waved toward a chair. “Have a seat.”

“As long as no one throws stuff at me.” Micah approached the chair.

“Relax. We can always toss you out later. Besides, Peevy is busy with other customers.”

Micah took the seat at a round table by the window. The short man headed behind the counter, grabbed a small coffee cup and filled it with high test. “What can I get you?”

“Something strong.”

“What size? Medium okay?” Bob held up a paper cup. 

“Yeah.”

Bob filled the medium cup with dark roast and handed it to Micah. “So you’re a friend of Peevy?” The short man sat down at the table across from Micah.

“Ex-boyfriend.” Micah reached in his back pocket for his wallet, but he opened it upside-down. Cash and credit cards tumbled to the floor. He chased down his scattered dollars and plastic.

Bob yelled, “Didn’t know it was a lover’s spat, Peevy. Do you still want me to toss him out?”

“Yes!” Peevy poured coffee for a female customer. Three more customers waited in line.

“In a bit. I want to find out what kind of man turns you on.”

Another empty paper coffee cup, this one medium-sized, bounced off the short man’s balding head.

Micah jumped when the paper cup flew by while he was returning his wallet to his pocket. He nearly lost his money again. He placed a fifty-dollar bill on the table and slid it across to Bob.

Bob raised his eyebrows at the fifty. “Is finding Peevy in your favorite coffee shop the reason you look so down?” He raised his voice when he said Peevy’s name.

“Didn’t know she was here. And I’ll get back to you on my favorite coffee shop.”

“Depends on the quality of the brew and the friendliness of the crowd?”

“Yeah. It takes time, but if the rest of your menu is as good as this coffee, I’ll be back.”

“Next time, don’t look so down when you come in.”

“Sorry. I had a bad night.” Micah sipped the brew.

“Want to talk about it.”

“No. You can hear about it on the news.”

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Hags Episode 5


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Chapter Two
Micah Probert guessed the woman to be about forty. He liked her face, but in a déjà vu moment, she reminded him of something he couldn’t quite grasp. His stomach growled against the aroma of rich coffee buffeted by the sweet smells of scones and muffins under the counter.

The heavyset woman’s puffy face turned bright red against her medium-length blond hair. “Get out! How dare you.”

Micah’s smile faded as he opened his mouth in wonder and his head slanted to the side in a glint of recognition. He backed away from the counter. “No.”

Bob’s Coffee Emporium exuded darkness from the aged mahogany framework of the display case to the faded oak wainscoting and forest green upper walls. A painted tin ceiling dotted with fans and soft lights added to the appearance of antiquity in the store. The plate glass front door and storefront windows provided soft light from a northern exposure. 

The angry barista wore blue jeans and a long, green blouse not tucked into her pants. Micah guessed her height at about five-feet six-inches and her weight close to three hundred pounds, possibly more.

 “Don’t you dare say ‘no’ to me. Get out right now.” The barista glowered. She placed her hands on her hips and called over her shoulder, “Bob, throw this criminal out of here.”

Micah raised both hands, palms out. “I didn’t mean ‘no.’ I meant ‘no way’ as in ‘no way, is that you?”

A man of stocky build, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans approached. Micah estimated the man’s height at about five-two or three. The man looked up, smiled and then turned to the woman behind the counter. “What’s up, Peevy?”

“Get this bum out of here.” Peevy’s blue eyes flashed. Micah remembered years long past and a teenaged girl once much thinner.

“We don’t throw the customers out, Peevy. In fact, we don’t become angry at them. We’re supposed to smile, take their order and their money. And we say thank you when we’re finished. Did I mention the part about their money?”

“Men! He’s not a regular customer. Throw him out.” Peevy picked up a bar towel and slammed it on the counter. She stormed to the other end of the counter.

Bob smiled. “Appears regular enough to me.” To Micah, the short man said, “Don’t pay any attention to Peevy. She gets like this every month.”

An empty small paper coffee cup bounced off the short man’s bald spot.

“Hey!” Bob grabbed the top of his head.

Micah headed towards the front door with his head down. “I don’t mind. I’m not pleased to see her either.”

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hags Episode 4


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Micah wound his way stoop-shouldered around the boxes back to the unkempt mattress. A loud thump caught his attention so he meandered around the boxes again to the window. Red liquid smeared a six-inch-square chunk of the wet pane. “That wasn’t there before.”

Micah attempted to raise the window so he could check out the stain on the outside of the glass, but it wouldn’t budge. “Painted shut, cat. Or else the wood is swollen from the rain.”

He flapped his bare feet downstairs to the kitchen where he poured milk into a small white porcelain bowl and filled the other bowl, a little red plastic one, with fresh water.

“Now where did I pack the coffee?” Neither the Delonghi coffeemaker nor the Jamaican Blue Mountain turned up in any of the boxes marked “kitchen.”

He rubbed the cat on the head. “One of us needs to check the coffee shop down the street. I know, you’re wondering how I knew about it, what with me new in town and all, but cat, you have to know coffee lovers notice coffee shops, especially the indies.”

A wispy woman dressed in a pioneer costume strolled into the room. She stared at Micah as though she was about to speak. She turned up her nose and retreated down the hall and around the corner. Micah chased her, but by the time he arrived at the stairs, she had vanished.

“What do you think, cat? Haunted house?”

“Meowr.”

“Yes, sir. I agree. She gives me the heebie-jeebies. She could at least take her bonnet off inside. So cat, did you see where I left my wallet?”

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hags Episode 3

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In the half awake time before rising when images, dreams and half dreams ascend from the darkness of the soul and imprint themselves on the memory for the rest of the day, Micah Probert observed the faerie in a mountain meadow. The creature wore blue jeans and a red shirt tucked into his waistband as he flitted about from golden daffodils to blue forget-me-nots like a bee shopping for nectar. Gossamer wings buzzed like a dragonfly until, as sometimes happens in half dreams, the creature turned to face the camera of Micah’s mind. It flew in for a close-up and grinned with a Mediterranean face outlined with short black hair.

Micah jumped which caused him to smack his hand hard against the side of a stack of book boxes by his mattress.

He pushed the boxes aside and blinked against the sunlight as it glared through the soiled glass of the back bedroom window. Micah found his knees staring him in the face when he plopped his feet on the floor. He reached over to pet the black cat asleep among his blankets and sheets. “How’d you get in here?”

A humming noise came from outside. Micah weaved a path through the jungle of boxes to the window. He leaned his hands on the wide wooden sill coated with faded, peeling white paint and considered how potted plants would go nicely on the windowsill.

The droning came from above and to the right, so Micah turned in that direction in time to see a man in blue jeans. He was bare from the waist up, but had a red shirt tucked into his waistband. He wore a pair of brown work boots like a construction worker prepared for a job in the mud. The man hovered about fifty feet above the parking lot behind Micah’s tiny backyard near the row of green dumpsters. Yellow police tape surrounded one of the dumpsters. The police had completed their work and hauled the body away.

The winged man landed by a large puddle in the parking lot. He folded a set of four long, narrow gossamer wings against his back. The wings faded into a filigree pattern of blood vessels woven over the man’s skin like a tattoo. He undid his shirt from his waist and ambled around the corner of the house out of sight. Micah craned his neck sideways to track the winged man’s movement. Above, a strong breeze moved the cloud cover off to the east.

Micah shook his head to clear it. “Hallucination? What do you think, cat?”

The feline sprawled with its paws stretched out and its mouth open in a yawn. “Meowr.”

“Yes, sir. You make a good point. And I agree. Caffeine is the best way to figure out how you got in here. By the way, have you always had that lisp?”

The cat stretched, yawned and smiled.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hags Episode 2


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Cold, wet grass tickled his bare feet as he ran to the end of the yard. In the darkness he couldn’t find a gate. Feeling with his hands, he realized he had purchased a home with a fenced in yard and no gate.

Can’t jump over in my bare feet and underwear. Break an ankle. Scratch my legs. Slip and do much worse. Not using the family jewels for anything anyway. Still the pain would be insufferable.

Micah turned the lights on in the kitchen where the apparition continued chewing her raw meat. He screamed. After a frozen moment, he ran to the downstairs hallway where he threw the light switches on for the downstairs entrance area and the upstairs hall. He also turned on the light in his back bedroom.

He slipped on a pair of faded blue jeans and sneakers without the socks. He checked the time on his cell phone. Two-thirty-eight. He ran back downstairs, out the front door, around to the alley and the parking lot.

At the dumpster with the damaged lid, he touched the wrist of the arm hanging out. It was cold, feminine, and petite. He hesitated before taking the cell phone out of his pocket. Not certain his Arizona phone number would connect to a local nine-one-one line, he punched four-one-one and asked the operator for the police.

If I phone, they’ll respect that I called. Like that means anything in DuPage County. At least, I’m not hallucinating.

In less than a minute, a police car pulled up close to the dumpster with its lights flashing. A uniformed officer stepped out of the car and shined a flashlight into Micah’s face. The sudden brightness flooded Micah with a litany of bad memories.

“You the one who called?” The officer kept the light in Micah’s face.

Micah raised his hand to shade his eyes. “Yeah. See?” He pointed to the dumpster with his finger about two inches from the girl’s dead hand.

The officer touched the girl’s wrist.

“I… I… couldn’t find a pulse.” Micah backed away to make more room for the officer.

“You touched her?”

“To check for a pulse.”

The officer opened the lid. Micah hit the ground butt first and hard. The intense pain shooting through his posterior kept him from passing out.

The officer shined his light down on Micah. “You okay?”

“Didn’t expect that.” Micah swiped at the puddle soaking his bottom. He stood up.

“Sorry. I wasn’t either. Guess you didn’t find a pulse.” The officer punched a button on his communicator and spoke to his dispatch in the language of authority.

Micah leaned down to pet a black cat snuggled against him. The cat smelled of damp fur and blood.

Micah waited. He backed away a distance to avoid the police chatter, but he couldn’t escape the hideous noise. Nor could he explain the huge puddle of blood flowing like a river from under the dumpster with red cat paw prints leading away from it.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Hags Begins Today

 
Welcome to the first installment of this extended preview of my novel Hags. I won't post the entire novel here, but you'll read enough to see if you want to read more. At the end of the episodes appearing  here, I'll make the Kindle version available free for five days on Amazon so you can finish it at your leisure. And if you simply must have the entire book right away, you may purchase the paperback or Kindle version by clicking here.

Today's blog post starts Chapter 1. But first, here's a quick summary: After 15 years in prison for a rape he insists he didn’t commit, Micah Probert returns to his hometown of Naperville, Illinois, where he starts his first day by discovering a human-sized faerie flitting about in his backyard, a dead body in the parking lot behind his house, a pioneer ghost in his kitchen, and a local coffee shop that serves the darkest roast this side of Hades. Mix in a few dark secrets, a couple of serial killers, a hot romance or two, and this novel takes you deep into the heart of horror in the suburbs.

As one of my Amazon critics wrote:
“For a story dealing with such dark topics, Hags surprised me with its genuine humor. Once all the pieces are on the table, the story has a very distinctive and clever personality that flows quickly…. you'll find Hags a delightful read that may have something to say about fear, lust, greed, brokenness and most importantly, redemption.”

Hags Chapter One

From the mattress on the floor of the back bedroom of his antique Victorian fixer-upper, Micah Probert heard a far off scream. An equally distant clang of heavy metal followed. Then two muffled voices, a male and a female. The sound of feet scampering followed by a loud buzz made Micah picture a prehistoric dragonfly. Then came the silence.

Micah dragged his six-foot bulk to an upright position and maneuvered stoop-shouldered around the stacks of book boxes cluttered about the bedroom. The ancient pine floor boards creaked under his weight as he made his way to the window. He absorbed the aroma of damp, clean night air after a storm.

Darkness prevented Micah from seeing into the small backyard of his downtown Naperville, Illinois, property. A series of streetlights illuminated the parking lot behind his yard. The light changed colors as it filtered through the raindrops on the window panes.

At the far end of the lot, he made out the dumpsters, five in a row, bathed in the harsh glow of a streetlight. One had its lid ajar. All were wet with rain.

Micah wasn’t sure if he imagined the hand, wrist and arm sticking out from under the metal top of one dumpster.

The police will accuse me. No, they won’t have any evidence. Still, if I report it, they’ll accuse me. No, they’ll suspect me if I don’t report it. Dead either way. So’s the person in the dumpster. It could be a dummy, part of a college prank. The person may still be alive. And maybe I’ll drive myself crazy with hallucinations.

A black cat stepped out from under the dumpster and called out in a loud, lispy meowr with a big, toothy grin.

Cats can’t smile, can they? And why does that one meow with a lisp?

Micah ran down the steps, tripped over a stack of three large clothing boxes in the entranceway, and made his way into the kitchen where he knocked over a chair. He noticed a wispy mist with a barely-there woman in the center dressed like a pioneer. She sat across the table from Micah, devouring an equally wispy bloody chunk of raw leg of lamb. After a quick little half scream, he stared for few seconds more before opening the back door.

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