Pandora

“Pandora doesn’t live here anymore.” That’s what the hand-written note said, and I couldn’t blame her. The door it was tacked to, and the wall on both sides, looked like they’d been hit by a flamethrower.

The seconds piled up following my third knock. I began to think no one else lived there either. The whole last month had gone like this, and my rent was overdue because of it. But the guy here had called me.

I counted to ten as I stared at the blackened front door of the old house at Six Plum Drop Circle. A fresh plywood patch clung where one of its raised panels should’ve been, and three heavily charred spots showed around it. It took me several moments to realize the door had once been red. It had suffered from such heat that only a small area at the bottom had escaped damage.

I turned to go, but halted at the sight of the solitary elm tree in the front yard. A three foot, round tunnel had been bored neatly through its dense foliage, branches and all. Blue sky and part of a neighbor’s roof showed within the gap. A few singed leaves clung to the edges of the opening.

“What do you want?” Rasped a timeworn voice.

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Bookmaking

The mystery is complete! It’s titled Fatal Harmony now. Next up, I want to put the finished stories into a book. So far I’ve come up with a few titles and covers for the anthology.

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Revision is the name of the game in this sport. Writing is just the start, then comes rewriting, re-rewriting, and more rewriting. Thanks to my Bride, Clarice, and our critique group, I’ve done the first couple. Now I’m planning to send the whole thing out to some advance readers. Then I’ll see how many more iterations remain to be done.

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It’s a Mystery

 

town-signI hate classical music, so fortunately for me the concert was cut short halfway through the William Tell Overture—sadly, so was the conductor’s life.

I hurried toward the stage and flashed my badge. “Detective Ryan Harding. Everyone please remain calm and be seated.” Maybe ten people sat back down. Of the rest, half never paused as they fled the hall. The others, all band parents, stampeded to remove their kids.

I called the station. “It’s Harding. I need an ambulance and backup at the high school auditorium.”

Marcus Cooper had no pulse. The cause of death was pretty clear. An arrow was firmly planted in his forehead.

“Scratch the ambulance. Send the M.E. instead, please.”

By the time I ran backstage the shooter had vanished.

On stage few minutes later, I completely failed to corral the kids of the orchestra. One clarinetist’s sweaty, hulking mother threatened to break my face if I didn’t get out of her way. As she dragged off her wailing daughter, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I ducked, assuming another parental assault was coming from behind. I was wrong.

Quinnie Swope had short-cropped sable hair, bright brown eyes, a taste for Mozart and Rossini, and, unaccountably, for me. I’d asked her out to dinner. She’d invited me to the concert.

“You’d rather do this than listen to the recital, wouldn’t you?”

“Um, I need to—”

“Don’t worry. I’ll catch a ride home with the Turners. Call me tomorrow?”

“Sure thing. I’m sorry.”

She nodded toward the body. “I’m sorry for Marcus’ wife.”

“Yeah. I’ll go see her as soon as things are under control here.”

We found a worn hunting bow backstage. An apple sat nearby with another arrow in it.

The medical examiner was new. She walked toward me as her assistant started taking pictures. “Detective Harding? I’m Doctor Anna Park. I don’t believe we’ve met.” Her straight black, jaw-length hair framed Asian features.

I shook her hand. “Welcome to Harmony, Doctor.”

She sighed. “Not very harmonious tonight, I see. What do we know?”

As far as I can tell, Mr. Cooper was shot from stage-left, during the William Tell Overture. That arrow, along with a second one stuck in an apple backstage, makes me think the shooter was familiar with tonight’s program.

After an hour of tagging and bagging evidence, I sent the school’s security camera tapes to the station and left for Cooper’s home—which happened to be the house I’d grown up in. I got out of the car and walked to the door. No one answered my knock.

Around to the side, Dad’s tree was dying. It wasn’t actually his tree any more. He’d sold the place to the Coopers and moved to Costa Rica ten years earlier. Didn’t matter. He’d planted it the day I was born, and it had always been a scraggly embarrassment to his garden club. Something scrabbled through its fallen leaves into the darkness beyond. Probably a squirrel. A big one.

I crept into the back yard.

Lights blazed as I rounded the patio. “Dratted motion detector.” It’d only ever worked when it wanted to. Tonight it was in the mood. A startled frog leapt from the diving board into the weeds.

Something disturbed the smooth surface of the pool. I stepped closer for a better look.  Helen Cooper had never looked good in red.

I dialed 9-1-1. Low battery. Exactly the two words I didn’t want to see right now. Obligingly, they disappeared and the phone died in my hand.

A loud crack sounded behind me and a bullet hit the fence.

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Thanks, Big Papi!

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You helped pigs fly three times in Boston!

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Yawkey Way is a brighter place now.

Tessie, “Nuff said” McGreevy shouted
We’re not here to mess around
Boston, you know we love you madly
Hear the crowd roar to your sound
Don’t blame us if we ever doubt you
You know we couldn’t live without you
Red Sox! you are the only, only, o-o-only!

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Awakening Wrapped

awakeningPart IV of Awakening, my latest short story, which is more novelette length now, is edited after critique group review pointed out some needed changes. I’ve just finished the story with Part V. My sweet bride, Clarice, has reviewed that, and it now it’s out with the group, who will heap praises and scorn upon it next week.

After eight months of down time because of Leukemia, I finally got busy and picked up where I left off in January. Poor George Hammond’s trials are at last at an end.

Clarice says I should cobble all the stories into an anthology and go to press with them. All together, my seven stories total about 56,000 words. I feel like I should perhaps add one more tale to the collection so folks would feel like they’d gotten their money’s worth.

Last night I thought of an opening for a new story…

Another body. Blood was everywhere. At least this guy was in one piece.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” Tom exclaimed. “I can’t stand any more of this tripe.” He flung the pulp novel into the trash and went to bed.

Okay, I admit that doesn’t leave much room for story development.  Ideas that show up when you’re half asleep tend to seem better than they really are.

Speaking of Tom’s, I’d inadvertently written two of those into Awakening. Clarice spotted my error, and “Poof!” Valentine’s effete, BMW driving friend is now Aiden because I have a special feeling in my heart for that name. Perhaps he wears an ascot. Such is the author’s power.

Something is brewing. I can tell because random stuff pops into my head while I’m in the shower. This morning it was this:

James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George DuPree
Took great care of his mother though he was only three
James James said to his mother:
“Mother,” he said, said he
“You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.
Don’t ever go down to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”

James James Morrison’s mother put on her golden gown
James James Morrison’s mother, she drove to the end of the town
James James Morrison’s mother
She said to herself, said she
“Well, I can get down to the end of the town
And be back in time for tea.
Well, I can get down to the end of the town
And be back in time for tea.”

King John put up a notice: “Lost, stolen or strayed,
James James Morrison’s mother,
She seems to have been mislaid
Last seen wandering vaguely quite of her own accord
She tried to get down to the end of the town–
Forty shillings reward.
She tried to get down to the end of the town–
Forty shillings reward.

James James Morrison Morrison, commonly known as “Jim”
Said to his other relations not to go blaming him
For James James said to his mother
“Mother”, he said, said he
“Don’t ever go down to the end of the town,
If you don’t go down with me.
You must never go down to the end of the town,
If you don’t go down with me.”

Now James James Morrison’s mother,
She hasn’t been heard of since,
King John said he was sorry,
And so did the queen and the prince,
King John, somebody told me,
Said to a man he knew,
“If people go down to the end of the town,
Well what can anyone do?
If people go down to the end of the town,
Well what can anyone do?”

No disrespect to Mr. Milne. It just happened.

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Down Time

It’s been a long time since I posted anything. I’d just hit a problem in “Awakening” and wasn’t sure where to take the story when I got a call from my Veteran’s Administration doctor. She’d asked me to have some lab work done since there weren’t any recent tests in her records. I dutifully went and visited the vampires and was having lunch afterward when the phone rang.

“We need you to go to the hospital. Do you want to go to the VA facility in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, or would you rather use a closer-by civilian facility?”

“Uh, closer, I guess.”

I called my civilian primary care doctor, who told me to call a specialist down the road from his office. They told me to call another specialist in Boston.

A few days later I was talking to a doctor in Dana-Farber Cancer Center, listening to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. A few days after that, I was checking into Brigham & Women’s Hospital for chemotherapy. Since I had never been a hospital patient in my life, this was an experience.

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Hospital garb. Hat & prayer shawl made by my pal Deb Bock

First, let me say that the doctors and nurses at Dana-Farber-Brigham & Women’s are even better at treating you well than the staff at Disney World.

Second, being in the hospital for a month isn’t any fun. Even Brigham’s chicken pot pie gets old after a while, and you just can’t live on nothing but creamsicle frappes.

Anyway, seven months, three hospital rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant later, I’ve just had my first fresh vegetables, in the form of tacos. They were right behind a hot pastrami sandwich on my list of “can’t have it” dietary obsessions. I got the the sandwich first because of my bride’s heroic efforts in searching out pre-packaged pastrami. I’m allowed to eat hot food at a restaurant now, as long as I go during a slow time when there aren’t many customers. That’s okay because that’s when we like to go.

The only down side of being allowed out is that I’m on a study medication that makes me feel like not going out. Hopefully I’ll acclimate to it and we’ll get to our little nearby seafood place soon. Fried shrimp and onion rings are calling my name.

So, thank you, Lord, for Dr. Panesar at the VA, without whom I’d never have known anything was wrong, for the doctors and nurses at D-F/B&W, for my dear sister, who was a perfect stem cell donor match, and for all the good lab results.

Oh. I’ve saved a lot of money on haircuts, too.

This is my first attempt at writing since the whole thing started. Maybe I’ll take a look at Awakening next.pastrami with mustard200

 

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Awakening

I woke up with grass poking in my ear. And up my nose.

“Oh, no, not again.”

Blinding sun blazed red through my eyelids. I knew I was in my front yard. I could hear Fred Willoughby’s mower. It always sounded like it was ready to gasp and die as he putt-cough-putted around his lawn, splattering dust, stones, and dandelions everywhere. A pebble bounced off my forehead as he pushed the antique machine past my place of repose. His clippings tickled as they wafted into my ear.

He shouted over the din. “Mornin’ George! Lovely day, ain’t it?”

I dimly recalled a negative proverb about someone loudly blessing their neighbor early in the morning.

Something crawled up my leg.

As I lurched upright another stone stung my ear. I karate-flailed at whatever the crawly-thing was and pried my eyes open. At least I had pajamas on this time.

A ring of red-topped toadstools fairy ring
surrounded my napping spot. Dead leaves filled my pajama pocket and, from the feel of it, my pants as well. As I brushed grass from my face, a third flying stone exploded a toadstool onto my shirt.

Fred stood still, his mower gagging and backfiring, and stared at me.

“What?”

“You didn’t answer me.”

“Go away, Fred.”

He harrumphed and pushed on into a crowd of chickweed and buck corn,  taking his fusillade of mower exhaust around behind his rhubarb patch.

Despite a pounding headache, I emptied the leaves from my pocket and struggled to my feet. Then, shaking one leg after the other, I left a trail of oak, maple, and birch bits all the way to my door.

It was locked.

Although I ran out of leaves a little before I reached my back door, I still felt creepy-crawly. I kept batting at real and imagined tiny invaders as I tried the knob.

Locked, too. Jeepers! It’s not like I owned any original Picassos or priceless oriental rugs. Fred had better stuff than me, for cryin’ out loud, and he hadn’t locked his house in seven years.

Still itching and swatting, I tried one window after another. At the garage, I met with success and climbed gratefully inside. Of course, the door into the house was bolted, but I’d squirreled away an emergency key after the last time I’d locked myself out—I’d come home from a funeral to find I’d left my key in my jeans when I’d put on my suit that morning. Fred had laughed a lot as I borrowed his phone. $250 had summoned a locksmith who demolished my doorknob and let me inside.

The emergency key was exactly where I’d put it—under a now spiderweb-festooned jug of pesticide, in a dark corner between an open box of mouse poison and a small pile of half-eaten acorns.

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