Spider man

A creepy little Halloween treat for you. Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.

The old man stood on his porch, glaring at the vandalized front yard. His lips were pursed with anger while he gripped the coffee mug so tightly the skin over his bony knuckles glowed white. A gentle breeze carried a two-foot length of toilet paper from a lower branch until it fell lazily on to his slippered foot. He seethed.

Just then a giggle erupted from the other side of his box elder shrubs before being instantly muffled. The old man didn’t even glance over. He knew the hooligans were there the whole time. He knew they were waiting for his reaction to the snowy transformation of his yard, every branch of every tree festooned with endless lengths of toilet paper.

“You have no idea who you’re messing with,” he croaked in the mischievous boys’ direction, his voice raspy but ominous. “You’ll be sorry.” And with that he walked back in the house and slammed the door.

That night — Halloween night — all the neighborhood kids laughed and gamboled up and down the streets, ringing doorbells, collecting candy and making merry. None of them acknowledged the old man’s house or the fact that they generally crossed the street to avoid it. The five young boys who had braved the property the previous night weren’t bragging about it any longer.

*****

The next morning fingers of bright autumn sunshine reached through semi-bare branches of maples, sumacs and elms. Discarded candy wrappers danced down the sidewalks, no doubt left by a few impatient children who couldn’t wait to sample their haul. Most of the neighborhood kids were still tucked in bed with full tummies and budding cavities.

Most of them.

The old man’s trees were still draped with tattered remnants of Charmin’s best double-ply. So much TP, in fact, passers-by wouldn’t even notice the five white bundles of tightly wrapped tissue paper hanging from the lower branches. The growing breeze made it difficult to tell if they were wiggling or swaying.

The home’s sole occupant chuckled as he scrabbled across the wood floors to answer the door. The bored policeman who had been dispatched to find a suspected runaway sixth grader squinted at the name etched in brass above the doorbell.

“A. Rachnid,” he murmured to himself, trying the name out before he addressed the homeowner. “Mr. A. Rachnid.” The door swung open.

 

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Death and Daffodils

© Susan Richards
Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Carol knew without a doubt that she couldn’t leave the body lying in the mudroom all day. The kids would be home from school in a few hours and questions were bound to come up.

“Mom, why is our neighbor’s face all blue and do we have any of those mini Oreos left?”

It would be awkward, to say the least, so she knew she had to get the old guy out of the way sooner, rather than later. There were still three loads of laundry to finish, vegetables to chop for tonight’s stew, not to mention that stupid daffodil costume to finish for Willow’s kindergarten program.

If there was to be any finger pointing for the 180 lb. dead guy in the next room, it was five-year-old Willow’s fault. If only she was home to own up to her complicity, Carol could send her to a time out and put the responsibility of body disposal squarely on the girl’s petite shoulders.

Unfortunately for Carol, Willow was busy learning her ABCs, undoubtedly while wiping the contents of her nose on Paris Romero’s sweater. Her daughter was blithely unaware of the catastrophic course of events, all because she required a costume in the shape of a spring bloom.

Carol sighed loudly, trying to muster up some righteous self-pity for the situation. If she couldn’t blame her precocious youngster for the foul play, then she knew where the blame really settled.

On the old guy himself, of course.

His spectacularly poor timing did him in. Not Carol Royce, who was head of the neighborhood watch, co-chair of the local chapter of MADD, and author of three yet-to-be-published gluten-free cookbooks. It was all on him.

Him and the last untenable 48 hours.

Two days earlier, Carol woke to the delighted squeals of three ecstatic children. School had been canceled due to heavy snow, high winds, and an apparent unwillingness to educate during predictable, regional weather conditions.

Within two days the unholy trio had eaten everything in the house, traumatized the cat until it refused to come out from under the bed, and built a blanket fort that filled most of the house. With her husband Phil stuck in Saginaw until the storm cleared out, Carol was on her own with the snowbound brood. She also belatedly discovered that the liquor cabinet had not been replenished before the weather came in. The forecast was dire, and not just outdoors.

When the district announced school would be back in session today, Carol almost wept with joy. After more than an hour of shoveling and scraping, she got the car out and the monsters delivered 14 minutes early. It all went downhill from there.

Upon arriving home, Carol discovered that the overzealous city workers had plowed a four-foot wall in front of the same driveway she had just broke her back to clear. After re-digging an entry, she came inside to find the family dog had done his business on her bedroom rug as he was too cold or lazy to venture outside like other dogs.

Then as she brought an arm full of firewood to the den for the wood stove, she dropped a log on her foot, thus releasing such a torrent of expletives that the dog wisely retreated and tried to wipe up his own mess. Carol was 96% sure she would lose a toenail in spite of the recent coat of Maui Nights polish.

When she realized the wood stove wasn’t making a dent on the cold, Carol learned that the pilot light in the ancient furnace had gone out. Again. She completely split out the butt in her favorite yoga pants when bending over to light it. The noise of the seam popping was so loud the dog piddled again.

Once the furnace was working, the dog mess cleaned up and all 328 blankets and chairs were returned to their rightful place, Carol sat down with a cup of coffee spiked with cherry flavored cough syrup. It didn’t taste great but she imagined the pioneers would be proud of her resourcefulness and drank it anyway. She had just about found her long-lost sense of calm when the doorbell rang.

Carol was surprised to see their neighbor, Wally, bundled up on the stoop. The octogenarian was wearing a puffy blue coat that was last in fashion when Reagan was president and only his rheumy eyes peered out between the matching knit scarf and hat.

“Wally, what are you doing out in this weather? Come on in here,” she admonished, leading him into the mudroom. In a couple of hours it would be full of discarded coats, scarves and wet boots, no doubt left for her to pick up. She sighed dramatically, already dreading the onslaught of loud, messy beings that were still young enough to love this weather.

The weather that was reaching its bitter cold fingers through the door as Wally waddled in. She shut it behind him and watched him shake snow and slush onto the clean floor.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, feigning warmth she hadn’t felt since last September. His eyes twinkled as he pulled down the scarf.

“Well, I hate to bother you, but Maude and I are heading to Florida this weekend and I was wondering if you have any sunscreen I could borrow. My nose burns something awful at the beach.” He grinned his 84-year-old denture smile at her and waited expectantly.

“The beach. You’re going to the beach this weekend?”

He nodded enthusiastically.

Carol saw the bright yellow fabric still in her hand that would eventually be a colorful daffodil, then looked out at the blanket of white in the yard, the steel-gray slushy mess in the streets where the crews had plowed. She looked at her beach-bound neighbor and snapped.

Distantly, she heard herself screaming about blanket forts, dog pee and spring flowers as she grabbed the ends of his green woolen scarf and shook the old man. She was still going on about wasted toenail polish and pilot lights when his face turned several different shades of blue and his tongue peeked out between his perfect false teeth.

———

Later that afternoon Carol sat with another cup of coffee – this one spiked with something a little more appropriate than cough syrup – and stared out the window. The kids were watching TV, the costume was sewn and ready as her husband pulled his car easily into the driveway she had shoveled out three times.

Phil Royce waved at Wally’s wife who was walking their well-trained pooch as he unloaded his bags from the car. He and Maude exchanged a few words before he stomped into the now-empty mudroom.

After hugs, greetings and a warm kiss on Carol’s cheek, he asked if she was feeling all right.

“Yes, why?” Carol asked, trying to look away from the monochromatic yard.

“Mrs. Winter said her husband came over earlier to borrow a cup of sugar and you reacted oddly. He was worried you might not be feeling well.” Phil took a sip of his wife’s coffee and smiled appreciatively.

Carol finally pulled her eyes from the snowy blanket covering the hard, frozen earth, still weeks away from being soft enough to till and dig. Her daughter might be a bright yellow harbinger of spring, but there wouldn’t be any blossoms in the yard for a while. March was the snowiest month of the year and Carol doubted her sanity would survive it.

Three kids cooped up inside for two days, a couple of neurotic pets, a visit from old man Winter and an overactive imagination all came together in one afternoon.

She looked at her husband with a lazy smile and reclaimed her coffee.

“Oh, just a little case of spring fever, honey. I’ll be fine.”

“Beautiful Darkness” illuminates

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

First, a few words… Being well past my teen years and having a daughter who isn’t there yet, *shudder* I really had no interest in the YA – or young adult – literature market. Then I drank that Twilight kool-aid and the rest is history. As a result of my – er – hobby, I’ve been exposed to several other popular books in this genre and recently had the opportunity to read the first half of the “Beautiful” series for my job. Poor me – reading for a living;)

A few years ago the term “YA” would have been lost on me, but I now know it’s the fast growing genre of books geared toward teenagers – or young adults as they prefer to be called. Now this market is populated with titles such as “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” which have blurred the lines of popularity, being read and loved by all ages.
Joining the supernatural YA party last year was the novel “Beautiful Creatures.” It was followed up a few weeks ago by the highly anticipated “Beautiful Darkness.” I read both to see what all the fuss was about and was beautifully enchanted.

The magical universe found in “Creatures” and “Darkness” was conjured by two good friends, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. In the imaginary town of Gatlin, South Carolina, the biggest excitement revolves around Civil War reenactments and pie-baking contests. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate was biding his time at Jackson High until he could escape after graduation. The new arrival at the beginning of his sophomore year changes everything, including his perspective of the backward little southern town his family had called home for generations.

Lena Duchannes is like nothing Gatlin has ever seen. She’s beautiful and quirky, deeper and more complex than the belles who rule the school. She’s also been haunting Ethan’s dreams before they even meet. Once they do — and inevitably fall in love — he finds out Lena is a Caster, ensconced in a family of other Casters and mythical creatures. The word caster refers to spells, a good euphemism because no one wants to introduce their new girlfriend as a witch.

“Beautiful Creatures” guides the reader on Ethan and Lena’s journey into love, magic and danger as Lena approaches her penultimate sixteenth birthday. It is then that her fate as a Caster is decided – she could go Dark or Light and I don’t mean her hair color. Her fate is inexorably tied to those around her and “Creatures” leaves us with tragedy and more questions as Gatlin’s secrets are slowly revealed.

The sequel opens with Ethan fervently hoping the changes in Lena’s mystical world won’t affect their strong, yet complicated bond, but of course there wouldn’t be a very long book without conflict and more danger.

Ethan’s hometown turns out to be even more cloaked in secrets than he could have imagined. People he’s known all his life have dimensions he must accept no matter how contrary they are to his long held perceptions. Even without the element of magic, this is something that teenagers struggle with every day. It’s always a shock to find out there is a person behind the name Mom or Dad – a person with loves, losses, secrets – a person with history.

The mother lost to Ethan before the series takes place is that person for him, and revelations about her and others in his family rock Ethan’s world as he fights to save Lena from herself.

The “Beautiful” series wins my praise for several reasons, one of the biggest being that it never talks down to its audience. Ethan is smart and so are many of the characters in his world, but there is nothing geeky or awkward about his intelligence. He accepts that there are bigger, better things waiting outside of Gatlin for him without a sense of arrogance.

Also, I was surprised to discover the stories – written by two women – were almost exclusively from Ethan’s perspective. They infused his voice with telltale male references without falling to stereotypes, thus making him believable and immensely likable.

One of the most interesting characters is Gatlin, the town itself. Although both authors now reside in California, there is a love of the south woven through the words of both books. Sometimes it mocks and teases, but with an underlying affection that makes me want to try fried green tomatoes.

“Beautiful Darkness” ties up some loose ends while unraveling many more. Fortunately there are two more books in the series which will publish over the next two years. There are some dark themes and violence in the books that may be too strong for sensitive, younger readers, but none of it is graphic or gratuitous. I recommend it for that coveted YA demographic as well as adults who like a good southern romance without the bodice ripping.

Besides creating a magical place with fascinating people, these books are extremely well written — never talking over or under the reader’s head. Start with “Beautiful Creatures” and you’ll soon want to add some magic to your shelf with “Beautiful Darkness.”

The Family Business is growing up

Two months ago I published the first chapter of my twisted little fanfic version of the Twilight tale. After posting chapter 10 last night I decided a celebration was in order. I drank the champagne by myself but all of my readers were there in spirit, honest! At one point I had the desire to follow suit with other writers and update my (non-Twilight) blog with teasers, song lists, art and fic rec’s. Being very busy, lazy and punctually challenged, it never happened. So in addition to my bubbly hangover, I’m celebrating my tenth chapter with an update.

I also designed a banner for The Family Business as you can see here. I’m a graphic designer by profession and I’m blown away by some of the art, banners and manipulations I’ve seen in this arena. Luckily for us, The Precious* has a million versions of himself from which to choose and steal for our lusty purposes. I bow to the talent in the fandom and hope everyone enjoys my vision of Slayerward.

Speaking of the nickname for our hero, I want to thank TideRider for that. As a Twi-fic writer and reader, I knew I’d truly arrived when my Edward had been dubbed.

All right, enough rambling. Starting today and updating regularly until I catch up, I’ll post some art, a blurb or quote, and some other fun nonsense from each chapter. Then the blurbs should actually become teasers for unpublished chapters. (Aren’t good intentions cute?)

*For the record, I don’t actually picture Rob** as Edward in very many fics, but the set of photos from which I borrowed for the banner made me think of Slayerward immediately.

**I prefer to picture Rob in my bedroom, feeding me white chocolate and singing Snow Patrol songs. Among other things.

And here you go…

Chapter 1
Bowling Shoe Blues (Edward)

“I felt the warning vibe like a cold finger at the base of my neck. My family and I had been hunting and killing vampires for as long as I could remember and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I drew breath today because of my total respect for the vibe.”

Songs: Open Your Eyes by Snow Patrol; Breathe In Breathe Out by Mat Kearney
(I have a shitload of songs for future chapters and welcome suggestions.)

Favorite reader review of this chapter: “Oh please let there be a tiny thought in Edward’s head to call his friend Buffy to ask her how she handled being in love with the undead :). Forks as a hellmouth makes much more sense then Sunnydale or Cleveland!” – ladyspinning

Keep reading The Family Business if you want in on the 401k plan. And suck up to the boss by leaving reviews.

http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2155721/SuzsPetals

The Private Eyes of March

By SuzsPetals

The pub was smoky and I longed for the cities that banned the nasty habit from public places. I didn’t lose much sleep over civil liberties and second-hand health problems; money was short and I simply couldn’t afford another steep dry cleaning bill. Hopefully this would be my last seedy joint for a while. I had a good feeling about it. Maybe the loser I had been tracking for four months would finally surface here.

My business card said “private investigator” and I was one of the best.

My long legs and school-teacher demeanor generated trust in most people and I got what I needed when most Phillip Marlowe types failed. Women tended to confide in me and men pretty much told me everything when I batted my eyes and inched up my tweed skirt.

Cheating? Maybe, but in my line of work you use any and all resources available.

Unfortunately, this latest perp was not in my line of work and all expenses were coming out of my own account. No grateful client writing me a check when it was all over, or in many cases, not-so-grateful when I had to break the bad news about their unfaithful spouse. Fortunately, however, the philandering hubby work was coming in handy since the little guy I was trailing thought with the same brain that has tripped up men since the dawn of, well, man. They always make mistakes when their testosterone contributes to the decision-making process.

Not to say that my gender doesn’t have a few fatal flaws as well, but for now I was in another bar in another country looking for another guy that was looking for another conquest.

Simple as that.

I spied an empty barstool near the door and slid on, crossing my legs so that any casual admirers could appreciate the way they reached all the way down to the bottom rung. The place was loud so charades worked best for ordering. The bartender slid me a sweating glass half full of Ireland’s best single malt on the rocks after I indicated what I wanted.

I turned and surveyed the room. Definitely his type of dive but it was too crowded to see him if he was here, so I sipped my whiskey and people-watched.

Pretty soon I realized I was the one being watched. Just a feeling, but I had been around the world and in a lot of bars recently. I trusted the tickle at the back of my neck and casually looked around me. He waited until he caught my eye then smiled what I’m sure he considered a charming entreaty. It was more of a leer, really, but I forced myself to return the smile and tuck my head slightly in a demure, yet flirty gesture.

It was the creep I had hopped continents looking for and I didn’t want him to spook and run. He was even shorter than I thought he would be and in spite of the lascivious smile, I could see the charm that got him in doors.

“Are you new in town?” he asked predictably.

“I am,” I replied, “and you must not be from around here originally. What is that charming accent?”

“I’m from New Zealand,” he lied.

I cooed and fawned about that for a few minutes, asking questions and polishing his ego. He bought me another drink, admiring my choice in liquor, and we made the usual small talk heard in pubs and clubs around the globe. When I thought it was a comfortable stretch of time, I stood up and tried not to tower over him. The diminutive fellow wasn’t phased at all in our differences in height and took his time checking out my gams.

“I’ve really got to go,” I said, sounding somewhat reluctant, then added, “You could come over for a nightcap if you’d like. My flat’s not far from here.”

He pretended to think about it for a second, then grabbed his hunter green wool jacket from the stool and followed me. He didn’t question my detour down the alley next to the pub and I could hear him right on my heels.

As soon as we were out of the circle of grimy lights spaced haphazardly down the walkway, and I heard no more voices, I whirled around. A short burst of mace and I slipped the cuffs on him before he even knew what happened. My four-door import was just a few feet away and I threw the stunned stooge over my shoulder and dove into the back seat with him.

Breathlessly, I sat him up and demanded my due. “I’ve been chasing you since Ireland, you little twerp; now where’s my pot of gold?!”

I wasn’t sure whether to expect rage, denial or both but he sputtered a little, then looked resigned. He knew the score.

He was a leprechaun, I caught him, and there were rules to be followed. It didn’t look like dry cleaning bills were going to be a problem any more.

Opening the doors on The Family Business

If you’re visiting my blogsite via open invitation, then you probably already know I’m a Twitard, and usually proud of it. After giving up on understanding — much less explaining — my obsession with an imaginary universe created by Stephenie Meyer, a couple of mediocre movies and a British actor young enough to be my… well, let’s just say he’s young, I gave in and drank the Kool-Aid.

I was in good company.

I’ve found a community of 834,016 other women in my general age range (I counted, but they all lied about their age) who are just as crazy. And we don’t care. We’re having too much fun to worry about what everyone else thinks is surely temporary insanity in need of a good 12-step program. We’re enjoying the ride and have no intention to stop for non-believers.

One of the unexpected side effects of the Twilight addiction is fan fiction. In case you weren’t aware, there are countless writers out there re-imagining, supplementing or completely warping Ms. Meyer’s magical world. I reluctantly gave in and read one after seeing it mentioned on a daily basis. Wide Awake by Angstgoddess003 is commonly and affectionately referred to in the Twi-community as the gateway drug to all fanfic.

From there, I read a few (read: too many to count) others and was soon in awe of the level of talent out there.* They’re writing stories good enough to publish, for fun and for FREE. Why would they do that?! Being a serious writer *cough*in my head*cough* I knew I would never go there. I love the characters Edward and Bella and couldn’t imagine bending them to my literary will. I had scruples and a mortgage.

You can see where this is going… I got an idea that seemed pretty different than any other story lines I’d read. I wrote a scene or two. Then a chapter appeared. Flash forward a few weeks and I have almost seven chapters written, a full outline of approximately 20 total chapters, a fan fiction account and three amazing people who read, edit, proof, nit-pick and crack-wise on each page I write.

I call it The Family Business and I am having the time of my life. Oh, and so I can rationalize the time spent on a story that will never cross a publisher’s desk, I admit that I’m learning so much about the writing process. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I am creating it. (It’s actually writing itself, but I’ll save that for another post, another day.)

If you’d like to see what Edward and Bella are up to in my world, go to

http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2155721/SuzsPetals

I’ll be using this blog for teasers, artwork and song lists for the story, but I’ll also be writing whatever happens to interest me and perhaps post a few non-Twi stories I’ve written. *I may list a fanfic recommendation sometimes, but I’m warning you – I’m picky.

Summary: Edward Cullen meets the girl of his dreams but keeps her at arm’s length due to his complicated, dangerous family life. When cruel irony brings them together again, he’s forced to make a devastating choice: Save her from a fate worse than death or save her from the family business. Definitely AU (Alternate Universe) It’s not for the kiddies.

Tools of the trade

Reprinted courtesy of the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

The antique chest has been closed for quite some time. Is that a gossamer spider web on the rusty hasp I see? Have my tender tools of torture been neglected that long? As I lift the lid, my eyes fall lovingly on the contents. I’ve missed my little pretties. I remember the pistol — honestly, I know nothing of gun models or calibers and such. I just know it worked when I needed it to. And there’s the hunting knife that’s seen more action than anything else — amazingly it’s clean and ready for when I call it back into service. A pair of police-issue cuffs are tucked in the far right corner of the chest. A roll of duct tape, a length of rope, and even a few tools I don’t know the official names for; they all round out my little chest of horrors.
Bare hands will always do the trick of course, but it’s comforting to know these items are at my disposal. I carefully close the lid, but don’t lock it. I have an itch that needs scratching and the only satisfaction I’ll get is revisiting this box.
Soon.
It’s true. I’ve taken a break from murder and mayhem and my carefully chosen weapons of destruction have been idle too long. I’ve never counted my victims in the past although I’m asked about them periodically. It’s a little twisted how many people want me to resume my evil ways. I remember a few hapless souls but so many of them were fleeting and anonymous; they served their purpose and then became worm food. Getting too attached would never do or I might lose my desire to elicit gasps of shock.
Actually, my favorite weapon of choice sits on the desk in the corner; more deadly than the entire collection in the chest, because no one suspects the power it wields. It’s a computer keyboard and I’m ready to do some damage. Happy endings are great and all, but they’re much more anticipated — appreciated, even — if a trail of bodies and sacrifice precede the final embrace.
After all, I’m a writer and shedding literary blood is what I do best.