NaNoWriMo | Chapter 2

Editor’s note: Thanks to everyone who is following and leaving comments. You’re keeping me honest and pumped for NaNoWriMo! Enjoy Chapter 2 and don’t forget to let me know what you think!

CHAPTER 2

Sunrise came too quickly. It seemed as though I had just crawled into bed and curled up under the covers moments ago when the shards of sunlight burst through the opening between the curtains. Another thing to add to my To-Do list…seal up that gap!

I rolled over to the other side of the bed and pulled the covers around my ears. Just a few more hours of sleep would be nice. I hadn’t had more than an hour or two of sleep a night since that last day at work, and those weren’t exactly restful hours.

But, it was useless. The gears in my brain were already cranking up for the day, and I had plenty of things to do. When I was a little girl, I hated that about being in the country. The day always started early and ended early, and here I was again. After all, it was already 6:30 a.m. Had my grandfather still been alive, he’d have been out in the field for at least an hour by now, and my grandmother would have already cleared the breakfast dishes and be out in the garden on her hands and knees digging into the earth. By that timetable, I was way behind schedule.

I took only as long as necessary to get dressed and make my way outside. I backed my tiny little trailer up to the porch as close as I could and made a makeshift ramp to offload what clothes and supplies I brought from my home in Montgomery. There wasn’t any food in the house that wasn’t frozen in one of the deep freezers, so a trip to the local Piggly Wiggly was added to the list. The hungrier I got during the morning, the closer to the top of the list was the Pig.

I didn’t bring much from home – clothes, laptop, some books and photos – so settling in didn’t take much time. Next stop would be groceries and WD-50 for that screen door, and that’s where I knew I would meet my first challenge.

The Piggly Wiggly was one town over in the metropolis of Geneva. After taking a quick peek in the mirror, I knew I would have to put on the full court press before hitting town for the first time. Samuel and Mary’s granddaughter would most definitely run into every person in town who hasn’t seen her since she was knee high to a turnip stalk! Truth be told, I saw most everyone at the last family reunion a couple of years ago, but every time they saw me it was the same thing…not since I was knee high to something.

Good thing I cleaned up, though. Everyone was out that Wednesday afternoon picking up odds and ends for dinner at church later in the evening. I was quickly spotted hiding behind the apples in the produce section. It would have been futile to run.

“Oh…my…word!” shrieked Mrs. Banks as she walked into the Pig. I don’t know how she spotted me so quickly. After all, I was hunched over the barrel of Honeycrisp apples so the best view of me she had was a rear view. I had no idea I was so recognizable from behind! “And, in the middle of the week, too! Harper Matthews…what a pleasant surprise, Sweetie!”

Before I could put the bag of apples gently into my buggy, Mrs. Banks reached out and snagged me around the neck. She pulled me close to her tiny 5 ft. frame and gave me a tight squeeze. She swayed from side to side and patted my back, the same way Granny used to hug me when I hadn’t seen her in so long. It made sense since Mrs. Banks was Granny’s best friend. They even wore the same perfume. It was some off brand concoction they bought at the local drug store, but it smelled of a bouquet of freshly cut American Beauty long-stemmed roses. I adored that smell, but it always made me sneeze so hard I’d almost pee my pants every time I’d get near it.

“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Banks said as she pushed back just a bit. “My perfume…I forgot how allergic you are. I think they have something for that down there on aisle seven,” she said pointing toward the pharmacy aisle. “Or you can just stop at Walmart on the way back to the farm. So, what brings you to town? You on vacation?”

“Something like a vacation, Mrs. Banks,” I said as I eased the now bruised fruit into the top rack of my buggy. “My parents are on a cruise, so I decided to take some time off for myself. I couldn’t think of a better place to be than here.”

“Well just look at you! You’re too skinny! That’s what happens when you work too hard, Abby. You stop by the church tonight for supper. I’m making my famous lagniappe. It’ll put some meat on those bones!” She stomped her right foot and waived her hands in the air.

I always loved Mrs. Banks, especially since she was my grandmother’s best friend. But, you know that old adage about Southern cooks? Well, it doesn’t apply to Mrs. Banks. The woman simply couldn’t cook her way out of a wet paper sack if she had to. What she lacked for in talent, however, she made up for in enthusiasm. She owned every kitchen gadget known in the culinary world, but she didn’t know how to properly use a single one.

Mrs. Banks, wife to Probate Judge Bubba Banks, never missed an opportunity to show off her “chefing” skills learned while watching episodes of Top Chef, Iron Chef, Mr. Food on the local news, or any other show involving food. She was a self-professed foodie, and she had the “Kiss the Cook” apron to prove it. It was hot pink with white eyelet lace around the edges. Heck, Mrs. Banks took better care of that apron than she did Mr. Banks. She hand washed it in the sink at the end of every day, allowed it to dry on the laundry line outside a few hours and then ironed it crisp and fresh for breakfast the next morning.

Every Sunday and Wednesday, she treated the congregation of the First Baptist Church to a delectable treat from her professionally designed kitchen, compliments of the Judge, and this Wednesday evening she would apparently be cooking her lagniappe, which most people know as lasagna. But, in Mrs. Banks’ kitchen, since she couldn’t pronounce it anyway, she played with the traditional recipe adding broccoli and pine nuts. It was her concoction. She would call it whatever she liked.

Italian grandmothers everywhere gasped in horror the day that came out of the oven.

No one knows who tasted the lagniappe first, or if at all, at the church. But the pan is always empty when it’s returned to her, and Mrs. Banks’ pride is bursting at the seams at another successful dish.

I made no promises, explaining that I was just getting settled at the house, but I would definitely try to stop by. We shopped side by side that afternoon, and it was actually a lot of fun listening to Mrs. Banks gossip about everyone else in town. I was sure she would go to church that night and say her prayers to atone for being such a chatterbox…and potentially giving anyone food poisoning.

Armed with my groceries and enough dirt to fill a garden, we parted ways at the door, and I headed back to the car.

I hadn’t taken a dozen steps from the front door of the Piggly Wiggly when I noticed the sheriff’s SUV parked on the far side of my CRV. I slowed my stride and pulled back on the buggy. Without drawing attention to myself, I casually looked around the parking lot. Middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday, there weren’t many cars around the small strip mall, and I didn’t see a deputy inside when Mrs. Banks and I were shopping. Small town. Uniforms tend to get noticed.

As I got to the car next to mine I released the security alarm and parked the buggy against the rear bumper. It didn’t take but a minute to toss the few bags into the back hatch of my CRV. I made a conscious effort to act NORMAL. Inconspicuous. Just buying some groceries.

The truth was, nothing about me or my life would be normal again. Eventually THIS would be my new normal.

After everything was squared away so nothing would spill, roll over, or get squished, I closed the hatch and walked the buggy back to the storefront. The sheriff’s SUV was still parked next to mine when I walked back, got inside, and drove away.

I couldn’t remember who won the election last year for sheriff. All I could remember was the previous sheriff should have been run out of town on a rail. It was never proven that he was cooking his books, but after the state auditors spent three weeks tearing his office apart, Sheriff Alman Goree decided to take an unexpected leave of absence. An interim was appointed until the election, but I lost track after that.

If you think politics on the national or state level can be dirty, then you’ve never experienced them on the local level…especially in a small community where everyone knows you and the skeletons you’ve been hiding. Once the mud starts slinging, everyone ducks.

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 1

Editor’s note: To keep myself on track, and to receive feedback from my readers, I’m going to post chapters from my NaNoWriMo project during November. Please feel free to leave suggestions and comments, good or bad, to help me make the most of this experience. Thanks, friends!

CHAPTER 1

In the country it’s called a “farm-to-market” road. It’s narrow, narrower than a regular road, with barely enough room to meet another vehicle. I’ve traveled these roads all my life, and I still hold my breath when I see another car on the horizon coming in my direction. The edges of the roads are like fine patterned lace, and more often than not they’re a patchwork quilt of asphalt strips covering potholes.

I never bother with the radio this far out of the city. The tires always sing as they sail over the stripes. Fall came a little early this year, so the leaves were just beginning to turn beautiful shades of orange, red and yellow.

I signaled to turn off the Enterprise-Geneva Highway and onto an even narrower county road. I rolled down the windows and took a deep breath. Everything always seemed better out of the city, especially the air. Except for tonight. The chicken houses were ripe tonight and forced a cough from deep inside my chest. I sped past the open chicken houses as quickly as I could, but I kept the windows down. The cool night air was a welcome treat. It had been such a long, hot summer. Long, hot and definitely one for the books.

I’ve travelled this path from Montgomery to Enterprise to my grandparents’ farm in the small town of Coffee Springs my entire life. This time was different. I was running away, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be lost in than rural Alabama.

Funny thing about small towns. Everyone knows you, and you know everyone. In a weird way, I was counting on that. Everyone in Coffee Springs knew my family and me. I will forever be Samuel and Mary’s granddaughter, so me camping out at the farm for a little while won’t be a surprise for the townsfolk. And, heaven help any strangers that happen my way.

The sun was just grazing the tops of the trees as I passed Eden Baptist Church and slowed to turn onto the gravel, single-lane road leading to my grandparents’ farm. I hate gravel roads, but it’s even worse now since I’m towing a small trailer behind my mini-SUV. I could hear the loose gravel pop and grind under the tires of the trailer as I eased the vehicle down the sloping road and back up the hill. When I finally arrived at the house, I pulled around to the back of the house and parked under the barn.

The sun finally sizzled its way down the horizon leaving a soft glow in the distance. I stood at the corner of the old barn and looked out over the pond and across to the pasture on the other side. The water was as still as I’d ever seen it. The fish weren’t jumping. No bugs skimming across the surface. It was like slick glass reflecting the golden hue of the sunset. As serene as this place was, and as much bliss as it had brought me over the years, I wondered whether I’d find much peace during my stay this time.

There wasn’t much daylight left reflecting in the pond, and the barn wasn’t wired for it, so I grabbed a few things from my vehicle, especially my Daddy’s rifle case and my small travel suitcase, and locked up.

The old house was cool and dark when I opened the back door. I didn’t bother to turn on the inside light, not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to myself. I’ve been walking through my grandparents’ house all my life. I could find a peanut in the carpet while blindfolded if I had to.

The squeal of the screen door closing behind me not only caused every nerve in my body to wince with physical pain, but also shot its way to the top of my To-Do list. It would take more than a can of WD-50 to fix that shriek, but I’d worry about that tomorrow. Tonight’s list consisted of a hot shower and a cozy bed.

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NaNoWriMo 2013…Part Deux

The countdown has begun. National Novel Writing Month begins Nov. 1, and I’m willing to give it yet another shot. If you are a 2013-Participant-Facebook-Profilefollower of The Writer Gal, you may remember my foray into NaNoWriMo last year ended a bit abruptly with a case of walking pneumonia that lasted 10 months. Literally, 10 months and about 25 lbs, of which that I’m not complaining. A change of doctors, a bronchoscopy and a radical treatment to stop the whooping cough that kept throwing out my back is pretty much how I spent my year.

But, I never gave up on my novel.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to WriMo…50,000 words in 30 days – that’s about 1,667 words per day – a daunting task to say the least. Write, write, write, write as much as possible of the work, and then fill in the gaps later. I have the plot twists, which if you’ve read any of my short stories herein, I tend to enjoy. My problem is that all these things are still in my head. I have to get them organized enough to make sense so they can flow on paper, or screen as the case may be. But, have pen and notepad (or iPad) will write!

I never gave up on my novel. I hope it hasn’t given up on me. NaNoWriMo 2013…here comes The Writer Gal!

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NaNoWriMo is Here…Am I Ready?

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, begins Nov. 1, and I’ve decided to put pen to paper…or fingertips to keyboard…and join the fun!

Each year, NaNoWriMo encourages budding authors to complete the first draft of a novel in 30 days. The writer’s progress is celebrated on the official website, along with great morale-boosting tips and fellowship from the online community.

This isn’t a local competition. It’s not a national competition. This is an international writing extravaganza, and last year more than 250,000 writers participated worldwide. On average, one out of seven writers might knock at the 50,000-word goal in those 30 days. I intend to break that goal.

If you are a Writer Gal follower, you’ve already been introduced to a few of my intended cast of Southern characters, but you don’t quite know what I have up my sleeve. Heck, I don’t quite know what I have up my sleeve for the next 30 days, but I intend to get writing and share a little of my progress here on The Writer Gal.

As I post tidbits of my work in November, please let me know your thoughts about characters, plot, writing style…your comments will help me reach my goal!

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That Kind of Day

It was that kind of day. The kind of day that’s so bad, you just want to go home and start over.

It began with the crash of an unexpected thunderstorm that rattled my bedroom windows, startled my pup from her peaceful slumber, and left me with a headache. The next two hours foreshadowed what the rest of the day would hold…loud, temperamental blasts from a restless windbag.

As the day wore on, pieces of the puzzle in my mind began to fall gently into place. I knew the answer, but I didn’t know if I should tell.

The hours raced away until the sunlight waned low behind the white brick buildings framing the city. But, my day was long from over.

Trading one chore for a host of others, I eventually arrived home, and my first stop was a hot shower. I couldn’t scrub away the day’s grime fast enough, hard enough.

Finally standing under the stream of hot water watching the pearly bubbles slowly trickle through the drain below I had to wonder…would tomorrow be the same?

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Lost Soul

Halloween was always one of my favorite times of the year.  We decorated our home with creepy little things that went go bump in the night hoping to add to the air of mystery already brewing through the neighborhood. 

My husband, Wyatt, and I always had fun with the trick-or-treating little monsters that dared to ring our doorbell.  If he answered, the children would get stories of poltergeists wandering the land on this very night looking for little children who ate too much candy!  If I answered, I would kneel down with my black cauldron of goodies and let the children pick out as much candy as they wanted.

This year was different.  This year, there would be no decorations.  The little cauldron of candy had just enough treats inside to take care of those few children who dared to venture up to a darkened doorway.  It wasn’t much of a celebration in our otherwise happy home.

Just two weeks earlier, I lost our first child.  We had tried so hard for so long to have a child of our own, so when I finally became pregnant, we were overjoyed at such a blessing!

It wasn’t long before Wyatt began bringing home little trinkets suited for his son…a little baseball and bat…a little catcher’s mitt…a football.

“We are going to have the most tom-boyish little girl I’ve ever seen,” I laughed the evening he brought home a small basketball and pint-sized goal.

“What?” he so innocently asked.  “Don’t little girls play sports, too?”

“Of course,” I replied, trying not to spill my second batch of brownie batter before I put the pan into the oven.  “But, they also take ballet, tap, jazz, baton, piano…”

I heard Wyatt coming up behind me while I was closing the door on the oven.  I grabbed a brownie, turned around, and shoved it into his mouth.

“Ummm!  Good!”

“New recipe I’m trying out for the Halloween bake sale at church.  I’ve already finished the mini caramel apple galettes.  If they do well, I may sell them at the bakery, too.”

That was all I remember about that night.  I woke up the next morning in the hospital.  My sweet husband slept by my side and had the terrible duty of telling me that I had miscarried the night before, right there in our kitchen baking brownies and galettes for a church Fall Festival bake sale.

He leaned in and took my hand before he broke the news, but somehow I already knew.

“This wasn’t our baby,” he whispered.  “Our baby is still on its way, and we’ll be here waiting.”

As much love as there was between Wyatt and me, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t give him the child he wanted so desperately.

Before I came home from the hospital, Wyatt removed all the Halloween decorations, putting everything into storage for another year.  But, he couldn’t stop the sounds of the trick-or-treating children laughing with their friends and parents as they made their way door to door in our cozy little cul-de-sac.

We got home early from the hospital, and Wyatt helped me upstairs to our bedroom.  I was exhausted just from the drive home, or maybe it was from walking up the stairs, or maybe it was just from the weight of the disappointment I was carrying around with me.  I think I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The sounds of laughing children woke me, and I sat up on the edge of the bed in the darkness.  Listening.  There’s no sweeter music than the sound of a happy child.  As much as it broke my heart to listen, it also comforted me to hear the giggles of the children walking up to our door.

“This wasn’t our baby.  Our baby is still on its way, and we’ll be here waiting.”

I could tell by looking out the bedroom window that the porch light wasn’t lit, the universal signal on Halloween to stay away.  But, these children were coming up the driveway anyway.

I grabbed my sweater and walked downstairs.  Each stair was a new adventure in pain and took a little longer than the previous one to maneuver.  Just as I reached the bottom step, the doorbell rang.

Wyatt bolted out of the kitchen and saw me reaching for the cauldron of candy.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” I assured him.  “I’ve got these munchkins.”

I opened the door and came face to face with a princess, a ballerina, a pirate and a ghost.  Wyatt stood behind me and watched as each child grabbed a handful of candy and ran back to the street.  He waived to the parents, signaling an all clear.

But, the little ghost just stood in the doorway before us.  I looked back at Wyatt, who looked over my head to the street for any other adults waiting.  No one.  Nothing.

The white sheets with black eyes peering through holes of the costume gave no clue as to who the child was.  He just stood there looking back at me.  His costume was stained at the bottom with some purple goo that he probably picked up walking on the street with his parents, but he was alone now.

I held out the cauldron.  “Would you like some candy?”  The little ghost shook his head from side to side.

“Are you lost?”  Wyatt asked.  The little ghost nodded.

The more I looked into those eyes that peered out from the holes in the sheet, the more intrigued I became with this child.

“Wyatt?  Do you remember what you were for Halloween when you were, oh, say five years old?”

“Yeah, I was a ghost like this little guy.  I remember making my costume all by myself.”

Wyatt kneeled down beside me, and we reached out for the little ghost.

“That wasn’t your baby,” the little one said.  “Your baby is still on its way, and you’ll need to be here waiting.”

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A Writer’s Revenge

The Writer's DreamI’m a writer. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The day I sold my first short story, “Pineapples in Paradise,” I thought I’d hit the jackpot and fame and fortune would soon be nipping at my stilettos.

My stories made me popular on the local writing scene and then online, and soon I’d cranked out enough short stories to get noticed by an agent. When I received “The Call” from my agent that there was interest from a publisher for a book deal, I almost peed my pants! This celebration called for champagne instead of my traditional Godiva chocolate bar!

My American dream came true the day I signed a contract for three novels in two years with a nice advance to carry me during what would be the lean times, considering I would have to quit my day job to fulfill my new job. I had stars in my eyes, plot twists in my veins, and more work to do than just at night. Something had to go, but the going-away party at work was a fun surprise!

That evening when I got home, there was a moving van in the driveway of the house next to mine.  Mine was a quiet neighborhood, perfect for working at home. The movers quickly unloaded the van, as I was unloading 10 years of my professional life from the back of my SUV. By the time I finished, the moving van was gone, and I could hear my neighbors’ stereo blaring in the backyard.

The flood of bad memories from my previous neighbors made me wince. That house had a pool! I could already hear the splashing over the thumping of the music. It would have been rude not to introduce myself, so I walked over to their gate and pushed it open.

They were a young couple that looked more like teenagers than homebuyers. They were frolicking about in the water until they saw me standing by the gate.

“Hi, neighbors!” I waived as friendly neighbors do. “My name’s Ava, and I’m your neighbor on this side,” I pointed toward my little garden home.

“Hey, there,” the man said as he stood up, which I really wish he hadn’t. Speedos are a shock if you aren’t expecting them.  “I’m Harry,” he said as he extended his hand for me to take, “and this is Rose, my wife.” Oh, I don’t think I could have picked a better name for Harry had I tried, and that was a mental picture I could have done without.

Rose was the tiniest thing I’ve ever seen, and while her bikini looked like it was from the last issue of Vogue, it also looked like it was in a child’s size. She seemed shy, which made sense since they were new to the neighborhood, and I was intruding. And, they seemed nice. “Sorry about the radio,” she said. “We just wanted to blow off a little steam.”

“No problem!  Y’all have a great night!”

The next morning was a beautiful spring morning, so I took my coffee and laptop outside and sat on the deck to begin my day. Not 10 minutes later, Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” pumped up next door. The thumping vibrations of the bass guitar caused my favorite latte mug to tip over and spill my morning java. It soaked the napkin under the corner of my laptop. The rest ran between the slats of the table and dribbled on my yoga pants.

I went inside and grabbed a towel and a water bottle and went back outside to clean up. The radio was blaring even louder. I had to say something. At the gate, I spotted Rose lying on a lounge chair sunning herself. I knocked loudly on the gate, nearly punching through the wood.

“Well howdy, neighbor!” Rose sat up and invited me in. “You must be here to complain about the noise. I’m sorry. I just love Bon Jovi!” She reached for a remote and eked down the volume.

“Me, too,” I agreed. I wished I had a camera to take a photograph of Rose. She looked like a Barbie doll in a string bikini. Her bouffant hair and pink nails were done to country hick perfection, and she was wearing makeup as any true Southern belle would do. We never leave the house, even if we are just planning to stay in our own yard, without full makeup. “I hoped you might turn down the stereo.  I’m a writer, and I work at home. It’s distracting.”

“Oh,” Rose said. “I see, but this is our house, and I can do what I want,” she said with a tiny little smirk.

“True, but the city has a noise ordinance, and I don’t want any trouble. I want to do my work in peace.”

“Then, buy some earplugs, sugar. Have a nice day, neighbor!” Rose turned over and turned Bon Jovi back on full volume. “Oooohhh, we’re half way there…Whoa, living on a prayer!”

My walls and furniture thumped well into the night until it cut off around 5 a.m. With my bedroom window less than 200 feet from my new neighbors’ pool and state-of-the-art sound system, it was easy to learn all the words to every Bon Jovi song ever recorded.

The noise lasted day and night for a week before I called the police.

Silence. I was so far off schedule with my book that I wasn’t sure what to do other than get a good night’s rest. I was awakened by something hitting my bedroom window. Thinking I was delirious or dreaming, it took a while to realize someone from the shadows was throwing raw eggs at my window!

Another call to the police.

The harassment went on for weeks. I kept my mouth shut. The police escalated the situation from all-night parties to raw food tossed at my window or roof. No sleep for two months, and I decided to get creative.

I filled several ice trays with water and red food dye and stuck them carefully in the freezer. That night, my neighbors turned in early. Thank heavens! My covert operation was underway. I took the trays and emptied them into a large bowl. The red ice cubes looked like bloody chunks of body parts.

I tossed them one by one into my neighbors’ pool and went back inside. I knew immediately when my covert operation was discovered. It was the scream heard ‘round the cul-de-sac, and I sat in my office…smugly sipping on my morning latte…and trying to imagine what they were thinking.

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