Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

Cassie walked up her street to the familiar sounds of kids playing. She gazed down at her hands and smiled. They were her hands, not some strange man’s. She was herself again. All those imaginings of being trapped in someone else’s body were just a nightmare. This was real.

She skipped with renewed vigor, then noticed her red shoes.

Those were mine as a kid. I was eight last time I wore these. Then how…?

She stopped in her tracks. She stood at the bottom of a driveway, the house obscured by several large trees. Odder still was that the driveway was blocked by iron gates–not the sort of thing she’d see in her suburban neighborhood.

She shrugged and pulled at the gate. When it didn’t open, she tapped the code in. It swung open. She entered.

There was home, the place she and Danielle had built just a year ago. She walked in through the side door of the garage into the kitchen. Maria was preparing dinner.

“It smells great, Maria,” she said. “What are you making?”

The older lady smiled and said something in Italian.

Molto bene. I don’t know what that is, but it smells delicious.”

She left the kitchen and found Danielle curled up in the library with a book. She joined her on the sofa and wrapped her arm around her, nuzzled her neck and kissed her when she turned to face her. “What are you reading?”

“How was work, Randy?”

She smiled. “It was a good day, but my favorite part of the day is coming home to you.”

Danielle giggled. “Charmer. You’re such an old soul, a real gentleman.”

“Not always. Not all my thoughts are so innocent, as you know. I was thinking later…long after dinner…a bottle of wine…you and me, naked in bed…”

“And if I’m not in the mood?”

“Tease.” She kissed her wife on the earlobe, then whispered, “I’m always in the mood.”

“Then it’s a date.”

Cassie closed her eyes to Danielle’s sensual touch on her cheek. When she opened her eyes, she stared at a concrete ceiling. Her heart raced, thudded in her head. In a cold sweat, she sat up on the lumpy mattress and gazed around at her surroundings: a tiny prison cell with a guy snoring away on the other cot.

“What?” she asked. “What was that dream?”

She lay back down, tried to tell herself it was just the stress of her situation catching up to her.

But none of this should be possible. People don’t just switch bodies, yet I can’t help get the feeling that was more than a dream. It was…a memory.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

“Make your phone call,” said a balding cop.

Cassie stared down at her manly hands, the orange sleeve of her prison uniform brushing against the hair that extended just beyond it. Even her knuckles were hairy.

“Well, what are you waiting for? If you’re just gonna waste my time, I can find better ways to occupy it.”

Cassie nodded and picked up the phone with a shaky hand. She dialed home.

After three rings, a hesitant voice answered, “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s Cassie.”

“Excuse me? Who is this?”

“Mom, I know I don’t sound like myself, but it’s really me. I swear it. Please, just let me explain.”

“I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but this isn’t funny. You’re a sicko.”

“Mom, please–”

The line went dead.

“No…no…” Cassie stared at the receiver for several seconds, until the officer grabbed it out of her hand and hung it up.

The cop placed a hand on her back and directed her back to her cell. “Let’s go. What a waste of time if you ask me.”

But I’m Cassie. Tears streamed down the face that wasn’t hers as she dragged her feet back to the cell. She didn’t bother to speak up. This officer wouldn’t believe her any more than the others. They’ll think I’m some sort of messed-up psycho who preys on kids. Oh, my God. What if this Randall guy… He already murdered his wife. Those cops said he was sleeping around. Oh, my God. What am I gonna do?

They arrived at her cell. The cop gestured toward the open door. “Okay, inside.”

Head down, Cassie entered. The door slid shut with a resounding clang that tore Cassie’s heart to pieces.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

Jimmy closed his eyes, tried to block out the imprisoned world around him. He knew fighting and yelling wouldn’t do him any good. Their notions of his insanity were only reaffirmed when he acted out.

He could hear the orderlies breathing as they stood beside him, but he didn’t care. It’s not like they were here to make pleasant conversation. “Oh, how’s the weather today, fellas?” he could ask. Yeah, right.

His thoughts gave way to dreams. Danielle’s auburn hair and infectious smile dangled in front of him. She giggled and reached for his hand.

When he looked down, Jimmy’s hand was gone. He was himself again, Randall. He felt the smile on his face, the muscles out of practice. “I’ve missed you,” he said to his wife. “Please tell me you’re okay.”

Danielle only laughed more and swung their clasped hands as they walked.

Wet sand squished between his toes. He looked down at the beach, then toward the water. The sun was setting. A breath caught in his throat. “This is where we went for our honeymoon. Maui.”

Danielle stopped walking and faced him. “We are on our honeymoon, Randy. Why else would we be here?”

“But- but this isn’t… I mean, this isn’t real.” He swallowed thick saliva.

The breeze blew, the smell of salt water wafting over his face. Overhead, palm branches rustled.

“Why wouldn’t it be real?” Her voice held a teasing undertone.

He kissed her pert, freckled nose and led her to a nearby hammock. They lay in it, side by side. He ran his fingers through her hair, down her shoulder and bare upper arm, kissed her on the lips. When he drew back, he said, “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to do that?”

“Sweetie, you kiss me all the time. You aren’t making any sense.” Danielle stared at him with concern in her eyes.

“This, right here, is the only thing that makes sense. I want to hold you forever. I need you back, Danielle. Someone’s taken you from me, and I can’t–”

He began to cry. Danielle blurred and disappeared. The sun set, and darkness claimed the world. Randall or Jimmy or whoever he was bellowed, “Danielle!” Over and over again.

The hammock flipped and dumped him onto a firm mattress. He opened his eyes to Nurse Nora’s plain face.

“Well, Mr. Williams, it looks like you’ve calmed down so much that you’ve fallen asleep.”

“I’m tired, so tired.”

“Well, that makes sense. It’s the middle of the night, after all.”

“I mean, I’m tired of this. All of this.” He tried to lift his hand, but the resistance of the restraint held him back.

The nurse straightened and gestured toward the orderlies. “You can release him.”

The two men nodded and undid the restraints on Jimmy’s arms and legs, then stepped aside.

“Goodnight, Mr. Williams,” Nurse Nora said. She was out the door, followed by the orderlies.

The door closed with finality. Jimmy sat up in bed and rubbed at his hands. In the dark, he couldn’t see the bruising, but he was sure he would have the marks to prove his disobedience for days to come, sure he would be teased by several of the other patients, including his friend, Charles.

“I’m Jimmy again,” he whispered. “That’s all I’ll ever be to them. No one will ever believe me, Danielle.”

He grew silent, listened to the darkness, as if expecting a reply. His sore, dry eyes slid shut as he lay back down. If it was only in his dreams that he could see her, could be himself, then he would go there.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

“Can I trust you to behave yourself, James?” came the nasally voice of Doctor Winslow.

Jimmy lay on his bed, his arms and legs restrained. He had spent the first fifteen minutes thrashing like a fish on land, but then his energy had dropped. He hated this ancient body–yet another reason to feel he was losing his mind.

Now, he lay on the bed, staring at the dim fluorescent lighting, as he had been doing for the past few hours. The light flickered every few seconds. He wondered why they didn’t replace the bulb. In a way, the pattern was a comfort. It was something to focus on. He also tracked a water mark that had been there since before he arrived nearly two years ago.

He nodded, his eyes on the ceiling. Anything to avoid the doctor.

“Remove the restraints,” the doctor said. He left the room.

Two orderlies released Jimmy from his bed. He sat up and rubbed at his wrists, the marks from the restrains sure to remain for a while. The men walked away when they seemed convinced that Jimmy was going to remain calm.

Jimmy sighed. “What the hell? Why do I even bother?” He ran his hand over his scruffy face and stood.

He ambled down the hall to the common area. The T.V. was on, several patients gathered around it. Some stood, their arms crossed over their chests or talking between themselves. Others sat in various chairs placed randomly around the room. Some of them seemed fine, like they were just regular guys going about their day, but others roamed the room, moaning, screaming, and yelling, gesticulating with their hands and twitching their heads.

He made his way to the couch and sat. The six o’clock news was on. He only half-listened most evenings, not concerning himself with what was happening in a world he had no part in anymore. Then an all-too-familiar man’s face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, turn that up,” Jimmy said to the guy standing closest to the outdated T.V.

The guy shrugged and turned the knob to up the volume.

The newcaster’s voice seemed to come through a tunnel from miles away at Jimmy: “Local millionaire Randall Davis, founder and CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, is under arrest for the suspected murder of his wife, Danielle Davis. Danielle Davis’s body was found slaughtered in the bathtub in the Davis’s home here in–”

Jimmy bit down hard on his fingers and screamed. He shot to his feet and charged at the T.V. Several startled patients jumped out of the way.

“Whoa, watch it!”

“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’?”

“Just crazy, old Jimmy at it again!”

Someone laughed. Someone else hooped and hollered in excitement. Jimmy ignored them all and rammed into the T.V., knocking it down.

“You fucking liar!” he screamed at the now broken T.V., the newscaster’s face gone from the screen and a hole left where his head had been.

Before he could do anything else, two orderlies grabbed him around the arms.

“This seems to be becoming a habit for you, Jimmy,” one of them said. “Why don’t you calm down now and come with us the easy way?”

Jimmy fought and flailed, jerking his arms this way and that. He managed to yank one of his arms free and punched the guy who held his other arm. For an old guy, he was agile when he needed to be. The second orderly cried out in pain and grabbed at his bloody nose, while the first one staggered, still reeling from Jimmy’s escape. He made to grab Jimmy again, but Jimmy punched him in the gut. He ran at the door. He had to get out of there. He had to escape, go to Danielle, find out she was okay.

Then someone tackled him. The weight of the guy on his back was enough to tell him it was the fat orderly whose name was David or Doug or something. Jimmy struggled to move, reaching out in front of him along the dirty floor.

“No,” he moaned. “Please…no…”

His uneven nails clutched at a tile that was missing a piece in one corner. He felt the needlestick in his neck. The last thing he saw before he passed out was a black mark from someone’s shoe on the white linoleum.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (Introduction of the Villain – WIP)

The girl stood just beyond the threshold of the entrance into the kitchen. The phone had rang. The mom had answered. In the background, the small T.V. on the counter droned on with the evening news. The girl glanced at the screen and smiled.

The mom hung up the phone, unsettled. She turned back to the stove and gasped when she saw her daughter standing there.

“Oh, Cassie! I didn’t see you. Don’t do that. You’ll scare the living daylights out of me.”

The girl kept her eyes on the T.V., the grin on her face growing.

Her mom frowned, picked up the remote, and clicked it off. “We don’t need to watch that garbage. Just more depressing stuff. Can you believe it? All the money and power, everyone thinking he was a decent fellow, and he kills his wife?”

The girl took a step into the kitchen and leaned on the counter, watching the mom return to the stove and mix a large pot of soup. “Who was on the phone?”

The mom jumped back from the pot and clutched her finger. “Ow, damn it!” The spoon clanged to the floor as she went to the sink to run her finger under cold water.

The girl moved another step into the kitchen and rested her hand on the counter next to the knives. The carving knife would be the perfect tool to do it, to end this stupid creature’s little life. The girl released a small chuckle at the sound of the running water.

The water went off. “Can’t believe I burned myself,” the mom muttered. She turned, the crease between her eyebrows deepening as she surveyed her daughter. “Cassie, what’s wrong?”

The girl forced a pleasant smile. “Nothing. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Not that it matters, but just some prank caller.”

“Oh? What did they say?”

“What does it matter?” The mom shook her head. “Don’t you have homework to do?”

“I thought I heard a man’s voice saying it was your daughter, your Cassie.”

“You heard that? You always did have good hearing.” The mom sighed. “Look, honey, I need to get dinner ready before your father gets home.”

“Anything you say…Mom.”

The girl left the kitchen, her eyes lingering on the faucet. She went to her bedroom, or the girl’s bedroom. She didn’t suppose it really mattered. She lay down on the pink comforter and took in her surroundings.

She’s a good girl. All As, a gymnast star, volunteers at the pet shelter, and is shy around boys. That’s always my favorite part, the little added bonus, that bundle of memories all packaged up nicely like a gift on Christmas morning. It just makes my job all the better, the more fun to find the perfect ending to their story.

A knock came from the door. The girl sat up and smoothed down her shirt. She stood and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She had a pretty enough face. A shame she didn’t use it more to her advantage. She winked at her reflection and went to the door.

A boy of about eleven stood there, his brown hair messy and his hazel eyes gazing up at her. “Hey, Cass, d’you wanna see how far I’ve made it in Minecraft?”

Evan. That’s the annoying little prick’s name. She grinned as how easily the knowledge could be pulled to the surface.

“I don’t really care,” she said. She made to close the door.

Evan stuck his hand up, stopping the door. “Hey, what’s the matter? Boy troubles?” He laughed and made kissing noises with his lips.

She scoffed and slammed the door on his face.

“Ow, you made my nose bleed! I’m telling Mom!”

“Go ahead.” The girl rolled her eyes.

She went to her dresser and stared at her reflection. The blah brown hair and no makeup just wouldn’t cut it. No, Cassie Meadows needed a new look, a new attitude, and a new life…fast. The girl smiled, her pupils flashing red for a second, then returning to their usual hazel.

Behind the door, the mother yelled some inanity. The girl ignored the older woman. She would have plenty of time to deal with her and the little brother later.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (Opening Scenes – WIP)

“Mr. Williams, please take your medicine, and we won’t have a problem,” said the middle-aged nurse with the poofy hair. The hair he hated. It drove him crazy.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Poodle, that I’m not Mr. Williams?”

The nurse sighed. “Please call me Nurse Stephens, Mr. Williams.” Her tone almost sounded bored.

Behind him in line, another man nudged his shoulder. “C’mon, Jimmy, just take them. You’re not doin’ yourself any favors here.”

The old man called Mr. Williams frowned, snatched the tiny paper cup from the nurse, and downed the pills. He shoved it back at her. “Here, you happy?” He stepped out of line and returned to the common area and took a seat.

His friend from the line joined him a moment later. “Jimmy, why do you gotta be so difficult?”

The old man stared at his friend. “Fine, call me Jimmy, just like you always do. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say. No one believes me, Charles.”

Charles clapped his hands and ran them over his buzz cut. His young face broke into a grin. “Right. ‘Cause you’re completely sane, bro. That’s what everyone in here believes.”

Jimmy shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. How could you possibly? Look, I know you mean well and all, but if you don’t believe me, maybe it’d be best if you just left me alone.”

Charles chuckled. “Aw, leavin’ you alone’s the dangerous thing, Jimmy-boy.” He stood and walked away, twitching his neck every so often.

Jimmy watched the younger man go. Charles was younger, true, but according to Jimmy’s calculation, he was only sixteen years his junior, not forty.

The old man called Jimmy sighed. Of course everyone thinks I’m crazy. I’m in a damn nuthouse. He gazed toward the barred window at the sunshine beyond his world. The more time that passed in here, life passing him by, the crazier he got, he supposed. He hated that.

He also hated the side effects of his meds. Drowsiness. A great way to keep from thinking too much about his predicament. Jimmy stood and returned to his room like a good patient and fell asleep.

Later that day, he sat in his psychiatrist’s office. Dr. Winslow leaned back in his swivel chair, his bulk spilling over either side. He kept an ashtray on his desk from days gone by. The good doctor surveyed Jimmy over his half-moon glasses perched on the end of his bulbous nose. The grease from his lunch hung on his chin as much as oil clung to what remained of his greying hair.

“So, tell me how you’ve been, James.”

James. It was worse than Jimmy or even Mr. Williams. The doctor chose somewhere between familiar and formal. Jimmy didn’t know how to read him.

Jimmy shrugged. “You tell me, Doc. Aren’t I supposed to be up for my board review to tell me if I’m reformed enough to return to civilized society?”

Dr. Winslow leaned back further in his chair. Jimmy wondered how the hell that was possible. The doctor rested his beefy forearms on his ample belly and steepled his fingers. He had all the appearance of a sage contemplating the meaning of life. “Yes, that’s true, but one step at a time, James. If you are, in fact, determined to not be a danger, your next move would be to a fully supervised facility. What will you tell them at the time of your hearing?”

“The truth.”

“Ah, the truth or your truth, James?”

“My names isn’t James Williams. I’m Randall Davis, and I’m–”

“Yes, you’re a millionaire, successful CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, making a better future for us all. James, have you seen the news recently?”

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it, too many times.”

The doctor smiled. “Then you’ll know and understand that Mr. Davis isn’t a guy you’d wanna be even if there were possible. His name isn’t so hot in the industry these days, and I’m afraid his company’s image isn’t the empire he built, either.”

The old man shifted, something dropping in him. “You think I haven’t seen those damn biased news stories? They just love any sort of gossip that’ll ruin a man’s life. There’s no proof it’s true that he’s anything but faithful to my wife.”

“You mean his wife?”

“No, my wife. I love Danielle. We’ve been married for over ten years and–”

Dr. Winslow held up his hand. “That’ll be enough, James. I’m done entertaining your delusions. Besides, why do you care about a man’s life who has nothing to do with you own? Now, let’s get back to discussing you. If you were one day deemed successfully rehabilitated, what would you like to do with yourself?”

“I’d like to find myself.”

“Well, that’s all very enlightening and all, but I’m afraid I’ll need you to be more specific. How would you contribute to society? If you do will in a group home setting, the board may one day deem you ready to be set up with some sort of work and living independently. You would be monitored regularly. Some sort of meaningful hobby or way to give back would show that you’ve made a good recovery.”

“You mean, reflect well on the institution’s part for not just putting another nutcase out on the streets?” Jimmy gripped the handles of his chair. A vein throbbed in his forehead. His face heated.

“Now, James, there’s not need to refer to yourself as–”

“I don’t care!” Jimmy stood, the chair clattering to the floor. He came at the stupid doctor who thought he was so smart. I’ll strangle you, I swear it. You and your ugly mug and your wrong perceptions.

The doctor momentarily panicked, but pressed a button on his wearable alarm. Jimmy screamed and lunged at the doctor, his arthritic, knobby hands clutching at the guy’s thick neck. Seconds later, two big men entered and grabbed Jimmy.

“I’m not Jimmy Williams! I’m not!” he cried as the orderlies hauled him out of the psychiatrist’s office.

Dr. Winslow righted himself in his chair and averted his eyes from the old man. The door closed on Jimmy’s raving. The doctor scrawled on his paper: “For the consideration of the review board, my recommendation is further rehabilitation.”

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Review of The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

rubySynopsis: The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.

As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a novel intended for middle-grade students, as the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Ruby, and the story is told from first-person point-of-view. Ruby’s voice is realistic for a girl her age, and I think this book reads appropriately for kids around the same age.

The details of New York in the late 1950s and the Beat Generation of the time are also fleshed out well in the backdrop. There’s a certain freedom to being a kid 60 years ago that I feel no longer applies nowadays. A girl like Ruby can wander the streets with her friends for hours at a time and be safe. I am reminded of stories my mom told me about how far she’d ride her bike or how she’d ride on public transportation when she was about Ruby’s age and be gone all day, yet her parents didn’t have to worry.

Ruby is also an aspiring poet. She wants badly to meet famous poets like Jack Kerouac and is on her way to one of his readings when…

The freedom Ruby experiences is threatened when she is accused of stealing fruit, however. A social worker steps in and begins to question Ruby’s home life. The reader discovers that Ruby’s parents aren’t married. Their apartment isn’t kept up. Her dad, Gary Daddy-o, is a musician who is on the road for weeks at a times. Her mom, Nell-Mom, is an artist is is oblivious to the comings and goings of Ruby and her brother, Ray. Ruby and some of her friends attend “school” at a store called Blue Sky, where they learn some stuff from the owners, Sky and Blu, but they aren’t being properly educated.

Everything Ruby thought was true and normal about her life is suddenly threatened. She spends some time in a children’s home. Her childhood innocence is ripped away from her. To see the shortcomings of adults through a child’s eyes is a unique perspective. I remember when I was a kid thinking my parents knew everything and that I would understand everything about life once I was grown up. To have that worldview shattered, to realize your parents are far from perfect and that your home isn’t the nice place you thought is scary and also realistic, a part of growing up.

This is a quick read. Being much older than the intended audience, I found the novel had its charms and was good for middle-grade readers, and yes, it reminded me of what it was like for me when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t get much else out of this novel. It’s a good story, but not great. It doesn’t necessarily stand out from much else I’ve read, but it was enjoyable enough.

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