Review of Indian Paintbrush (Carson Chronicles #3) by John A. Heldt

My reviews for the first two book in the series:
Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt
Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

indianpaintbrushDescription: Arizona, December 1943. After surviving perilous six-month journeys to 1889 and 1918, the Carsons, five siblings from the present day, seek a respite in their home state. While Adam and Greg settle down with their Progressive Era brides, Natalie and Caitlin start romances with wartime aviators and Cody befriends a Japanese family in an internment camp. The time travelers regroup, bury old ghosts, and continue their search for their missing parents. Then old problems return, new ones emerge, and a peaceful hiatus becomes a race for survival. In INDIAN PAINTBRUSH, the sequel to RIVER RISING and THE MEMORY TREE, seven young adults find love and adventure as they navigate the home front during the height of World War II.

 

Having read and reviewed John Heldt’s previous two books in the Carson Chronicles series, I was looking forward to reading this one for a couple of reasons. One, I very much enjoyed the first two books, and two, I love reading stories that take place during World War II.

The Carson siblings embark on their third time-travel journey in Indian Paintbrush while they continue their search for their time-traveling parents, Tim and Caroline. In the first two books, they traveled to 1889 and 1918, following an itinerary left behind by their father, which was to be used to find the parents in case something happened to them. While the Carson siblings have almost crossed paths with their parents, they haven’t yet been successful in finding them.

The search for the elder Carsons is just the setup, however. Much of the meat of the story revolves around the time period. Heldt doesn’t disappoint with rich historic detail about what life was like during World War II. Cody Carson, the youngest brother, is a medical supply driver, and one of his stops is a Japanese-American internment camp (Gila River Relocation Center). Another example of the time period is the aircraft-training facility, Thunderbird Field, where three of the Carson siblings find employment, and the sisters, Natalie and Caitlin, date airmen. These were real locations in Arizona. I particularly enjoyed the meeting of celebrities Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles at a nightclub table and the dancing to Big Band music and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Not only does Heldt have a firm handle on writing historical fiction, but his characters are deep, invigorating, and realistic. The interactions between the siblings and their in-laws (Adam and Greg, the two oldest brothers, are married to women they met in 1889 and 1918) are portrayed with believable dialogue, some humor, and just the right amount of emotion.

The Carsons don’t go looking for trouble, but it seems that trouble is determined to follow them no matter what era they’re visiting. They endured a flood in 1889 and forest fires in 1918, and now, with the war going on, national security is high. The draft is in full force, and there are three Carson brothers who are the right age to serve their country. Also, in a time where knowledge of future events could be especially dangerous if spilled, the Carsons must be careful who they trust.

One of my favorite parts of the story involved the romances between Natalie Carson and airman Nick Mays and the romance between Caitlin Carson and Casey McCoy. Natalie, the older sister who has had a bad or tragic past with boyfriends, falls in love with a 30-year-old airman who is training pilots in the States. Nick is a man who is troubled by the loss of his wife at Pearl Harbor to the Japanese and wishes to enlist to get his revenge. Casey is a cadet who is in training to fly for the Army Air Force and hopes to serve, which would mean leaving Caitlin stateside. He’s got Southern charm and is Caitlin’s first true boyfriend. Both sisters fall deeply in love with these men, and the men return the affections. The task of telling their men about the future and asking them to come with them and give up everything they’ve ever known mounts as the story unfolds.

While Cody is helping at the internment camp, he befriends young, beautiful Naoko Watanabe. When he finds out her mother is dying from ovarian cancer and knows that she could be treated in 2017, the conflict of bringing a whole family to the future surfaces.

As the story unfolds, the stakes get higher. We meet some old friends from the first two books, which is a real delight, but more than anything, the way Heldt handles the reader’s investment in the characters is a balancing act of precision. I stand in awe at his ability to grip my emotions. I cried my eyes out at times. I was wooed and swayed in the sweet and steamy romance scenes. I was on the edge of my seat during a chase down. I didn’t want the story to end because I was a part of it and loved being there with the Carsons, yet I needed to know what happens next.

I’m happy to know there are at least two more books to look forward to in the series, so I don’t have to say goodbye to this family yet.

A big 5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase Indian Paintbrush on Amazon

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Standing around the perimeter of the ballroom rented for the occasion, Hannah shifted uncomfortably in a deep red taffeta evening gown and in heels that were too high for her taste.  She lifted her right hand to her hair and smoothed it down. She wasn’t accustomed to such luxury, and without Maria’s help, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Maria stepped into the room behind her, all smiles and glowing complexion.  

“Isn’t this just perfect?” Maria shouted over the live band music.  

“‘Perfect’ isn’t the first word I’d use,” Hannah murmured, her eyes raking the room for a familiar face.

“You need a drink.  You look about as at home as a pig in a slaughterhouse, ” Maria said as she grabbed Hannah’s clammy hand and took her to the refreshment table.

“Gee, thanks.”

Hannah didn’t enjoy feeling so uptight, but this outfit, this party, this whole charade wasn’t her.  Briefly, her mind drifted back to the days when she’d been swept up in attending parties with Kat, Will, and Harry… and how that had all ended in devastation.  Forcing down those memories, Hannah refocused on the moment. If she couldn’t be her natural self, she didn’t think her chances boded well that she would come away tonight with a fellow.

Before Hannah could protest, Maria pressed a glass of the ruby alcoholic punch into her hands.  

“Take the edge off,” Maria teased, taking a swig of her own punch.  “If I’m not careful, I’ll be knocking a few of these back before the night’s through.”  She laughed uproariously.

A weak smile played at Hannah’s red-lipsticked mouth.  “I count myself lucky to be employed by a company that can afford to throw such extravagant parties,” she said.  “Most people don’t even have the extra money to buy Christmas presents these days.”

“Aren’t you just the life of the party?” Maria said, an edge to her voice.  “Come on, Hannah! You’ve worked nearly your whole life doing jobs. Can’t you relax enough to enjoy yourself for one night?”

“Okay, okay,” Hannah said.  

Hannah sipped at the punch.  Well into the second glass, Hannah told herself that she would stop once she emptied it, but the heady feeling was pleasant.  Her eyes swept over the dance floor, the moving forms blending together. The band played a romantic number, the jazz clarinetist leading with his smooth, golden tones.

“Don’t look now, but someone’s got his peepers on you, babe,” Maria said, nudging Hannah’s side.

Hannah looked in the direction Maria indicated.  An attractive man of average height stood opposite the dance floor.  The man’s gaze locked with Hannah’s for several seconds, and he smiled slightly.

“Well, what are you waiting for?  He’s noticed you. You can’t very well back out now,” Maria said.

A confidence she didn’t usually possess took hold of Hannah and propelled her across the room.  She effortlessly dodged dancers and approached her admirer. Now that she was standing in front of him, she saw he was only a couple of inches taller than she was.  His dark brown hair was slicked back, and behind round spectacles blue eyes gazed into Hannah’s face.

“Hello,” Hannah said.

“Hello,” the man replied.  “I’m Edward… Edward Grunner.”

“Hannah Rechthart.  Do you work for Dependable Electric?”  

As soon as she asked the question, Hannah wished she could take the words back.  This was the company’s Christmas party. Of course he worked at the same establishment!

“In accounting,” Edward said, smiling in amusement.

A blush rose across Hannah’s face as a nervous laugh escaped.

“It’s a big company,” Hannah reasoned.  “I’ve worked here for a few years and never seen you.”

“I’m fairly new.  I was behind the grind for several years.”

“You went to college?” Hannah asked.

“Yes, Case University.  My step-father would have preferred I start working and not finish high school, but I suppose you could say I wanted something more.  He’s gone now, anyway.”

Hannah was surprised to hear Edward speak so openly about his family.

“My parents divorced before I can remember.  I never knew my father, but he was a drunk. My mother remarried when I was eight, but my step-father died ten years ago.”

Hannah blinked.  The mention of an alcoholic in the family sat too close to heart.  Recovering quickly, Hannah said, “In the past minute you’ve told me more about your history than most people who work around me have told me in years.”

“I’m sorry; does that offend?”

“No, actually.  I appreciate your honesty.”

“I’ve been told my honesty is both my best and my worst attribute.”  Edward chuckled. “Before I waste another moment of your time, I will simply tell you that I noticed you shining among the crowd.”

“You weren’t joking when you said you were honest,” Hannah said.

Edward took Hannah by the hand and ambled her toward the crowd on the ballroom floor.  If she was at all awkward, Edward’s confidence made up for it as he swept her across the dance floor to the big band music.

Several songs later, Hannah said, “I could use a break.  My feet are killing me in these shoes.”

Edward shrugged.  “Why not take them off?”

Hannah had the gall to look offended.  

Edward laughed outright.  “Are you too much of a lady?”

“I’ve worked in the freezing rain, in the mud, in chicken waste.  Do you think I’m a lady?”

“I’m impressed,” Edward said with genuine affection.  “You, Hannah Rechthart, are just the woman I need.”

“What kind of woman is that?”

“One who will keep me in line.”  Edward’s smile widened.

“Hmm…” Hannah pretended to mull over the events so far.  “Well, then I just might be your woman after all, Eddy.”

They continued dancing well into the night, and out of the corner of her eye, Hannah noticed Maria, in a man’s arms, giving her the thumbs up.  Soon the party was winding down, the music slowing.

A distinguished, well-dressed woman took the microphone and began softly chanting “Silent Night.”  Hannah relaxed into Edward’s arms, her head resting on his right shoulder as if they had known each other for years.  The comfort Hannah found with him was an unexpected gift, and as the song progressed, the two melted into one.

When the song ended, the president of the company stepped up and announced the conclusion of the party, wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

With some reluctance, Hannah pulled away from Edward, but they continued to hold hands, arms stretched out in front of them as they faced each other.

“Thank you for tonight,” Hannah said.  “I didn’t come here with any expectations, but if I had, I would have to say they were far exceeded.”

Hand-in-hand, they walked toward the exit after gathering their coats.  Stepping outside into the brisk air, Hannah’s face lit up as she looked at the heavens.

“It’s snowing,” she whispered.

“One surprise after another tonight,” Edward said, squeezing her hand gently.

“Mmm.”  Searching the crowd leaving around them, Hannah said, “I’ll need to find my friend.  I haven’t spoken with her since we arrived.”

“Before you go,” Edward said, pulling Hannah toward him again, “answer one question.”

“All right.”

“Would you be willing to see me again?”

“I think I just might.”  Hannah smiled teasingly.

“‘Might?’”

“Yes!” Hannah exclaimed, giggling like a child.

“Perfect.”  Edward kissed her sweetly on the lips.

With more resolve than she had experienced in ages, Hannah returned the kiss, her mind remembering Maria’s remark upon entering the ballroom that evening.

Yes, this… this was just perfect.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

When Macy showed up at my side door with a large pot and an equally big smile, a subdued John standing behind her, I let them in graciously.

“What did you bring?” I asked. “It smells wonderful.”

Macy set the pot on my stove and turned on the burner. “Just some of my infamous vegetable soup, ingredients courtesy of my little garden. It needs a few minutes to reheat, but then I think we’ll be good to go.”

We hugged.

“Thank you. I’m sure Tristan will appreciate it. Your cooking was always better than mine.”

John, who stood just inside the door, smiled and patted his slight paunch. “She’s not too shabby.”

Macy and I exchanged amused looks, laughing.

“Thanks for coming over, John,” I said, giving him a quick hug.

“Not a problem.” He glanced toward the doorway to the dining and living rooms, where Tristan’s snores entered the kitchen. “If Macy keeps bringing your husband food, you might need to put him on a diet.”

Macy rolled her eyes. “You need to get back to playing on the men’s baseball league and not just coaching Johnny’s little league, dear. As for poor Tristan, I think he just needs to take it easy.”

I took some bowls out of the cupboards and set the table. “Sorry the kitchen’s such a mess.” I gestured at the stacks of boxes on the floor along the walls.

Macy waved me off. “Well, that’s why we’re here, darling–to help get your house set up. Just think, once all of Tristan’s stuff is moved in, you can start decorating and making it your own.”

“One thing at a time, Mace.” I grinned and went into the living room, where Tristan slumbered. I watched the steady rise and fall of his chest for several seconds, contemplating whether to wake him.

I returned to the kitchen. “I think we should eat and let Tristan grab a bowl when he’s ready. I’d hate to disturb him.”

“Fine by me,” John said, taking a bowl off the table and going to the stove to fill it.

Macy and I gave each other knowing looks that said the same thing: Men.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Chapter 4 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 4

As the summer wears on, my brother continues to be an enigma. He used to be so easy to understand because he was just like me in many ways. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even understand why I do or say half the things I do anymore.

In August, Amy surprises us by saying she’s dating someone.

“How did you meet this young man?” Ma asks over dinner one evening.

“I’d like it if you brought him by. I’d like to meet him,” Pa says. The twinkle is out of his eyes, his mouth a firm line.

“We met through a mutual friend from work,” Amy says. “I’m twenty-three, Pa. Really, don’t you think I’m a bit old to be bringing my boyfriend around for my parents to meet? It might not even be anything serious.” Her face flushes. She’s probably twiddling her hands under the table like she always does when she gets agitated. I keep my eyes on her, taking a bit of pleasure in her discomfort, wondering how this conversation will go.

“You’re still a young lady,” Pa says.

“Erik gets tons of calls from girls,” Amy says. “Why should this be any different? I’m five years older than him. Ma, you were my age when you met Pa.”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Erik says.

I smirk, trying not to chuckle at this free entertainment.

Ma sighs. “You’re right. I was, but girls–women–were more mature back then than they are nowadays. The way they flaunt themselves–those flapper girls with their bobbed hair and too-short dresses. All that jazz nonsense, dancing, and illegal drinking. People are wilder than ever.”

I try to imagine Amy dressed as a promiscuous young lady, smoking and drinking. It’s damn near impossible.

“I’m hardly a flapper, Ma,” Amy says. “How often have I told you times change? When will you realize that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were thirty or forty years ago?”

Ma harrumphs and digs into her food.

One point for Amy.

Pa shakes his head. “Can we please not argue at the table? Amelia Rose, despite your opinion on the matter, you still live under the roof of this house. Your mother and I wish to meet this young man because we want what’s best for you. The matter is closed.”

Oh, the full name. My gaze shifts from Pa to Amy.

“Father,” she groans, removing the napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” Amy walks away from the table and leaves through the back door.

“Enough,” Ma says. “Let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

“Well, I think it’s awful that Amy has a boyfriend,” Hannah states. “I agree with Ma and Pa that it just isn’t right. Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting to get married and moving out.”

I chuckle. “Good one, Hannah-panna. You took the cake on that one.”

“What?” Hannah asks, scrunching her face up at me. “It’s the truth.”

“I believe I already said that was enough,” Ma said.

“But–”

I keep my mouth shut as Hannah’s silenced, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who causes tension in this house. I don’t bother Hannah the rest of the evening, although it’s tempting. I’d love to see Amy have the gumption to keep dating this mystery man, but as the day gives way to the next, her bad mood doesn’t lift. At breakfast, she hardly touches her food. She’s out the door for work by the time Hannah comes down.

“You just missed Amy,” I say to Hannah in between bites of oatmeal. “She was in a wonderful mood this morning.”

Hannah rolls her eyes as Ma enters, Irma right behind her. “What did she say?”

“Not two words,” Erik says. “No ‘good morning.’ Nothing.”

I’m about to add my two cents when Ma says, “Amy went to work like she’s supposed to. The rest of you would do well to finish up in here and be about your business. Your father has plenty of work for you boys outside with harvest time upon us and won’t be too pleased if he comes home and it’s not done. Hannah, you’re going to help with the laundry.”

Erik and I get done in the kitchen. I don’t complain too much today about the chores. It’s a nice day–not too hot. Besides, this story ain’t over with Amy, and Hannah’s disapproval of the whole situation adds another layer to it.

While Erik pulls weeds and I pluck lettuce and cabbages, I say, “What d’you think of all this?”

“What?” Erik keeps his back to me.

“Don’t play dumb. C’mon, brother. You gotta admit–this is new for Amy.”

“I say good for her. She’s old enough. I kept wondering when she might marry and move out. She’s well into her twenties, and if she waits too long, her prospects will be all dried up. No man wants to marry an old maid.”

I laugh. “You planning on marrying young?”

“Marriage?” Erik asks incredulously. “I have college first, then find a job. By then, I’ll be Amy’s age. That’s years away.”

“Well, I never know with you, since you have at least a half dozen girls calling you at any given time. Who’s the latest catch? Maybe you should bring her around.”

“We’re not talking about this anymore.” Erik’s neck reddens and I’m sure it’s not from the sun.

I shake my head and return to picking vegetables.

By evening, Amy returns home with none other than her boyfriend. He’s a good-looking guy who’s easy to talk with. He introduces himself to Erik and me in the living room.

“Jack Banks,” he says, his handshake strong.

“Hi, Jack. I’m Harry. So, my sister says she likes you. Lucky you.”

Jack grins and wraps an arm around Amy. “I’d say I’m the lucky guy, but she is quite the doll, your sister.”

Amy’s practically glowing. If it were dark, she could light up the room.

Erik and Jack exchange introductions, and Großmutter, our grandmother who moved in with us a few months back, is saying something in German, but if her smile were any wider, the wrinkles on her face would crumble off.

Irma comes down the steps quietly and enters the room, and Jack gets down on one knee. “And who’s this little sweetheart?”

“Irma,” my littlest sister says shyly.

“What a beautiful name.” Jack picks her up and tosses her up in the air. Irma giggles as he catches her.

Conversation flows naturally, and the lighthearted jokes are in full swing when Pa joins us. For a moment, I wonder if he’s gonna kick this charmer out on his backside. Pa’s taken with him the moment Jack approaches him. For Amy’s sake, I’m relieved. Unlike Erik, I never imagined her as an old maid–not that I’d tell her that.

Before I know it, we sit down for dinner. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to Jack, except Hannah. All through the meal, my little sister sends little-concealed glares at Jack and strikes Amy like a question-firing squad. After dinner, she plays for us, and maybe she’s a bit happier.

As I’m off to bed, I wonder what’s been going on with Hannah and think of teasing her in the morning to get an answer out of her. It’s not like I’d want her to think I’m really concerned or something.

* * *

Weeks pass, and Erik packs for Ohio State. It’s September by now, and I’ve started tenth grade. I’m already being compared to my brother by many of my teachers, and I tell Erik that I have some big shoes to fill.

“It’s true,” I say the night before he’s to leave for Columbus. “Do any of those girls you talk to know just how big your feet are?”

Probably in spite of himself, Erik stops in his tracks as he’s about to put a stack of shirts in his suitcase and looks down at his feet. “You’re exaggerating.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t you get enough sweet talk from your admirers?”

Erik doesn’t answer for a while. Instead, he resumes packing. When his suitcase is stuffed to the brim, he has a hard time shutting it and resorts to sitting hard on it to get it to close. “You might wanna start shaving, Harry, if you want a girl.”

I smirk. “Maybe I’m trying to grow a beard.”

Erik laughs. “That would be one pathetic beard.”

I shrug. We fall silent and focus on everything in the room but each other. The sun is setting, casting an orange glow on the walls and furniture. The floor is well-worn from years of us tracking mud and sprinting across it to see who could make the most noise. On the dresser–Erik’s stuff in the top two drawers and mine in the bottom two–we share a picture of us from probably ten years ago, our smiles reflecting our innocent mischief.

“Yeah, well…goodnight,” Erik says.

“Goodnight, brother.” I go for nonchalant, but my voice cracks a little at the end. How embarrassing.

The next day, Erik doesn’t say much. Our sisters are crying, of course. Women. It’s not like they’ll never see him again. Ma’s a mess. Pa’s driving Erik down, and I’m still not clear on why Ma is staying home, other than her need to keep the house clean and the rest of us kids fed.

I stand out in the driveway, watching Erik load the last of his things into the trunk.

“Well, don’t do anything too stupid,” he says to me, a smirk on his lips but a plea in his eyes.

“Stupid? Me? Nah. You got the wrong guy.”

Erik half-steps toward me like he’s about to hug me, but he stops and nods. “See ya around.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

I keep my eyes on the back of his head as he gets into the car. As it pulls away, my head’s filled with all the things I just couldn’t say, and I ain’t sure why.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

FREE Ebook – Today Only! #horror #shortstories #freebook #bookbuzz #bookrelease #newrelease #halloween #bookpromo

Latent Infection and Flushed: Horror Shorts by Cynthia Hilston

 

shortstoriesIn Latent Infection, the Marson family moves into an old, forgotten house, but the house hasn’t forgotten the secrets it hides as the family’s presence reawakens something long dead.

In Flushed, Julia keeps her mother’s ashes in her closed drawer, yet the drawer is open every morning. Has her mother returned to haunt her, or is Julia slowly losing her mind?

 

Chapter 3 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 3

The moment I wake up, Ma’s on my back like a heavy rock to do my chores. Erik and I pour sweat in buckets as we work in the garden. Every morning starts like this. Then Erik and I shovel vegetable soup into our mouths like we’re starving at lunch. When done, we dart outta Ma’s way before she smacks us for no manners.

“Honestly, you two,” she says, her brow stern, “act your age. Don’t forget that you have to spend the next hour either reading or sewing.”

“Since when have we ever chosen sewing, Ma?” I ask. “Even Pa thinks it’s ridiculous.”

“C’mon, Harry,” Erik whispers. “Best to just get it over with.”

We go upstairs before Ma can say another word. Erik picks up a tattered copy of Crime and Punishment and lies on his bed, immersing himself in the novel, his nose practically buried between the yellowed pages.

I sigh and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

After five minutes, I say, “That book should be a crime and a punishment to read. It’s certainly a punishment. Look how thick it is.”

Erik lowers the book enough to look at me. “You know, Harry, some books are actually quite good. You never have the patience to give anything a chance. This story teaches us about the human condition.”

“The human what?” I shake my head and reach between the mattress and the box spring and pull out my new pulp magazine. I slide it into my book and pretend that Huck Finn is as interesting as an alien invasion.

At the end of the hour, Erik remarks, “Don’t think I didn’t see that. What garbage are you reading now?”

“Nothing so enlightening as Crime and Punishment, I’m sure.” I make to set the book aside, but Erik is too fast and snatches it from my grip.

Attack of the Killer Moonmen?” He chuckles. “You don’t really think men live on the moon, do you?”

I shrug. “Maybe, but who cares? Our time’s up, so let’s get outta here before Ma comes up with another list of chores.”

Erik hands me the book back, and I stuff the magazine back under the mattress, placing the book on the night table.

Erik’s already gone, and I wonder whether I should follow him. As I walk past the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. There are three tiny hairs on my chin. I touch them almost reverently and smile. I’m becoming a man. I run my hands through my hair as I continue walking, feeling the botched job on top of my head. Ma was too enthusiastic with those scissors last week, so my hair sticks up in every direction.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I find Hannah practicing the piano in the living room. The music’s been coming up through the floorboards for the past fifteen minutes, but I’ve learned to tune it out. I watch her move her hands over the keys in well-practiced fashion, a bit envious that she has such a talent. She stops playing and whirls around on the bench.

I lazily clap. She scowls.

“What are you doing, Harry?”

I smile to indulge my little sister. “You always think the worst of me, Hannah. It’s like you don’t trust me.”

“I didn’t say that, but you’re usually looking for trouble.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say about trouble and middle names. I’m officially changing mine to ‘Trouble’ when I’m of age.”

She smiles. “You’re completely bananas.”

“Mmm, bananas…sounds good to me. See ya later.”

Ten minutes later, I walk down Madison Avenue with a half-eaten banana in my hand. There’s no sign of Erik, so I check to see if Mitch Woods is home. I’m in luck as he comes to the door, and when my buddy sees the peel, he asks if I have any more food.

“Nah, sorry,” I say as we walk along the sidewalk and toss the peel into a neighbor’s trash can.

Mitch is two years older than me and has been friends with Erik and me since before I can remember. Plain’s the word to describe us. We don’t stand out with our brown hair and average builds.

“You haven’t seen my brother around, have you?” I ask.

“Nope. Why?”

I shrug. “Just askin’.”

“He’s off to college, right?”

“Yeah, soon. We won’t be seeing him for a while, but enough about my brother. So, what do you wanna do?”

Mitch eyes up Hatford Park across the street. “Remember?”

I share a devilish grin with him. “How could I forget?”

We dash across the street with the boldness of idiots. A few kids run around the picnic tables playing a game of tag, and off in the distance, a man is throwing a ball to his dog. Other than that, the place is empty. We approach a cluster of willow trees, the July breeze gently swaying the branches. Beyond the trees, the pond–what we called a lake when growing up–sits calm.

I chuck a rock into the water, creating ripples. As I throw another and then another, I don’t know what’s come over me, except that I want to disturb the peaceful water. “The girls were always trying to bust us when we were kids,” I say.

“Yeah, but they thought it was funny to spy on us.” Mitch chuckles.

“Ever think of doing it again?”

He looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles. “You crazy? We can’t go skinny-dipping anymore.”

I see the flush on his face. “Damn, you burn easy,” I tease. “We can afford to live a little.”

Mitch shakes his head. “In broad daylight?”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, old boy?” I take off my shirt. “I won’t let you live this down.”

Mitch turns around as I strip down completely.

“What’re you so worried about?”

I don’t wait for his answer as I back up and get a running start, then dash toward the water. I cannonball into the pond, and as my body makes contact, I close my eyes in the thrill of the moment. After a brief stay underwater, I bob to the surface, laughing. I swim around the pond in large, exaggerated breast strokes and roll onto my back, gazing at the sun.

Then I hear the voice that seems to have a hobby of following me lately. “What the hell?”

I stop swimming and am not surprised to see Erik standing next to Mitch. I’m not sure whose face is more amusing, but I’m too caught up in having a good time to feel any shame. Erik’s face changes from stunned to disappointed to downright disgusted.

“Get out and get your clothes on.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumble.

My good mood pops like an over-inflated balloon because of my brother’s over-inflated ego. I swim until the bottom touches my legs, then stand and leave the water. While grabbing my clothes, I keep my gaze on an interesting patch of bark on one of the trees and dress.

“Where’d you go, anyway?” I glower at Erik.

“What’s it matter?”

I turn toward Mitch, in the hopes that he might have grown a backbone in the past thirty seconds. I’m sorely disappointed to find him backing away with his hands held up in front of him.

“You know what, guys?” he says. “I just remembered…my mom wanted me to, uh, clean the toilet bowl before the day’s done.” With that parting remark, Mitch is gone.

“I don’t wanna argue with you, Harry.”

“Oh? That’s news to me. Seems to have become a habit for you lately.”

“Maybe I’ve grown up.”

I hate that I want to punch my brother in the face, but I also want nothing more than to wipe off that smug look. “You say you don’t wanna argue. Then what’re we doin’?”

Erik steps closer. For a split-second, I think he’s going to take a swing at me, but maybe that’s because my hackles are up. “You’re reckless. You don’t take anything seriously.”

I laugh bitterly. “You used to call it fun. Egging that cad Theodore Wilson’s house was worth it. He picked on me all last year.”

“What about when you tried smoking in eighth grade? I covered for you.”

“So, what? It’s called living a little. Ever think that maybe life isn’t all about grades and books? Real life, Erik…”

“Ah, so it’s experience you’re looking for? That’s your reason?”

“You say I’m never serious. Well, how’s this for serious, brother?” I storm up to him, even though he’s a good four inches taller than me, and shove him in the chest. He stumbles backward and falls hard on his ass. When I march off, he doesn’t pursue me. I wonder if that stick he’s got up his backside fell out when he hit the ground.

I don’t return home for several hours. By the time I approach the back door, darkness has settled in. I stop, in no hurry to enter and receive an earful from Ma for being gone all day. While I wonder if she left any food for me, my gaze falls on the board that covers the window on the door. There used to be glass in that window, but I couldn’t tell you how many times Erik and I broke it over the years from playing ball. Finally, Pa just put a plank of wood there and left it. I look up. No stars tonight. Only clouds. I grimace and make for the door.

Beyond the kitchen, light from the dining and living rooms spills through the doorway. The radio’s on, the volume low. I expect to find my parents in their usual spots: Ma in the rocking chair with her knitting, glasses perched on the end of her nose, and Pa in the armchair, listening to the jazz music that Ma so dislikes. Before I can take another step, Ma is upon me, throwing the kitchen light on.

“Oh, thank the good Lord,” she breathes, pulling me into a tight hug.

I awkwardly place my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

“We had no idea where you’d gone off to. Erik returned hours ago and said he hadn’t seen you.”

“Sorry, uh…I’m fine.”

“Don’t ever do that again, Harry.”

Pa joins us and frowns. “You had your mother worried sick, son. I’d ask where you were, but I suppose we should just be glad you’re home in one piece. Never again, you hear?”

“Yeah, Pa. Sorry. I didn’t do anything, uh, bad if that’s what you’re thinking.” Pa’s disappointment stings worse than anything Ma could say.

Ma yawns and waves me off. The frown lines around her mouth are deeper than normal. Her puffy eyes are shadowed. “Eat something and be off to bed.”

She’s kept my plate covered. With nothing short of affection for Ma, I sit down and eat the chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. Despite the cold food, it sits well with me as a warmth at being missed settles inside.

The lights are out when I go through the living room and up the stairs to my bedroom. “Don’t tell me you’re still reading that garbage,” I say in way of greeting when I find Erik still up.

Erik lowers Crime and Punishment and glares.

I drop onto my bed. “You didn’t tell them about the skinny-dipping.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“And risk Ma having a heart attack?” Erik’s tone is light, almost teasing.

Our gazes meet across the short distance, and even though Erik isn’t quite smiling, I think he’s trying hard not to.

“Thanks,” I say.

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Flash Fiction Contest! Blind Judge TBA

 

If I can do a flash-fiction contest, you can, too! Give it a try! The link to my friend’s blog with the details is below (you have until Oct. 12).

Here’s mine: (300 words max allowed) Halloween Date Night

The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were.
He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women.
“What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?”
It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume.
This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract.
Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven.
Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes.
“The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.”
He already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door.
The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.”
“Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?”
“You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?”
He nodded.
A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away.
Yet she was as cold as him.
She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”

via Flash Fiction Contest! Blind Judge TBA