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

Her mother was outside feeding the chickens and collecting eggs. She came in with a handful and set them on the table.

“Good, you’re up.”

“Good morning, Mother.” How did you sleep? Did you hear it last night? How can you sleep knowing that? She glared at her mother’s back, willing her to understand or express an ounce of sympathy.

“Yes, good morning, Helen. Now, help me with breakfast. Your father intends to be up early as well. He has several sick parishioners to visit today and then must put the finishing touches on his sermon for Sunday.”

Helen nodded and set some water to boil for coffee. She pulled some bacon out of the ice box.

When her father entered the kitchen ten minutes later, he said, “Smells wonderful.”

Helen poured his coffee as he sat, then went to the front door to retrieve the paper and placed it in front of him. He picked it up and read it, coffee in hand. He didn’t have to look at his daughter. His presence alone brought with it a darkness that even the rising sun couldn’t snuff. The gas lamp over the table burned as bright as always, but in his black garb, Pastor Hawkins was a raven, ever-watching her with his beady eyes.

Helen helped get breakfast on the table and ate mechanically. Silence hung in the humid air like a firecracker waiting to explode. An imaginary rope tightened little by little around Helen’s neck as she forced down the food. The newspaper rustled every time her father turned the page. She quivered with the page, but while her father reset his grip on the paper and stilled it, her body continued to shiver, despite the heat. Sweat dripped from the base of her hairline under her braid and pooled along her collar. Still Helen kept her mouth shut.

The newspaper crinkled as her father closed it and set it on the table. His coffee cup clunked down next. He stood, the chair squealing over the floor.

Helen twitched with every utterance.

“Well, good day to you. I’ll be back late.”

“Have a good day, William.” Her mother stood and pecked her husband’s cheek.

Helen’s father grabbed his hat and briefcase, then left through the back door. Every muscle relaxed with the shutting of that door. Helen released a long breath and slumped her shoulders.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” her mother asked as she grabbed some empty dishes off the table and took them to the sink. “You’ve barely touched your food.”

“I guess I’m not really that hungry.”

“Nonsense, Helen. You have a busy day ahead of you. You’ll need your strength. Now, you have five minutes to finish your breakfast, and after that, you’ll just have to wait until lunch.”

“Yes, Mother.” Helen raised her gaze off a half-eaten piece of bacon and met her mother’s eyes.

“You could at least sound grateful you have something to eat. Some people aren’t so fortunate. Your father works hard to provide and helps those in town who don’t have the means to pay for food. He’s a good man.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” The words were out before Helen realized what she’d said. She covered her mouth with her hands, as if that would somehow reel them back in.

The line between her mother’s eyebrows deepened. The wrinkle became more pronounced on two occasions: when her mother was knitting and when she was displeased. “Excuse me, young lady?”

Helen swallowed and gripped the edge of the table, her back rigid. “You heard me, or did you turn off your ears like you do every time he does that to me?”

Smack!

Helen didn’t cry out as her mother’s hand made contact with her cheek. The sting clung to her skin as she lifted her hand and stared at her mother with a challenge, with betrayal.

“You won’t talk about your father that way. He’s a good man, holy, doing the Good Lord’s work.”

“Only God is holy.”

“You know what I mean. Your father had to pull himself up by his bootstraps from a young age, what with being raised by those hillbillies and a father who drank and beat his children. Be glad you have a roof over your head, a meal on the table three times a day, a father with a stable job, and a mother who is willing to cover for you when you are unappreciative and lazy.”

“Cover for me? You lie to protect him all the time. You let this happen, Mother. I’m your daughter.” Helen stood as an uncommon rage fueled her. She fisted her hands at her sides.

“You will hold your tongue, young lady. You will keep your silence like a woman should. And you would do well to remember that.” Her mother raised the wooden spoon in her hand, her blue eyes flashing.

“Of course.” Helen’s fingers relaxed at her sides, and she turned, leaving the kitchen.

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

Helen rested her elbows on the surface of the desk and cradled her face in her hands as she returned her gaze to the window. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted to sleep.

She was walking through the unused field on Mr. Bender’s farm just outside of town. Wildflowers grew as high as her waist as she made a path through them, skimming her hands over the tops. Her hands were a woman’s hands: long-fingered and graceful. Helen grinned as she took in the rest of her body. The curves under the blouse and skirt were a rare treasure. She imagined keeping this gift.

What if I didn’t have to wait to be grown? I could run away and not look back.

She skipped, then ran through the field, laughing. She felt her hat blow off, but didn’t mind. Let the wind claim it.

In the distance, a young man leaned against a tree on the edge of the field. He smiled when he saw her and stood, opening his arms. “Susan!”

Her heart thudded. The blood pumped through her body, and for a moment, Helen believed this was real. She was meeting her lover, maybe in secret. She pranced through the flowers, wondering if she might take off in flight. She giggled and called back his name, unsure of how she knew it expect that it felt right, like it was as much as part of her as this body. “Matthew!”

“Helen!”

She woke, withdrawing her face from her arms, which were crossed on the desk. Sweat covered his skin, drool on her cheek. She sat up and wiped at her face, frowning.

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 for pre-order here.

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

Review of A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son by Ellie Midwood

motherlandDescription: Poland, 1939. 

A country, torn by the occupation of two unlikely allies – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 
On the border of this newly divided territory, a young Wehrmacht Unteroffizier, Werner and a Soviet Military Interpreter, Kira meet and fall in love against all odds. 
Both forced into the military against their will, they wish for one thing only – a peaceful life together. Everything is set for Kira to defect and marry Werner… 

But the German army invades the Soviet Union, and now the two lovers are forced to fight against each other on the opposite sides of the frontline; trying to keep their humanity as more and more atrocities are committed by both armies. They have to decide if their love is stronger than the devastation surrounding them or succumb to the hate as sworn enemies should.

Partially based on true events, this novel will take you on the unforgettable journey through war-torn countries, where hope can be lost in no-man’s-land, and one will have to go to great lengths not to lose sight of it.

I have had the pleasure of reading two of Ellie Midwood’s books previously and enjoyed them thoroughly, and A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son is no different. Reading one of her books is a total-immersion experience into life during World War II. Midwood’s vast knowledge of that time period is remarkable and is a big part of what gives her stories depth: the intensity of the backdrop of a horrific war. She doesn’t skimp on the details of the brutality of war, either. What she writes is gut-wrenchingly real.

The second element that gives her stories amazing depth is her characters. She develops them to such a degree that I cannot help but laugh, cry, and scream with them. In this story, we follow the lives of lovers Kira and Werner, a Russian woman and a German man who fall in love in 1939 right before Germany declares war on Russia.

The story is told in an alternating point-of-view style, where one chapter is told from Kira’s point of view and the next chapter from Werner’s. From this first-person perspective, I get into the head of the characters even more. They start out as idealistic young people, who believe in love and that they have their whole lives ahead of them to do what they wish. They will marry and be happy. The war devastates their lives, throwing them into the pile with millions of others whose lives are also being ruined by the horror of war.

Can they still come out of all this after the war is through as the same people? After seeing and performing awful deeds? After experiencing some of the worst moments of humanity and their own lives? Lovers whose countries dictate they are enemies?

Kira is enlisted as a sniper in the Red Army. Werner serves as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht. The story follows the events of the war through its end in 1945 on the eastern front. It’s easy to look back at history and want to blame the Germans, to mark them at the bad guys, but when you realize that many of these soldiers were just young man, pretty much boys, it breaks my heart. So much loss of life for both sides, which is clearly shown in this story. So much senseless death. It’s no wonder both Kira and Werner question if they are who they were when they met, if love and hope still hold any meaning in a world shattered by such darkness.

The stakes are high, ridiculously, impossibly high. I kept turning the pages because I needed to believe that the inherent goodness in people, especially Kira and Werner, would win, that victory of the Allies during the war is one thing, but getting down to the level of person-to-person, victory of the heart matters, too. Love wins, right?

I happily give this book five stars!

Favorite quotes:

“You’re somebody’s son too. Under those uniforms, you’re all the same.” That simple Russian peasant knows more about life than the most enlightened of our philosophers…

A truly strange phenomenon war is, which always starts due to a lack of understanding. Yet, once former enemies find each other in such close proximity and strike a conversation for the first time, when the first bread is broken to feed yesterday’s foe, all animosity suddenly loses its power over the men who used to tear into each other’s throats, and humanity renews its hope in itself once again.

Purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

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

“What are they?” Helen stared at the strange cookies in front of her on the table.

“I found them when I went into town to get some groceries. They’re called animal crackers.” Helen’s mother kissed her daughter’s cheek and took the bag of groceries to the table next to the sink.

Helen picked up the box and frowned at them. She opened it and nibbled on one. “They don’t taste like crackers, more like cookies.”

Her mother shrugged, her back to her daughter as she washed potatoes. “You’d best put them away in your room somewhere before your father gets home. You know he won’t take kindly to you eating sweets before dinner.”

A shiver shot up Helen’s spine. At twelve years old, she thought herself too old in many ways to be treated like the little girl her mom still thought she was. “When do you expect him home? Isn’t he supposed to be visiting old Mr. Hopper today?”

“Mr. Hopper passed away last night, dear. Your father was busy meeting with the family for most of the day to go over the details of the funeral. The whole town is expected to turn out for it on Saturday. He was mayor back in his prime, a name Hurston was built on.”

Helen made a face. “I don’t want to attend some stupid funeral of a man I don’t know.”

“That’ll be quite enough, young lady. To you room with your treats. Now.”

Helen sighed as she stood. She pushed in the chair, the legs scraping over the wooden floor. Her mother cringed at the sound, but kept working at the sink. The girl exited the kitchen and took the stairs as quietly as a mouse. That was how her mother liked her, after all: as quiet as can be.

When she arrived in her room, she knelt beside her bed as if to pray, but reached under the bed and pulled away a loose floorboard. She hid the box of animal crackers in the secret spot and replaced the board.

She avoided the bed and sat at her desk instead, staring out the window at the branches of the large oak next to the house. She watched a couple of robins flit around each other, as if in a dance, and she longed to be that free, to fly like in her dreams. She kept her eyes on the world outside, anywhere but on the bed.

There are other dreams, too. She smiled. She sometimes imagined she was walking around in someone else’s body, usually as other children in town. While she had no control over where her dreams might take her, her favorites were when she was someone rich like Matilda Forkins or Robert Jenkins. Matilda had all the best dresses and had two porcelain dolls, not just one. Robert was a year older than Helen and had the eyes of every girl in town on him.

But they end, like all dreams. They’re so quick, like a blink. “In the end, I still have to wake up and return here,” she whispered, whisking her gaze from the window and staring at her bed.

The haze of the summer rested heavy on Helen as she sat there, waiting for her father to return home. He would walk in the back door and comment on how wonderful dinner smelled, would kiss his wife, and would straighten his clerical collar. Her mother would make some remark about how proud she was of him for doing God’s work. And Helen would sit there, her mouth shut until she was spoken to by the man.

Helen rested her elbows on the surface of the desk and cradled her face in her hands as she returned her gaze to the window. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted asleep.

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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.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

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.