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

Review of Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery) by Vikki Walton

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Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery)

Description: Anne is excited for the opening of the Brandywine Inn. Kandi and Hope are her partners in the bed-and-breakfast in Carolan Springs, Colorado, where they also provide homesteading and herbal workshops for guests.
As soon as the guests arrive, it’s plain that the five old college chums have bad blood between them. When Anne finds a threatening note, it’s clear that someone is out for revenge. Then they find a guest dead. At first, the death appears to be natural, but suspicions begin to grow.
When a blizzard threatens the Inn, will it trap them all with a killer and no way out?
Cordial Killing is a classic who-dun-it with a twist. Set in the fictional small town of Carolan Springs, you will enjoy an armchair getaway into beautiful Colorado.

NewReleaseREVIEW: Cordial Killings is the second book in The Backyard Farming series by Vikki Walton. As a cozy mystery set in a bed and breakfast, I was looking forward to reading this book during the colder weather with a warm drink and a fire going. The setting is perfect for a cozy, and Walton doesn’t disappoint with descriptions of the food and drinks that the characters often partake. However, I wanted more description of the setting. A picturesque backdrop of Colorado Rockies in the winter, the blanket of glistening snow, the way freshly fallen snow coats tree branches…these are the beauties of winter that could have been played up. In addition, I would have loved more details on the decor of the rooms in the bed and breakfast. The layout of the house is described, but I feel that more details would have given it even more of that cozy feeling I’m looking for when I dive into this type of book.

The characters who run the bed and breakfast, Anne, Kandi, and Hope, are sweet–the type of ladies you would want for friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the guests, a group of middle-aged women who were college friends and are reuniting for a weekend of learning how to make tonics, tinctures, and tisanes. The old friends (or frenemies?) are aptly and cutely called the Elizabeth Taylors, named Taylor, Liz, Lil, and Beth. The weekend is supposed to be for ladies only, but when Beth arrives with husband Edward, a womanizing cardiologist with more than one type of heart trouble, tensions build in the group, and old wounds open and fester.

I kept waiting for the first death, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book. I would have liked less banter between the women and for this important action step to occur much sooner, perhaps about twenty percent of the way into the story.  While the bad blood between the group is important backstory and plays into the plot, I think the story needs to move quicker in the beginning to get to the point of a cozy mystery: solving a murder or suspected murder.

Another death follows shortly, and from there, the pace really picks up. I was pleased with how the rest of the story flowed and played out. I admit I suspected the killer and turned out to be right, but as the sheriff and Anne interview the different guests, motives for each are presented and well thought-out. The ending was satisfying.

This was an easy, enjoyable read–a good book if you’re looking for something fun and not too serious.

4 of out 5 stars

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About the author:
Vikki’s first words were “I get it!” This attitude became her life-long mantra to always go after what she wants. It also helped her realize her desire to help others get what they really want out of life.
After spending years as a registered interior designer, Vikki began to write. While writing for periodicals, Vikki found herself on assignment interviewing publishers in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t long before the natural beauty of Colorado captured her heart.
After moving to Colorado, Vikki worked with nonprofits. However, she soon realized she needed more autonomy in her work.

Vikki started her own business as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She has helped nonprofits across the U.S. to receive millions of dollars for  their work. Yet, she realized doing one thing wouldn’t satisfy her for long.

Vikki became a Work Quilter™ combining her many passions to create multiple income streams. She started speaking and teaching adults on myriad and diverse topics around her knowledge, skills and passions.   She’s taught and spoken on Creative Writing, Design for Heart and Home, Fundraising Fundamentals , Suburban Homesteading, Permaculture, How to Get What You Really Want, and of course, Work Quilting. Two words that continually appear on instructor and speaker feedback forms are “engaging” and “knowledgeable.”
Born in Chicago, Vikki lived outside of Paris for a few years as a small child. That may account for her love of travel. She moved to Wichita with her parents before going on to live most of her life around the San Antonio, Texas area. She is the founder of #girlswantago and you can connect through Facebook or www.girlswantago.com 
Vikki is also an experienced, professional  global house and pet sitter.  
Vikki’s favorite genre is mystery so it wasn’t long before she had begun her first cozy mystery series.  Incorporating her love of suburban homesteading, or as some call it, backyard farming, Vikki’s first book is Chicken Culprit. 

You’ll most often find Vikki out hiking with her dog, outside gardening, traveling abroad, house or pet sitting, or writing her next book.

FirstinSeries
Marie’s Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Items Needed

  • Quart canning jar with lid
  • Funnel (large mouth)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Label or masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Strainer (optional)
  • Decorative Bottle (optional)
Ingredients Amounts needed Comments
Elderberries 1.25 cup dried or 2 cups fresh For fresh, remove from stems.
Brandy 3 cups Can also use other alcohol but brandy is most commonly used.
Honey ¼ to ½ cup (or to taste) Vegans or those who don’t have access to good local raw honey can substitute maple syrup. Acquiring local honey will provide your cordial with its own unique flavor.
Optional
Cinnamon stick One Flavor along with Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory properties
Rosehips ¼ cup Extra Vitamin C
Ginger 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger Flavor along with Antioxidants

Instructions

  • Place elderberries (and any optional ingredients, if using) into quart jar.
  • Cover with brandy.
  • Add honey.
  • Stir with wooden spoon or put lid on and shake.
  • Place in dark, cool space (usually a cabinet will do) for three to four weeks.
  • If desired, strain with cheesecloth and using a strainer, put into a decorative bottle.
  • Or you can leave ingredients in jar.
  • In winter take 1-2 tbsp daily for immune-boosting. If ill, take 3-4 tbsp (basically a shot glass) a few times a day until symptoms improve. This cordial can also be used as a base for poor-tasting tinctures such as osha.
  • Can last for a year with fresh berries and longer if made with dried berries—if you have it that long!

Notes

Elderberry is a wonderful plant to have in your yard or on your property. It has many medicinal benefits and uses. The elderberry plant most commonly associated with immune-boosting and flu-fighting properties is the dark berry plant (Elderberry Sambucus Nigra). Elder flower is also used in elixirs, teas and food.  Elder was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year in 2013. It’s usually harvested in September.

This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Character interview:

Hope, can you share with our readers about yourself?AvailableFavBookstore

Certainly. I live above the shop of an herbal apothecary I own in Carolan Springs, Colorado. I’m also a medical doctor.. My mother, Faith, lives with me and I care for her. I’m an only child and I moved back to care for my mother when she started having health issues. I love living in a small town and I love Colorado. I’m in the perfect place for the life I want to live and the work I want to do. I have a new intern, Autumn, so that’s helping me to expand into other areas of interest.

You’ve recently opened a bed-and-breakfast with your friends. Can you tell us about that?

My father, Ralph Rogers, passed away, and I inherited his house. I didn’t know for years that Ralph was my father,  so it surprised me when he left me the home in his will. The house is a huge, old Victorian that probably stood by itself for many years before the other homes went up around it.  Anne, who has become a good friend, and Kandi, another friend, talked about the possibility of opening a bed-and-breakfast in the house. As they live on either side of the house, it works well for them. Anne has written and taught about suburban homesteading while Kandi is a great cook. Plus, I get to do teaching on herbs through workshops we hold there. It’s called the Brandywine Inn as Ralph was a big fan of Brandywine tomatoes. In the summer we open it up primarily for tourists and those who come for the homesteading fair. Then we can hold workshops in the spring and fall.

Tell us about where you live.

I live in the small mountain town of Carolan Springs in Colorado. (Don’t try to find it on a map as it’s only in the author’s imagination). I have to say the weather here in Colorado takes some getting used to. There can be a snowstorm in the morning and by the afternoon, lots of bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The key is to wear layers at any time of the year! I finally learned that after living here for a few years. I’m excited about spring because it’s that shoulder season when it’s normally crisp morning and sunny days. It’s a great time for hiking and seeing all the early wildflowers popping up and sometimes even mushrooms. We’re incorporating hike opportunities for our guests.

Can you tell us a bit more about Carolan Springs and its inhabitants?

It’s a fairly small town—around 3500 people—and just like everywhere else, you have many characters. My shop is along the main street filled with little shops and everyone is usually nice though we have some cranky folks just like any other town. I think Sheriff Carson and Anne should just get on with it and become a couple because they’re both so stubborn that they’d be a perfect match. But don’t tell them I said anything. Problem is they’ll probably end up with others. Oh well, what can you do? I’m sure you’ll find out more about the town’s residents in future stories.

You mentioned the author, what can you tell us about her?

Well, she was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Texas—around the San Antonio area. But just like me, she loves Colorado’s mountains. She grows and uses herbs and making her own tinctures, tonics, and salves. She loves the basic edible herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and others. A few of her favorite medicinal herbs are astragalus and osha for tinctures along with comfrey she uses in salves. In addition to writing mysteries, she’s also written nonfiction books. She loves everything about being a suburban homesteader or what some call backyard farming. She’s a certified permaculture designer, has chickens and beehives and gardens of various types.

Hope, can you tell us what’s next for the series?

We’ve all been talking about getting beehives for the property, so we can offer honey to our guests. Having bees on the property will also help with all the gardens we want to install. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those being a part of the next book in the series.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t think of anything. Though my mother (Faith) says she has a bad feeling about our opening weekend at the bed-and-breakfast. She has second-sight so that’s a bit disconcerting that she says she has a bad feeling. But I’m sure it’s nothing. I hope.

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.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

I filled two glasses and placed them on the table. We drew up mismatched chairs and drank. Tristan finished first and sighed with pleasure.

I eyed him over the top of my glass. He gazed out the back window toward his house, the line between his eyebrows deepening. I put my glass down and asked, “So?”

“So, what?”

“Really, Tristan? Do you enjoy playing these guessing games?” My mouth hitched up on one side.

“Maybe.” There was a teasing undertone in his voice, but the crease between his eyebrows was still present.

“We’re married now. I think you can tell me anything.”

He whisked his eyes away from the window and met mine. “There’s nothing I could tell you that you don’t know already.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I joked, then grew serious. “But something’s off about you today.” As happy as I was, doubt poked at me.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be married again.”

I took his hands in mine. For a moment, I stared at his large, rough hands–hands that could fix anything, from a house to a car, but also had typed and penned thousands of poetic prose, weaving those threads into the fabric of three novels. I met his eyes. “I think this will taking adjusting on both of our parts. We weren’t exactly social butterflies before we met.” I laughed.

The line between Tristan’s eyebrows lessened, and crinkles formed around his eyes as he smiled. “That’s the understatement of the century.”

After the moment of levity passed, I said, “So, enlighten me, O Talkative One.”

“Going through all my things, it’s like digging through the past.” His eyes shifted to the box on the table. “Maybe it would be better if I got rid of most of these things and be more like you. You know, completely start over.”

The tea kettle whistled. I stood and went to the stove, turned off the burner, and added a teabag. I gave a little snort. “My house is filling up quickly, but throwing away everything from your past isn’t the answer, Tristan. You can see how well that served me.” I joined him at the table.

“My stuff is taking over in here. I’m letting go of the house. It’s time I let go of other reminders, too.”

“Of Julie?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of Julie.” He stared out the window toward his house again, as if his wife’s ghost were looking back at him out one of the windows.

“Hey.” I placed my hand on his arm.

He slowly turned his head, but his eyes were on the table.

I moved my hand to his cheek. “You wouldn’t be forgetting her.”

Eyes so empty and so full lifted from staring at the tabletop. “I know that here.” He pointed to his head. “But here, well, that’s another matter.” He gestured toward his chest.  “Pain and pleasure mixed.”

My lips quirked. “We make quite the pair, don’t we? I can hear Macy asking now, ‘Why can’t you two just be happy? Why do you always have to complicate things?’”

Tristan half-smiled. “Your best friend doesn’t know the half of it. Messy people are like that…complicated.”

Note: Rocks and Flowers in a Box is the sequel to my second novel, Lorna versus Laura.

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 for $4.99 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.

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.

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.