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

Matilda stared back for a while. The clock on the wall to their right ticked away the seconds. The murmur of the few other customers who occupied the teahouse faded into the background.

Finally, Matilda giggled, withdrawing her gaze. “I’m sorry. It’s so odd, but it feels like I know you better than could be possible.”

“Trust me. I know the feeling.” Helen couldn’t believe what she was saying, but it was like the words were forming of their own volition and releasing themselves from their cages after a long captivity.

Matilda’s smile widened. “Do you believe certain people share a sort of connection? Like they were meant to meet, to become friends?”

“I believe there are a lot of things we don’t understand or can’t explain.” Like my mind-switching ability.

“It’s like God Himself put all the pieces in place and intended it. My parents have been married for twenty-five years and have always believed they were destined for each other.”

Helen’s stomach tightened. “And what of people who don’t have such happy marriages? Does God intend for that, too?”

Matilda sighed into her cup, then met Helen’s eyes. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t presume to understand the will of God. What mortal can?”

“You sound like my father.” Disdain dripped from Helen’s words. “I’m not sure if I believe in fate. I’m not even sure if there’s a God.”

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

On a late summer day, Helen walked through downtown Hurston. She sent a telegram to her aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, updating them on her mother’s health. Her mother hadn’t been well even since coming down with a severe case of pneumonia back in the winter. She spent most of her time lying down these days, easily fatigued from her chores. Helen picked up the slack where she could, a pang shooting through her heart at seeing her mother’s decline. As much as she loathed her mother for her timidity, she was still her mother.

Just as Helen stepped out of the general store, she bumped into someone. The contact was enough to cause the other person to drop whatever she had been carrying.

“Pardon me,” Helen said, bending down to help the other woman pick up her bundle. Her fingers brushed against the other woman’s. When the other woman looked up, Helen’s heart sped up. “Oh, it’s you.”

Matilda Forkins smiled at her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry.”

Helen picked up a blackberry. “I’m sorry, too. It looks like these are ruined.”

Matilda shrugged. “It’s not a problem. There are plenty more where these came from. My parents have loads of bushes of them behind their house. I was just bringing some her to share with Mr. Horner.”

“Yes, I know.”

Matilda stopped mid-reach and furrowed her brow at Helen. “You know?”

Realizing her slip, Helen said, “I mean, I assumed that’s what you were doing with such a large bundle of berries.” She half-smiled, sweat beading along her forehead.

A man stepped up behind them and frowned at the pair.

“Um, maybe we’d better step aside and let him pass?” asked Helen.

Matilda glanced behind her and blushed, shooting to her feet. “I apologize, sir.” She stepped aside, as did Helen.

After the man passed, they pick up the rest of the berries.

“Well, thanks for your help,” Matilda said. “I suppose I ought to return home and get a new bundle if I want to get them to Mr. Horner before he closes shop for the day.” She made to leave, then stopped. “By the way, I don’t believe we’ve ever been formally introduced. I’m Matilda Forkins.” She held out her hand.

Helen shook it. “It’s nice to meet your properly, Miss Forkins. I’m Helen Hawkins.”

Matilda studied her. “You’re the minister’s daughter.”

Helen stiffened. “Yes, that is correct.”

“I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?” Her brow furrowed.

“No, it’s nothing. I just… I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m guessing we’re about the same age, but we never talked.”

Matilda pursed her lips, then smiled. “Say, would you like to get a cup of tea and perhaps some cakes at Ethel’s Teahouse?”

Every muscle in Helen’s body relaxed as the first true smile she’d known in a long time graced her face. “That would be lovely. Thank you.”

“Wonderful.”

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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.

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

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.

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

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