Saturday, 23 July 2016

Guest Author Joshua Harding of Illinois.


Joshua Harding is a novelist and award-winning short story writer and poet.  His work is currently featured on Acidic Fiction, The Loose Leaf Press, and QuarterReads.  He’s been a nuclear missile mechanic and a suspected member of Sinn Féin.  Before that he was an environmental lobbyist, a cemetery restorer, freelance artist, puppet master, set designer, actor, carpenter, mortuary officer, scrimshander, garbage man, you name it.  The only thing he’s done longer than any of them is write.  He lives in a four-person artists’ colony in the woods north of Chicago. 
You can check out Joshua’s website:
http://jharding71.wix.com/joshuajharding or follow him on Twitter: @jharding71.  His short story I Dated Mother Nature is available in the anthology Acidic Fiction #2: Toxic Tales on Amazon.  His debut science fiction novel, Red Lakes is also available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/joshuaharding
 
 
 
 
Below is an excerpt from his short story Invoking Ganesh, which won first place in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards for the Horror category. 
 
Copyright is held by the author. Used by permission.
Sandeep was cleaning the Slushie machine when his first customer committed suicide. The gunshot popped like a Diwali firework and shattered the rear windshield of the girl’s Camry. At first Sandeep thought she’d had a backfire until he saw the spider web of cracks in the glass and the spray of blood.
It was 2:34 am.
The young woman had just bought a pack of cigarettes—”Merits in a box,” she’d said—and proceeded to light one up right in front of the register.
“You can’t do that here,” Sandeep said. He knew it was going to be a long night.
The girl responded to his scolding by blowing a cloud of blue, mentholated smoke toward the hotdog rollers. She was in her early twenties. Brunette with blue eyes and an aquiline nose through which she deftly French-inhaled her smoke. She was wearing a scoop front, leopard print tank top, distressed jeans, and high heels. Her makeup and jewelry looked as if she’d just left a nightclub, though the nearest venue was over four hours away in Albuquerque. “You gonna stop me, Hajji?” she asked.
“Miss, I don’t want any trouble.”
“You think I’m trouble?” She trailed her fingers along the Hostess display, knocking several fruit pies to the floor. She let out a high, barking laugh that rang loudly in the empty store. “That’s awesome! I’m trouble….troublesome…double-trouble. The girl your mother warned you about!”
“Please leave. Now,” Sandeep said.
“All right, there, Gandhi, don’t get your diaper in a twist.” She turned on her heel and pushed through the door.
Sandeep emerged from behind the counter and peered around the O-P-E-N sign to watch her cross the parking lot to her Toyota. The scent of her cigarette and perfume lingered. He stooped and restored the fruit pies to their rack and threw out five hotdogs.
The young woman climbed into her car but remained parked beside the pump. A tiny, blue cloud escaped through her window.
“You can’t smoke near the pumps,” Sandeep said to himself. He shook his head and bent to retrieve a rag out of a red bucket below the beverage station. He began wiping the Slushie nozzles when the shot fired.
“9-1-1. What is your emergency?”
“A girl just shot herself in the parking lot!”
“Ok. Just stay on the line with me, sir. Where are you located?”
“On Route 70 east of Roswell. At the Kum & Go!”
“We’re sending someone now. Are you with the girl?”
“No! I’m calling you!”
“Where is she now?”
“She’s still in her car.”
“What is her condition?”
“Good God, woman! The back of her head is gone! She’s dead!”
“Please remain calm, sir. We’re sending someone out right now. Stay where you are.”
“All right.” The line disconnected and Sandeep thumbed the number for his manager, Dick Bliefnick. The call went immediately to voicemail.
“Boss, there’s been a shot, man! A woman shot herself! In the parking lot! I called 9-1-1 but you really need to get out here, man!”
Just then the door chimed and swung open. A large, hairy man dressed all in denim stepped inside. Sandeep hung up the phone and stared dumbfounded at the new customer and wondered if he’d seen the dead girl. “Busy night, huh?” the man said.
“Yeah…” said Sandeep, “…busy night.”
The man strolled up and down the aisles, idly taking his time with his selections. He had a full beard and an earring and black rigger’s boots. He had a blue bandana tied around his head, buccaneer style and whistled as he shopped—Three Dog Night’s Shambala, if Sandeep guessed right.
Sandeep glanced outside and saw a Kenworth parked on the far side of the parking lot. No trailer was attached to the rig and it looked like it was still running. The trucker would’ve walked right past the dead girl’s car to enter the store. It was a miracle he hadn’t noticed her—or had he?
When he’d made his selections, the trucker approached Sandeep and meticulously laid a package of Good ‘n’ Plenty, some Twizzlers, Corn Nuts, and a Red Bull before him.
He leaned on the counter with his arms slightly akimbo. The front of his denim jacket opened and Sandeep saw a 9mm in a leather holster under the man’s left arm.
“Will that be all?” Sandeep asked.
“And this,” he said. He plucked a pink, stuffed elephant from a rack. “He’s gonna look out for roadblocks and obstacles for me. Sit him right on the dashboard for good luck.”
Sandeep rang up his purchase while the trucker cradled the elephant to his cheek. His salt and pepper beard crinkled against the tag which read: “Webkins.” The elephant looked at Sandeep from the man’s shoulder with an accusatory stare.
“Wait. Give me a Mega Millions,” said the trucker. He laid a rumpled single on the counter. “I want these numbers: 33 84 22 10 37 71 and 9.”
“All right,” Sandeep replied. He took the bill and pulled up the numbers while the trucker cuddled the elephant some more. Sandeep reached subtly below the counter and fingered the knob of a cricket bat he kept there just for reassurance while he handed over the lottery ticket.
“Can I get the keys to your john?”
Sandeep reached above the cigarettes and retrieved a brass key chained to a broken broom handle. The trucker gathered his purchase in both arms, strode to the door, and pushed it open with his backside.
3:02am.
Sandeep went out the empty the trash by the pumps. (He needed to keep busy, but figured the can nearest the dead girl’s car could wait until they came for her.) The wind gusted from the southeast like a dusty hairdryer. The Milky Way stretched from the north horizon over the roof of the store. The neon sign that said, “Lotto” winked seductively on and off. A meteor traced a white line to the west and was gone.
A Mercedes had pulled up ten minutes before and still sat outside the carwash. The driver’s silhouette moved slightly in the sodium lights. As Sandeep was hauling a bag of paper towels and greasy Karl’s Jr. wrappers to the dumpster when he noticed the blood trickling out from under the restroom door.
He dropped the trash and banged on the door. “Hello?!” he cried. “Sir?! Are you all right in there?” He shook the handle. “Hello?!” Sandeep stood back and tried to avoid stepping in the puddle. Helplessly he took in the tableau: the dilapidated outbuilding, the grimy, locked door, the sublime darkness of the desert, and the blood. “God damn, Dick! I told you we needed another key!”
Red and blue lights cut through the darkness on the horizon. Sandeep turned and could see the cruiser still about two miles away across the flat skillet of the plain. “About time!” he said.
The cop broke down the restroom door first.
Inside, the trucker had eaten all of the Good ‘n’ Plenty, Twizzlers, half the Corn Nuts, and finished the Red Bull before he’d smashed the mirror and slit his wrists with a shard of glass.
“Good God, man!” whispered Sandeep. The cop rummaged through some papers on the floor in front of the dead trucker. He plucked up correspondence from a divorce lawyer and something from Teamsters Local 74 detailing severance benefits.
The cop whistled as he read the documents. “Christ, my union would give me so much more payout if I were to get the axe.” The lottery ticket fluttered from the cop’s hand to the edge of the sink. He picked it up, considered it, and turned to Sandeep. “Here,” he said and tucked the ticket into Sandeep’s shirt pocket right below the embroidered Kum & Go logo. He peered at Sandeep’s nametag. “You keep that, Sand…Deep. Maybe you’ll have better luck than he did.”
They searched the girl’s car next. The cop took in her outfit: the tight jeans, the high heels, the makeup. He made a show of peering down the front of her tank top to where one of her small breasts lay partially exposed. “She’s dressed to kill, ain’t she?” he asked Sandeep with a leer. The backseat was drenched in blood and the head restraint had been blasted apart by the gunshot. It looked like a boll of cotton or a cloud of powder thrown in a Holi festival.
The cop turned the key in the ignition. The speakers came alive and Katy Perry blasted out mid-roar. The cop snapped off the radio. “I hate that song,” he said. The young woman’s cell phone, which had been charging in the power jack, blinked on.
The cop retrieved it and scrolled through a recent series of texts. “Where u at fatty?” he read aloud.
“Still crying? LOL!”“Why don u just die? Everyone hates u!”
“Ur clothes suck! Wherd u get them walmart?”
“Dumb slut.”
“Fat bitch!”
He tossed the phone back on the passenger seat. “Guess we know who she dressed to kill, huh?”
“How awful…” said Sandeep.
The cop straightened. “All right. Let me call the coroner and I’ll meet you inside.” The cop flicked a piece of headrest foam from his sleeve as he sauntered over to his cruiser. The carwash started up and the Mercedes rolled slowly inside. Steam rose and floated away on the wind eastward towards Clovis and the Texas Panhandle.
Back inside the store, the cop made himself a cup of coffee. He shook three packets of Dixie Crystals into it then topped it off with the powdered bone dry creamer. He didn’t offer to pay for it.
 
 
Thank you Josh for sharing an excerpt from your entertaining story.
 
Check out Josh's links above to learn more about him and his writing.
 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Article from The Golden Ratio-Moncton's hottest magazine!

The Golden Ratio is a captivating magazine on  newsstands in Moncton, NB and is garnishing many favorite reviews. Arts, culture and science. Great articles and a terrific layout. Editor/Publisher Melanie Chiasson has graciously accepted my article for the latest edition. She has granted permission to post it here.

Copyright is held by the author.



Visual Pollution   by Allan Hudson

4.5 trillion – 4,500,000,000 – cigarette butts are thrown away every year.  Cigarettes have the distinction of being the most littered item in the world.
 
 
 
“Hey, the thing is only one inch long, no bigger than a two year old’s little finger. If I toss it on the highway, what’s the big deal?”

It takes a minimum of five years – 1825 days – for a butt to decompose, most likely longer. Styrofoam tossed in a ditch will take centuries. However, there is good news in the world of litter. Eco-scientists, chemical know-it-alls and other smart people are developing an unprotected polyethylene that will breakdown in sunlight in less than a month. Littering, unfortunately, will not stop.

I don’t understand. Our country is one of the most beautiful on any continent.  Coastlines east, west and north are carved by oceans that can oft be temperamental and furious. Vast shoulders of ice grind the shores each season shaping the edges of our land. Forests, measured in hundreds of thousands of hectares, are filled with life, an unbelievable number of plants and wildlife. They bestow upon us the precious gift of oxygen.

The Pacific Cordillera cuts through Canada beginning with the sharp coastal mountains that stretch throughout British Columbia. It forms the range of the Rockies that cleaves the awesome girth of our vast nation. Mountains so lofty they share the continental divide. To the east , the Appalachians rise from the fertile earth to our farthest eastern seaboard in Newfoundland, shaping several provinces with gentle tree covered bumps or sheer walls of unforgiving stone.
 
 
 

Our prairies loom longingly for miles. The rich ground bears acres upon acres of grains and fodder to nourish the inhabitants of home and distant needy lands. A flatlander’s view of the sky is unobstructed, colored by the moody onset of dusk or dawn’s unpredictable awakening or blue and bright like a happy day.  How much better can it all get?
 
 
 

I don’t get it.  Everywhere I go is a waste receptacle of some kind. At the mall, the arena, the hospital, entryways to most establishments, the bar and the sidewalks all had some last time I looked. Oh yeah, and home too.  Personally I’d sooner see a messy backseat than a moron that chucks stuff from his/her car.  I’d sooner see an overstuffed waste bin than one that is lonely from attention. I’m happy to see people that care about their surroundings, respect for their neighbours and appreciate the land where we live.

Earlier this spring I was taking my grandchildren for a sugar treat at a local doughnut shop before taking them home. I let their parents enjoy the extra energy they have later. The parking lot is almost bare from the disappearing mounds of snow but the edges have brownish heaps yet to melt. Pimpled in the rotting ice is disfigured coffee cups, torn bar wrappers, crinkled chip bags, a broken beer bottle, shards of cardboard from a few happy meals and an army of butts. The plows had cleared the lots and pushed everything to the rim of the property.

The two boys were yakking about a plastic dragon and not paying attention but the granddaughter was staring at the mess with round questioning eyes. Her voice was little girl soft when she said,

“Why do people throw so much stuff away Grampy?”

I didn’t know what to say.  I’ve asked myself the same question countless times. I’ve never figured out the answer. I was trying to formulate something intelligent in my mind, how to respond to an eight year old that she might understand people being basically lazy when she said,

“Oh, look!”

Two teenagers were jumping out of a half-ton with a plastic bag that had the red and green of one of the local grocery stores on it. Scooting along the edge by the cement pylons, the duo scooped up dusty debris until the bag was full. The shortest of the pair twisted the top shut tying the plastic in a knot, trotted over to the gray waste station and stuffed it down the gaping throat.   Uplifting! I was a little proud when she asked if we could do that too.

I know, I’m ramblin’, sounding self-righteous and ask your forbearance. I just like seeing clean roadways, walkways and properties and I try to do my part.  Wouldn’t it be nice if my granddaughter’s granddaughter never had to ask that same question?

 
Thanks for dropping by the Scribbler today. I invite you to pick up a copy of The Golden Ratio. Available at Read's Book Store.
 
 
Publisher Melanie Chiasson will be the next 4Q Interview on the Scribbler scheduled for August 5th. Watch for it.
 
Oh yeah, please put your garbage in a wastebasket - Thank you.
 
Next week you can meet Josh Harding of Lindenhurst, Illinois when he will be the guest Author.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Guest Author Paul Hollis of St. Louis, Missouri.


Paul Hollis always had wanderlust, living in twelve states and eventually working in all fifty, luring him with the idea of touring the world at someone else’s expense.  He has lived and worked in forty-eight countries across five continents while teaching companies about growing global implications.

Paul’s travel experiences inspire the novels in “The Hollow Man” series, bringing the streets and villages of Europe to life and offering a unique viewpoint to his mesmerizing thrillers.
This is Paul's second visit to the Scribbler. The first visit was to highlight his Hollow Man novel and if you missed it go here: Hollow Man His links are below.

This week we can read an excerpt from his newest novel London Bridge is Falling Down.

Copyright is owned by the author. Used by permission.


                              
 
 
 
 
 
                                        Chapter 1

 

Five men lay against the rise of a hill on the outskirts of Clones, barely a stone’s throw south of the border dividing Ireland. They were hidden beyond the tree line where thorn bushes grew out of rock and dead leaves. The men hunkered low, waiting for the night to begin.

The temperature dropped ten degrees in the last hour. It was near midnight and the half-moon had climbed high into a clouding sky, deepening the darkness and dissolving the black-clad raiders into the heavy shadows of the underbrush. The wind rustled the budding trees of late winter and when the breeze caught the new grass exactly right, the soft whistle of an old Gaelic lament could be heard in the distance.

One light remained in the Pierson cottage and occasionally, a shadow passed behind the curtained window. It was the girl. Once, she pulled the linen back to gaze out across the backyard. They froze though there was little chance she could have seen them. Jack the Ripper with his bloody knife might have been standing under the lone blackthorn tree at the garden’s edge and the night would not have given him up. The curtain reluctantly swung back into place.

In contrast, the mobile home thirty yards across the property to the east was lit up like Heuston Station in Dublin. There was no movement in the trailer but they knew the eldest Pierson boy was inside watching television. An announcer’s shrill voice periodically pierced the tin walls and canned laughter rattled the windows.

One of the team peeked through a side window earlier and saw cigarette smoke curling up from the boy’s fingers as he lounged on the couch. Robert Pierson wasn’t asleep though he might as well have been. A long ash dropped onto the thin carpet leaving yet another inch long black mark. The cigarette burns under his drooping arm oddly resembled the Chinese characters for approaching storm.

None of the men hiding in the woods spoke but they were all restless. The leader of this hand-picked local band of Provos, Kenneth Bunney, stared down the slope behind them. Where the hell was the IRA team from Belfast? When the Northman met with him the prior week, there was urgency in the discussion. The raid had to be done tonight.

He listened. Closing his eyes helped him focus his hearing back through the dense night. But he heard nothing except the soft lull of the wind that crept up under his jacket with a chilled hand. Bunney felt cold fingers walking up his spine.

“Kenneth, where are they?” whispered his brother. He replied with two quick shakes of his head and turned away, signaling the end of the conversation. He didn’t want his brother to see the concern in his face. Bunney felt anxious in the darkness. The Northman was almost an hour late. Another ten minutes and his team would be gone.

The wind faded and the air fell dead in the forest. A long way off, Bunney thought he heard something faintly sluice through the trees then quickly recede. Was it imagination? A dry leaf crunched, a winter twig snapped from rotten bark. No, he was sure. Someone was coming.

Within seconds the night lost its quiet to the low thumping of feet. How many men had the Northman brought? It sounded like a whole brigade, for the love of God. Why did he need our help? Bunney counted eight as the group split in two and settled on both sides of his volunteers.

No one said a word as the newcomers surveyed the houses.

“They’re inside then?” Someone finally asked. It was the man who approached him a week ago. Bunney nodded.

“The lad’s there,” he said, pointing to the mobile home. “And the rest of the lot are in the house.”

“Where’s the girl?”

“Upstairs,” Bunney said.

“The telephone line’s cut?”

“Yeah.”

“Then we’re settled.”

The Northman motioned to his associate. The man pulled a backpack from a shoulder and emptied it on the ground between the Provos. They stared at five handguns.



 “Twomey, we agreed there’d be no shooting,” Bunney said.

“Relax,” Twomey replied. “What’s there to shoot at?” He watched Bunney uncertainly then added, “Take ‘em. They’re just for the muscle.”

“I told ya, I’m not having guns.”

“You’ve done time for robbing. What’s the big deal?”

“Yeah I done my share but I never stole nothing with a gun. Robbery is one thing and killing’s ‘nuther.”

“You fecking Brits know it all, don’t you?” Twomey sighed. “Look, I told you. We have solid proof the Piersons are Ulster sympathizers and they’re holding a cache of weapons for operations down south here. The same guns used in the Cooney bombing November last.”

Bunney remembered. He and his brother were staying with their cousins, the McGillens, though staying was a fairly vague term. They took refuge in Ireland whenever the British coppers applied too much grief about their latest crimes.

Two cars came across the border carrying half dozen men, slowing to a stop down from the McGillen house. Armed men surrounded the Cooneys, intending to burn their property. But something went wrong. The raiders stormed the house to find the Cooneys were throwing a party that night. Houseguests assumed it was part of the entertainment. No one took them seriously. Instead of following orders, the drunken partygoers continued to roll to their own tune, scattering like a jar of dropped marbles. After a frustrating thirty minutes, the intruders were able to herd most of the crowd into the yard.

In the chaos, one of the guests broke free, running to his car to retrieve a camera. Shots were fired after the fleeing man but he kept running. The UVF men panicked and fled before igniting the fire. Bunney heard the commotion and ran outside in time to see the last of the retreating cars.

“We’re only interested in the guns.” Twomey broke into Bunney’s thoughts. “We get ‘em, and we leave.”

The Provos hesitated until Bunney reluctantly grabbed a firearm. He considered it a long time before shoving it in a pocket. The others accepted their weapons and quickly secured them inside their coats.

The Northmen pulled Templar caps down over their faces. Only the whites of their eyes could be seen against the black night. The locals followed suit and the group moved up over the rise.

Twomey sent six of the Northmen to set up a perimeter along the property line facing the road. They crouched behind the brickwork fence and waited. He held up three fingers and chopped an arm toward Pierson’s mobile home. The rest of them headed toward the cottage.

One of the Provos planted a booted foot near the flimsy door handle, kicking so hard the thin metal buckled as it gave way. The noise brought Robert Pierson fully awake. The new cigarette fell from his hand as he struggled to rise. It was already too late. Three armed men stood in front of the twenty-four year old and he was driven back onto the couch. He tried to stand again as a shotgun butt flattened his nose.

Two gunmen pulled him off the couch by his hair and a handful of shirt. Pierson landed hard on his face and blood splattered across the threadbare carpet. A twenty gauge double barrel pinned the back of his neck while his hands were ripped from his face and tied behind his back. He struggled to breathe, twisting his head from side to side.

“Where are the guns?” shouted the Northman commanding the raiders.

“What guns? I don’t have any guns?” He blew his nose to clear it.

“We know you’re supplying Loyalist activities in this area and we want your arsenal.”

“Look around. Do you see any place to hide a store of guns? There isn’t room in this bloody hellhole for anything but me and my beer.”

“Take him up to the house before I smash the rest of his head,” ordered the Northman.

Pierson was yanked up by his bindings and slammed against the wall face first. He yelped in pain. His breath came quick but shallow. A forearm crushed the back of his head, giving his nose little relief.

“If you’re lying, I will find out.” The voice near his ear sprang from the devil himself and smelled of raw onions and sour sweat.

 
 
 
 
Pierson was forced through the door. He stumbled and landed hard on the packed clay at the trailer’s entrance. The earth spun. He thought he was going to vomit. One of his captors hauled him to his feet by an arm. He staggered, disoriented.

The collision with the ground dislocated a shoulder. His left arm was riding low on his neck. A fierce pain marbled down his arm. An unbearable spasm drove him to his knees but he was promptly jerked back to his feet. A pistol tap to the back of his head drove him toward the main cottage.

Twomey and the others waited for the small team at the cottage entrance. He rapped on the door with the butt of his pistol then again when an immediate answer didn’t come. A harsh, smoker’s cough echoed above indistinct noises coming from far back in the house. Twomey kicked the door.

“Who’s there?” A sleepy voice came from inside. Another coughing fit.

Twomey turned around and the man closest to Robert placed a gun at his temple.

“It’s Robert, dad.” His voice croaked.

“Son, are you hurt? I told ya those friends of yours were nothing but trouble.”

The old man spoke as the bolt released and the heavy barrier swung inward

 
 
Thank you Paul for sharing this captivating first chapter of your newest work. Discover more about Paul and his novels here.
 
 
 
Next week on the Scribbler I will be posting an article I wrote for The Golden Ratio, a local magazine that features arts, culture and science with input from artists and writers all over the world. I am honored and deeply indebted to publisher/editor Melanie Chiasson for including me.
 
 
 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Returning Guest Author Susan M. Toy


Susan M. Toy is an author and publisher who splits her time between Bequia, a tiny island in the Caribbean, and an Ontario trailer park near the shore of Lake Huron. She has published a novel and novella and is preparing to release a second novel, One Woman's Island, in the Bequia Perspectives series. This is Susan’s fourth visit to the Scribbler. Please drop by these links to check out her 4Q Interview. 4Q You may read more about Susan, her own writing and the other authors she's published at https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/about-susan-m-toy/ and https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandcateditions/.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Today Susan is sharing one of her favorite short stories.
 
 
                           Andrea’s Journey
 
Her fingernails were filthy; several were broken and chipped from dragging her body across the uneven, scrubby ground, strewn with jagged stones and rocks. That had made the going rough, more than it looked like it would be from a distance.
          Rather than rush, exhausting herself, Andrea took more time, stopping to rest after each arm’s stretch, a limp, lower body following uselessly behind as she pulled herself forward. Getting to the edge had been difficult, and taken longer, than she’d calculated. Too much energy was expended covering just that last fifty feet. A short distance, but there was little strength in her upper body as it was—now even less after that exertion.
She looked back at the abandoned wheelchair, a now-empty prison cell from which she’d escaped. Draped over seat and armrest, the blue blanket’s corner flapped loose in a sudden refreshing current, waving her on.
          Andrea gulped, the air’s strong scent of salty sea helping to brace her as she pushed to a sitting position, almost upright, or as best as she could, propped on arms with hands rooting her to the ground.
She gazed out at the sea, which was calm for that time of year. The family constantly discussed the weather—most people have nothing better to talk about—saying the storms this year were long overdue. Maybe, though, this would be the year of no storms at all. She’d heard it had happened before.
Continuing to stare at the western horizon helped her resist looking over the edge, afraid of losing her balance. Although she’d come this far, she wasn’t ready yet. The sixty or so feet of sheer cliff met the sea at an abrupt bottom. She remembered, from walking the area years before—when she could walk. There was no beach, no boulders washed by the surf, only waves crashing incessantly against the shore’s steep wall. The perfect place to disappear.
The wind was increasing, whipping Andrea’s face with brown, stringy hair, as though already covering it with seaweed. But she couldn’t chance removing one hand from the ground long enough to push it back. Instead, she shook her head and, leaning into the wind, managed to clear her face.
While inching from her chair, she must have looked like the woman in that famous painting—Christina’s World? That was it; she was sure, but she couldn’t remember the artist, never having been good with names. Andrea smiled. She liked the painting’s colours; they were soothing, very Prairie, offering memories of a pleasant childhood. But she had never been able to relate to the subject. At least, not until now—things were different. While Christina in the painting crawled within her limited life, Andrea was making every attempt to escape the trap hers had become since the accident.
Looking back again at the stretch of ground she’d covered—not far, but further than she’d travelled alone in some time—she whispered, “Andrea’s World,” almost silent, as if worried someone might hear. But the wind whipped the words out of her mouth before she’d finished. The sudden sound of her own voice made her laugh, happily surprised by a long-forgotten friend. As with the lower half of her body, the voice had been unused for too long; but unlike her limbs, she’d been silent by choice. For what? Almost two years now? She considered how long it had been better—no, easier—to let them think all her faculties were paralyzed, just like her legs. Now this sudden return of voice frightened her. She tightened her lips, keeping any further words to herself.
But time was passing; the sun would soon set. She’d have to decide, now that she was actually faced with the ultimate choice and no longer simply fantasizing, planning her final “leap of faith”—even though she’d held little to no faith throughout the living time of her life.
She shifted her hands, easing the weight. The right one, propped to the side and slightly behind, bore the greatest load. And, unused to any kind of movement at all, let alone strenuous movement, what muscles remaining in her arms were already stiffening. She couldn’t put it off much longer.
 
 
The orange orb of sun began descending into the sea, the cloudless horizon promising a spectacular finish to the day. Without having planned ahead this far, she could now perfectly time it, slipping over the edge at the same moment the sun disappeared. That possibility hadn’t occurred to Andrea while she was thinking this through. But reaching her final perch—first by wheelchair and then, after getting stuck, by sheer force of will—had made her late, allowing her to vanish dramatically with the sun. A pity no one would witness such a finale.
Unfortunately, the wheelchair marked the spot for anyone searching. Nothing could be done about that. Likely they’d find her body sooner, but it would still be too late.
She squinted at the blinding brightness of the sun as it dipped below the uninterrupted sea-line. A tear coursed down her cheek, splashing on one hand.
“An-dre-aaaa! There she is, Jim!”
Andrea glanced around, fearful. She panicked, her only window of opportunity now lost.
Before being able to move stiffened arms, or even having time to think, two silhouettes crossed the open ground. The man, reaching Andrea first, fell to his knees; the woman lumbered up a few seconds later.
Jim grabbed Andrea by the shoulders, wrenching her to safety—away from the cliff’s edge, and the only decision she’d made for herself in years.
Martha shouted, “Thank God we found her!” Then looking down into Andrea’s vacant eyes, she screamed, “How the hell did you manage to do this?”
Perpetually loud, Martha had no trouble making her voice heard over the wind.
Jim shushed, “Quiet, Martha. She’s frightened.” He held Andrea so tight she felt the strong, steady beat of her husband’s heart.
“She’s nothing,” Martha grumbled, “like usual. The elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.” Turning, she walked away towards the wheelchair.
Jim didn’t loosen his grip, hanging on to his wife as though he were afraid she would attempt to jump. Andrea, slumping into Jim’s chest, glared over his shoulder, watching her sister-in-law fuss with the chair.
After making a brief inspection, Martha yelled, “This is how she managed. Some idiot didn’t set the brake. She must have got her hand stuck on the controls, motored all the way from the house. Heaven only knows how she got from the chair to there. The battery’s run down, too. You’re going to have to push her back.”
Continuing to mutter, she folded the blanket, crushing it against her chest, tightly creasing it into a compact square, then draped it over the chair’s arm, patting it back into place.
Jim’s grip began easing. Holding Andrea away from his body, but still not letting go, he asked, “Is that what happened? Was this an accident?”
Andrea gazed blankly off to the side. After much practice, she knew that particular look was convincing.
Martha came up, wheeling the chair. “Of course it was an accident. And you know talking is no use. You won’t get anything out of her. She can’t hear.” Impatiently, she tucked loose strands of greasy, bottle-blonde hair behind an ear.
Without looking at his sister, Jim set his jaw. “Why weren’t you looking after her?”
“Oh, you can’t blame this on me. No way! I’m just helping out. I’m not her nursemaid.”
Gripping Andrea closer, Jim shouted, “You’re supposed to be a companion. That’s why I’m paying you. Now hold the chair.” He let go of Andrea, stood up, and leaned over again to scoop her from the ground, whispering into her ear, “Let’s go home.”
After placing his wife in the wheelchair, Jim pulled back and searched her face. For a split second, Andrea’s eyes locked onto his. He blinked in surprise, but, in a moment, the changed expression passed just as quickly, her eyes drifting back to the side. He shook his head once and tried meeting her look, saying, “Andrea, are you in there?”
But she had already glazed over, not allowing him to tempt her again. Jim stood up and, moving to the back of the chair, gripped its handles.
Martha began walking away across the meadow, calling back, “We’ll have to restrain her. I can’t be expected to watch her every minute.” She stopped and yelled, “You know what I think?”
Andrea heard Jim exhale sharply. “No,” he said, “I don’t know what you think, and I don’t care.”
Still facing the sea, Andrea caught one last glimpse of the fiery streaks of cloud criss-crossing the sky, leftover from the sunset.
 
 
 
 
Martha shouted, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.”
Andrea shivered with anger, seriously considering breaking her silence.
Jim reached down and picked up the blanket. “You’re cold,” he whispered. Shaking it out, he covered Andrea’s knees, gently tucking her in, making her look like a total invalid.
The colour in the sky quickly faded as Jim turned the chair around and began wheeling her back towards home.

 
 
Thank you Susan for sharing Andrea's Journey.
 
 
 
Here’s an advance review of Susan’s new novel due out in August. https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/better-than-winning-a-contest/
 
Please drop by the Scribbler next week and meet Paul Hollis of St Louis, Missouri who also has been featured on the Scribbler before.