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As of 28 February 2016, due to decline in my health and chronic illness

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TRAPPED by Jack Kilborn_Review

TrappedTrapped by Jack Kilborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Trapped by Jack Kilborn
5 stars

“Trapped” is the second novel in author Kilborn’s “Afraid” series. It has a similar setting (same region of Northern Michigan) as the first, “Afraid,” and a few characters in common. However, the story line is different and so are most of the characters. It’s in some ways not quite as violent and gory as “Afraid,” although the violence level is very high, and there are aspects which will quite likely repulse and offend some readers. Caution: if you don’t like “splatter” you probably should avoid this. It is a gory and graphic story, yet I did not find the violence gratuitous; in the context of the plot lines, it’s likely and logical.

Sara and Martin are social workers, a married couple with a young infant, Jack, who run a Center to save troubled teens. Unfortunately the Center has a high runaway level, and has just lost its state funding. But it also has a good success rate, or should have. As a last attempt at giving the residents experience with a new and better lifestyle, Martin and Sara take the remaining 6 adolescents camping, to a deserted island in Lake Huron. At least, they believe it to be deserted. Martin tells a horrifying ghost story over the campfire, and then suddenly disappears, and from that point, which is very early on, the plot is roller-coaster. The reader’s hook captured my attention immediately and that attention never flagged. I really enjoyed this.

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AFRAID by Jack Kilborn_Review

AfraidAfraid by Jack Kilborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review soon (this is one of the grossest books I've ever read, worse to me than reading about the My Lai Massacre or Argentine's Dirty War--but in the end, very well worth the reading. There's more than a couple of really shocking surprises I never saw coming. Thanks much to Author Adam Light for challenging me to try this for the second time-this time I made it through, and I'm glad!) PS: this is not a full review yet


Review of Afraid by Jack Kilborn
5 stars
This book amazed me in that I was able to read it. I had tried in 2012, and only read the first chapter or so because I found it too violent. Another author challenged me to try again, and so I did, with gratitude because despite the cruelty and violence, I really did enjoy the book. I will specify that this novel is definitely not for either the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, and those who abhor “splatterpunk” should avoid it. That specified, I enjoyed it for the backstory, and for the several shocking surprises in which everything I thought I knew or guessed about the plot and the characters were overturned, and I found out how wrong I was. Yet it all fit together logically and believably.

Mr. Kilborn (a pseudonym of author J. A. Konrath) is a multiply-published prolific author; he is also a very talented author. The writing in “Afraid” and its sequel “Trapped” (different plot line, mostly different characters, same region but different locale) is smooth and thrilling. This is a non-stop adventure/thriller/mystery.

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THE RAIN DANCERS by Greg Gifune_Review

MALICE by Griffin Hayes_Review

MaliceMalice by Griffin Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Malice by Griffin Hayes
5 stars

Griffin Hayes is one of those authors who hit the ground running, who are excellent from the very first writing. “Malice” is a multi-layered Horror paranormal which in some aspects tills anew the ground Anne Rice tilled in “Tale of the Body Thief.” Reincarnation, soul-stealing, body-switching: what is real and what is only illusion? Lysander, an adolescent, and his family move to Millingham after a fire-bombing destroys their home. He has a complicated relationship with his parents, because he is a boy for whom justice is an essential concept, and he will speak forth no matter what the cost to himself or others. Such honesty makes enemies more often than friends, and he comes up against this again in Millingham. Now he additionally must contend with a pastor who is a pillar of the community, and the disbelief of law enforcement when he tries to reveal the pastor’s plotting.

I highly recommend this novel and its author. Everything he writes is a winner.

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THE NEIGHBORS by Griffin Hayes_Review

The NeighborsThe Neighbors by Griffin Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of The Neighbors by Griffin Hayes
5 stars

“The Neighbors” is somewhat of a departure for this author, as it involves elements of science fiction, but it is also horror (and horrifying). The novella possesses that implacability of evil which is so important to me in horror, that Juggernaut-ish intensity in which the evil rolls toward and over the characters, unavoidable and persistent.

Novelist Paul is suffering the writer’s block of the century, as well as loss of his family. He hopes a small town will trigger something in his subconscious to re-inspire him, or at least will bring him some semblance of peace. What small town life instead brings is “monsters” who can duplicate DNA and who in their natural state are terrifying. Paul will have to team up with clever fourteen-year-old Kevin to calculate how to stop their “invasion.”

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THE MOURNING HOUSE by Ronald Malfi_Review

The Mourning HouseThe Mourning House by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of The Mourning House by Ronald Malfi
5 Stars

This novella is perfect, compact, and complete. A strong plot line, a couple of back stories, good characterizations, and an old abandoned house which is a character all in itself.  Yes, the title does play out in the course of the story, although the working out is subtle. In general, this story is all about subtlety: no bludgeoning nor splatterpunk here. This is the work of an accomplished author (and I knew to expect that after reading Mr. Malfi’s novels “The Floating Staircase” and “Snowblind” in 2012).

A former surgeon who considers himself responsible for the death of his wife and infant daughter goes “on the road” for an extended period, not to find himself but to continue to mourn. Somehow he is “drawn” to find an isolated, abandoned, spooky, falling-in house on a dusty back road in Maryland, not too far from Chesapeake Bay. The house is problematical: it has caused troubles and terrors to exploratory kids. It will come to trouble Sam as well.

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PripYat: The Beast ChernobylPripYat: The Beast Chernobyl by Mike Kraus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of PripYat: The Beast Chernobyl by Mike Krause

5 stars

“PripYat: The Beast Chernobyl” turned out to be so much more than I expected. I learned a lot about the Chernobyl explosion and its aftermath, including how it affected the nearest community, PripYat. I think everyone who supports the use of nuclear energy needs to read this. But the book is not a polemic: rather it is a sort of scientific paranormal, a very “possible” what if story.

Two adolescent boys who love to explore decide it’s safe to camp overnight in PripYat, mostly just to look around and also so they can say they’ve done it. Meanwhile, two soldiers of a very covert special operations team are sent in to PripYat to find—something. The younger of the two doesn’t know what and believes it is just a wild goose chase, but orders rule and so he goes on the mission with his partner, who knows more but isn’t telling.

What the two pairs find is not just each other, but something so horrible it must be experienced to be believed; but experiencing it means dying because of it. This is the kind of monstrous secret which kills, violently and implacably. Can it ever be halted?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DINOSAUR LAKE by Kathryn Meyer Griffith_Blog Tour and Review

Title: Dinosaur Lake
Author: Kathryn Meyer Griffith
Genre: SF/Horror,
Publisher: Amazon Kindle Direct
Pages: 317


Amazon |

Book Description:

An ancient predator has been reborn in the caves beneath Crater Lake…and it’s hungry.

Ex-cop Henry Shore has been Chief Park Ranger at Crater Lake National Park for eight years and he likes his park and his life the way it’s been. Safe. Tranquil. Predictable. But he’s about to be tested in so many ways. First the earthquakes begin…people begin to go missing…then there’s some mysterious water creature that’s taken up residence in the caves below Crater Lake and it’s not only growing in size, it’s aggressive and cunning…and very hungry.

And it’s decided it likes human beings. To eat.

And it can come up onto land.

So Henry, with the help of his wife, Ann; a young paleontologist named Justin; and a band of brave men must not only protect his park and his people from the monster but somehow find where it lives and destroy it…before it can kill again.


Out of nowhere, the red-haired woman blurted out, “Have you ever seen the creature in the lake, Ranger Shore?” She was snacking on a big bag of M&M’s and between her words she crunched on the candies.
“What creature?” Henry was smiling.
“Oh, the serpent creature...the one that lives in the lake? My friend, Martha, was here last summer and she told me she saw this...thing...swimming in the lake one night. Looked sort of like a huge snake, only with a shorter neck and a fatter body. She swore it was greenish in color, and scaly. A water serpent. Just like that thing in Loch Ness, only smaller. Loch Ness, in Scotland, you know?”
Henry could only nod. He couldn’t believe the woman was going on and on about a lake monster. There were no such things. Into his mind stomped the image of Godzilla climbing out of Crater Lake, spiked tail swinging and beady marble eyes scowling as it frantically waved around its tiny, clawed front arms. Henry had to stop himself from laughing.
“My friend said the creature nearly scared her to death. She’d gotten separated from the rest of her tour group exploring Wizard Island, and saw the thing in the water off shore. It circled three times glaring at her. She was terrified it was going to come up on land after her. She wasn’t the only one who saw it, either. Herman, her boyfriend, saw it, too.”
“Did she get a photograph of it?”
“Well, no. She was so scared she forgot all about her camera, and by the time she remembered the creature was long gone. She said it was really fast.”
All eyes were on Henry. He didn’t know what to say. Was the woman a crack-pot, or what? She seemed normal enough, no drooling or twitches, but one could never tell.
He sighed, trying not to appear rude. “Ma’am, as far as I know there is no serpent, no huge creature of any variety in Crater Lake. And believe me, if there was one, I’d be the first to know it,” he insisted, with a casual shrug. “One of my rangers would have seen and reported it long before this. They patrol the lake every day.”
The woman grunted in a dismissive way, didn’t say anything else, but her eyes kept squinting out at the water from under her raised palm. The sun was beginning to set in all its splendor. The whole park was bathed in a mist of golden pinks and yellows. Clouds raced across the sky like candy-colored wisps of cotton.
What bizarre things people can come up with, Henry thought.

About the Author:

Since childhood I’ve always been an artist and worked as a graphic designer in the corporate world and for newspapers for twenty-three years before I quit to write full time. I began writing novels at 21, over forty years ago now, and have had sixteen (nine romantic horror, two romantic SF horror, one romantic suspense, one romantic time travel and two murder mysteries) previous novels and eight short stories published from Zebra Books, Leisure Books, Avalon Books, The Wild Rose Press, Damnation Books and Eternal Press.

I’ve been married to Russell for thirty-four years; have a son, James, and two grandchildren, Joshua and Caitlyn, and I live in a small quaint town in Illinois called Columbia, which is right across the JB Bridge from St. Louis, Mo. We have three quirky cats, ghost cat Sasha, live cats Cleo and Sasha (Too), and the five of us live happily in an old house in the heart of town. Though I’ve been an artist, and a folk singer in my youth with my brother Jim, writing has always been my greatest passion, my butterfly stage, and I’ll probably write stories until the day I die…or until my memory goes.
All Kathryn Meyer Griffith’s Books available at here.

My Space (To see all my book trailers with original music by my singer/songwriter brother JS Meyer) | Goodreads | Facebook | Bebo | Authors Den | Jacket Flap | Shout Life | Romance Writer and Reader | Romance Book Junction |

Review by Mallory Heart Reviews:

Review of Dinosaur Lake by Kathryn Meyer Griffith

5 stars

I received a complimentary copy in return for my provision of a fair and honest review.

I found this novel to be really terrifying: author Kathryn Meyer Griffith has the gift of making the implausible and the impossible seem not only possible, but actual fact. The twist she puts upon the prehistoric creature (and reader, you will know exactly what I mean as you read the story; I’m not giving it away) brings that aura of implacability which is so essential to good horror. If you can believe that one day the Yellowstone Volcano might super-erupt, you can certainly believe the premise of “Dinosaur Lake.” Just because it hasn’t occurred yet doesn’t mean “never.”
In Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, near Klamath Falls, are tens of thousands of mostly untouched acreage, wild and free, inhabited by all sorts of animals, forested, and beautifully scenic. The volcanic lake formed inside a caldera, and has been stocked for fishing; it’s also a popular site for tourists to take boat tours. It’s certainly become home over the past eight years to Chief Ranger Henry, his journalist wife Ann, their adult daughter Laura and toddler granddaughter Phoebe. But trouble looms on the horizon: a series of earthquakes commences; a wall of dinosaur fossils is uncovered, bringing in paleontologists to excavate; the fish in the lake disappear; the lake is heating up, indicating subterranean lava flow; and now, boat captains have also begun to disappear, and tourists and rangers both spot tracks near the lake, and something in the water that is far too enormous to be a fish of any sort.

I really could not put this book aside till I had raced to the end to find out who wins—humanity or prehistory. It’s very skillfully written, with good characterizations as well as a thriller of a plot.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2012Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2012 by Jeremy Zimmerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Mad Scientist Journal Autumn 2012
5 stars

The same winning tongue-in-cheek humour of the first issue of Mad Scientist Journal (Summer 2012) is present again in this issue, a truly delightful set of perspectives on Fringe Science, from the inside looking out. I even laughed out loud throughout some of the “articles,” particularly “Financial Strategies for Innovative Researchers” (reader, do not be fooled by the title: this is a hilarious essay on how “innovative researchers”-read fringe scientists and inventors-can find appropriate financing) and “On the Perils of Self-Mummification” (or, how far will a scientist go in the pursuit of revenge?). “Turkey of Frankenstein” is another hilarious entry, which must be read to be believed and properly enjoyed.

This issue offers in addition to the fringe sciences, science fiction (for example, “Heart of the Warrior”) and sci-fantasy (“Military Applications of Magical Beings” and “Doctor Edmund Huntsfee’s Perilous Expedition into the Heart of the Flood Plains”) plus an advice column (“Ask Dr. Synthia”) and those truly wonderful and delightful Classified Ads, for all those items Innovative Researchers and Fringe Scientists just can’t be without.

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OBSCURA BURNING by Suzanne van Rooten_Review

Obscura BurningObscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Obscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen
5 stars

“Obscura Burning” takes a rather unique approach to Apocalypse, and I think that a situation like this would actually be worse than living with the imminent threat of say, asteroid impact, Planet X, meteor crash, or nuclear holocaust. The “new” planet Obscura (newly arrived in our solar system between Earth and Mars, aligned with the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, interferer with satellite transmission and radio waves) is there for a reason—but what reason? Why? Whose? Maybe this is a shifted reality, as one Professor suggests (with mathematical equations as proof).

Certainly reality has shifted for young Kyle, only he gets to experience TWO alternate realities, day by day by day. You see, Kyle, a boy who likes to both have his cake and eat it, is dissatisfied with his life; he has a boyfriend, Danny, who loves him and asks him to run away to New York City, but no, that isn’t enough. He also wants their mutual long-time best friend, Shira. Kyle also has this little problem: he’s a budding pyromaniac (diagnosed “problem fire-setter”), he’s an alcoholic; and he sets a fire in Ghost Town that kills: either Danny or Shira. Yes, Gentle Readers, which died depends on which reality he’s living on any given day.

“Obscura Burning” is an intriguing novel, not as complicated as I’ve probably made it sound. I really enjoyed the theme of the alternating realities and of the “new” planet, especially the speculations as to why it appeared and what its arrival means for Earth. I just found Kyle a difficult character to warm up to; I liked Danny better, as an individual. I found Kyle kind of in the “anti-hero” category.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013


Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2012Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2012 by Jeremy Zimmerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Mad Scientist Journal Summer 2012
5 stars

“Mad Scientist Journal,” as the name implies, is delightfully tongue-in-cheek humourous, a subtle fun-poking at Fringe Science, a Fortean approach to peer review and academic journals and scientific method. Indeed, if one isn’t careful, at times one might find oneself seriously “believing”—but then isn’t that the entire port of Fortean “science,” to believe?

Some of my particular favourites in this issue are: “A Critique of Vorchek’s Holobiologia” (the Malevolent Universe of Thomas Hardy’s devising may actually be a whole lot scarier than we’ve imagined); “Application of the Scientific Method to Family Management: Informal Observations and Conclusions” (don’t let the dry as dust academic title fool you, this one is hilarious); “A Resubmission to Xenobiology by Clark et al.” (take that, Peer Reviewers!), “Death-Ray Barking Dog Torches Home.” Or try Nikola Tesla’s time travel into a Manhattan wracked by alien invasion. And forget Craigslist: try the Mad Scientist Journal Classified Ads (Professor Ripper’s Body Parts-build your own companion; “For Sale-Property”: I’m going for the Victorian Brick Built Asylum), and the lovely Personals.

Mad Scientist Journal in just one issue has found its niche on my Re-read Shelf: something I’ll take out for a stroll when I need humour—or maybe just, a session of “what if?”

Ps: Fortean “science” descends from Charles Fort, a 19th century naturalist who had really expanded ideas on the Universe: such as that beings on Mars controlled events on Earth. The Fortean Society, named for him, still exists and still publishes. Who knows, maybe Fortean perspectives are accurate and the rest of us are just willfully blind?

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Friday, January 25, 2013

THE BURN PALACE by Stephen Dobyns_Review

The Burn PalaceThe Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
5 stars
Reviewed via NetGalley

I reviewed a complimentary copy of this in e-book format provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Back in 1997, I read “Church of Dead Girls” and discovered the special imagination of author Stephen Dobyns. A writer who peels away the layers of his characters while simultaneously balancing a vast cast, Mr. Dobyns writes literate horror in a tapestry with multiple plotlines and story threads. In this novel, the Rhode Island community of Brewster, once a peaceful, gossipy, quiet town, becomes a character in its own right, as fear and terror and hate and crime devolve it in a status probably similar to that of Salem during the witch-hunt hysteria.

The citizens of Brewster and the law enforcement officers called into to police the community must decide for themselves whether the ongoing events are human-based, or Supernatural in origin. Certainly they are odd enough to be Supernatural: a newborn abducted from the local community hospital’s neonatal nursery, and replaced with a corn snake stolen from a local boy; bonfires in the woods containing evidences of human bones; multiple deaths at the local convalescent care which statistically exceed the expected quantity; adolescent girls raped in Satanic rituals in order to harvest the newborns; and hate crimes against the local Wiccans. It isn’t long before the town descends into near mass hysteria, pitting neighbor against neighbor, all citizens suspicious of the police’s failure to solve the crimes and to protect the populace.

In the end, “The Burn Palace” will delight and engross the reader and linger in the mind long after the final page is turned.

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DARK PASSAGE by Griffin Hayes_Review

Dark PassageDark Passage by Griffin Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Dark Passage by Griffin Hayes
5 stars

A one-sitting horror thriller, “Dark Passage” is nevertheless a complex study of psychological underpinnings, horrific child abuse, and yes, metaphysics (witness the writings of Brenda Barrett, which gave me chills like I have seldom encountered). Not at all for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, still this novel is coherent, complicated, and delectably horrifying.

Tyson Barrett has a problem:  he can’t/won’t sleep due to terrifying nightmares, and sleep deprivation is affecting his career and his marriage and his parenting skills. In fact, his wife Ruma has put him out of the home they shared with five-year-old son Kavi. He thinks she’s adulterous; she thinks he can’t come to terms with the incredibly abusive childhood he suffered at the hands of his insane mother. When Tyson is loaned his business partner’s lake cottage, and begins participating in a clinical trial for an insomnia-preventing prescription medication, he immediately discovers that not only does the medication work—his dreams are manifesting in reality.

Before the conclusion of the novel, Tyson must confront the truths about his childhood, even those truths he never knew; his psychopathic mother; and the thinness of the veil between consensus reality and terrors we don’t want to believe in.

Deeply-layered characters, graphic and gory horror, nightmares, dreams, visions, psychosis, spirit possession: it’s all here and it’s done wonderfully well. Horror aficionados, do not miss out on “Dark Passage.”

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

"A Visit to the Diner's Dumpster"-Part Two_January 24 2013 Short Story Prompt

"A Visit to the Diner's Dumpster"

January 24, 2013 Writing Prompt:

Look what I found in the dumpster!"

Today’s prompt flows so perfectly from what I had in mind for the January 15 prompt that I am going to write them consecutively.

       The town of Towson didn’t have a homeless “problem,” but like most communities, it did have a few alcoholics and a family of low IQ individuals who lived off the father’s SSI and rifled dumpsters for tasty leftovers. The Brunage family lived in an old 50’s era Airstream, the curved kind, out on an inherited plot of ground about three miles to the South of the abandoned knitting mill, on land that had once been logged by Caleb Henry’s crews and then later was an attempted hardscrabble farm by the Brunage ancestors. Nowadays it was just ragged third-growth scrub, weeds, plus a lovely crop of abandoned motor vehicles scattered over a full couple of acres. Jacob Brunage could have opened a scrap yard, if he had the impetus and drive to do so, but getting to town to cash his disability check was pretty much the limit of his energy.

       His sons, Taylor and Cameron, went into town a couple times a week to scavenge the dumpster behind the Burger Barn and the three dumpsters at the Super-Saver Grocery on Walton Street. Every two weeks, Father Pride at St.Joseph’s Catholic Church opened the food pantry and let the boys get cheese, powdered and evaporated milk, and canned goods. Once a month he bought them a gift certificate to the Super-Saver which had to be used to buy meat products. In return, Taylor and Cameron showed up at Mass one Sunday a month, sitting at the back because their presence (and fragrance) tended to offend the upscale congregation.
       Even though the Church provided most of their needs, the Brunage boys just enjoyed dumpster-diving. Once Taylor had found a fishing pole thrown into the dumpster behind the Sporting Goods store; and after that old Jacob, their dad, claimed he had seen a rifle in there a long time back-but had no explanation as to why he hadn’t brought the rifle home, or if he had, where it had gotten off to. The Library dumpster was good for an occasional stash of paperbacks with no covers, or hardcover discards with loose spines—the boys could read, and enjoyed Tarzan and pulp adventure.

       But even though other stores and establishments provided merchandise, the Burger Barn and Sally’s Diner (where a lot of food went to waste) were the Brunage choices for first stop, every trip. Today, a Thursday, they hit Sally’s first, because Wednesday was always Meatloaf and Country Fried Steak Special—and Sally’s customers were either not big eaters, or didn’t like the food, because every week more meat was tossed than the Brunage family of 3 could consume in a day or two. Cameron pulled the 72 Ford pickup into the alley next to the diner’s dumpster, and both boys jumped out and dug in. Sure enough, layers of meat loaf and country fried, piles of mashed potatoes, lay on top, and they filled up the cardboard box brought along for this purpose. As Cameron was setting it in the truck bed, Taylor decided to lift the second, closed lid, and exclaimed, “Cam! Hey! Look what I just found!”
       Cameron rushed over, and both boys (actually, in their 20’s, chronologically they were grown-ups, but their minds were at the level of age 12 or so) gazed with delight. On the closed side of the dumpster rested 3 or 4 layers of meat wrapped in butcher paper and tied up with twine: roasts and ribs and pigs’ feet, it appeared, all just as neatly prepared and conveniently placed as they could have dreamed. So they quickly loaded it all into the truck and raced away toward their countryside home. Before Cameron could park the pickup in the weedy front yard, Taylor jumped out and ran toward the Airstream, hollering, “Daddy, come look! We got real food!”

       Jacob Brunage, in addition to being a disabled no-account, had been a veteran of Vietnam, and his time in-country had left him with dark knowledge he might have preferred not to ever learn. By the time he rolled out of bed in the Airstream’s back room, and shuffled toward the kitchenette, his sons had unloaded and brought in almost all of the new-found discovery meat. “Look, Dad!” Taylor shouted. “Beef roast! Ribs! Pork chops! Brisket! Pig’s feet!” Cameron had begun to unwrap a couple of the packages and paused to grab a soiled dish towel to mop up the blood leaking onto the dinette table. As Jacob stumbled closer and glanced down at the butcher-paper parcels, his eyes widened, his jaw dropped, and the breath hissed out of him like a deflating snake.

       “Oh my sons, what have you done?” the old man whispered. “That isn’t beef. Nor pork. That’s Long Pig.”

"The Henry House": Part I_January 15, 2013 Short Story Challenge

January 15, 2013 Writing Prompt:

Three neighborhood teens watch quietly as a long black limo rolls to a stop in front of an abandoned house."

Jackie, Carl, and Alan had spent this Friday afternoon at Henry Park, at the edge of town just adjacent to the Henry Woods. Today had been a Teacher In-service Training day, so all the students had been treated to a four-day weekend, since Monday would be official Columbus Day and the local schools were closed for that too. They hadn’t taken their bikes because Jackie’s mom had dropped them off on her way to the city to lunch with a prospective client, so now at nearly dusk they were trudging back home, pleasantly tired but also high from the excitement and fun of the day. None of the three wanted the day to end, and so instead of walking down Walton Street which would lead directly to their neighborhood, Three Hills, they decided to first walk North and then turn West on Hardiman Road, a tree-lined, over-hedged street on the North edge of town.

Back in the latter quarter of the 19th century here in Towson, a great-great-grand of the Henry Family, a logging baron, had erected a three-story Gothic residence on a dirt road which later became the paved Hardiman Road in the 1920’s. Several generations of Henrys lived there, and the house, which was brooding and overbearing, was probably considered spooky even when it was first built. Although this original Henry was an entrepreneur, still he was reclusive and kept his family isolated, the children being tutored at home and his spouse seldom seen. It was even rumoured back then that Caleb Henry had produced his children by immaculate conception: his own. The Henry Family owned all the property on Hardiman Road and the forest to the East, extending for several miles. Even though a recluse, Caleb contributed to the renovation of the County Courthouse in downtown Towson, and his grandson Walter, boen in the 1920’s, deeded Henry Park and the adjacent forest to the City at his demise in 1990, as he had left no known heirs.

Walter Henry’s Will also provided for property taxes in perpetuity on the seven acres enclosing his residence, with the stipulation that the house never be sold, but be allowed to fall into eventual disrepair and then be razed. Nearly 23 years later (Walter had passed in March of 1990, and it was now mid-October 2012), the house still stood, showing not too many signs of collapse. Certainly leaves covered the grounds every wall, the sidewalks went uncleared of snow in the winter, and the city had to trim the front hedges because those were near to the street and not actually on the Henry estate. But the residence itself persevered, standing intact. Not even a shingle was lost in the Big Wind of 1998; no local truants threw rocks at the windows (though the abandoned knitting mill 5 miles east of town was definitely a different story for vandalism), so that passersby, who were few, could see the Henry home intact as it had always been for over 135 years. Imaginative passersby might even speculate that the home was still inhabited!

Alan, Carl, and Jackie knew better of course; like other kids, they had been warned to stay away, not because of any supposed hauntings, but because of the dangers of any abandoned building: roof collapse, weak flooring, broken porch boards, nails, etc. These three were decent boys and not ruffians (like the kids that busted windows and knife-gouged doors at the abandoned knitting mill) and so they left the Henry House well enough alone; in fact, they seldom even thought of it, and the only reason that this evening they would pass it was to take the longer route to their neighborhood in order to extend the day. They had slept till 10 this morning, and would tomorrow; on Sunday Jackie would be up earlier to attend Mass with his mother, but Monday would be another sleep-in day. It wasn’t quite like summer, it wasn’t even as good as Christmas break, but a four-day weekend was nothing to waste! And so they acted to extend this day.

       Ambling around the corner from Woods Road onto Hardiman Road, the three boys laughed, joked, gently punched each other, and generally acted as decent thirteen-year-olds from good families do. These boys had, gratifyingly, missed out on the substance abuse and alcohol consumption too often found in high schools and middle schools these days. They weren’t backward, they simply were more like children of the 1940’s or 1950’s then of the rowdy early 21st century. In fact, they probably could have been transplanted back into the 1920’s, for these were boys who could find gentle fun in bicycling, climbing trees, building treehouses and forts in the woods, and playing softball. They didn’t require the constant stimulation of video games, computers, and TV, although each of the families did have all those items in their homes. Alan and Carl came from two-parent families. Jackie’s mother was a single parent, although by widowhood rather than by design: his dad, a civilian engineer, had been killed in Iraq.

Hardiman Road ran for about the equivalent of six blocks, from Woods Road on the East until Towson Trees Avenue on the West, but the only residence on it was the Henry House, which sat about a quarter of a block West of Woods Road. Except for a section East and South of the home that had been lawn, the road was fully wooded on both sides, and so seldom used by traffic that the boys felt perfectly safe walking in the center of the road. Jackie was telling a joke he had heard at school yesterday in the cafeteria and all three were laughing when suddenly they were startled by an automotive horn! All three spun around and saw just behind them, nearly close enough that the bumper kissed the backs of their knees, an extended limousine, all black, with a darkly-tinted windshield. Jackie waved a half-apology, and all three rushed to the North side of the road, where they stood ankle-deep in leaves and watched the limo pass. Every window on the passenger side, and the rear window too, had midnight tint, and the gloss black paint shone and sparkled even though little sunlight penetrated the canopy of trees overhanging the street—it was almost 7 PM, and the boys needed to hurry on to reach home before dinner time, a fact that they had conveniently overlooked until now. But they stood stationary on the side of the street, watching as this incredibly fancy machine slowed, and then pulled to a stop in front of---the Henry Home!

The driver’s door creaked slowly open, and a very tall man clad in black emerged. At least they assumed it to be a man: perhaps a little boyish chauvinism on their part, and the individual was so tall, slender, wearing a black peaked cap (like a World War II SS officer, thought Jackie, the adventuresome reader of the group), and a chauffeur’s uniform, all spit and polish. Atop his nose were shiny mirrored sunglasses, and these were fixed into an unsmiling and thin-lipped glare at the three boys, who suddenly decided that maybe the long route home was not the best route, and sprinted to their left and back toward Woods Road, sneakers pounding toward Walton Street, where they could corner right and be in their own neighborhood in ten more minutes, safely inside the confines of their families.

At least that’s what Jackie, Carl, and Alan expected to do: run East on Hardiman, South on Woods Road, West on Walton and then corner left to Tremont Avenue, their home street. That’s exactly what they thought they were doing; but they came to realization that they were not at home, they weren’t racing along the surface streets of the town, they weren’t even moving: they were confined, chained wrists and ankles, in a stone-walled cellar room—located deep below the Henry House.

[to be continued—Part Two begins with January 24, 2013 Prompt]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

UPLOAD by Collin Tobin_Review & Blog Tour

Review of Upload by Collin Tobin
5 Stars

A thrill-a-minute suspenseful novel of two upper-age adolescents and their unending quest against all odds to puzzle out the mysteries onto which they unwittingly stumble, “Upload” is a technological-heavy but nevertheless fascinatingly written novel. Jay spends his spare hours hunting for “free” wireless sites, locales where the wi-fi network is unprotected and thus available to “drive-by” users. His best buddy Bennie, confined to a wheelchair because of a congenital disorder, is a hacker extraordinaire. Jay stumbles, literally, on the ending moments of a murder, and the boys discover that part of the murder has been captured on video which uploaded to a nearby cell tower.

Jay’s mother, killed a year earlier, was an FBI agent, so perhaps Jay has inherited the desire to solve puzzles and track down criminals. For Bennie, so immersed in technology, figuring this out is imperative. But neither of the boys nor Bennie’s older sister Chloe, a college student, realize to start with how incredibly dangerous-and fatal-a project they are just beginning to uncover." rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway

UPLOAD Blog Tour

THE DARKENING DREAM by Andy Gavin_Review and Blog Tour

The Darkening Dream is the chilling new dark fantasy novel by Andy Gavin, creator of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter.
Even as the modern world pushes the supernatural aside in favor of science and steel, the old ways remain. God, demon, monster, and sorcerer alike plot to regain what was theirs.
1913, Salem, Massachusetts - Sarah Engelmann's life is full of friends, books, and avoiding the pressure to choose a husband, until an ominous vision and the haunting call of an otherworldly trumpet shake her. When she stumbles across a gruesome corpse, she fears that her vision was more of a premonition. And when she sees the murdered boy moving through the crowd at an amusement park, Sarah is thrust into a dark battle she does not understand.
With the help of Alex, a Greek immigrant who knows a startling amount about the undead, Sarah sets out to uncover the truth. Their quest takes them to the factory mills of Salem, on a midnight boat ride to spy on an eerie coastal lair, and back, unexpectedly, to their own homes. What can Alex's elderly, vampire-hunting grandfather and Sarah's own rabbi father tell them? And what do Sarah's continuing visions reveal?
No less than Gabriel's Trumpet, the tool that will announce the End of Days, is at stake, and the forces that have banded to recover it include a 900 year-old vampire, a trio of disgruntled Egyptian gods, and a demon-loving Puritan minister. At the center of this swirling cast is Sarah, who must fight a millennia-old battle against unspeakable forces, knowing the ultimate prize might be herself.
Online Reviews
"Wonderfully twisted sense of humor" and "A vampire novel with actual bite" -- Kirkus Reviews
"Inventive, unexpected, and more than a little bit creepy!" -- R.J. Cavender, editor of the Bram Stoker nominated Horror Library anthology series
"This book will satisfy any fan of the vampire genre and then some!" -- Must Read Faster
"In a similar vein to George R.R. Martin's writing style, Gavin often dangles his characters in the maws of danger and doesn't shy away from ... their blood being spilled." -- Andrew Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer magazine
"Now this is a vampire novel! It flows so perfectly between character point of views, it's a great blend of historical fiction, mythology and paranormal." -- Little Miss Drama Queen Reviews
"Action-packed and suspenseful, and there were twists all over the place." -- Les Livres
"Andy Gavin has taken a bevy of supernatural elements, compelling characters, and an intricate and superbly developed storyline, and expertly weaved them together to create an original and enthralling book." -- Word Spelunking
Andy Gavin is a serial creative, polymath, novelist, entrepreneur, computer programmer, author, foodie, and video game creator. He co-founded video game developer Naughty Dog and co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. He started numerous companies, has been lead programmer on video games that have sold more than forty million copies, and has written two novels including The Darkening Dream, a dark historical fantasy that puts the bite back in vampires.

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Giveaway:  1 50.00 GC , 1 Signed Poster, 1 Signed Game,  and 4 Bookmarks
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Review by Mallory Heart Reviews:

Review of The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin
5 stars

“The Darkening Dream” is a far more complex book than I expected, and joyfully so. I raced through it, unable to put it aside till I’d finish, then ended it asking for a sequel! I truly hope there will be one. So many layers of different metaphysical possibilities and realities exist in this story that any reader of the paranormal of almost any stripe will find something to latch on to (except maybe werewolf lovers LOL). There are vampires, ancient entities, Judaism, Christianity, Archangels, Ceremonial Magick; characters who are purely evil (both in life and in death), those who are purely good, and of course, those who have tendencies to both good and evil and must constantly make the decision at any moment as to which path to trod.

In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1913 (yes, Constant Readers, THAT Salem), life is fairly smooth but an immigration problem is developing: vampires from North Africa, Egypt, and Turkey. They’re all after one supremely holy object: the shofar or horn of the Archangel Gabriel, and information has directed them to Salem, to the home of a Jewish professor and former rabbi. They haven’t bargained on this man’s holy character, nor the strength of will of his daughter Sarah.

“The Darkening Dream” is a satisfying read on so many levels: metaphysical, Spiritual, magickal, personal, developing love, relationship, sibling strength and rivalry, and much, much more. Any reader who enjoys purely good fiction owes it to herself or himself to pick this one up and give it the time it deserves.


Lights, Camera, Poltergeist!Lights, Camera, Poltergeist! by Nell Dixon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Lights, Camera, Poltergeist by Nell Dixon
5 stars

“Lights, Camera, Poltergeist” is a delightful quick read with plenty of romance, emotion, suspense, mystery, and overtones of the Paranormal. Fae is the fortunate guest presenter on the Ghost UK program, a role for which she had to overcome much competition, and she knows if she falters, someone else will be happy to take her place. John, one of the electricians, is her lover, and she had hoped to spend a romantic Valentine’s Day together: not on a live program in a drafty Scottish castle, nearly abandoned and inhabited only by the almost middle-aged laird and his two retainers.

Claiming Poltergeist activity, the Laird requested the assistance of Ghost UK; but it’s apparent he has other issues-and a money payoff seems to be one of them. Fae and John are very suspicious, yet at the same time, events occur which are surely Supernatural and beyond the control of the Laird. It’s up to Fae and John to track down the true source, and at the same time solve the mystery of what or whom is troubling the Laird near to death.

A light paranormal romantic suspense, “Lights, Camera, Poltergeist” makes an enjoyable read for Valentine’s, or any time.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21 Short Story Challenge_"The Last Resort Dude Ranch" written May-June 2008

January 21, 2013 Writing Prompt:

"While vacationing at a dude ranch, a wealthy business tycoon's daughter falls in love with a young cowboy."

In 2008,  I wrote a longer story which was intended for inclusion in a proposed Anthology to benefit Breast Cancer Research. The Anthology was rejected by the approached organization, and then the organizer underwent some personal issues, so I don’t know if anything ever came of the proposition or not. The story I wrote was a little dfferent and since it’s scarcely seen the light of day (except in my Portfolio at I’ll append it here.

Originally composed May-June 2008


Chapter 1

         Nick Jagerman wiped his forehead with a dingy kerchief pulled from one faded jeans pocket. (WHAT am I doing here?) Glancing around at the land flat to each horizon, puffy cumulous barely stirring across the blinding blue, the emptiness resonated to the void in Nick’s soul. A quick twinge of pain over his left chest awakened too-vivid memories. Although it passed in seconds, the fear monster rose up again, wide-awake, its red fiery eyes shining in his mind. (No! It is NOT recurring! I won’t let it!)

         Nick was three months into his recovery period, two since his oncologist’s release. He understood the statistical probability all too well: he’d beaten the breast cancer this time, but recurrence was ALWAYS a possibility. Nick was 34 years old-far too young to die of a cancer that was always reputed to be a women’s disease. Why him? Why? Nick’s daddy had died at age 56 of a heart attack, a manly death taking him out in the field on the combine. Nick’s mom was still alive, nearing 60, with no signs of ill health whatsoever other than occasional troubling migraines.

         Nick’s mom’s older sister had died of breast cancer, though, at 22; and so had their aunt, at 50. But those were women! Why did Nick, of all people, contract such a troubling, and potentially fatal, disease-a “women’s disease”? Nick’s worst enemy right now was his conviction of unfairness. Life just COULDN’T deal him such a terrible hardship!

         Leaning back against his truck fender, Nick sighed as dust puffs blew up in the far distance. Finally his guide would show up. When he had arranged his reservation online, an email sent to him explained that the Ranch was so isolated that guests were expected to wait at Marvin Station, 25 miles distant, for a guide to lead them to the “Last Resort Dude Ranch.” Another sigh and a boot toe scuffing dirt, a snort: (“What kind of name is “Last Resort,” anyway? Feels like it’s what I need, though—if my cancer recurs, this will be my “last” resort and last recourse.)

         Another swipe of the kerchief across his forehead, shifting his balance, another twinge over the left breast (NO! Not again!) and Nick realized his own tension was only intensifying the twinging pain. Consciously deepening his breath seemed to help, as did concentrating on the oncoming dust vortices. (Wonder what it’s going to be like? Like a spa? A “dude ranch,” all riding and horse talk? Sure charges enough.) Nick wasn’t a wealthy man-he’d inherited his dad’s horse-breeding establishment-but he was a desperate one. Not until the first diagnosis-actually the first serious pains-did he ever consider life so worth clinging to as he had ever since.

         Up until the first pain caught him up in its vise, dragging him fully upright from a sound sleep one weekday night, Nick had sported a happy-go-lucky attitude. Sure, he’d take fun and pleasure when it appeared, but he didn’t go out looking for it. A beer in town at the roadhouse on weekends, maybe a little two-step with the tourists, rides on Stalwart, his loyal stallion and champion stud; that was the good life. Sunday dinner at Mom’s and occasionally church with her on Sunday mornings. Life was good, slow and easy. Life was good.

Not any more-now life is fragile, brittle, and questionable. Nick had jerked up out of a sound dream to blinding pain in his chest, his first thought (“I’m goin’ out like Daddy did!), doubling over just trying to breathe; rolling out of bed onto the floor, legs still tangled in the bundled sheets, gasping. He couldn’t reach for his cell phone on the nightstand next to his left arm, for his entire left side, chest and back, felt wrapped in a sheet of flame. His only recourse was to hang on, try to survive, and what felt like an eternity of blazing nightmare finally eased sufficiently for him to roll first onto his back, then scoot closer to the nightstand. He still could not reach up, so he continued to roll, bumping against the nightstand till the cell on the edge fell off onto his face, and then slid onto the floor. Immediately it rang, and through his haze he saw “Mom” on the screen. Forcing his right hand up, he pushed “on” and breathed, “Mamma, call 911.” Then he fainted.

         Looking back now, Nick remembered how the next day in the hospital Mamma revealed that she had dreamed of his danger. In fact, she had actually called 911 on his behalf before dialing his cell phone; her intuitive conviction was that strong. She, too, had thought of cardiac arrest, and so did Nick’s doctors at first. Localized on the left side, the pain had indeed spread from the heart area into Nick’s shoulder and rib cage, so heart attack was the immediate and most logical diagnosis. Blood work and an MRI revealed differently, however, and Nick was astounded when Dr. Caller announced that the accurate diagnosis was breast cancer.

         “But I’m a man!” he shouted. “Men don’t get breast cancer! That’s a women’s disease!” Sensing his mother’s dismay, he reached across himself with his right arm (his left arm and side were bandaged tightly) and patted her hand as it rested on his sheet. 

“I’m sorry, Mamma! I forgot about Aunt Laura and Great-Aunt Suellyn!”

“It isn’t that, son, I’m upset over. It’s you. Breast cancer is a near-fatal disease and I’m scared for you!”

         Dr. Caller cleared his throat and garnered their attention. “There are options, you know. We can try chemotherapy. We’ll first do a biopsy, on Monday, to be certain. If the biopsy proves malign, we’ll institute a course of treatment.” His voice was cool and somber, but his expression belied joy. Dr. Caller knew the odds better than either his patient or the patient’s mother. He could point to one or two recoveries, but the majority of the patients he’d referred to oncologists hadn’t survived. Electing not to share that particular statistic just now, he fingered his thick, in-need-of-trimming mustache and looked away to the end of the bed. 
“I’ll alert Dr. Swanson, the oncology specialist at Hought General, to look at your test results. Now, I must be away; I’ve got other patients to check on this floor.”

(And probably a golf foursome waiting!) thought Nick as he grimaced.

         “Thank you, Doctor,” whispered Nick’s mother, a softly-speaking lady at the best of times.

* * *
         Nick’s attention returned to the present as the sound of downshifting gears snagged his hearing. Closely approaching was a dusty gray pickup with long bed and wide high tires. Resting on the sill of the open window was a large masculine hand with prominent veins and long fingers, one of which tapped a continuous rhythm on the side mirror. Nick felt a twinge unrelated for once to his chest pain or to stress. He thought the hand and wrist awfully pale for a ranch employee, but then maybe it was just dust-covered. Difficult to tell under all that hair, anyway. Practically furred with pale strands-Nick felt himself twitching again and straightened up, pulling his Stetson down low to shade his eyes. All that dust kicking up made them water-or was it the dust and not his thoughts?

         The gray GMC pulled closer and coasted to a stop opposite Nick’s pickup. The driver was so tall Nick could only see a black denim shirt, sleeves rolled up, stretched across a wide chest, till the man bent over and peered out the open truck window.  A deep voice purred out at him: “Mr. Jagerman, I presume?” and a chuckle rolled out, coating Nick’s nerves in liquid dark chocolate. The twinge had passed into a life of its own now, and must be pretty obvious to any observer. The other man didn’t seem to notice, though, just continued to smile and wait on Nick’s response. Too tongue-tied to speak, Nick just nodded silently.
“All righty then. Soon’s I turn this heifer around, pointing back in the right direction, you can follow me, okay?”

         Speechless, Nick nodded again and waited till the GMC’s long base passed, then climbed into his regular-size Silverado and closed the driver’s door. Horrible as the cancer was, one good result had come out of it, if he got to see an appealing sight like this. Nick shifted, easing the friction in his jeans, and waited for the GMC to pass him again. As it came alongside him, the passenger window purred down and Nick saw a long arm waving in the direction he faced. He nodded again and dropped the pickup into gear, staying just far enough back not to have a windshield constantly fogged over with the other pickup’s dust.
Chapter 2

         Nick’s treatment had not progressed smoothly, nor had he been an oncologist’s patient ideal. Instead, he was rough, bitchy, and smart-mouthed. Right up until almost the end of treatment, he had insisted breast cancer was a women’s disease that men had no business getting. He informed Dr. Caller and Dr. Swanson on more than one occasion that their diagnosis was severely mistaken, and nurses had been known to leave Nick’s private room in tears. Although intended as a semi-private, Hought General had fallen on tough times and didn’t draw the patient clientele of its heyday, so arrangement for the mean-spirited Nick Jagerman to keep the room on private status was simple. Any patient rooming with him would no doubt suffer a relapse, all the nurses thought, and privately the physicians concurred.

         Dr. Swanson adjudged Nick’s cancer to be pervasive, and instituted an aggressive radiation regimen. Despite his natural affinity with Deity, the oncologist also evinced compassion for his patients and wanted them to succeed in recovery. Nick’s impossible attitude sorely tried his resolve, though. The root of his inspiration to see Nick healed was entwined with the dismay he experienced whenever he had to approach the attitude-ridden patient. Swanson often considered that Nick carried more attitude and meanness in his system than he did cancer cells.
Meanwhile, Nick’s mother Jane had enlisted her church women’s circle in a prayer chain. Each hour on the hour, each day, one of the women lifted up Nick’s name in prayer, right along with Jane, whose kitchen clock chimed hourly to remind her it’s time to pray. Every Sunday service Pastor Janway prayed for Nick as well, and the Wednesday evening Missions Board meeting always included his name in their opening prayer. If the combination of prayer and the oncologist’s drive to see Nick healed worked, then he would be free and clear of the disease he insisted was not possible for him.

If it failed, then Nick would learn the truth about male breast cancer’s survival rate.
Chapter 3

         The ride out to the Last Resort Ranch seemed an eternity, till Nick reminded himself that he had only missed out on actual eternity by a hairsbreadth. Unconsciously stroking his left hand across his chest, he remembered his last days in treatment with a frown. Even when Dr. Swanson revealed the prognosis for recovery, Nick had feared to believe it: this, from the patient who had insisted from the beginning that “breast cancer’s for chicks, not guys.” Dr. Swanson chuckled to himself, careful not to let his star patient see him.

         Nick had eventually come around to the necessity and purpose of the aggressive chemical and invasive internal radiation treatment, even if he refused to admit that he might have the “chicks’ cancer.” Sometimes he speculated that he might actually have cancer, only in some other virulent form: maybe lung or stomach, perhaps bone or brain. Why his pains were concentrated on the left side of his chest he couldn’t fathom. Maybe the cancer hid in the walls of his heart.

         Another sigh and a shake of his head and Nick’s mind returned to concentrating on the drive. Suddenly he realized he’d let the faded gray GMC fly too far ahead of him and it was nearly out of sight; no, it was missing! He’d lost the guide! Now he was really worried. (Did I pass a turn-off I didn’t see? Why was I thinking about the hospital, dang it all? I’m such a stupid fool!) Just then he noticed the clouds of dust before him were thickening again, roiling, so the GMC must be closer than he’d thought. In fact, the dust was shifting, sinking, so maybe—yes, the truck ahead was slowing, and Nick could see a vague red blinking through the dust, on the left side. Okay, left turn then. Nick signaled too, then chuckled to realize he’d acted unnecessarily, as no vehicles were anywhere behind him for miles!
Why they’d turn on this dusty track Nick couldn’t tell, as no buildings could be seen and again, the flatness just stretched in all directions. What he wouldn’t give for a mountain or two as he’d see in the distance back home, and a huge stables with Stalwart neighing for an apple and rubbing his jaw against Nick’s shoulder. He yanked out his cell and checked for a signal, thinking to call his mother, then discovered no bars at all.
(Last Resort, all right! End of the earth, likely!)

         Another half-hour passed and finally beyond the dust billows Nick spotted buildings spread out on either side of the track: a bunkhouse on each side, a stables beyond (not as big as the Jagerman Stud Farm boasted, he thought smugly), a cookhouse, and farther down, a cow barn (cow barn?) and then on the right, a blindingly whitewashed two story farmhouse, opposite a two story fancy bunkhouse, painted gray with white trim.

(Oh, that must be the guest house, and the first two bunkhouses are for the employees. Or maybe this was a working ranch back in the day; that’d explain the cow barn too. Now it must be just a horse-riding operation for the guests.)

         The gray GMC pulled up near the farmhouse and that long arm and long-fingered wide hand popped out of the driver’s side window, first pinwheeling to indicate Nick should come ahead, then index finger pointing toward what Nick had assumed was the guest house. Indeed, apparently he was correct. He stopped in a space by the far end of the building and hopped out, waiting for the other driver to approach. Instead, that same index finger rose in a “one moment” gesture, and the GMC sped away!

(So NOT what I expected! So much for the possibility this might be a spa-type establishment. Now, think, just what did that brochure I downloaded last week say?)

         Nick walked around to the passenger side, unlocked, and reached into the truck pocket for the brochure. Of course it wasn’t there. (Where did I leave it? Didn’t I bring it? Oh! In my overnight bag!) Of course, that’s where it was, and Nick leaned heavily against the door frame while he flipped the pages. (Hmm—swimming? Don’t see no sign of a pool, unless it’s behind the Big House. No spa stuff: oh well, no massage with hot oils then. Riding? Yep, but I could have done that at home. Wrestling--wrestling? Sure enough, employee-guest matches on Saturday nights, at the Old Bunkhouse. Okay, that would be one of those two I passed when we drove in, I guess. Hmm-doctor’s permission required. Ah, a doctor on staff-Herman L. Jenkins, M.D. Okay. That’s good-in case any of the guests get heat stroke, or hearts give out while horseback-or rasslin’.)
“Hey! Hey there! We’re in here waitin’ on ya!”

         Nick almost jumped, then caught himself and looked around. No one in sight-oh, over there at the guest house door, must be-the door was open, but its angle hid whoever had called out. So, either the speaker was invisible, or petite. Nick preferred to go with the latter option, since even after recovery from a potentially fatal disease, he remained a rationalist. He shut the truck door, still carrying the folder, and walked toward the guest house. As he reached the far side of the door, he spotted a petite flame and blinked two or three times to clear his vision. Oh, no-that was hair, blazing red hair-curly, moppish, big hair-over a faded-to-white flannel shirt and pale jeans. Just as he tried to decide what-and who-it was, its mouth opened and another bellow issued forth.

“I’m standing right here in front of you, double-dang it!” Nick’s attitude had not appreciably improved with his recovery. “I’m right here! Wake up!”

Head rose, eyes locked on his, mouth opened to bellow again-
“Stop right there!” Nick held up a hand. “Just tell me what you want without all that hollerin’, please!” He’d thought the curls were on fire, but that was nothing compared to the look in those blue eyes. Like gas flames on an open burner, he thought now.

         Her mouth opened yet again, but the sound of a golf cart approaching from the far distance up the track interrupted. The gargoyle-in-disguise glanced in that direction and turned away unspeaking, back into the guesthouse. The door slammed behind her. Nick turned to watch for the golf cart, now approaching from behind his own pickup. (Hmm, hmm, hmm. What a fine piece of horseflesh.) His lips curled and his jeans twitched. The guide who had brought him out to the dude ranch drove the cart as he did the truck, fast and loose-handed, one arm draped over the wheel, gaze locked on Nick. Surely the man saw everything Nick felt and thought at that moment!
Chapter 4

         Frannie Vinson was an angry survivor. Not lost in questions of her recovery, as Nick was, Frannie railed and roared at fate. Frannie knew she should have succumbed to the cancer, but instead, two years later, here she still was, still furious, still mean-spirited, still bearing an attitude that drove away any man except the doctor. "Jake," as the Last Resort owners and staff called him, was as gentle and long-suffering as the mountains in the distance overlooking Nick's horse farm. Jake treated everyone he encountered with unconditional acceptance and the attitude of the Colorado River carving the Grand Canyon over the course of millennia. Jake was steady, assured, and deep.
Frannie's first diagnosis occurred three-and-a-half years ago in St. Louis, where she worked as a graphic designer with an occasionally cohabiting boyfriend. Jerry was suave and sexy in a bad-boy mode, and Frannie was obsessed with keeping him happy. She supported him, gave him intimacy whenever he demanded it (often at first but soon only seldom requested), handed him cash and loaned him her credit cards.  Frannie did nearly everything for that boy, calling it love, but truly it was obsession. A void in her could only be filled by the corresponding jagged edges in Jerry, her beloved "bad boy." Jerry took and took and never gave. In fact, Jerry was the first to spot the lump in Frannie's right breast, but rather than mentioning it and urging her to have a mammogram, Jerry kept silent to Frannie (although he did mention it to one or two of his other "chicks on the side.")

         Frannie discovered the lump herself a few weeks later in the shower, after a steady absence of Jerry. Each time she dialed his cell, voicemail picked up; he never came by when she was home-and she often worked from home-but when she'd leave to deliver a CD of her assignments, or shop for groceries, she'd come home to discover some of his clothes were missing, his toothbrush, the photo of the two of them she'd had taken at Branson. Little things here, and never all at once. She knew he must be stopping by, but why always when she was out, and how in the world could he know? Her schedule was, purposely, unpredictable. She liked life that way, unsettled. When she found the lump, "unsettled" became the tenor of her entire existence. She waited another three weeks, then made an appointment at the Women’s' Health Clinic for a mammogram. The technician recommended Frannie schedule a physician's visit immediately and a diagnostic mammogram.
Next she knew the diagnosis was just as negative as she’d expected, and she settled herself to wait on the real unpredictability of life: the approach of death. She stumbled through radiation therapy expecting nothing, and that seemed to be what she received. But six months after the treatment, she still lived, still designed, and had not seen or spoken to Jerry in a year.  An oncology nurse who had befriended her met her for coffee one morning and mentioned Last Resort Dude Ranch, run by a physician who himself was a cancer survivor. Frannie leaped at the opportunity to change her life, geographically and vocationally. She’d settled in immediately, ripping the skeleton staff regularly with her flaying tongue, but the owner understood her rage against nature and Deity and simply let her be-yet another survivor. The Last Resort Ranch seemed to collect survivors.
Chapter 5

“So you met our Resort Ranch spitfire, I see,” grinned the giant hunk as he hopped down from the golf cart in a graceful gazelle step and held out his hand. “Now you can meet the doctor.”

“You-you’re the Doctor? Doctor-umm” Nick stuttered.

“Jake Jenkins, at your sah-vice,” drawled Mr. Sexy.

“Jake?” Nick crumpled the brochure as he tried to unfold it.

“I thought it said uh Herman.” Clearly all his blood supply had gone south and nonsense poured from his brain.

“Sure, but would you want to be called Herman, except by your lovin’ mama?” Jake chuckled. “Come on, Nick, grab your bags and let’s get you settled. Bout time we introduced you to the Spitfire-Frannie.”
That liquid chocolate chuckle again; Nick wondered how he’d get through his stay without igniting. He hurried back to his Silverado and pulled his carryon, laptop carrier, and big suitcase from the floorboard, then followed Jake to the Guesthouse door.

                 Once inside, Jake led him to the kitchen where sassy Frannie cooked and introduced the two, suggesting Frannie moderate her usual spicy tongue-lashings, at least on Nick’s initial day. Frannie grumbled but complied, showing Nick to his room on the second floor at the rear corner, overlooking more unending flat horizon. (Oh well-next time I’ll book a resort stay at home. Oh-won’t be a next time; I’ll not be contracting cancer and having to recover again! That stuff is for sissies, not for men who get real diseases-like my Dad did. Heart—maybe lung cancer. Not this stuff I got, not ever again.)

                 Nick unpacked and showered, setting his notebook computer up and plugging into the Resort’s wireless setup. Then he hopped downstairs, two steps at a time, and came out into the hall to find Jake taking up wall space, smiling that same slow sultry come-on grin. Nick couldn’t stop smiling in return and blushing.

“Hey, pahdner, want to ride? You do ride, don’t ye?” (Oh that chuckle! My jeans just tightened two sizes!)

        “Sure I do. I own a stud farm.”

        “I know. I read your vitals when you applied. Come on, stables are beyond the cow barn. Yes, this was a working ranch in the 19th century, with real, honest-to-goodness cowboy studs. Horses, cattle stampedes, the whole business.  Folks that own it now bought it four years ago from the estate of the last heir, a ninety-year-old dude whose dad and granddad and great-uncles ranched here all their lives. Kind of sad in a way,” Jake pushed back his Stetson as they strode to the golf cart, “to realize all that history is –pffft- over and gone now. Just us “dudes” now.”

That sexy smile slid across Nick’s face like warmed molasses, catching at his eyes and lips, then Jake looked away and turned the key, maneuvering the cart around in the drive and heading toward the distant cow barn.

“Is anything on a small scale here? Everything seems so distant.”

        “That’s how it is out here-them ol’ ranchers liked their space. Takes a lot of acres to herd cattle, or sheep, either one; and don’t even let them get too close together and start poaching on each other’s land or worse one guy’s herd drinking out of the other’s guy creek, oh no. Wars were fought over such.”

That warm look came again and Nick blushed and turned.  Eventually they wove around the end of the abandoned cattle barn and found the stables, much bigger and more polished than expert Nick had expected. Hopping from the cart, Jake asked, “Do you want a stallion or a gelding?” Even that had a hidden meaning to Nick’s ears. 
“Stallion, please. Back home I have Stalwart-he’s a beauty, black. His sire was Pride of Araby, remember he placed in the Triple Crown six years back?”

        Jake nodded. “That’s great. I bet you do miss him though. Get a lot of riding in?”

        “Not near enough. Night and day wouldn’t be enough. And I—lately I haven’t been out on Stalwart much.”

        “While you were ill?”

        “How-how’d you know”

        “Told you. Read your application.”

        “It’s not on there. It’s not.”

Nick turned away and fought to hide the upswell of water in his eyes. He would NOT cry-not here, not ever. He was not a sissy. He was a man. Dang it all! Here come the tears anyway, racking his shoulders, while behind him Jake continued saddling a bay gelding for himself and a sweet roan for Nick.

“I’m a doctor, man, remember,” he purred softly. “I  know these things. I saw you. I’m lookin’ at you right now, and I know you’re hurtin’ big time. But that’s okay-that’s why you came here, to hurt, to grieve, and to heal. Yes, heal. You’re in recovery but now it’s time to heal your spirit and soul. First you got to face it-then you can release it. Then you’re becoming whole.”

                  Nick felt a strong hand touch his back, then reins wrapped his hand and tugged gently. He wiped his face and looked up, into the roan’s eyes.

“Here, give him a sugar cube. He’s a soft touch for it.” Jake pressed the cube into Nick’s hand and turned away to lead his horse, Marmaduke, outside. “Come on, Nick, let’s enjoy the afternoon.”

Chapter 6

         Nick mounted the stallion and followed Jake back into the sunlight, a stray tear or two still tracking on his sun-lined cheeks. Somehow-some of the knot he carried in his heart area had loosened. Just a little, just a tad bit—but the edge of the anchor of pain and heartsickness had let loose, maybe only for a moment, maybe for a while. Here he’d make a fool of himself in front of another man, a sexy gorgeous physician at that, a guy who had the world on a string-and he’d survived. He wasn’t a soppy gooey mess puddling on the floor. He’d survived the embarrassment, just as he’d survived the cancer. THAT cancer. Oh, dear.
Jake led Nick on what seemed another eternity of a ride (does he do EVERYTHING at such great length?) but eventually they fetched up at a quiet little pond and both dismounted to let the horses drink their fill. Jake unfolded a picnic spread from one of the saddlebags-Nick had been too distraught at the stable to notice-and laid it out on a flat rock at the edge. 
“Come on, man, take a load off, settle yourself, feed up and then talk to me. Meanwhile, I’ll talk at you,” he said laughing. “You know-I told you this spread was bought from the estate of the last heir to the original ranch, right? Well, the current owner, believe it or not, is also a survivor, as is our feisty cook.”

         Nick took a big bite of the roast beef sandwich-admittedly Frannie could cook, despite her mean spirit and sharp tongue. He looked away toward the pond, hoping to conceal his irritation at the topic. He certainly didn’t care to discuss any kind of survivor-and wait a minute, had Jake just specified the owner and the cook? The cook? Frannie? Mouth open, he spun back. “Frannie?”
“Yep. Breast cancer survivor-and hating it. And the owner is a survivor of prostate cancer. So there, Nick my man. So there. It can be done-and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

         To his dismay the tears began to roll again, a flood pouring out like a waterfall just when he most wanted to be manly. Arms enwrapped him and he felt his head pushed to Jake’s shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy, it’s really going to be okay.”
“I’m so ASHAMED! Real men don’t get this disease!  I feel like such a sissy.”

“Shh,” Jake rocked him gently. “You’re beautiful just the way you are; you’ve a good, gentle spirit. Nothing wrong with that. Everybody don’t have to be a he-man stallion; some of us got to be geldings. You know, I kind of felt that way too, once-when I was diagnosed.”

Nick leaned back and rubbed his sleeve across his face. “You?”

“Yep. Told you the owner had prostate cancer once.” Jake plucked unseeingly at grass blades. “Thought it might turn out to be AIDS-scare of a lifetime.” A sardonic chuckle, then he looked Nick full in the eye and palmed his face. “It was just prostate-life-altering, yes, but not fatal. Not yet, and maybe not ever. I’m not planning for it to be. And you-whatever you had-and I’m guessing by your attitude it was something similar-testicular or maybe breast? You’re a survivor too, dear Nick, or you wouldn’t even be here at “The Last Resort.” That sardonic chuckle sounded again, and Jake enfolded Nick in his arms. “Survivors-it’s all about the healing, the attitude, and the point of view, Nick. We survived-you, me, Frannie. Every day is one more day of life. We’ve another day to rejoice, to love, to learn, to laugh, to excel. One more day, and every day is precious. Nick, live it; listen to me. Save your precious moments, don’t waste life on grieving for what was or for what you think should not have been. You’re here now, and that’s no accident. You were drawn here, just like I was-and Frannie, bless her.  Live for me, Nick; live for yourself.” Jake stroked a finger down Nick’s wet cheek and kissed him softly. “Live: the entire point to life. Live.”

         Nick gazed up into the deep gray eyes that so magnetized him and wondered. Could he? Would he even consider it? Maybe the surviving was a signal to him; maybe he ought to try living life differently. Maybe he could stop being so anxious about being manly and just trying being himself. Maybe he could stop just surviving-and start living, just one day for now. Just one day at first. He smiled back at Jake and leaned forward into the embrace. Just living, at last.

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