This and That – Collection of Light and Dark Tales, by Anne K. Edwards

This and That 200x350TitleThis and That – Collection of Light and Dark Tales

Genre:  Various

Author:  Anne K. Edwards1

Websitehttp://www.AnneKEdwards.com

Publisher:  First Realm Publishing

Purchase on Amazon 

SUMMARY:  A collection of short stories written in various genres. Among them are Death and the Detective tales, a story about the devil outsmarting himself, the destruction of Earth, a tale of beings part human and part robotic, and others.

IT HAPPENED IN KANSAS

The year I was twelve, my grandfather, Milt Dauerhaus, introduced me to his great pal, Aaron Lazarus. I was visiting Grampa Milt just as I had every summer since I was seven and I knew most of the people in town and his old neighbors who farmed those great stretches of land around Armendagh, Kansas. Armendagh is a small town located in the middle of nowhere on a hot, dusty plain covered with miles and miles of corn, wheat, and sunflowers.

Grampa Milt had sold his farm and moved to town when he turned seventy five. He told me he’d been saving an introduction to Mr. Lazarus until I was old enough to understand that while he seemed a bit different from most folks, he was special too.

Mr. Lazarus had deep lines in his face and his blue eyes sort of looked at you out of slits in his face. Those lines were from his always smiling. My first encounter with him was pleasant and I found him interesting because he’d been a railroad engineer. He told me to come back to see him any time.

A funny thing happened though as we rose to leave. Mr. Lazarus said kind of abruptly, “No, I haven’t found your glasses.”

I looked around but there was nobody there. Just us, and we hadn’t asked him about any glasses. He was looking at an empty chair too.

He caught me gaping at him. Mr. Lazarus had his glasses on so who was he talking to? I kind of thought maybe he was just getting a little silly since he was so old. You know, like he couldn’t remember what we’d been talking about.

Smiling, he said, “Sometimes I forget my manners and speak my thoughts aloud.”

I said, “Oh.” And looked and Grampa Milt who was laughing into his hand.

“She’s had you hunting those glasses since she crossed over. Why does she want them?” Grampa asked.

“Who?” I wanted to know.

Mr. Lazarus raised his thick white eyebrows and shrugged. He didn’t answer my question, but said, “She thinks she needs them to hide behind like she always did. You know, there wasn’t a thing wrong with her eyes. She’ll have to look for them longer if she wants them. I don’t have the time.”

Grampa Milt laughed and led me out the door.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “Grampa Milt, what did he mean? Who was he talking about?”

“Well, Ben, he was talking about Mrs. Ganche, a lady who passed on about thirty years ago.” He looked down at me.

I stopped. “Huh? If she’s dead, how can she talk to him and how come we couldn’t hear her? Why does she want her glasses?”

“I don’t think I can explain it to you. You’ll have to ask Mr. Lazarus next time you see him. He’s the only one who can answer that.”

I didn’t see Mr. Lazarus again that summer. We got busy with Gramma’s garden and then, before I knew it, it was time for school. It wasn’t until next summer when I went to visit Grampa Milt that I had the chance to see Mr. Lazarus.

He seemed much older than last year. Grampa Milt had sent me to see him with one of Gramma’s pies. A lady met me at the door took the pie and went into the kitchen.

“Sit down, young fellow, and tell me about school,” Mr. Lazarus said. He leaned back in his lounge chair with his feet up. “I don’t get around so good these days. Got me a touch of arthritis.”

I nodded and sat on the green couch across from him. I hadn’t the foggiest notion what to say to him.

He grinned at me, those deep wrinkles looking like my Gramma’s old washboard. “Would you like to meet some of my other company?” he asked, sweeping his left hand around the room.

I stared at him. We were alone.

“Give me your hand, young Ben.” He leaned toward me, holding out his hand.

I took it. It felt dry and almost weightless. I gaped.

Suddenly the room was crowded with people. They were standing all around us.

“Well, Ben, judging from your expression,” Mr. Lazarus said, “I do believe you have the gift, too.”

I don’t know if I had it or not then, but I sure do now. Everywhere I go, strange people are asking me to do things for them. And they’re all dead.

I learned after Mr. Lazarus crossed over—he came to tell me—that he’d passed the gift on to me so I could help these spirits. Once they had some problem solved, they’d disappear for good. But more would always find me.

So, if you meet me on the street and I’m talking to myself, please have compassion. I’m not crazy. I’m just a young guy who hasn’t learned not to talk to strangers.

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Seasons of Empowerment for Adolescent Girls, by Irene S. Roth

In Seasons of Empowerment for Adolescent Girls, Ms. Roth argues that there are four seasons of empowerment for adolescent girls. Sadly no adolescent girl can simply wake up one day, snap her fingers, and be empowered to tackle the world and all the forces that exist inside and outside. Becoming empowered to be who we are can be truly difficult. This book consists of a step-by-step guide to help adolescent girls achieve self-improvement.

Purchase at Amazon

EXCERPT

Seasons of Empowerment for Teens 

Spring Season 

Introduction

    The spring season is when empowerment usually starts for you. One predominant purpose of this season is to become assertive. This is a time when you have a chance to take steps to become more of your own person and develop your values, beliefs, and unique personality. However, this can also be a very vulnerable time for you, isn’t it?  So, it is crucially important for you to take small steps to assert yourself. This season will lead you one step closer to self-assertiveness. How great is that!

    During this most vulnerable time in the self-empowerment process, it’s important to take incremental steps to assert yourself by watching. Be careful who you hang out with. Many of you still have a low self-image and are pretty hypercritical at this stage, aren’t you? You probably struggle because you don’t feel slim, pretty, cute, popular or outgoing enough, given cultural standards. This is such a hard way of living?

    Well, it’s time to take charge of your life. During this season, you should take steps to stand up for yourself and clearly communicate your needs. This will eventually empower you much more than if you focus on what physical or psychological attributes you don’t have. After all, what you focus on usually grows. So, if you focus on negative things, they will grow and you will develop an increasingly negative self-image. However, if you focus on positive things, this will also grow and you’ll continuously develop a positive self-image over time. So, why not get into the habit of focusing on the positive?

    In this section, I will show you how to assert yourselves in many different ways. This way, you will start empowering yourselves to be the best you are capable of becoming this very moment, without constantly comparing yourselves to others.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roth
Irene S. Roth is an academic and freelance writer for teens, tweens and kids. She has written over 500 book reviews and 1,000 online articles on different topics for teens, tweens, and about the craft of writing. She also teaches workshops on writing and craft at Savvy Authors. She lives in Stratford, Ontario with her husband and cat. Visit her at https://irenesroth.wordpress.com/
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Dark of the Heart, by Anne K. Edwards

DarkoftheHeart_ebookcoverTitle:  Dark of the Heart

Genre:  Dystopian

Author:  Anne K. Edwards

Websitehttp://www.AnneKEdwards.com

Publisher:  Anne K. Edwards

Purchase on Amazon 

SUMMARY:  A runaway son has returned to the Tyles family fold after an absence of several years.  A frightened boy when he left, Joey Tyles has returned a bitter man bent on revenge on the family that made his childhood a hell. Find out more on Amazon.

Chapter One

Emily wiped sweat from her forehead with her fingers before climbing onto the old green car’s rusted roof where Marty Pascellus sprawled. She plopped down beside him. “Them other cars is too hot,” she said as she slid into the shade.

Marty bobbed his head. “Yeh, burnt my arm day afore yesterday on that shiny stuff.” He nodded toward the strip of weather-pocked silver metal running across center of the door below them.

Pushing hair out of her eyes, Emily turned toward the street. “Look at that guy.” She pointed to a trampy-looking man with yellow hair who stood outside the metal fence. “How come he’s watching us? We ain’t doing nothing.”

Marty looked up from making squeaking noises by rubbing his dirty toes on the windshield, green eyes narrowed against the slant of the sun. “I don’t know. He looks kind of creepy.” He shrugged and said, “Me and Ty are gonna go see if that yeller cat had her kittens when he gets here. You want to come? Ma said after they’re born, I can have a kitten. She give me some food for the cat.” He moved to the rear of their perch and slid onto the trunk.

She shook her head. “Can’t. I got to get home or Ma’ll whip me.” Sneaking away to play robbed it of fun. If Ma knew where she went, she’d get whipped with the belt.

Marty nodded and jumped down to join Ty who called to them as he approached.

Wish I could see the cat, but Ma says I got to be home in case she needs me. She’ll get after me with the belt if I ain’t there when she wakes up.

 

Emily shivered in the sunlight.

Sliding off the rear window and down the dented trunk, Emily landed on her feet, raising a small cloud of red dust. Worriedly, she examined a new tear in her stained blue shorts with a grimy hand. She didn’t have any more that fit. If Ma saw the hole, she’d catch hell.

With lagging steps, she headed for the broken iron gates that stood permanently open. They seemed to welcome her to the junkyard that served as a playground for kids like her. The piles of worn-out appliances and old cars offered hiding places for their games and from the severe punishments parents often inflicted. When she could, she came here to pretend to go adventuring with Marty and Ty. Like today.

Pausing to watch a big black bug climb a weed stalk, she delayed going home until the last possible moment. The dirty stranger she’d seen outside the fence came toward her. He walked from Back Street that ran between the railroad tracks and the junkyard. He looked like the men in town who asked people in nice clothes for money. His baggy brown pants and blue jacket were dusty and wrinkled. He needed a shave, too, like Pa always did.

His squinty expression made her step back when he passed. Her teachers said not to trust strangers like him.

He grunted at her and crossed the street, trudging down Blair Avenue in the same direction she was going. She walked slowly behind, stopping once when he turned to look at her, then kept a distance between them. If he turned around, she could run back to the junkyard.

The dirty man didn’t pay her any more attention. He just hunched his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets as he plodded along the broken pavement.

She stopped in amazement when he went up the dirt path leading to her house and stepped onto the porch. Without knocking, he went inside.

Boy, was he going to be in trouble. People never did that, not even Bud’s friends who Ma said were just noisy trash. Pretty soon there’d be a fight and the stranger would leave.

Wanting to avoid her mother, Emily went around to the kitchen. Nobody came in this way but her and flies. She was careful going up the rotting steps and pulling the screen door open so it didn’t squeal, pausing to count the long holes in the bottom half of the screen. She saw a new one. Bud’s dog that was kept tied under the steps must’ve come up to the stoop and been digging at it again.

The hot kitchen smelled like rotten soup that always sat on the stove. An unformed longing for something better in her life filled Emily. Why couldn’t she live in a nice house? How come her house always smelled bad? Like the pee stink from Cooger’s room that got in her clothes so the teacher made her sit in the back at school? The other kids whispered about her behind their hands when the teacher wasn’t looking. They made her hurt inside and want to cry. Like when Lorie and Ted went away.

She didn’t want to think about school or the mean kids. She was too hungry. Sneaking off to play while Ma slept, she’d gone without breakfast. Now her stomach kept rumbling. Shooing flies off the jelly jar lid, she smeared a slice of stale bread with grape jelly. Nobody put the lid on tight so the jelly got thick and lumpy. Flies landed on the jar again and she went outside to share her snack with Bud’s dog, Spot. One of these days she’d get him some good dog food instead of that dry stuff Bud got sometimes. He’d like that.

Licking her hand for the crumbs, the brown and white mongrel waggled his skinny self at her. She patted him on the head. He’d been chewing on his rope and got it all wet. If Bud wasn’t careful, Spot would get loose and run off again. Then him and Jimmy Dowe couldn’t go hunting like Bud always said they would.

She heard voices arguing through the open front room window.

Ma yelled she didn’t want the dirty stranger in her house and he yelled back he’d go when he felt like it.

Ma said Al and Bud wouldn’t want him here neither. Al was Pa. He and Bud both had bad tempers.

The dirty stranger didn’t sound afraid of them or Ma. He sounded mean in that low voice he used.

Emily shivered.

Then their voices got lower and she couldn’t hear what else they said.

Wiping the dog’s saliva on her shorts, she returned inside. She couldn’t go upstairs or she’d get stuck sitting Cooger. That wasn’t any fun. He cried all the time and she got blamed for it. So she sat on the splintery wooden chair by the cellar door, making herself as small as possible. Out of sight, out of mind, she remembered somebody saying.

****

Joey Tyles counted the empty houses and vacant lots he passed. Lots more than he remembered. The Lees and Millers had gone. Like some disease had wiped them out. Town was dying and he’d come home to watch.

Home! The word left a bitter taste in his mouth. He turned onto Back Street that ran along the old railroad tracks. Laughter drew his attention. His gaze strayed toward the source of the sound, the junkyard. Brats played among the wrecks behind a long metal spike fence overgrown by vines and briars. He paused to wipe sweat from his forehead, watching them. One of the places he’d spent his childhood hiding from Ma and Al.

“Damn brats. Whyn’t they shut up?” he grumbled aloud, thrusting hair out of his eyes. He stalked past the weed-choked gates. Bet that dumb watchman still sluiced it down. They better look out for him if he’s still around. Ole Man Smif drank and got meaner’n hell. He hit me with a hunk of cement when I was a kid. Just because I called him a drunk. Ole fart’ll probably be the gatekeeper in hell too. Joey winced at the remembered pain. He’d worn that bruise on his shoulder for weeks.

He tripped over an exposed tree root growing out of a large crack. Righting himself, he cursed.

Bogden hadn’t changed. Confined by two mountains, it remained an uneven sprawl and needed a paint job. How could anyone with any gumption stay in this hole? Place was fit only for the rattlers that thrived in the scraggy woods. A shudder ran over his lean frame. Something he would never understand–why rattlers? Why did Claxton County and Bogden have a stupid annual hunt for them? Anything to bring in the tourists–a rattlesnake fair. He shuddered again.

Wonder if Margie Todder’s pa still tries to bag them. Got bit three times. And Les Pettifer–silly bastard–put one in his glove compartment to keep thiefs out. Two bites–ole fool was stinko. Joey shook his head and turned onto Blair Avenue.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small girl in blue shorts and red top following a ways behind. He swiveled his head to scowl at her. She stopped and waited, drawing back without actually moving.

Satisfied she’d been properly cowed, he continued walking. Teenage boys in an old souped-up red convertible roared toward him. They gunned the motor. He cursed their origins.

Ancient resentments flamed into new life. He’d had exactly nothing at their age, and they had all of it–money, girls, and hot cars. They jeered at his raised forefinger and disappeared around the corner.

He paused at the dirt path leading to the weathered old shack his family called home. He stared at it. Nineteen Blair Avenue. A garbage pile.

Bypassing a rusting black auto body half-buried in weeds, Joey ground summer-browned grasses to earth. Someone took the motor out and left it to rust. He snorted at the thought of anyone in this family having any mechanical ability. They didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.

He stepped onto the porch, the old familiar hostility projecting itself toward him. He acknowledged its presence and moved stiffly to meet it.

****

The screen door squealed sadly as Joey shoved it aside. The years fell away. He became again the boy who hated to come home, but had nowhere else to go.

The stuffy living room stank of unwashed people and stale beer. Faded blue-striped rags that passed for drapes were drawn against the morning sun. Piled clothing overflowed two chairs and filled one end of the old green couch. Probably the same crap sitting there the day he ran off all those years ago.

Movement at the side window startled him. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he saw the figure of his mother. She reclined in her old rocker outlined in the dusty light making its way inside. He paused to watch as she twitched and moaned. Had she ever gotten fat.

She jerked out of her semi-stupor. Swiveling her head in his direction, she glared up at him.

“Hello, ma.” He forced down the old anger.

She pushed herself up on one elbow and demanded hoarsely, “What the hell you doing here? Thought we was rid of you.” She shifted her body into the light so the sun turned her hair a bloody gray. Several empty beer bottles lay scattered about the rocker.

“I come to see you,” he said. “Been a long time.”

“Where you been? Jail?” She got clumsily to her feet, setting the chair to rocking.

“Aw, crap!” he growled in exasperation. “I’m here, that’s all.”

“Well, if you got plans to live off us, you best think again. We ain’t got no money to feed you,” she told him, putting her hands on her hips.

Still sounds like a drunken whore, he thought. Smelled like something rotten, too.

Plainly, she hadn’t missed him. He searched her broad, lined face for some hint of feeling and saw only annoyance. “Got a room? I’m tired from hitching all night. Had to walk the last twelve miles.”

“We don’t want you here,” she said, her voice hard.

“I’m staying,” Joey told her grimly. “I don’t want no arguing from you nor nobody else. I know you don’t want me, and I don’t care.” He saw the rising anger in her expression. “I ain’t gonna be around long,” he offered as a sop. “Now I got to rest. Which room?”

“Your old one’s still there.” She shrugged and turned her back to him.

He understood her. She figured sleeping in the dirty hole he’d shared with Bud as a kid would drive him away. On the cluttered stairs he found a narrow passageway created by filled bags and boxes. He was tempted to push them all down the steps, but resisted the impulse. Stuff would never get picked up and he’d probably break his neck on it later.

At the top he found the stifling air almost unbreathable. From somewhere the stench of urine overflowed into the hallway. He gagged and shoved his head out the open window. “Jeezus!” he screeched. “It stinks up here.”

“You don’t like it, go somewheres else,” she yelled up the stairwell as a baby began to squawl.

“I ain’t,” he yelled back. He intended to stay until his recent cellmates, Rufe and Jube Handler, came to meet him. They had plans–the three of them.

A cloud of dust rose as he opened the door to the corner room. Just like he’d thought. The place looked the same as he’d left it all those years before except the dust was deeper. “She ain’t never gonna clean nothing,” he grumbled and sneezed.

The room failed inspection. Dust coated the garbage dump furniture like a fuzzy fungus. Dust balls rolled across the bare wood floor as he forced open the windows. He sneezed again, making his throat hurt. The ache in his head threatened to return.

Shedding his blue cloth jacket, he flung the mattress over and dropped onto it. The stained, yellowed cover ripped under the weight of his body and the springs squealed as he sought comfort.

Feathers in the old pillow scratched his sweaty face through rough, gray material. He brushed at them with a weary hand, spitting lint. “If Ella hadn’t run off… .” he mumbled, rolling onto his back. But she had, after he’d given her three months of his time. If she hadn’t kept at him about dancing with other girls, he wouldn’t have hit her. She’d have that eye for a long time. Too late, he missed her.

“And ole Sterrat! That bastard owes me. He didn’t need to have me arrested. I’d put the money back when I got paid. Three months in jail for a lousy fifteen bucks. Damn him! I ain’t gonna forget that neither.” Thinking of the injustices committed against him, he drifted into the waiting dark where bad dreams always seemed to lurk.

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Cooler Than Blood, by Robert Lane

Cover ArtTitle: COOLER THAN BLOOD

Genre: Mystery

Author: Robert Lane

Website: www.robertlanebooks.com

Publisher: Mason Alley

Purchase on Amazon

18-year-old Jenny Spencer is missing after a violent nighttime encounter on a Florida beach. Jenny’s aunt, Susan Blake, asks wisecracking PI Jake Travis to investigate.

Susan and Jake had only spent one dinner together, but both felt an instant, overpowering attraction. Jake walked away.  After all, he was—and is—committed to Kathleen.  But having Susan in his life again could be dangerous:   dangerous in more ways than one.

As Jake and his partner, Garrett Demarcus, close in on finding Jenny, they uncover a shocking secret in Kathleen’s past.  Even more shocking is that Kathleen and Jenny’s life are strangely intertwined.

For Jake, this case may hit way too close to home—and what started as a race to find Jenny could become a fight to protect Kathleen.

As the case heats up and the danger escalates, Jake is forced to examine his moral boundaries.  How far is he willing to go for the woman he loves?   At what cost?  And what about that question that has dogged him since the beginning of the case: was there another person on the beach that night?

Chapter One

We paraded a block south to Dangelo’s condo and rode to the tenth floor. Like Kathleen’s, it had its own entrance off the elevator. The Tweedle twins didn’t enter the room—nor did my gun, which they confiscated at the door. I assumed they’d been instructed to make camp outside Dangelo’s door. Perhaps Tweedledum had brought along his music history textbook to study.

Dangelo sat at a desk that made him look big. He didn’t stir when I entered. I took a seat on a white leather couch and flipped through a magazine that told me about ten fantastic Caribbean restaurants I had to dine at before I jumped off the bus. I didn’t look at the article. I did look at the pictures of tan girls in white bikinis. The classics never go out of style. I helped myself to some salted cashews in a cut-glass bowl that rested on top of a glass-topped coffee table with a coral-reef base.

“Jacob.” It came out as he swiveled around in his chair so he could face me. “Have you found my missing funds?”

I finished my chew. “Working on it, Joe.”

“How? By going into one of my bars and informing the staff that I instructed you to talk to this missing girl whom you think I have? Such a childish game.”

“Staff?”

“Yes?”

“I just don’t see Special as staff.”

Dangelo stood. “Our arrangement, in the event that you’ve suffered short-term memory loss, is that you find my missing funds, then I do what I can to help you locate the missing girl, whom you erroneously think I possess.”

“That arrangement didn’t hold my interest. I find Jenny Spencer, and your money won’t be far behind.”

“You think?” He took a step toward me. “Then you are not thinking at all—for if that were the case, and I, as you have accused, am harboring the girl, why are we having this conversation?”

“I said, ‘far behind,’ not ‘with her.’ You didn’t bring me here for this.” I got up and dropped the magazine onto the glass table. “I’ll keep you posted.” I headed for the door.

“I did a little research.” His voice came from behind me. “You served for five years, but your trail gets cold the day you left the army.” I pivoted. He picked up the magazine from the coffee table and glanced at it. “I don’t think I even pay for this anymore. They just keep sending it.” He brought his head up. “Tell me—how does one get involved in your line of work?”

“A strange question from a man like you.”

“I’m curious…” He tossed the magazine, reached into the bowl, and grabbed a handful of cashews. “What chances did my two men have if you decided not to comply with my request for a visit?”

“None.”

Dangelo nodded as if I’d given him the answer he’d wanted, but it was the wrong answer for me to give. I saw it too late. Arrogance is the first step toward self-destruction.

“No,” he said with a tone of resignation, “I suppose not. You know”—he popped a few cashews into his mouth—“we had an incident not far from here about a year ago. We lost four employees, and the locals expressed alarming disinterest in the situation—not, of course, that we pressed them. You understand?”

“Not a clue what you’re talking about.” I started to circle the room.

“Sort of like me, when you bring up your missing Ms. Spencer.” Another cashew met its fate. “It did occur to us, however, that even if we had pressed our cause, the law just didn’t care. As if someone had hushed up the whole scene. ‘Bad for tourism,’ I believe the line was.”

“You can’t have four dead bodies in the sand in a beach town.”

“I never said they were on the beach,” Dangelo said.

“I read the papers.” I passed the front door and with my right hand turned the deadbolt. I kept circling. The distance between us shrank. Time and distance.

“They were good men. One of them was our best. They must have encountered someone who was highly trained, a professional, and not acting alone either.”

We paused. I wasn’t going to lead. At that point, I could do more harm than good—and already had. “There was a lady involved.” Dangelo said it cautiously and in a different tone, as if we had entered the demonic final movement of a musical score. My neck stiffened. My hand tightened into a fist. “Tragically she died on that beach.” His eyes rested on mine. A car honked. “Did you read that as well? In the papers?”

“I seem to recall something about that.”

“We…how shall I put this? We possibly overreacted. We thought at one time that the deceased lady might have knowledge of certain nonpublic aspects of our business. In retrospect, she probably had no knowledge at all. Our judgment was rash, but not nearly as bombastic as our adversary’s.”

Dangelo waited, but I remained silent, until the silence was self-incriminating. I asked, “Why are you telling me this?”

“After your sophomoric theatrics at the Winking Lizard, I had you followed. The car you were driving—”

I was on him in two steps and slammed him into the wall. His head snapped back with a thud then bounced forward so his forehead struck mine. A half-eaten cashew flew out and landed on my shirt. I choked his throat with my right hand. His neck was fat. I wanted to rip off a chunk and stuff it in his mouth. The door behind me rattled.

“What about the car?”

Dangelo took a second to get his breath. He smelled like cashews. The last time I smelled him, it was Swiss cheese and ham. “It’s double-parked, Mr. Travis.” His voice was tight. I loosened my grip. “Find my money, and you were never here tonight. This conversation never took place.”

I dug my fingers into his neck. “What about the car?”

“N-nothing.” I eased up even more on the pressure. “We thought—that is, my associate thought—he might have recognized it from the around the neighborhood.”

“Are you threatening me?” I was ticked that I’d been followed. I should have been more alert. Too bad for Dangelo. I swung him around and pressed his face against the window. “Because I’ll drop you through this window right now. Do you understand that?” His eyes widened in the reflection of the glass. I leaned into his ear and repeated what he’d told me at the deli. “Look elsewhere, Joe. The beach scene wasn’t me.” I gave the lie my best conviction. I like lies. Judiciously applied, they can help your cause more than a standing army. “And,” I continued, “here’s the new plan: find your own goddamned money.” I gave him a shove and stepped back.

“Certainly,” he started and then paused to catch his breath, although he tried not to show it. “Certainly you understand that if we had our money, we would be inclined to fully—no, permanently—support any decision made for the benefit of tourism. Whether or not, or not, you…um—”

“Save it. I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I’m not making any deal with you.”

“We say such things in times of—”

“The man you had lunch with the other day—he give you the script tonight?”

“No.” He regained his posture far faster than I’d thought he would. Dangelo might have been all dressed up, but he clearly had spent some of his youth on the street. “I’m not the puppet you seem to think I am, and spying on me certainly won’t advance your cause. Your reaction, Jacob, was totally uncalled for. All we’re—all I’m saying is that perhaps you can help us out. I didn’t mean to imply any threat. I apologize if you took my comments in that manner.”

But he knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew. Still, his earnest conciliatory tone caught me off guard. I couldn’t get a read on Joseph Dangelo—perhaps, though, through no fault of my own.

Regardless, I’d blown it. It wasn’t my first mistake and wouldn’t be my last. He had no way of knowing my elephant gun was loaded. I didn’t trust myself to say anything else—I’d already behaved foolishly. Dangelo called off the dogs, and I marched out of the room.

“Lewis Carroll would be proud of your career choice,” I said to Tweedledum as he handed me my gun.

“You mean Charles Dodgson?”

Screw this guy.

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Not All Americans Are Racist, by Nicole Weaver

american (4)Title: Not All Americans Are Racist

Genre:Nonfiction Essay

Author: Nicole Weaver

Website: www.nicoleweaverbooks.com

Publisher: Nicole Weaver

Purchase on Amazon

SUMMARY: In Not All Americans Are Racist, Nicole Weaver recounts her experiences with racial discrimination and the non-racist white individuals who made it possible for her to attend and finish college. As an immigrant from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, she is thankful for the opportunities America has offered her.

EXCERPT:

I hated saying goodbye to Mrs. Smith. I loved her with all of my heart. She represented all the good America had to offer to its immigrants, even if they were not white. Mrs. Smith saw potential in me that I myself did not see. Back then, I was just a black Caribbean girl thankful to have food to eat and a roof over my head. My mom at the time was single with the responsibility of working two jobs in order to feed and clothe my older siblings and me. I will never forget the day Mrs. Smith called me into her office to give me a pep talk about the importance of going to college. Honestly, I was scared to venture out on my own and go live on campus with people I had never met. Her coaching and encouragement helped me keep the fear at bay. Now, I was eager and ready to start the new chapter in my life as a college student.

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Between these Walls, by John Herrick

HerrickBTWTitle: Between these Walls

Genre: Christian/New Adult

Author: John Herrick

Websitehttp://johnherrick.net/

Publisher: Segue Blue

Purchase link: http://www.johnherrick.net/betweenthesewalls/buybook.htm

SUMMARY:

The latest release by best-selling novelist John Herrick, Between These Walls is an extraordinary tale featuring an unforgettable protagonist, Hunter Carlisle.

About Between These Walls:  At 26 years old, Hunter Carlisle has a successful sales career, a devoted girlfriend, and a rock-solid faith. But Hunter also guards a secret torment: an attraction to other men. When a career plunge causes muscle tension, Hunter seeks relief through Gabe Hellman, a handsome massage therapist. What begins as friendship takes a sudden turn and forces the two friends to reconsider the boundaries of attraction. Along the road to self-discovery, Hunter’s secret is exposed to the community. Now Hunter must face the demons of his past and confront his long-held fears about reputation, sexual identity, and matters of soul.

A story about fear and faith, grace and redemption, Between These Walls braves the crossroads of love and religion to question who we are—and who we will become.

CHAPTER 1

Had Hunter seen what he thought he’d seen? Had he given Hunter a second glance?

At twenty-six years old, after so many years, Hunter wished the temptation would release its grip on him.

Hunter’s heartbeat increased at the possibility of mutual attraction, but he steadied himself.

Surrounded on three sides by frosted glass walls, the conference room sat in an interior section on the fourth floor of a suburban professional building. Pipeline Insurance Corporation offered extensive packages for life, home and automobile coverage. Its customers ranged from individuals to small businesses to large corporations.

Hunter had pursued this potential client by phone for three months, trying to get one foot in the door to explain the benefits of his own company’s products.

Two weeks ago, he had secured an appointment for ten o’clock this morning with Jake Geyer, a manager in the technology services department.

Hunter had expected a few Pipeline staff members to attend the demo session, but at the last minute, the others had canceled. This occurred often with Hunter’s cold-call appointments and, after four years in sales, Hunter had learned not to take offense when it happened.

Side by side, Hunter and Jake sat at a large, mahogany table, facing the frosted glass walls. The polished surface of the table cast a reflection of Hunter’s laptop computer.

“So the program offers dynamic address formatting to satisfy postal standards,” Hunter explained. “The program is Internet-based and interacts live with our central server. As you know, to obtain discounted rates for bulk mail, the postal service has strict requirements that vendors must meet. Our program ensures compliance at the point of entry.”

Jake stroked the stubble beneath his chin as he examined the sample data-entry program on Hunter’s laptop screen. With one arm bent at the elbow, the sleeve of his polo shirt wrapped taut around his bicep, revealing enough shape to suggest Jake worked out. Jake wore stylish, olive-green glasses, which blended well with his dirty-blond hair and enhanced the color of his green eyes. Hunter estimated Jake was only a few years older than he. Thirty years old at best.

“I understand how meeting those standards benefits us,” Jake said, “but our data entry staff keeps a printed document of postal standards on hand. One question my director would ask is, ‘What does your product accomplish that we can’t accomplish ourselves?’”

Hunter had anticipated that question. Every prospective client asked the same question during their first meeting. But Hunter, who worked with the software every day and understood its benefits, had learned to respect his prospective clients and allow them to grasp the concept at their own paces. Moreover, Hunter had discovered that he could read between the lines. Individuals would express their own needs and desires through their comments and questions, which, in turn, helped Hunter customize a case for how his own company’s product offered a solution. For Hunter, the sales pitch focused less on convincing a client of their need than presenting his product as a hero that would save the day. Hunter believed in the product he sold. He viewed his visits as opportunities to enhance the work of others.

“That’s a good question,” Hunter said. “You mentioned on the phone that you enter a large collection of records to your database throughout each day, plus a load of address changes when people move to new apartments or buy new homes. I assume you run quality-assurance reports on those entries?”

“Yes, we deliver the reports to our data entry staff each morning.”

“Do you ever find errors in those updates?”

“Nothing major. The data entry clerk might enter a wrong digit in the street address. They might spell out ‘Street’ or ‘Post Office’ instead of using the postal abbreviations. Things like that.”

“That’s typical for my prospective clients. The benefit our program would bring is to eliminate that second step from your business process. By formatting your addresses automatically upon entry, we eliminate user errors, which increases your efficiency rate and allows your data entry staff to start its day entering new data instead of revisiting the prior day’s work.”

Hunter glanced over at Jake, who nodded. Hunter sensed Jake had absorbed and understood the details.

Shifting in his seat, Hunter scooted so his back settled flush against the back of his chair. For the last few months, he’d felt recurring soreness in his lower back. Though frequent and lasting several hours at a time, the aches didn’t occur daily. The pain level ranged from minor discomfort to occasional bursts that would stab his lower back like a knife. He could sense it wasn’t a medical issue, though, and attributed it to stress on the job.

Hunter continued his pitch to Jake Geyer.

“Plus,” Hunter added, “we receive regular updates to verify the physical existence of homes and buildings, which helps prevent a wrong digit or character in your address. Our data ensures that, yes indeed, a building actually sits at 1234 Main Street and hasn’t been torn down. That would increase your deliverability rates and eliminate the cost of mailing material to addresses that don’t exist. You can take the money that used to go down the drain in returned mail and reinvest it to increase your profit margin.”

Jake glanced over at Hunter, held his gaze for a few seconds, the way he had several minutes ago, then examined the laptop screen again. Though Hunter wasn’t sure, he thought he caught a change in Jake’s eyes during contact. Jake’s pupils had dilated a trace.

Why did he glance at me?

Sure, it’s a normal human response in a business scenario. Yet Hunter couldn’t help but wonder if Jake was focused on Hunter’s explanation of the program, or if he’d used the glance as an excuse to take a quick inventory of Hunter’s eyes.

Jake tapped the edge of the laptop. “So this is the program here?”

“Sure is. I can walk you through a demo if you want.”

Jake slid his chair toward the laptop, leaned in closer to the screen. And closer to Hunter.

Jake set his glasses aside to view the screen, so perhaps he was nearsighted. Hunter noticed Jake’s eyes were closer to olive than standard green.

Hunter picked up the scent of a fresh shower. The scent was pleasant but possessed a sharp tang. Men’s shower gel.

Hunter’s heart rate began to roll with the steady pace of a treadmill. A quiver ran up his thighs. His right arm rested on the mahogany table an inch from Jake’s.

Hunter wished he didn’t enjoy the proximity. Such simplicity would come to his life if he could free himself from the appeal he found in other men.

When in the company of others, often he wondered if he was the only one who struggled like this.

He forced himself to refocus on the screen ahead.

“Here’s a sample program for a magazine subscription company.” Hunter waved his finger over the program window. “The company isn’t real.”

“How about the colors and layout? Our software application is branded with our logos and a couple of company Intranet links. Is this what the program would look like if we purchased it?”

If we purchased it? When a client started talking about purchase scenarios, Hunter considered it a positive indicator. Hunter smiled with fresh vigor. He stretched his lower back to the left, then to the right.

“We integrate our software into yours. We’ve done it that way with all our clients. Our product is compatible across any format you throw our way.” He pointed to a small icon of a company logo beside the address line. “We incorporate that little icon into your screen in case you’d want to visit our website to research a particular address further. Other than that, you won’t notice a difference onscreen. It’s seamless; everything else gets woven in behind the scenes. We store our data on our own server, so you maintain full privacy of your data.”

Hunter paused to allow the logistics to soak in, swiped his finger along the laptop’s touchpad, then tapped it. “We’ll create a new record for Hunter Carlisle.”

As he hit the keys on the keyboard, Hunter kept his eyes glued to the screen. But in his peripheral vision, he saw Jake tilt his head and run his fingers through his hair, the way you do to make yourself appear casual. But then, as Hunter continued speaking, he noticed Jake had broken his gaze from the computer. Jake’s irises moved toward Hunter’s face and lingered there, assuming Hunter didn’t notice. Hunter felt a flutter in his chest. He could hear the soft sound of Jake’s breathing.

If Hunter could create a product, he would invent a method to read another person’s mind. In times like these, a mind-reading tool would allow him to decipher why Jake studied him with such intentness. For all Hunter knew, Jake could be trying to figure out whether Hunter was an honest sales person who believed in his own product. Yet Hunter couldn’t help but wish for a kindred spirit, someone who struggled with the same attractions he did.

For someone to find him attractive—a mutual attraction.

He wanted to ask but knew he couldn’t mix personal affairs with professional business. Not that he would dare to out himself anyway.

Hunter cleared his throat. Jake’s eyes darted back to the screen.

Okay, he didn’t want Hunter to know he’d sneaked that glance. The question for Hunter was, Why?

Statistics would render chances slim that Jake held any attraction toward Hunter. Hunter knew the percentage of those who concealed homosexual urges was small. But he also knew that percentage wasn’t zero. Hunter remained aware that, with all the people who crossed his path in a year,someone out there harbored the same secret he did.

The question was, who are those someones? For Hunter, attempting to find the answer carried, at minimum, a heavy risk. And Hunter hadn’t sharpened his senses enough to detect those someones on his own.

The what-if scenarios, like the one in which he found himself right now, felt like mental torture: a continual flow of questions never asked and never answered. After all these years, it exhausted him.

“In my mailing address, I typed the full words ‘Street’ and ‘Suite.’ Also, I typed ‘4738’ as our street number—but our address is 4739. There’s no building at 4738,” Hunter said. “Now, keep an eye on that address line when I move to the next field.”

When Hunter moved his arm, he brushed Jake’s arm by accident.

But Jake didn’t move his arm right away. Usually others did. It took Jake an extra second before he even blinked.

With a hit of the Tab key, the cursor moved to the next data field. In the address line, as Hunter had predicted, the street number changed to 4739 and abbreviations replaced the full words Hunter had mentioned.

“And that’s how it works, in real time,” Hunter said. “Without those abbreviations, a piece of mail to that address would not have qualified for a discounted mailing rate. And with a nonexistent street number, unless your postal worker delivered it on his own initiative, the piece of mail would have returned to you, with the cost of postage wasted. And with our program, your data entry staff wouldn’t have needed to correct the address in the morning, despite the address errors typed into the record. Multiply that by the thousands of addresses you enter and use per year, and it can add up to a lot of savings.”

With that, Hunter allowed his words to settle. He would let the prospective client have the next word, to which Hunter would respond.

Jake leaned back in his chair. He crossed his leg, stroked his chin.

“I can see the benefit behind it,” Jake said. “The question for us would be, ‘Does the benefit outweigh the cost?’ That’s the first thing my director would ask. Our data entry people enter 95 percent of the data in its correct format. So for those remaining cases, are we spending more money on data entry hours than we would spend on the cost of the product? Looking at the cost structure you emailed me yesterday—well, I hate to say it, but I just don’t see how we’d end up ahead.”

Hunter dreaded that response. As good as his company’s product was, and as much money as it could save a client, their current efficiency rate proved a wild card every time. Hunter had no way of knowing those efficiency rates when he entered into these initial meetings, and clients tended to avoid answering that question if he asked too early.

Jake’s reply wasn’t good. Demonstration meetings like these were uphill battles from the onset, so Hunter entered them prepared to counter a variety of possible scenarios. In each case, he would help the potential client see the long-term value his product offered. But in one sentence, perhaps without realizing it, Jake had all but shut down Hunter’s case. In one sentence, Jake had addressed not only their present situation, but also applied high-level analysis and reached a conclusion. And he also served as gatekeeper to everyone else at Pipeline Insurance Corporation.

Hunter decided to go for the next-best scenario. If he couldn’t sell the full product, he would try to sell one of his company’s smaller products.

“I understand what you’re saying,” Hunter said. “Although the solution I demonstrated for you is our top-notch, flagship product, we also offer a range of other services to help improve efficiency.”

In a halfhearted manner, Jake thumbed through a brochure Hunter had laid on the table earlier. “Do all of your services require integration into the software? Do you offer a standalone product we could use on an as-needed basis? That would reduce our cost of implementation.”

Hunter winced inside. He saw where this conversation was headed, and it wasn’t headed toward a sale. He knew he couldn’t offer a viable alternative to meet their needs. The discomfort in Hunter’s back inflamed further.

“The software-integration aspect is a foundational piece of all our products. In fact, it’s one quality that sets us apart from other data providers because it provides a seamless user experience.”

Jake shifted in his seat. “I’m afraid you’d have a tough time selling that to my director. With the upfront costs that would come with integrating the software, and the work involved by the tech staff on our end … I can tell you right now, he won’t go for it. I can pass along to him anything you’d like me to pass along, but I’ve walked through enough projects with him to tell you there won’t be a sale.” He drummed his fingers once upon the table. “To be honest, I could tell from the literature you emailed yesterday that the software wouldn’t be a good match for us, but I wanted to give you a chance to stop by anyway, in case I’d misunderstood some of the details.”

Jake glanced at Hunter. Hunter caught a twinge of disappointment in his eyes.

“Man, I’m sorry,” said Jake, one young adult to another. “Working together would’ve been good.”

Hunter appreciated the remark. He also wondered if Jake had meant his comment about working together at face value, or if he’d referred to getting to see Hunter more often, had the deal worked out. Hunter couldn’t decipher the answer. Though he would never admit it to a soul, the latter notion incited a longing inside him.

“Hey, I understand.” Hunter bit his lower lip, started shutting down his laptop, and retrieved a flash drive from his saddle bag. “I’ll leave this flash drive with you. It contains a demo of our product for you to pass along to your director. If he expresses interest, feel free to contact me, okay?”

Jake reached out to receive the flash drive. Their fingertips brushed. Jake’s eyes caught Hunter’s again, as if searching for a potential next move. Hunter wanted more time to see what, if anything, hid behind the signals—or non-signals—he’d detected from Jake.

In the end, however, professionalism disallowed either man from asking questions or taking another step. In a social context, or if they knew each other better, perhaps they would have had more flexibility.

But today they didn’t.

Hunter hoped the forlorn expression in Jake’s eyes meant what he wished it did.

Chances were, it didn’t. But the fact that someone like Jake—a peer, an equal, and a handsome one at that—might have looked at Hunter and considered something more …

It left Hunter with a surge of warmth combined with the ache of another letdown.

Whether out of courtesy or a desire to savor the final moments their paths would cross, Hunter didn’t know, but Jake walked him down to the lobby.

They shook hands. They exchanged formal smiles. And Hunter walked out the door as Jake turned back toward the elevator.

Five steps out the door, with more than enough time for Jake to have reached the elevator, Hunter glanced back.

Through the glass walls of the lobby, he noticed Jake lingering at the elevator, glancing back at him.

The elevator door opened. Jake seemed to hesitate for a split second, as if caught between options of what to do next, then turned and entered the elevator.

Hunter nodded.

Another opportunity … vanished.

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Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia, by Marija Bulatovic

Front Cover hi resTitle: Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia

Genre: Memoir

Author: Marija Bulatovic

Website: www.fantasticalbook.com

Publisher: SOL LLC

Purchase on Amazon.

SUMMARY:

It’s been said that the truth is stranger than fiction.  Marija Bulatovic’s dazzling debut, Fantastical: Tales of Bears, Beer and Hemophilia, certainly underscores that adage.  Fantastical, Bulatovic’s reflections on her Yugoslavian childhood, is a mesmerizing memoir that takes readers on a wild and unforgettable tour of a country that has vanished from the map, but lives on in this lively collection.

With a pitch perfect voice, and a keen eye for capturing the absurd, the outrageous, the hilarious, the touching, and the sublime, Bulatovic weaves a rich tapestry.  Bears, gypsies, quirky family members, foiled plans, unusual and unorthodox neighbors, Fantastical has it all.  Lovingly told with an unmistakable fondness and deep affection, Fantastical is resplendent with humor, magic, and whimsy.

In this colorful, captivating and clever collection of stories, Bulatovic captures the spirit of the Slavic soul—passion and melancholy with a twinkle in the eye.  Fantastical charms with its wit, keen insights, and larger-than-life stories. Part memoir, part love letter to a place and a people that lives on in memory, Fantastical is irresistible.

An exquisite assortment of stories—each more delicious than the last—Fantastical is a tale to be savored.

Introduction

The gypsy woman shuffled the cards, blew on them, and cast them down, carefully, deliberately, with the skilled hand of a weaver of life and magic: 

You will travel the world,

A child will make you proud,

You will marry a businessman, but you will still work to make your own way,

You will live a life of adventure…                                                                                                                                                                      – Kraljevo, 1993 

The Yugoslavia of my childhood was anything but dull.  A fantastical place rich in history, populated with intense people, and shot through with wonders and deep emotions, it was part of the Balkans, otherwise known as the powder keg of Europe.  It was the birthplace of diverse luminaries – from Nikola Tesla, inventor of modern alternating current, to Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Albanian nun who would become Mother Teresa, to top tennis star Novak Djokovic.

Touching Austria to the North, Italy and the Adriatic to the West, Greece to the South, and Romania and Bulgaria to the East, it was the place that started World War I, that pioneered its own grand experiment in socialism, and that would later be home to the infamous ethnic cleansing of the ’90s and some of the most sought-after mass murderers on the planet.

Given its strategic location, it had been in the path of many conquerors.  Everyone from the Visigoths to the Ottomans to the Austro-Hungarians to Soviet-era Communists had traversed its beautiful lands, leaving parts of their customs, language, and DNA behind.

The Ottomans brought foods and spices, the rhythms of the East, Islam.  The Austro-Hungarians imparted Western European tastes, their own musical preferences, and industrial-age improvements.  Finally, the Communists, the great equalizers of the diverse groups of people who now called this land home, were probably most responsible for the feeling of solidarity that I most strongly associate with it.

To me it was an amusing and intriguing place.  Strange happenings, outrageous gossip, black magic – all were part of the fabric of my childhood, along with the safety and stability of home that was always there in the background, the love embodied in my parents, grandparents, and the larger circles of family and friends.

As I read back through these stories, the word “fantastical” sticks in my mind.  Its meaning ranges from “existing in fancy only” to “slightly odd or even a bit weird.”  My Yugoslavian childhood was definitely both.  These stories represent a lost world.  Not only does the Yugoslav nation no longer exist, but the sense of solidarity among its peoples, giving way in the ’80s and ’90s to ethnic divisions and nationalist tendencies, will never be the same.

These stories also represent an odd world.  In a young socialist country with pagan roots, ancient and modern worlds slammed together.  The incongruities were sometimes jarring, sometimes hilarious.  As a child, I tried continually to make sense of it all.  As an adult, I feel lucky to have taken it all in.  I feel fortunate to have had such a start in life – a strange start, perhaps, but one lived openly and in full color.

I sometimes describe my childhood as “socialist meets gypsy Woody Allen.”  When I was eleven, a nurse on her way to work one morning was stabbed in the back by a coworker.  The two women worked together at the only hospital in our town and were part of a love triangle.  In the end, no charges were filed, and the three lovers went back to work as usual.  As local gossip had it, it was fortunate the event had taken place near the steps of the blood bank, ensuring rapid transfusion.

Others died each year in horrific bus crashes, caused by the regular drinking of drivers ferrying people to their chosen vacation destinations – or, in this case, to their deaths.  Still others met their demise after eating poisonous mushrooms purchased at the local market.  Apparently, the sellers couldn’t tell the difference or just didn’t care.

Especially in more remote parts of the country, a few people each year would barely escape being buried alive.  Since no doctor was involved in validating death, the family would make the judgment on their own, sometimes mistakenly.  The deceased would then be left to their own devices, forced to bang on the coffin lid in the midst of the funeral procession to be let out.

Needless to say, all this unpredictability fueled the superstitions harbored by many.  At the same time, after more than thirty years of Communism, some things in Yugoslavia were very predictable.  In our traditional, homogenous society, before the economic crisis that was to come, no one was too rich or too poor, no one too well or shabbily dressed.  You could always count on some things to run smoothly and others not at all.  A case in point was the Yugo.  Voted one of the Fifty Worst Cars of All Time, it supposedly featured rear-window defrost so your hands wouldn’t get cold while you pushed it.

The Yugoslavia of my memory was wonderfully diverse, and in my world, at least, its various ethnic and religious groups lived together in relative harmony.  Those around me were generally happy and satisfied with life, frequently socializing with friends and coworkers.  The sense of solidarity was high.  People wanted to do good and contribute to the overall benefit of society, and they generally looked out for one another.

I also remember a strong sense of intimacy, with people deeply involved in each other’s lives.  It was common for everyone to know what you were cooking for lunch, and should the aroma leave some question as to the exact dish, it was perfectly acceptable to ask and have your suspicions validated.

Growing up, it was my grandparents’ world I was most familiar with and that colored my childhood.  While my parents worked, I spent most days with my grandparents in the large apartment complex they shared with other military families in the Serbian city of Kraljevo.  Communist-era buildings are typically presented as drab and gray, but I remember the balconies always beautifully adorned with plants and flowers, the interior walls always freshly painted in pastel colors.  I also recall the complex teeming with people coming and going, providing abundant material for the local gossip.

Other stories reflect my parents’ world, in Kraljevo and on the banks of the Adriatic where we vacationed each summer, still surrounded by family and friends.  Their world, too, was caught up in tradition, elaborate social norms, and the remnants of a more superstitious time, but it gestured toward modernity.

Some of these stories come to me solely though the gossip of neighbors, embellished in their own minds and later, in mine.  Some come through the lens of childhood, colored by my need to make sense of my own actions and an often confusing world.  Still, this place and time – the Yugoslavia of my childhood – is real.  Welcome, reader, to these tales of a time and place long gone, a world vanished from the map but not the mind.  Join me on this journey and let your own reality dissolve.

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Chapter Reveal: ‘Going From Undisciplined to Self-Mastery: Five Simple Steps to Get You There’ by Harris Kern

self-mastery-198x300Genre: Non-Fiction

Author: Harris Kern

Publisher: Koehler Books

Amazon

Going from Undisciplined to Self-Mastery is not a clone of all the other self-help books in the marketplace today. It is the proof not the hype. This book, based on hundreds of successful case studies featuring people from all walks of life, facilitated by the author’s life coaching and organization performance mentoring business to give them the discipline they needed to overcome the issues the author dubbed as The Dirty Dozen:

  • Severe procrastination
  • Failed goals
  • No motivation
  • No sense of urgency
  • Disorganized
  • Lack of structure
  • Not focused
  • Not managing sleep optimally
  • Poor performance
  • Poor time management
  • Lack of energy
  • Inconsistency

The author’s business focuses on helping people and organizations achieve self-mastery.

A key component for a successful life is acquiring discipline. The author believes that self-mastery is the defining element in your life. With it. you can achieve almost anything; without it you will struggle to exist.

To reach a level of self-mastery you first need to develop your self-discipline, by learning how to overcome The Dirty Dozen. The Five Steps you’ll need to take are:

  • Institute Structure
  • Prioritize Your Life
  • Manage Time
  • Hold Yourself Accountable
  • Seek Perfection

The author not only mentors his clients using these principles but he has actually been practicing what he preaches for more than four decades.

Foreword 

I was contacted by Roger Bengtsson after he searched the Internet using the keywords self-discipline and mentor. He sent me the following email:

“I’m not proud about my self-discipline lately. Too much television, no regular sleep rhythm, and so on. I’m ashamed. Not long ago I had self-discipline and I felt fine and I probably had my best days in life. And now, back to zero again. No goals, no hunger for a new day.”

He had other challenges:

  • Severe procrastination
  • Slept too much—nine-to-ten hours
  • Wasted two-to-three hours lounging around in bed every day
  • No motivation
  • No sense of urgency
  • Not energetic

His career was going nowhere. He was a security guard in Sweden. At the age of  forty-two his life seemed pretty dismal. His only consolation—he wasn’t alone. Most people I meet have very little, if any, self-discipline. No matter how intelligent or creative someone is, without being disciplined it is almost impossible to excel in life.  That’s why the self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar gold mine. So-called experts know that very few people become successful just by reading a book, listening to motivational audios or attending a seminar on success.

Roger was no different; he read several self-help books and was constantly listening to audios for inspiration,  everything he tried was a short-term fix. He needed more than canned advice. He needed a mentor who walks-the-talk, has a time-tested process and who could hold him accountable for his daily routines. He needed a roadmap—not a lecture.

Although we lived on different continents, I felt that I could turn his life around. This book is designed to take you on a similar journey from being an undisciplined casualty of bad habits, like Roger had been, into a master of your own fate. It will walk you through the time-proven five steps needed to become more productive and enthusiastic about life. These easy-to-follow steps you’ll take on this journey will help you develop the self-discipline you’ll need in order to live the rest of your life in a constant state of high level enthusiasm and purpose. Once you master all five of these steps, you will be able to combat the top issues affecting many people in the world today—I refer to them as The Dirty Dozen:

  • Severe procrastination
  • Failed goals
  • No motivation
  • No sense of urgency
  • Disorganized
  • Lack of structure
  • Not focused
  • Not managing sleep optimally
  • Poor performance
  • Poor time management
  • Lack of energy
  • Inconsistency

Even though this may seem like quite a list, really it’s just the tip of a very large iceberg. Individuals the world over are struggling every day to do more with less.

For your benefit, this book is divided into three major sections.

  • The first section is an Executive Overview. It highlights all Five Steps with simple flow diagrams and brief descriptions.
  • The second section describes the Five Steps in detail.
  • The third section highlights The Proof not the hype to help individuals and organizations get structured by featuring:

─   Easy to-follow process flow diagrams of the five steps.

─   Case studies from dozens of one-on-one life coaching sessions and actual organization consulting engagements from Fortune 500 companies.

─   Multiple examples and exercises to help you get proficient in time management.

─   Exercises to help you train your mind to hold yourself accountable.

In the event you are wondering just who would buy this book consider the following.

  • Every dieter, who can’t stick to a plan,
  • Everyone who wants to get into shape, but lacks the motivation,
  • Every college student going out into the world for the first time,
  • Every job seeker looking for that edge,
  • Sales managers who want to get more out of their team,
  • Real estate agents who need to remain disciplined through slow periods,
  • Companies that need to be more cost-effective,
  • Pretty much anyone or any organization that wants to be more productive.

Going from Undisciplined to Self-Mastery describes how to acquire the most important ingredient for optimal success in one’s lifetime: Discipline. Those who are willing to work hard to acquire discipline will not have aspirational roadblocks.

What does it look like? How does this system work? Here’s how we plotted a path for Roger.In the first half of the table below, I documented the actions taken to mentor Roger, and in the second half of the Table are the results attained from our one-on-one mentoring sessions.

Action Taken
1 I facilitated an assessment of Roger over SKYPE. I asked approximately one hundred questions covering every area of his personal and professional life. The first step was to understand his strengths, weaknesses and goals. Once I completed my discovery exercise, we reviewed my findings and discussed a strategy to move forward. After the evaluation we established three priorities: career, health and relationships (family and girlfriend).
2 I designed a strategy based on his goals and three new priorities. The strategy also included mentoring him to develop his self-discipline skills using the five steps highlighted in this book:

1.     Institute Structure

2.     Prioritize Your Life

3.     Manage Time

4.     Hold Yourself Accountable

5.     Seek Perfection

3 We established a new routine to help Roger be more productive. I wanted him to treat everyday equally. My objective was to eventually train his mind so he can hold himself accountable . The routine included:

  • Training seven days a week.
  • Writing thirty minutes a day.
  • Practicing English daily.
  • Following and maintaining his to-do list every day!
  • Maintaining structure throughout the day.
  • Reducing sleep time from nine hours a day to six.
  • Eliminate lounging in bed.
  • Wake up with a purpose.
  • Focus on daily milestones not his goals.
4 I continuously reminded him that it’s now or never, that the old Roger is dead and gone. He needed to quickly make up for the years of laziness. I wanted to instill a sense of urgency.
5 I made sure he created a to-do list each evening.
6 I held Roger accountable several times a day, even though he resided in Sweden, using SKYPE calls and email. We reviewed his milestones¾what worked and what didn’t work.
7 I trained him to follow the same routine, to-do list and constantly reminding him that he doesn’t want to go back to the lazy and unproductive Roger. We had many conversations throughout the week to ensure ongoing success.
Results
1 Roger is productive every day.
2 He trains each day.
3 Writes consistently, both blogs and books.
4 He holds himself accountable.
5 He makes every minute count.

·       No longer watches TV for hours at a time.

·       Doesn’t lounge around in bed.

·       Doesn’t procrastinate.

6 New goals are thoroughly planned with realistic milestones.
7 He’s always organized and clutter-free, which allows him to be creative and even more productive.

.

How it Started

My neighbor, Jim Jarman, was in his forties when I was thirteen. What a specimen: intelligent, handsome, exercised every day, great physique. I looked up to him.

On one of those typical warm summer California days, Jim was outside mowing the lawn with his shorts on and his shirt off. We would always be clowning around together, trading sarcasm. On this particular day, he said the five magic words to me that changed my life forever: “Harris, you look like shit.”  (As you can imagine, we were pretty good friends.)

I could tell immediately that he was serious. He was right; I knew it. At the time, I stood six feet tall and weighed 135 pounds.  If I turned sideways, you would not be able to see me. I was that skinny. It was a disgusting sight!

I looked at Jim and said that I knew it, but genuinely did not know what to do about it. I ate everything in sight but could never gain a pound. “Harris,” he said, “Eating massive amounts of food is not the way to approach your problem. Your body needs a major overhaul, and it doesn’t start with your mouth.” At thirteen, I did not understand what he was trying to tell me. How else do you gain weight?

“If you decide to follow my instructions to the letter than I will help you out.” I said sure, not having a clue as to what was forthcoming. “I want you here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after school. What time do you usually get home?” I get home at 3:45 p.m. each day. “Okay, on those three days, I want you at my house by 4:00 p.m., and don’t be a minute late. If you’re late, the deal is off—no second chances.”  This was Saturday, so we started that Monday.

I was really looking forward to my first session. Maybe, just maybe, I could obtain a body like his in no time.

What a rude awakening. He put me through hell! A very stern exercise program. What do I mean by stern? I mean three days a week of torture, always pushing me harder than the week before. There was weight training, running, swimming and most importantly lecturing me as we were exercising. He would always keep me focused on the exercise and our long–term objective. It was continuous badgering. There was no time or place for social talk.

He would also teach me not to rely on anyone for help. Why not? Is it not okay to rely on your friends occasionally? Not for acquiring Discipline. It is one hundred percent you and no one else. Athletes know that 80% is upstairs (in the mind), where it all starts, especially on those days that you’re too tired, or stressed out and not in the mood––that’s when you need to push yourself the most. He was training my mind more than my body, although I did not know it at the time.

Jim was like a drill sergeant. He was instilling me with Discipline. I figured if he was willing to give up his precious time to help me out, the least I could do was show up on time. Besides, after I agreed to do this, he actually dared me to quit or show up late. He tested me every day.

Looking back now, I realize what an illusory mind game this entire ordeal was. His tactic was very effective, scaring me into never being late. I did not know it back then, but he was training my mind, starting with the easiest form of Discipline: punctuality.

Do you realize how difficult it was for a thirteen-year old kid to pull this off? Think back in time to the number of distractions you had to constantly deal with as a young teen.  Yet I never missed a day.

Walking the Talk

There are many successful self-help gurus out there with many publications to learn from, however what sets me apart from the pack is the fact that I have walked the talk for decades and even now while in my sixties my passion to accomplish and excel is second-to-none.  For me, life ia sll about accomplishments and leaving behind a legacy.

I am highly successful and growing my legacy by leaps and bounds. My children and the love of my life Mayra are going to be the beneficiaries of more than just a hefty bank account. They will inherit prime real estate property and multiple businesses. They would also have a vast collection of books I authored in the family library and vivid photographs on the mantle to remember me by. In my mind, they would continue to abide by the morals their mother and I instilled in them. I also assumed they would adhere to the same top three priorities that I did  and continue to develop their self-discipline so they’d wake up every morning for the rest of their lives with a purpose. Just like their dear old dad, I wanted them to accomplish as much as possible every day. Faith, balance, and discipline would always be the catalyst for their own success.

Looking back over my sixty plus years of existence, there were plenty of major accomplishments to write home about. One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that at the age of sixteen, I purchased, in cash, a brand spanking new car and paid for my own insurance. My disciplined mannerisms and tendencies manifested themselves at an early age. At the age of thirteen, I threw myself into the labor market with a vengeance.  I desired money and truckloads of it—quickly, especially after having netted approximately $700.00 in cash, checks and bonds and at my Bar Mitzvah in 1967.

To appease my never-ending hunger for money, I worked multiple jobs after school and on the weekends. There was no job big or small that I wouldn’t do; yard work, babysitting, delivering newspapers, filing brochures at a travel agency. At one time, I even worked at an auto junkyard pulling batteries from old clunkers. It was a dirty and dangerous job but someone had to do it. I’ll never forget the day that I pulled out a battery from a car right before it was being hoisted up for demolition. As I stood there and watched it being lifted by a crane, a large rattle snake fell out and scared me. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I never went back after that.

These jobs were all performed between the ages of thirteen to sixteen, with one hundred percent of the income being deposited into my savings account. It was the only way I could purchase a new car by my sixteenth birthday. Growing up, I was mentored to be frugal and save money. My parents always used to tell me:“Never purchase small insignificant items like  records, beer, media paraphernalia, and knick-knacks at the mall. Forget all about the latest craze and  always eat at home.” Their sound advice has served me well throughout my entire life.

While other teen-aged boys were busy scamming for girls or getting into all kinds of trouble, I had already entered the corporate world. I was only eighteen years old when I accepted an entry level position in the Information Technology (IT) Department of a large company in the San Carlos California. Back in 1972, it was referred to as Data Processing and shortly thereafter as Management Information Systems (MIS). Removing the carbon sheets from computer generated printouts wasn’t exactly a glamorous job. Although it was a dirty job, it was the proverbial foot in the door that I needed to gain full admittance into the very exciting world of technology.

It was a full-time job, but I completed my duties in approximately five hours time. The rest of my day was spent helping out in other departments—learning, growing and striving to get on the management’s radar screen as a quick learner, efficient, and someone who had a ton of initiative. My goal was to be promoted out of that function as quickly as possible—the sooner, the better.  I had bigger fish to fry.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget what my dad said to me at an early age. “Son, if you rent an apartment or house it’s like flushing your hard-earned money down the toilet.” Needless to say, I took these words to heart. Living on my own became a goal of mine, one that turned into reality at the age of nineteen, when I purchased a home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My life changed drastically when I bought my first home without any financial help from anyone. It was a two-bedroom townhome about fifteen minutes south of San Francisco. I was scared to death of getting tied down to a mortgage at such a young age—it was nerve-racking to say the least. However, it was a fairly conservative strategy, putting down a larger down payment of 20 percent so the monthly payments wouldn’t strap me down. Investing in property at an early age was one of my smartest undertakings.  After two years, I sold it for a nice profit and moved to a nicer neighborhood.

After dabbling in real estate, I turned my focus to muscle cars. There were millions of nice muscle cars out there but I wanted to have so much more than just another fancy hot rod. What I yearned for was something wholly unique that would win “Best of Class” at all the premier car shows in the U.S. At the age of 21, my muscle car and matching speed boat were featured on the front cover of  the July 1975 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.

The top speed boat and muscle car with a matching maroon with flames paint job, which belonged to me, were showcased at the granddaddy of all car shows in Oakland, California. They won the top prize—best of show. I named the boat Dirty Harry and the car Sano SS. Winning “Best of Show” was the ultimate honor for the combo until I received a phone call from Hot Rod Magazine a few weeks later. A representative saw the car and boat at the car show and wanted to feature them in one of the magazine’s summer issues. Wow, what a great feeling when it hit newstands and stores in July of 1975. I’ll never forget driving in my award-winning muscle car to the lakes throughout California with matching speed boat in tow to water-ski. I made quite a spectacle cruising on the streets and highways.

Early on in my career, I knew that management was the right path to take. After all this is where the big bucks were along with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and character building challenges. Having good communication skills, always thinking strategically, possessing excellent leadership skills and being passionate about developing a highly efficient organization was my true calling. At the age of twenty-three, I was promoted to my first management position. From that point on, I climbed the corporate ladder at nearly a record-setting pace and went on to become Vice President of IT in my early thirties.

By the time I reached my 38th birthday in 1992, I was financially set—a multi-millionaire. One million dollars worth of equity in property and another cool million in cash constituted success for me, at the time. I invested wisely—mostly in property, worked hard, and never put all my eggs in one basket. I made it a point to make sure there was always a steady stream of income coming in several small consulting firms—just in case that big reduction in force happened.

In 1982, my corporate job of 10 years ended abruptly—everyone was given a pink slip, including yours truly. Being unemployed for the first time in my professional life was downright scary, but having a healthy savings account and multiple sources of income to pay the mortgage and living expenses for approximately two years eased the burden considerably. In a matter of a few months, I was recruited by a large Japanese electronics company in Silicon Valley.

Once I got back into the corporate world, my goal was for the name Harris Kern to become synonymous with IT and self-discipline.  At the time, based on my research, there were many one book wonders. But that wasn’t going to cut the mustard with me. I wanted an impressive bio that would clearly stand apart from the pack, which could also be used as my resume, one that would open up any door.

My first IT related book was published in 1994 by Prentice Hall and it quickly became a best-seller.  Shortly thereafter, the president of Prentice Hall called to congratulate me and he asked me, “When are you going to write another book?” Little did he know that my mind was already actively strategizing to write a series of IT management How-to books.

I was invited to attend a conference in 1997, which was facilitated by Prentice Hall in San Diego, California.. All of the top-level publishing executives  were in attendance, including my executive editor and his boss.  My objective was to get my own imprint of books named Harris Kern’s Enterprise Computing Institute. I presented my plan to them with conviction and they agreed. Over the next few weeks we worked out the contractual issues. The imprint published its first book in the series in 1997. It worked flawlessly with dozens of new books being published under my imprint on a regular basis. Overall, I published more than 40 books with Prentice Hall and a few other publishers as well. On the Richter scale of personal success, I considered myself to be a rock star as a management consultant, author, publisher, motivational speaker, and business/individual mentor.

What makes my recipe for life so wonderful is the way I live life as a process—with a philosophy for living.  I’ve had my share of hard times, disappointments and temporary setbacks. The way they’re handled really influence our ability to recover, move on and stay on track.  For me, Discipline is key.

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Cornered, by Linda DeFruscio

Cornered_medTitle: Cornered: Dr. Richard J. Sharpe As I Knew Him

Genre: Memoir

Author: Linda DeFruscio

Website: http://www.thecorneredbook.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Amazon

SUMMARY: In the year 2000, Linda DeFruscio was forced to make an unthinkable decision. Someone whose genius she admired immensely, a business associate and dear friend, committed a terrible crime. In response, she could cut off their friendship and avoid the risk of losing friends, clients and her own peace of mind—or, she could trust her gut and try to save some aspect of her friend’s humanity.

Cornered is Linda DeFruscio’s story of her long and often complex association with Dr. Richard J. Sharpe, the millionaire dermatologist from Gloucester, MA who was convicted of killing his wife. Beautifully written and surprisingly tender, Cornered allows the reader an upfront view of the fragility of genius and the decline into madness, all while casting a second light on how one woman’s refusal to turn her back resulted in momentous changes in her own life.

CORNERED

Chapter One – Hair, Pseudonyms And Transgender Lives

My mother was an electrologist too. Before she got into the field, she worked in a factory, welding small parts for airplanes. She was good at working with small things; she was good with her hands. She liked electrolysis even more than airplane parts because along with the intricate hand work and exacting eye focus came people, different people with different personalities. When I got out of high school in 1972, she took me into her office (which was in our home) and did my eyebrows. She explained the process to me as she worked. I went into a dental studies program that same year, offered by Northeastern and Tufts, and after a year and a half I received a Dental Assistant certification. Thereafter I was accepted into a dental hygiene program, but at a school in Connecticut. (The ones in Massachusetts could only put me on a waiting list.) Instead of leaving my family to live out of state, I decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps and go to school for electrology, and cosmetology too. While I was a student, I worked as a dental assistant (as well as a McDonald’s counter person and a housecleaner) to pay my bills. I graduated from Eleanor Roberts School of Electrology in Boston in 1975.

In school, people came in off the street to get inexpensive treatments from the students. One day Bart Fish came in, our neighbor from near our home, and I worked on him. He told me that sometimes my mother worked on him too. Small world. I didn’t know. Bart was married and had three kids, one still at home. He confided that he was a cross-dresser, which was why he didn’t want facial hair (and probably why I hadn’t known my mother was working on him). By the time he came to me, I was a licensed master barber as well as an electrologist. I worked on Bart’s beard and also cut his hair and shaved him. I even practiced a few perms on him. On one occasion, his daughter freaked out. She said I’d sent him home looking like a poodle. She didn’t mind the cross-dressing, because he did that elsewhere, in a different state; it was a separate segment of his life. But she couldn’t endure seeing him every night at the dinner table looking like a priss. She made such a fuss that I went over one evening and cut off his curls.

My mother, I would come to realize, knew lots of cross-dressers, because they made up a good percentage of her clientele. But she had never talked to me about them. It was Bart who helped me to understand that some people just weren’t totally comfortable with the gender they’d been born with; or they weren’t comfortable all the time. He was lucky, he said. His wife accepted him as he was. He was her best friend and she didn’t want to lose him just because he felt the need to alter his gender presentation now and then. Bart’s job as a bra and underwear salesman provided him with the opportunity to travel to different cities, destinations where he could cross-dress without worrying about who found out. He had a friend in Manhattan, and she was okay with his cross-dressing too. He said to me once, “Cross-dressers will be some of your best clients. Don’t be afraid of them. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re all just people.”

Once the cat was out of the bag, my mother and I began to spend social time with Bart and his wife, chatting over lemonade on their porch or in our house. One day Bart offered to take me to an IFGE—International Foundation for Gender Education—meeting so I could learn a little more. His friend Merissa Lynn had founded the organization, in Waltham, Massachusetts. She wanted to help me to find clients. I told her I liked to write and she suggested I write an article about electrolysis for the IFGE magazine. She and Bart introduced me to other people.

Over time, Bart became my mentor and confidante. When Mom retired, he encouraged me to start my own business. Even though I was still very young, Bart and his wife were certain I would achieve success. I would inherit mom’s clients, and there would be some IFGE people too. To me, the transgender people were just regular people (perhaps a little more empathetic and more educated than other people I knew) who were conflicted about their gender identification. They lived, they died, and in between they worried about high blood pressure and paying their taxes like anyone else. My acceptance of them was automatic; after my conversations with Bart, I never gave it a second thought. As for Bart, he was a second father to me, my own father being away much of the time.

So I did it. I started my own business. At first I worked in the house, in the room that had been my mother’s office. Then, with Bart’s encouragement, I opened my office in Newton, and before I knew it I had a thriving practice. I liked being an electrologist. I liked the process. Each hair I removed gave me a surprise. One might have a big juicy black bulb at the end, and one might not. Analyzing each hair provided a clue as to what was going on under the skin. Also, I liked the people. They weren’t all transgender people either; a lot of my clients were straight men with ingrown hairs or just too much hair, or straight women who needed work on their upper lips, chins, legs, or underarms. Some wanted eyebrow shaping. Sometimes pregnancy produces unwanted hairs in unexpected places. Electrolysis is a safe way to deal with it. Menopause can create hair havoc too. All kinds of people seek to control their hair growth.

Being an electrologist is not so different from being a psychiatrist…or a bartender. If a client comes in for hundreds of hours, and you are working together in a small quiet room, eventually they will open up and tell you about their life. I’ve had many a patient cry and admit they need to work on a particular issue. I always respond, “I’m not a therapist. I’m not allowed to tell you what to do. But I can give you my opinion.” That always turns out to be what they wanted anyway, more or less.

I’ve done my share of venting too. Once, on the way into work, a crazy driver came within an inch of taking me out on the highway. I was really shaken up. I remember how happy I was when I got to the office and realized that my first patient was someone who would want to know every detail of the almost accident. The transgender clients were always the most interesting to tell your troubles to, because they are really part female and part male. If you tell them a relationship problem, for instance, they will be able to help you to look at it from both perspectives. Talking to transgender clients is as comfortable—and as comforting—as talking to my mom or best girlfriends. In fact, I count a few transgender women among my best girlfriends.

Besides my work, I continued to write skin care articles for Merissa. One day I was even contacted by the famous—well, famous to those of us who work in skin care—Dr. Peter Chives, who asked me to write an article for the Annals of Dermatology, for which he served as editor-in-chief. Dr. Chives was the author of more than a dozen books, one of which was in its sixth edition and had been translated into several foreign languages. He was also the author of over three-hundred scientific publications. I was thrilled when he contacted me and said he considered me to be outstanding in my field and wanted me to review a textbook that had been written by one of his colleagues. I accepted of course. But while I had written lots of magazine articles, I’d never written a book review on a technical book, and I had no idea how to go about it. As it happened, one of my patients, a professional writer, volunteered to give me some tips. I submitted the final piece on time and the issue appeared at the end of 1991.

* * *

When Chris Trembly first called me I was between patients and had the time to talk, which was good, because Mr. Trembly had some nice things to say. He’d read the article that I’d written for Annals of Dermatology. He liked it a lot; he thought I was a good writer. This was about the best compliment anyone could pay me. Chris Trembly said he liked to write too, but he didn’t say what he wrote and I didn’t ask. He’d called because he had ingrown hairs on his neck and he thought I would be the right person to remove them. We set up an appointment.

He came in a week later. He was a sweet, shy, soft-spoken, unassuming man. Dark eyes, longish dark hair. A combination of a young Mick Jagger and Keanu Reeves. Maybe 5’9, about 165 pounds. Mid to late thirties, which is to say about my age. He wore black pants and a white shirt and dark cranberry penny loafers with shiny pennies in the vamp inserts. I led him into the treatment room. I have a chart on the wall there featuring several graphics that define the electrolysis process. The first thing I do with a new patient is tell him or her how electrolysis works—a very fine probe inserted into a hair follicle on the surface of the skin, etc. I always enjoy this explanation. I use the chart as a prop.

Before I could get started, Chris Trembly told me, politely, that he didn’t have time for the first-visit consultation that day. If I could just work on a few of his ingrowns…. He promised the next visit he would relish the opportunity to talk about the process. In spite of the fact that he was in a hurry, he was pleasant. When our eyes met, he looked right into mine. I had him get up on the table and I examined his ingrowns under the light and removed a few. We set up another appointment.

An ingrown hair can occur when a hair is shaved and it retreats below the skin surface, causing inflammation and irritation. There are ways to reduce the number of ingrown hairs, such as running one’s razor under hot water for about thirty seconds. Shaving in one direction (the direction of the hair), and never using a blade more than three times, is also good. If  you cheat, your skin will know. I was telling all this to Chris Trembly during our third session, because during the second session, as was the case with the first, he had to be somewhere and didn’t have time for more than the removal of a few more ingrowns. I was happy to finally have the chance to impart my knowledge to him, to point to the illustrations on my trusty wall chart. He followed the movement of my finger diligently. Alternately, he looked into my eyes. His apparent interest in what I was saying stirred me to say more, to add more detail than usual. When I stopped to take a breath, he smiled a hesitant smile and said, “My name isn’t really Chris Trembly.”

I was taken aback not at all. There are those among my clients who prefer that I don’t know their real names. Like Fred, for instance. In ten years I’ve never asked him for his real name and I never plan to. Fred adores his wife and his five kids. He has a nice home. He likes his life. When he first came to me, he said, “I don’t want to change my life but I do want to be more of the real me. I want my hair thinned on my beard, knuckles and brows.”

Over time Fred told me his story. He cross-dressed once a month, always in the daytime when he could fit his excursions into his work day. Generally he went to out-of-town malls or to hotels to have lunch alone or with transgender friends. Unlike my dear friend Bart, his wife knew nothing about it, and he had no intention of letting her find out—because he suspected she wouldn’t approve. He knew he was right when she told him over dinner one night about the disgusting transsexuals she’d seen on some TV talk show. The last thing Fred wanted was for her to think of him that way and leave him. The second to last thing he wanted was to have to give up the one afternoon a month that he dressed as a woman. He came to me to find a compromise.

Money was no object for him, so we agreed that we would do very short sessions, removing only a few hairs at a time, several times a month. I said, “At this rate you’ll be with me for a long time.” “That’s fine,” he responded.

During each session I removed two or three hairs from under his nose, a few from his chin, his brows, his knuckles—so little that if anyone noticed at all, they would think he had scratched himself. While I worked, he liked to talk about politics. He had a government job, he said. During one appointment he told me a story about how he’d lost his purse while he was out. I said, “Oh my God, was your government ID in it?” No, he’d created a different ID for his excursions, for his alternate self; he even had a PO box just for his transgender mail. His interest in politics and his guile led me to suspect that he worked for an intelligence agency. But I never asked.

After eight or so years of ongoing appointments, we got to where he wanted to be; he was no longer “hairy.” But he didn’t look as though he’d had any hair removed either. We knew we had created a masterpiece when his wife said to him one day, “You know, now that you’re getting older, your hair is thinning on your face. It looks great! You’re more handsome than ever.”

I saw him once with his wife, at my favorite luncheonette. He’d asked me years before never to say hello to him if I saw him outside of my office, and I’d never forgotten. So I turned away while I waited for my to-go order. I was about to pass their table on my way out the door when he said, “Nice day, huh?” I glanced at him. He was smiling. I glanced at her. She looked at me suspiciously. I said, “Yeah, it’s beautiful,” and hurried outside.

* * *

I smiled at Chris Trembly when he said he wasn’t Chris Trembly, and I went on talking about ingrown hairs. I was explaining that you could use a tablespoon of salt and warm water, mixed together on a piece of gauze, or even in your hand, as an exfoliant to heal any irritation…just like how ocean water works to heal the skin. But a few minutes later he interrupted my lecture again to say, “Did you know that an ophthalmologist from St. Louis, Missouri was the first person to use electrolysis on someone who had ingrown eyelashes in the year 1875?”

That stopped me cold. I stared at him. He smiled his sheepish smile. Then he pulled his wallet from his pocket and extracted two loose photos and handed them to me. The first was a picture of him wearing a lab coat over a dress shirt and tie, a stethoscope draped around his neck. The second appeared to be a photo of a woman, but I recognized instantly that it was him, in drag. I handed them back. “Are you a doctor?” I asked.

He nodded. I looked him over. As always, he was wearing a fresh white shirt and penny loafers, his signature ensemble. He said, “I’m a dermatologist. My name is Richard Sharpe.”

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The Blackwell Family Secret: THE GUARDIANS OF SINS, by by Jonathan L. Ferrara

blackwell

The Blackwell Family Secret: THE GUARDIANS OF SINS
by Jonathan L. Ferrara
URBAN FANTASY, Young Adult
Publication date: December 5, 2014
Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing
www.dragonwellpublishing.com / AMAZON

Nicholas Blackwell has no idea he is supposed to fulfill a destiny. All he knows is that he draws trouble like a magnet. Orphaned at eleven when two demonic men killed his parents, he copes with the strict rules of his new home, St. Christopher’s academy, unaware that he has been the real target for the killers and that his guardian angel has saved him in the nick of time. And now, his problems are only beginning when a mysterious serpent lures him into the woods and tricks him into a demonic ritual that will unleash the Seven Deadly Sins to destroy the humankind. Nicholas has no choice but to correct his mistake–or die trying. Aided by Amy, a shy but determined girl who seems to know more about his task than she should, Nicholas’s quest is to travel into the City of Demonio and defeat the Seven Guardians of Sin. To succeed, he must confront demons, monsters, and lost souls, learn the mysteries of the Chapel of Dreams, discover the true meaning of friendship and love, and face the darkest secret of all: the Blackwell Family Secret.

“The Blackwell Family Secret: the Guardians of Sin” is a debut young adult urban fantasy adventure with a Christian theme.

////////////////////////////////////

[As I walk through the valley of the shadow of

death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.]

Psalm 23:4

The dark night engulfed Nicholas. His sweaty palms trembled

against his thighs as he stood in the valley, knowing there was

a good chance he was about to die. His throat tightened, as he

imagined all the terrible things that could be happening to Amy.

What if she was hurt? What if she wasn’t even alive? By now,

Nicholas had an open mind to the impossible. Anything could

happen. Nothing was off limits.

Fog dripped down the valley walls and rolled past his feet.

The hazy air made it difficult to see, until a spark of ember shone

in the distance. Decrepit gravestones scattered across the dead

field, stopping at the end of the valley at a palace of white stone.

Enticed by curiosity, Nicholas made his way through the valley.

Thin brittle bones crunched under his feet as he continued on. A

group of limp, old men crept behind, dragging toward him. Their

hands and arms swayed like a rag doll’s as they lurched through the

fog. The men cried, grinding their teeth with pain, as though they

had been waiting centuries for this moment, for Nicholas’s arrival.

Nicholas halted at the entrance of the palace, eyes locked on

the elegant script etched along the front doors: Blackwell Manor.

Cold air scraped his skin and reached down his dry throat like

a claw. His breathing became harsh as he stared at his family’s

name. His trembling hand slid into his back pocket, fingers

fighting for his inhaler. Quickly he placed it against his lips.

A cold, hollow voice echoed across the valley, chilling him

to his very core. The words hung in the air: I know a secret that

could change the world.

Nicholas calmed his nerves with a puff from his inhaler.

How could he, a boy, have come this far and survived so much?

It seemed as if Nicholas had forgotten a lot in his walk through

the valley, as if his mind was erased in such a short period of

time. He had completely forgotten how he got to the Valley

of Death, why he held six random objects in his backpack and

what had happened to his friend. There wasn’t too much he

could recall, but one thing was certain: he was about to face the

greatest evil imaginable.

As he opened the front doors of the Blackwell Manor, he

stared into the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. And

then he remembered…

The snowfall had stopped and thick ruby curtains fell together,

making the stage disappear like a magic act. Seven-year-old

Nicholas Blackwell followed his parents’ lead and stood between

them to applaud. He looked up at his mother, who had the

same smile on her face as when the show began. Her dark red

hair was elegantly done up, and her long black dress sparkled

as the overhead lights beamed from the stage. He then looked

to his father who towered over him, wearing an exquisite black

suit with a blue tie to match his eyes. Oliver continued to clap,

and Nicholas did the same.

It was the largest theater in New York City, and Nicholas had

a hard time weaving through the tall masses of lavishly dressed

people. He tried to keep up with his parents, but one wrong turn

lead him to an unfamiliar hall, where he halted at a ferocious

gargoyle statue. He searched frantically for his parents through

the sea of people, standing on the base of the marble statue to

get a better look. His chest tightened with every second that

went by, and as he reached for his inhaler, he completely forgot

that he had given it to his mother to hold in her purse.

An enormous gloved hand rested on Nicholas’s shoulder,

and he turned to see a giant of a man hovering over him.

“Hey there Nicholas, you alright?” the man said in a thick,

burly voice.

Nicholas tried to respond but couldn’t find words. The man

reached into his coat pocket, and Nicholas took this opportunity

to run into the crowd. The man yelled for Nicholas to return,

but as he tried to follow, his coat caught on the teeth of the

gargoyle.

Nicholas surged through the crowd, feeling as though he

could faint at any moment. His vision blurred as he felt dizzy.

Just as he felt he would topple over, he saw red hair and his

mother’s arms stretching toward him.

“Nicholas!” Kathleen shouted in relief as she pulled the

inhaler from her purse.

“Sorry,” Nicholas said from behind his inhaler.

Oliver put a hand on his shoulder. “You scared us to death.”

Nicholas looked up. “There was a man, he knew my name.”

His parents exchanged a worried glance.

After an unsettling moment, Oliver knelt down to be level

with his son. “Nicholas, I want you to promise me you will stay

by our side, alright?”

Nicholas nodded and looked to his mother, who had not

taken her eyes from him since they had found him.

In the lobby, Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell mingled with some

friends, colleagues and one of Kathleen’s old professors from

New York University. Nicholas made a round of introductions

with his parents’ friends. He counted five pinches to the cheek,

three “look how tall you’ve gotten” and two “you look just like

your father”. He quickly forgot faces as he was being introduced

to an endless stream of people and hid behind his father, arms

wrapped around Oliver’s leg.

“Oliver,” said a man with a thick mustache and a cane,

looking as though he had just stepped out of an old Hollywood

film, “How goes the Blackwell Foundation?”

“Very well, thank you,” Oliver said proudly. “This year,

the hospital is looking brighter than ever with over two dozen

volunteers for Christmas. The donations have been most

generous, the best I’ve ever seen. The children will have a truly

blessed Christmas this year.”

“Good to hear,” the man said, leaning against his cane.

“Remind me to contribute a little extra.” He winked and turned

to Oliver’s wife. “Kathleen, may I say you look enchanting this

evening?”

“Thank you, Professor Larson.”

“I hear you’ve taken over the homeless shelter down on

32nd street. How is it holding up?”

“It’ll be a Christmas to remember.” Kathleen’s contagious

smile had everyone joining in.

Professor Larson now looked to Nicholas. “Nicholas

Blackwell, I presume?”

Nicholas nodded as he came out from behind his father.

“It’s very nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard wonderful

things. Your parents just beam about you. You know, you look

just like your father.”

Three times. That was the third time Nicholas had been

compared to his father.

It was getting late when Nicholas’s parents finally said

goodbye to their friends. It was one of the only nights Nicholas

was allowed to stay up so late—a holiday treat. He loved it.

Staying up late made him feel grown up.

Out on the street Oliver waved down a taxi. Nicholas got

a glimpse of his father’s ring embedded with an amethyst

stone. A family heirloom, one that had been around for many

generations. Not too long ago, Oliver said that one day the

ring would be handed down to Nicholas. Ever since, he had

appreciated the ring much more.

The taxi made its way toward their home through the

labyrinth of a city toward the Upper East Side. The city was lit

up, busier than ever on the Christmas Eve, and the shops stayed

open long past midnight. When they arrived, Kathleen helped

Nicholas out of the car as Oliver paid the taxi driver, giving him

a generous tip that made the man beam with gratitude, thanking

him over and over again.

“Happy Holidays to you and your family. Take care,” Oliver

said.

“You as well, Mr. Blackwell. God bless.” The taxi driver

waved goodbye and drove off into the night, probably heading

back home early, now that he had made more than enough in

tips to make his shift worthwhile.

Huddled under her cozy jacket, Kathleen wrapped her arms

around Nicholas. Her warmth overpowered the bitter cold

night. “You know Nicholas, Santa Claus is probably already

delivering toys to children around the world.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Nicholas jumped with excitement. “I can

hardly wait until morning.”

“Me too.” She smiled.

Oliver joined his family at the front door and took out his

house key from his coat pocket. Just as he unlocked the door,

his cell phone rang. Kathleen’s look made him hesitate.

“It’ll just take a minute,” he assured her.

“Alright, but remember it’s our night.” She took Nicholas’s

hand and led him up the stairs to his bedroom. She helped him

change out of his suit. He took it off reluctantly. He loved

dressing up like his father.

In his pajamas, Nicholas knelt down beside his bed. He

wrapped his hands together and closed his eyes. “Now I lay me

down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before

I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Kathleen smiled warmly as she watched her son pray.

“Dear God, I pray that everyone in the entire world has a great

Christmas and has someone to share it with. Thank you for my

mommy and daddy and everything. I love you God. Goodnight.”

Nicholas jumped into bed and crawled under his thick,

superhero-themed comforter. Kathleen gave him Dexter, his

stuffed bear, and kissed him on the cheek, then turned the

bedroom lights off, leaving a nightlight on in the corner of his

room.

“Goodnight mommy.”

“Goodnight sweetheart. I love you.” She closed the door

behind her, leaving it open just a crack. Nicholas hugged Dexter

and closed his eyes. It didn’t take long at all before he dozed off.

The sound of shattering glass awoke Nicholas. He looked at

his bedside clock. 3:33. Muffled voices echoed from downstairs.

He pushed off his comforter and crept toward the door.

Through the crack in the doorway, he could see that the light

in the living room was on. The unfamiliar voices grew louder.

Trying to move as quietly as he could, he tiptoed toward the

edge of the staircase and slipped his head between the rails of

the banister to get a better view.

His heart raced as a man came into view. The same huge

man with black gloves he’d seen by the gargoyle statue in the

theatre was now standing in his living room.

“Alright Blackwells, where are you hiding them?” The man

moved aside, revealing Oliver and Kathleen, bound to chairs.

Nicholas covered his mouth to stifle a gasp. Now that the man

faced Nicholas’s direction, he could see what the man had been

hiding under his coat. Though he looked human, his skin had

an odd green tint. Scars showed through his thick facial hair.

Nicholas also saw another man, more stout than tall, stuffing

his mouth with cookies. His jaw seemed to unhinge as he fit in

piles of cookies with ease.

“Would you stop filling your face and get over here?!” The

big man in the coat smacked his companion on the back and a

whole cookie flew from his mouth and crumbled on the floor.

“Sorry, Mr. Romulus, sir.”

Romulus turned back to face the Blackwells. “I’m only

going to ask you one more time, Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell. Where

are the sins?” He circled them in long, stalking steps.

“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” Oliver spoke

weakly.

The man swung, hitting Oliver in the face. A tooth flew out

of his mouth. The man eating cookies laughed, crumbs falling

down the front of his overalls, his enormous belly bouncing

with each menacing chuckle.

“Oliver, Oliver, Oliver,” Romulus taunted. “Why do you

make me hurt you?” He stopped his pacing and leaned into

Oliver, then glanced at Kathleen quivering in her chair, her dress

tattered, her tangled hair half-covering her face. “You think I

don’t know the famous Blackwells? You Oliver, the infamous

Seeker who had sent so many of my kind back to Hell.” He

turned sharply to Kathleen. “And your wife, Kathleen Blackwell

formerly known as Kathleen LaGuardia. Studied at New York

University where she majored in Philosophy and Religion with

a minor in Demonology,” he smirked, leaning closer. “Your

beauty could bring the Guardian of Envy to tears.”

“We do not Seek anymore,” Kathleen said, fighting to speak

through a cut lip.

“And why was that, again? Was it because you finally were

able to conceive?” He pressed his hand against her belly.

“Don’t touch her!” Oliver bellowed.

The man with the cookies laughed louder.

Again Oliver was smacked across the face. “Where are the

sins, Oliver?! Where are they?!” Romulus cut Oliver’s ropes and

forced him out of the chair, pushing him against the glossy,

wooden floorboards kicking him three times in the stomach.

“Stop it, please!” Kathleen cried.

Romulus pulled out a pistol from his side pocket and shoved

it into Oliver’s face.

Nicholas’s heart pounded so hard that he was sure his chest

would burst. Breathing became difficult.

“I’m gonna ask you one more time, Kathleen, or your

husband will die. Where are the sins?” Romulus demanded, as

he tightened his grip on the pistol.

“If I tell you the whereabouts of the sins, you’ll just kill us

anyway.” Tears fell hard down Kathleen’s face.

“Ah, Katie… Can I call you Katie?” his voice softened,

but Kathleen didn’t answer. “I am a man of my word. Tell me

where you hid them and all of this will go away.”

“Kathleen, don’t,” Oliver said.

“Shut up!” Romulus’s face reddened, distended veins pulsing

beneath his skin. He shook the pistol. “I will pull this trigger.

Now answer me, Kathleen! Where are you hiding the sins?”

“They are contained.”

“Where?”

“Sins can only be contained within… innocence.” As the

words left her lips, Oliver closed his eyes and muttered the

word ‘no’ over and over again.

“Innocence,” Romulus smirked. “A child. You brilliant

woman. Now, how come we never thought of that?” He turned

to his friend who had finished the Christmas cookies. “I love it.

Simple, yet righteous. Innocence, all a part of the great Divine.”

He looked up to the ceiling, as if it was to the Heavens.

Nicholas quickly leaned back from the banister so that he

couldn’t be spotted. Then he heard the most horrible sound. A

gun shot. Kathleen screamed.

Nicholas looked back downstairs. He couldn’t see his father

behind the couch. Kathleen hung her head and sunk into her

chair as low as the ropes would allow her.

“You evil son of a bitch!”

“Ouch, Katie. There is no need for all that.” Romulus lifted

her chin and looked straight into her eyes with a menacing

smirk.

“You said you wouldn’t hurt him.”

“Hurt him?” Romulus gave a slight chuckle. “No, I didn’t

hurt him. I freed him. You should be thanking me. I thought

the Blackwells were all about protecting the Divine. Now he is

at peace.”

Kathleen spat in his face. With the sleeve of his shirt he

mopped his face clean.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said, hands leaning

against the arms of her chair. “You see, Katie, we’ve been

watching your family for a very long time now. And I know for

a fact that when you and your husband fought the Guardians of

Sin and contained them, like you so honorably admit, that you

were actually… pregnant.”

Her face was now soaked with tears. She shook her head,

begging for him to stop.

“Now I can’t think of anything more innocent than a child

that hasn’t even been born. A child that hasn’t even had a chance

to sin.” He turned to the man covered in cookie crumbs. “Get

the boy.”

“No!” she screamed.

Nicholas jumped to his feet and hurried up to the third level

to his parents’ bedroom. He didn’t care how much noise he

made, he just knew he had to hurry. He hadn’t even realized he

was carrying Dexter until he ran into the bedroom. Just as he

crawled under the bed he heard the sound of another gunshot

and his mother’s screams stopped.

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult | Tags: | Leave a comment

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