Novel snippet #3 – The Sleepless Knights. *the Muse has been on fire lately. :)

“Alright, where are we heading first, kids?” Kyler asked once each of us threw out our garbage. 

“I say we let the lady choose,” Quinn threw his arm over my shoulders. 

“Oh no, it’s totally up to you guys.” 

“But we want this to be your night, Maeve,” Cayden affirmed. “What did you usually do first when you would come here as a kid? If we leave the night up to Quinn we’ll end up in the middle of the Atlantic.”   

“Well, after we chowed down on sausage sandwiches, we’d play some games. My grandmother had this knack for winning the spinning wheel games.” 

“Oh, you’ve seen nothing yet, sister,” proclaimed Rian which earned him a slap upside the head from Kyler.  

The six of us walked the boardwalk for a bit until we spotted lines of games that seemed to be calling to us. Quinn, Donovan, and Kyler made their way to the strong man game while Cayden and I followed Rian to a Frog Bog stand. We watched him pay the operator for two buckets of frogs. 

“That giant Pac Man is as good as mine.” 

“Re, just take it easy okay. Don’t go nuts,” Cayden threw him a slightly stern look. 

“Yeah yeah, KD, don’t worry about me,” winked Rian. He loaded his metal launch pad with his first frog. I patted him on the shoulder and wished him luck before Cayden and I found an empty spot on the opposite side of Rian. I couldn’t help but notice a big teddy bear wearing a Yankees jersey hanging amongst the menagerie of stuffed prizes. Instantly I thought about how much my brother would have loved it, especially when he was younger. After a few moments of staring dazedly at the bear, I snapped myself out of it.  

“Have you ever played?” I asked Cayden, handing him a rubber mallet. 

“No, I can’t say I have. Us New Englanders are deprived.” 

“Well then, let me show you how it’s done.” 

Before I could get my money out of my jeans pocket to pay the man for my bucket of floppy rubber frogs, Cayden insisted he’d pay and we’d split the bucket of ten. 

“Always fold the frog with his head facing you, and always go for the lilypad in the middle that’s not moving. That way if it bounces off the middle it has a chance of landing in one that’s spinning.” 

“You make it sound like a science,” he teased but smiled sweetly. 

“Oh, I have done extensive research and experimentation. I come from a family of boardwalk game Mr. Wizards after all.” Unfortunately, I was all talk because out of the five fervent shots I took, allowing the rhythmic sound of mallets hitting metal around me to fuel the fire, I only got one on a lilypad. 

“Okay, so I’m a little rusty.” I stepped aside so he could take his turn. 

“Well, why don’t you go ahead and take the next five. I’m going to save my energy for the game where you have to throw baseballs at glass bottles.” 

“Are you sure?”  

“I’m positive. I much rather see you enjoying yourself.” He put his mallet down and gestured for me to continue. 

I set another frog onto the launch pad, aimed, then tried to judge how much force I had to use. Hard rubber hit metal and off it went directly into the middle pad. I thought I saw Cayden wave his hand right when I hit the launch pad but I wasn’t totally sure. 

“I did it!” 

“Nice! Keep going.” 

I took my time with each shot. Every single one landed on top of the other in the center lilypad. I was in awe, mostly by my sudden surge of accuracy, but I was also puzzled. Each time I launched a frog, I caught Cayden from the corner of my eye, waving his two right fingers forward as if guiding each frog into its spot. 

“What are you doing? Willing the frogs to their home,” I laughed. 

“Something like that,” he rubbed the back of his neck. Something I already noticed he did a lot when he was nervous. 

“Annnnd, it looks like we have a big winner here. Alright miss, what will it be. You can choose any of these guys that are hanging up.” The game operator pointed to the line of humongous stuffed animals swaying in the breeze from the overhang. 

“Oh, wow! In all my years of playing this I never won the jumbo prize. That’s okay, I have no where to put any of these monsters anyway.” 

“Well, the medium ones aren’t so bad. Come on, you can’t walk away with nothing.” Cayden playfully nudged me with his elbow. 

“So which one would you pick for me?” 

He scanned the row of animals hanging in between the jumbo prizes. I watched as he rubbed his chin and gazed at the toys as if examining an abstract painting. He squinted his right eye. Clearly he was exaggerating, but I couldn’t help but notice how cute he looked. Knock it off, Wicklow. He’s no where near your league.

“That one.” He pointed to the bear with the Yankees jersey. 

“No way, that’s the one I had my eye on before.” 

“I guess I know you better than you think I do.” 

“Here you go miss, enjoy,” the operator swung the large bed pillow-sized bear into my arms and I immediately squeezed it into my chest and rested my cheek on its head. I thanked Cayden for letting me empty our bucket of frogs. 

“My pleasure. Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t admire that bear right now.” Cayden rubbed the back of his neck. I could tell he was mentally kicking himself for making such a bold statement to a girl he’s known for a few short hours. 

“Let’s go see how Rian is doing.” I turned and hoped he didn’t see the red in my face. 

A light crowd had gathered around Rian on his side of the large booth. They watched in awe as he landed a frog in every lilypad he aimed for. He already had the big PacMan, along with a Scooby Doo and a Batman lying beside his launchpad. 

“Alright folks, now who wants to see me bounce this thing to the other side of the pond?” Rian posed like a circus ringmaster. 

“Actually, little brother,” Cayden grabbed the mallet before Rian had a chance to raise it over his head. “I think you may have had enough of this game. Let’s try one of those mechanical crane games that you love, huh?” 

“Oh come on KD, I want to get the R2-D2 for Donovan!” Rian had to be at least 17 but he sounded like an eight year old at Disney begging to ride Space Mountain for the fifth time. 

“Yeah, listen to the man, kid. You gonna take all my prizes!” The other game operator complained. 

“What are you talking about? You guys rake in the dough. Everyone knows these games are rigged.” 

“Listen you little twerp, you callin me a cheat!” 

“No, he’s not. Not at all, sir. Rian, get your stuff and let’s go. Now.” 

“Fine,” he defeatedly grabbed his winnings and followed Cayden and I like an angry puppy down the boardwalk to meet up with the other guys. 

“Now that’s something you don’t see when you come here.” 

“What’s that?” Cayden grabbed my bear for a moment so I could zip my jacket.  

“A Frog Bog sniper.” Out the corner of my eye, I could have sworn I saw Rian, who was trailing several feet behind us, throw something back the other direction.

“Oh, that. Well, he knows a lot about physics and all that stuff. With Gus’s tutoring, he’s getting a better education than I ever did.” 

Suddenly we heard a commotion back at the Frog Bog booth. It was hard to see from where we stood, but it looked like the angry jerk game operator was trying to punch some spiky-haired skater kid in the face as bystanders intervened.  

“Man, that dude’s pissing everyone off tonight, huh?” Rian laughed with a triumphant grin. 

“Rian, do we have to get Gus to come put your ass back on the bus?” 

“Nooo, I didn’t do anything.” 

“How could he, we’re like 50 feet away at this point?” I came to the defense of the little bugger. 

“Exactly, listen to the lady.” Rian held out his Batman to me. “May he always remind you of me and defend your honor, my enchantress.” 

“Aww, thanks Rian.” 

“Dude, really?” 

“Hey, don’t get made at me you weren’t able to win something for the lady.” Rian put his arm around my shoulders. 

“Actually, Cayden was nice enough to let me take his turns so I could win this guy here.” I patted Yankees bear in the head. 

“Awww, how sweet. Look who decided to use his skills to his advantage.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked confused. 

“Nothing, absolutely nothing. Come on little bro, let’s go explain to Donovan why I wouldn’t let you win him a R2.” Cayden playfully put Rian in a headlock and gave him a noogie. Come to think of it, he might not have been playing around that much. 

“NO! No, no, no!” Rian pleaded. “I’ll be good the rest of the night, I swear.” 

With Rian’s head still locked in his bicep, Cayden headed in the direction of the other guys who were standing at a spinning wheel game, and I followed closely behind. 

They never struck me as typical guys from the moment I met them. It didn’t take a genius to figure out these guys weren’t your run-of-the-mill teenagers you’d find in arcades or skateparks. These were grown men in a band – still young, but definitely no longer boys. Yet there was something puzzling about them that went beyond rock star eccentricity. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew there’d be little more they would share with me being so close to public figure status, so I tried to go with the flow. Still, something inside me felt that Cayden was being the most secretive, and he was the one that dragged me along with them in the first place. Okay..okay, he didn’t exactly need to drag me to Seaside with him and the boys. I could have easily got in my mother’s car, drove out of that mall parking lot, and never think twice about it. Despite my wonderment, I was ecstatic I took the road less traveled. Rhiannon would he so proud of me, and enormously pissed I didn’t have Gus come pick her up on the way. 

“Hey there you two! Look what I won.” Kyler held up a giant box of Sugar Daddys with the excitement of a lottery winner.

“That’s awesome, Kyler! Pace yourself there, buddy. You’re not going to want to sing after three hours of root canal.” He chuckled at my little joke.  

“Yeah, but check this out,” Quinn pulled a framed mirror out of a paper grocery bag and held it in front of Cayden and I. Our reflection was partially blocked by a big, printed emblem in the center. “Our name is on a boardwalk prize. We have arrived.” 

“The Sleepless Knights..That is so great, you guys. Congratulations! That puts you all up there with Motley Crue.” 

“Ha, I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but thanks for the vote of confidence.” Cayden draped his arm over my shoulder. 

“Hey, listen to the woman,” Quinn asserted. “If this boardwalk was busier right now, we’d be swimming in chicks. Don’t get me wrong. I love that it’s just the six of us. But there’s really no hormonal balance right now.” 

“Man, start thinking with the head on top for a change,” quipped Donovan as he poked his fearless leader in the top head.    

“Oh, before I forget,” Kyler handed me a stuffed Care Bear, “This is for you.” I struggled to carry three rather large stuffed animals. 

“And this is for you,” Quinn slung the strap of a brand new pink boombox radio over my shoulder. 

“Oh my God, guys. This is too much! Are you all winning every game you play?” 

“Yeah” 

“No” 

Donovan and Kyler answered at the same time. 

“Oh yeah, this for you too,” With his head down, Donovan placed a shiny purple lock and key diary in my somewhat free hand. 

“Thank you so much, Donovan. It’s beautiful.” 

“Nice, man,” added Cayden. 

“Yeah, well, I didn’t win what I wanted from that dart and balloon game, so..”    

“Are you kidding. You just wanted to clear that wall of balloons and watch the dude’s jaw drop. You were going to walk away with nothing until you saw that book,” Kyler dodged a swat from an annoyed Donovan. 

“Well either way. Thank you. All of you, so much. This has already been an interesting night,” I laughed and continued to struggle holding all of my loot until Cayden took some of it off my hands. We managed to squeeze the diary, the boombox, and at least the bottom half of one of the stuffed toys into my backpack. Batman’s head stuck out of my Jansport like a baby strapped to my back. 

“Ok, what do you say we hit some rides, huh? Last one to the bumper cars buys ice cream!” Rian exclaimed then ran towards the ride pier. Kyler and Donovan took off behind him. 

“Dude, you know you gotta be able to see over the steering wheel!” Quinn jogged to catch up. 

Cayden and I looked at each other and shook our heads, making a silent agreement that we weren’t going to run. We walked in silence for a few moments. The further we walked into the heart of the boardwalk, I watched him take it all in – the music of the nearby carousel, the bells ringing from the water racing game, the sweet smell of hot funnel cake. It was as if he was looking at everything for the first time because he was. He was definitely more relaxed than he was at the mall. 

“I’m glad you came with us, really.” 

“I am too.” 

“You know I was thinking more about your artwork and your stories and stuff. You should share your work more often. You may not believe it, but your art can save..I mean help..a lot of people in a big way.” 

“Really, you think I’m that good?” 

“I know you’re that good.” 

I looked down at my feet, unsure of how to respond. “Thank you..but I don’t know about saving the world or anything. I simply put down on paper everything this mind conjures up, sometimes whether I like it or not.” 

“Trust me, everything you create will be important to somebody. That’s the great thing about art, knowing that a part of you is going to be needed by at least one total stranger. And for that stranger, you change their world.” Silence fell upon us for a few moments. If the ocean wind wasn’t constantly blowing in my face, I probably wouldn’t have been able to breathe. 

“That’s kind of easy for you to say. Everybody loves a rock band of five hot guys. Art lovers and short story readers are few and far between.” 

“Ahhh, I see how it is. Five hot guys, huh?” he teased. “I knew you were only hanging out with us for our looks.” 

“And don’t forget the prizes!” I held up my Yankees bear and grinned. 

“That’s a low blow, Wicklow. Now you got to make it up to me. I’m outraged.” He slapped his hand to his chest to exaggerate a broken heart. We entered the ride pier and spotted Rian and Kyler waiting to get on the bumper cars, and Quinn and Donovan were next to get on the pier’s only looping roller coaster, The Viper. 

“And how should I make amends? You guys are much better at beating these games than I am.” 

“Oh, I don’t need a stuffed animal or a mirror with my band’s name on it, Agatha. What I do want is for you to ride The Viper with me.” He flashed a mischievous grin.  

“Ha, no way James! I do not get on anything that goes upside down. You’ll be wearing the sausage sandwich I just ate.” 

“You mean you’ve practically grown up on this boardwalk, and you’ve never been on that coaster.” 

“No, I happen to value my sanity and my life to some extent.” 

“What do you think is going to happen? You’re strapped in by metal bars, and you have centripetal force on your side.” 

“Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton, but I’m still not getting on that thing.” 

“Okay, well I guess I’m going on by myself. The boys just got on, so I’ll have to wait for the next run.” He slowly walked away from me, turning his head a couple of times to show me his sad, puppy dog eyes. He must’ve mastered that look a long time ago. It definitely screwed with my resolve. 

“Don’t look at me like that. I’m not doing it.” I squeezed my teddy bear to me for protection. He continued to baby step his way to the Viper line, using that face for all it was worth, even going so far as to kick an imaginary can or stone. 

“These things are always so much better with someone to ride with.” He continued to pout. The few riders ahead of him in line were either couples or parent/child combos, so he would definitely end up riding next to an empty seat. Despite being on the verge of a panic attack, I didn’t want Cayden or any of the guys to think I was a coward. I didn’t have a wealth of prior knowledge about them going into the evening, but I did know they had a reputation for being bold and adventurous. I could only guess they wanted to see the same sense of adventure in anyone they hung out with. I didn’t want yet another reason to feel out of place in their circle.

“Fine!” I asserted after several moments of terrified silence. I joined him in the line which was starting to move up the steps to the ride’s platform.

“I just want you to know I’m not going to enjoy this for a second, and don’t expect me to open my eyes.” 

“I promise you,” he placed a reassuring hand on the small of my back. “You won’t need to have your eyes open.”

We inched our way closer to the rides platform, my eyes transfixed on the coaster coming to a stop. Wind blown faces smiled and laughed which did nothing to ease my worries. Once the current riders climbed out of their seats, it would be our turn. Ever since I was little, I adamantly refused to go on any looping roller coaster. The reality of hanging upside down 80 feet above the Earth below, regardless if it’s for mere seconds, shatters all rational thought. My regular day-to-day thoughts were typically enough to thrust me into a state of mania. I didn’t need to put my life in the hands of engineers. The cars emptied, and then every relaxed or excited soul in front of us in line handed the ride operator their tickets.

“Yeah!! Go for it, Cayd! That was awesome!” Quinn yelled from the ground below. Cayden gave him a thumbs up, but all I could do was scowl. 

“Okay, Ms. Wicklow. You ready for the ride of your life?” 

“You mean..the ride to..the afterlife.” I didn’t realize how short of breath I was until I spoke. 

“Hey, hey, hey, Maeve. It’s alright. I promise you are going to love this. You won’t want it to end.” 

Cayden handed the operator our tickets. I had to think of an escape fast, without looking like a wuss. 

“Oh, darn! I can’t go on with all the stuff you guys gave me. Guess I’ll just have to sit this one out.” 

“You can leave you stuff right here, miss.” The ride operator pointed to the floor of the steel platform, near the controls. 

“There you go! Problem solved,” Cayden rubbed his hands together. 

“Thank you! Sir. I am forever grateful for your help!” I reluctantly placed my backpack and stuffed animals near the control panel. 

“Come on,” Cayden took my hand and squeezed lightly, the warmth and softness offered me a few seconds of ease. “You have nothing to worry about. I swear to you I will break your fall – if our restraints happen to fail us.” 

“Not helpful Cayden!” 

“Sorry, bad choice of words.” 

My heart beat out of my chest, and my palm sweated onto his. As we approached our seats, my vision blurred. Cayden climbed into the car and reached his hand out to me. 

“I’ll have sex with you on the beach instead.” Apparently I had no control of what came out of my mouth either. I never had sex before, and there was no way it was happening that night. He blushed and laughed nervously. The couple in the seats behind us laughed. I’m pretty sure the guy said, “Damn, I wish it was that easy,” which then earned him a backhanded slap to the gut from his girlfriend. 

“Tempting, but that’s not going to get you out of this ride. Let’s go, Wicklow.” 

Every muscle in my body tightened and I held my breath as we got strapped into our seats. There were over-the-shoulder straps as well as a cushioned bar that locked us into place. Despite the security, I couldn’t get my mind to stop racing with images of a catastrophic, bloody derailment or my body being whipped out of its seat and into the Atlantic Ocean.  I gripped the metal handle bars until my knuckles were white and stared blankly at the seat in front of mine. 

“Want to hold my hand?” He tried to unlock my grip from the cold steel. 

“No” 

“Why not?” 

“Because I want to hold on. What do you mean, “why not?” 

“Nothing. Is. Going. To. Happen. Don’t you trust me at least a little bit by now?” His tone had its typical light-heartedness, but I could sense his seriousness too. 

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust machines.” 

“Human beings are machines in one way or another, Maeve. Just as unpredictable too. At least we used to be.” 

“What do you mean, “used to be?” I looked over at him for the first time since we got into our seats. He looked almost somber for someone who was about to ride a rollercoaster he couldn’t wait to get on. I decided to shut up and at least try not to look terrified. 

That didn’t last. The cars jolted forward and began their slow and steep ascent. I flashed my eyes open occasionally to take in the view the higher we crept, but then squeezed them shut once I got a glimpse of the ride’s approaching summit. I studied every sound beneath me, the clanking of the massive chain that pulled us up, the occasional squeaky wheel. I wanted to hold my breath until I passed out, but then I remembered no one can really do that. Cayden pulled at my hand once again, and this time I felt powerless to stop him. Opening one eye, I caught a glimpse of him, his head back against the seat, eyes softly closed, a relaxed smile on that perfect mouth. I looked down to see his fingers intwine with mine, his thumb drawing circles on my skin. Miraculously, my body relaxed and I locked both eyes on him. At that moment, I felt like I could stare at him forever. But then we reached the top and came to a two second halt. 

“Close your eyes.” It was a whisper I shouldn’t have been able to hear. As soon as the coaster started its near 90 degree angled plummet, I complied. He squeezed my hand.  

I felt the force of the drop at first. Then a glow of soft yellow light filled my vision. I knew the wind hit my face, and my long curls flew wildly. But suddenly, I was no longer there. The roar of the machine, the sounds of the boardwalk, the screams of joy from the other riders somehow quieted like a radio being turned down to minimum. I figured my terror somehow blocked out the noise, but I didn’t feel an ounce of tension or fear. But nothing was more overwhelming than what I saw. 

There I was looking out at the ocean as I walked slowly, the waves crashing against the rocks, the lengths of my grayish lavender chiffon dress and black shawl waving violently in the wind, thick locks of hair blowing in my face. The sky finished a late afternoon storm, and the jagged rocks looked menacing, inviting, and quelling all at once. The lush green beneath my feet, which stretched out for miles, was familiar though it was a place I knew I’d never see. 

How did I end up walking the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher? I felt everything – the sea spray, the grass under my bare feet, the warmth of the sun reemerging from the dissipating clouds fused perfectly with the slight chill of the breeze. For several moments, I was alone. Not a living thing, not even a seagull, could be heard or seen. Until a strong pair of arms wrapped around me, and I froze. His breath trailed from behind my ear, down my neck, then lips touched my exposed shoulder.

 I shuddered and attempted to turn to see who it was, but before I could catch the slightest glimpse, his hand gently grabbed my face. He pressed my back against him with his other hand and buried his face in my hair. Right when I tried to speak, a flash of light and a jerking motion pulled me away. The ride had come to an abrupt stop, and began it’s slow roll back to the platform. I looked around windblown and dazed, but I wasn’t sure from which experience. My hand was still wrapped with his, and I looked over to see his beautiful smile. 

“See that wasn’t so bad, was it?” 

“What even happened? Did this thing even move?” I was breathless and confused and there was no point in hiding it. 

“Yeah it did. That was awesome.” 

“I’m glad you had fun. I…I..I don’t know what the hell happened. But I wasn’t here.” 

“Really, where were you?” He asked like he already knew the answer. 

“Nevermind. It was nothing. I guess my imagination is better than I think it is sometimes.”  

He helped me climb out of the car once the coaster finally reached the exit and entrance ramps. I took three steps and my knees felt like they turned to dust. As promised, he stopped me from falling. 

“Whoa, careful there, Agatha,” he held my waist and I grabbed the lapels of his jacket. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah..yeah I think so. It’s just I saw something…something so real it was as if…,” I started to regain my bearings, “Oh, nothing, don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Better than I’ve been in a long time actually.” I released my grasp on his jacket and went to grab my bag and prizes. He insisted I hold his arm as we made our way down the ramp where the guys were waiting for us. 

“Hey there, Mork and Mindy! How was The Viper?” Kyler asked. 

“She did great, you guys. I’m proud of her.” Cayden draped his arm over my shoulders. 

“Oh come on, it’s not like I climbed Everest or something,” I nudged him with my elbow. 

 “Well, I embarrassed the hell out of this dork on the bumper cars,” Rian boasted as he jumped on Kyler’s back. 

“Only because that’s how you actually drive, ya dickhead.” Kyler shrugged Rian off of him then put the younging into a playful head lock. 

“So what do you say guys? Haunted house time?” asked Quinn. 

“Man, that’s lame. I want to ride The Viper again,” complained Donovan. 

“I’ll go on with you, Don!” Rian jumped in. 

“You better not, dude. We didn’t bring the diapers with us,” teased Kyler. 

“Eat shit and die, numbnuts.” Rian attempted to flick Kyler in the ear. 

“The haunted house has always been a family favorite.” But honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to ride anything else. My head was still reeling from the coaster, and I felt the urge to draw and write before I forgot a single moment of it. 

“Well, let’s go, my lady. Lead the way. Re and Donovan, meet us back at the Scrambler,” Quinn patted Donovan on the back before he and Rian ran back to the growing Viper line. The rest of us made our way to the haunted house. I wanted to go in the haunt, but at the same time, I didn’t – too many good memories of a time lost that ultimately drained every fiber of my existence. 

Cayden sensed my feigned happiness as the cart rolled and twisted its way through the horror themed rooms. I pretty much knew where every mechanical creature was going to pop out at us. I knew where every loud bang and crash was going to sound. Every time a supposed scare happened, he reached over to tickle my side and let out a girly scream, and for several moments, I was a kid again – giggling like an eight year old and not having a care in the world. 

The boys and I went on a few more rides before they decided on an arcade. I wasn’t interested in playing arcade games at that point, and my feet were killing me. I told them to go have fun while I grabbed an Orange Julius and relaxed on a bench. 

“You guys go ahead. I’m going to stick with Maeve.” Cayden took a seat next to me. 

“Okay, but you two crazy kids stay out of trouble now, you here.” Quinn winked then followed the rest of them to the beeping melodies of the arcade games. 

“He’s not much for subtlety is he?” 

“Never has been. Never will be. Still, I don’t know what I’d do without him though.” 

“They’re all such great brothers to have. You’re very lucky, Cayden.” 

“Well, Kyler is the only one who is my biological brother. The others I’ve known since we were in diapers.” 

“Oh, I would have never had guessed. Now that you mention it, I guess I do see the resemblance a little. You definitely have prett…I mean..bigger, more expressive eyes.” I looked down at my lap, hoping he didn’t catch on to my near slip. I really need to learn how to shut my pie hole sometimes. 

“Thank you. And you…you have the wildest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a woman.” 

“Thanks, I guess,” I ran my fingers through my curls that were definitely unruly thanks to the wind and sea mist. He turned to look out into the ocean. 

“Hey, what do you say we walk the beach a little while those buttheads blow all their cash on Donkey Kong.” 

“This isn’t going to be the part where you kill me and throw me in the ocean, right?” I asked mischievously. 

“No, but I wouldn’t mind trying that sex on the beach thing you were talking about earlier.” 

I laughed nervously and looked the other way. I knew he wasn’t serious, for the most part, but I couldn’t help but feel my face start to burn. 

“You know I’m kidding, right? My hands will not leave my pockets, I swear.” 

“Alright, alright. But remember what I said about those fountain pens. I’m not afraid to use them.” 

We walked close enough to the water where there was nothing but wet sand beneath our feet. Occasionally, I used the glow of the boardwalk to look back at our footprints in the sand. We talked about music, art, which Godfather was the best out of the three, and life in general. Well, I did most of the talking and he asked the questions, which was fine with me since I’m not an initiator – especially in that situation. What do you ask a man that appeared to have it all – growing fame and fortune, family and friends, travel and luxuries? 

Still, all of my questions were given vague answers or complete reversals. In such a short amount of time, I never knew how much one person could be a friend and a total stranger at the same time. We found a dry, sandy spot to sit and simply stare out into the vastness of the ocean. The waves were gentle and rhythmic, and only a few stars could be seen through the scattered clouds. All of the boat lights in the distance put on more of a light show. Cayden lie back, propped up on his elbows while I stayed sitting upright. Suddenly, I felt the urge to crack the walls he seemed to build around himself. I needed him to know that I would never be some nutjob groupie who would sell his story to the highest bidder. 

“Tell me something that no one will ever know – no matter how famous you guys get and for how long.” 

“Ohhh, so you are putting us in fad status already, huh? I see bow it is?” He winked. 

“No,” I playfully slapped his leg, “Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m serious. Something no one else will ever know. Don’t you trust me? It’s not like I’m going to run and talk to some tabloid. I don’t talk to anyone.” 

“Believe it or not..I live a pretty simple life despite being in a band. I’m just a guy from Maine trying to live a dream, I guess.” 

“There is nothing about any of you that’s simple, Cayden. People like me who live in towns like Eatontown, New Jersey, who hang out in skating rinks, and make $4.50 an hour live simple lives.” I packed the sand in front of me to build a little mountain. 

“Okay, let me think here,” he sat up straight. “Something no one else will ever know. Hmmm..when I was a kid, going through a car wash used to terrify me.” 

“Really,” I laughed. 

“Yes really. Those big flaps that would swish around and cover the whole car, I thought we were being eaten by a giant squid!” 

“You are impossible. I feel like you know my whole life by now, and I barely know anything about you. Yet here I am with you in the dark, totally alone, How do I know you’re not a serial killer.” 

“Don’t you think I would have done it by now?”  

“I guess you have a point.” A few moments of silence fell as I let some sand fall through my fingers.

“Okay, three truths. Are you ready?” He turned to face me, his brilliant, hazel orbs still visible in the minimal light. 

“Okay,” I breathed.  

“I’m a big grudge holder. I would give up the band if I could and fix up a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. And you have an remarkable talent that shouldn’t just sit there in a backpack, not being put to good use.”

“That’s not fair. That last one was about me.”  

“I said three truths. None of them had to be about me.” 

“Okay, so what would be a lie then?” 

“Every self-deprecating thing you say about yourself, Maeve Wicklow. You have so many gifts..I wish I can tell you what they are..but…” He raked his hand through his hair and sighed in frustration. 

“But what, Cayden?” I whispered. 

“Nothing, nevermind. All I’m saying is, don’t let your talent go to waste. You deserve more than just selling dog biscuits in a shopping mall.” 

“The world isn’t necessarily my oyster, James. I have my parents to take care of, and I’m kind of on my own.” 

“I know.” 

“What do you mean, you know?” 

“No, I remember you saying something like that on the bus on the way here, that’s all. Hey, you know what,” desperate to change the subject, “I know it’s probably freezing cold but let’s dip our toes in the water!” He quickly removed his boots and socks. 

“Are you crazy? It’s only April. It’s going to feel like daggers to your feet!” 

“Oh come on, you survived The Viper. I don’t think a little cold water is going to do anything to you.” He yanked off my one sneaker and then the other before rolling my socks off. I hoped the tremor that raced through my body when his warm hands touched my feet wasn’t too obvious. 

“Come on, it will be fun.” He reached his hands to me to lift me up. 

“Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. This water doesn’t get to a tolerable level until July.” 

He took my hand as we crept closer to where the waves were breaking. As soon as the water hit our skin, we laugh screamed and did a dance as if we were walking on nails. 

“Oh. My. God. Alright, have you gotten this out of your system now?” I attempted to pull him back with me. 

“No wait, come on,” he pulled me back closer to him. He stood behind me and wrapped me in an embrace. “It’s nicer the closer we are to the water, like the rest of the world has disappeared.” He realized how tightly he had me pressed against him and slightly relinquished his hold. But I could feel his hands, the right one callused from so many years of playing guitar, under my jacket and resting on the skin uncovered by my crop top. At first, I froze in place, trying not to hold my breath or tremble but then soon relaxed. 

“Never take this night from me 

God, don’t let me just be. 

Don’t make me choose,

I got everything to lose…” 

He oddly waved his hand in front of us as he softly sang the lyrics to one of The Sleepless Knights’ songs. My hair blew in his face, and he didn’t seem to care. As nervous as I was, I felt like I couldn’t be anywhere else at that moment. Then the greenish, blue lights appeared. Rising to the surface of the water, forming nebulas, as if the ocean could still mirror what the sky couldn’t show us. 

“Oh my God.” 

“What? What’s wrong?” 

“Look at that. Do you know what that is?” 

“Oh, some shiny stuff in the water I guess.” 

“Cayden, that’s..that’s bioluminescence. Our waters are too green and murky usually. You never see that here, ever. That is amazing.” 

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that. That’s cool. Not something you see every day, right?” 

“It’s been on my list of things I need to do before I die for a long time now.” I continued to stare at the mesmerizing glow I thought I’d never see. 

“You have a list like that?” 

“Yeah, I think everybody does at some point.” 

“May I ask what’s at the top of your list?” 

“Well, as a matter of fact. I was somehow fully transported to Ireland during the Viper ride, and that is my dream.” 

“Really, was that why you were so out-of-it? You looked like you saw a ghost.”

“That’s just it. I felt like..I wasn’t in my body. But I know I was. It was my crazy hair whipping around, I felt the grass beneath my feet. It was just so weird. I’ve had plenty of out-of-body experiences, but this…this was different. And I wasn’t alone.” 

“Maybe you’re never really alone, Maeve.”  

He looked at me with an intensity I had yet to experience. “I mean, you have your art work, your writing, your friend Rhiannon you mentioned, school, work.” 

“You have no idea what it means to be alone, Cayden. You have your brother and your three best friends who love you. You’ll travel the world and create awesome music. I’ve got Black Friday sales and community college, if I’m lucky.” 

“Why do you have to bring yourself down like that?” He pulled me closer to him again until our faces were inches apart.  

“I speak as I find, Mr. Donnelly.” 

“You’ll make it to the Cliffs of Moher one day. I promise.” 

“How did you know I saw the Cliffs of Moher?” 

“What? Oh, just a wild guess.” We locked eyes for what seemed like full minutes but was mere seconds. 

“This night has been..so strange and confusing, but..I don’t want it to end.” He brushed a curl out of my face. 

“Listen to me now, Maeve. Things may..only get stranger and even more confusing, but..” He struggled to find the words. “Just know that I will always, always tell you nothing but truths.” 

All I could do was nod as we continued to lock eyes. His face was so close to mine I felt his breath on my lips. I didn’t know what to do. Move in closer? Part my lips a little? My great-grandmother always said it was bad etiquette for a woman to stand with her lips apart for no reason. But then how were you supposed to let a guy know it was okay to kiss you? Was it really okay, or did the fact I would never see him again make it hurt too much? So I just froze. Suddenly, I couldn’t feel the cold water at my feet. 

Boom! Boom! Boom! 

We were scared out of our wits by fireworks, and the bioluminescence had disappeared. 

“We should get back before the guys send out a search party.” 

“Yeah, of course. It is getting late, isn’t it? And I don’t want my Mom’s car to get towed out of the mall lot.” 

We put our shoes back on, gathered my things, and trudged through the sand back to the boardwalk. We hardly spoke the whole way back, but he always looked like he had something on the tip of his tongue. It didn’t take long for me to regret not getting a chance to taste it. 

The Sleepless Knights – novel excerpt II – an 80’s/90’s Jersey based supernatural fantasy.

“Ha, no. I just..um..wanted to see if you’d reconsider.” 

“Well..I..uh..I don’t know,” she fiddled with the charm necklace she was wearing. “My mom always told me not to take rides from strange boys,” she exaggerated a shy demeanor, fluttering her eyes. 

“You know, you’re insecure act isn’t going to work on me, Agatha,” I winked. 

“I guess I have to try harder, James. So where’s the ‘49 Mercury?” 

“In the shop. Right now it’s that big bastard over there.” When I glanced over my shoulder,  I spotted Quinn, Kyler, and Rian making their way towards us. “And here comes the rest of the crew. If you’re going to make a run for it, do it now.” But she didn’t move. 

“My apologies, my lady,” Quinn bowed, “if I my big mouth frightened you, but our brother Cayden here told us all about you, and we couldn’t let you drive away before introducing ourselves. I am Quinn, lead guitar in our little brigade. This fine young specimen is Kyler, lead vocals, and this little spitfire is Rian, our keyboardist.” Kyler waved and smiled at Maeve, but Rian, being the wannabe crooner, kissed her hand and said, “I’m enchanted.” 

“Dude, you just took that from The Temple of Doom,” Kyler lightly swatted Rian in the back of the head.

“What? I did not! What are you talking about?” 

“You know, the scene when they make it to Pankot Palace, and the head dude told Willie Scott, “I’m enchanted,” Kyler finished in a bad English accent. 

“Whatever man, it’s not my fault you’re jealous of my skills even though I’m the youngest.” 

“Guys, please. Can we maybe not act like we were raised by wolves?” I interrupted, even though Maeve was quietly laughing at their antics. 

“It’s nice meeting you guys, and congratulations on all the success you’re achieving so quickly. I hear you put on a really good show.” 

“Thank you, but our shows are not just shows, my dear. They are life experiences.” 

“Quinn,” I gave him a stern look.  

“Hey, all I am saying is you may walk away with..a new outlook on life.” 

“I am sure of it.” I could tell she wasn’t impressed. 

“So are we going to stand around in a mall parking lot all night or are we going to party?” Kyler complained. 

“Only if Maeve agrees to join us,” Quinn smiled. “Otherwise, we’re stuck with Kung Fu Master battles and McDLT’s while Gus cruises the parkway.”

“Yeah, come out with us. I promise we’re not as scary as we may look.” I think I failed at not sounding like a 5 year old in Toys R’ Us.  

“Oh..um..well, I would really love to, but I..made other plans.” 

“Watching Nick at Nite until you pass out? Those are plans?” She shot me a fake dirty look. 

“Ooh, what’s your favorite show on Nick at Nite?” Kyler, the movie and TV buff, asked excitedly. 

“The Bad News Bears.” 

“Mine is Dennis the Menace.” 

“Mr. Ed for me,” added Rian. 

“Did you know they used peanut butter on the horse’s gums to get his mouth to move?” Kyler asked. 

“No, I didn’t. That’s crazy,” Maeve giggled as she made another attempt to search for her keys in her backpack. Sensing we were losing her, I looked over at Quinn for help. 

“Maeve, you are more than welcome to join us on the bus tonight for some good old black and white TV and junk food, but we were thinking more along the lines of wreaking havoc at Seaside Heights. But we would need guidance from a Jersey boardwalk veteran. Are you the Frog Bog queen we need?” 

“Are you kidding? My family and I practically lived on that boardwalk. Haven’t been there in a while though,” she finished sadly. 

“Then that settles it. Let’s roll! I’m dying for some soft serve.” Rian ran back towards the bus. 

“Yeah, come on, Maeve. It’ll be fun. Somebody besides me has to beat this numbnuts in Skeeball.” Kyler pointed to Quinn. 

“Ky, it’s not our place to push the matter. Let’s leave these two be. Maeve, it was a pleasure meeting you,” Quinn bowed then patted Kyler on the shoulder, urging his friend to follow him back towards the bus. 

“Hope to see you around, Maeve,” Kyler strode backwards to catch up with Quinn. “And don’t worry about my brother there. He won’t bite unless you ask him to.”

“Kyler, piss off!” I yelled and shook my head. “Sorry about that, we’re trying to figure out whether he needs an exorcism or a shrink.” 

“That’s okay,” she laughed. “They seem like really great guys.” 

“Yeah, sometimes better in small doses,” I wisecracked. “But we’ve known each other since we were in diapers so…” 

“You must have a great time together then – traveling all over, playing your music, running from teenage girls in heat through shopping malls.”

“You’re glamorizing it, Agatha.” 

“Once again, I speak as I find. James.” 

“If you got to know us, you might find more to us than what you see in Teen Beat magazine.” 

“Well, I already know one of you doesn’t like being mobbed, willing to dive into clothing racks to escape certain death by Loves Baby Soft perfume.” 

“Are you sure you won’t come to the boardwalk with us? We’ll bring you right back here to your car whenever you’re ready.” The horn on the bus sounded. It had to have been Rian, and Gus undoubtedly smacked his hand away. No one ever touched the wheel but Gus. 

“I don’t know, Cayden. I..I -”

“Look, I’m sorry. Quinn is right. I shouldn’t be pressuring you. I’m just..I’m really glad I got to meet you, Maeve Wicklow.” Despite my better judgment, I took her hand and kissed it before backing away to jog towards the bus. Its engine hummed in the otherwise quiet night. I felt like a complete fool. I wanted to keep running down the road until I finally hit the beach. Once I found an overturned lifeguard boat, I could hide underneath until I was forgotten. I never thought it would be hard for most people to do.

“Wait!” 

Music to my ears. 

“Wait up,” Maeve caught up to me, out of breath. “Okay, I’ll go. Just know I have fountain pens in this bag that I’m not afraid to use as weapons, so if any of you guys value your testicles, I suggest you don’t try anything.”  

“Noted,” a raised my hands in surrender. “Come on, let me give you the tour of our humble abode on wheels.” 

All the guys except for Donovan were standing around outside of the bus when I reached them with Maeve at my heels. 

“Well now, the skeptical Jersey girl has changed her mind,” Quinn grinned. 

“I can’t have a bunch of out-of-towners leave without showing you where to get the best sausage sandwiches.” 

“Awesome, let’s book!” Quinn knocked on the door and seconds later it swung open. Before any of us could react, Ezekiel leapt into Maeve’s arms, startling her. She still managed to safely catch him despite the shock. He immediately started licking her cheek.  

“Damn! He usually hates every living thing on Earth besides us!” Kyler looked over at me in amazement. 

“I know. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever viscous, but he definitely doesn’t care to be around others.” I scratched Ezekiel’s head as he continued to sniff at Maeve’s face and ear which made her giggle and smile. I liked watching how her eyes fluoresced even under the pale yellow glow of the light post. 

“Well, sometimes animals can surprise you,” she rocked him. “He’s adorable. What kind of dog is he?” 

“He’s some sort of Pug mix. We’re not sure. But anyway, may I introduce Ezekiel. My apologies if he came on a little too strong there.” 

“Aww, no worries. He’s being a perfect gentleman if you ask me. Let’s just hope his friends do the same,” she winked. 

“Come on, you too. The rides and games aren’t open 24 hours,” yelled Quinn from inside the bus. I motioned to her as if to say “ladies first” to which she gave me a playful little eye roll. Suddenly, I remembered the bus looked like a college dorm room. I didn’t get a chance to clean it and I certainly wasn’t expecting company. She said hello to Gus while still holding Ezekiel and our enigmatic driver politely smiled and nodded. Following right behind her, I watched as she scanned our living area. Clothes, bags of snacks, soda cans, books, magazines, and papers littered almost every space that wasn’t used for sitting or sleeping.   

“Wow, talk about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, huh?” Her signature sarcasm never waned. Ezekiel began to whine and squirm in her arms, so she kissed him then let him down near his water bowl. The guys relaxed at the table or on the couches and bickered about what to watch on TV. 

“Admittedly, this place could use a woman’s touch, but when you’re living the confirmed bachelor road life, a Pinto can feel like home,” Quinn shoved a stack of Dorito chips in his mouth. 

“Come here, let me introduce you to Gus,” I took her hand, which she tried to pull away from mine for a mere second or two, and led her back to the front of the bus. 

“Gus, this is Maeve. Maeve, meet the driver of our chariot and the world’s most reliable walking encyclopedia, Gus.” 

“It’s nice to meet you,” she extended her hand to Gus. He clasped her fingers gently and gave her a light shake. 

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do. Ja–”  

“Jane Austen,” she replied before giving Gus a chance to cite the speaker. Gus smiled and nodded in appreciation. 

“How did you know that?” 

“My grandmother brought me up on Jane Austen. Among many other geniuses.”  

All I could do was lock eyes with her. At that moment, I knew she would only continue to show us how remarkable she was. She would prove to the others that she was the one we needed. 

“Hey, are we getting the hell out of this parking lot and doing something or should I just go back to bed?” Donovan stormed out from behind the curtain that separated our living area from our bunks. He grabbed a T-shirt and threw it on as soon as he saw Maeve but made no attempt to introduce himself. 

“Who pissed in your Ovaltine, ya meat head? We have a visitor,” reprimanded Kyler. 

“I see.” 

“Don,” I walked Maeve over to our grossly muscular drummer. “This is Maeve. Maeve meet Donovan. He may look scary but he’s really a gentle giant.” 

“Hi, nice to meet you.” 

“How ya doing?” He made no attempt to shake hands, and he barely looked at her. It was a nice enough greeting, I figured, for him anyway. Donovan walked passed us and sat in the seat closest to the front as Gus maneuvered his way out of the parking lot. 

“Don’t worry about him,” I whispered to her. “He has a hard time..warming up to new people.” 

“He seems shy, for such a big guy. He looks like he could have been in the movie, Predator.” 

“Yeah, Jesse Ventura robbed him of that role.” She jokingly elbowed me. “Come on, let’s take a load off.” 

I cleared a space for her to sit on the couch, and she placed her treasured backpack on the floor by her feet. I got her a soda, and we passed the time telling jokes and childhood stories as we watched Nick at Nite. It was a good 25 minute drive down the parkway to get to Seaside, and in that time, she seemed to become more relaxed, not so quick to turn to the jokes or sarcasm as a shield. When she put her journal on the table and flipped through some pages, the silent, slack-jawed astonishment amongst the guys didn’t go unnoticed. Even Donovan moved closer to us for a look at her work. By the time I could get the guys to snap out of it and return to Earth, the lights of the boardwalk shown through the enormous windshield. 

“Last one to the Frog Bog is buying dinner!” Like an 8 year old on his first trip to Disney World, Rian ran off the bus as soon as it stopped. 

“Shall we, Ms. Wicklow.” 

“With pleasure, Mr. Donnelly.” 

That smile would be the one thing that could kill me. And I might have been totally okay with that. 

 Let the Games Begin 

“Okay, okay, Maeve’s turn. Two truths and a lie,” Kyler took a big bite out of his second sausage sandwich. 

“Umm..okay, let me think..hmmm..I broke two fingers falling off a swing when I was eight. I eat the cookie part of an Oreo before the filling, and I squirted what was left of a Ssips iced tea drink box into a bully’s ear.”

“I’m going to go with the Oreo. That’s a lie. Nobody does that,” Quinn insisted. 

“I say the juice box in the bully’s ear,” Rian feverishly shook and squeezed what was left in the ketchup bottle onto his basket of crinkle cut fries.  

Donovan read a comic book he won at the first game he played when we arrived. I knew he didn’t like me which I couldn’t figure out. Cayden said it took awhile for him to warm up to strangers, but this cold shoulder seemed to be bigger than just hesitation. It was as if he didn’t trust me. I knew they had a lot of run-ins with psycho fan girls, but I wasn’t acting like one at all. Maybe that was why he didn’t care for me? It was puzzling to say the least.   

“What about you, Cayden? You haven’t tried to guess one yet.” 

“Oh, Cayden isn’t allowed to play. He’s too good at this game. Too much of an advantage,” Quinn quickly chimed in. 

“Yeah, I know everything about these guys already.” 

“You don’t know everything about me.” 

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.” 

“What are you, telepathic?” I jested. Kyler spit out his soda followed by a stifled laugh from Quinn. 

“No, just a really good guesser that’s all,” he glared at his friends. 

“So who got it right?” Rian asked impatiently. 

“Well, you were both wrong. I haven’t broken a single bone in my body. Knock on wood.” 

“Who the hell eats the cookie before the cream?” Quinn shook his head. 

“I do. Ever hear of saving the best for last?” 

“You squirted juice in some asshole’s ear? Why did you waste it? You never get enough in one juice box as it is.” Cayden nudged me with his elbow. 

“Hey, the kid stole my favorite colored pencils and he snapped my training bra in the middle of class. He had it coming.”  

And there we were. Scarfing down some boardwalk staples and having a few laughs at a picnic table as the sounds of games and rides filled the salty air. It was unusually warm for an April evening. Spring always seemed to take its old sweet time in the northeast. But that night seemed to be perfect, on many levels, and that scared the hell out of me.

As we finished up our meals and continued to shoot the breeze, my mind kept wandering back to the same question. How did I get here? Under normal circumstances, I had little to offer what would ordinarily intrigue the opposite sex. Hell, I had never been on a real date. I wasn’t sure if anybody really went on official dates anymore. I didn’t think of that situation as being a date. There were five of them and one of me. That’s quite gross actually, even for the Jersey shore. 

But I still would have never imagined hanging out in a place that held boatloads of treasured memories for me with five guys in a fairly famous band. No one knew where I was and with whom, but there was no way anyone would be coming to look. For once I wasn’t Maeve anymore, erased from my usual existence. I kind of liked that. I tried not to like it too much. 



We’re Never Really Gone – a snippet of my forthcoming paranormal/fantasy novel. Here is a little more insight into the major characters.

We’re Never Really Gone – a snippet of my forthcoming paranormal/fantasy novel. Here is a little more insight into the major characters.
 
A morning power walk would be all that Em needed to get grounded before anassignment. On that morning, the air had a clayish feeling – unseasonably warm for October and a dampness that made her clothes stick to her body. This was not what late October in Jersey should be. One thing felt worse than walking in bipolar weather – the fact she had to climb into a rickety old van in less than two hours and travel to a mission she wasn’t ready to accept. Too many people were relying on her to get herself together – for her grandmother, for Dinworth’s sake, for everyone’s sake, even Marnie. There was little room to be human. She never felt she truly was.
 
An uphill climb back to the house ended her walking route. Dinworth started packing the van at first light. As she passed the detached garage, she could hear him singing Moon River through the door. Em grabbed a banana from the wire fruit basket hanging over the sink, took off the entire peel, then headed up the stairs. It seemed quiet, and she hoped Kyan was still in his room sleeping. She was not in a hurry. After quietly closing the creaky door to her room, she grabbed a duffle bag hanging on a hook behind it. She threw in two handfuls of underwear without counting them, grabbed her favorite T-shirt bras, and picked random pairs of mix-matched socks. Once she finished packing, she peeled off her sweaty clothes and threw on her bathrobe. Then she went through the routine. With the robe wide open she examined her body in the cracked floor mirror. Each morning she ran her hands over the red lines on her chest and stomach.
 
Despite it all, she continued. She fought and survived. That’s what she was good at. Marnie often told her, “Be more ashamed of the parts of you that are not scarred, those are the days when you stopped fighting for who you’re meant to be.” Em wondered what it was like to be an unblemished fighter. Of course, she couldn’t take only the easy jobs. Chayton, the boss, would never let her.
 
Once a chill hit her body, she wrapped herself back up in her robe and made her way to the bathroom. She made it four feet away from the bathroom door when it flew open and a wall of steam hit her in the face. Once her line of sight cleared, her eyes locked on his tattooed shoulders and arms – tribal marks and raven feathers against firm, alabaster skin, his wet hair brushed back with a small ringlet hanging over his forehead. Her heart leapt into her throat when she saw he had only a small towel wrapped around his waist – a towel meant for drying your hands and face.
 
“Oh my God, wow, I am so sorry. I had no idea you were up,” bad choice of words she thought.
 
“No big deal, it happens.” Her feet felt stuck to the floor with a thick, sticky layer of awkwardness. Kyan looked devilishly amused. She pushed her back against the door frame to allow him plenty of room to pass the narrow doorway typical of an old house.
 
“I thought I gave you bigger towels,” she tried to avert her eyes towards the ceiling.
 
“I packed them for the trip. I hate hotel towels. They’re like trying to dry off with toilet paper.”
 
She gestured for him to leave the room with one hand as she clasped the neck of her robe closed with the other. As he inched his way into the door frame, he smelled a mixture of sandlewood and sweat. Her anxiety was palpable, and he wasn’t used to a woman being nervous around his scantily clothed frame.
 
“You ok, Em?” he asked with a smirk as he moved inches from her.
“Yeah, I’m fine! Why wouldn’t I be? Man, this ceiling really needs a coat of paint.”
 
“Ah, come on, there can’t be that much lead paint. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
 
“Very funny. Does every response from you have to be a sarcastic quip?”
 
“Well, does every response from you have to contain hot daggers of blind hatred?”
 
“I do not always respond like that,” she glared into his eyes making every effort to not look down. “God, we’re not even in the van yet and you’re already irritating,” she sighed.
 
“See, case in point. I’ve been a smart ass, yes. But at least I haven’t been insulting.” He shook his head as he moved away from her fidgeting body against the doorframe. At that moment, and much to her chagrin, she realized what he said was true. Unfairly, in some ways, she hadn’t been very cordial with him, and it was only their second day together.
 
“Ok, ok, fine. Maybe we both can do without the name-calling and insults.” She looked apologetic even though she refused to say sorry.
“Maybe we can,” he winked then headed towards his room. She caught a glimpse of his upper thigh revealed by the opening of his minuscule towel wrap. Once she heard his bedroom door close, she pushed out the breath she sharply took in at the sight of his skin.
 
She washed away the stickiness of the morning walk, the aggravation of dinner the night before, and the terrifying thoughts triggered by his water-beaded shoulders and his sage and pine scent. As she washed her face, she tried to rub away the indigo shades that seemed to rise from his pores. Time to get back to the life of a mediator.
 
 
After Em and Kyan battled over the assistance he offered her with her luggage, they set off. The van, an early 1990’s Chevy with a sliding door on the side, rusted gashes in the paint, and one missing row of backseats, rattled like a school bus as they travelled north towards the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. They had a long drive ahead of them and what started out as a promising, mild weather day, turned into a much cooler and rainier one.
 
Mr. Dinworth tried to make small talk but neither of his travel-mates seemed to be alert enough. He knew Em wasn’t a morning person, and he was not surprised to see a look in Kyan’s face that screamed hangover.
 
Dinworth couldn’t stomach awkward silences, especially while driving a long distance. Em’s demeanor made it worse. She gazed at the passing houses and businesses, daydreaming about how those out-of-the-way homes spent their Saturday mornings.
 
“You doing okay, ace? Any shadows we should be concerned about?” He finally asked.
 
“Nope, never better. Same old walk in the park, right?” Em poorly exaggerated a grin.
 
“I don’t think any of our adventures have been considered walks in the park, my dear.”
 
“Well, there was that one when I was younger, at that park in PA with the little zoo in the middle. First time I ever had to deal with animals and amazingly not the last.” She tied her blonde locks, still a little damp from the shower, into a tight bun as she glanced at Kyan through the rear view. He looked zoned into the glow of his phone, and he had his earbuds in. She faintly heard the music he listened to. No wonder he doesn’t listen. He’s been deaf since the 7th grade, she thought.
 
“I do still feel bad for that gentleman who landed face first into that pony manure,” Din smirked in her direction.
 
“Hey, a karmic kick to the nuts is required sometimes. I didn’t make the rules.”
 
“That beast broke the poor man’s nose, Emerald.”
 
“If he wanted to dish out the pain-in-the-ass, he had to learn to take it.”
 
“I just don’t know what this old soul of mine is going to do with you, Ms. Sage.”
 
Em playfully rolled her eyes at him and turned the radio up to hear Ella Fitzgerald’s voice over the rattling of the windows.
 
“I’ll be fine, Din. You just worry about our little boozer back there.”
 
“Give him a chance, my dear. It’s time you start expecting at least some people to surprise you, not deceive you.”
 
“Like I said, you wanted him. You take care of him.”
 
“He’s a grown man, dear.”
 
“Who’s going to think this is all fun and games.”
 
“You know there will come a time when he won’t be able to deny the truth. He’ll either run or he’ll press on because he has nowhere else to go. I’m thinking the latter. This is an intelligent man with a mind not too difficult to open. Wait and see.”
 
“Oh man, guys. Check this out.” Kyan leaned forward and faced his phone in Dinworth’s direction.
 
“It’s a naked mole rat, also known as a sand puppy. Isn’t that funny as hell?” He turns the screen to Em.
 
“God has an amazing sense of humor, doesn’t he?” She shakes her head.
 
“You got that right. Do you think God just woke up one day and and said, “You know what this world needs, a creature that looks like a big dong with legs and bucked teeth.”
 
“To be honest, anyone who’s able to go through their days pondering questions like, “What’s up with the naked mole rat?” I want their life for five minutes.”
“What? It’s not like you guys are getting the short end of the stick in life, gorgeous. You get to read and sell books all day, live in a big house, and constantly travel. Wouldn’t kill you to do something for the sake of an easy laugh, you know?”
 
“Call me by my name or don’t call me anything, please, and are you implying that I don’t have a sense of humor?” Em never heard a man refer to her as gorgeous, even in jest, but she hated feeling somewhat flattered.
 
“No, but I will say for someone so young, you do take life too seriously. We’re all going to be dead in what seems like ten minutes anyway. Laugh at a few dick jokes every now and again.”
 
Before Em could respond, Dinworth chimed in. “I’ll have you know, Kyan, that Emerald here won her 5th grade talent show for walking on her hands while singing the alphabet song backwards. All her idea too.”
 
“Dinworth, please!”
 
“Ha, got any pictures?”
 
“No, and even if we did,” she turned towards Kyan to shoot him her patented death stare, “I would not let you see evidence of the goofiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
 
“My brother and I dressed up as Laverne and Shirley for Halloween in the eighth grade. He popped a boob in study hall, and I rolled my ankle in the cafeteria. Fell right into the lunch lady’s cans. Damn heels.”
 
Em chuckled at the image of a young Kyan dressed as Penny Marshall.
 
“Why, Emerald, I believe that’s the first genuine laugh I’ve heard come out of you in at least 72 hours,” Dinworth teased.
 
“Thank you for the reminder, dear squire. Now can we talk business for a while. You haven’t given the details about this house we’re seeing today.”
 
“Ah, yes, well a mother and son own this old bed & breakfast up near Watkins Glen, been in the family for well over a century. The husband and young man’s father wander-, ah I mean passed about two years ago, leaving his wife and son to maintain the estate on their own. From what I understand, they are going broke. Apparently, guests on vacation don’t like it when the bathroom door opens on them while showering or when they have to get up several times to flick off a light switch. Disturbances scared a lady so badly, she fell halfway down the stairs.”
 
“I’m reading the Yelp reviews now,” scrolling on her phone. “Quite possibly the gate to hell one says, but then he ends with saying, ‘The omelets are life-changing.’ That was nice of him.”
 
“I’ll show you a gate to hell,” Kyan chimed in, “Try waking up in a skanky Atlantic City motel in a room that’s not yours because you’re supposed to be at Ceasar’s Palace.”
 
“Please stay on topic. This information is just as valuable to you as it is to me.”
 
“I thought I only had to point and click or record?”
 
“Yes, but you also have to be..aware of your aware, and be ready for surprises.”
 
“If you say so, princess.” Kyan leans back into his seat with his hands behind his head.
 
Em took a deep, cleansing breath before responding matter-of-factly, “Stop calling me princess, or I will crazy glue your balls to your leg while you sleep. How’s that for a sense of humor, Jack?”
 
“She’s got you there, son.”
 
“Touché”
 
Em grinned at her little victory as she pulled Cerridwen out of her bag.

forest hiking trees
Photo by Luis del Ru00edo on Pexels.com

Introduction to We’re Never Really Gone – a paranormal fantasy by. Tara A. Lesko

Setting yet another goal to be more consistent with this blog! 😉

This is the beginning of my novel as it stands. Constructive thoughts and feedback are greatly appreciated. This is very much a work in progress, but I am trying to meet an October 1st manuscript deadline. Thanks and enjoy 🙂 ❤

 Emerald 

March 30th 2019 – a total reset 

Dear Cerridwen, 

This is a letter I would love to share with the world if I could – yeah, yeah, another “if only…” rant. Sometimes I can’t  help it. 

Dear World,

I’m not supposed to give away any information about “heaven” (big air quotes), but let me assure you, you have nothing to worry about. It friggin rocks, actually. But it has its moments. If you want a purple unicorn, go ahead and draw up the one you have in mind. If you want a fountain that endlessly pours Sunny D with a sculpture of a nude Ryan Gosling at the top, get thirsty. Everything the movies have told you about what heaven is all about is true…

Well, almost. Very, very almost. But that’s a story for another time.  I can’t throw all of what I know at you because it will feel like you took a flying anvil to the face. 

So here is what I can’t figure out. How the hell am I still alive on this Earth as if nothing ever happened to my head? Why do I get to continue on with this so-called life when so many others would have died? 

They caught up with me. They were inches away from beating me. I survived, but I failed. Even though I am afraid, I will do all I can not to let anyone down again. 

This is all I can write at this moment, so until next time.

Ah  Dineen Sian (May the Great Spirit be with You) ~ Emerald  

 

Emerald Sage brought her beloved, leather bound journal with her everywhere, even to work. She named it Cerridwen, and writing on her was the only time she could be completely free. It’s easy to be honest where no one else will read or listen. If Chayton, the maven boss man, ever knew she left Cerridwen lying around while she stocked shelves or sketched in a quiet corner, he would have a heart attack, even though he really didn’t have a heart. 

Cerridwen was the only place Emerald could express her  doubts about taking on another task so soon. She hoped she could stick to working in the shop for a while – decorating for the fast-approaching holidays, rearranging some shelves, and grabbing her favorite bologna sandwiches from Pete’s deli across the street. She could be a random, middle class, Jerseyite for a spell. Fat chance, but she liked to daydream. 

Her pain was nowhere near as horrific, but somehow counting the money in the register became more of a chore than it used to be. A persistent, depleted feeling followed her like an overbearing mother though she had no idea what an overbearing mother felt like. 

On the night that started the mental Drano, Em drove home late from the store. Something she did many times before without incident. It was a perfect night for open-window driving. She thought the breeze hitting her face would be enough to keep her on high alert. 

They’re usually not on the road so late. They’re usually not anywhere so late. The havoc they wreak never required too much travel, especially on the road. 

The moon was immense, making the asphalt look coated with ice. The weather was perfect according to Emerald – unseasonably cool for early June. The winds carried the scent of bonfires and cut grass. Summer is not Em’s favorite season, but she did all she could to embrace it, like everything else that comes back year after year without fail. 

The head injuries from the crash left dull, throbbing pains on her left side, right above the ear. She tried not to think about how the accident changed her – how every thing she saw and every thing she sensed felt distorted like a dream she could  remember but never explain. Oddly, she wondered if she had a tumor growing in her skull – a spongy mass like the capsules she’d drop in water as a kid, so she could watch them grow into animal shapes. Mr. Dinworth sold those things at the bookstore at one point, along with Silly Putties, Pop Rocks, Garbage Pail Kids, and Big League Chews – his idea to get more kids interested in the shop.

“It has been a bit slow these last few months,” Mr. Dinworth sighed. He arranged some new arrivals on the front table near the counter, random James Patterson-type novels and trendy diet books that end up in a Goodwill store if he doesn’t get his hands on them first. 

Em knew Mr. Dinworth’s birthday, but she never pressed him on how old he was. Part of her didn’t want to know. With his slow gait, swollen joints, and his pacemaker twice replaced, she only hoped he would hang in long enough to do all he wanted to do in this world. To Emerald, nobody on the planet deserved more longevity than Charles Dinworth.  

“It’s so nice to have you back Em, and healthy and safe. I held this dear thing every day you were gone.” He dragged his moccasins across the carpet and reached over to touch his Medicine Buddha that sat near the register. He was the happiest and saddest Bohemian she knew. Then again, Em didn’t know many people.

“Thanks Din, it feels good to be back to some sense of normalcy. I guess.” She smiled at the father she never had but would rarely call by his first name. The fact he was doing work and she wasn’t made her creep out of her fog and concentrate on her to-do list.  

“Now that the summer is ending, we should pick up again. We always have our back-to-school kids, our holiday crafters, and our newbie readers looking for bits of inspiration,” He laughed as jovially as his energy allowed. 

“We’ll be okay. Now that I am back in commission I can do more work on the website and the Facebook page. I’m going to start making some killer displays too. This is going to be Dinworth’s Books best Autumn ever. Even Jambhala the God of Wealth will pee his pants, if he actually wears any.” 

She reassured the old man, smilingly, as she took his opaque hands into hers. Em had not been the most active and enthusiastic bookstore manager. Her steady stream of assignments often got in the way. But she was back from an unbearably long medical leave, and she wanted to do more to bring steady business to the bookshop that was her second home. She wanted more normalcy for his sake. 

She wanted to be who she wanted to be, isolated for a little while at least. The brain fog made her feel useless to other places or people in need. The shop felt safe no matter how good or how bad she felt.

“Well, well, someone has been doing some research.” He smiled back at her. 

“I had a lot of time on my hands. And someone who insisted on having me read Buddhism for Dummies?” She gave him a playful, quizzical brow, making sure he knew she was kidding. Suddenly she’s distracted by a big blotch of dim green on the wall near the window behind him – a welcomed sign of contentment. 

“Oh, my dear girl, I was just trying to match your patented jokester ways. You didn’t have to actually read it.” 

“Don’t be silly. I loved it,” she responded after a pensive  pause. The green disappeared. 

Em kissed him on his warm, wrinkled cheek and headed back to the general fiction section. Warped cardboard boxes full of paperbacks and hardcovers needed homes on the shelves. She reached into the first box and ran her fingers across the tattered spines, suddenly forgetting what she was going to do. She didn’t know where to start. Her vision subtlety blurred, and the colors that stretched from floor to ceiling changed, from light to dark then back again. 

When she was home-bound, she had weird moments of funky vision and brain drivel. Nothing as jarring as what she was experiencing in the store. She saw a doctor a couple of weeks earlier about the fogginess and the vision worries, and nothing in her tests gave him cause for concern. No surprise. He figured it was the same persistent psych issues and suggested an adjustment in her meds which Em refused. As long as she didn’t have anything screwed up inside that thick skull of hers, she decided not to think about it. 

She pulled out an old, yellowed copy of Through the Looking Glass, took out the pencil tucked safely on her ear, and marked the title page with a 5 and a dash. She thought about making it two dollars, but they still owed money to the electric company. Underselling wasn’t an option. 

Angela’s Ashes had a slight rip in the cover and dog-eared pages – 6 bucks – required reading in a lot of English classes so it would definitely sell. A hardcover copy of The DaVinci Code minus its book jacket, 5. The Feminine Mystique with slight water damage, 6. She sauntered slowly up and down the aisle and scanned the shelves, searching for where her newly priced books needed to be. But again, she forgot what she was doing and gazed at a series of books titled Skinny Bitch, and she wondered why the world needed books called Skinny Bitch. 

An older gentleman wearing a Members Only jacket and tinted lenses turned the corner into her aisle. She could tell he wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so she didn’t ask if he needed help. She doubted she would be much help to him anyway, so she simply smiled and gave a quick “Hello” to which he didn’t respond. But once he moved past her, there was an all too familiar sight – a grey shadow that looked like finely ground pepper on the shelf beside him. Swirling slowly, the gray formed some odd shapes then dissolved. Em dropped her books onto her feet and snapped out of it. He wasn’t one of them, but he could be one day. He had the right coloring. 

Once she emptied one box, she gave up and returned to the counter to look at the ledgers. Mr. Dinworth insisted on using old school record books and shunned spreadsheets or any form of technology. Before opening one, she whispered a quick prayer for them to be up-to-date and in-order. They were not. The thought of looking over six weeks worth of discombobulated sales records made her woozy. No more fart-brain, and for the love of all that is holy, no more random, wacky swirls of color that don’t make sense, please!  She thought to herself. 

“Oh, I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you. I have another photographer coming in today to interview for the job. This one seems promising…somewhat,” Dinworth added under his breath. 

“That’s what you said about the last seven you brought to the house, Din. Forget it, I’m just going to tell Chayton that I can’t do any assignments for a while. It’s too much, and it’s going to take a long time to find the best replacement. Whoever this person may be, will have to fill Marnie’s shoes and that is no easy feat,” Em shuffled through pages of numbers without reading any of them.

“Emerald, the best thing you can do right now is get back to mediating,” he unfolded his weathered map of the northeastern United States sprinkled with red dot stickers in various locations. “There are plenty of new places that need you, my dear, and the other readers are being spread out quite thinly. Nobody expects you to jump right back into normal ol’ Em right away.” He surveyed the people in the store before pulling out his leather bound journal from the book shelf behind the counter. Like Cerridwen, that book was Din’s best friend. Except Emerald wasn’t sure if he had a name for his journal. She thought if he did, it was probably Kwan Yin or Tara. 

“I’m sure that’s what Chayton thinks,” Em rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I still think we should stay local and try to get this bookstore thriving again before people start to wonder how we stay in business.”

“My dear, you will continue to get through these stumbling blocks as you always do,” he began in his soft, grandfatherly voice, placing his hands on her shoulders. “With ferocity and a remarkable flood of color and light. That’s who you are, Emerald.” 

She rubbed the back of my neck, looked down at the floor, and solemnly considered his words as he turned back to his journal. Any derivative of the word “ferocious” seemed so distant to Emerald. The sounds were there, so were the colors and shapes, but they were distorted, worse than the screen on the puke-colored, rabbit-eared television her grandmother refused to retire. The TV still sat on Em’s kitchen counter even though it stopped working in 1999. That is where she wanted it to stay.

“I guess you’re right,” she tried to turn her attention back to the ledgers. “It’s not fair to the others who have covered for me longer than they should have,” not truly believing her own words.

“That a girl. I’m going to make some phone calls. Yell, if you need me. I mean, really yell. My hearing aid batteries are dying,” he winked. She smiled back at him as he made his way to their back office. 

The handful of customers in the shop quietly read or skimmed the shelves. Occasionally, somebody bought something. They seemed content, so she decided to sketch out a marketing display for April, National Poetry Month, which she found ridiculous because she wanted every month of the year to be National Poetry Month. 

She grabbed her sketchbook out of her backpack and got to work when a man wearing dark sunglasses, messy hair, and a Pink Floyd T-shirt stumbled toward the counter, slamming his hand on the surface to catch himself from falling face first into the polished oak. The counter shook, making Emerald mess up her lines of ink. He righted himself and gave her a tight-lipped smile. It was obvious he had not shaved in days, and he smelled like whiskey. Em wasn’t sure if he was going for a Jack Kerouac’s On the Road look or a James Dean after-a-fight look. Either way, he seemed more like a wannabe hipster with questionable hygiene.

“Can I help you?” Em asked before she tore the sheet out of her sketchbook and crumpled it loudly. 

“I’m early.” His voice sounded like it was the first time he’d spoken in a week. 

“Okaaay?” 

“I’m looking for somebody by the name of Dinman or Dimwith. Sorry, I had it written down,” he searched his pockets and pulled out a lighter, crumpled receipts, gum wrappers, and pennies. He scattered his mess onto the counter. 

“You mean Mr. Dinworth, yes, he is in the back. Who shall I say is calling?”

“I’m Kyan.” 

“Yeah?” 

“I’m here because I guess he needs a photographer.” He looked annoyed. Like she was the one intruding on his time. 

“What?!” 

A guy, Din? Really? A friggin guy? 

And out of all the guys in the world, this guy?

Since it was on the tip of her tongue, she wanted to say, “The position has been filled. Here, take a copy of The Four Agreements for your troubles.” But the words wouldn’t come out. Mr. Dinworth called this guy in, so she figured it should be up to him to tell him, “thanks, but no thanks.” Em already had a bad feeling that he wouldn’t. 

“You must be Emerald,” he laughed. “Great name, by the way.” 

She couldn’t tell if he was sincere or sarcastic, but either way, all around him was a chaotic cluster of colors. 

“Wait here, and don’t touch anything,” Em turned and flounced toward the back of the store. 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

Oh, this is not good. I can’t work with a guy? Well, I know Din is a guy. But that doesn’t count!