Possession by a house?

Got some good writing done this week, including for the More Odds than Ends Week 35 prompt. My prompt this week came from Anne and Jim: She kept trying to send in her application, but they wouldn’t accept it. They kept saying her address was invalid. My prompt, The dragon floated on the inflatable raft in the middle of my pool went to Fiona Grey.

I worked my prompt into the Cursebreaker series. Jack is getting a massive headache from this one!

******

“I would really love it if you could help me out,” Jack said. “I’ve got about ten mages, including my brother-in-law’s family, and yes, their kid, and you, all of whom have been cursed into dolls by the same two witches. What the hell did all of you do to piss them off so badly? And why did Caitlin Blackwell get killed when she wrote down who had cursed her into the doll? And what about that house?” He realized all his frustration was coming out at once and it sounded like he was blaming Greg. Monica left her place in the doorway and came to stand next to Jack putting a calming hand on his shoulder. Greg looked taken aback by the vehemence of Jack’s response.

“I’m sorry,” Jack continued softly. “I’m just frustrated and tired and getting more stressed by the day. It’s like somebody is doling out clues but, in the meantime, more mages are getting caught. I don’t want another one to die.” Monica squeezed his shoulder and kissed the top of his head.

Greg nodded. “Don’t worry about it. I understand. And, I think somebody is doling out clues to you. But I don’t think they’re teasing you. I think that they can only do so much.”

“What do you mean?” Jack asked.

“This picture you took at the front of the abandoned house? That one spirit that’s looking right at the camera? I’ve seen him before. Or at least a picture of him. He’s one of the first mages to live here, in town. Or, rather, in this area,” Greg said slowly.

Monica interrupted. “Before you dive into what seems like is going to be a long story, let’s have some dinner. We all need to catch our breath, and I know the dogs need to eat too.”

Jack and Greg shared a look. “She’s right,” Greg smiled.

“She usually is,” Jack grinned at his wife.

“Usually? Try always,” she laughed.

“I’m not arguing,” Greg held up his hands in mock defense.

Jack and Greg concentrated on giving the dogs their dinner while Monica pulled a roasted chicken and potatoes out of the oven and put sautéed green beans on the table. While they were eating, the conversation was kept purposefully light. Jack once again reminded himself that he’d won the lottery when he’d met Monica. Not only did her personality complement his, but her magical talents complemented his as well. And, most importantly, in Jack’s view, she didn’t care that his magic was limited to breaking curses or pulling apart spells, instead of creating them. She’d told him early on that their combined talents meant that they could both create and break spells which made them a well-rounded team.

After dinner, humans and dogs moved back into the living room. Monica and Jack settled on the sofa, while Greg took the comfy chair facing them. The three dogs spread themselves out across the floor.

“Okay. So. Let’s hear your theory about the house,” Jack said, pouring everybody a couple fingers of the good Scotch. He figured they were going to need it.

Greg took a sip of his Scotch and rolled the glass back and forth between his hands.

“Okay. Well, you know the main part of the story…the original owners were found dead, presumed murdered, but nobody was ever caught. Then, that developer bought the land a few years ago and built a house. But they only lasted about a year before they ran away as fast as they could. At the time, I was doing some research on spirits, ghosts…what have you, and possession. The pictures you showed me before dinner confirmed some of the theories I had. Where did you get that camera anyway?”

Jack shrugged. “Found it on Amazon…on the mage side of the site. I didn’t know what it did until I happened to take a picture of the troll doll that showed up. There was nothing in the product description. But I figured I should start documenting things. Since then…the troll doll was my third case…I’ve taken a picture of every doll that’s showed up and every time I’ve seen the person inside the doll. The guy in the troll doll, Geoffrey, told me to check out the house. I took the camera with me to the house just on a whim. Glad I did.”

“Yeah, I am too. The guy in the front, looking right at you is Nikolas Jonnson. He’s a for real Viking. His ancestors were some of those Vikings that made it all the way here to North America. Them and the Knights Templar. I ran across his history when I was looking up the story of that piece of land. It seems that he was killed there, but he was killed as part of a ritual summoning. Something went wrong and fortunately the summoning didn’t work. But the evil intent is still there and I think it’s baked into the ground. I think that the summoning did bring something to this plane, or at least partially to this plane. And, I think it’s still here. That’s why that first family was killed, and that’s why there are so many shades hanging around that house. It attracts them.

It kinda looks like Nikolas wants your help. I know he didn’t sacrifice himself willingly. From what I’ve been able to dig out, there was a bit of um…a political fight, I guess you’d call it, in the group of Vikings that made it this far. Some of them wanted to go back and bring back more people to colonize and others wanted nothing to do with this area and thought they should leave. My working theory is that there was already something evil here, or it had been the site of some sort of evil action and that’s why they split. Whatever was in the area was controlling the Vikings and pitting them against each other. That led to Nikolas being sacrificed in some attempt to appease whatever it was. In the end, I think they freaked themselves out and they all left. No Vikings returned.”

“Okay. A dead Viking is dropping me clues. But how did Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe get involved? They are the common thread among all of the cursed dolls,” Jack ran his hands through his hair.

Monica cocked her head to one side. “You know…Armina tried to buy that house before the developer did. The bank wouldn’t give her a mortgage. She kept applying but they wouldn’t accept it. They said her address was invalid. Maybe she’s trying to get back at somebody? And Camilia’s helping?”

Jack stared at his wife. “If Armina tried to buy the house…she might have walked through it…” he trailed off and turned to Greg. “You said the Viking…Nikolas…was sacrificed to stop some demon. And that it might still be connected to this plane…what if Armina got possessed when she went through the house?”

******

Thanks for reading! I’m working on turning this into a full-length novel, probably first in a series. If you like my writing, my very first book (!) is linked at the top of the page. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited!

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Visions of…what?

Yesterday was the first day of classes. For the last 20 years, I would have been on campus in the midst of the frenetic hustle of lost freshmen, growing sophomores, confident juniors, and worried seniors. Today, a Tuesday, I would actually be standing in front of my first classes of the semester (I taught Tuesdays/Thursdays). Today, for the first time in 20 years I am not on an academic calendar. I am not teaching. Today I got to spend the day working on my own projects, writing my own stories…stories, not research articles. It’s a little weird. But feels very right.

This is also Week 34 at More Odds Than Ends. My prompt this week was It involved a flatbed truck, a raccoon, the bones of a rat, and a dragon (or was it?)… and was gifted to me by Cedar Sanderson. My prompt about an expanding closet went to Leigh Kimmel.

I worked this into the ever-growing Cursebreaker story. The entire series is here if you haven’t read the previous installments.

******

Jack stared at Greg. “Okay. So, you saw a gargoyle crossing the road. Let’s start there. Which road and in which direction?” He was going for simple in the hopes that something, some clue, some idea would jump out at him.

“Richardson Street. Um…it goes east-west, I was driving…um…west, so the gargoyle crossed from south to north. Why does that matter?” Greg stared into his mug, absently rubbing both dogs. He sat back on the sofa and Scout immediately climbed into his lap. Jake shoved himself in closer as well.

“I don’t know yet. But, I’m just trying to get a handle on things. I think there has to be a pattern. When this first started, I just thought that an unusual number of magic workers were pissing off witches. Then, I discovered it was the same two witches. And always magic workers with dogs. And the dogs show up here…but one died…” he trailed off petting Captain who laid his head in Jack’s lap.

Greg glanced up sharply. “What do you mean one died? Who died?”

“Caitlin Blackwell. Captain here was her dog,” Jack replied quietly.

“Damn.”

“Yeah. Oh, and somebody threw this in my car this morning when I went to your house. I found it when I left. I haven’t really looked at it and I don’t know what it means and I don’t know if the phone works,” Jack fished in his pocket for the cell phone with the puzzle piece taped to the back, that had somehow found its way onto his passenger seat.

Greg took the phone and stared at the puzzle piece. He turned the phone over and hit the power button. The phone lit up and Greg swiped the screen.

“Well, there’s no password on it,” his voice was wary.

“Ooookaaay…anything else?” Jack leaned over to look at the phone.

“Looks like there’s a text message here…um…that’s a little strange…it’s addressed to you,” Greg handed Jack the phone.

“What?” Jack read the message. “What the hell? Jack, Find the flatbed truck with the racoon carrying the rat bones and guarded by the dragon. That’s not exactly informative.”

“Tell me about it,” Greg set his mug down on the coffee table. The dogs were still intent on maintaining their places on and around him. He wasn’t moving any time soon.

“I think I can help,” Monica’s voice came from the kitchen door.

Jack looked up at her. “This makes sense to you?”

“Not completely, but while you were at Greg’s house, I went out to run some errands. I came back past that house you said was haunted…the abandoned one over on 47th? As I was passing it, I saw a flatbed truck parked in front of it and I swear there was a racoon sitting on the back,” she paused. “I didn’t see a dragon, but then, I didn’t look up.”

“That house. It’s all coming back to that house,” Jack rubbed his temples.

Greg’s eyebrows went up. “You mean that house that’s been abandoned for a few years? The one that developer built and then left? It’s haunted?”

“Yeah. Hang on,” Jack went into his office and grabbed his camera. He came back and sat down next to Greg. “This camera shows what’s…um…inside of things. So, like it showed me you inside the bobble-head. Here. These are the pictures I took at the house.” He scrolled through the photos until he found the ones from his excursion to the house.

Greg stared at the photos, scrolling back and forth between them. Jack was beginning to wonder what Greg saw, when the astronaut looked up. “I think I know what’s going on,” he said quietly.

******

I’m working on melding these things into a cohesive whole. It’s at least a stand-alone novel and possibly a series or at least a world I can go play in. Who knows how this is going to turn out. If you want to join us in our prompting, just go to More Odds Than Ends. It’s simple, easy, and most importantly fun!

Image by Emslichter from Pixabay

Gargoyles

It’s been an off week or ten days. Not off in anything bad, just feeling off-kilter. Hubby went into the office for a couple of days last week for the first time since mid-March, which was weird in a “this is not our usual day” sort of way. I haven’t made a lot of headway on Book #2, although I have some ideas and I’m working them out. And finally, I missed sending in a prompt last week for More Odds Than Ends, so I used a spare one this week.

The spare was “Why did the gargoyle cross the road?” I used it to continue the Cursebreaker series (complete series linked above). This is definitely going somewhere and I’m trying to keep up. Once I get a draft of Book #2 out to beta readers I will be focusing on this one for a time. That’s the plan at any rate. So, here’s Cursebreaker Part XII.

******

Jack pulled up into his own driveway. He grabbed the backpack as he climbed out of the car. He let the dogs out and slowly walked up the steps to his front porch. The dogs clustered around his feet as he dropped into the Adirondack chair next to the front door. Putting the backpack on the floor between his feet, he pulled out the bobble head of Greg Leland and stared at it. Jake and Scout both gave half wags and let out small whines.

“I know, I know. I promise we’ll get him out,” Jack murmured, scratching the dogs’ ears. “I just wish I knew what the hell was going on. Why would somebody drop a phone in my car? And, what does it have to do with Greg?”

Captain stood up and balancing his front paws on Jack’s lap, gave Jack a long, sloppy lick up the side of his face.

“Oh, man! C’mon!” Jack laughed, wiping his face. “Okay, okay. You’re right. We’ll figure this all out. Maybe Greg can help out.”

Still cradling the bobble head, he grabbed the backpack and stood up. As he was reaching for the door handle, it opened to reveal Monica with a concerned look on her face.

“Honey? What are you doing out here? I thought I heard voices. Is everything okay?” his wife sounded worried.

“It’s fine, I’m fine. The dogs are fine. I was just talking to them and to myself. Things are getting weirder, but now I’m thinking that somebody may be trying to help out,” Jack smiled and gave her a quick kiss.

“Okay. Well…did you find the doll with Greg in it? Can we get him out?” Monica patted the dogs as they pushed into the house.

“Yeah, I found it and something else happened. I’ll fill you in after I get Greg out,” Jack replied.

He followed Monica back through the house to the kitchen. She pulled out a bag of jerky treats for the dogs as Jack went into the living room. He carefully set the bobble head doll on the coffee table before going back into his office for supplies. Unlike the curse that had bound his brother-in-law and family into a figurine, Jack thought that this one felt like the first three dolls he’d uncursed. He could not have said why, but it just felt more straightforward. I don’t like that I’m getting so used to this, but it does help, I guess.

Fifteen minutes later, he breathed a sigh of relief as Greg Leland appeared out of the bobble-head doll and Jake and Scout went wild with joy. Monica appeared almost immediately afterwards with mugs of tea for all of them.

Greg grinned at Jack. “I knew you’d figure it out. Thanks,” he carefully juggled the mug of hot tea and two enthusiastic dogs.

“Well, thanks for your confidence. I’m glad we got you back,” Jack returned the grin. “But what happened? I mean, I read your letter, but it’s still murky. And, you do know you’re like the sixth or seventh magic worker who’s been cursed into a doll, right? What the hell is going on with you guys?”

Greg’s expression grew thoughtful. “I have some ideas and I want to know what you think. But there are a couple of things you need to know first. There’s a couple of things I saw…” he trailed off.

“Like what?” Jack leaned forward.

“Well, for one, I saw…a…gargoyle. A live gargoyle,” Greg grimaced.

“What?? It takes a hella lot to animate a gargoyle…even more to make it look alive…” Jack frowned.

“I know. But I’m telling you it was alive. It was crossing the road,” Greg stared into his mug.

“Why did the gargoyle cross the road? Which road?” Jack was starting to feel lost. This was getting out of hand. Assuming it was connected to the cursed dolls, which he figured it was because why would anything be simple? He dropped his head into his hands.

“I have no idea. I have no idea,” Greg sighed.

******

Image by sollrox from Pixabay

Puzzles

Hurricane Isaias has hit Philly, so I’m writing and listening to the rain. It’s rather nice. We are now in Week 31 of prompts at More Odds Than Ends. I am still having a hard time believing that I’ve been doing this for more than half the year. And, it’s likely given me the first (and several ideas for the second) book in what would be my second series. I’m very happy and grateful for that. This week ‘nother Mike and I traded prompts. His prompt to me was: Someone had tossed a cellphone with a puzzle piece taped to its back into the car. I was able to work it into the ongoing Cursebreaker saga (earlier entries can be found at the link above). This one picks up right where the last one left off. I hope you enjoy!

*******

Jack pulled up in front of Greg Leland’s house and sat for a minute looking over the front of the house. Nothing seemed out of place, but he still had an itch between his shoulder blades…as if he were being watched. Pulling out his phone, he lowered his head pretending to read something on the screen while his eyes scanned the area. The three dogs in the back seat were quiet.

After a minute, and not spotting anything out of the ordinary, Jack got out of the car, walked around to the curb and opened the back door to let the dogs out. Jake and Scout immediately headed toward the side gate leading into the back yard, Captain close behind. After glancing around once more, Jack followed the dogs to the side gate.

Pulling out the set of keys that had been attached to Jake’s collar, Jack found the one that opened the gate and followed the three dogs into the yard. The fence was high enough that anybody in the yard could not be seen from the street. As that thought struck him, Jack put a cautionary hand on Captain’s head. Captain gave a short, low bark. Jake and Scout stopped their forward movement into the yard and turned towards the big German Shepherd. Jack gestured to the two dogs and they returned to his side. Flanked by all three dogs, Jack walked cautiously into the yard.

Nothing seemed out of place. Dog toys were dropped here and there around the yard, and a small plastic kiddie pool sat just off of the patio. Jack straightened up from a crouch he didn’t realize he’d gone into and continued to scan the yard. Suddenly Scout froze and pointed, eyes trained on the sliding glass doors opening onto the patio. The door was partially open.

Jack lifted his hand from Captain’s head. “Go!”

All three dogs raced toward the door and into the house, Jack following on their heels.

The front door slammed as Jack and the dogs skidded into the entry hallway. Cursing, Jack pushed through the canine bodies clamoring at the front door and pulled it open. The dogs rushed down the front path, but stopped at the sidewalk, whining and looking in all directions. Jack ran to the middle of the sidewalk and looked up and down. There was nobody and nothing in sight.

The dogs huddled around Jack, tails now between their legs. “What’s up guys? What’s going on?” Jack kept staring up and down the street but couldn’t see anything but a quiet suburban street, looking perfectly normal in the middle of the day.

Glancing around one more time, Jack patted each dog. “C’mon guys. Let’s go in and see if we can find what we came for.” He moved back up the walk leading to the front door.

Back inside, Jack carefully closed and locked the front door. He turned in the small entry hallway to orient himself and find Greg’s office. He spotted a small den a few feet down the hall and headed into that. This was clearly an office. A very nice, very big desk, with a closed laptop sitting on it, filled one corner. Behind the desk were four or five rows of shelves. In the place of honor, in the center of the first shelf was a bobble-head doll of Greg Leland in his NASA space suit.

Jack pulled out his camera, pointed it at the doll and took a picture before moving toward the shelves. The digital photo did indeed reveal a human figure trapped inside the bobble-head. Breathing a sigh of relief, Jack reached up and carefully pulled the doll off of the shelf. He wrapped it in a dish towel and tucked it into the backpack he had brought for that purpose.

“Okay, guys. We’re good. Let’s lock up the back and get out of here,” Jack looked down at the dogs. On impulse, he pulled the doll back out and held it toward Jake and Scout. Both dogs sniffed at the doll and whined. “I’m going to take that as confirmation,” Jack muttered putting the doll back into the bag.

He made a quick tour through the rest of the house making sure it was secure and locked up the back. Leaving through the front door, Jack surveyed the neighborhood once again before walking to the car. He let the dogs into the back seat and then moved around to the driver’s side. As he sat down, he noticed an object on the front passenger seat. Someone had tossed a cellphone with a puzzle piece taped to its back into the car. What the hell? Note to self, don’t leave the windows open even a bit, no matter how warm it is…

Jack stared at the phone for what felt like an hour, although it was probably less than a minute, before picking it up. The puzzle piece provided no clues. It was an edge piece…sky blue, with what looked like the tip of a blade of grass. He shrugged and tucked the phone into the backpack without taking the puzzle piece off. Getting Greg out of the bobble-head was the top priority right now. He’d worry about the puzzle piece and the phone after that.

*******

As always, please feel free to join in the fun! What few rules there are (well, okay, there aren’t any rules) can be found at More Odds Than Ends. This is the first group I’ve ever done the prompt thing with, and I’m loving it. This group of people is very encouraging and helpful for the newbie and the experienced writer.

Image by Zoltan Matuska from Pixabay

Write-in Campaign

Here we are. Week 30 of Odd Prompts is upon us. When I first read the prompt I received from Anne Guglik, I commented that it figured that the now-former (yay!) political science professor would get the one about running for president. Since high school, when I told people I was majoring in political science, the first question out of people’s mouths was usually “Oh, are you going to run for office?” No. And, as a matter of fact, I scrupulously avoid actual politics. And God knows I do not want to be president. The only thing I want to be responsible for is how my own day is scheduled, and how much or whether I write. That’s it. But, I came up with this. It’s more in the what is your reaction to finding out you won a write-in campaign for the highest office in the country, rather than a true answer to “what do you do now?”

My prompt: You posted an Op-Ed about something you were passionate about and it went viral. Then somewhat as an online protest/prank you became a write in candidate for President….and you won. What do you do?

*******

“Holy shit! You won!” Derek was shouting, jumping up and down in front of the television.

“Yeah, right,” I responded reaching for another slice of pizza.

He spun around and moved away from the TV. “I am NOT KIDDING!! You fucking won!”

I gaped at the revealed screen. I had 280 Electoral College votes. Just over the majority. Oh. My. God.

My phone rang. The caller ID was a number in Kansas. I hit the answer icon and put the call on speaker.

“Hello?” I know I sounded hesitant.

“Good evening, Ms. Riley. And, congratulations on your win. I’m conceding to you. I guess that op-ed hit all the right spots for voters. I just hope you truly are up for the job.” The voice on the other end was unmistakable. It was Robert Mallory, the Republican candidate for President of the United States.

“Thank you. I hope I can count on your support going forward,” I surprised myself with my relatively coherent answer.

Mallory seemed surprised as well. “Well, yes. I’m happy to provide advice. Congratulations, again.” He hung up.

As soon as the call ended another one came through. This time from the Democratic candidate.

“Well, Ms. Riley, I hope you’re happy. I’m conceding as it looks like you’ve managed to pull of the impossible and win a US presidential election with a write-in campaign. What a joke.” Sandra Bellamy hung up the phone before I could respond.

Derek laughed. “You won! Holy crap! And, what do you want to bet that Bellamy says she had a great conversation with you and wishes you well? But Mallory sounds okay.”

I was still staring at my phone. What in the hell had just happened??

I looked up at Derek from my attempt to disappear into the couch. “What do I do now? Winning was not the goal of this…this campaign…joke…whatever. What do I do?”

Before he could answer, there was a knock at the apartment door. We looked at each other and Derek moved over to look through the peephole.

“Um…Bethany…um…it’s Secret Service…um…” he stared at me as reality started to sink in for both of us. I walked over to the door and opened it.

“Good evening Ms. Riley, I’m Agent Jeffrey Stanwick, Secret Service,” the tall, blond man held out a badge. I took it gingerly in two fingers and looked at the badge and accompanying identification card. Derek peered over my shoulder. Yep, Jeffrey Stanwick was most certainly a senior agent with the Secret Service. I handed both badge and ID back and then moved my right hand over to my left arm.

“Ow!” the hard pinch startled me and had the intended effect. No, I wasn’t dreaming. I had just been elected President of the United States through a write-in campaign that started as a joke. I guess I better start calling some people. God help us all.

*******

Please join in the fun over at More Odds Than Ends. What few rules there are, are listed on the front page. Prompts and responses can take any form you’d like (although we’re trying to keep ‘nother Mike away from interpretive dance…)

Image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay

Astronaut

My Week 29 prompt at More Odds Than Ends from Unstagehand was the photo above of astronaut Leland Melvin and his two dogs Jake and Scout. According to this story, he snuck the dogs into the photo studio at NASA and the dogs are now a part of his official NASA portraits. I kicked this around for several days trying to figure out a story. In the end, it worked its way into the Cursebreaker series. I’m still not sure where this series is going, but as soon as I make some serious progress on the second Academic Magic book, I will start working my way through the adventures of Jack and the cursed dolls.

And, here’s what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it.

******

Jack stared at the photograph. It showed a smiling African-American man wearing a spacesuit and two obviously happy dogs climbing into his lap and licking his face. He looked down at the two dogs sitting outside his office door. The dogs in the photo. There was no doll, just the two dogs who had arrived a couple of minutes ago, with one carrying the photo. He turned the picture over. There was a short note on the back.

Hi Jack,

I hope that Jake and Scout have found you. You need to go to my house and find the bobble-head doll of me. It’s on the shelf above the desk in my office. The house keys are on Jake’s collar.

Jack bent down and looked at both dogs. Yep, there were the keys on one collar.

“Okay, you’re Jake, and you must be Scout,” he greeted both dogs. Small tail wags acknowledged his greeting. He returned to the note.

I had a contract with Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe. Yes, I read it. No, I did not break it, but they showed up on Tuesday and accused me of breaking the contract. They then left, promising to return. I put this note together and the keys on Jake’s collar. I have spoken with other magic workers and I think I am prepared for whatever they try next. In the event I am not, you are reading this note.

“Well, Greg, you were not prepared. At least not enough. And, I’m not sure that even two spaceflights could prepare anybody for a revenge-seeking witch,” muttered Jack.

Thank you for your help. I’m confident you can figure this out.

–Greg Leland

Jack ran a hand through his spiky black hair. Another magic-worker, another curse, no doll. At least no doll yet.

“C’mon boys, come in,” he waved to the two dogs. Captain’s tongue lolled out and his tail wagged in greeting. Jake and Scout trotted into Jack’s office. He closed the front door and crossed the small room to the other door and walked into his living room.

“Monica!” he called up the stairs. “I’m going out. Over to Greg Leland’s house. Captain’s coming with me.”

“What happened? Another doll?” Monica came down the stairs.

“The doll is apparently at Greg’s house. His dogs showed up just now with this,” he showed her the picture, “and house keys. The note on the back says there’s a bobble-head doll at his house that I need to pick up. I’m going to take all the dogs with me. It shouldn’t take too long. I’m going to grab the doll and come straight home.”

******

The entirety of the Cursebreaker series (so far) can be found here and at the top of the page.

My prompt, the opening lyrics from Bowie’s “Heroes”, one of my all time favorite songs, went to Cedar Sanderson who managed to work it into The Perambulating Hatrack. Pretty damn clever is that Cedar.

Return to Sender

This week, Week 28, at More Odds than Ends, I was gifted with the following prompt from ‘nother Mike. He always comes up with intriguing prompts. The envelope had no return address, and held only some dried flower petals. After letting it rattle around in my brain for a few days (OK, almost a week), I figured out a way to put it into the ongoing saga of the freelance cursebreaker, Jack McKnight. If you want to catch up, the previous installment is here, and the entire series is here.

******

Jack returned to the living room to find Rob turning an envelope over in his hands.

“What’s that?” Jack asked, setting his notes down on the table.

“I don’t know. I just found it in my pocket,” Rob sounded puzzled.

“Is it something you shoved into your pocket right before you answered the door?” Jack could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

“Nooo…should I open it? It’s sealed.” Rob looked up from the envelope and held Jack’s gaze.

Jack glanced back at Monica and the others. His wife seemed to feel his eyes on her and turned her head in time to catch his eye. Jack gave a small sideways gesture with his head toward the kitchen. She raised one eyebrow and turned back to her sister-in-law and niece.

“Let’s go into the kitchen and get some hot chocolate…kicked up for us,” she winked at Julia as she herded everybody, including the dogs, into the kitchen.

Jack turned back to Rob. “Let’s put that in a circle and check it before we try anything,” he murmured.

Rob nodded and the two men moved into Jack’s office. Jack pulled the throw rug off the circle he had created with inlay in the wood floor and placed the envelope in the center of the circle. He raised the shielding around the circle and nodded to Rob. His brother-in-law closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. Jack switched over to magesight as well. Both men stared at the legal-sized envelope for a minute or so.

Jack glanced up at Rob. “I don’t see anything off, do you?”

“No, I don’t. I guess let’s see what’s inside,” Rob still sounded wary.

“I’ll open it. Regardless of what it is, it’s probably not keyed to me, so my opening it shouldn’t trigger anything that we may have missed,” Jack responded.

“Okay. Good idea. I’ll keep an eye out,” Rob said.

Jack lowered the shields around the circle and picked up the envelope. Nothing happened so he stood up and backed away from the circle. He turned the envelope over, carefully slid his thumb under the seal, and opened it. Jack pulled the envelope open wider and looked inside. He turned it upside down over his hand. Several dried rose petals fell into his palm.

“What are those?” Rob stared at the petals.

“Dried rose petals. Does that mean anything to you?”

“I do use them for some things. But I haven’t ordered any in a while…I get them from…oh, hell,” Rob raised his eyes to Jack. “I get them from Miranda Hawley, another witch. I remember her saying something about Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe…about…rivalries?” His voice rose on the last word turning the statement into a question.

“Oh, hell is right. Somehow you got in the middle of a rivalry. I’m going to check in with my other clients and see if they did any business with Miranda Hawley,” Jack sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was get between pissed off witches. But there had already been one death. He couldn’t, in good conscience, ignore this.

*******

I’m getting an inkling of where this story is going. I promise, once I do, I will be writing the whole thing out and turning it into a book. My prompt, The massive thunderstorm brings rain, hail…and a small creature (you decide what) to your doorstep. What is it and what are you going to do? went to Cedar Sanderson. I have a feeling she’ll figure out a way to work it into The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack.

In the meantime, if you’d like to join our jolly little prompt-writing crew, just head on over to More Odds Than Ends. Everything you need to know on how to join in the fun is right there.

Image by Frank Magdelyns from Pixabay

Odd Prompts – Week 24

It’s been a busy and somewhat chaotic week to ten days. I missed last week’s prompt for a variety of reasons, and almost missed this week’s (here I am Tuesday morning writing it. Last week I started cleaning out my office at work. We’ll finish that up on Friday. Seventeen years at this university. Twenty years as a faculty member. Definitely the end of an era for me. But, Having mostly shed the office, my last physical tie to the university, I finally feel like I can give my full attention to writing. It’s a relief and nervous-making. No more excuses. All the time in the world to write. So, write!

Since I missed last week altogether, I didn’t get a prompt assigned to me. So, for this week’s prompt, Week 24 at More Odds Than Ends, I used a spare: In the back seat of the bus, there was a huddled pile of clothing. Then it moved… This led me back to Jack McKnight and the string of dolls and dogs that keeps showing up at his house. Who is cursing these people, magic workers, into all these dolls and why? What is the connection between these individuals? Why does every doll come with a dog? I have no more clue than Jack does. I’ll be sitting down today and tomorrow to try to figure it out. In the meantime, it taking the bus can bring interesting adventures and maybe one was meant to take the bus that day:

******

Jack grimaced as he moved toward the back of the bus. There was a reason he didn’t like public transportation. Too many people treated the buses they were meant to be destroyed. Seriously. A pile of clothing on the back seat? Who the hell leaves clothing on a bus?

He shuffled back trying to make room for the people crowding on behind him. Not only public transportation, but public transportation at rush hour. The fun just never ended. He was mildly grateful that there was an empty seat, even if it was next to the pile of abandoned clothing. Truthfully, it was probably available because it was next to the pile of clothing. He had a long ride ahead of him and a seat, even a less than desirable one, made it a bit more bearable. He sat back and pulled his book out of his backpack.

A small movement at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. Did the pile just move? Jack glanced around at the other passengers. Nobody seemed to have noticed. Or, more likely, they were purposefully ignoring the pile.

The last few weeks had involved a series of cursed dolls showing up at his office, so Jack didn’t put anything past the universe these days. He turned to look at the pile. Yep. Did it again. Shit. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and gingerly picked up the piece of clothing closest to him and pulled it back. A small black nose poked out of the pile followed by a pair of dark brown eyes and the rest of the small Jack Russel terrier. The dog gazed soulfully at Jack and whined softly. Oh, for…Jack picked up the rest of the clothing and sure enough there was a doll lying next to the dog.

As he shifted through the rest of the clothing pile it occurred to him that the clothes were clean and lying in a pattern that suggested their owner had simply vanished like somebody in a story about the Rapture. Had this person been cursed while on the bus?? The dog whined again. Jack dug into his backpack and emptied out the plastic grocery bag. He put the clothes into the bag and stuffed them into his backpack. Then he picked up the doll and put it in on top of the bag of clothes. He carefully closed the backpack leaving an opening through which he could see the doll’s face. He still wasn’t completely sure that the person stuck in the doll needed air, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

The dog was wearing a harness with a leash attached. The harness had a small metal name tag that read “Sampson.”

“Okay, Sampson. We’ll figure this out and take care of things. I promise. I guess I was supposed to take this bus home,” he picked Sampson up and put the little dog on his lap. Curse-breaker and dog settled in for the rest of the trip home.

******

Looking for a fun challenge? Head on over to More Odds Than Ends (MOTE) and pick up a spare prompt! Have a prompt to contribute? Submit it to oddprompts at gmail dot com. If you contribute a prompt you will receive one assigned to you. It’s a creative and fun way to challenge yourself.

Good vibrations

As the shutdown grinds on, I am finding more and more impetus for writing. Of course, it helps that the semester is over and I have time now. Week 21 of More Odds Than Ends promises to give us interesting stories. Mike Barker (again) got the prompt I sent in: You come home from a long day at work and plop down on the couch with a beer. The cat looks up and says, “Hey, can I have one too?” My prompt this week came from Cedar Sanderson: The vibrations of the plucked notes ring through flesh and bone. I had to let this percolate for a while before something came to me. And, what showed up was another vignette in what appears to be an ongoing story of the freelance curse-breaker Jack McKnight.

*******

They stared at the object on the porch. Jack swore under his breath as he stared at the doll figurine that contained his brother-in-law, his wife, and their daughter. The dogs whined as Captain tried to comfort them.

Monica took a deep breath and looked up at Jack. “Honey? Jack? What are we going to do?” Her eyes were shiny with tears.

“I’m not sure yet. But I promise you. We’ll get them out safely. I promise.” He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

Monica nodded. She bent down, carefully picked up the figurine and walked into the house. The big Newfoundland and small Chihuahua gave identical brief wags of their tails while Captain gazed at Jack.

“I know boy. I know. We’ll figure it out. We will.” He knew he was trying to convince himself more than the big German Shepherd. He waved at all three dogs.

“Come on, guys. Let’s get you some food and water while we work on this puzzle.” Captain bumped noses with Bruno, the Newfie, and bent down to do the same to Ralphie, the brown Chihuahua. They all trailed behind Jack as he went back into the house and headed for the kitchen.

A couple of hours later, Jack looked up from his books and papers. He rubbed his hands across his face and sat back in the chair. That just might work…Monica will have to play the music, but it just might work.

He stood up and stretched. Captain got up from the dog bed in the corner of Jack’s office. Jack picked up the book he had been reading and opened the door that led into the main part of the house. Monica was sitting in the living room watching TV. Or at least, the TV was on and Monica was sitting on the sofa. Ralphie was curled up in her lap, and Bruno lay on the cushions next to her. The figurine stood on the coffee table in front of them. Monica looked up as Jack came in.

“I think I’ve got something, honey,” Jack sat down next to her and gave Ralphie a pat on the head. Captain sat at Jack’s feet.

“What? Can I help?” Monica asked.

“Yes. In fact, you’ll have to do most of the work since you’re the musician in this family,” he smiled, trying to soothe her fears.

“What? What do you mean?” She sat up and looked at him.

“I’ve been digging around. After what happened before…” He looked down at Captain and gave him a pat. “I wanted to see if there was another way to undo a curse like this. I found something. It’s music. That’s where you come in. I need you to play some very precise measures on your violin. And, not with the bow. They have to be plucked notes.”

“What? Sorry. This is a lot to take in. What do you mean precise measures?”

“Well, there are very specific instructions in one text. It doesn’t look complicated, but it’s precise. Here, I’ll show you,” he opened the book and passed it over to Monica.

She stared down at the page he indicated. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s not that complicated. I can do that.” She gazed up at him. “Do you really think it will work?”

“Yes, I do. I really do,” he answered softly.

“Okay. Let’s do this.” She gently picked up Ralphie and put him on the cushion next to Bruno and stood up.

She came back into the living room carrying her violin. “Give me the book. I need to see the music.”

Jack passed the book over and moved to set up the working circle. He carefully picked up the figurine and put it in the center of the circle.

Turning to the dogs, he said, “I need you guys to stay there on the couch. Captain, you, too. Get up there.” Captain cocked his head but turned and jumped up onto the sofa. “Good boys.”

He looked over at Monica. “Are you ready, babe?”

“Yeah. Let’s just start.”

“Okay. Start playing.”

Hesitantly at first, but with greater confidence, the notes flowed from Monica’s violin. Jack stepped in to the circle and walked counter-clockwise around the figurine, starting at North and pausing to mark each point of the compass. As he returned to North, the music reached a crescendo and the air grew hazy around the figurine.

Monica kept playing and Jack repeated his circuit. The second time he reached North the haze over the figurine was thicker and there seemed to be movement within the haze. Monica reached the final crescendo and brought the music to an abrupt stop. Jack held his breath.

The haze seemed to shiver and coalesce before suddenly breaking apart to reveal three people standing together in the pose created by the figurine. They stared around like people coming out of a dream.

Jack quickly scuffed a break in the circle as Monica dropped the violin onto a chair and started toward the little group.

“Uncle Jack? What happened?” Sophie gazed up at him. A loud woof sounded from the sofa as Bruno jumped off and dashed over to Sophie, slobbering all over her. She giggled and hugged the big dog around the neck. Ralphie was close on his heels and jumped into the arms of Julia, Monica’s sister-in-law, yapping and furiously licking her face.

“What the hell happened?” Rob, Monica’s brother, looked between Jack and Monica. “I could feel music, literally feel it, vibrating in my bones. What did you do?”

Monica gave him a hug. “Just freed you from a curse. No big deal,” she laughed in relief.

******

Need some inspiration for your writing? Or want to try your hand at writing? Head on over to More Odds Than Ends. Responses can be long or short or visual…whatever you come up with. Didn’t send in a prompt? There are always spares from which you can pick and choose. The key is to have fun!

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The beach fixes everything

Prompt time! This is Week 20 of Odd Prompts. This one comes from my own wanderings on the Oregon coast thanks to a friend of mine who owns a house in a small town out there. Sadly, due to the Wuhan flu madness we won’t be able to get to Oregon this year so I will miss my beach wanderings. Sigh.

My prompt came from Mike Barker: When she held the seashell to her ear, first she heard the crashing waves, then the songs the mermaids sing, and then… a timid little voice said, “Mommy? I want to go home now?”

The prompt I sent went to Kat Ross.

The Beach Fixes Everything

The waves crashed against the beach and Maria sighed with happiness. She loved the beach. The sound of the waves was soothing, the far distant horizon promised unending adventure (even if she didn’t venture over it), and the cool water washing over her feet smoothed away all her worries, stress, and fears.

She wandered down the beach watching her footprints appear and disappear in the wet sand. Tiny, glass-like jellyfish were scattered about and she was careful not to step on any of them although she was pretty sure they just oozed further into the sand if she did. Every now and then she paused in her wanderings and bent down to pick up a particularly interesting shell or rock. Once in a while she was lucky enough to find a piece of sea glass to add to her collection.

It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, so there were not a lot of people out. Locals and their dogs were almost permanent fixtures, but the tourists were more likely to be in town wandering through the shops. Maria felt incredibly grateful that she was able to make this trip once a year. If not for the generosity of her friend Sinead it would not be possible. Sinead owned a house in this small coastal town, a house she planned on retiring to one day, and Sinead let Maria stay in the house when she came out to the coast.

She continued on down the beach kicking the water as she walked and getting lost in the sound of the waves. A white bump in the darker, damp sand ahead of her signaled a buried shell and she altered her wandering path to dig it up. It turned out to be a giant conch shell, unusual for this area. In a burst of whimsy, she held the shell up to her ear listening for the distant sound of the ocean.

As she listened and drifted away on the soothing sounds in the shell, she fancied she heard mermaids singing in the sighing of the ocean. Entranced, she gazed out at line where the sky met the ocean and simply listened. A small tug on her hand interrupted her musings.

“Mommy? Can we go home now? I’m tired,” a timid little voice said.

Maria looked down at her daughter and smiled.

“Of course, mija. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we’d walked so long and so far.”

“You like the beach a lot, don’t you Mommy?” Lena said.

“Yes, mija, I do. I like it very much.”

“I do too, Mommy. I want to be a mermaid when I grow up.”

“That’s great, baby. I love that idea. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come back and find a mermaid for you to talk to about what it’s like.”

“Really? That would be fun! How do we find a mermaid?” Lena’s voice rose in excitement.

“I’m not sure, sweetie, but we can come back tomorrow and figure it out!” Maria laughed.

She bent down and swung the child up into her arms and headed back up the beach to the house. There were still three more days for walking on the beach. And, perhaps, finding a mermaid.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay