Monthly Archives: October 2013

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 18.

This week’s news is that my short story collection, Tales from the Threshold, will be coming out in November. Also, the giveaway of 9 signed copies of the trade paperback of Soul Cages on Goodreads continues, and will end at midnight on Nov. 18.

Well, back to Soul Cages (PG-13). Marian is about to head off to her first youth group meeting for Andervender’s church.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

18

At four-thirty when Mom opened the front door, I heard her say, “Matthew! How good to see you—er, John, you’re here too. Come on in.”

Thank God. I didn’t know how John had pulled off coming with Matthew, but I was grateful he’d done so.

Despite Mom’s hints to change, I had stayed in jeans and white cotton shirt, keeping my hair in its ponytail, refusing to put on make-up. I wanted to look as boring as possible.

Dad was more welcoming of John’s presence than Mom. Which lifted my spirits, for it meant he didn’t truly care if I dated Matthew or not.

Matthew stepped into the living room smelling of his dad’s aftershave—a massive turn-off. He said to me in accusation, “John said you told him to come too.”

John lightly kicked Matthew’s heel. As realization dawned on Matthew that he’d been rude to me, he froze up like a deer in the headlights.

“Of course I did,” I said. “John has been a great help in explaining First Beginnings to me and Henry.” Let my parents ponder that. With any luck, they’d insist on John coming over any time Matthew did.

Matthew said, “Oh, what I meant to say was I’m glad you asked my brother to, uh, help you all get adjusted to our church.”

I watched John close his eyes. From his perspective this had to be like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Give it up, John. Your brother’s as sensitive as a brick. And there’s no way in hell I’d date someone who had chased down my brother.

Giving Matthew an easy time of it didn’t appeal to me at all. So I kept my mouth shut. Mom was forced to make small talk with Matthew about the weather while Dad wandered off to do more unpacking. John picked up on my simmering hostility and made warning gestures to Matthew, which were ignored.

After a few more failed attempts to bring me into the conversation, Matthew and Mom ran out of things to say. So Mom shooed us out of the house to go to Youth Group. The Andervenders’ SUV was parked in the driveway.

Matthew unlocked the SUV remotely, which gave me the opportunity to slip into a back seat before he or John could object.

What followed was a drive of utter silence for the first five minutes. Then John filled the void by talking to Matthew about his and Mr. Brown’s latest travails in trying to get Brown’s old house ready for sale. John’s tales of fire-prone aluminum electrical wiring, a sagging roof, black widows, and nests of mice hidden in the walls made the ride pass quickly.

Matthew turned off Tramway Boulevard onto a paved road that, to my surprise, changed to dirt. We drove past adobe houses on fenced two-acre lots covered in native scrub. Some lots had horses wandering around.

The SUV pulled through the open gate of an adobe wall. I saw a sprawled-out ranch house, which had to be twice the size of my own home. There’s no way they can afford this on a pastor’s salary. I searched my memory for anything Mom might have said about money.

A gravel driveway made a U-shape to the front porch, on which teenagers were sitting or standing. A line of cars and trucks were parked in a makeshift gravel lot near the property wall.

A memory came to me—Dad saying, “Must be nice to have a trust fund.” And Mom said, “It was God’s gift to Gena so her husband could dedicate himself to ministry.”

Matthew parked outside the garage. He said, “Well, this is our house. First is the Scripture reading from Corinthians, then pizza, then discussion.”

“Hmm,” I said. I opened my door and hopped down before Matthew could get out.

Cries of greeting came from the porch. A cluster of girls, all wearing dresses, came over and surrounded me, asking if the thin air still bothered me. The girls also chatted with John, but mostly ignored Matthew. After a few minutes of being passed over, Matthew left for the porch.

All the boys stuck to the porch and spoke in voices too low for me to make the words out.

My cell phone was hidden in my purse, set to OFF. The last thing I wanted was my owning a cell phone becoming a sore point with these teenagers. My parents would get pressured to take it away.

The talking stopped when the screen door opened. Pastor Andervender came out, Laura following behind him. He said, “Time is wasting. Downstairs, please.”

The house’s interior was polished wood floors and whitewashed walls. Unlike my house, it had air conditioning and smelled of lemons. The artificial chill gave me goosebumps after being in the desert heat.

As we passed through a living room of bookcases and leather furniture, Laura maneuvered to walk next to me. She whispered in my ear, “The rec room door is to the left.”

The stairs were narrow and circled around and around. There was no chatter or jokes. Andervender’s creaking tread could be heard from the end of the line.

The rec room was halfway buried into the earth and had high narrow windows.

I headed toward a cracked leather chair at the periphery of the gathering, but Laura and another girl (whose name I could not remember) tugged me over to the ripped green couch and had me sit between them.

I sank into the foam padding, and tried to ignore the curious looks. There were ten teenagers here, not counting myself, and Pastor Andervender. This would likely be my entire high school group if I obeyed my parents about going to First Beginnings.

This is WAY too small a group for me.

Andervender sat in a scratched dining chair near the stairs. He checked his cell phone, and I noticed how the others stared at his phone. “Let me make sure this rude contraption doesn’t disturb us. Its racket can ruin the soul’s contemplation.” He put the cell phone away.

John stood next to a glass coffee table with a hairline crack. He picked up the Bible from the table and began to read.

To my relief the reading had nothing to do with hate, but was instead about gifts of the Spirit. He read in a lively manner that soothed, as if I’d found a warm patch of sunlight in a cold room.

After John finished, Andervender huffed to his feet. I felt shoved back into an unwelcome reality.

“Very good, John.” Andervender launched into a sermon. I blanked out by thinking about ways to get my parents to say yes to the Sandia Crest trip, and how to coax them into getting Henry’s therapy programs restarted.

Andervender startled me out of my musings by saying, “So, Marian, what gift of the Spirit do you bring us?”

I blushed. The question was too intimate to talk about in front of all these strangers. Unbidden, my mind turned to the vivid dreams I’d been having.

Andervender frowned. “What are you thinking about?”

Dreams. I searched the wall behind him for a distraction. “The fish-shaped clock. I’ve never seen one before.”

“Well, we’re waiting.”

“I’m sorry, but my mind is blank.”

“Blank?” He blinked at me as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “Those who are blank slates are easily written upon by Satan.” He harrumphed. “Well, you weren’t properly guided, so your spiritual development is nonexistent.”

John made a noise of protest.

Andervender glared at him. “Be silentor leave.”

Teenagers squirmed as the tension rose between John and Andervender. I watched John’s mouth twist into a bitter thin line.

Andervender took John’s silence as acquiescence. The pastor looked around the room with a challenging stare. I was shifted around on the couch as Laura and the other girl leaned away.

Satisfied, Andervender turned his attention back to me. “Have you ever had a vision? Spoken in tongues? Testified? Preached? Laid hands of healing on someone?” He flexed his fingers. “Anything?”

Harsh words choked in my throat as I again recollected him grabbing Henry’s head.

He pointed an index finger at my face. “You’re hiding something.”

I stared straight back at him, trying not to flinch.

The rec room door opened. I could smell melted cheese and risen crust. “The pizzas are here,” Gena called down.

Andervender broke eye contact with me. He called up, “We’re coming.” He said to the others, “Okay, time for dinner.”

I jumped up, and reached the stairs first, leaping them two at a time.

Gena caught sight of me as I emerged, “Marian, w—”

I skidded on the slick wood, but rushed past Gena, throwing open the front screen door with a bang.

The driveway gate was open. I headed for it, my sneakers crunching on the gravel, the air smelling of hot stone. The sky felt broad and wide after the confines of the Andervenders’ house.

John called out, “Marian, wait!”

I stopped so John could catch up with me.

John said, “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know.” I began to stride parallel to the adobe wall, and John fell in step beside me. The Andervenders’ front yard was scrub and neatly trimmed evergreens.

“Dad hates it when I interfere with his searching of the Spirit,” John said. “I made things worse.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m never going to fit in at First Beginnings.”

“I know.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “Sydney always said she didn’t belong.”

I linked my hands behind my back and tilted my head toward him. I didn’t dare say anything for fear of making him stop talking.

“Last day of classes before winter break, she broke down and told me about the teachers and students harassing her to dump Donovan. She’d kept it secret from me for weeks. Her dad told her she’d be grounded if I found out.” John bunched his hands into fists. “Mr. Bauer asked them to ‘help’ him. They knew I’d interfere.” He looked away. “After lunch I proceeded to tell everyone exactly what I thought of them. I got thrown out and sent off to Texas because of my ‘disorderly conduct.'”

I stopped, and laid a hand on his covered arm. This time he didn’t flinch away. I waited for him to speak, but he didn’t. “Did you … did you get a chance to talk to her before—”

“Yeah, I called her the night I got kicked out.” John stared unseeing at my hand on his arm. “She sounded disconnected. Told me everything was fine, and that she’d see me after I got back from Texas. Damn, I should have realized how depressed she was.”

The screen door opened. John stepped back from me, and I swiftly dropped my hand as Gena emerged. Gena called out, “Dinner’s almost done.”

John led the way back, holding open the screen door for me. Faint chatter could be heard from the direction of the rec room. I followed John into the kitchen, and got a slice of pizza and a soda.

Shrieks and giggles came from upstairs, and the thump of shoes running across the ceiling. Mark and Luke.

Gena glanced up, and shook her head. “Those two sillies. They’re all excited. Time for me to get them in the bath.”

I overheard Gena whisper to John while he was at the sink, “You have such a gift for calming people.” John tensed, then whirled away from the sink to leave the kitchen. I followed him back to the rec room.

Silence fell as soon as I came in view on the stairs. Everyone stopped eating, and gave me and Andervender nervous looks.

Andervender paused in perusing the Bible, his finger holding his place. He now sat in the cracked leather chair I’d eyed earlier. He said to John, “So, you gathered up our lost sheep.” He beckoned for me to come closer.

I made myself take each step—going forward was the only way out of here.

Andervender said, “So, do you have something to tell me?”

I realized he expected me to apologize, then pour out my guts in public. “I doubt I have any gift of the Spirit. To ask me in front of strangers was rude—not to mention I hardly know you. I’d like to go home now, please.”

Andervender clenched his Bible so tightly I feared he’d rip it in half. He gave me a ghastly smile. “Matthew, please drive Marian home. Marian, I’ll talk to you later. Everyone, let’s begin the discussion.”

John watched me as I dumped my pizza and soda in a trash can. From his bitter expression, I knew the fear of making things worse kept him silent. I followed a sullen Matthew up the stairs.

I was not surprised when Matthew slammed the Andervenders’ front door and his SUV door. He didn’t look at me while driving, just kept his eyes on the road. We went the entire distance without speaking.

After he parked in my driveway, I said, “We need to talk.”

Matthew shifted in his seat, but kept looking forward, his hands draped across the steering wheel. “Make it quick.”

“I know our folks were thinking about us going out, but it’s impossible. We’re too different.”

“You’ve got that right.” He gripped the steering wheel so hard his fingers turned white. “How dare you treat my Dad like that!”

“After what you and your father did to my brother, I don’t care.” I threw open my door and jumped down, slamming it so hard the SUV rocked.

Matthew leapt out, and got in front of me before I could reach the house. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He was flushed, guilty as hell.

“You know exactly what I mean! You pinned Henry while your dad grabbed his head, you jerk.” I tried to get past him, but he blocked me.

“My Dad is trying to help your brother!”

I heard the front door open. “His ‘help’ sucks. Get out of my way!”

Mom stood in the doorway, her hand over her mouth.

Matthew became aware Mom was watching and stood aside. But as I passed, he whispered, “You leave my brother alone.”

I glared up at him. “He cares a hell of a lot more than you about Henry.”

Matthew said nothing more as I stalked up to the door.

Mom stood there wide-eyed, blocking the entrance, and I yelled, “Let me through!”

Matthew took off in a squeal of tires.

To my dismay, Mom trailed after me as I went to my bedroom. Mom said, “You didn’t have to be so nasty to him.”

I shot back over my shoulder, “Yes I did. He is such a jerk,” and slammed my bedroom door in Mom’s face.

************** End of Part One. 18. *****************

If you are reading this after November 4, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 19.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

Have a great Halloween, and see you next week, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 16 and 17.

The writing news of the week is that I have two new short stories coming out in e-bookstores in October. The first is a science fiction story for tweens, King of All He Surveyed. The second is a short story set in the Dorelai Chronicles universe, A Maze of CubiclesA Maze of Cubicles is literally being released into e-bookstores over the next 24-72 hours as I type this.  Both will also be in the short story collection that will be released in November.

Also, the giveaway of 9 signed copies of Soul Cages on Goodreads is running right now from Oct. 19 to Nov. 18. The giveaway is open to all countries, not just the United States.

Well, back to the story. Here’s Part One. 16 and 17. of Soul Cages (PG-13). Marian has returned from the church service to search for more clues about Sydney, and to meet with Ben.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

16

After changing out of the loathed dress back home, I reluctantly approached Henry’s bedroom. I’d avoided entering his room since finding out about Sydney on Friday, but I couldn’t postpone going in any longer. I needed to find the box with Henry’s therapy stuff so I could start doing exercises with him at the park; the sooner we got him back into his regular routine the better.

I tapped on his open bedroom door, but there was no answer. Inside, Henry lay curled up on his bed with his DVD player on, earplugs in, pillows piled on his body.

Henry had left the closet door open a crack so it wouldn’t get stuck again.

Maneuvering between the stacked moving boxes, I read the labels, but couldn’t find the therapy box. I’m going to have to look through the boxes put in the closet. Crap.

I pulled open the closet door, stirring up the scent of roses, to find no boxes inside. When I flicked on the closet light, I saw dead flies and moths trapped in the frosted glass covering the bulb.

Someone—Sydney?—had put down rose-decorated contact paper on the shelves, but the pink roses looked washed out under the dim light.

God, how depressing.

John’s grief-stricken words came back to me: I wish I’d been here … our church, and Sydney’s dad, didn’t approve … she said I was someone she could talk to.

She killed herself in here. Sympathy and anger stirred in me.

Impulsively I grabbed a box and shoved it into the closet. I stood on it to study the farthest recesses of the shelves. But there were no hidden notes or conveniently missed diary, and no carvings.

Then I pushed the moving box back out and inspected the lower shelves, running my hands along their rough sides. Nothing. Neither was there anything around the clothing rod that ran along the other side of the closet.

The empty silence of the closet got to me. I backed out, wiping my hands against my jeans to get rid of the dust on them.

Once Sydney had existed, and now she was gone, leaving behind only a few traces of her life. I wasn’t sure what upset me more—Sydney’s suicide, or First Beginning’s fervid attempts to pretend it hadn’t happened.

 17

Piñon Park was too hot for Henry and Sarah to swing for long. We ended up sitting together under the trees while Fermat ran back and forth. Ben and I talked about Juan Tabo teachers and classes until Henry interrupted to say how boring our discussion was.

Ben gave Henry and Sarah each a handful of dog biscuits to give to Fermat. My brother joyfully tossed one biscuit after another for the dog to catch. Then Henry proceeded to study Fermat from nose to tail, which the dog endured with lots of tail wagging.

While Henry and Sarah were preoccupied with Fermat, Ben said, “Jin was wondering if you and Henry have been up to Sandia Crest yet.”

“Nope,” I said. Sounds like Jin is Ben’s girlfriend.

“We were thinking next Saturday you and Henry could visit the crest with us. Sarah would come, as well as Miguel and Angela.”

“I’ll talk to my parents, but I’m not sure how willing they’ll be to have us going off so soon after moving.” Today Ben wore a T-shirt with Einstein sticking out his tongue. I added, “What’s the name of the head covering you were wearing yesterday?”

“Oh that. It’s a yarmulke.”

I made my voice stay even. “What is the large flat cracker called?”

“Oh, matzo?” He laughed. “I get so tired of eating that at Passover.”

So the man in my dream had given me a broken piece of matzo. Strange how vivid it still seemed; I could easily recall the worry wrinkle lines that had been around the man’s eyes.

With his sneaker, Ben nudged a chunk of grass that Fermat had kicked up. “So, what does your family think about First Beginnings?”

“Henry hates it. Mom and Dad are the ones that want to go.” It was on the tip of my tongue to mention the miracle healing hopes of my parents. “My grandparents are all dead. Mom was raised by her Uncle William—Henry almost got named after him—in Texas after her parents died. He passed away when I was twelve. Then Grannie died last year. There’s only Dad’s sister, Aunt Letty, left.”

“I’m sorry.”

Henry ran for the swings, Sarah following.

“Dad and Aunt Letty don’t get along.” I jerked my chin toward Henry. “They argue a lot about how to deal with Henry’s Asperger’s.”

“Your brother would make a great animal behaviorist.”

All the things Henry needed to learn to survive in the world made me feel overwhelmed. I had to convince Mom and Dad to find a speech therapist and occupational therapist for Henry.

“You okay?” Ben said.

“Sorry, just thinking about how busy this summer is going to be.”

Henry came running back, hot and sweaty. I squirted him down with one of the water bottles—Sarah ran over, expecting to be squirted too. Then Henry lay on his stomach in the shade to search for ants while Sarah played with Fermat.

Ben said, “Dad is afraid I won’t be able to get a job if I major in mathematics—he wants me to be a doctor like Mom. She’s a part-time pediatrician. He prints out pre-med requirements and leaves them lying around the house.” Ben flicked at a blade of grass. “My girlfriend Jin wants to be an electrical engineer.”

“Oh, that’s great.” Ah, I was right about Jin.

Jinkies, that ant is red,” Henry said.

Ben did a slight double take.

“Henry has seen every Scooby-Doo movie and show he can get his hands on,” I said. “I’m afraid I can recite several Scooby-Doo movies by heart.”

We chatted about Asperger’s versus Down’s Syndrome, and then my cell phone went off. I became aware of how much the sun had angled downward.

Mom said, “You’re going to be late for Youth Group.”

“All right. We’ll head back now.” I flipped the cell phone shut. “Time for us to go.”

No,” Henry said.

I kept my voice calm. “Mom says we have to go, Henry. She needs us back.”

“No!” Henry tore at the grass. “It smells!”

I racked my brains for a way to motivate Henry to go home. Ordering him to leave would only trigger a stress meltdown. Aha! I know what’ll get him moving. “If we get grounded, we won’t be able to hunt for sewer roaches tonight.”

Ben looked at me like I was out of my mind, but Henry scrambled up.

Roaches?” Ben asked.

“Yup,” I said, slinging my backpack onto my shoulder.

“Dad wouldn’t let me put the dead sewer roach in my bug box,” Henry said. He said to me, “Let’s bring a jar tonight to catch some.” Henry began humming.

Ben grinned. “Do you need a ride back to your house?”

“No thanks. Not until my parents meet you.” My parents would freak if Henry and I pulled up in Ben’s car. I’d have to introduce Ben to them slowly, and hope they left First Beginnings before they found out Ben was Jewish.

I said goodbye, and prodded Henry to do the same. About two-thirds of the way back, we encountered Dad coming up the trail.

Dad was out of breath and scowling when he reached us. He said, “You’re running late. Mom is worried.”

I said, “I’d rather skip Youth Group.”

“You’re going,” Dad said.

It was worth a try. I kicked a stone off the trail. “We met a student from Juan Tabo who just graduated. His name is Ben. He told me all about the high school.”

“What!” Dad said, stopping. “You talked to a stranger?”

“Give me a break, Dad. He’s going to major in mathematics at Stanford. I got to meet his sister, who has Down’s Syndrome and was willing to play with Henry. I’d say she was about nine.” I knew the mention of a prestigious university and a play buddy for Henry would mollify Dad.

Dad said to Henry, “Who did you meet at the park today?”

Henry was searching the Chamisa bushes near the trail for lizards. “Sarah. Can swing higher than her. Ben has a dog named Fermat. Fermat is a Beabull.”

Dad grunted. He said to me, “I want to meet this guy before you see him any more.”

Dad, he’s okay,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll ask if he can stop by this week.”

“I start work tomorrow. It’ll have to be next weekend … might have to work on Saturday. Make it Sunday afternoon.”

Dad’s mention of working on Saturday made me uneasy. Mom’s going to get upset when she finds out.

************** End of Part One. 16 and 17. *****************

If you are reading this after October 28, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 18.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

Have a good week! L.M.

Shade Town – Excerpt

Here’s the news of the week: 1) A new story, King of All He Surveyed, is rolling out into e-bookstores right now and is up at places such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s a science fiction tale about a seventh grader in the near future who figures out how to hack people’s mindcoms. 2) A short story set in the Dorelai Chronicles universe featuring Dorelai and Stuart will be published about a week from now.

Today is another double feature of posts. If you’re looking for Part One.15. of Soul Cages, scroll down the home page because it was posted first. Next up in this post is Shade Town. Widow Nell Wood longs to be reunited with the ghost of her prospector husband, Isaiah, after his lynching in the Arizona Territory. A dream from Madame Tournay points the way to a place in the New Mexico Territory called “Shade Town” where Nell can be with her husband again … for the right price.

Shade Town

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2013 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Nell buried the silver dollar under a clod of dirt on the edge of the wagon road, then tamped the dirt down with her feet in their lace-up boots. Once she was certain the coin was completely covered, she stood upon the buried silver, closed her eyes, and willed the stagecoach to Shade Town to come for her as she waited in the weak moonlight.

The air smelled of dead leaves and dust and coming snow. It was early November, and winter had crept into Albuquerque, the leaves falling from the narrow strips of cottonwoods running up and down the Rio Grande.

When she opened her eyes, she was disappointed to find no ghostly stagecoach racing towards her down the road. All she could see under the waxing moon were the piñon and chamisa bushes near the road, and farther to the west the dark shapes of the cottonwoods where the Rio Grande flowed.

The chill made her pull Isaiah’s canvas jacket tighter around her shoulders, glad for the warmth of the faded red flannel she’d sewn on the inside to keep him snug from the mountain cold.

His jacket no longer held his scent, only her own, but wearing it made her feel closer to him. That and his pocket watch. The watch hung on a chain around her neck, hidden under her widow’s weeds and corset and shimmy, next to her heart, the feel of its steady ticks a comfort, its smooth metal warmed by her skin.

Only the clothes upon her back would she take with her to Shade Town, for she never expected to return. Everything else—the homestead, the furniture, the cows, the few precious books—she’d sold to gather the silver dollars that would be needed to pay the coachman and Madame Tournay so that she could see her dead husband again.

She never wanted to come back to the unjust land of the living. Never. Better to live with the ghosts.

Half the silver she’d gathered was sewn into the hem of her black woolen dress, a fourth into her bonnet lining, and the rest in her reticule. She’d pay her way back to Isaiah, no matter the cost.

Her gloved fingers throbbed with blisters and sores, for she’d scrubbed and polished and cleaned and waxed as a maid these last few weeks to scrape together a few more coins for the journey.

Except for the faint yipping of coyotes from the arroyos, there was no sound of any other living creature nearby, nor any hoof beats or creak of wagon wheels. She’d snuck along one of the lesser-used roads out of Albuquerque, walking north as the sun set, until she reached a place far away enough from the town that she could try to call Madame Tournay’s stagecoach to her.

Now she was afraid. Afraid that the dream from Madame Tournay—the night after Nell found out that Isaiah was dead—had been a lie. Or that the coach would refuse to fetch her because of her brown skin.

Then came the sensation of weak ground tremors through the soles of her boots. The stagecoach was coming.

Looking south, she saw the coach appear upon the moonlit wagon road, and now a faint rattling could be heard. But no horses could be seen pulling it along as it bounced over the ruts and stones.

And the driver’s bench was empty.

“Hup!” A man’s voice urged the horses to slow. The driver was there, just invisible like the horses.

Nell could understand his stealth, for rumors about Madame Tournay had finally reached Governor Lew Wallace’s ears, and there were soldiers scouring the northern main roads of the New Mexico Territory for any sign of Tournay’s stagecoaches. So far all attempts to capture a coach had failed. From the whispered tales Nell’d heard while in Albuquerque, the dream with Madame Tournay only came to the bereaved. Tournay’s place, wherever it might be hidden, had gotten the name of “Shade Town” because she promised all dreamers the same thing—the chance to reunite with the shade of their dead loved one in exchange for silver.

It had been the dream from Tournay that had shown Nell how to call the stagecoach to herself by burying a silver coin in the road dirt.

The stagecoach rolled to a halt beside her, and while she could hear no whinnies nor smell horse sweat, she could see that four invisible horses were harnessed to the coach. A shadow seemed to congeal into a man-shape before her, and he opened the stagecoach door with his invisible hands.

This surprised her, for she’d expected to have to ride up on the driver’s bench.

“Thank you,” she said to the manshadow.

She dug out from her reticule the required three silver coins, and held them out on her gloved palm towards where the driver would be standing if she could see him.

The coins disappeared from her hand.

As she stepped up into the coach, she noticed that it smelled like plowed earth. No one else sat within, so she had her choice of the hard leather seats, and picked the one in the far corner that faced the direction the horses would be going. The coach door was slammed shut behind her, and the stagecoach raced onwards down the moonlit road.

All she could hear was the creak and groan of the stagecoach itself as it rattled down the road at a speed that made that of live horses seem slow. She grabbed onto the nearest strap, trying to brace herself against falling out of her seat as the wheels jounced along the rutted road at a bone-jarring pace.

The horses weren’t flesh and blood, neither was the driver, and perhaps that was why no stagecoach of Tournay’s had yet to be caught.

And then the shaking stopped, and to her shock she saw through the coach window that they were skimming the tops of the piñon bushes like a bird.

*

Nell was shivering from the cold drafts that came through the cracks of the stagecoach as they flew above the mesas and canyons of the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains. The coach rocked from side-to-side in the gusts of snow-flecked wind.

Snow clouds huddled around the Jemez, blocking out the stars, but when she looked back towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains the night sky was clear. The winter storm was only over the Jemez.

Through the whirling flakes ahead there was a weak bluish streak of light; as they flew closer, she discovered that the light poured through a rip in the air itself like sunlight shining through a rent in a calico skirt.

The horses and coach slipped through the sky’s tear, and Nell felt stretched so thin she couldn’t breathe—then it was over and she sucked in air that tasted like pinesap and piñon smoke.

The driver gave a whistle, slapped the reins, and the horses whinnied in response.

Through the window, she saw that dawn would come before long, for the western skies above the Jemez were now strangely clear of snow clouds and brightening to a washed-out indigo as the sun approached the eastern horizon.

The wheels jolted her around in the coach as they touched upon land again, and the coach barreled down a pounded dirt road upon a mesa top that snuggled up close against the Jemez. When she peered out the coach window (which faced towards the south), she could make out the far away shadows of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.

There was no snow upon the ground here, as there should have been, and the wild grasses between the red rocks were a lush green instead of a dried-out yellow.

The stagecoach rolled into Shade Town, and wooden shacks blocked her view off the mesa top. Up ahead she saw a plaza surrounded by adobe and wooden buildings, lit up by brown paper lanterns hung on hooks from ropes tied from roof to roof across the plaza’s open space.

Faint strains of music made their way through the coach’s cracks, and she tapped her toe to the tune.

As they got closer, she discovered that all the windows of the houses facing the plaza had lit oil lamps on their sills, and people filled the plaza to overflowing—laughing, singing, dancing—as three fiddlers and a banjo picker played. Men and women danced upon the pounded-down dirt of the plaza, whirling around in a waltz.

The driver slowed the horses so that they came to a stop before reaching the edge of the plaza’s crowd.

When the coach door was opened for her, she saw between the spinning shapes of the dancers that there was a large rectangular stone-bordered pond in the plaza’s center. Lit paper lanterns floated on tiny rafts on the pond’s surface.

The dancers were an intermixed group of whites, blacks, Spanish, and mestizos—even a Chinese man in a grocer’s apron could be seen dancing with his wife to the music.

She rubbed at her sore legs and arms, then stepped down from the stagecoach. Her coach driver was now visible: a pale cowboy barely old enough to shave.

“Thank you,” she said to him.

“My pleasure, ma’am.” He raised his hat to her, then climbed back onto the driver’s bench.

Laughter spilled across the plaza towards them, carried on a wax-scented breeze that felt warm from all the paper lantern candles. The lights flickered as the mountain breeze made the lanterns sway on their hooks from the ropes.

Even though she didn’t know him, she felt as if once the coach driver left she’d be all alone in a strange land. “What am I to do?” she called up to him.

He gathered the reins in one hand, and pointed with the other to a multi-gabled mansion on a slight rise at the far edge of town. “Go and pay your respects to Madame Tournay.” The horses (now visible, all four with glossy coal-colored coats) lifted their heads at Tournay’s name, and breathed out hot steam.

Their eyes, Nell realized, glowed like fiery furnaces.

Small carved stones hung from the harnesses and reins, and were also embedded in the body and wheel spokes of the stagecoach. They were made of lava stone, each shaped in the form of a coiled snake.

Dawn’s sunlight had not yet broken above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but it seemed to her that the horses looked more real than the stagecoach as it rolled away.

She herself seemed faded compared to the dancers around her, so she wove her way through the oblivious crowd to the pond to look at herself.

Her own reflection wearing the canvas jacket was barely there compared to that of the pretty young señora in crimson silk gown and black lace standing nearby with her not-so-real male companion. He wore Spanish-tailored clothing with cascades of lace at his throat, a diamond stickpin holding the cascades in place. Silver embroidery outlined his black velvet jacket and he had slicked-back black hair and elegant mustachios, making Nell think of the old Spanish families that lived around Santa Fe.

The light from an oil lamp, in the window of the adobe house behind him, shone faintly through him like sunlight through a murky glass of ditch water.

As for herself, she found she appeared even more faded when she stood in the path of the light from a hanging lantern and looked down into the pond’s water.

Madame Tournay may be able to help me with that, she thought. Looking back up, she studied the plaza, and Tournay’s gabled mansion drew her gaze. It was three stories high, with a roofed porch that appeared to wrap all the way around; the front windows were bright with reflected light that didn’t waver and flicker like that from candles.

Feeling drawn to its bright lights and immense solidity, she walked down the dirt road that ran past the plaza of dancers and out of town.

*

Paper lanterns hung from the edges of the roof of the mansion’s porch, lighting it up so that Nell could see how fresh the white paint was on the porch boards as she walked across them to the front door. The thick oaken door was unpainted, instead polished to a gloss, and had carvings of four rattlesnakes with their tails in their mouths—one snake for each quarter of the door.

A silver knocker—also in the circular shape of a snake with its tail in its mouth—was nearly hot to her touch through her glove, warm as feverish skin. She lifted it, then let go to wipe her glove on her skirts, as the knocker whammed down with a strange echo that seemed to go on and on.

The door opened, but she could see no one.

She stepped into the entrance hall with its curved staircase going upwards, the sconces burning bright on the walls—the light source of each sconce was a tiny clear crystal with a magical glow. Blue velvet wallpaper covered the walls, and the wood floorboards were polished to so high a gloss that Nell could see the reflection of the walls in them.

But she herself made no reflection.

To keep from panicking, she concentrated on the feel of the steady ticks of Isaiah’s watch against her skin. For his sake I can face anything, she thought.

A silver platter on the hall’s sideboard held oranges spiked all over with cloves, so that the hall smelled of spiced oranges, but underneath was a faint scent of earth like that of the stagecoach.

Peering behind the still open front door, Nell was not surprised to find that no one was there. She moved deeper into the hall, and a puff of wind blew past her from the stairs, slamming the oaken door shut.

The tinkle of piano keys came from behind a closed door on the left.

No footsteps could be heard, no voices, no creak of floorboards, no scent of cigars and tobacco juice.

She reached out her hand to turn the crystal doorknob of the left door, and heard whispering from behind it. Something about the sound made chills run up and down her arms.

After pulling Isaiah’s jacket tighter about her, Nell reached out her hand again to open the door. It led into a fancy parlor with silver-colored wallpaper, blue velvet couches and chairs, and an upright piano in a far corner with music sheets scattered on the seat.

A woman dressed in a black silk gown that covered her arms, with thick black veils that hid her head, and black lace gloves on her hands, sat at a small round table covered with a blue satin tablecloth with silver tassels. A stacked deck of cards lay before her.

“Welcome, Mrs. Isaiah Wood,” the woman said in a liquid accent that was the same as the voice from Nell’s dream that had told her about Shade Town. “I am Madame Tournay. Come here and sit, if you please.”

As Nell got closer, she thought Tournay’s skin had a sheen to it under the lace that made her think of the belly scales of a snake.

The backs of the cards were decorated in blue and white with pictures of writhing snake forms.

Nell sat down upon a blue velvet chair at the table, and Madame Tournay shuffled the cards with a pfffffttt, to then flip the top one over to toss before Nell.

“The queen of clubs,” Madame Tournay said. She flipped again. “The knave of spades.” Tossing down the next card, she said, “The ace of hearts. You and Isaiah. You loved him, no?”

“Yes, I loved him.”

“You would do anything for him, go anywhere, to have him with you again?”

“Yes.”

Tournay put the deck aside. “There is a price to pay, as for all things. Did you bring the silver?”

“Yes.” Nell dug out her reticule, and tossed it upon the table—it was faded to a ghost like herself, she could see the blue silk of the table through it, but then Tournay pulled off her laced gloves and touched it, and it became solid. As Tournay poured out the reticule’s ghostly silver upon the table, Nell dug out the rest of her hidden silver from her bonnet to add to the growing pile, and then rent the hem of her dress to obtain the last coins.

Once Nell was done, there was a glinting pile of silver under the magical white light of the sconces. But like herself and her things, the silver seemed only half-real, more like ghost silver than real silver.

Tournay waited until Nell was done, then stroked her palms across the silver. The first pass, her hands went through, but the silver became denser and more solid, and on the second pass, Tournay was able to scoop the coins up to fall into her silken lap with clinks as the coins hit each other.

There was something strange about Madame Tournay. Lord only knew what hid behind all those veils, which fell so low that they covered Tournay’s bosom as well as her hair, face, and neck.

Tournay’s skin was definitely snakelike, and when Nell listened hard, she thought she heard soft hisses from under the veils, as well as a soft sss to the end of Tournay’s words. A snake drawl.

“You have paid it all,” Madame Tournay said. “If you had held anything back, even the smallest silver coin, I would have turned you out. But you are honest, and have given me it all. I am fair, you see. I only demand what silver one can earn, not a particular price. Both rich and poor can come to me with their broken hearts, as long as they do not cling to what they own.”

Her fingers have no nails, Nell realized with a shiver.

Tournay gestured with her outspread palms in the direction of Shade Town outside her mansion. “This is my town. I have the power to provide a place for the dead to return. Your husband will return to you at dusk. Go and wait for him at the plaza.”

Nell’s heart felt like it would pound its way through her ribcage, it was going so hard.

Her body of its own volition seemed to walk away from Tournay, to open the parlor’s door into the hall. Again the front door opened without anyone being seen to do it, and she wandered down the porch steps and back to the dusty plaza, which was empty of revelers under dawn’s light.

*

Nell felt no hunger, no thirst, all that day and it convinced her that in this town, she was the shade, not those who resided here.

Near dusk, the Spanish gentleman she’d seen before strode across the empty plaza towards her. When he reached her, he bowed, and said, “Señora, good evening.”

“Good evening, sir,” she returned. “I am Mrs. Isaiah Wood. Have you met my husband?”

“I am sorry, but I have not made your husband’s acquaintance,” he said. “I am Señor Rodrigo Esteban Chavez y Vigil. My wife and I journeyed to Santa Fe to visit her father’s family, and she died of a fever sickness. I had the dream of Madame Tournay the night after my loved one’s death.”

“Same here,” Nell said. She held her hands up before the setting sun in the west, to show him how the light mostly passed through her.

Rodrigo nodded, then copied her gesture so that she could see how the light passed through him. “We are shades here,” he said. “You and I never hunger or thirst.”

“How long have you been here?” she said.

He frowned, concentrating, then sighed. “I am not sure. Two or three days, perhaps. Not long.”

“Are there others here like us?”

He shook his head. “No longer. Many were once shades as we are.” She saw a dazed look in his eyes. “We can change by the magic within the pond. Madame Tournay will tell us when it is time.”

Nell strode over to the plaza’s rectangular pond, and Rodrigo followed. Looking down into the water, she noticed that the artificial pond’s four sides were made from large hewn stones neatly fitted together, and that the water ran much, much deeper than she had first noticed.

No matter how she stared into the clear water, she couldn’t see the bottom. Perhaps under the noon sunlight she’d be able to see into the depths.

She stripped off her gloves and dipped a finger in the water. Warm to the touch, not cold as one would expect for a mountain pond. She held her droplet-covered finger under her nose and sniffed. Smelled like well water, no scent of decay or rotting grass.

Moving her finger, she made to put a droplet onto her tongue, but Rodrigo’s hand seized hold of her wrist, stopping her.

She froze, and he let go. “Pardon me, señora,” he said, “I don’t know why I did that.” His brow furrowed in thick lines like a deeply cut ravine. Confusion and sorrow mixed in his expression.

She shook the droplets off her finger and slipped her hands back into her gloves. With excitement she noted how dark the sky was getting. Dusk was coming. Isaiah. Soon we will be together again.

Rodrigo bowed to her. “Please pardon me, señora, I am to speak to Madame Tournay before this night’s dancing begins.”

As she watched Rodrigo walk away, she thought of how she would dance with Isaiah all night long under the stars.

*

The dancers slipped onto the plaza at dusk as the hanging lanterns magically came alight, and Rodrigo’s wife appeared amongst them; the Spanish lady went to stand by the pond as the other dancers began a jig. So far, no matter what direction Nell looked in, she could see no sign of Isaiah.

Then, abruptly, the music stopped. Nell saw Rodrigo sleepwalk with his eyes open into the plaza, alone, from the direction of Madame Tournay’s mansion. He trembled like a cottonwood leaf in a breeze.

He stepped up onto the nearest stone edge of the pond, which had not yet been lit with floating paper lanterns. He stared long into his wife’s face, not saying anything to her, and then tipped face-forward, arms down tight at his sides, into the pond to sink down.

The crowd cheered and grabbed hands, and the music started up, so that rings of dancers circled around the still sloshing pond waters as Nell ran to kneel at the edge to check on the poor man. If his head broke above the surface, she’d do her best to drag him out.

He’d plunged out of sight.

He’s drowned, she thought. Gone.

********** End of Shade Town – Excerpt **********

Click here to go to the main info page for this e-book.

Until next time, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 15.

Hope you all are having a great October. The first giveaway of a signed copy of Soul Cages on Goodreads went so well that I will have 9 more copies to offer in a Goodreads giveaway from Oct. 19 to Nov. 18.

This week is another double feature of posts, with both a Soul Cages chapter and an excerpt from Shade Town. See the Shade Town post for the news of the week.

Here comes Part One. 15. of Soul Cages (PG-13). Enjoy.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

15

Dad, with Henry next to him, found me in the dining area. “Are you all right?” Dad said.

Mom came over. “She’s okay. Thin air got to her. Barbara thinks she’s dehydrated.”

Dad took my empty cup from the table, walked over to a carafe of ice water, filled it up, and brought it back. “Drink.”

Henry fidgeted as the crowding got worse. I swallowed the water as quickly as I could.

Andervender’s voice came closer from the other side of the curtains, which meant he was trying to make his way toward the dining area.

I said, “Maybe I should take Henry to see the Sunday School room. It’d be empty now.”

Dad studied Henry, then nodded. “We’ll come and get you when it’s time.”

The door to the back rooms had been propped open with a brick. Henry and I hurried to the Sunday School door. Peering through the mesh glass, I checked that the kids were gone. All clear.

We went in. I shoved the door shut while Henry went up to a crude painting of Noah’s ark covering a wall. He touched each animal, naming it. “Elephant, zebra, deer, rabbit, giraffe, …”

A comforting litany, and the smell of markers and finger paint would help Henry feel safe.

Then I heard Andervender’s muffled voice coming closer and closer. He must be headed to his office to get out of that black robe.

I peeked out. Andervender’s office door was open, while Matthew and John lingered outside. Both of them caught sight of me before I could duck back. Crap, I shouldn’t have looked.

I studied the room’s concrete walls—no windows, just the one door. We’re stuck. Tempting to lock the door, but that would create a fuss if the Andervenders did stop by to visit Henry and me. With any luck they’d just go back to the dining area.

I heard footsteps, and knew with a sinking sensation it had to be them. So I scrambled over to the teacher’s chair, moved it so I blocked access to Henry, and sat down.

Andervender came to stand at the glass, looking in, and opened the door when he caught sight of us. He said, “May I come in?” as he stepped inside. “Feeling better?”

Henry froze in tracing a penguin’s flipper.

“Yeah.” I fought the urge to scoot my chair as far away from him as possible. His aura of hate was gone, but it lurked there underneath the surface, like beetles waiting to be exposed by overturning a rock.

Matthew and John stood at the open doorway. I cursed my dress, for Matthew was way more interested in looking at me today. John’s gaze kept anxiously going from Andervender to Henry and back.

Andervender cleared his throat. “I know this may be awkward for you, but sometimes, well—sometimes a parishioner will be overcome by the Holy Spirit during one of my sermons.”

I clamped my mouth shut. The words were there in my mind, waiting to be spoken, like a prophecy. But there was no way I was going to tell him what I’d sensed as I’d listened to him preach.

Be careful, an inner voice warned. This man is dangerous, and he won’t like it if you criticize his sermons.

Andervender said, “Well, make sure you drink every hour for the next couple of days. We’ll see you at Youth Group this evening.” He slapped his hands together and rubbed them. “I’d better get back to my flock.”

He squeezed past Matthew and John, and disappeared out of sight.

Matthew blocked the doorway. I couldn’t help scowling at him. He said, “I’ll be by at four-thirty with the SUV.”

Like I didn’t already know that. Jerk.

Henry had scrunched himself down, making sure his back was to the door, to stare at the painting of a dolphin.

John glanced down the hall. “Here come your parents. Matt, I think you need to move. You’re blocking the door.”

Matthew twitched. “Oh, so I am. Here.” He stepped backward until there was space to get out.

I suspected Matthew was too close, but maybe Henry could handle it. “Come on, Henry, time to go.”

Henry got as far as the door, then scrunched up against the door frame. He wouldn’t look at Matthew.

John said, “I think Henry is spooked about yesterday. Take two steps back, Matt.”

Matthew folded his arms across his chest, but did take two steps backward.

I could see through the propped-open door that Dad and Mom had stopped to speak to Mr. Rickmand. I sensed Matthew was gathering up the nerve to make small talk with me while we waited for my parents.

Well, I wanted none of it. “Henry, let’s go out the back.”

“Wait,” Matthew said.

“I’m taking a short cut to the car.” I shoved open the back entrance so Henry could rush through. “This way is much quieter for Henry.”

“That’s a good idea,” John said. He clapped Matthew on the arm. “How about we see how Mom is doing?”

Matthew called out, “I’ll be there at four-thirty.”

As the steel door closed, I heard John saying to Matthew, “You know, if you were le—”

The door clunked shut.

************** End of Part One. 15. *****************

If you are reading this after October 21, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 16.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

Cheers, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 14.

Hello! The news for the week is that a few more short stories will be rolling out during October. Also, the editing of the sequel to Cubicles, Blood, and Magic (now that the complete redraft was done) is chugging along at a good pace. I hope to have a release date before 2013 ends.

We have now reached Part One. 14. of Soul Cages. This is a YA novel with a Gothic streak, which is why it’s PG-13. When we last left off, Marian had finished talking to her friend Nicole before going to bed.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

14

In the dream I was in the reception area outside the cruise ship dining hall; gold-gilt mirrors covered the pale blue walls. Weeping Jewish men and women stood in a crowd around me.

A waiter threw open the dining hall doors, and stepped back. I entered amidst the crowd. The dining hall was filled with piles and piles and piles of shoes on the blue plush of the carpet. A woman, her hair teased into gray curls, stopped at a waist-high mound of decaying shoes to grab hold of a man’s brown loafer, clutching it to her chest while crying.

The woman said to me, “When you’re young, you think it will last forever. Then the end comes.”

I saw in the mound black patent girls’ shoes, green rain boots, work boots with tar stains, hiking boots, dress shoes, and sneakers.

I wandered among the piles, feeling dazed, and then drawn toward the flickering candles of quiet alcove.

Within the alcove was an elderly Jewish man, in skullcap and business suit, standing next to human-high menorahs with all the candles flaming. He said to me in an Eastern European accent, “Remember the dead,” and handed me a piece of cracker like cardboard, which had on top a thin layer of ashes.

He said, “Eat, and remember the dead, carry it within you.”

I placed it in my mouth, and swallowed it without chewing. It had no taste.

“Marian, wake up!” Dad rattled my locked doorknob.

“All right, all right already,” I called out. My mind felt blurred. I looked for my alarm clock, then realized it was packed away, so I pulled out my cell phone from underneath a pillow. 7:51 a.m.—no time for a run.

The intensity of the dream shook me. I could almost imagine I could hear weeping.

Get a hold of yourself. Talking to Ben triggered that dream.

I dug out jeans and a white blouse, yanked my hair back into my usual ponytail, smeared on a thick layer of cherry lip balm, slathered on skin lotion—the air is so incredibly dry here—and slipped out into the kitchen.

Dad took one look at me and said, “Nope. Go change.”

I glanced at Mom, who was wearing a blue dress, microwaving frozen pancakes. My dresses were hidden deep in one of the boxes. I’d have to waste time digging them out. And then there would be the hassle of wearing pantyhose. “It’ll take too long. We’ll be late for church.”

Dad scowled. “You should have gotten ready last night. You had plenty of time to do so.”

“I passed out instead of unpacking.”

Dad tapped his fork against his plate. “That’s too bad. Go change.” He’d put on a blazer, tie, and slacks.

I retreated to my room, cursing under my breath. I hated wearing dresses and pantyhose, except for dances.

It took too long for my taste, but I finally found a creamy long-sleeve dress with tiny violets. Mom had bought it for me two months ago, despite my protests.

“Time to go,” Dad called out.

I raced for the kitchen, grabbed two pancakes, rolled a sausage into them, and took quick bites.

Henry sat before an empty syrup-coated plate. He was wearing khakis and a button-down shirt, but no tie (ties triggered his gag reflex).

We trooped into the two-car garage, which had one side piled high with boxes. Mom and Dad chatted about unpacking. I asked if I could take Henry for a walk in the afternoon.

“Do it,” Dad said, “the fresh air will do him good.”

Mom opened her mouth as if to object, then closed it, and instead tapped her glossy fingernails on the car window in a tap, tap-tap, tap rhythm.

The drive to First Beginnings took about fifteen minutes. We pulled into the parking lot of a small shopping center gone to seed. Most of the storefronts had empty windows. In the center was a retail space with its windows covered over with white paper decorated with cross paintings.

“They just moved here,” said Mom. “They got too big for their old space.” She pointed eagerly at a sign that hung above the entrance. “Gena said they got the sign up two weeks ago.”

The storefront sign read FIRST BEGINNINGS OF THE GODLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH in gold letters.

The parking lot in front of the church was filling up with cars and trucks. Most of the people, all white, were over forty. Some had children, and one man pulled an oxygen tank on wheels behind him. A tube wound its way up from the tank to his nose.

“That’s Mr. Rickmand,” Mom whispered, pointing at the man with the tank.

To me he looked to be in only middling health, despite his miracle healing.

My doubt must have shown, for Mom added, “He was bed-ridden six months ago. Now the cancer is in remission, and he can go out and drive himself places.”

As we got closer to Mr. Rickmand, I heard his oxygen tank make a hissing noise every couple of seconds, like a balloon being deflated. He held the glass door open with his body so that we could enter.

Inside I found the store shelves had been removed, but there were faint impressions in the linoleum where they had been. The front of the empty space had been filled with polished wooden benches.

I’d guess there were over a hundred people. Mom had said something about the First Beginnings congregation nearly doubling as word of Pastor Andervender’s healing gift got around.

The benches faced a lectern which stood before blue velvet curtains hung across from wall to wall. It reminded me of the stage curtains at East Alexandria High. Certain curtains were closer than others, so people could walk “backstage” easily.

Next to the lectern was an American flag on a pole. A huge silver satin cross had been sewn onto the curtain fabric behind the lectern.

Dad chose a bench close to the exit, despite an usher trying to coax us to sit closer to the lectern—a smart choice in case Henry couldn’t handle the scents or crowd. Henry was wedged between Mom and Dad, while I sat between Mom and an elderly lady with frayed sleeves.

Various strangers came up to greet us, and it did not end until the Andervender family filed in from behind a curtain to take their reserved places in the first row. Luke and Mark were missing. There must be a Sunday school for younger kids. John’s head was down in contemplation, but Matthew looked around and waved at my Mom and Dad. Gena made a tiny wave with a gloved hand as well.

An usher near the lectern made a motion for all to rise. Pastor Andervender came from behind a curtain wearing a black robe and ascended the lectern.

Andervender fiddled with the microphone pinned to his robe, then started a long prayer. Flashbacks of Henry struggling under his hands made it hard for me to listen. My hands trembled, so I squeezed them into fists at my sides.

Then we were allowed to sit. Andervender read various verses from a big leather Bible on the lectern. But all I caught were fragments that floated up to my consciousness like corks bobbing to the surface: kingdomdarknessweepinggnashing.

I checked on Henry, to find him zoned out, eyes closed, rocking slightly, his hand covering his nose.

Andervender’s eyes flicked around, studying the faces, and he launched into his sermon. “We have been given the gift of spiritual truth, a truth rejected by the Jews, and lost by many of our Christian brethren. So few grains winnowed from the chaff, and it pains me to see it. I see before me those righteous few who—”

My breaths came faster. I put my hands over my ears, rubbing at my temples so that it would look like I had a headache.

His voice muffled, I watched Andervender’s face contort with breaking waves of pride. Underneath, like oceanic depths under a crust of ice, was abiding anger and fear. He described with relish what hell would do to all the unrighteous ones.

To me it felt as if a sly awareness seeped into the store with each word out of Andervender’s mouth. I looked around in a panic.

There were engrossed faces, tiny nods of agreement. Henry was oblivious. Dad shifted in discomfort, but Mom was drawn in, as well as Matthew and Gena. John looked as if he’d left his body behind to play dutiful pastor’s son while his mind escaped.

I dug my thumbs into my ears, trying to block Andervender out.

Mom poked my elbow and said close to my ear, “Are you all right?”

I shook my head.

So Mom grabbed hold of my arm, helped me to stumble past Henry and Dad, and took me outside.

I placed a hand against the pitted glass window to steady myself as the dizziness faded. The glass vibrated with Andervender’s microphone-enhanced words.

Mom held out a handkerchief. “Are you going to be sick?”

I took deep breaths of the dry fume-scented air. A blaring of horns could be heard from down the street at the intersection. I had to try twice before I could get any words out. “Just dizzy.”

“They say the thin air can sneak up on you. How about we go around to the back door, and get you some juice from the church kitchen?”

“Could we sit in the car for a few minutes? I’d like to put my head between my legs. That would look weird in the kitchen.”

“Fine.”

I plodded to the car. Mom put a hand on my shoulder—it felt like having a bird alight there.

After Mom unlocked our car remotely, I fumbled my way into the front passenger seat, pushed it back, and tucked my head close to my knees. Mom got in the driver’s seat to turn on the air conditioning.

With the car doors closed I couldn’t hear Andervender’s voice anymore. The tight coil of my muscles loosened.

Mom said, “Stomach bug?”

“No. Tired, and the thin air.”

Mom tapped the steering wheel. “I know this move has been hard on you and Henry. It’ll take time to adjust.”

There’s an understatement. “Uh-huh.”

I heard Mom relax back into her seat with a squeak of leather.

My breathing was almost back to normal, and the shakes were gone. What the heck am I going to do? I can’t stand Andervender’s voice. The thought of having to spend months, let alone years, listening to Andervender every Sunday brought the quivers back.

“Oh dear, you look green again. You sure you’re not getting the flu?” Mom reached over and opened the glove compartment, taking out a plastic bag. “Here, throw up in this if you need to. Or maybe we should open the car doors. It’s so hot in here even with the air conditioning.”

There was a knock on Mom’s window. I peered up to see Barbara studying us.

Mom lowered her window. “Oh, hi Barbara. I think the thin air has gotten to Marian.”

Barbara said, “Would it help if I brought a cup of water?”

“Oh, could you?” Mom said.

“I’ll be right back.” Barbara disappeared.

I racked my brain for a good excuse to stay in the car. But all the excuses I could think of sounded lame, so unless I could make myself throw up I’d have to go back in.

Barbara brought back a Styrofoam cup filled with water. I drank it in small sips. I saw Barbara point at the gold watch on her wrist.

Mom said, “Marian, I promised to help in the dining area after the service.”

The two women herded me out of the car, and around the side of the shopping center to the back entrance. Barbara reassured Mom that many people had trouble with the thin air the first few weeks in Albuquerque, and that it would pass.

Barbara led us past splotches of broken glass amongst the concrete, and yanked open a steel door. The back entrance opened onto a narrow corridor with one door on either side, and another in front of us. The right door had a glass window embedded with mesh wire, and SUNDAY SCHOOL painted on it. I could hear kids giggling from inside.

The door on the left had a wooden plaque with PASTOR ANDERVENDER’S OFFICE scrolled in gold letters.

Barbara took us through the door at the end of the corridor. I found myself in a makeshift break area curtained off from the sanctuary where the church service was still going on.

Two long tables were against the wall, and on one were carafes of water or orange juice amongst plugged-in urns for coffee or hot water. The other table had Danishes in bakery boxes, and orange and pineapple slices piled high on platters.

There were no walls to block out Andervender’s booming voice as he led the congregation in prayer.

Try to ignore him. Pretend it’s the surf.

“Sit here,” Mom said to me, pulling out a folding chair from one of the scattered dining tables.

I muttered “Thanks” and sank into the chair. The air-conditioned metal chilled the back of my knees.

Barbara double-checked the urns and carafes, while Mom rearranged the paper plates and plastic forks into smaller piles on the food table.

I heard Andervender call out, “Anyone who wishes to ask for God’s healing, please come forward.” The congregation became silent in expectancy. Andervender said the same healing prayer for each person, six in all. I noticed he had none of the fierceness he’d shown with Henry. And not once did he say “affliction” or “spirits.” At the end, there were faint sighs of disappointment. No miracle healings today.

One last prayer, then a roar of “Amen.” The service was over.

************** End of Part One. 14. *****************

If you are reading this after October 14, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 15.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

Have a great week! L.M.