What a week.

What a crazy couple of weeks it’s been! I got word from my publisher that the manuscript for my new novel “The Dark Side of the Woods” has been accepted! YAY! I am so excited to see that story come to life. Of course, with the excitement comes a bit of anxiety as well. This book falls into the young/ new adult genre and I’m curious how it will be received.

Just following that news was a trip to Charleston, SC with some of my best friends. When I say best friends I mean lifetime, could blackmail me for eternity kind of friends. We drank rum on the beach and laughed until we cried, we shopped and dressed up for a fancy dinner at Husk, one of Charleston’s top restaurants. It was perfect and we are already making plans to go back.

I’m not usually a beach person. It had been ten years since the last time I went. I don’t get a lot of inspiration from the ocean but it quiets my mind. Sometimes that’s needed too.

And then yesterday, I had to lay my sweet tortoise shell cat, Munchkin, to rest. I’m not sure what happened to her but after she didn’t come home for dinner or breakfast, I knew. A walk in the woods confirmed my fears and I carried her home through the thorns and leaves to bury her in a corner of the backyard. I’m going to fix a sweet little garden for to rest in with a headstone, maybe plant some catnip and hang a birdhouse in the tree above her. Twelve years is a decent life for a cat but it’s never long enough.

Even though my heart is broken I have wonderful things to look forward to in the coming months and five rambunctious foster kittens who know that I need extra love right now as much as they do.

The three of us crazy ladies outside of Husk. I’m the one in the middle.

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My sweet Munchkin.

Easter Lilies release and new updates

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The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind and my schedule doesn’t seem to be slowing down soon.

I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the last year “The Dark Side of the Woods” and have been trying to get everything finalized to submit to agents and publishers. Writing the story is only a small part of the work.  I had hoped to take a day trip to Cumberland Gap, Tn to celebrate the completion of the book since that is the location that inspired me and the setting for the story. Sadly, I haven’t yet found the time.

My husband and I drove cross country to Colorado Springs where he attended an Osteopathic convocation while I relaxed in the luxurious Broadmoor hotel. I did get out and take a day trip to Estes Park, Co where I visited The Stanley hotel. Famous for inspiring Stephen King to write The Shining and just as famous for being haunted. I took a tour and had lunch in the bar. I have to say it was all worth the nearly three hour drive. Although, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a ghostly encounter.

Today one of my short stories was released in an anthology called Easter Lilies. It’s a beautiful book, full of Appalachian inspired stories from talented writers. It’s available on Amazon or shoot me a message for a signed copy!

https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Lilies-Appalachia-Inspired-Short-Collection/dp/1945619228/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1491673659&sr=8-2&keywords=easter+lilies+anthology

On April 22nd I will be set up signing books at Hippie Fest in Charlotte, NC. Come see me and say hi!

In the next few days I plan to finally get started on my sequel to Three Witches in a Small Town. I finally have the plot and the title so the rest should be easy, right?

I’m not as active on here as I would like to be. So if you would like to keep up with where I am and what I’m into please follow me on Facebook or Instagram! Blessings.

facebook.com/threewitchesinasmalltown

@authorwilliedalton

Patchwork Hearts

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I had been waiting to share this story on the first day of spring. But due to travel, I missed it by a day. Oh well, happy spring!

 

 

Patchwork Hearts

Growing up, I always wanted the same kind of life my parents had. Their love for one another was like a river, to an observer it looked calm and maybe even boring but just underneath the surface it was powerful, with a current strong enough to carry them through every rock and obstacle they encountered. Together they ran the farm, raised five children and had enough love for everyone.

I was a bit of an odd child but my parents never treated me as such. I spent a lot of time with the animals on the farm and a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen. Cooking was her favorite thing to do for her family and I found it peaceful to watch her work. I’d sit and talk with her while she pitted cherries and rolled out dough, stealing little tastes here and there. My brothers and sisters always seemed to be doing something else. I was never outgoing enough to keep up with them. It didn’t bother me though, I always spent my time exactly where I wanted to spend it.

One day, when I was about nine or ten I noticed odd, fuzzy, colors on my mom’s chest. I thought at first she had spilled something on her shirt. When I asked her about it she had no idea what I was talking about and looked down at her blouse repeatedly trying to dust off whatever she thought I was seeing. I thought maybe something was wrong with my eyes and told her to nevermind.

Throughout the day my brothers and sisters wondered through the house and I saw nothing strange on them, but when my dad came in I was shocked to see the same fuzzy colors on his chest, exactly the same as mom’s. I didn’t speak of it and for weeks I just watched. The colors never faded or changed and over time I began to see colors in front of other people. It was years later when I realized I was seeing love.

My older sister began dating a boy when she was seventeen and I saw new colors start to appear on her chest just over her heart. Not long after, whenever her boyfriend came by I saw the same colors and pattern forming on his heart as well. I observed their relationship quietly and watched as their colors became brighter until one day when hers started to fade and new colors began to form in another place on her heart as she fell in love with someone else. Each love left its mark.

I knew people with multiple colors on their hearts from many loves had and lost, and so the day I saw the fuzzy hue of pink and violet forming on the chest of my best guy friend I knew he was falling in love with me. I hesitated to let our love grow because I had made it known I wanted to stay close to where I grew up and run my own farm as my parents had done. He on the other hand had always dreamed of being a business man in a city away from the Appalachian mountains we called home. In spite of our concerns, our love deepened and when he proposed he assured me he would be happy on a farm as long as he was with me. And for a while, he was.

It seemed like everything we tried to do was an uphill battle. Getting the loan for the farm was a nearly insurmountable feat, as was restoring the old farmhouse we bought. Then working the land itself. Bills piled up faster than the crops could grow but I stayed optimistic. I was so sure our love would see us through this rough patch of life and once we were through it, happiness was just around the corner.

Even though times were hard we still loved each other and through that love, we had two daughters who brought me joy like I had never known. Along with joy though, children bring responsibility and a need for steady income. My husband worked hard on the farm spending daylight to darkness working his fingers to the bone, sometimes almost literally. Anytime I tried to help him in the fields or barn he sent me back to the house, saying that work wasn’t cut out for me. I appreciated the concern but I knew I wasn’t as fragile as he believed.

It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years. It happened so slowly I was able to steady myself for it coming. I watched the colors of his love for me slowly fade as he began to resent me. I had my contentment in our daughters, but he was always out on the farm and his little time with us was spent hurridly gulping down meals or falling asleep in his chair before bed. This was never the life he wanted. Maybe I should have tried harder to make him love me again, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have told him to leave sooner. But I thought I couldn’t make it without him and so I watched his love for me die and I let it, until one day when our colors were just a scrap of what once was.

I wasn’t surprised when one morning I woke up in an empty bed. He was often out and gone when I got up in the mornings, but this morning something was different.

I started the coffee pot and looked in on the girl’s they were up already playing with their dolls.

“Have you all seen your dad?” I asked.

They told me he came in their room and kissed them on the head before daylight. It was what woke them up.

A short time later, a knock at the door confirmed my suspicion. It was Hal, one of our farm hands. He was wondering if my husband was sick since he hadn’t made it outside yet. I did my best to choke back my tears but a single one escaped and rolled down my cheek.

I was quiet for a minute as I thought about what to say, what to do. I straightened my spine and pulled back my shoulders and did the only thing I could do.

“Hal,” I said. “He’s not here, and I don’t think he’s coming back. I need you to show me how to run the farm.”

His eyes widened with surprise and he started to apologize. I put my hand up and shook my head.

“I’ll be fine.” I said as the last tear I would shed over my husband slipped down my cheek.

The first two weeks were the hardest. My body wasn’t used to that kind of work and it ached in ways I didn’t think possible. My hands were calloused and bloody, my neck sunburnt and my back was in knots, but I made it through.

When the girls weren’t in school they usually came outside to play and talk with me or Hal while we worked. Whenever they asked about their dad I just told them he was gone and they never asked anything more, they were old enough to understand.

One evening I realized they hadn’t been outside that day to visit. I had heard them giggling and making a racket in the house so I knew they were fine, it was just odd they hadn’t been out. So I finished up my work and went inside. To my astonishment the house was clean and dinner was on the table.

My girls smiled and fixed me a plate. “We thought if you were having to do dad’s job, we should do yours.”

I stood there staring at my beautiful daughters and cried. I wasn’t missing a husband, I wasn’t missing anything.

One morning, a couple of months later, I finally recieved “the papers”. I stood by the tractor while I read them. He let me have the farm, house, and everything that went with it. The amount of child support he agreed to was less than I deserved but I’d be happy to get it, so I signed just to be finished with the whole thing. I was hurt and angry. So much was left unsaid, but it was too late now.

It was once again the time of year to plant the flower bulbs of lillies and tulips for the greenhouse that opened in the spring. This had been the one part of the garden I had tended to every year. This year, I was having trouble digging the holes for the bulbs. The ground seemed more rocky and hard than usual. Nearly exhausted after digging three holes, I still had rows and rows to go. I stopped to wipe the sweat from my brow and heard Hal’s voice behind me.

“You’re fighting the earth, you have to work with it.” He said. He knelt down beside me and took my tools. He gently dug hole after hole for me with ease and I followed along behind him dropping in the bulbs.

“You have to think about working with the elements, the earth, rain, sun, how they all nourish the things we plant and harvest and how we appreciate that. If you fight against the elements, like you have some kind of control, they’ll fight you back.” He laughed.

That was the first moment I really looked at Hal. I had known him at least ten years but now instead of a farm hand, I saw something else. Every morning since my ex-huband left Hal had shown up at my door, coffee in hand, to show me how to run this place. I had made his days longer and work harder but he never once complained.

After we finished planting the flower bulbs I walked over and hugged him. He was caught by surprise to say the least. He half laughed but hugged me back.

“Thank you.” I said and kept my arms tight around his neck.

“Why, you’re welcome. You would’ve gotten the hang of all this eventually.” He said.

“Maybe, but you have made it so much easier for me and the girls.”

“You and your girls are my favorite people.” He said.

Slowly, I began to fall in love with the farm again like I had when I was a child on my parents farm. Once I knew how everything was supposed to run and the money started coming in, even more than before, I relaxed. The girls pitched in wherever they could before school and they came to love living there just like I did.

I woke up every morning and had my coffee on the porch with Hal and we’d talk about the things we needed to do for the day. Sometimes we’d sit quietly and breathe in the fresh scent of the garden and damp coolness of the dew. If you were up early enough, you could watch a light mist hover over the grass as the sun rose up behind the barn. There was a stillness and magic to our farm that I never tired of.

One morning Hal sat across from me and for the first time I saw his heart, maybe it was just the first time I truly looked. There were several faded colors and patterns of love in his past and a new one growing.

I felt a heat in my own chest spreading up to my face at the idea it could be me he was falling in love with. But I wasn’t sure it was about me, and I didn’t know how to ask. So I did the last thing I would expect myself to do. I told him about what I could see. I told him about it all from the very beginning and being in the kitchen with mom, to watching my husband’s love for me die. And I told him how every love leaves it’s mark on the heart. When I was finished he sat thoughtfully for a minute and then laughed.

“If every love leaves a mark, my heart probably looks like a patchwork quilt.” He said. There was no judgement, no disbelief, he just sat and sipped his coffee.

I reached over and took his hand, my fingers curling around his. He nodded without ever looking right at me and said. “You can see it, can’t you?” He smiled.

I moved in a little closer to him and laid my head on his shoulder. “I love you too.”

Hal and I grew a love on that farm that was as strong as my mom and dad’s. The next spring, when all the flowers he had helped me plant were in full bloom we were married by the garden. He loved my girls like his own and oh, how they loved him. In time we had a son and then our family was complete. Our patchwork hearts were complete, painful scraps of memories stitched together with faith and hope then finished with love.

 

Mountain Mother

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The mountains are our mother, ever fixed and strict. She teaches us the hard lessons, the pain of birth and death. She makes us earn the roof over our head and the food in our belly through the sweat and blood of a hard days work. She teaches us the unfairness of life by the crop destroying heavy rains and drought.

She sings us to sleep with her gentle winds and distant calls of whipporwhills. She teaches us gratitude when we can sit in the porch rocker at the end of the day and simply be. She teaches us to persevere just as the tiny creeks flow and carve out deeper trenches through the ancient rock that is her foundation.

She gives us rich soil and woods full of herbs to heal what is broken. And when all hope is lost, she reminds you to turn to the Creator of it all.

We grow up saying we can’t wait to get out from under her watchful eye and her scolding switch. When we leave, we find nothing can bring us comfort like she gave. And so, we return. No longer taking for granted her little joys and lessons we once would have scoffed or overlooked.

Those who leave and never return were never hers to begin with. Not truly, for those of us who go back through all our generations know this where our blood started and this is where it will someday end. We will one day feed her with our blood and bones just as she has fed us.

She is our mountain mother who has watched over us with her bowed back and worn hands. She has sacrificed for us, she has let us tear the coal from her body and the trees from her dress so we could live. And as any mother, she loves us, she holds us tightly to her protective breast and when we leave, she lets us know we will always have a home back here with her.

 

The Monday Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Wendy Welch, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

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This week’s blog by guest Willie Dalton, author of Three Witches in a Small Town.

I had been putting it off for months. I’d seen the book advertised in countless places and endorsed by many celebrities. “You have to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up!”

I thought it sounded interesting and no doubt I could definitely use some decluttering in my life . But  I’d read all the blogs, all the tips, and liked all the Facebook pages about minimizing and none of the advice had ever had a lasting impression. Could this book be that different?  Finally, I caved and bought the book.

To my surprise it is very different from all of the other advice out there. The author’s method is from a lifetime of observing and studying habits and patterns to get it down to a step by step system of what works and what can be…

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A Christmas Hanging

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A Christmas Hanging

A public execution is probably the last place you’d want to spend Christmas Eve. After all, that doesn’t seem like a very cheerful way to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Yet, here we are. More than half the town gathered together in front of the old stone courthouse. The gallows standing right next door to the park where the town Christmas tree was lit only a few short weeks ago. Believe it or not, today is a happier day than that day was. There hasn’t been a hanging in West Virginia in over one-hundred twenty years and this one won’t be on the books. There’s fewer than five hundred people in this town and we keep to ourselves. It ain’t nobody’s business what goes on here and we look after our own.

About four months back, a sweet little couple that goes to church with my wife and me had a baby. The cutest little boy you ever laid eyes on. One day while his momma was outside working in the garden, she left the baby in his crib to nap. Mind you, she was gardening just outside his bedroom window, which was open. She finished her gardening and headed back in the house only to find an empty crib. Understandably, she nearly lost her mind.

A search party was formed, family and friends were questioned. It was like the baby had vanished without a trace. As dark neared with no sign of the infant all of us here at the police department knew the more hours that passed the lower the chance of finding him alive. We tried our best to keep the momma’s spirits up though. We were all afraid of what she might do otherwise.

In the middle of the night, she woke up her husband, saying she heard the baby crying outside. She said maybe whoever took the baby had a change of heart and brought him back. He said she jumped out of bed and took off outside in her nightgown and bare feet. The husband thought she must have dreamed she heard the baby cry or hallucinated it in her distraught state. He got up, put on his robe and slippers and went after her. He flipped on the porch light before going out and saw the shadow of his wife on the ground in their yard. He went to her to comfort her and realized her throat had been slit from ear to ear.

We got there within minutes after he called. It was a mess. At that point, it was one of the worst things I’d ever seen in my career. We were searching the house for anything that might give us a clue as to what the hell had happened. Then we went in the baby’s room. We turned on the light and I’ll be damned, the little feller was sound asleep in his crib. Gave me chills like you wouldn’t believe.

All we could figure was the killer had broken in and put the baby in the crib, sneaked back outside and maybe played a recording of him crying to lure out one of the parents. Killed her when she ran out, then he took off.

We tried to contact bigger police departments for help. No one would even look at the file. They all said the husband did it, that the case was open and shut. They never even tried to help us. They all thought we were just dumb hillbillies. So when the next one happened we decided we would just handle it ourselves.

About three weeks later, the Gilliam twins were found down by the creek next to their house. A twelve year old boy and girl who were outside playing. Just like they did everyday. Thankfully it was a neighbor that found them and not the parents. Once again the throats were slit. We didn’t know why one of the them didn’t try to run. But the dad said they were like that, they wouldn’t leave each other’s side for anything. Once again, we questioned people and tried to find which direction we needed to look. There wasn’t much to go on. Nobody had seen or heard anything around town the day of the crime.

After a week of no progress, me and the rest of the sheriff’s department decided to hold a town meeting. We talked about bringing in an investigator from Huntington. But, the families of the deceased didn’t want to go through more questioning. We knew there would be miles of red tape only to be told there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue anyone. We told everyone to look out for each other and to keep their kids close. Everyone stayed on high alert and for a over a month things were quiet.

Then one day, everything came crashing down. Mary Kent was going over to Ms. Elmira’s house for the weekly knitting circle. Ms. Elmira, was one of the oldest ladies in town. She had been a school teacher for many years. Pretty much everyone in town had sat in her classroom. After she retired she kept busy having knitting and quilting circles at her home with other ladies. Well, when Mary arrived a little late, she walked in to see something out of a horror movie. There was Ms. Elmira, Katie Hassel and Mary’s own sister, Sarah Murphy. All three had been murdered. Blood was everywhere in the tiny house that was decorated with so much pink. Two of them were facing the door as if they had tried to get away, they just weren’t fast enough. What kind of pyscopath were we dealing with? It took three of us to pry poor, screaming, Mary off of her sister’s body.

One, two , three, I counted in my head. Did that mean a murder of four was coming? That our town folks weren’t even safe in groups anymore? I looked through files until my eyes crossed when I tried to read. I stood up from my desk to stretch my legs and decided to go over to the grocery store for a snack and bottle of pop.

The cashier was ringing up my Little Debbie and bottle of Diet Coke when a stock boy at the end of the aisle caught my eye. I didn’t recognize him and I knew everyone in this town. He looked up and saw me walking toward him, some emotion passed across his face but I couldn’t be sure of which one it was.

“Hi there.” I said trying to sound as friendly as I could. I didn’t want my uniform to be too intimidating.

“Hi. Is there anything I can help you with, sir?” The boy asked.

I was trying to figure out his age. Just to glance at him he appeared to be no more than twenty, but looking directly at his face his eyes seemed to sink in. And there was a roughness to his skin that could have put him being much older.

“Yes, I just realized you must be new in town. So, I thought I’d come introduce myself. I’m Sheriff Maxwell.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Derek.”

He shook my hand and the longer I looked at him, the stranger he looked. His hair was cut neatly but was greasy with flakes of dandruff standing out on his dark hair. His marked, rough skin was dotted with angry looking sores he had apparently been picking.

.

“It’s nice to meet you Derek.” I wanted his last name but I could get that from Mr. Dempsey, the store manager. “How long have you been in town Derek?”

“I moved here in July.”

I nodded.

“We don’t see many young people choosing to move in town. There’s not a whole lot to do. What brought you here?” I asked.

With my next breath, I gagged. I was hit by the odor of something rotting and sickening.

“What is that smell?” I asked, covering my face with my arm.

Derek smiled. “Oh, we tossed out some spoiled chicken earlier. The pack must have broken open in the garbage can.”

“Might want to get that out of here before customers start throwing up in the aisles.” I said as I started walking back toward the counter.

` As I was walking, I saw my reflection in the large round mirror at the front of the store that looks down the aisle. I watched Derek go back to stocking the shelves. It was very odd for me not to be aware of a new person in town, let alone for months. In the mirror reflection, Derek looked up at me and smiled. It was a twisted smile, there was no kindness or humor. It was a dark, evil look that I felt in my bones. It was almost like I could see under his skin. A slimy, red, bloody thing with sharp claws was living beneath that human skin. Jagged teeth rested in the mouth of a skeletal face with dull red skin stretched over it. I knew in my gut that this was our killer.

I talked to Mr. Dempsey and got Derek’s last name. Mr. Dempsey’s comments on Derek were simply, ‘he’s an odd kid, but he works pretty hard’. I started calling around checking out Derek’s past. He had been raised by his grandma who passed away about two years ago. His high school teacher said the same thing I’d heard from everyone else. ‘Kind of quiet but never caused any trouble’. I’d been at the job long enough to know to trust my instincts even if I didn’t yet have all the info.

I started stopping in the grocery store a few times per week. When I did, I’d always make a point to go say ‘hi’ to Derek. I was always friendly as could be. I didn’t want him to know I was onto him. But I wanted him to know that I knew who he was. His eyes always seemed to follow me wherever I moved in the store. I could feel his stare on the back of my head like a hot poker. One day he was ringing me up at the register and my little snack came to four dollars even.

“I’ve always liked the number four. It’s a good even number. I mean, I like all numbers, but four is one of my favorites. One, two, three,…four” He was taunting me.

I kept my face down until I could get a hold on my emotions. My blood felt like it stopped moving, frozen in my veins. But the anger from the pit of my stomach wanted to rise up, it urged me to grab him by the throat and slam him against the cash register.

“Ya know Derek, I must have questioned everyone in town about those murders we’ve had. But I haven’t talked to you.” I smiled at him.

His face stayed neutral then he smiled back at me. “Terrible thing, those murders. I can tell you where I was for each one. During the first one I was home asleep.The second one, I would have been here at work. And the third one, once again, here at work.”

“Do you know if you made any deliveries those days?” I asked.

“It’s possible, but you’d have to go back and check the schedule.” He was so nonchalant, not a trace of concern in his voice.

On my way out of the store, I glanced up into the mirror again. Once I again I saw the bloody, thing that lived under Derek’s skin. And this time, it winked at me.

I was up all that night trying to find a way to tie Derek to all of the murders. I hadn’t been asleep long when one of my deputies was banging on my door.

“What is it?” I asked rubbing my eyes.

“Four bodies.”

They were all laid out on Main Street. The bodies of four teenagers were scattered on the sidewalk right in the middle of town. They had tried to fight, they had tried to run. But in the end they had all ended up with their throats slashed. Blood had pooled and ran down the sidewalk like spilled red paint. One of the girls had gone up the stairs to knock on the door of an apartment to get away and had fallen backwards cracking her head open on the concrete steps. The killer had still cut her throat even though she was probably already dead. This was the worst thing I’d ever seen. A massacre, right out in the middle of my little town.

“Sheriff!” One of my men called out. I turned his direction and walked over. He was standing with boy and girl about the same age as our victims.

“Get them out of here! They don’t need to see this.” I grumbled.

“They’re witnesses. They saw everything.”

Back at my office I sat across from the two shaking kids. I knew their faces, and I could pick out their parents. But I didn’t know them well.

“What happened?” I asked.The boy started first.

“We were walking home from youth group. Melissa and I were walking a ways behind everyone else. A man crossed the street and walked fast until he was behind Alex, we saw him grab Alex.Then, Alex fell down.”

“Then everyone was screaming.” The girl, Melissa, chimed in. “I screamed.” She said, dropping her head.

The boy put his hand on hers for comfort. “When she screamed the killer looked at us. Then he grabbed the other girl by her pony tail and…we ran and hid until we heard sirens.”

“You did a good thing coming forward. How well did you see the killer’s face?” It was a lot to hope for that they could identify him.

“He was standing right under the streetlight. We saw him. It was the guy who works at the grocery store.”

A short time later Derek sat across from me where the teenagers sat only hours before. He didn’t put up a fight when I came to arrest him and he didn’t seem surprised. He was calm and as pleasant as he’d been every other time I had seen him.

“Derek, why did you do this?” I asked.

“I needed four.” He answered.

“Why did you leave witnesses?”

“I only needed four. They would have made six.”

“Why did you need four?”

He didn’t answer me, he just smiled. It was the same smile I had seen the first time I met him, when I knew something was wrong. And in that one smile, I knew, I wasn’t talking to Derek. This was something evil. I tried asking more questions. But he just sat there smiling, and soon the smell of rotting meat, the smell of death, began creeping through the room. This wasn’t spoiled chicken. This was him, that evil thing living under his skin. Using this poor boy’s body as a vessel.

We locked him up while the town decided what to do with him. We talked about sending him off somewhere more equipped to deal with him. But the families of the deceased wanted him dead. When he started tormenting our officers, we agreed. Every night, when they would do rounds, he would give the gruesome details of his kills and he would always count. ‘One, two, three, four.’

One night as he counted he said, “One, two, three, four, five.”

He looked up at the officer as he said the last. The officer’s heart stopped and he dropped dead on the spot. Whether it had been terror or evil that caused his death didn’t matter. We knew it was up to us to take care of this. The pastor agreed with us that death was the only way to kill this much evil.

A lot of ideas about how to do the deed were thrown around the room. We finally settled on hanging. Most of us men could pitch in to build the gallows, that way his death fell on us together; not on just a single man. We set the date for today, Christmas Eve. It might sound strange to some; but knowing this evil is no longer in the world, in our town, is a good Christmas present.

We still have a whole lot of unanswered questions about everything that happened here. But, you can’t get answers from somebody (or something) that won’t talk. And we can’t live in fear of who will be taken from us next. So, we’ll do what needs to be done. Like I said, ‘We take care of our own.’

I just hope like hell that hanging kills this thing. If it does, then maybe we can wake up with a bit of peace on Christmas morning.

 

So They Say

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So they say…

They say black panthers don’t live in this part of the country. But the people that say that don’t live around here. Ask any of the older people that live back in the the hollers. They‘ll tell you stories about hearing them at night; roaming hungry and fierce through the mountainside, screaming like a woman being killed. The older folks laugh when people say ‘they don’t live here,’ because they know better.

My daddy always kept us kids close to the house when it started getting dark. Other kids would be out running around the woods until they couldn’t see their hand in front of their face. Daddy would let us play in the yard until near bedtime. But he wanted us home, where he could watch us from his rocker on the porch with his .22 beside him leaned against the house. I didn’t really know why, but I knew better than to disobey him.

After a ten hour workday in the mines, Daddy would come home and work in the garden. One night, when I was about twelve, Daddy and I went out on the porch. His jeans and shirt were dirty from working in the garden and his red cap sat somewhat askew on his sweating head. Moths flitted around the light above the screen door and the sound of the frogs out in the darkness were a loud and steady background noise. Daddy slowly rocked back and forth in his worn old chair. He had a wad of tobacco in his jaw and stared out into the yard as the last bit of light faded.

I sat down on the floor of the porch beside him and looked up at him.

“Daddy, why do you get nervous when it gets dark out?” I asked him, wondering if he’d tell me.

He glanced down at me for a moment, eyes trying to discern if he should tell me or not. Then he stared back out at the yard. He spit in the can he kept on the porch (Momma wouldn’t let him chew in the house) and cleared his throat.

“I wasn’t too much older than you when my daddy and your uncle was makin’ and sellin’ moonshine. People got caught and arrested for it all the time. If they didn’t get caught makin’ it, they got caught carryin’ it. So my brother had the idea to make me carry it across the mountain. It wouldn’t be likely for anyone to stop a kid. If someone did stop me I was just supposed to say I was on my way to Papaw’s house or make up something. Daddy wasn’t sure about the idea but his friends in the next town said they’d help look out for me, so he agreed. Every Friday night after school I’d come home and load up my bag with jars of shine and start walking. It would take me a couple of hours to get to the meeting spot. Shine delivered and money in my pocket I’d start walkin’ home. I did it for a couple of years and Daddy paid me a little to do it, so I didn’t mind.”

He stopped talking and adjusted his hat just to give his hands something to do. He sighed and spit in the can again.

“I was walkin’ back, it was probably about eleven o’clock at night. There was a big full moon out, it was just huge and yellow and lit up the path. I’d always heard tale of weird things being out on full moons so I was always a little more watchful. But the closer I got to the house, the more relaxed I got. I had my empty bag slung over my shoulder and was shufflin’ my feet along, hummin’ some tune or other when I heard a sound that chilled me to the bone. I swear to God I thought somebody was being murdered not fifty feet from me. It was a painful, hair-raising sound. I didn’t know what to do. If a body really was hurt what could I do? I figured I’d end up getting myself hurt too. But I couldn’t just leave and not try to help. So I hollered, “Is anybody there? Do you need help?”. Nobody answered. By that time my stomach was one big knot. The hair on the back of my neck was standin’ straight up. All I wanted was to just get home. I started walkin’ again, just a whole lot faster. When I got to the house and stepped into the yard I had a strong urge to turn around. Up on the hill I’d just walked down, sitting pretty as you please, was a wampus cat. Black as pitch she was, if the moon hadn’t been so bright I’d never have seen her. Guess she’d been followin’ me the whole way home trying to decide whether or not I was a good dinner. I told Daddy about it the next day and he never made go on another run again.”

Daddy’s story had been scary up to the point he said wampus cat and I chuckled. I knew it was what most of the people around here called a panther, but the name was just so silly. It seemed strange for my dad to still be scared of something that happened that long ago. I took my own hat off and ran my fingers through my sweaty hair. I hadn’t been home from baseball practice long and hadn’t even changed out of my uniform.

“Dad, you’ve had run-ins with bears and rattlers and plenty of other things that could have killed you. Why did the panther get to ya so much?” I looked at him, puzzled.

He let out a long breath and I could tell he wanted to reach for the little flask he kept in his pocket but he didn’t. He always tried not to drink in front of the kids.

“Well I guess it’s cause your grandpa had an experience with one when he was a young man too. He and his brothers and sisters were in their room one night. It was a little bitty house and back then all the kids slept in one room. It was winter, so the more of them that could pile together the warmer they’d be. Anyway, on this night, a noise woke them up. They were used to animal sounds, but this was different. Not too many critters would be out in the snow and definitely not making that much noise. Strangest of all, it was walking on the roof. They all huddled up together and listened as whatever this thing was walked above their heads. Each step in the frozen snow crunched loudly against the tin roof. They figured it was some kind of monster and thought at any minute it was going to come crashing through the ceiling and eat them. Finally, it left, and the next morning they went outside and looked up to the roof. They saw huge cat paw prints across the top of their house where the creature had walked. There was more tracks down on the ground leading into the woods. Wasn’t but a few days after that some people’s dogs and small livestock started disappearin’. Grandpa said his daddy had a panther story too but I don’t recall him ever tellin’ me.” He stopped to spit. “Just seems a bit strange to me that the men in this family have all had encounters with an animal most people round here have only heard of. Feels like they’re followin’ us or somethin.” He chuckled “I know that sounds silly.”

I understood a little more of why Dad was so wary now. “Do you think I’ll ever run into one?”

“I hope you never do, Son.”

Years passed and I never forgot the stories Dad told. I never let his stories keep me out of the woods, but I did try to get myself home before dark most nights.

My dad’s land was mine now, but I wanted my own house. I built my house just a little farther up the mountain. I didn’t clear many trees when I was building. I wanted to be able to look straight into the woods. It was a pretty place and I miss it sometimes.

I lived there several years before anything strange happened. One night, I heard something on the deck. I figured it was just a raccoon or possum scrounging around. I flipped on the porch light and didn’t see anything so I didn’t think much more about it. That night I went to bed and dreamed there was an old woman in my room. She had long, white hair and her face was soft and kind. She was wearing a long white nightgown and she smiled gently at me. But as her smile kept growing bigger, I saw there were no teeth. Then, I realized she had no gums, just blackness in a pale white face. She began walking towards me. Her face started to change as she moved closer. The soft lines on her aging face turned hard, deep and menacing. Her long, silky white hair turned yellow and stringy. I watched her crystal blue eyes bleed to black as she approached the side of my bed. As she reached out her bony hand, I saw her fingernails weren’t human. Her nails were thick, brown and claw-like. She pinned my arm down.

My heart raced and I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or awake. I tried to push her arm off mine but she wasn’t weak as a frail old lady should be. She had the strength of several men. She leaned her upper body over mine, still smiling so I that I saw nothing but blackness. The blackness poured out of her mouth and took the shape of black beetles that ran across me and down under my sheets.

Surrendering to the terror, I screamed . I knew no one could hear me. I knew no one could rescue me. I screamed because it was all I had left. Then someone screamed back. Someone was screaming louder than me, fiercer than me. It was a sound of pain, anguish, and anger. I didn’t even realize I had closed my eyes until they opened. I saw it wasn’t the old woman screaming. It was someone or some thing outside. It was the scream of a panther.

. The old woman backed away. She was frantically trying to cover her ears. She backed herself against the wall of my room. Suddenly, she was just gone. The scream outside ended just as quickly. I didn’t know if I should I be relieved or more scared.

Some time later the adrenaline subsided and sleep took over. The next day I was left to wonder if everything I had gone through, had really happened. I’d never doubted my sanity, but I’d also never seen someone come out of my wall.

I’m not ashamed to admit I wasn’t looking forward to going home the next day. I made work drag on longer than usual. I also decided to stop by my buddy’s garage before heading home. The fluorescent lights in the garage were harsh as I walked in and Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing loudly.

“Hey Sam,” I called.

Sam didn’t look up from underneath the hood of his truck but he threw his hand up and waved.

“Get yourself a beer!” He yelled over the music.

I went over to the fridge and did just that. Sam joined me a minute later. He looked me over and wrinkled his eyebrows.

“You look like hell.”

I sighed, and took off my hat, working the bill over in my hands like my dad used to do. I told Sam about hearing the panther the previous night. I left out the part about the old hag. I just didn’t feel like hearing myself say the words out loud.

Sam nodded, “Yeah, every now and then you hear ‘em or hear about ‘em.” He sipped his beer. “You know we ain’t even supposed to have those things around here, they’re supposedly not native. My grandad always said there was a legend that if a woman’s husband died in a tragic way, that’s what she’d become, a panther. That’s why they sound like a woman in pain, because she has a broken heart.”

“Hmm” was all I could think to say. We talked about cars and finished our beers and I decided it was time to head on home. It was nearly dark and I was starting to think maybe I shouldn’t have killed quite so much time.

My driveway was long and narrow, winding up about half a mile through the woods. It was a nightly occurrence to see deer and turkey as I drove. My headlights shone on something laying across the road up ahead. I knew what it was before I got close, another downed tree. “Damn”.

I left the truck running and got out to see if I could move the dead wood. Sometimes big branches were deceiving. They looked heavy but were light and easy to move after being eaten away by years of rot and decay. Other times, the tree had fallen because it was too heavy for the roots to support it. Those were a beast to move. After a few of those I just started keeping a chainsaw in the truck.

It was too dark to tell much about the tree that had fallen. I tried to push it with my boot, it didn’t budge. I went back to the truck for the chainsaw. I looked the saw over the best I could by the light of my headlights and and started it. I breathed a sigh of relief when it started on the first try. I got the first piece of the tree cut and out of the way within just a few minutes. I was almost through the second when the saw started making an odd noise and came to a stop. Something had thrown the chain off track. I could fix it, but not in the dark. It would have to wait until tomorrow. If I wanted to get home, I was walking.

I’d walked my driveway more times than I could count. I had walked it in the daylight and a few times after dark. I never really minded walking the driveway. Nothing bad had ever happened when I had walked it. It was a long, uphill walk. I would arrive home sweaty and out of breath, that’s all. But after last night’s events, I wasn’t looking forward to walking it tonight.

I told myself I was being silly and to just think about something else until I got home. I turned off my truck lights, grabbed my flashlight and pistol from the glove box and started walking.

My footsteps crunched loudly in the dirt and gravel as I walked. A screech owl screeched and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had a bit of a laugh at my own expense as my heart rate tried to slow back down. The flashlight covered a lot of ground in front of me but the darkness at my back seemed to follow me, threatening to swallow me up. I walked faster.

The faster I walked, the faster the darkness followed. Soon I was very nearly running. Something between a laugh and screech rang through darkness ahead of me and I froze. I wondered if it was another screech owl making his nightly calls. But I knew there was something slightly human in the sound. I knew it wasn’t an owl. The advancing darkness stopped when I stopped. It hung just at my back as I shined my light in front of me, trying to see where the sound had come from.

I was terrified to look into the darkness and see the old hag coming for me. If I ran, she could chase me. Maybe, whatever was following me, had gotten ahead of me. I could run into the clutches or claws of whatever had been behind me. I was trapped. Paralyzed by fear with no good options.

I wrapped my hand around my pistol but it gave me no comfort since I couldn’t see whatever was toying with me. My house wasn’t much farther ahead. I decided I would have to try to get there. With a deep breath I took a step, my feet were as heavy as if I were dragging them through wet cement. I concentrated on walking the best I could, one foot in front of the other.

The darkness followed me again as I walked. A hot breeze across the back of my neck made my hair stand up. Another hot puff of air on the back of my neck. I knew it was not a breeze at all. It was the breath of the thing following behind me. I swallowed hard but didn’t turn around. I just kept moving forward. A deep, guttural growl trickled from the blackness over my shoulder. I knew my end was near. I kept walking, waiting for the panther to take me down. I could see my porch light now, but it was still at least fifty feet away. I was going to die just outside my own house.

Then, an eerily familiar laugh came. There was no humor in it, only a sickening sense of malice. With another laugh came the hag out from under the shadows of my deck. The first thing I saw were her eyes. Her eyes were pools of emptiness in a pale, withered face. Her stringy hair seemed to whisper in the breeze and her black dress blended into the shadows so that it appeared she was simply a floating head and hands. Oh, those hands, so pale they were nearly gray. Her nails looked worse than I remembered, yellow, jagged claws. She had been waiting for me. Even if I’d driven up in my truck she could have taken me.

Before she could even begin to move toward me I felt a rush from behind. I braced for the impact and closed my eyes. If one of these things was going to kill me, I’d rather it be the panther. But the beast didn’t lunge for me. In one long, graceful movement, the cat sailed past me and landed within inches of the hag. She growled at the hag, then let out one of her screams. It was so loud and piercing, my ears were left ringing. With a leap, the panther grabbed the hag by the throat and started dragging her into the woods. The panther had saved me.

I’ve played the night over in my head more times than I can count over the years. I don’t know where the hag came from or why she was after me. I’ve got a hunch about why the panther saved me. There’s no family left around here to ask about it. When I was little daddy told me one of my great-grandfather’s was murdered. He left behind a wife and three little kids. The wife was so distraught she went missing only a few weeks later, leaving her sister to raise the kids. Everyone thought she drowned herself in the lake. When I remembered Sam’s story about the old legend it made a little sense. Maybe the panther that had followed all the men of my family was related to us. Maybe she was our protector.

I don’t live in the woods anymore. I moved a little closer to work. Still, when the subject of panthers come up, I hear people say “we don’t have those around here”. I just nod and wink. “Well, so they say.”

 

 

 

 

The Witch

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The Witch

Soft as lamb’s ear

Sharp as honey locust thorn

She prowls around at midnight

The time when witches are born

She gathers her nightshade in a purple, quilted bag

With her cat by her side, they all think she is mad

She smiles to herself and hums a soft tune

The owls come to greet her in the dark of the moon

She likes it this way

Being left alone and a bit feared

They find her when they need her

It’s been that way for years

When justice isn’t served or love goes unrequited

When the baby needs healed or the old man’s scared of dyin

They’ll venture to her with payment of choice

She’ll do what needs doing, without raising her voice

When the work is done

She’ll disappear just as quick

And they’ll say once again

Stay away from the witch

 

Some of us just know

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Some of us just know. We grew up believing in the monsters in the closet and the fairies in the garden like most children. The difference is as adults we just learned to stop talking about them, not believing.

We know the twinkle of lights that catch our eye is not seen by everyone or that the fluttering of a single leaf on a tree is where a fairy is playing. We know by the feel of the breeze if it is signaling a change of weather or if it’s bringing something in or blowing it out. We feel the change of seasons like electricity before the first snowflake falls or first crocus blooms. And try as we might to ignore the nagging whisper of “something’s not right here” it inevitably comes to pass with a much louder “told you so.”

Whether it’s the voice of God, the universe, or our own intuition, it’s there.

Two of my most vivid memories as a child were pretending I was in another realm with the fairies and dressing up as a fortune teller in my grandmother’s long colorful skirts and scarves with a globe from a light fixture as my crystal ball. I have no idea where either of those ideas came from at such a young age.

In the mystery and horror television shows I loved to watch I never wanted to be the main character, I always wanted to be the witch or little old woman who lived way back in the woods. I wanted that wisdom, to know what people needed before they ever even asked.

I’m not the little wise woman in the woods yet, but I’m working on it.

I feel sorry for those who can’t see the nearly invisible web of life around them. How everything is connected, and nothing is coincidence. How there is magic hovering in the air, in the earth, and inside of every living being, just waiting to be tapped into and used to help us through this confusing existence. You have to believe in the wonders of the world to see them, otherwise you will miss out on so many miracles.

 

Three Witches in a Small Town (giveaway)

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For those of you new to my blog or curious about my book this is a great opportunity! Three Witches in a Small Town is my first novel that won the Jan Carol Publishing Believe and Achieve Award and was published last June. I’m currently running a giveaway on Goodreads for a chance to win a signed copy! The contest winner will be announced on June 22nd.

Here is the description from the back: Three sisters are called home to their small town to learn the old ways of mountain healing and magic. Guided by their aging grandmother, the sisters embark on a path of self-discovery. Through good times and heartbreak, the sisters stick together and learn a new appreciation for their unique family heritage and one another. Witches, potions, romance, laughter . . . you will find them all in Three Witches in a Small Town.

I wrote the book in a very short amount of time and had all sorts of amusing (now) drama trying to get it submitted. That’s definitely a blog for another time! But I poured my heart and soul into it and couldn’t be more proud of it. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but one or two people saying they enjoy it means a great deal more to me than a person who didn’t.  So please check it out, enter the giveaway or order a copy as a gift. And let me know what you think!

Order or read my reviews on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Three-Witches-Small-Willie-Dalton/dp/1939289653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462553344&sr=8-1&keywords=three+witches+in+a+small+town

Enter the giveaway: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/186592-three-witches-in-a-small-town

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