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Wednesday, July 27, 2022
War in White Chocolate - Chapter 2
After carpooling Derek and the other three Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse’s kids to school, Wila went home and managed to get through her daily yoga session in the family room and into her meditation before Gammy woke up and came downstairs.
“Morning, baby girl,” she said cheerfully.
Wila opened her eyes. “Morning, Gammy.”
“You still going to help me with those greens?” With that tone, Gammy wasn’t asking a question.
Of course I am, Gammy.” Wila climbed to her feet. “Don’t we need to get you a decent colander first?”
Her grandmother frowned. “Don’t get smart with me, young lady.”
“I wasn’t.” Wila hugged her grandmother and kissed her cheek before she crossed to the kitchen table. After sitting down on one of her intact chairs, she pulled on her athletic shoes. “I need to pick up a few things at Arrow, too.”
“You’re not going to wear those pants to the store, are you?” Gammy scowled at her.
“What’s wrong with them?” Wila looked down at her yoga pants expecting to see a stain or a tear.
“First of all, it’s November, and it’s too dang cold.” Gammy scowled.
“It’s been in the sixties the last two days.” In fact, the unusual warm snap had both the local Oakfield weather reporters as well as those in the Chicago metro area making jokes the end of the world was near. As if the dead walking around weren’t enough. “I don’t need anything warmer.”
“Well, they are too tight for you to be wearing them out in public,” Gammy admonished. “I admit you’re fine looking woman, but boys will think you’re a female of loose morals.”
Wila finished tying her shoes and stood. “Gammy, styles have changed a little bit since you were my age. And as for loose morals—” She concentrated and manifested her flaming sword. “If anybody thinks they can try anything with me, this will make them think differently.”
“All right, but don’t blame me if you get stared at for wearing tight pants while swinging a flaming sword,” Gammy muttered.
“You didn’t mind Errol Flynn in tight pants and brandishing a sword in those old black and white movies,” Wila teased.
“That’s different,” Gammy mumbled, looking everywhere except at Wila.
She laughed as she grabbed her keys off the breakfast bar. “Get your jacket, and let’s get that colander.”
Wila offered to let Gammy push the shopping cart through the big-box department store.
Gammy waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t need it for support anymore, baby. It’s strange, but my joints aren’t hurting me like they used to. The Lord has taken my pain away like He promised in the good book.”
That was one of the small blessings of the risen dead. And it was fun watching her grandmother’s amazement at some of the new tech that had come out in the last ten years.
“Now why on earth does anyone need just one cup of coffee?” Gammy said as she stared at the row of tiny coffee makers on the shelf in the kitchenware section. “I would have thought those things would have died out by now from all the waste.”
“Derek doesn’t drink coffee, and there’s no sense in making an entire pot for me,” Wila said. “Mine comes in handy.”
“If you make a full pot, you’d have enough for both of us for the entire day,” Gammy insisted.
“And it tastes like burnt sludge after it sits for that long,” Wila protested. “I never knew how good coffee could taste until Penny opened Java’s Palace.”
Gammy snorted. “I can’t believe your friend makes a living selling expensive, fancy coffee and breakfast foods the entire day.”
Wila laughed. “You need to hang out with her father-in-law Edward. He agrees with you.”
“I am not spending time with a married man,” Gammy snapped.
“He’s widowed—” Wila stopped herself. “Actually, I’m not sure what a person is if their dead spouse comes back to life.”
“I already feel bad enough for Laura.” Gammy said softly. “I don’t know what I would have done if I found out your grandfather was keeping time with another woman.”
“That’s not really fair though.” Wila sighed. “It took Edward two years to finally move on with his life, and he just started seeing Marian shortly before the Apocalypse started.”
“I suppose that’s true. Is Penny will bringing Laura along to your girls’ night on Wednesday?” Gammy asked with a hopeful tone.
“I’m sure she will.” Wila chuckled. Her grandmother was old enough to be Laura’s mother. But the two of them had bonded over their resurrected status.
“I wonder if Otis will show up at our old house in Chicago,” Gammy murmured.
“Turk promised to call if Pappy does.” Wila’s cousin had bought Gammy’s house on the Southside after Pappy died because she didn’t have the money to maintain it. However, Wila was pretty sure Turk hadn’t believed a word she said when she called him about Gammy’s resurrection.
Wila and Gammy turned down the next aisle of housewares. Different utensils hung on the walls. Each grouped by designer color instead of function.
“Now, why does anyone need lime green spatulas, hot pink mixing bowls, and purple paring knives?” Gammy didn’t wait for an answer to her rhetorical question. Instead, she glared at the labels for each utensil. “And these prices are just plum foolish!”
“I hate to tell you, but this is one of the cheapest stores these days.”
Gammy picked up a spatula that matched the purple paring knife. “And these plastics are so thin. We had much sturdier Tupperware in my day.”
“They’re silicon, not plastic, and I thought we were looking for large colander,” Wila said wryly.
You watch your mouth, young lady.” Gammy tried look over the reading glasses that had been normally perched at the end of nose when she was alive, but since she rose from the grave, her eyesight was twenty-twenty. Wila had even taken Gammy to the opthamologist who rented space in this store to make sure.
Gammy marched down to the end of the aisle where the stainless steel kitchen utensils shone under the store’s fluorescent lights. She picked up a large colander and shook her head. Wila pushed the cart in the same direction.
“Can you believe this thing costs more than I made in a week cleaning houses when your mama was a little bit?” Gammy shoved the price tag in Wila’s face.
“That’s actually a good price.” Wila flicked the metal with her forefinger. It pealed a bright note. “Decently made. Big enough for that mess of greens you bought.”
“B-but…” Gammy poked her head around the corner. “This is it. All there is.” Her shoulders slumped. “I can’t let you spend your money on this. I’ll make do—”
“Gammy.” Wila laid a hand on her grandmother’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I can afford it.”
“You’ve got a boy to raise, and now an extra mouth to feed, a-and—”
“Family looks out for each other,” Wila said fiercely. “Isn’t that what you always told me?”
“This wasn’t—” Gammy’s body trembled beneath Wila’s touch. “This wasn’t what I expected the afterlife to be like.” Gammy reached up and patted Wila’s hand.
“You expected bad coffee and cheap Tupperware in Heaven?” Wila teased.
Gammy laughed. “You are being evil, child.”
“No, I want to make my grandmother happy.” Wila gently pulled the stainless steel colander from Gammy’s hand. “Now, let’s get the rest of the things I need. Afterward, we’ll stop for expensive coffee and fancy sandwiches at Penny’s café.”
“Evil child.” Gammy snickered. “Evil, evil child.”
“With all due respect, that’s evil woman,” Wila shot back.
“What kind of evil things do you do?” a deep voice said behind her.
Wila whirled around to find a tall man with deep brown skin, equally deep brown eyes, and a high and tight cut. He was dressed in a medium gray suit accentuated by a scarlet silk tie. The man would be hot as hell if he didn’t have an ugly ass demon crawling under his skin.
“Well?” he asked. “I’m curious about what evil things War would do.”
Despite her heart hammering in her chest and the breath frozen in her lungs, Wila shifted so Gammy was behind her. She couldn’t, wouldn’t show her fear to this thing. “How about I simply kill you instead?” she forced out.
Except they were in a popular store, and it was getting busier by the moment. If she drew her sword, there would be too many questions. And the Soccer Moms already had enough trouble with reporters following Francine all over Oakfield after she was filmed turning into Famine during a confrontation with some vigilantes at one of the local cemeteries.
“What’s wrong with his face?” Gammy whispered behind her.
“He’s not a person. He’s Satan spawn,” Wila spat. She could barely keep her trembling in check as the panic attack grew, but the demon would take Gammy’s soul if Wila gave in to the fear.
The demon placed a hand on its chest. “Well, now, that hurts my feelings, War.”
Wila glared at it. “You don’t have feelings.”
It shrugged. “Well, that’s true.”
“Why are you harassing us?”
“Technically, I’m not harassing anyone.” It grinned. “Is that one of the evil things you like? To be harassed by a hot package like the lawyer I’m riding?” Its hand trailed down the length of the torso of the poor man it had possessed.
“Leave now, or—” Wila manifested her sword. “—else.”
“I love a woman who likes penetration.” It sighed dramatically. “But not today, my dear, I have my own business with you and your sisters.”
She frowned. It had to be lying. All demons lied. And they usually lied by telling the truth. Would Penny’s husband Gene prescribe her something to keep the illogically thoughts from driving her crazy? She’d been off the antidepressants since she found out she was pregnant with Derek, and she’d been doing okay without them for the last thirteen years, thanks to her yoga and meditation.
“Aren’t you even going to ask?” The demon seemed offended.
“I’m not stupid enough to bargain with a demon,” she said. “I rather like my soul, and I plan on keeping it.”
He smiled. “What if I offered my assistance to the Horsemen to stop the Apocalypse for something other than your souls?”
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
War in White Chocolate - Chapter 1
On Sunday evening, Wila Ardale sat in the lotus position on the thick, plush carpet of her family room with her eyes closed. Despite the nag champa incense wafting through the air and her yoga pose, she jerked when pots banged in her kitchen. Her role as War, the third Horseman of the Apocalypse, or rather Soccer Mom of the Apocalypse as her friends preferred to call themselves, seemed to feed on her PTSD. The same PTSD she believed she had mostly dealt with after she left the army nearly fifteen years ago.
Her right eye opened and peered up at Grandpapa’s antique clock on the stone mantel above the fireplace. Five frickin’ minutes. It had been five frickin’ minutes and she couldn’t even get into the first level of a meditative trance. Not with her grandmother rattling around in the kitchen.
Her recently risen from the dead Gammy.
Wila knew Gammy had dealt with her own stress by cooking when she was alive. Apparently, it held true in her resurrection. But the damn noise was driving Wila crazy. She was used to total silence on her days off work while Derek was at school or at his father’s house like right now.
And the ex-louse would be bringing her son home at any moment. She trusted Derek to remain silent about Gammy living with them, and the ex-louse avoided talking to her. He would probably drop Derek off at the door as usual.
“Me-arow,” Malcolm complained at another bang. Wila glanced at the couch. Her seal-point Siamese sat on his haunches on the middle cushion, cocked his head, and repeated his complaint. His blue-point brother Martin lay on the back of the couch and swished his tail in agreement.
“I know, I know,” Wila muttered. “I’ll go talk to her.”
Martin sniffed to indicate he didn’t think anything Wila said to Gammy would work. With another round of banging from the kitchen, he had a point.
Wila stretched out for a count of fifteen before she rolled to her feet and padded into the kitchen. Gammy crouched before the open pots and pans cupboard, shuffling things around loudly.
“Whatcha looking for, Gammy?” Wila asked.
“Don’t you have a colander, girl?” Gammy straightened.
Wila walked around the breakfast bar. A large bundle of collard greens sat in the sink. Yep, her grandmother was cooking again.
“Gammy, I told you that you don’t have to cook every meal for us,” Wila said. “And especially not tonight. Derek is eating dinner with—” It took all her will not to refer to Deion as the ex-louse in front of her grandmother. “—with his dad tonight.”
Gammy shook her head sadly. “I can’t believe you and Deion are divorced. I remember you two being so happy that day your blessed little baby was born.”
“Well, that was before I found out he was screwing my best friend Rashida, our babysitter Kristy, and his secretary Eileen,” Wila grumbled.
“Eileen?” Gammy’s forehead wrinkled. “She’s your mama’s age, and she’s white.”
Wila crossed her arms and leaned her left hip against the counter. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Still need a colander for the greens.” Gammy waved at the leafy vegetables in the sink.
“I can throw in a pizza from the freezer for dinner.” Wila stalked over to her refrigerator. “That’s plenty for the two of us.”
“That processed food isn’t good for you,” Gammy lectured.
Wila took a deep breath before she turned to face her grandmother. “I can pick up soup, salad, and sandwiches from the café down the street. That would be healthier, right?”
Gammy shook her finger at Wila. “It’s a waste of money eating out all the time. How are you going to save up Derek’s education by spending willy-nilly?”
“The money for Derek’s education is already set aside.” That had been the one thing she refused to compromise on during the divorce negotiations.
“Fine, but that doesn’t take care of these collard greens, girl. And I bought a nice ham hock, too.”
Wila tensed at the reminder her friend Francine was doing more for Gammy than she was. Like buying Gammy clothes and taking her grocery shopping while Wila was at work. She didn’t need a white savior to take care of her own damn family.
“I have a strainer I use for pasta,” Wila pointed out.
“Too small.” Of course, the old woman wanted a bigger colander. She was used to cooking for her eight children, their spouses, her grandchildren, and all the cousins. However, Mom and most of the aunts and uncles had passed. Dad lived in Florida with his girlfriend. And all the cousins had scattered across the fifty states to wherever their jobs took them.
“How about we go shopping in the morning?” Wila said. “We’ll find you a colander you like, and I’ll help you with cleaning greens before I head into work. Then I’ll be out of your hair and you can cook to your heart’s desire.”
Grammy stared into Wila’s eyes before she rested a warm callused palm against Wila’s cheek. “You always were a good girl, Wila.”
Her eyes burned, and she laid her own hand over Gammy’s. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”
Gammy laughed. “I admit I never thought the sounding of the trumpets on Judgement Day was going to be like this.”
“Those sounding trumpets are what we’re trying to avoid, Gammy,” Wila said sternly.
The security system beeped, and Derek shouted, “Mom, I’m home!”
“In the kitchen!” she responded.
He raced in, skidding on the hardwood, and hissed, “Dad’s here.”
His warning was too late to rush Gammy upstairs to her bedroom. Sure enough, the ex-louse walked in behind Derek. His confident swagger had first attracted Wila to him, but now, it just pissed her off.
She crossed her arms. “What do you want, Deion? None of your girlfriends are here.”
“Ah, Wila, always a pleasure to speak with you.” His equally confident smile faltered when he noticed who was standing beside her. “Gammy Latricia? B-but you’re dead!”
“You got no right to address me with any familiarity, Deion Jackson.” Gammy shook her index finger at him. “If my great-grandson weren’t standing right here, I’d be giving you a piece of my mind.”
Wila crossed her arms. “It’s been three weeks since the dead started rising from their graves. You may not have a lick of compassion, but I’m not about to turn my grandmother away from my home.”
Something alien shone from Deion’s eyes, but this was normal human malice. He wasn’t possessed by a demon.
“Derek, get in my car,” he demanded.
“What? No!” Derek protested.
“You had your weekend with him, Deion,” Wila said. “You’ve delivered him safely home. It’s time for you to go.”
Deion said nothing. None of his usual attempts to intimidate her or threaten her with legal action. Nor did he reprimand Derek for giving him lip. No, Deion pivoted and stalked out of her kitchen. She followed to make sure he exited her house, and she watched him back out of her driveway.
His silence indicated he planned something. Something she wasn’t going to like.
Too bad her flaming sword didn’t work on living ex-husbands.
Friday, July 15, 2022
A Quick Sales Update!
Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice is FREE on Amazon today and tomorrow!
All novel and novellas are 50% off at Smashwords! Short stories are free! The Smashwords sale continues until the end of July! Make sure you use the Sales Codes to get your discount!
That's all the news for now. I'm on the road today, so if you have any questions, I'll answer them when I get home tonight.
Thank you for your support!
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Famine in French Vanilla - Chapter 4
Next week, some sale news will be posted. However, I will be in hiding. I'm nearly 100K behind in writing for the year, and a retreat to a hotel for a couple of days is necessary to focus on writing. The last time I did that was in February of 2020. Both DH and Princess Bella have done their best to leave me alone, but I need a change of scenery.
I DESPERATELY need a change of scenery before I go mad.
Or maybe like Francine, I need my own box of chocolate Long Johns.
Francine entered Penny’s kitchen to find Justine eating a chocolate-frosted doughnut.
“Thanks for bringing these,” the girl said around a mouthful of pastry.
“You’re welcome.” Francine smiled. “Do you have any milk to go with them?”
Justine swallowed before she said, “There is some, but it may be a little iffy. With all the trouble between Mom, Dad, and that Rimmon guy—” Frown lines ran between her eyes, and Francine’s heart went out to the girl.
Justine licked her lips. “Is he really dead? He won’t make Dad do bad stuff again?” Her voice ended on a warble that indicated she was trying very hard not to cry.
“Rimmon’s dead,” Francine said. “You don’t have to worry about him ever again.”
“Grandma was dead.” Justine’s lower lip trembled. “He might come back, too.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Francine pulled the girl into a tight hug. “Trust me. He is never coming back. According to my research, only the good people will be brought back. Like your grandmother.”
“Can Brittany come over? I’m a-a l-little scared.”
Francine smoothed Justine’s wayward curls back from her face. “Why don’t you video chat with her? Your mom and I need to talk. Would you like to spend the night at our house again?”
Justine shrugged. “I don’t know. I-I want to stay here with Grandma. I miss her so much, but—”
“I’m a little weirded out about this whole situation, too.” Francine smiled. “Why don’t you grab another doughnut and go talk to Brittany? Then we’ll make some decisions after your mom and I talk.”
Justine nodded before she retrieved a clean plate for the remaining half of the Long John she’d been munching on and selected another chocolate one. She disappeared into the family room.
Ah, to be twelve and eat everything again.
Except Francine could eating everything again, but it came at a price. Accepting the role of Famine and battling demons hadn’t helped to quell her insane hunger. She ate more in one day than her family ate in an entire month.
Unless she unleashed her hunger on the public. The one time she accidentally had, the police needed riot gear and tear gas to get the restaurant patrons in check.
Francine looked around the Hudson’s kitchen. Dirty plates and silverware still sat on the table, which showed how fast things had gone crazy this morning.
Her stomach rumbled. Loudly. She needed to take care of that first. When she retrieved the milk jug from the refrigerator and unscrewed the cap, the slight strawberry-like scent milk had right before it totally soured hit her nose.
Well, she’d take care of it for Penny. If she needed to stay and keep an eye on Penny’s in-laws while Penny made a grocery run, she would. And later this weekend, she’d make up for the ruined lunch and shopping trip she’d planned with Brittany. Their friends needed them right now.
Francine cleared the dirty dishes from the table and wiped it down before she sat down with the quarter-filled gallon jug of milk and started eating doughnuts. Unfortunately, every time Famine manifested, she left Francine starving.
She was washing down her third Long John with the almost bad milk when Penny walked into the kitchen. She stopped and stared at Francine before she crossed her arms and said, “I knew one box of doughnuts wouldn’t be enough for you, but drinking straight out of the jug? That’s so not like you, Miss Prim-and-Proper.”
Francine lowered the milk and licked her lips. “It’s about to go bad. You don’t want Justine or Edward to drink this. On the other hand, I will take calories in whatever form these days.” She burped before she added, “What can I do to help? Besides the dishes once Laura’s out of the shower.”
Penny flopped onto the chair next to Francine. “I thought everything would get better after Wednesday. I had less than one day. Ugh!” She scrubbed at her face. “Let me guess. Wila called because she ran into a dead person.”
Francine nodded. “She and Brian answered a call this morning to the same house where the husband was DOA a year ago. Reading between the lines of what she could tell me, the husband crawled out of his grave and went home, too. The wife fainted and hit her head on the way down. The husband called 9-1-1.”
“What about Brian?”
Francine snorted. “He’s convinced himself the man who called in is the twin brother of the guy who died.”
Penny swore under her breath. “We need to warn Dani.”
Horror rippled through Francine. “Oh, god, I wasn’t thinking. She and Mark are living in the same house they had when Heath died, isn’t she?”
“Yeah.” Penny fished her phone out of her front jeans pocket. She tapped the screen before she set the phone between her and Francine on the table. The phone rang once. Twice.
“Hernandez Insurance Agency. Dani speaking. How may I help you?”
“Hey, girl. It’s Penny and Francine. Got a minute for some Soccer Mom issues?”
“Not really,” Dani grumbled. “But just a sec.” Something squeaked before there was carpet shuffling. With the second squeak, Dani said, “Sorry, I needed to make sure I had a little privacy. What happened? Is Pence there to arrest you?”
The police officer was absolutely sure there was something squirrely about Penny, especially after two of the people the demons had possessed were found dead.
Francine bit the side of her cheek to keep from laughing at Penny’s sour expression.
“Believe me, I wish it were that easy.” Penny sighed wearily. “The Fifth Seal has broken.”
“But the Fifth Seal is—ohmigod! We have zombies running around Oakfield?”
“Penny’s mother-in-law showed up at her front door this morning,” Francine said. “And Wila responded to an EMT call that was made by a guy she and Brian pronounced DOA last year.”
“Please tell me this is a practical joke.” A sound suspiciously like a sob came through the receiver. “Please, please, please.”
“My dead mother-in-law is cleaning off grave dirt in my shower right now,” Penny snapped. “We are not joking.”
“Where’s Mark?” Francine asked.
“Since there’s no school today, he and Derek are at my-my—ohmigod, I can’t breath.” Dani was obviously hyperventilating.
“Dani, listen to me,” Francine said gently. “Call Mark, and tell him I going to your house to pick up him and Derek. I’ll call Wila, and let her know what’s going on. Then I’ll swing by to collect Brittany and bring lunch to over to Penny’s. Can you take the rest of the day off?”
“Y-y-yeah.” A paper bag crinkled through the phone speaker. “I’ll tell Marty I have cramps. Th-that works every time with him.”
Thank goodness, Dani worked for her brother. Francine couldn’t imagine finding excuses to leave her job every time a Soccer Mom emergency came up.
“Hang in there, sweetie,” Francine said. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
“O-okay.” Dani sniffed. “I’ll see you later.”
The phone call ended, and Penny grabbed Francine’s hands. “You cannot leave me alone here. Gene will be home at any moment.”
“Listen to me, Penny,” Francine said softly. “You heard Dani. Imagine how Mark is going to react if Heath shows up at the Elante residence. Why do you think Dani was hyperventilating?”
Penny released Francine’s hand and place her own palms over her mouth. She finally lowered her hands. “Can I please trade jobs with you?”
“If Gene tries to hurt Laura or worse, you go Pestilence on his ass,” Francine said. “I’ll grab my coat. I should be back within an hour. You’re the strong one, Penny. You can handle this.”
“I really wish you three would stop saying that,” Penny grumbled.
Francine gave Penny a quick hug. “I’ll be fast I promise.”
When Francine entered the living room, Edward was still meticulously wiping sugary gunk from Gene’s book collection. He gave her the side-eye as she retrieved her coat and put it on. She grabbed her tote and turned to go when he said, “Are you sure that woman is Laura?”
She pivoted to look at him. “Why? Think she’ll interfere with your multitude of girlfriends?”
“Multitude?” He glared at her.
“Edward, I know about you and Deborah Gibson,” she hissed.
An alarmed expression crossed his face. “Penny told you?”
Francine rubbed her forehead. “Shit. Does she really know?”
“If she didn’t tell you, how do you know?” he asked.
“Deborah was boasting about it at the First Methodist pancake supper.” Francine shook her head. “She thought she’d become the new Mrs. Hudson.”
Edward pursed his mouth. “You can berate me all you want, but please don’t hurt Laura.”
“I have no intention of ruining her life—” She couldn’t help a little burble of laughter from erupting. “—or her death. Clean up that mess before I get back with lunch.”
He reddened. “I was changing diapers before you were born.”
“And I’m sure you were smearing the contents of your diapie on walls long before you smeared perfectly good Long Johns all over your son’s books.” Francine shot him a cocky smile. “See you in a bit.”
She gritted her teeth as she charged out Penny’s new front door and strode to her minivan. If Neal’s dad were half as obnoxious as Edward Hudson, she would have killed him years ago.
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