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Wednesday, September 28, 2022
I'm not asking for sympathy. In fact, I owe my readers a HUGE apology for being so behind. Especially the backers of the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse Kickstarter. I'm busting my ass to get the War in White Chocolate paperbacks formated and ordered before I leave for the hometown this weekend. I owe my brother and sister-in-law a ton for dealing with the funeral arrangements.
So while I deal with all the family stuff, here's another chapter tidbit to tide you over!
Dani wasn’t sure whether to be ecstatic or frightened. Mark devolved into a weeping mess. Heath held their son tight. Maybe it was finally sinking in he had been gone from hers and Mark’s lives for six years because he kept murmuring, “I’m sorry, Mark. I’m so, so sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Dad.” Mark pulled away from Heath and looked up at him. “It was never your fault. You wouldn’t have left us on purpose. I know you wouldn’t. But you’re back now.” Mark looked at Dani. “Dad’s back like Justine and Derek’s abuelas, right?”
Dani didn’t want to break Mark’s heart or her own. “For now.”
“What do you mean for now?” He glared at her. “You’re Death. Aren’t you supposed to know these things?”
Dani crossed her arms and glared back. “God forgot to send us the instruction books when He made me and your friends’ mothers the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse.”
“Uh, Dani, are your eye sockets supposed to glow green?” Heath murmured.
Crap. She closed her eyes and concentrated on rainbows over Lake Michigan. The power flowed back into its hiding place in her heart. When she opened her eyes, she was back in her jeans and sweatshirt.
“Can Dad come to my game on Saturday?” Mark abruptly changed the subject. “It’s our last game of the fall season.”
“If you go back to bed—”
“But this is the first chance I’ve had to speak with Dad since I was in first grade,” Mark protested.
“I know, sweetheart, but—” she started.
“Can’t you call me in sick for just tomorrow?” Mark’s tone switched to begging. “Justine got to stay home after she got kidnapped, and this is way bigger.” He flung his arms wide to indicate how much of a deal this was to him.
“Mark—” Dani growled.
“But—” Her son’s voice cracked. For the first time, Dani realized exactly how much Heath’s death affected Mark.
“Mark,” Heath said. “Listen to your mom. She and I need to talk, and I will be here in the morning.”
“This is no different that Justine’s or Derek’s grandmothers, honey,” Dani said. “Your dad’s not going anywhere, and I will call you in sick tomorrow so you can spend some time with him.”
Mark’s shoulders slumped. “How do you expect me to sleep after this?”
He had a point. She knew she definitely wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. Not with her dead husband in the house.
She faced Heath again. “Why don’t you take a shower, honey? Mark and I will make us some cinnamon toast and hot cocoa. We can cuddle on the couch like we used to and talk.”
Heath’s pale cheeks flushed red. “Um, do you have anything I can wear?”
“Your clothes are still in your dresser and in the closet,” she said. “Towels are in the same place.”
He blinked, but he didn’t question why she’d kept his clothes. “Okay. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
Dani watched him stride out of the kitchen. Part of her wanted to chase after him and kiss him senseless. The rest of her wanted to scream in agony. And he had the same weird vibration that all the risen dead in Oakfield had. Why the hell did God rip him away from her and then bring him back? What had she done to deserve this special kind of torture?
“It’s going to be okay, Mom.” Mark hugged her.
She couldn’t remember the last time her son had hugged her. But she remembered the last time she hugged Heath before tonight.
It was the morning before the day he died. He had to spend a couple of days at a client located on the north side of Chicago. She suggested rather than wasting the time on the four-hour round-trip commute, he should stay at a hotel for the night near the client’s office. She’d hugged Heath that morning and told him to be careful of the crazy Chicago drivers.
Little did she know it would be an Oakfield resident driving drunk on the freeway, and Heath would die only a couple of miles from their home.
Mark released her. “I’ll make the cinnamon toast while you make the cocoa.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Dani sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“Geez, Mom.” Mark rolled his eyes. “Use a tissue like a real person. You want to impress Dad, don’t you?”
“Since when did you start worrying about appearances?” she teased as she reached for the box of tissues sitting on the table. The box that never made it upstairs to be put away in the linen closet. She had been a better housekeeper when Heath was still alive.
“I don’t,” he grumbled. But the deep rose blush on his cheeks said just the opposite. He glanced at the kitchen doorway and lowered his voice. “Maybe you should call one of the other Soccer Moms and let them know what’s going on. You know, just in case.”
Mark was only making sense. Like the other demon hunters assigned to protect the Soccer Moms’ immediate family members, Father Rodriguez only stayed at the Elante home when Dani was out. He’d gone back to the rectory hours ago.
Dani nodded. “You’re right. If I put the ingredients in the pan, could you—”
“Mom, I’m almost thirteen.” He scowled at her. “I think I can handle a pan of cocoa, especially since you premix the cocoa and sugar in a jar.”
She held up her hands. “I didn’t want you to think I’m dumping chores on you.”
“I’ll take the garbage and recycling bins out first—”
“Already done.” Dani tried very hard not to smirk at the guilty expression on her son’s face. She reached into her jeans for her phone, but it was already ringing when she pulled out the device. Dad.
Why on earth would he be calling this late?
She thumbed the icon to answer. “Hey, Dad! What’s up?”
“I need a Soccer Mom over here right now!” In the background, there came a sound of glass shattering. “She’s already whacked Pierre with a frying pan and knocked him out!”
If the demon hunter guarding her father was already down, he was in deep, deep trouble. “Dad! Grab a cross and get into the bathroom!”
“Carmen’s already locked herself in there!” The way Dad huffed and puffed, he was running. “I need help now!”
Across the kitchen, Mark had pulled out his phone and texted to someone. He looked up at Dani. “Penny’s on her way to Grandpa’s house.”
“Dad, Penny’s on her way to your house.” Dani’s heart thudded in her chest. “Can you get to the basement? Lock yourself in that bathroom.”
“Penny’s coming? I need you here, Daniella!”
“Daddy, listen to me. Are you wearing your cross? The demon can’t possess you if you’re wearing your cross.”
“Demon? What demon?” There was another crash of breaking glass, followed by some Spanish invectives. “It’s your mother who’s trying to kill me!”
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
“An accident?” Dani tried to catch her breath and calm her heart. Thank goodness, Mark was already ensconced in his bedroom, and Thanksgiving break had started. He would stay in his room until noon tomorrow. “Are you hurt? I’ll take you to the ER. Let me grab my coat.”
What the hell was she thinking? She couldn’t take Heath to the hospital. They’d call the police as soon as the admitting staff put his name in their computer system. Heath had coded in the Oakfield ER after the accident.
“I’m not hurt.” Heath’s frown deepened. “I’m just really confused.”
“Honey, come inside. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She held out her hand. “We’ll double-check to make sure you’re okay. If you’re still dazed, it may be a concussion. I’ll call Wila—”
Crap, she’d forgotten she didn’t meet Penny, Wila, and Francine until after Heath’s death.
“Her son Derek is friends with Mark, and she’s an EMT.” She shivered. “Honey, it’s dang cold out here. Let’s go inside, and we’ll figure things out.”
“I-I woke up in the dirt,” Heath said. “I couldn’t find the car so I walked home.”
“I’m so sorry, honey.” Dani stepped closer, but he ignored her outstretched palm. “That must have been really scary. Come inside with me, and we’ll deal with it.”
He cocked his head and stared at something behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. The minivan. She had sworn up and down they were not going to be one of those couples when she was pregnant with Mark.
“Why is there a minivan in our garage?” Heath asked.
“I had a problem with my truck,” she said. “Please come inside, honey. It’s freezing out here.”
He continued staring at the minivan. “Neal Astin couldn’t give you a different colored loaner. Mark’s going to be teased by the other first graders.”
The scars on Dani’s heart ripped. “Heath, Mark is twelve now.”
That drew Heath’s attention away from the damn minivan. “What?”
“Honey, you couldn’t find your car tonight because you died in an accident six years ago.”
The truth stunned Heath long enough for Dani to guide him into the house. Part of her was glad she hadn’t moved though she’d thought about it after his funeral.
She grabbed a clean washcloth out of the utility room, filled a bowl with hot water, and sat next to Heath at the kitchen table.
“I-I’m dead?” he asked while she washed the dirt from his face.
“Not anymore,” she said as she rinsed the washcloth. “It’s a rather long story, but the dead are rising from their graves because the Apocalypse has begun.”
“What?” Heath stared at her. “If that’s supposed to be a joke, it’s not funny.”
“I’m not joking,” she murmured while she worked on his hands. “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “But can we start this discussion over? I did have an accident, didn’t I?”
“Yes.” She focused on the dirt between his fingers. Heath’s fingers. The last time she touched him was when she placed his wedding band back on his finger before his funeral. It was still there. “Dani, look at me.” He tilted her chin up until her eyes met his. “Please tell me what happened.”
She swallowed the huge lump threatening to choke her. “You-you were hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the interstate.” Admitting the facts brought all the old pain back. Tears spilled over her eyelids and rolled down her cheeks. She’d been frightened of Heath coming back since that day almost a month ago when Penny’s dead mother-in-law showed up on the Hudson’s doorstep.
“Oh, baby.” He reached up and brushed away the wetness with the backs of his fingers. “I’m so sorry I left you and Mark alone. I never would have done that on purpose.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“And the Apocalypse stuff?” He cocked his head as he cupped her face.
She laid her hands on his and gently pulled them away. “There’s no way for you to believe me without seeing for yourself. But promise me, you’ll be quiet because Mark is asleep upstairs.” At least, she prayed he’d fallen asleep while listening to his music.
He frowned. “Show me what?”
“What I’ve become.” She slowly rose from her chair. “What I am.”
Those big blue eyes remained locked on her. She released a deep breath, bowed her head, and let the power wash over her.
“What the—” Heath scrambled off the kitchen chair, knocking it over in the process. The wood clatter loudly against the ceramic tile floor. “Dani?”
“It’s still me, honey.” She hated the way her voice rattled when she was Death, but it couldn’t be helped. “I’m one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
“But you’re not a man,” he protested.
“That’s why we all ourselves the Four Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse.”
“The Four Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse?” He didn’t look too sure, but he no longer wore the expression of insane panic.
“It’s a long story, honey.” She shrugged. “How about I make us some tea while I tell you about it?”
He cocked his head in the same adorable way he had when she told him she was pregnant, trying hard to reconcile reality with his preconceived notions. “Does this mean you raised me from my grave?”
“No,” she said. “The Fifth Seal broke as foretold in the Book of Revelations.”
“The Fifth Seal?”
“The Four Horsemen, or Soccer Moms in our case, are the first four Seals. The Fifth Seal is the dead believers rising from their graves.”
“Aw, crap! Are demons running around town again?”
Dani whirled to find Mark standing in the doorway. She spread her arms in a desperate attempt to distract her son.
“What are you doing up?” she snapped. “It’s a school night.”
Mark crossed his arms. “I’m not the one banging around furniture. You woke me up. And you don’t run around with all skeleton-y if demons aren’t causing problems again.”
“Go to bed, young man,” she ordered.
Instead, he marched over to the utility closet and pulled out his bright yellow and orange Super Soaker. “I can cover the demon while you interrogate him.”
“Mark?” Heath stepped around Dani’s left side. “Is that really you?”
“Dad?” Mark dropped his water blaster and ran straight into Heath’s arms.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Irritated as hell, Dani Elante jabbed the button to open her garage door. Mark had forgotten to haul the garbage can out to the curb for tomorrow morning’s trash pick-up.
Again. Her normally conscientious son seemed to have totally lost his mind with the onset of puberty. He had barely acknowledged her presence when she marched into his bedroom and lectured him, his earbuds jammed in his ear canals and his nose firmly affixed to his phone screen as his thumbs typed messages to his friends. If her brother Marty hadn’t put her and Mark on his family’s unlimited phone plan, she would have had to take a second mortgage out on the house to pay for her son’s excessive usage.
She should have grounded Mark, but guilt nagged her. He pretended to be okay with her being the avatar of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Or rather the Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse, as Wila had coined them.
But the four women’s kids only had each other to talk to when it came to the weirdness of what was going on in Oakfield over the past couple of months. Deep down, she knew she couldn’t take those relationships away from Mark. It was his only outlet for dealing with madness.
A cold wind rattled the tree branches and the handfuls of leaves clinging to them in the dark. The dang bitter breeze also cut through her sweatshirt and jeans and raised goosebumps along her skin. She should have grabbed her coat before she came out.
The scent of smoke blew along the freezing air along with the hint of the coming winter to Illinois. Someone in the neighborhood was fighting the late fall chill with a cozy wood fire.
A sense of regret whispered through her. Maybe she shouldn’t have sold the old Victorian she and Heath had started to refurbish before his accident. She loved the odor of pine and the crackle of real wood burning while cuddling with her husband in front of the flickering flames. But there was no way to pay two mortgages on just her salary, and Mark needed consistency with the loss of his father.
Dammit, Heath had been gone for six years. She was not going to wind herself into another depressive funk. Just because nearly everyone else she knew had family members rise from their graves, it didn’t mean she’d get that lucky. Except the question was almost as nagging as her guilt. Had Heath not been righteous enough to deserve resurrection with the Second Coming of Christ?
Or was he still in his grave because she was Death?
Dani grabbed the handle of garbage can and dragged it out to the curb before she went back for the recyclables container. She wheeled the blue recyclables can out to the curb and set it beside the pink trash can that promoted breast cancer awareness. Why did she miss Heath so much when she barely thought about Mom?
The better question is why hadn’t either of them risen when half of the Oakfield Cemetery’s residents had come back to life back in the middle of October. They were both good people. Why did Penny get her mother-in-law and Wila get her grandmother back, and Danielle was still alone? It wasn’t fair.
But then, it wasn’t fair she had been chosen as Death, one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse either.
A gust slapped her ponytail in her face. It was too damn cold to bemoan her luck in life outside. She’d make a hot cup of green tea and pout under her favorite blanket. Nope, she’d binge her favorite sitcom until she fell asleep. Marty would understand as both her brother and her boss when she called in sick in the morning. She turned to head back into the garage.
The oak tree in her front yard moaned, and a shiver ran down her spine that had nothing to do with the frigid wind. It was the same sensation of wrongness she felt around one of the newly risen dead. She whirled around, looking for the cause, wishing for the first time the city of Oakfield had installed more streetlamps in their subdivision.
A dark figure stepped out of the shadow of the fence-lined right-of-way running between the Cassadines’ and the Jones’s houses across the street. She was on the verge of summoning her scythe when the shape shuffled into the square of the light cast by the fixtures in her garage onto the asphalt pavement. The blonde hair was as dirty as the clothes and face, but the piercing blue eyes were the same as the first time she met him.
Her heart threatened to choke her. “Heath?”
“Hey, baby.” He looked terribly confused. “I think I had an accident.”
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
There was another death in the family, for a total of three in the last eight months. I'm so done with funerals for 2022. Then we dealt with some major moving of furniture over Labor Day weekend.
No, DH and I did not move to a new living space. It was a matter of removing the pieces of furniture from the in-law's home the siblings wished to keep and taking said furniture to said siblings' homes. All of the work is dedicated to getting the house cleaned out and on the market.
I've spent the last couple of days typing at a furious pace to catch up. E-books will be out on time, but I'm not going to get the last of the paperbacks completed and shipped next week as I had hoped. All I can do is to keep chugging away at my to-do list.
All of the personal mishaps has made me rethink my next Kickstarter. I'll spend the winter and spring writing the next quadrilogy before I launch the campaign. It will be better for my nerves.
Thursday, September 1, 2022
Which for some strange reason started yesterday. LOL
So here's the last (I swear!) sample chapter of War in White Chocolate!
“He’s not possessed!” Wila crouched on the other side of Father McAvoy. “What happened?”
“He was sitting on the chaise, icing his knee, and we were talking,” Father Mbaye said. “He started slurring his words, and I teased him about stealing some of the sacramental wine. Then he slid off the lounge, and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like he was speaking in tongues.”
Drool oozed down the left corner of Father McAvoy’s mouth. His right eye seemed to focus on her, but not the other eye. She took his right hand in hers. “Father McAvoy, can you squeeze my hand?”
He did. For a seventy-something man, he had a surprisingly strong grip.
She looked up at the younger priest. “Father Perez, call 9-1-1. Tell the dispatcher there’s an off-duty paramedic on site. Have them patch you through to the rig they dispatch, and place your phone on speaker.” She glared at the others gathered around Father McAvoy. “The rest of you? Get out!”
Father Perez stepped away from the surge of hunters leaving the sunroom. Wila caught a glimpse of her reflection in a window. Sometimes, War’s red eyes came in handy. She inhaled deeply and released it before she looked at Father McAvoy again. “I’m going to check your pulse, and then I’ll ask you a series of questions, Padre. Squeeze my hand once for yes. Twice for no. Got me?”
He squeezed once.
Wila placed her index and third fingers against his left carotid artery. She counted heartbeats against the ticking of the second hand of her watch and repeated the same evaluation with his breathing. Checking the right side of his neck was worrisome. No heartbeat at all.
“Are you feeling dizzy?”
One squeeze of his hand.
“Can you see out of your left eye?”
“Wila?” Father Perez crouched next to her. “The other paramedics are on the phone.”
“Ardale? What’s the situation?” Dick asked.
Relief filled her. The older man knew his stuff. She wasn’t looking forward to his retirement.
Assuming she and her sisters found a way to stop the Apocalypse.
Wila rattled off Father McAvoy’s vitals. “Strong pulse in the left carotid. None detectable in the right. No vision in the left eye.”
“Keep running through the symptom checks,” Dick said. “I’ll call Oakfield’s ER and let them knew they’ve got a stroke victim incoming. We’re five minutes out.”
“Roger that.” Wila winced as the words slipped from her tongue. Dick and Ramon would be giving her a ton of shit for at least a month for slipping into military vernacular.
Father McAvoy squeezed her hand three times.
“Are you asking if you are having a stroke?”
“Don’t worry, Padre.” She smiled at him. “Meds today can ensure a full recovery if the docs can get them in you soon enough. Luckily, this happened when you were surrounded by your friends, so we caught this in plenty of time. Do you understand?”
“Good. Can I finish my questions so the ER docs know what’s going on?”
By the time Wila finished the stroke checklist, she heard the approaching siren of Dick and Ramon’s rig. She was going to be late to work for the first time ever, but the Soccer Moms needed Father McAvoy more than she needed a job.
Apparently, word about Saint Mike’s had spread through the station before Wila arrived for work. She got a round of applause from everyone when she strode into the station. Everyone except Captain Miller.
He shook his head and tugged on his belt. “You’re late, Ardale.”
She made a face. “Technically, I started my shift an hour early.”
“In my office. Now.” He turned and strode into his office without waiting for an answer.
Crap. What was going on? Her attendance record was perfect. Even with all the Soccer Moms stuff happening, she was always on time. She followed Captain Miller into his office and closed the door behind her. She didn’t need the jackals to eavesdrop on this conversation.
The captain sat down and waved at the visitor chair. “Have a seat, Wila.”
He never called her by her given name. He never called any of the paramedics by their given names.
She perched on the edge of the chair.
“Are you okay?” His rheumy eyes shone with concern. Between his silver hair and craggy features, he looked ten years older than Dick. In reality, he was ten years younger.
“I’m fine,” she said uncertainly.
“Was Father McAvoy possessed?”
She blinked. “I beg your pardon?” He couldn’t know who she was. The other Soccer Moms had bent over backwards to keep her identity secret after they’d been outed. During the demon attack on the resurrected at the high school three weeks ago, she’d worn goggles and a scarf to cover her face.
Captain Miller leaned back in his chair. “Dick put everything together after Francine Astin—”
“Coy-Astin,” Wila automatically corrected.
“Coy-Astin,” he repeated. “After she was caught on video. It hasn’t gone beyond me and Dick, but to warn you, the identity of War has been a major topic of discussion at City Hall. I just want to know the truth if I need to cover for you. Was the priest possessed?”
Too many thoughts ran through her brain. However, Captain Miller had always done right by her despite the crap she got from a lot of other city personnel.
“No, the priest wasn’t possessed,” she said. “He’s in his seventies, and he had a stroke. Now, tell me exactly what Dick said to you.”
The captain ticked off the points on his fingers. “If Ms. Coy-Astin is Famine per the news video, then Penny at Java’s Palace would be Pestilence since she was the only person in the building who didn’t have an exotic disease. And all of you were at your house when Chuck Hernandez’s daughter flatlined for no reason. She would be Death, right?” He smiled. “So logically, you would be War.”
“Because of my military background?”
He chuckled. “If past or present jobs were the criteria, I think Penny would have been Famine, but I heard through the grapevine her daughter had cancer when she was in kindergarten.”
“It was first grade.” Wila twined her fingers together. Derek was so confused and scared when his friend Justine stopped coming to school. Deion told her to lie to her son, but she couldn’t do that. If she’d only realized then how easily lying came to her former husband at the time, maybe she wouldn’t have wasted another three years with him.
“Wila, I’m not trying to poke my nose in your personal business.” Captain Miller leaned forward and rested his forearms on his desk. “I just want you to know you have the backing of everyone in the department. If you need emergency time off, let me know as early as you can. I’ll make sure your shifts are covered.”
“Thank you” She blinked. “I think.”
“And one last warning, Miles Pence has been reinstated.”
She slumped in the captain’s visitor “Good grief. What’s it going to take before the city does something about him?” “The shrink the city called in cleared him for duty.” Captain Miller shrugged. “Between the Eastwood brothers not remembering what happened at Pence’s house, no evidence of trauma on Mrs. Pence’s body, and what the Soccer Moms reported to the detectives on scene, Chief Wright doesn’t have cause to dismiss him.”
“You mean my ex did some fancy lawyer steps and got Internal Affairs to drop any potential charges against him.”
A wry smile filled the captain’s face. “His firm represents all the first responder unions in Oakfield. Including us.”
“I know. It’s just—” Well, damn. Now, she knew why Deion had waltzed into her house last night. What the hell had Pence told him?