Happy Halloweenie Ghouls and Boils ( #TBT )

Hold out your eyes for a Halloween treat.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_20191030_223942_394.jpg

Hold out your eyes and I’ll give you a little insight plus the beginning and the ending of Smoke Free.

Smoke Free is a weird little story conceived in the smoke of a brush pile. The photos below show the cover; the first photograph and the finished cover.

Smoke Free is probably the only book cover we have not changed at least a dozen times. The truth is I have never wanted to change it. I love this cover and the image of that little pumpkin smoking a cigar never fails to amuse me. (I have the husband to thank for that.)

I had never heard of Irwin Smutter before that day and he (like the cigar smoking pumpkin) still amuses me with his absolute weirdness; him and the bizarre world he resides in.

Okay, here you go.

In the beginning…

Irwin marched down the stark white hallway with the impudence of a man on a mission. At the end of corridor, a glass door awaited with the words FREE YOUR SELF painted in large gold letters. He raised a curled fist to knock but decided against it. Easing the door open he called out, “Yoo-hoo. Is anyone home?” when no one responded he grudgingly entered the room and scanned its contents.

The room appeared empty other than an oversized sofa. Irwin reposed himself against the frigid vinyl, crossed his feet and sighed. A lively timbered scene covered the wall opposite the door, designed in such a way it almost looked like a window. Beyond the dull sheen of the pretend window was a forest where rays of sunshine cut through a smoky haze. The remaining walls were un-textured, pale and bare. The room smelled of sandalwood and acetone, a bizarre sweetness that sickened and comforted him at the same time. Irwin shifted nervously on the stiff upholstery in search of a warm spot. There was none.

The faux leather, the lifeless walls, the fake window – it was all too unsettling. Nothing is real, he thought, stretching his arms until his hands met above his head. Fads! The world has been reduced to kooks, phonies, and fads. Reassured by his own summation, Irwin interlaced his fingers and stretched further. When the joints in his entwined hands refused to pop, he rested them at the base of his neck.

Smoking cessation. Yeah, right. It was not Irwin’s idea. Irwin enjoyed smoking. The pungent smell of a fresh-lit cigarette made bitter coffee sweet. Smoking was one of the few things he looked forward to each day.  A good smoke, a little booze, a lot of caffeine and Evie.

His wife, Evie was a non-smoker and she did not mind, she had never complained, but again, Evie never complained about anything. Evie was a saint.

So what am I doing here? Peer pressure. That was the only logical explanation. All of his friends had stopped smoking months ago. There is nothing more annoying than an ex-smoker. Irwin’s mind zigzagged trying to connect the dots, the trail of crumbs that had lead him here to this place where he was expected to free himself.

Evenings at the local tavern were not the same, instead of cheers and jokes the gang sat around bellyaching about a handful of smokers in the far corner. It wasn’t fun anymore. Irwin thought as he strained to recall the last time he had hung out with any of them, the last time he had stopped by the saloon on the way home. He could not remember. A few of his buddies had dropped by the house for a beer once or twice a week but then…

It occurred to Irwin he had been isolated for some time; cut off from society. Who needs them? Not me, I don’t have time for chewing the fat. He dug his heels into the armrest, tensed his abdominal muscles and forced a few halfhearted sit-ups. I’m healthy, a hell of a lot healthier than those slobs. Heck, Frank can’t see his ding-a-ling without a mirror. Irwin laughed aloud at the image of his friend groping for his penis. Poor bastard, he groaned, starring up at the flat alabaster ceiling, Frank’s a good guy. The kindest, most nonjudgmental man I have ever met… hey! Irwin bolted upright, Frank is my best friend.

When the sparkle abated from the realization, Irwin flopped back into a prone position and began a set of leg-lifts. Good ole Frank. Poor bastard. Dean and Will, now there is a couple of bonafide jerks!  Irwin scoffed to himself, holding his un-embellished feet at heart level, Health fanatics! You can smell Dean a mile away— wreaking of curry and cumin. And Will, with his dead man farts –methane poison. Both of them—with their stained yellow skin.

Irwin snickered at the memory of Frank again, the last memory of the saloon he could clearly recall. Dean and Will who were frequently referred to as Mutt and Jeff, and the sight of their jaundiced eyes–unwavering.  Long, lanky Dean slumped over his mug of warm Bud, squatty Will knocking back shots of cheap Vodka and the rank cloud of gas that always followed them.

“Dang! What are you two eating?” Frank had asked. When neither answered he pressed on, “It smells like you’re on the verge of shittin’ a dead man. What are you little tree huggers eatin’? Are y’all eatin’ people?” Irwin recalled Frank’s hearty laugh at his joke and smiled, until he remembered the response. Dean– shivering but never looking up.  Will with that cocky glare, wriggling his thin eyebrows and slamming his glass down on the table for effect, grinning through pink jagged teeth. “No one under the age of eighteen.”

“Screw it.” Irwin said aloud as he swung himself into a sitting position. He grabbed the package of Camels from his shirt pocket. Despite the shaking, he managed to free a cigarette without breaking it. He tapped the filter against his palm a few times and gently set it between his lips. His right hand habitually swept the pocket of his 501 jeans to retrieve the Zippo. Irwin studied the chrome lighter, rubbing his thumb across the engraving. “I loved your heart too Evie.” He whispered. Within the sound of two clicks, a beautiful orange flame emerged. Irwin closed his eyes and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs. The hissing crackle of dried tobacco had always eased his trembling. The feel of his Zippo, a gift from Evie, had always soothed his mind. I LOVE YOUR HEART was barely visible after years of stroking. He exhaled and imagined the writings of e.e. cummings. i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart). He fantasized about Evie, her soft white breasts against his back as she convinced him to be more accepting of lowercase letters and lower class people. Perfect breasts that now–

Just before The End…

Irwin and Evie spent their days and nights exploring endless trails. Time meant nothing to them now. Irwin was not sure how long he had been in this place, but it had been long enough to learn a few things. One: the sun never goes down. Two: there is no need for sleep and three: sometimes the boils come on slowly. He consoles himself with knowing Evie never minded his smoking.

Happy Halloween!

Available wherever e-books are sold.

Smoke Free narrated by Troy McElfresh

Tuesdays Tell-All (Behind the Scenes)

Pretty Kitty Puddin Jam aka Jammin Jim, Jimmy, One eyed Jimmy Jones... (1024x683)

It was a cat very similar in appearance to pretty Kitty Puddin’ Jam [aka Jammin’ Jim, One-Eyed Jimmy Jones, Jimmy Jam and plain Jimmy] who played the character Strudel in the short A Hard Candy Christmas. The story is beautifully narrated by Julia Gayden Nelson.

Dolly Pardon’s song Hard Candy Christmas played in the background, fueling my imagination as I pecked out the words to the story.

Strudel was actually a stray feral cat who sought refuge with me through one rare snowy winter. Jimmy insists he could play the part and probably win a prestigious theater award. He would also totally love to hang out with Dolly.

Friday’s Free-for-All (Dear Tallulah)

Lay your grammar obsessions aside, let your jaw relax, loosen your ears, take a long deep breath as you let your mind drift to the deep south and listen in to the privy conversation between Maggie and her dear Tallulah.

Chapter ElevenBOOK 1 COVER with title

“Are you gonna sleep all day Mizrez Lafont? Best try to git up a bit.”
It was the sweet southern voice of Tallulah attempting to rouse the exhausted Maggie. She tapped the rail of a lump beneath the bedding and continued.
“Ima open these shades now missy, better make yo eyes ready cuz it’s a mighty fine mornin’.” Tallulah warned. Her bedraggled vernacular seemed to come from every direction at once.

Maggie pulled the Egyptian cotton over her face and murmured,
“Thank you Tallulah but for the umpteenth time would you please call me Maggie, okay?”
“Okay Miss Maggie.” The drapes flew back and light filled the room. Maggie lifted the cover from her face and squinted at the morning sun. Tallulah studied the woman’s face which was no more than a shade darker than the snowy sheets. She planted her hands on her hips and stared into the hollow eyes of her mistress.

“Mr. Ray is comin’ home today. He’s gonna be here in time for supper, you gonna tell him?”
“Yes Tallulah, I am going to tell him.”
“Is you feelin’ sick this mornin’? I can fetch you some dry toast and warm tea. That was always a help to me and to Mr. Ray’s mama too.”
“Yes please.” Maggie strained to sit up and suppressed a gag as she spoke. “That would be nice.”

When Maggie heard the door shut she scrambled to the restroom, turned the cold water on and splashed her face. The wave of nausea subsided and she raised her head to inspect the figure before her. She hardly recognized the drawn, insipid person in the mirror.
Maggie had been ill since the last night of her honeymoon when Ray carried her from the beach. She barely recalled the long flight home and blamed it on the rum but there was something wrong and she knew it.
The illness quashed her plans to redecorate the beautiful old plantation house. It had been in the Lafont family for close to two hundred years. There wasn’t much Maggie wanted to change about the historical mansion, just a few personal touches to make it her own, their own. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lafont – Ray didn’t care one way or the other.
Mrs. Turner kept her word and came to visit at least once a week, usually staying for several days though Maggie hardly noticed with most of her days spent between the bed and the bathroom of the apartment sized boudoir.
Unable to keep much of anything on her stomach Maggie wasn’t surprised when she noticed her collar bones protruding like bowed timber at the base of her bony neck. Lifting her gown she could visualize the distinct outline of every rib then letting her eyes drop she observed the only thing that wasn’t recessed was her belly. Her abdomen looked like a basketball had been shoved beneath her flesh. “Ohhh god,” she moaned as her emaciated frame convulsed and heaved. Green bile splashed against the marble sink.

“Awe honey child!” Tallulah cried, rushing to Maggie’s side. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
“I’m sorry Tallulah,” Maggie swept a trembling hand across her mouth; “I’ve made another mess.”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout that none. That’s what I’m here for.”
Tallulah helped Maggie back to bed and softly washed her face then held the cup steady while Maggie sipped the chamomile tea.
Tallulah was a thick framed black woman who reminded Maggie very much of Aunt Jamima though she never said it out loud for fear of offending the angelic lady.
“You have gots to tell Mr. Ray Miss Maggie! You shoulda done told him a month ago. You done let this go too long, way too long.” She fretted, dabbing a damp cloth at Maggie’s face.
“There is nothing to tell Ray that he doesn’t already know. You know how he feels Tallulah – how we both feel about this. Now please…”
Without warning tea colored liquid spewed across the fine linens.
“He don’t know the doctor said you need to be shed of this or it’s gonna kill ya. It caint be he knows and let you lay up here wastin’ away.” The old nurse insisted, talking while she put a fresh damp cloth to Maggie’s neck and replaced the soiled sheet, “Mr. Ray is gone all the time, he don’t see what I see and when he calls you makes like ever little thang is fine.”
“Nature will take its course.” Maggie argued.
“That it will.” Tallulah agreed, “And maybe yo life in the doin’. Y’all can make another baby ma’am.” Tallulah paused to weigh her words and put her hands on Maggie’s gaunt ashen face, “They is somethin’ bad wrong with this one precious. I seen thangs like this here before. If ‘n it lives and you die…”
“I want to sleep now.” Maggie spoke abruptly to put an end to the conversation. Tallulah did not press the matter and Maggie sunk back beneath the cotton sheets.
You better take care of yourself and make sure this baby gets born healthy, do you hear me young lady?

The words of her mother ran through Maggie’s mind. It wasn’t as if Maggie had any control over it. If she did, if she could will her misery out of existence, the life sucking parasite would have been expelled weeks ago.

Maggie had just dozed off when the rumbling in her gut stirred her. It was not the usual churning she was familiar with and there was no nausea accompanying it. She lay still waiting for it. She placed her hand on her belly felt it again, a flutter followed by a tiny thump.
It’s kicking! Maggie stretched out on the bed and exposed her naked stomach. When the flutter started again she could see a slight rise in the protrusion on her withered frame.
“Hello in there.” She said quietly. It seemed to respond to her voice so she spoke again. “I’m gonna be your mother little man.” The communication went on for about ten minutes and when Maggie felt the thumps diminish she whispered, “You go back to sleep now, it’s going to be okay, your mama loves you.” A single tear of relief tickled the corner of her nose and she rang for Tallulah to bring her a full Sunday breakfast.

Tallulah entered a half-hour later with a smile and a tray loaded with soft scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, grits and juice.
“I never seen you look so good Miss Maggie.” She laughed as the starving mother-to-be inhaled the platter of food and kept it down. “May be you gonna be alright after all. You and the young-un, yes indeed, may hap.” Tallulah practically danced out of the room with the empty tray and soiled linens in tow.

The fact that she had consumed every morsel without regurgitating bolstered her confidence as well as her energy. Maggie stood beneath the shower-head, stroking and lathering her stomach as she sang nursery rhymes to her unborn child. After showering she realized her endurance was not yet up to par and returned to bed for the best sleep she had had in months.
Two hours later Maggie awoke feeling exuberant and summoned Tallulah.

“Would you like to take a walk with me Tallulah?” she inquired.
“Not looking like you look.” The lady laughed, “`S’pose I comb them rats outta yo hair first.” Tallulah guided Maggie to the balcony. “You sit right here while I get a brush and lay out somethun nice for you to wear. You done got so po ain’t likely nuthin’l fitcha but we’ll make do.” Tallulah chose a light yellow poly blend dress from the wardrobe, laid it on the settee and shoved a brush inside her apron pocket. Before stepping back out onto the terrace she made the bed and turned down the covers.
“Here we go Miss Maggie.” turning Maggie so her back was to her, “Lawd child yo head is nappy!”
Maggie didn’t bother remarking on the comment. She knew she looked a fright in her current condition.
“How long have you known the Lafont family?” Maggie asked, as Tallulah stood behind her on the sun drenched veranda brushing out a mat of blond tangles.
“All my life.” Tallulah answered, “My Mama was maid to Mr. Ray’s Mama.”
“Really?” Maggie asked in surprise.
“Sho nuff and her Mama was employed here fo her. See my peoples was once owned by the Lafont’s.” Tallulah stated matter of factly with what sounded like pride to Maggie.
“Why on earth would you stay after the abolition – I mean why would your family stay on? Didn’t they know they could leave? Did anyone ever say?” Maggie asked, thoroughly intrigued by the information.
“Yessum, my mother told me what was told her — that they was no cause to leave. Said the Lafont’s made sure they had money, land and educated um too. Said they always gave um Sunday off and Saturday if need be. Wuddint no beatin’ and rapin’ goin’ on here like in tha other parts I heard tell of. I b’lieve her too cause they paid all three of my sons through college – called it my bonus. I couldn’t a got that nowhere else.”
“No ma’am I don’t believe you could have. So you’re fond of the family?” Maggie asked.
“Love um like they’s my own. I got one son is a doctor thanks to Mr. Ray’s daddy.” Tallulah beamed with pride and added, “The other two boys is teachers. Good teachers too.”
“I bet they are. You must be so proud of them Tallulah– all three of them.”
“I am Miss Maggie, I really am.”
“So tell me about Ray when he was a little boy.” Maggie urged.
“What’s be you wanna know?” Tallulah asked admiring and grooming the now smooth golden tresses of hair.
“Everything.”

The first memory that came to Tallulah’s mind of the young Lafont conjured cruel pictures. Images of the puppy Ray had found in an old grain silo. Tallulah could not bring herself to tell the ailing lady of how her husband had broken the legs of the tiny cur at every joint and tied its muzzle so it couldn’t cry out. She diligently searched her memories for something more pleasant. The imposition was cut short when Maggie abruptly slouched forward grabbing her waist.
“What’ a matter Miss Maggie?”
“I’m not sure.” Maggie replied, straining to speak through the enervating cramp, “Can we go in now?”
“Yessum. But you gots to tell ole Tallulah what’s wrong? Is you hurtin?”
Maggie nodded her head and tried to stand but found her legs would not support her.
“Let me help you.” She said, lifting Maggie to her feet.
“Oh lawdy lawd child, better let me carry you.” She swept Maggie up and carried her like a child back into the bedroom, laying her gently on the bed. “Ima get some towels – just you lay real still now.”
Maggie pulled her knees toward her chest, a natural maneuver to relieve the unrelenting spasm.
“Oh no.” She whimpered, “No, no, no little baby.” She cried when she noticed the bright red stain on her gown.

“Up here Mrs. Turner.” Tallulah yelled. Maggie lay motionless staring up at nothing as the nursemaid removed the bloody towels from between her legs. “Looks like that’s all of it ma’am.” Tallulah told her.

“Good lord have mercy! Look at all the blood. Tallulah were you able to stop it?” Mrs. Turner spoke frantically as she stood at the doorway and stared at the sharp contrast of crimson against the white bed sheets.
“Tha bleedin’ is slowed to nearly nuthin but she ain’t with child no mo ma’am.”

“Are you sure. Maybe we’d better call an ambulance and get her to the hospital.”

“For the girl may be, but look here.” Tallulah said, opening a towel for the grandmother to be, “Woulda been a boy by tha looks of it.”

“Dear god, that thing is hideous! Throw it away!” Mrs. Turner screamed as the salty rivers ran from her daughter’s silent face.

Get a copy from your favorite retailer here. Google has the series lined up for you here

 

Real Life Inspires – Cloud Wrangler (Fridays Free-for-all)

cloud wrangler

Q: Is any of your fiction true? Do you write about real life?

A: Well yes and no. For example a visit to Rockford Illinois for my granddaughter’s graduation inspired the following scene which takes place somewhere in the historical Lake-Peterson House.

Our dog Leia was the inspiration for the physical description of Gus and that is her on the cover.

Leia as Gus (1024x714)

There is some truth in the fiction I write. I will leave it up to the reader to decide where that truth lies.

 

Chapter Twenty Five

Mary paced the empty hallway on the third floor of the ancient house. She counted fifteen steps from one lamp to the next and wondered if the people below could hear her. The dark corridor seemed to grow shorter with each lap along with her patience. She considered unlocking her mind so she could tap into the thoughts of those around her but intuition advised against it. Occasionally she paused to listen at the door; each time she found the words indecipherable and returned to pacing until a gentle creak caused her to stop.

“You may go in now.” A flat voice announced as the heavy door gave way. Sunbeams flooded the hallway and Mary squinted at the figure in front of her; at the starched white cap and unwieldy dress which were as outdated as the house.

“Thank you.” Mary stepped forward and warmly squeezed the woman’s shoulders. Her affections were met with a rigid withdrawal but not before she could catch a glimpse of the nurse’s frontal imaginings.  As her eyes adjusted to the light she could better see the nurse’s features; her round face as stiff as her attire looked like a plate cemented between the pinned head covering and cinched collar.

“Thank you.” Mary reiterated with less affection as she slid past the nurse and closed the door behind her.

The floorboards groaned as Mary hobbled across the oversized space toward a single bed in the corner. Jim glanced up, forced a smile and promptly turned his attention back to his wife.

“How are y’all?” Mary anxiously inquired as she cast an eye over the new parents.

“We… we’re all fine.” Clara mumbled, straining to open her eyes.

“Where are the babies?” Mary asked, glancing suspiciously around the bare room.

“One of the nurses took them over to the hospital – said they had to be examined – tests and shots – routine stuff.” Jim explained as if trying to assure himself.  “They will bring them back as soon as they’re finished… as soon as they make sure they’re both in good health.” His voice trailed as he tenderly bathed Clara’s pale face.

“That makes sense.” Mary tried to sound convincing but the smell of sweat and panic made it difficult. She lifted Clara’s moist flaccid hand and asked, “How are you sweetie?”

“I can’t…”  Clara whispered, gasping between words, “can’t … hear… Frieda.”

“Don’t worry love.” Jim paused briefly to blot his own forehead and neck before sweeping the salty cloth across his wife’s.

“Mama?” Clara’s eyes fluttered.

“Something is wrong!” The vision appeared as red paint flowing over a white canvas and Mary yanked the sheet back. Doc! Mary opened the vault of her subconscious, honed her thoughts on the old doctor and yelled.  Doc! Hurry! Her brain was inundated with voices and images as the internal walls fell away; the extrasensory chaos proved to be too much and she collapsed on the floor.

__

When Mary came to she could see the doctor standing over Clara, pressing and massaging her abdomen. A bottle of clear liquid hung at the head of the bed and a pile of blood stained sheets littered the floor around them.

“She’ll be okay now. We just have to let the medicine do its work and keep the fundus firm.”  He spoke in a casual manner. “Fetch me another bag of special blend Gus and be careful not to puncture this one.”  The white shepherd sprinted to the door, his claws creating a rapid rhythmic tap against the wooden floor as he ran.

“Do you think he will speak to me?” Jim stood in the same spot, still sponging his wife’s face as he spoke but the scent of panic had lessened.

“Maybe.” The doctor replied suppressing any signs of optimism yet Mary could see the previous conversation between Doc and Gus.  She grinned as she raised herself to a standing position. The shepherd would soon have a new home.

“I guess the sight of all that blood got to you. Are you okay now?” Jim asked without taking his eyes off of Clara.

“I guess so.” Mary laughed, rubbing the small lump on her head. “Our girl definitely looks a lot better.” She said, running her fingers across Clara’s rosy complexion. “What happened? Why did she bleed so much?”

“That happens sometimes, especially with twins.” Mary accepted the doctor’s verbal response without debate as he knew she would. The truth of the matter would be kept secret between the two of them for the time being. If Jim learned of the attempted murder he would retaliate and that could put Doc and Gus in a dangerous situation. “Good boy!” the doctor took the pint sized plastic container from the dog’s mouth. “You rub the fundus just like I showed you James.” He said as he quickly inserted a fifty milliliter syringe, filled it with the thick crimson liquid and injected it directly into the intravenous line. He repeated the process nine more times until the bag was empty and the bottle overhead was dry.

“When can I have my babies?” An invigorated Clara sprung up and demanded, “I want Fritz and Frieda right now. If they are not here in five minutes I will go and get them myself.”

“Are you sure you are capable of handling them right now?” Doc asked.

“I am more than capable.” Clara took the salty half-damp cloth, snatched the I.V. from her arm and applied pressure. “I believe I am capable of taking this place down and everyone in my path to get to my children.”

“I believe you.” The old doctor smiled.

“What did you give her?” Jim shook his head and laughed, “An hour ago I was afraid I was losing her – now I’m just afraid of her.”

“You have nothing to fear.” The doctor’s face lit up with a shrewd grin, “As long as you are one of the good guys.”

“I’ll tell my nurse to bring the babies now.”

Within minutes a lovely petit woman entered the room with a bundle in each arm.

“I hear the new mommy is anxious to hold her little ones.”

“Oh yes.” Clara cried, extending her arms.

The nurse carefully placed the infants in their mother’s arms.  Frieda was nestled on the right and Fritz on the left. The twins instinctively turned their face to Clara’s breasts and began rooting and grunting. She in turn lifted her blouse and guided each mouth to an engorged nipple, welcoming the throbbing and stinging as they gulped.

“I have never seen anything so beautiful.” Jim’s voiced cracked as he spoke. “I have never felt so blessed.” He glanced at the others around him. Mary sniffled and held her hand to her mouth, the old doctor nodded and smiled and the white shepherd pawed at the tears streaming down his snout.

Cloud Wrangler is available at your favorite e-book store.

 

Cyber Monday Starts NOW!

Clan Destiny Series BIG savings at Amazon
Amazon Clan Destiny
Clan Destiny Series- take a bite out of the big Apple
Apple

Keep a cyber eye out at Barnes & Noble

B&N

ALL books! Google [don’t] Play 25¢, 33¢, 54¢ and 99¢

google screenshot1

Hoping you all had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday.

We will get back writing about writing later this week but for now The Real Janna Hill has got to pay the [real] bills.

Write on!!

Write What You would Love to Read

I was just thinking…

For NaNoWriMo writers to average 50,000 words in 30 days they will need to write 1666.666 words per day. I can already hear some character gasp, “Six, six, six. It must be the work of the devil!”

Bwahahaha. I suppose it could be if you are into that sort of thing.

Hey, write what you would love to read.

Ten words a day or ten thousand, focus first on your story. That is my 2¢ worth but what do I know? I’m just sitting over here in the cheering section, waving my pom-poms and goading the contestants.

I am not much into writing under pressure these days but I do like to mentor and I encourage others to take the NaNoWriMo challenge, especially new writers. Do it even if this is the first thing you have ever written.

Don’t worry about failing the challenge; there is not a NaNoWriMo jail. (Pst. You can be a NaNoWriMo-er without registering. 😉 It’s like exercising at home.) And remember I am over here cheering you on. I’ll even try to post a picture/prompt/ mental exercise throughout the month of November.

Sail on NaNoWriMo-ers!

What do you see?

That is not just a sailboat with a blimp above it. Describe. Describe. Describe. I.e. the color of the clouds/sky; the lake/ocean/water; the shape of the blimp; the shadows/silhouettes. What type of boat is it? Where is it going? Why? What data is the blimp collecting–who does it belong to?What is the spatial relation between the boat/the blimp/the land? What is just out of view in the treeline? How fast is the sailboat/blimp traveling? Describe… Readers want details and they are so fun to write.

Happy Halloweenie Ghouls and Boils (From Start to Finish – Tuesday’s Tell All)

Hold out your eyes for a Halloween treat.

Smoke Free is a weird little story conceived in the smoke of a brush pile. The photos below show the cover from start to finish. Hold out your eyes and I’ll give you a little insight plus the beginning and the ending of Smoke Free.

Smoke Free is probably the only book cover we have not changed at least a dozen times. The truth is I have never wanted to change it. I love this cover and the image of that little pumpkin smoking a cigar never fails to amuse me. (I have the husband to thank for that.)

I had never heard of Irwin Smutter before that day and he (like the cigar smoking pumpkin) still amuses me with his absolute weirdness; him and the bizarre world he resides in.

Shall I cue the witch’s laugh again?

No!

Okay, here you go.

In the beginning…

Irwin marched down the stark white hallway with the impudence of a man on a mission. At the end of corridor, a glass door awaited with the words FREE YOUR SELF painted in large gold letters. He raised a curled fist to knock but decided against it. Easing the door open he called out, “Yoo-hoo. Is anyone home?” when no one responded he grudgingly entered the room and scanned its contents.

The room appeared empty other than an oversized sofa. Irwin reposed himself against the frigid vinyl, crossed his feet and sighed. A lively timbered scene covered the wall opposite the door, designed in such a way it almost looked like a window. Beyond the dull sheen of the pretend window was a forest where rays of sunshine cut through a smoky haze. The remaining walls were un-textured, pale and bare. The room smelled of sandalwood and acetone, a bizarre sweetness that sickened and comforted him at the same time. Irwin shifted nervously on the stiff upholstery in search of a warm spot. There was none.

The faux leather, the lifeless walls, the fake window – it was all too unsettling. Nothing is real, he thought, stretching his arms until his hands met above his head. Fads! The world has been reduced to kooks, phonies, and fads. Reassured by his own summation, Irwin interlaced his fingers and stretched further. When the joints in his entwined hands refused to pop, he rested them at the base of his neck.

Smoking cessation. Yeah, right. It was not Irwin’s idea. Irwin enjoyed smoking. The pungent smell of a fresh-lit cigarette made bitter coffee sweet. Smoking was one of the few things he looked forward to each day.  A good smoke, a little booze, a lot of caffeine and Evie. His wife was a non-smoker and she did not mind, she had never complained, but again, Evie never complained about anything. Evie was a saint. So what am I doing here? Peer pressure. That was the only logical explanation. All of his friends had stopped smoking months ago. There is nothing more annoying than an ex-smoker. Irwin’s mind zigzagged trying to connect the dots, the trail of crumbs that had lead him here to this place where he was expected to free himself.

Evenings at the local tavern were not the same, instead of cheers and jokes the gang sat around bellyaching about a handful of smokers in the far corner. It wasn’t fun anymore. Irwin thought as he strained to recall the last time he had hung out with any of them, the last time he had stopped by the saloon on the way home. He could not remember. A few of his buddies had dropped by the house for a beer once or twice a week but then…

It occurred to Irwin he had been isolated for some time; cut off from society. Who needs them? Not me, I don’t have time for chewing the fat. He dug his heels into the armrest, tensed his abdominal muscles and forced a few halfhearted sit-ups. I’m healthy, a hell of a lot healthier than those slobs. Heck, Frank can’t see his ding-a-ling without a mirror. Irwin laughed aloud at the image of his friend groping for his penis. Poor bastard. He groaned, starring up at the flat alabaster ceiling, Frank’s a good guy. The kindest, most nonjudgmental man I have ever met… hey! Irwin bolted upright, Frank is my best friend.

When the sparkle abated from the realization, Irwin flopped back into a prone position and began a set of leg-lifts. Good ole Frank. Poor bastard. Dean and Will, now there is a couple of bonafide jerks!  Irwin scoffed to himself, holding his un-embellished feet at heart level, Health fanatics! You can smell Dean a mile away— wreaking of curry and cumin. And Will, with his dead man farts –methane poison. Both of them—with their stained yellow skin.

Irwin snickered at the memory of Frank again, the last memory of the saloon he could clearly recall. Dean and Will who were frequently referred to as Mutt and Jeff, and the sight of their jaundiced eyes–unwavering.  Long, lanky Dean slumped over his mug of warm Bud, squatty Will knocking back shots of cheap Vodka and the rank cloud of gas that always followed them. “Dang! What are you two eating?” Frank had asked. When neither answered he pressed on, “It smells like you’re on the verge of shittin’ a dead man. What are you little tree huggers eatin’? Are y’all eatin’ people?” Irwin recalled Frank’s hearty laugh at his own joke and smiled, until he remembered the response. Dean– shivering but never looking up.  Will with that cocky glare, wriggling his thin eyebrows and slamming his glass down on the table for effect, grinning through pink jagged teeth. “No one under the age of eighteen.”

“Screw it.” Irwin said aloud as he swung himself into a sitting position. He grabbed the package of Camels from his shirt pocket. Despite the shaking, he managed to free a cigarette without breaking it. He tapped the filter against his palm a few times and gently set it between his lips. His right hand habitually swept the pocket of his 501 jeans to retrieve the Zippo. Irwin studied the chrome lighter, rubbing his thumb across the engraving. “I loved your heart too Evie.” He whispered. Within the sound of two clicks, a beautiful orange flame emerged. Irwin closed his eyes and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs. The hissing crackle of dried tobacco had always eased his trembling. The feel of his Zippo, a gift from Evie, had always soothed his mind. I LOVE YOUR HEART was barely visible after years of stroking. He exhaled and imagined the writings of e.e. cummings. i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart). He fantasized about Evie, her soft white breasts against his back as she convinced him to be more accepting of lowercase letters and lower class people. Perfect breasts that now–

Just before The End…

Irwin and Evie spent their days and nights exploring endless trails. Time meant nothing to them now. Irwin was not sure how long he had been in this place, but it had been long enough to learn a few things. One, the sun never goes down. Two, there is no need for sleep and three; sometimes the boils come on slowly. He consoles himself with knowing Evie never minded his smoking.

Happy Halloween!

Available wherever e-books are sold.

Smoke Free narrated by Troy McElfresh