Friday, March 27, 2020

The Lost Art of Hand-Holding

Okay, these days nobody wants to hold hands (or touch anyone else) due to a certain pesky virus that's sweeping the world. (But don't worry...just like all of you, I'm sick of hearing about CV and you won't be reading about it here!).

No, what I'm talking about is hand holding between couples. These days, it's rare to see couples strolling along and holding hands. And I know why this is...it's because their hands are always busy playing with their gawd-damn smart phones!

My wife and I are dedicated hand-holders. Whenever we walk in public we're attached at the hands. However, I've noticed a disturbing shift lately in how we're perceived.

I brought it to my wife's attention...

"You know...it used to be when we held hands in public, people would smile at us, their message clear: 'Sigh.  Ain't love grand?' But now, everyone's smiling at us in a different way."

"Really?" she said.

"Yeah. Now, it's like sadness behind batted eyes, saying, 'look at the cute old folks in love.'"

"Nooooooooo!"

Yes, it's true. We now garner attention like tiny puppies instead of big, galloping, romancing horses.

The odd thing is, I don't ever remember holding my first wife's hand. Hand-holding's not everyone's cuppa joe. It got me thinking...where in the world did this practice start? It's hard to imagine cavemen holding hands. And if you swing that way, I imagine Eve grabbed Adam by the hand and pulled him toward that forbidden fruit, natch. But, where, oh where did this quaint custom start....?

Frankly, my usually competent research assistant, Ms. Google, let me down. However, she did uncover a few interesting facts:

*In the Chapel of St. Morrell in Leicestershire, England, archaeologists found a pair of skeletons who had been holding hands for 700 years! Now, that's commitment!


 *According to the "Touch Research Institute (and I wonder how hard it'd be to get a job there?)," holding hands stimulates the "vagus nerve" which decreases blood pressure and heart rate and puts people in a more relaxed state. (Vagus, of course, being Latin for "vague," kinda like this study, I think.)

*President (Junior) Bush caught some flack for holding hands with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in 2005. The photo's just adorbs! I never thought lil' Bush had it in him, to be all touchy-feely. It must've killed him inside.

So, get out there, kick start your "vagus nerve," drop the damn phone, already, and grab your partner's hand. You'll feel better for it (unless you're Pres George W. Bush).

Speaking of ancient skeletons and buried secrets, come visit Gannaway, Kansas. Sure, it's a highly toxic area due to the abundant chat piles gathered from mining, and alright, the town's had its fair share of evil and murder, and okay, okay, okay, there is the small matter of ghosts running about, but hey, the Gannaway Bureau of Tourism has a pretty thankless job these days. Ask for Ghosts of Gannaway by name!
 


Friday, March 20, 2020

The Land of Ahhhhhhs!

Say it with me... "The Land of Ahhs." One of the Kansas state slogans.
How insulting. Not even the Chamber of Commerce or the Kansas Tourist Board or some schlocky advertising agency or whoever could come up with a better state slogan than to tip  an unimaginative nod toward The Wizard of Oz.

Sigh.

Honestly, when people visit Kansas, I doubt many mouths drop in awe at the beauty of our boring, flat landscapes. Or rednecks. Or good ol'-fashioned cracker barrel behind-the-times religious hypocrisy, racism and homophobia.
No, a tourist (and why in God's sake would a tourist end up HERE?) would more likely go "Kansas...AHHHHHHHHH!" You know, kinda like the Tokyo populace in all of those (English-dubbed for us real 'Mericans, you know; don't need no subtitles and don't get me goin' on all that Parasite hooey, either, by gum!) Godzilla movies: "Ahhhhhh, Ghidra!" (Time to digress a bit more: how come Japanese natives always know the names of the giant monsters before they're ever introduced? Did the English speaking audience lose something in the crappy dubbing? I mean, names like "Hedorah" and "Gigan" don't really just come naturally. Ah well, back to my regularly scheduled gripe...).

I can just imagine the brainstorming behind the Kansas slogan meeting...

"Bring me something new to the table! Go!"

"Um...how about this, sir? 'K...K...K...Kansas is C...C...C...Cool!"

"You're an idjit, Smithers! We don't need to remind the rest of the world we still have an active Ku Klux Klan here in Kansas. You're fired! Next!"

"Kansas rhymes with Schmansas and that means excitement?"

"How in hell is that supposed to make our state great again, Wilshaw? Doesn't even make sense! You're so fired, you're fired out of a cannon! Bring me something that pops!"

"Ah...well...um...'Kansas Pops Like Corn'?"

"If you're still standing here in the next five seconds, I'm gonna rip out--"

"Kansas, the Land of Ahhs."

"Who said that?"

"Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Blowhard. I just...had...this idea about The Wizard of Oz and..."

"Dougie, the coffee boy?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sorry, sorry, I'll go pack up my stuff and--"

"I like it! The rest of you are fired!"
On and on it goes. You should hear some of the other Kansas slogans. Well, hell, if you've read this far, I may as well list 'em: "There's no place like home (another insipid short-sighted Oz thing; like that's ALL Kansas has to offer. Hmm...maybe it is.);" "ARRR Kansas: The Pirate's Kansas (I defy ANYONE to even explain that one to me!);" "Kansas: As Big As You Think (well, Kansas is known as one of the most overweight states in the country);" and my personal favorite (which says it all) "Kansas: Stupid is the New Smart."

Ta-daaaaaa! And how depressing. My point is it's pretty sad when the only thing the so-called Kansas brain trust can come up with about my state is either Oz allusions or stupid, unfunny t-shirt slogans.

I suppose I should be happy that the much ballyhooed and planned major tourist attraction, "The Land of Oz" was scuttled. Could've had something to do with sticking all of the Midwest's little people into Munchkin costumes for entertainment exploitation.

All of my books take place in Kansas. It's my cross to bear. But the one book that most typifies the dark little seeds planted deep below the beatific picket fences and farmlands and Rockwellian masks of Kansas is my short story collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. Read it and understand Kansas a little better and then stay away for the luvva Pete!

Friday, March 13, 2020

B.O.M.E. aka, "Basement of Monstruous Entities"

You've heard of C.H.U.D., right? A middling '80's horror film regarding "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers?" Now do you remember it? The late John Heard and Daniel Stern? No? Doesn't matter. (Come to think of it, I believe I worked with several C.H.U.D. at my last job.)
Anyway, welcome to "B.O.M.E.," the Midwestern cousins of the C.H.U.D. Maybe not the entire Midwest, but my basement, for sure.

I first became aware of these terrifying nocturnal monsters when my wife decided we had to clean up the basement. Until that point, I had used the basement for a repository for all of the crap I thought I might find useful later down the road. You know, I'm talking large Styrofoam packaging pieces, broken chairs and lamps, ages old and mildewed children's toys, you name it. Far from a hoarder (but probably straddling the hoarder border), I never met an empty box I didn't like.

Anyway, the clean-up process was vast, requiring a rented dumpster. We filled that big boy up with at least 10,000 moldy videotapes, my empire of dirt. That was tough as I unloaded box after box of my lifetime savings into the dumpster. Hell, who woulda thought videotapes could get moldy?

Then the process of cleaning down the old, lumpy stone walls came next. You see, this ain't no yuppie finished basement we're talking here. It's a perfect place for a haunting. Built during one of the wars, the basement is a mess of bad wiring and plumbing, crumbling stone walls, the site of many a flood, webs of gargantuan arachnids, inexplicable leaves, and...yes, monsters.

"Honey," I called out to my wife, "you gotta come see this." I stood before a crevice in the wall, fingering an orange gelatinous goo (for you see, apparently I've not learned anything from watching '50's horror and science fiction movies).

She joined my side. "What?"

"Look...you ever seen anything like it?"

Clearly frustrated, she said, "No, get back to work."

But I knew. Yes, I knew the truth. B.O.M.E.

I had forgotten about them for several years. But they existed, I knew this in the darkest recesses of my haunted mind. One insomniac night as I lay in bed, I heard proof of them.

Thump...tump...timp...timp...thump...

I sat up, terrified. And listened to make certain it wasn't part of a half-lucid dream.

TUMP! Timp...timp...timp...

I lay in bed wide awake until the sun rose, listening to the horrific, foul creatures of the underworld using the network of our heating ducts for their transportation highway. Taunting me because I slept right next to a main vent. 

THUMP!
 I imagined all sorts of nightmarish creatures: there were man rats with huge, bulging eyes and teeth a bunny would be envious of; slithery, goo-dropping, albino slugs with large glaring eyeballs that waved on antenna stalks; and little orange-colored, bad-haired, narcissistic monster men taking over the basement.

My wife awoke shortly after the calamity had stopped. I told her of the monsters in the basement. She responded with a "yes, dear" and patted my poor, lil' over-worked head. 

I searched the basement (in the daylight, mind you) for physical proof of their existence. I found more orange goo. And strange pyramids of sticks, cracked acorns...and were those...bones?

I questioned my sanity until one fateful night when my wife heard them, too.

They're down there. Oh, yes, they are. And your basement may be next!

While on the topic of my spooky basement, it did inspire one of the creepiest hauntings I've committed to paper in one of my earliest books, Neighborhood Watch. Read it with the lights one. And don't say I didn't warn you. Like all of my books, it's 100% true!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Return to Oz

A couple years ago my wife and I visited the Amazon and I recounted that trip here. Today, I'm taking you on another tour, one just as exotic...to Oz, Kansas! You're welcome!
Of course it's not really called "Oz," but that's what some of the townies call it. It's a small Kansas town where my daughter ended up through convoluted reasons I'm sure she wouldn't care for me explaining. First things first, though... Everyone get it out of your system and say it with me: "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!" There. Everyone happy with their lil' joke, one that Kansans have NEVER heard before and one that never gets old? Good. Let's go!
Oz doesn't have much. There's a Main Street and when I say "Main," everything is based off it. 


There's a courthouse, a mortuary, a Chinese restaurant cleverly named "Chinese Restaurant," a couple of dollar stores, a kazillion churches, three tattoo parlors, yet, not a single grocery store in the entire town! Lore has it that the last guy (the mysterious "Ron") who ran the market got run out of town for his crooked ways. 
We're talking John Brown country, the home of the famed anti-slavery bad boy/hero whose cabin was made into a museum.
But what is Oz truly famed for? Why it's extremely creepy and run-down mental institution! 
 Just take a look at these pics and tell me how in the world someone's mental health could be improved by their confinement within these brick walls and wired fences. It's enough to drive someone batty. 
On our drive-through and walk-about tour, I couldn't wait to get out of there.
We followed a strange, wooded and harrowing gravel road to nowhere ending in a locked gate with an ominous large black "X" painted across the faded sign. 
Even eerier, there was someone sitting off the side in a station wagon with tinted windows, the engine running. When my daughter hopped out of the car to take a photo, I told her to hurry up and get back in. We hightailed it outta there before we got chainsawed, my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror. We still couldn't figure out what that guy was doing there, weird place to take a lunch break.

Time works differently in Oz. My daughter's house needed a ton of work, including an emergency fix of the bathroom sink's plumbing. The first guy who answered the phone got the job and changed our lives forever. Because that's how long it takes him and his brother to fix things: forever. Amiable enough, and eventually getting around to doing good work, they don't believe in rushing anything. They'd show up for an hour, then say, "hey, we're gonna go grab a quick bite of lunch, and be back in a minute." Two hours or so later, they'd return for another one hour work detail. And on and on it went. My daughter and I figured they'd found a wonderful cafe in Oklahoma they liked to dine at. Regardless, time is fluid in Oz and no one seems to be in a hurry, catering to their bellies their top priority.

Folks there are nice as well, for the most part. Lots of waving and polite driving, unlike what I'm accustomed to in the big bad Kansas City metro area. Cordial to a fault, sometimes you can't get out of a long-winded conversation with a convenience store clerk or get the pick-up truck in front of you to move faster than 5 MPH. Still, it's almost refreshing after the heart-attack hustle of KC.

We wound up our tour of Oz at the town's sole bar, "Cookies." 

"Cookies needs to be experienced, Dad," said my daughter. So, we pulled into a gravel-filled parking lot in front of a large tin shed. Not knowing what to expect, my daughter grinning, we entered the domain of the doomed. One guy held up the bar. Behind the bar was a listing of specialty drinks, every one of them filthier in name than the last. The menu carried one type of food: grease.
Not even a passable pool player, my daughter talked me into a game after a few beers. Little did I know we were in the middle of a pool tournament. I proceeded to shoot the cue ball off the table onto the tournament players tables. My daughter, red from embarrassment and laughter, said, "Dad, I'll be in the car!" I hurried after her.
We ended at the infamous "Whistle Stop," a diner that advertised $2.00 tacos and beer. Bargain! My daughter was acquainted with the owner, a customer of hers. However, the seated woman was rather chilly with us and sorta looked disgusted that we'd ordered beers, the only sign of trouble we'd had in Oz.

The next day, when I got home, I experienced a sorta surreal culture shock. "Huh," I said aloud, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." My wife rolled her eyes.

Hey, have you ever visited Gannaway, Kansas? It's just a hop, skip, jump from Oz, set a little west of there. My "travelogue," Ghosts of Gannaway, details all of my research of the haunted little burg. It's a nice place to read about, but trust me...you DON'T want to visit.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Of Boggarts and Barguests by Catherine Cavendish


My latest novel – The Garden of Bewitchment – is set in and around Haworth, in the heart of some of the most glorious and wild moorland countryside to be found in the British Isles. It is an area steeped in tradition and folklore and, as with most rural locations, has its share of strange and mythical creatures, ones so frightening that an encounter with them is not recommended.

The area straddles the traditional counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire so, needless to say, many place names occur on both sides of the mountains and hills of the Pennines which divide them. One longstanding shared tradition is the legendary, not to be trifled with, super-scary boggart. It is a creature to be handled with extreme caution and never, ever to be given any kind of gift. If you do, it will never leave you. There are many boggart related stories but this should give you an idea of what you would be dealing with if one ever came to stay. It comes from an account by Edwin Sidney Hartland, published in 1890 in his work, English Fairy and Other Folk Tales:

‘In the house of an honest farmer in Yorkshire, named George Gilbertson, a Boggart had taken up his abode. He here caused a good deal of annoyance, especially by tormenting the children in various ways. Sometimes their bread and butter would be snatched away, or their pot-ringers of bread and milk be capsized by an invisible hand; for the Boggart never let himself be seen; at other times the curtains of their beds would be shaken backwards and forwards, or a heavy weight would press on and nearly suffocate them. The parents had often, on hearing their cries, to fly to their aid. There was a kind of closet, formed by a wooden partition on the kitchen stairs, and a large knot having been driven out of one of the deal-boards of which it was made, there remained a hole. Into this one day the farmer’s youngest boy stuck the shoe-horn with which he was amusing himself, when immediately it was thrown out again, and struck the boy on the head. The agent was of course the Boggart, and it soon became their sport (which they called ’laking with Boggart’) to put the shoe-born into the hole and have it shot back at them.
‘The Boggart at length proved such a torment that the farmer and his wife resolved to quit the house and let him have it all to himself. This was put into execution, and the farmer and his family were following the last loads of furniture, when a neighbour named John Marshall came up: “Well, Georgey,” said he, “and sca you’re leaving t’ould hoose at last?”

“Heigh, Johnny, my lad, I’m forced tull it; for that villain Boggart torments us soa, we can neither rest fleet nor day for’t. It seems bike to have such a malice again t’poor bairns, it ommost kills my poor dame here at thoughts on’t, and soa, ye see, we’re forced to flitt loike.” 

‘He scarce had uttered the words when a voice from a deep upright churn cried out: “Aye, aye, Georgey, we’re flitting, ye see.”

“‘Od bang thee,” cried the poor farmer, “if I’d known thou’d been there, I wadn’t ha’ stirred a peg. Nay, nay, it’s no use, Mally,” turning to his wife, “we may as weel turn back again to t’ould hoose as be tormented in another’ that’s not so convenient”.’

Not all boggarts start out bad, some began life as helpful spirits (think house elf). Not far from Haworth, near Burnley, over the border in Lancashire, at Barcroft Hall, lived a boggart who started out as a helpful housekeeper.  The farmer's wife would find all her chores done, laundry washed and ironed and the floors swept. The farmer himself was grateful for the help he got bringing in the sheep on a snowy winter evening. He heard the creature's voice, but never saw it. He was determined to rectify that and made a small hole in the ceiling of the room where the boggart performed most of his household tasks. Sure enough, his patience was rewarded by the sight of a small, wizened, barefoot old man who began to sweep the floor.

Surely his feet must be cold against the stone floor. The farmer thought so anyway and decided to make him a pair of tiny clogs and left them out for him. His son saw the boggart pick them up and heard him call out: 
 "New clogs, new wood,
T'hob Thurs will ne'er again do any good!"

From then on, the era of good works was over. The boggart began to hound and hurt his family. The animals got sick, the farmer's prize bull was somehow transported to the farmhouse roof. Household items were smashed indiscriminately. Things got so bad that this family, too, felt forced to flee. But the boggart had other ideas. "Wait there while I fetch me clogs and I'll come with thee."

And this is why you should never give a gift to a boggart - for they cannot harm you unless, and until, you do.

Oh – and never name one either, unless you want to feel the full force of their wrath.
As for the infamous and frightening Barguest, the caves of the deep ravine called Troller’s Gill near the hamlet of Skyreholme are said to live up to their name as trolls and sprites are rumoured to live there, along with the notorious, mythical black dog known as ‘the Barguest’ which provided Charlotte Brontë with the inspiration for the appearances of Gytrash, the ghostly Black Dog in Jane Eyre.

The Barguest is a truly fearsome creature – huge, with long hair and fearsome teeth, sharp as razors. There is a story that a man decided to prove or disprove the legend of the Barguest once and for all by staying out all night in Troller’s Gill. He picked a particularly windy night (actually it is quite difficult to avoid wind on those moors!), but at least it was moonlit. As he crept into the darkness of the deepest part of the ravine that makes up the Gill, he heard a shout.
“Forbear!”

Stupidly he decided to ignore it. He carried on until he arrived at a massive yew tree, under which he drew a circle on the ground, muttered some charms of protection and kissed the damp ground three times. Satisfied no light could penetrate through the thick canopy of leaves and branches, he summoned the beast to appear.

In a gale of wind and raging inferno, the beast appeared and attacked the man. His protective circle had done him no good whatsoever. 

When his body was found, mysterious claw marks that could not have been made by man were found lacerating his breast, along with evidence of a burned out fire.
Don’t play the game.

In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed. Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women. Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out. 

About the Author
Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter – an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, Damned by the Ancients - The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Haunted Are These Houses and Midnight in the Graveyard.

She lives in Southport with her longsuffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice should not continue).

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney.







Friday, February 21, 2020

DON'T go in the bathroom!

As we crawled into bed the other night, my wife snuggled in and gave a long, satisfied sigh.

"I love our bed," she said.

"I do, too."

Talk about hot, burning romance for a Valentine's Day.

But it's true. Our bed's a modern marvel. It's a ginormous king-size with an extra comfy (and quiet! You can't hear your mate roll over!) foam mattress. We have a heated blanket on top for those brutal Midwestern nights and--the new sensation that's sweeping the nation--a weighted blanket. Going to bed is like getting dozens of hugs.

"This is my favorite place," my wife said and then sighed again. Of course newlyweds may find their bed their favorite place for other reasons, but we know what true pleasure is: comfort.

"Yeah, it's my favorite place, too," I added But then a sudden thought exploded in my head. "No, wait! It's my second favorite place!"

"What could be better than this?"

"The bathroom! Duh."

My wife gave me a head smack. "You men are so dumb.  Yesterday, on NPR--"

"Oh, well, if NPR says it, it has to be true," I said in the snidest of possible ways.

Head smack! Whap!

Other than the head-smack, my wife chose to ignore my childish retort. "On NPR, it came up that on average women spend five minutes to go to the bathroom. Men spend 20 minutes. 20 minutes! And that's just the average!"

Instead of knocking me down, I felt vindicated in my bathrooming habits. "Aha! See? I'm not a freak! Potty time's my quiet time!"

"Whatever... I don't want you going through hemorrhoid surgery again. The more time you spend on the toilet, the more likely that is to reoccur."

I gave it a sitting-on-the-toilet's worth of pondering. (And if you'd love to relive my hemorrhoid tale of wit and whimsy, check it out here: Assteroid Apocolypse.)  I decided I didn't want to think about that end of things too much.

"I love going to the bathroom. I guess...it's kinda like a mini-man-cave. A place we can temporarily call our own, let it all out (so to speak), and just flush our worries away."

"Yeah, they hit on that on NPR, too."

"Well if NPR says it's true, then--" 

SMAK!

"Cut it out!" I scooted a little bit closer to the edge of the bed, fearful of more retaliation. "But you never leave me alone in my mini-man-cave. You're...you're like a heat-seeking missile."


It's true, too. My wife, among possessing many other impressive talents and feats of will and brainery, knows exactly when I've nestled onto my roost upstairs. And like Lenny and Squiggy, the door suddenly cracks open loudly. "Hello!"

Then she'll discuss things that surely could wait until my pants are pulled up.


Her parting words are always wistful, dry, and haunting: "Light a candle!"

I pondered a little bit further and wondered what a future (God forbid!) job interview might sound like:

"Tell us a little bit about yourself, Mr. West."

"Well...I like to lay in our bed. A lot. It's a very, very, very comfy bed. Oh! And I like to go to the bathroom. A whole bunch. 'Cause it's quiet and relaxing." Eager smile.

Pause. The interviewer fingers his upper lip. Finally, he says, "Mr. West, you're exactly the type of man we're looking for! Welcome aboard!"

While we're on the topic of cutting-edge juvenile humor, have you guys checked out my Zach and Zora detective series? No? Whaddaya waiting for? Perfect reading for those quiet times on the toilet! The books recount the tales of a lunk-headed, but good-hearted male stripper (sorry...a "male entertainment dancer") and his seemingly always pregnant, short-tempered, but sharp private detective sister. That's Bad Day in a Banana Hammock, Murder by Massage, Nightmare of Nannies, and I'm slaving away on a forth one now!





Friday, February 14, 2020

Water! The magical ingredient!

As a child, my grandma used to say, "make out your meal." Mystified, I'd watch as she'd grizzle down on a corn of the cob, puzzling over her cracker barrel Yoda pearls of delirious wisdom, hypnotized by her cheek swimming round and round, masticating the hell outta that bite of corn. Even then, I thought she was some kinda mad genius. Even if I didn't know what she was ever talking about.

But the other night--at two A.M. (the best time for insomniac pondering)--I had a real "Eureka Moment!"

"Aha," I whispered so as not to wake my wife, "the answer was right in front of me all along. My mother was the greatest practitioner of 'making out your meal.'"

For you see, dear reader, my mother truly DID make out our meals. Particularly with that most magical, endless ingredient, water! Yep, water!

Constantly, my brothers and I would catch her sneaking water into condiments such as ketchup, mustard, chocolate syrup, everything. Anything to give that condiment a longer shelf life. It didn't matter that the "ketchup" would trickle off of our over-cooked burger patties, hey, my mom was determined to get her money's worth and then some, taste be hanged.

Soda pop was a true luxury in our household. While my playground pals would brag about how they drank endless sodas at home (particularly from the individual bottles one could actually claim ownership to), pop was an extremely rare treat. But, man, when Mom would bring it home (albeit in the big communal jug, never individual bottles), I knew our weekend was gonna be a good one.

Until she learned the trick of adding water to the bottle.

"Mom, this pop tastes funny."

"Huh. Must be flat," she'd say before waltzing off humming like a crazed bird. (I could go on another rant about how she'd never mastered the art of truly tightening the soda-pop bottle-cap, thereby allowing the soda to go flat, but then I don't wanna dilute my tale. {See what I did there?})

Nowadays, when confronted with these traumatic childhood tales, my mom utilizes the best defense only parents have developed: selective memory. "Bah," she recently said, "I never did that."

Naturally, she says the same thing about feeding my brother and I sugar and butter sandwiches. "Mercy, I never gave you boys that." My brother and I vehemently remember things differently. Sigh...it's a losing battle, one I'm fated to take out on my daughter in my "molden-golden" years.

Speaking of "molden-golden" years, there's a short story in my collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley, that I'm proud of: Halloweenie Roast. It details an embittered elderly woman going all-out commando on three particularly nasty brats. See whose side you end up rooting for! Read in shock as the Halloween night from Hell escalates into a full-on battlefield! Gasp about my brazen plugs! Watch as Oprah plugs my book (nah...never mind that last one)!