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I learned how to update my webpage! And my book was published!

I finally learned how to update my blog. Full disclosure: my husband set this up for me, and updated it like, twice. I always meant to get around to updating it, but that required getting the password from my husband. For a while he couldn’t find it. Then he gave it to me and I lost it. Finally, I went hunting for it and here we are!

My Summer Job in Hell was published by Divertir! Yay! I found out about it (i.e. the publisher emailed me) on Stephen King’s birthday. It must be a sign, right?

https://www.divertirpublishing.com/books/msjih.html

Click the above link for a free sample!

I did have an agent for my middle-grade novel, Werewolf Land. Actually, the agent changed it to Werewolf Park, but now that we have parted ways, I’m changing it back. It’s about a kid named Dart whose parents run a werewolf sanctuary. A family emergency comes up, so Dart is in charge of locking the werewolves in. Alas, his neighbor, 11-year-old Regan, hands him a snake. She thinks it’s a riot. In Dart’s panic, he neglects to secure the barn and all six werewolves go running into the night, just as the first tour bus arrives. Then the tourists think this is a new version of Pokemon Go and they all take off to catch themselves a werewolf. Dart (with Regan’s help, because she just won’t go away) has to capture all six werewolves before the tourists kill the werewolves or the werewolves eat the tourists.

Featured post

Oliver, the evil kitten

I am writing this on my brand new MacBook Air, even though the old one was only 7 months old. Oliver, an adorable but evil-laced ball of fur, deliberately–very deliberately–took his little kitty paw and knocked my iced tea over onto my previous MacBook Air. Anyone who has ever owned a computer and a cat at the same time knows that they don’t mix. At all.

The next time I tried to open my computer, it did start. It did. Then it abruptly turned itself off, like it was saying “Goodbye, cruel owner!” and I got a black screen. I brought it Best Buy and explained the situation. No less than four members of the Geek Squad looked at it, then they said, “Nope.”

“Do you have any scholarship programs for the stupid and irresponsible?” I asked. They didn’t, but since it was close to black Friday, I got a good deal on this new computer. It’s gold. It’s very pretty.

I was terrified I lost the middle-grade novel I was working on, but it was all there, except for the last two chapters. Yay!! Now, other than being about $1,000 poorer, life is back to normal.

Other Middle Grade Novel

I actually had an agent for this book, but the book didn’t sell. Before I got an agent, I thought once you got an agent, you were all set. I can hear the laughter from every agented author who read this. Yeah, no. Anyway, I still like this story and I’m shopping it around to different publishers on my own. So far, nothing.

Werewolf Land

We get asked a lot of questions.

What gave you the idea to start a sanctuary?

Do you get funding from the state government?

What happens during a full moon?

Can we take pictures?

Do werewolves make good pets?

Some of these should be obvious. No, werewolves do not make good pets. And I don’t know how my parents decided to start a werewolf sanctuary because I wasn’t born yet. I just work here. 

I stood at the front gate, ready to welcome our “regular” werewolves for the weekend. They come a day or two before the full moon and stay with us until the full moon is over. They each get a room to themselves in the barn. Before we opened, my parents debated having the werewolves stay with us full-time, but what would they do all day when they were in human mode? They batted around the idea of having them help us farm, but none of the werewolves were into it. It’s better this way. They lead their regular lives most of the time and they just come here once a month. We have tour groups who come in to look at the werewolves, and the werewolves get a cut of the profits. 

Since it’s my parent’s sanctuary, I “get” to help out during the summers. I’m not even old enough to have a job yet, but they need the help and here I am, so…

A woman with long, straight blonde hair and carrying a weekend bag walked up to the gate. The tourists usually come by bus, but there’s not that much parking on our property, so the werewolves park in a dirt lot about a quarter of a mile away. 

“Hi, Vivian.”

“Hi, Dart.” She greeted me with a hug.  “How are you?”

I shrugged. “Hanging in there. How about you?” 

“Good.” She pushed her steel-rimmed glasses up her nose with a finger. “I’m so glad it’s finally summer. It’s been a tough year.”

I nodded. Vivian was a high-school chemistry teacher. Last fall, some kid from her school went missing and someone started a rumor saying Vivian was a werewolf and that she may or may not have eaten him. She didn’t eat anybody—she was with us at the time. The kid was found eventually, claiming he had amnesia but carrying a new cell phone. 

See, this is what my parents are always going on about. The fact that werewolves are unfairly persecuted and sometimes even hunted down. After all, they’re only dangerous one night a month. The rest of the time they’re just like anyone else. More or less. 

“Hey, did you see the latest episode of ‘My Nightmarish Life?’ Vivian asked. 

“I did. I can’t believe Kevin is falling for Tanya. Doesn’t he remember she stole his dog?”

“I know, right? Not to mention that she let the birds go. And what is up with her hair?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw our next regular, Lazarus, approach the gate. I turned to Vivian and said, “Go get settled. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

She nodded and headed to her room. 

“Hi, Lazarus.” I tried to sound cheerful because Lazarus always looked like he could use cheering up. In human mode he had limp, unwashed reddish-brown hair and he always looked down at the ground when he walked. Dad told me his wife left him and took custody of the kids. I’m not sure if she left him because he’s a werewolf, but I’m sure it didn’t help. Lazarus nodded at me and shuffled off to his room. 

All the regulars get a room in the barn with a double bed and a comforter. They get a laptop so they can entertain themselves when they’re in human mode. They can bring whatever they want from home, but if they break their own stuff while they’re in werewolf mode, we’re not responsible for that.  I can’t tell you how many laptops and comforters we’ve replaced. Even with super heavy-duty shock proof laptop cases, they’re usually the first things to get broken.  But if they didn’t have laptops, how would they stream new movies?  Dad says it keeps them happy and it’s just the cost of doing business. 

I stayed busy by picking up the patio area—I was going to have to do it later anyway—while I waited for the rest of the regulars to show up. We usually get somewhere between five and eight werewolves every full moon. They come around dinner time. We feed them dinner well before sunset because trust me—you don’t want to put your hands near someone whose about to change into a werewolf. 

Fatima and Boris walked up together. She said something to him, and he laughed. Some of the werewolves do become good friends here. After all, not that many people identify with werewolves. I opened the gate and let them both in. They nodded at me, barely interrupting their conversation as they walked to the barn. 

After dinner we lock them in their rooms. It’s for their own safety, not to mention ours, and the tourists. They start getting agitated hours before the full moon rises, so we make sure they’re all locked in their rooms, then we lock and alarm the barn. The first rule of running a werewolf sanctuary: make sure they’re locked in before the full moon. And no, they can’t hang out together, they have to be separated. They get very competitive. 

Canagan, another of our regulars, walked up to the gate. I didn’t know him very well. My stomach clenched when I saw who was marching up behind him. Wolfgang. He was a bouncer at Wrestlemania when he wasn’t with us. He glared at me as I fumbled for the latch, his lip curling. 

“Hi, Wolfgang.” I said, trying to come off as nonchalant. He grunted. As he passed me, he clipped my shoulder so hard that I almost fell. I thought I saw him smile just a little as he walked away. I rubbed my arm. Man, that hurt. 

I waited around to see if any other regulars would show up. There’s another werewolf sanctuary about a hundred miles away. I heard they do an after-transition breakfast buffet. 

It seemed like no one else was going to show up, so I locked the gate. I fed the chickens and headed up to my room. I flopped down on my bed and flipped open my laptop. I was working on a story. I had a whole series called, “The Adventures of Captain Snot Rocket.” He’s the Captain of a space armada, and they have to rescue a dignitary’s daughter, Cerys, from the evil Molton Has-been. General Patriarch is Captain Snot Rocket’s boss, and he’s always criticizing him and trying to stop him from doing things that might be frowned upon by the alliance. 

I was trying to figure out how to get Captain Snot Rocket through the space-time continuum when Dad came crashing into my room—no knocking or anything. He glanced at my laptop and I saw a quick downturn of his lips. But what he said was, “Dart! Is there any way you can lock the werewolves in tonight? I wouldn’t ask, but my brother just called. There’s been an accident and your mother and I have to go to the hospital right away. I think we’ll be back in time, but I’m not positive.”

I sat up. It took a minute to process what he just said. “Oh, my God. Is Uncle Jack going to be okay?” I liked Uncle Jack. He did terrible card tricks, but it was fun to watch because he thought he was this amazing magician, like a latter-day Houdini. 

“I think so, but I really want to go see him and make sure.” He glanced at my laptop and looked like he was going to say something but then thought the better of it. 

“Yeah, no problem,” I said. 

Some of the tension drained from his face. “Thanks, son. Just remember, lock and alarm each cabin, then lock and alarm the barn. Got it?” 

“Got it.” I had never done it before, but I had seen Dad do it hudreds of times. 

I folded the laptop up for the moment and followed him downstairs. Mom saw me and said, “Thanks for saying you’ll alarm the barn. Don’t forget to make yourself something for dinner. There’s frozen pizza, I think.” She tossed her phone into her purse. “Call us if you need anything.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. 

I watched from the kitchen window as Dad carefully backed the car down the driveway, Mom sitting next to him. I waved as they turned onto the main road and disappeared. Then I heard a ping and I slid my phone out of my pocket to check my messages. “Have fun!” Mom texted with a line of red hearts. I slid my phone back into my pocket. 

My first full moon on my own. I grimaced and then reassured myself. No problem. I had this. 

New Middle Grade Novel

Now that I have an author webpage, I thought I should post author stuff. Here’s the first chapter of my newest MG novel.

Henry Murkwood did not want to end up in foster care. 

He had a perfectly good mother, thank you very much. Just because he couldn’t produce her for a parent-teacher conference did not mean he was unsupervised, or a delinquent, or “at risk.” 

Mrs. Gibbons stopped him in the hallway right after seventh period when Henry was minding his own business.  “Have your mom call me. Or we could even do a Zoom call. Unless there’s a problem? You can talk to me, you know.” She leaned forward, as if this was the moment Henry was supposed to open up and share. 

“Yeah, she’d like to, but she works. A lot. Usually weird hours.” Henry said as he tried not to peer over Mrs. Gibbons’ expansive shoulder, looking for an escape route. 

Mrs. Gibbons eyebrows practically met in the middle of her forehead. “We have many parents who work, Henry, and yet they still manage to come in for conferences.” 

“Right. But, she’s uh, sick. She can’t possibly make it to school.” 

“I thought she worked.” Mrs. Gibbons said, and this time her eyebrows disappeared under her cap of middle-aged, sensible hair. 

“She does! I mean, she works so much she makes herself sick. She’s very dedicated.” 

“What does your mother do, exactly?” Mrs. Gibbons asked. 

“She…uh…” Henry thought as fast as he could. There was a poster behind Mrs. Gibbons’ head announcing a concert. “She’s a jazz guitarist.” 

“A jazz guitarist. Really.” Mrs. Gibbons folded her arms across her chest, a look of pure disbelief on her face. 

“Right. See, she has rehearsals, and concerts. And she travels, too. Oh, wow, look at the time. I have to get home to feed the dog.”

Henry smiled in what he hoped was some kind of reassuring fashion. He decided not to wait for Mrs. Gibbons to ask him more questions and instead, he just turned around and walked away as quickly as he could, without having it look like he was hurrying. Casual. Very casual. 

As soon as he rounded the corner he breathed a sigh of relief. Mrs. Gibbons was a pain, but she wasn’t the only one. Henry knew that there were a few teachers who had decided that since no one had ever seen or heard from Henry’s parents, he must be an orphan. And if he was an orphan, they were determined to “help.” 

As bad as he had it, his sister Dawn had it even worse. Because she was younger, and arguably cuter, the interest in rescuing Dawn from obvious neglect had reached a fever pitch. Everyday, Henry had to field phone calls and text messages from his sister’s concerned teachers, asking if they could just meet Mrs. Murkwood, just for a few minutes. 

Henry was running out of excuses. 

He signed all the permission slips, he filled out all the paperwork. He texted back when this, that, or the other teacher tried to contact his Mom on her phone. This had been going on all year. Right now, it was December. Ideally, he would be able to hold them off until June. Then next year, the process would repeat itself, but if he could just hold out until high school, he was pretty sure no one cared who your parents were by the time you got to ninth grade. 

He wasn’t sure why his teachers were so determined to meet his mother, anyway. Henry was a good student. He did his homework, he participated in classes but not enough that people saw him as a know-it-all or a show-off. He had friends. He took a shower everyday. He combed his hair. He didn’t act out. 

Really, what did his teachers need to see his mother about?

Henry thought about hiring a stand-in, someone who could just pretend to be his mother for a few minutes, perhaps on a video call. He could pay them some money and then everyone could stop stressing out about his imagined lack of supervision. 

He couldn’t very well tell his teachers why his mother really couldn’t come to school, or why she couldn’t even talk to them. Henry’s Dad had disappeared a long time ago. This wasn’t so unusual. Actually, it would weirder if he were still around. Not that he could tell his teachers that, either. 

No, the reason his mother couldn’t come into school was because she had been cursed by a rival vampire and was gradually turning to stone. Obviously, there was no way anyone was going to believe that, except that it happened to be true. 

When she was first cursed, at the beginning of the school year, things went on almost normally. She still made dinner, still made Dawn and Henry do their homework. As time went on, she moved more slowly, but she could still walk and talk. She still took care of Henry and his sister. 

Gradually, patches of cement-like crust formed on her skin. Her fingers and toes got it first, and then it started to spread. Then they grew larger and larger, like a giant grey rash. Her joints cracked when she moved. She struggled mightily, but she could barely move at all these days. She spent most of her days in bed, exhausted from the effort of trying to function. Even when she talked, her voice sounded raspy, like she had swallowed rocks. But Henry could still talk to her. It just took longer than normal. 

What Henry needed to do was break the curse so that his mother could go back to being a normal, everyday vampire and he wouldn’t be under the constant threat of going to an orphanage. Or foster care. He could resume life as a perfectly normal, 12-year old vampire. All he had to do was figure out how his mother got cursed in the first place, and then reverse it. Or defeat the wizard who cast the curse. Either way. 

If only his teachers knew what he was really up against, they would treat him with a lot more respect. 

Why you should have more than one cat

Why you should have more than one cat

Every time I see cute cat videos posted on my Facebook feed, I think “Wouldn’t it be fun to get another cat?” After all, if one cat is great, more than one is even better. Some people think that cats are independent, solitary creatures, but most cats enjoy the company of other cats.

So, should I get another cat?

Cats that are carefully and slowly introduced can become good friends. Cats get bored and lonely just like people do. A second cat helps alleviate that. They can play together, burning off extra energy and calories (cats need exercise, too). Even if they’re just sleeping in the same room, most cats will enjoy the company of another cat. Having another cat takes the pressure off the human companion, who may work long hours or is busy trying to keep their sanity while they raise children.

Having a second cat will also save another life—not only the one you just adopted, but then a space opens up at the shelter to save another cat. Most shelters simply do not have enough space to accommodate all the homeless cats and kittens that they are presented with. By adopting a second cat, you save a life and enjoy twice as much love. It’s a win-win.

Bored and lonely cats are also more likely to develop behavioral issues, such as marking and scratching furniture. Cats that have another cat to play with are less likely to get into trouble. They have someone to play with, socialize with and conspire with.

Cats have different personalities, just like humans. Not every cat will become best friends with every cat they are introduced to, but for the most part, they can learn to at least tolerate each other. Just like people, just being around another cat is sometimes all they need.

Of course, there are a few things to consider when adopting another cat.

Ok, what do I need to consider?

Kittens!

Probably the easiest way to have multiple cats is to adopt two kittens who are from the same litter.  They’ve known each other their whole lives, and they like each other already. Two kittens are tremendously entertaining. They stalk each other, play together, and are delightfully silly together.

What if I already have an adult cat?

When choosing your new feline companion, keep these things in mind:

  • Gender–Sometimes two of the same sex have more difficulty getting along than one of each sex, but not necessarily. I have two male cats and they are very good friends.
  • Activity level—very active cats will enjoy playing and wrestling with another cat with a similar energy level.
  • Age—an elderly cat might not appreciate a kitten invading her space, but might welcome a more mature cat.
  • Personality—some cats will enjoy a companion, and others will only begrudgingly tolerate it. And some cats just don’t like other cats.
  • Size—cats who are of similar size are less likely to bully each other.

Introductions

Just like people, cats will appreciate a proper introduction to a new family member.

Start small: When you bring your new kitty home, start off by keeping him or her confined to small area of your house—a den or a bedroom. Ideally not where the resident cat hangs out—you don’t want them to feel usurped. The resident cat should not feel inconvenienced in any way. Make sure the new cat has food, water, a litterbox and toys. The resident cat will catch on pretty quickly that something is up. They can smell the other cat, and probably hear them as well. This will hopefully get them to entertain the idea of a second cat in their household.

Make positive associations

Try to feed the cats at the same time, but on opposite sides of a door. Or talk to both cats through the door, so the resident cat starts to associate the new cat with good things.

Mingle scents: One trick you can try is to pet the new cat with a glove, or a towel, a sock—anything cloth will do. Spend a few minutes, then leave the item where the resident cat can sniff it. Cats can gather far more information based on scent than we can—their adorable little noses are fourteen times more sensitive than ours are.

Let them see each other

After a week or so, (they need time to adjust) let the cats see each other in a safe way. If you can have them see each other through a screen door that would be perfect. Not a lot of people have screen doors inside their homes, so you’re going to have to improvise. Not as ideal, have someone hold one cat and have someone else hold the other cat—a safe distance away.

Let them meet

It’s been at least a week and if everything has gone well so far, it’s time for the cats to meet each other. Just let the new cat out of its space and keep an eye out. Don’t make a big, huge deal of it. Let them go at their own pace. They have a lot to work out in these next few weeks. Don’t be surprised if the resident cat hisses and chases the newcomer. Chasing is fine, but don’t let them fight. However, Don’t get in the middle of them if they do fight. Make a really loud racket by banging two pans together, or throw water at them. If you have a squirt gun handy, that can work, too.

It may take a few months for them to start to get along, and even a few more months to become friendly. The fastest way to cause conflict between cats is to have them feel like they have to fight for resources. So be sure there are enough resources and that both cats have space to call their own. Make sure each cat has its own food dish, water dish, and litterbox. You need one litterbox for each cat. More than one scratching post is important—otherwise one of them may choose to scratch the furniture.  Also make sure there are plenty of toys to go around.

Eventually, most cats can learn to get along

Are there any reasons why I wouldn’t want another cat?

Maybe a few.

  • Expense—Two cats are more expensive than one cat. You need twice as much food, twice as much litter and twice as many trips to the vet.
  • Jealousy–The resident cat is really bonded to you. They might not want to share with another cat. They might want you all to themselves.
  • Space. If your apartment or living situation is really small, another cat might stress out the resident cat, not to mention you. If they have plenty of space, cats can at least avoid each other if they don’t get along. If they feel like they’re on top of each other, they will be stressed and might act out. N bmlp;

How can I tell if my resident cat would like a kitty companion?

Has your cat ever hung out with other cats? What was the situation at the shelter? Many shelters have “cat rooms” where several cats spend time together. If your resident kitty was in the community cat room before you brought him/her home, that’s a good indication that he enjoys the company of other cats. You can bring a friend’s cat over and see what happens, as sort of a trial run. Lastly, some shelters will consider letting you “foster” a cat if you’re considering adopting a second cat. This way you can see how the resident kitty does before you make a commitment. Keep in mind, though—some cats are slow to warm up to other cats, but they do warm up.

What if the worst-case scenario happens and they just don’t get along?

Most pet shelters are familiar with the difficulties of introducing a new family member. Make sure you tell them when you adopt that you have a cat already. They will be able to help you choose a cat that is amenable to living with another cat. Describe your current fur baby to them. Remember, they have a lot of experience with adoptions, and can probably help you choose a cat that is likely to work out. They want you to succeed. If they worst case scenario happens and all your cats do is fight, they will be willing to take the second cat back.

There is a lot to consider when you decide to adopt a second cat. However, if your cats accept each other and become friends (or at least friendly) it can add years to their lives by giving them a social outlet and more exercise. I have three cats, and they all get along, albeit some better than others. But I think they all appreciate each other. Cats are wonderful companions, and having more than one is twice the fun.

Chapter One: My Summer Job In Hell

My Summer Job in Hell

I could hear the screaming all the way from my bedroom. High pitched, shrill, and furious. The kind of scream that makes you think of blood-sucking werewolves and demons that steal your soul.

I was lying on my bed, my feet propped on my pillow, facing my Kate Upton swimsuit poster. I wish she were my girlfriend but that doesn’t seem likely considering I was voted most likely to be overlooked by my high school class.

Okay, not really. For one thing, I’m a junior. I won’t be voted most likely to be overlooked until next year.

Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Fynn Hardin. I’m a sixteen-year old male with no girlfriend and no car. I have hair the color of dirt, a long face with a pointed chin and a smattering of freckles. If this brings to mind an image of an adolescent giraffe, you’re not far off.

I was throwing a ball against the wall and catching it with one hand. It’s something I do to entertain myself. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It helps to block out the screaming.

“Noooooo! No! No! No!”

This ended in a screech so loud I thought my head was stuck inside a Boeing 747. I sat up, grabbed my pillow from under my feet and flopped back down, pressing it over my head. Which made me wonder–could I still catch the ball if I couldn’t see, like, by using spidey-sense or the force or something?

Thwack.

Apparently not. I’d have to work on that.

“Fynn! Dinner!”

I debated not going, but I was hungry. So I blew Kate a kiss and shuffled downstairs.

“Hi, Fynn.” My Mom was taking a chicken pot pie out of the oven and my Dad was wrestling a screaming Madelaine, aka Maddie, into her high chair. Sweet. I love chicken pot pie. I slid into a chair and helped myself to a large portion. The smell of hot, delicious, mouth-watering chicken met my nose. Ahhh….

“Fynn!” Dad barked.

I jerked my head up. “What?”

“Could you help me here, please!” Maddie had her feet on the edge of her high chair, her fists of fury flailing around my Dad’s head, her little body bending in an arc. I made a face at her, sticking out my tongue and crossing my eyes and then poking her in the stomach. She laughed and relaxed enough for my Dad to pop her into her high chair. When she realized what just happened, she got ready to scream again, but I shook some Cheerios onto her tray and she brightened.

“Thanks, Fynn,” Dad said, wiping the sweat off his forehead. Dad was ten years older than my mom and he always said that he totally lucked out when she married him. I could kind of see it. Dad’s balding and has a belly, plus he works long hours and has no sense of humor. He has a business with a couple of other guys–they make printer belts, like for industrial printers. Only about a year ago their best customer left and business had slowed to a trickle since then.

“You know, you’re very good with her.” Mom said. I could tell by the way they exchanged glances that something was up. Should I just pretend not to notice? Probably. I shoveled another forkful of chicken into my mouth.

My Dad made a sort of hmmf-ing noise.

“Okay, what?” I put my fork down.

Mom cleared her throat. “We were thinking, that for the summer you could hang out and take care of Maddie. You know, while I go to work to earn money for your college education.”

I stared at her, then at my father, searching for confirmation that this was a joke. My Dad smiled at me, like this was some fantastic opportunity that I would be a fool not to jump at. My brother Kevin looked at me and laughed. His mouth was full.

“Are you kidding?” I managed.

“No, actually we are not,” Mom said.

“I’m getting a job for the summer. You know, so I can save money and buy a car and…stuff.”

Did I mention Maddie was born fifteen months ago? Last summer, Mom was on maternity leave and could look after her own baby. Now that she was back at work, she wanted me to do it?

“You know, it won’t be so bad, looking after your sister. She’s a pretty easy baby.” My Dad said, as if I had not just witnessed the war to get her into her high chair.

“Seriously? How am I supposed to save for a car if I’m running around after Maddie all day? Are you going to pay me for my services?”

“Because everyone…” They both started talking at the same time so Dad stopped and nodded at Mom and said, “You go.”

“Because we’re a family and everyone has to do their part. We can save money not sending Maddie to day care for the summer. Money which we can then use to send you to college.” She brushed a lock of her cinnamon colored hair out of her face. She works nights as an ICU nurse at a local hospital. She’s always tired. “You can borrow my car when I’m not using it. They’ll be plenty of time for you to go out with your friends.”

“It’s not a bad deal at all.” My Dad said, as if he were trying to convince himself.

I sighed. My Mom drove a ten-year old minivan. Boy, I bet girls would be falling all over themselves to be seen with a guy who drove his Mom’s minivan.

There was another reason I really needed a job but I didn’t want to tell my parents.

Three months ago, they had given me a line of credit on one of their cards, for “emergencies”, gas and school expenses. Well, define “emergency.” Is it an emergency if all of my friends are playing the same video game and I am in imminent danger of becoming more of a social misfit than I was already? I thought so. Anyway, somehow I managed to spend $400 on Steam. Yeah, I know. But it’s not really my fault. Where did my parents get this misguided idea that I was responsible? Obviously, the credit card people wanted their money. I had been yanking the bill out of the mailbox before my parents got to it so far, but obviously that wasn’t going to work for much longer. I wanted to get rid of the debt before my parents noticed, or at least pay it down enough so that the total could be construed as gas and school expenses.

And I have to admit, I felt a twinge of resentment about this whole babysitting idea. Was it my fault they had a baby last year? No, it was not. So why was my summer going to be sacrificed? Because it was convenient for them?

“I didn’t ask for you to have a baby.” I said, and almost instantly regretted it.

“Well, if that’s how you feel, I’ll just quit my job to take care of the three of you. Of course, next year when you want to go to college, I won’t be able to help you.” She gestured at me with her fork, and the expression on her face said she would have cheerfully stabbed me with it.

“You know, Fynn, sometimes you have to step up. You have to make sacrifices for your family.” Dad said.

Peace and quiet? I thought. It seemed to me that was what I was sacrificing, not to mention steady income and self-esteem. Instead I grunted. Kevin looked at me and suppressed a giggle. Which brought up an excellent point.

“What is Kevin sacrificing, exactly?” Kevin kicked me under the table.

“Don’t you worry. Kevin will have responsibilities as well.” Kevin stuck his tongue out at me. Maddie waved her spoon around and flicked chicken pot pie all over the table. My Mom sighed and got up to get a cloth. Maddie smiled, pleased with herself and banged her sippy cup on the tray of her high chair.

“There’s a summer job fair this weekend at school. I was planning on going.” I glanced at Mom and then at Dad. This was the delicate moment, where my summer and my self-respect hung in the balance. Were they going to let go of this idea that I would be Maddie’s babysitter, or could I go be a normal high school student with a summer job, meeting summer girls and saving for summer cars?

“Fynn…” Mom appeared to be wrestling with saying what she really wanted to say, versus trying to be supportive. “Look, it’s only for this last summer. Believe me, looking back on this when you’re older, you’ll appreciate the time you spent helping your family.”

I sincerely doubted that. And it didn’t matter anyway, because I was definitely going to the job fair and I was definitely going to get a summer job, no matter what my parents said.

Chapter One: Zaylie

The little bird gave one last gasp and then lay still in Zaylie’s hands. She cupped the still-warm bundle of feathers and stroked the wing with her thumb. She closed her eyes and blew gently. She envisioned the bird’s tiny heart pumping blood through its veins. She blew again, as if trying to light a fire. Sometimes, if there were a spark, it could catch and then the necromancer could tease and cajole and encourage that spark to burst into life.

At least in theory. Zaylie opened her eyes and saw the lifeless black eye staring back at her. She tried again. And again. Still nothing. Resigned, she went into the garage of her Aunt Elaine’s house and found a garden shovel. She quietly dug a grave under the last of the summer roses and softly placed the bird in the hole. Then she covered it as quickly as possible, so she didn’t have to see the bird’s accusatory eye looking up at her. She stood up and brushed the dirt off her leggings and put the shovel back. She sat heavily on the porch steps.

Sterling, her Aunt’s familiar came over to her and bumped her knees with his head. Zaylie scratched his chin and he purred so enthusiastically his whole body vibrated.

“You are a devil, Mister. Yes, you. Killing little birds and such. Don’t we feed you?” Sterling rubbed his face against her legs. “Does Elaine know you’re out?” Sterling seemed unconcerned and just to prove it he started licking his tail. Just then, Zaylie’s cell phone pinged. She dug it out of the pocket of her sweatshirt and saw that she had a text from Elaine. “Zaylie, could you come to the office, ASAP? Thanks.” She chewed her lip and texted back, “Sure.”

What was this about? Zaylie glanced at the scratched and dented crap wagon she drove and decided to walk instead. Witch Enterprises was only a mile or two away from her Aunt’s house. Besides, it was nice out. Global warming had pushed summer past its usual expiration date and the temperature had been in the seventies every day this week.

She walked quickly, even though it made little balls of sweat collect at the back of her neck. ASAP. What was so important she had to come right over? Anxiety poked at her like a stick, goading her to walk faster. She tried not to glance at the cemetery where her mother’s grave sat, quiet and stubborn.

Zaylie had always been able to hear the dead speak to her, even when she was a little girl. As she grew older, the line between the living and the dead grew ever more transparent until it was all but invisible. Then her mother, Mystica, had died. It was as if her mother’s ghostly hand reached into Zaylie’s soul, grabbed her powers and yanked them back into the grave with her. Since then, the door between the living and the dead had slammed shut.

She ran up the off-kilter steps of the shabby Victorian house her Aunt’s business was in. It was once a large, comfortable home for an upper class family. Now it had been subdivided into apartments, two on the first floor, two on the second. Witch Enterprises was housed on the third floor. People knew that Witch Enterprises was there, but most townspeople dismissed Witch Enterprises as a lark, much as they would fortune tellers or psychics. Elaine couldn’t possibly be making much money at such a silly, flighty business. They cast curious glances at her, shrugged their shoulders and frowned as they went about their very important business. Those townspeople who had actually used the services provided by Witch Enterprises never spoke of it. They never told their family or their friends, as they were convinced they would be laughed at or worse. The judicious application of memory charms ensured that although they could remember going to Witch Enterprises, they couldn’t for the life of them remember how it turned out. Anyway, it was best to just keep such things a secret, sort of like the local house of prostitution, also located on Maple Street.

Zaylie pushed the door open and walked across the reception area. In many ways the offices of Witch Enterprises looked like any other business. Elaine had tried hard to make the outer office welcoming to the nervous citizens who came in. The walls sloped down on the sides, making the room A shaped, lending it a cozy feel (unless of course, you were claustrophobic). A colorful braided rug lay across the knotty pine floor. A wooden desk was tastefully appointed with a desk lamp casting a warm golden light. Delicate flamingo-colored flowers sat in a crystal vase. Elaine had painted the walls a cheerful yellow. Bookshelves lined the walls, stuffed with leather bound books of all types. Some of the books were a little unusual: Charms: Lucky or Not?; A Complete History of Magic in the Twentieth Century; You, Too, Can Disappear! And probably not every office contained potions in rich hues of amber, dark blue and violet, stored in a spice rack behind the desk.

Zaylie crossed the small room and opened the french doors to Elaine’s office. Elaine sat at her elaborately carved walnut desk. She wore her very sensible, very non-threatening striped blouse and her square-framed glasses. The effect was of an elementary school teacher, perhaps just a bit past her prime and starting to run out of patience. Sitting in front of Elaine’s desk was a police officer. Zaylie glanced from the officer to Elaine, questioning.

“Hi, Zaylie. This is Officer Green. He has a question for you.” Elaine nodded at the officer.

The police officer, a mortal police officer Zaylie couldn’t help but notice, looked to be just a little older than she was herself, and she was eighteen. He had smooth cheeks and a weak chin. He was blond, though not the white blond that she was. His was more the blond of summer hay and asthma attacks.

“Zaylie Vandercraft?” He asked.

“Yes?”

“Hi. I’m Officer Green.”

Of course you are, Zaylie thought. What she said was, “Nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry. Your uh…Aunt?” He tilted his head towards Elaine, who nodded. “Your Aunt tells me you already heard about Jamie Nottwood? He died last week?”

“Yes, I heard. It’s so sad. He was a friend of mine, back in high school.” Sort of. Zaylie had gone to Ridgeway High School, Jamie had gone to Clarksville High. They had been set up her friend Margo, who had dated a friend of Jamie’s. Zaylie and Jamie had gone on three or four increasingly awkward dates before they both realized that not only were they not cut out to be boyfriend and girlfriend, they didn’t even make particularly good friends. She had nothing against him. He was just really boring. Last week the paper had reported that he had fallen from the ridge that ran up above the stream in the local park. It was definitely tragic, to die so young. Still…Zaylie wondered why Officer Green had come. The story was on the website and in the paper. Surely he didn’t make sure every citizen with a peripheral relationship to Jamie was informed of his death.

He cleared his throat. “Sources…a source has indicated that he may have been murdered.”

“Oh my God.” Murdered! How awful. “But why…why would anyone kill Jamie?” He was nice enough. Bland. Certainly not offensive, but then she really didn’t know him that well.

“That’s what I’m trying to determine. I was hoping maybe you could tell me. Do you know Wyler Park?”

Zaylie nodded. “Yeah. I walk there sometimes. It clears my head.”

There was a pause as both Elaine and the police officer looked at her. Zaylie shifted from one foot to the other. Officer Green referred to his notebook again. “Someone said they saw you there on the night Jamie died. Did you see anyone or anything suspicious on the night of October 2nd?”

“Uhmmm…I don’t even remember if I was there on that particular night, just that I do like to walk there sometimes.”

“Try to think back. Last Tuesday. You must remember something. Officer Green said earnestly.

Zaylie sighed deeply. She tried to think back to the Tuesday of the previous week. Did she walk in the woods that day? She couldn’t remember. Oh, no wait! She did remember. Tuesday last week she was sick. She remembered eating lunch with her best friend Sara, and suddenly being overcome with nausea.

“I was sick last Tuesday. Whoever says they saw me, it couldn’t have been me. I was in bed from just after lunch until the next morning. Remember, Elaine?” Zaylie asked. Elaine thought a minute, then nodded.

“Oh, right. See, Officer Green, no one could have seen her in the park. I remember checking on her myself.”

“You checked on her, what time?”

Elaine scratched her cheek. “Well, just after work. I probably got home around 5:00 p.m.”

“And, after that? Did you check on her at all?” Officer Green asked.

“No, I don’t think so. She said she was sick and that she just wanted to sleep, so I left her alone after that.”

Officer Green wrote something down on his little pad. “So, you didn’t see her until morning?”

“No. But I’m sure she was in her room.”

“Any reason you can think of, why someone would want to kill Jamie?” Officer Green asked.

“No. I mean, I haven’t seen him in a while, but I don’t think he had any enemies or anything.” Zaylie said.

Officer Green nodded slowly. “Okay. If we have any other questions, we may be in touch. Thank you for your help.” Officer Green said, as he placed his hat back on his head. “Ladies.” He walked back out. They waited until his footsteps faded away before they looked at each other.

“Why would someone say they saw me?” Zaylie said. “I wasn’t there last Tuesday. Unless they saw me some other night and got their days confused. I think I might’ve walked in the park on Sunday afternoon.”

“It could be a case of mistaken identity. Someone thinks it was you.” Elaine sighed. “Don’t worry. Obviously you didn’t kill anyone and they’ll figure it all out.” She frowned. “I wonder how they decided it was a murder? Last week the news seemed sure it was an accident. But anyway, Officer Green was just following up on one of many tips. They’ll find out who really did it.” She looked anxiously at Zaylie. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Yeah. Fine.” Zaylie said.

She had a bad feeling about this.

Here’s why the prom was such a big deal for my kid

Originally published on ScaryMommy.com

In April, Ben had an appointment with the orthodontist.

“The prom is in May.”

I focused on merging onto the Mass Pike. I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

“Mrs. Cowles said she knows who I would want to go with.”

Ben is seventeen. He is on the Autism Spectrum. Mrs. Cowles is his one-to-one.

“Who?” I was intrigued. Ben never mentioned wanting to go to the prom to me.

“Gwen and Emily.”

Gwen and Emily were two girls who were somewhere in his class. I say “somewhere” because Ben has special needs classes and I was pretty sure Gwen and Emily were neurotypical students. At least, when the senior class went to NYC, they did not tote along a one-to-one, as Ben did.

“Do they have boyfriends?”

“I don’t think so. I never see them talking to any boys.”

This stunned me. Ben not only pondered going to the prom, but he was paying enough attention to notice that these girls seemed to be single. Who is this kid?

As it turned out, Gwen did have a boyfriend and Emily had a date. But they said they would be happy to dance with Ben. And Mrs. Cowles said she would go to the prom, to take pictures and keep an eye on him.

Great. It’s all settled.

Naturally, a week before the prom, Mrs. Cowles took a different job. She thought she might still go, but maybe not. This put us into a tailspin.

The prom was at a local venue that usually had proms, wedding receptions, and the like. Dinner was from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Then there was a lull, then dancing.

In the week before the prom, I texted Mrs. Cowles about half a million times.

“Should he go when it starts?”

“Are Gwen and Emily going to save him a seat?”

“Won’t this be awkward, as they have dates?”

“How loud is the prom?”

“Gwen and Emily won’t forget, will they?”

Then someone contacted us with a new problem. One of Ben’s teachers had a question: Who’s going to supervise him?

“Why does anyone need to supervise him? Does every kid who goes to the prom bring supervision? What do they think he’s going to do, explode?”

“He has a disability,” My husband yelled. “He needs help.”

“With what?” I fired back. “He’s just going to go dance with Gwen and Emily, have a soda and leave. He’ll probably last fifteen minutes.”

There was a lot of tense conversation back and forth. Why does everyone always underestimate Ben? Because he’s autistic. Because he flaps and he walks with a lilt. Because he never seems like he’s paying any attention.

Some genius suggested, “Maybe Gail can chaperone the prom!”

“No, I am not going to chaperone the prom. Ben may be autistic, but he knows you don’t bring your mom to the prom.” I actually thought it would be fun to supervise a prom, but I knew Ben would not appreciate it. He wanted to be a regular high school kid.

Mrs. Cowles said other students would keep an eye on him. “They’re all really good with him.”

In the end, we agreed I would wait in the car in the parking lot. It wasn’t like he was going to last long, anyway. He could go, have a soda, dance with Gwen and Emily and leave whenever he wanted. I brought a book. Half an hour, max.

“Have fun, sweetheart,” I said, as he excitedly leapt from the car. We had picked out dress pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie. Typically Ben wears pants with “no buttons, no zippers, no snaps” and never, ever a button down shirt. Or a tie. I opened my kindle.

I could hear the music from the car. It was so loud. I read a chapter. I read another chapter. I had to go to the bathroom. Well, it wouldn’t be much longer. Goodness, had it already been…forty-five minutes?

I read more. I played Hungry Shark. I read another chapter.

Finally, after almost two hours, Ben emerged from the prom.

“I danced with Gwen and Emily!” He sGwenilyhouted in triumph. “I didn’t even recognize them at first!” A little softer he said, “They looked like princesses.” He seemed awed.

“They looked pretty?” I asked.

“Yeah. So, you can understand why I have a ‘crush’ (here he made the signs for quotes with his fingers) on them.” He sighed. “I like good times.”

He chatted with me about the prom all the way home. Being Ben, he said the same things quite a few times, but his happiness at being included, and with dancing with girls that he liked, shone through everything he said. He was just like everyone else, going to the prom and having a good time. He was proud of himself.

I was proud, too. I also harbored a tiny bit of “I told you so!” but I was really happy for Ben.

Never underestimate a kid with autism. They’ll surprise you.

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