Wednesday, July 22, 2020
It was going to be just another ordinary day. Same old, same old, for Lily Russell, a recently divorced single mother with a young daughter named Maisie. Lily had custody of Maisie, and a restraining order against her ex-husband Ewan. She wanted their lives to go on - go on as smoothly and safely as possible. That goal was easily achieved by installing an alarm system complete with cameras around her home and property. The alarm system was also equipped with a speaker, which she planned to use to scare away a flock of pigeons that frequently congregated on her garden wall. The system was linked to her phone, and she would be alerted should anyone trespass. On this day, Maisie was at school and Lily was at work. Just another ordinary day. Ordinary, until the motion detector in her garden signaled an intruder. When she pulled up the image on her phone, her blood ran cold.
The camera showed a man standing in her garden, and he was wearing a cut-out mask of her daughter Maisie's face. She didn't know what to think, and activated the microphone and told the intruder to leave - to get off her property. She also told him that the police were on their way. He didn't move an inch, but simply waved to the camera. Her co-worker was calling the police, and while Lily watched, the intruder climbed over her garden wall and disappeared. Her daughter's face. He was wearing a mask in the image of her daughter's face. She immediately called her child's school to verify that the girl was still there and safe, and told the staff member that there was a family emergency and that she would be picking Maisie up right away. She hoped the police would be at her house when she and her daughter arrived home. What is happening? A mask of her daughter's face.
The police were there when Lily and Maisie arrived home, and the officer verified the house and property were safe. Remembering what she had seen, that was small comfort for Lily, but doors were locked, alarms were set, and after Maisie was tucked in for the night, she decided to have a glass of wine to relax before going to bed. When she awoke the next morning, she felt a bit ill. She reasoned that was likely due to the wine. While moving through the house however, she encountered locked doors. What was going on? She went to get her keys where she had left them the night before, but they were nowhere to be found. Her phone showed a missed call from an unknown number, and then rang again from that same number. When she answered it, a man asked her if she felt safe, told her to check her app, and then he hung up. The image in her phone was the man still wearing the mask of her daughter's face, and he was in her kitchen. He also had Lily's keys in his hand.
She's able to get into the kitchen, and he is gone, but so is reality. When she looks out the window, what she should have seen was her back yard and garden. What she saw instead was rubble and rocks from a demonished building, and it appeared that she was approximately 200 feet above the ground. She realizes that she and her daughter are in an exact replica of her home, right down to the cabinet and drawer contents. There is plenty of food and drink for them both, and duplicates of all their clothes. The only difference is that there is no way out. How is this possible? Who would do such a thing? She has no outgoing phone service, but her captor calls her to ask if she needs anything, yet yields no clues as to his purpose or identity.Lily and Maisie are now in the middle of a nightmare. All they can do now is eat, sleep, and try to stay alive. Lily must keep her child safe and calm, while trying to find a way out.
Does their captor watch them? Does he listen to them? Where exactly are they? Does her ex-husband have anything to do with this? If not, who would place her and her child in such a dangerous situation? Follow along with Lily and Maisie as they fight to survive through each day and night, not knowing who is behind this twisted scenario or most importantly, why this is happening. R. J. Parker delivers an intense thriller that will keep you guessing right up to the end, which is just as shocking as the start. This tale of fear, confusion, and desparation makes for great bedtime reading. Sleep tight...
While You Slept will be available July 24, 2020. You can get your copy here.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Eight friends – four couples, get together one evening for some food, some wine, and some conversation. This is not the first time they have gathered for a dinner party. They have known each other for years, and are comfortable with each other’s company. This evening however, something new will be added. A game. A game they will all play. It is a game based on trust. What better game to play with friends, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, for those involved, this game is also full of secrets and betrayal. While this was not the first time they got together, it most certainly will be the last.
Their game of trust was supposed to alleviate guilt, and bring peace and forgiveness. Instead, it brought fear and division. Secrets that were never meant to be shared hang over them all like shrouds. The game didn’t bring them closer; it brought them death. One by one, they begin to die. Game over? Not a chance. R. J. Parker has effectively delivered to his readers the dinner party from Hell. You are introduced to the characters, and feel like you are getting to know them. Before long however, you realize that you didn’t know any of them at all. The surprises never stop coming, and neither do the nightmares. The Dinner Party is loaded with twists and turns, lies and deception, and will take you to the edge over and over again. Make sure you have plenty of time when you begin reading, because it’s impossible to put this thriller down.
Friday, September 20, 2019
The prompt this week was as follows: The genre was fantasy, the setting was an antique shop, and the item was a gold fish. Love begins in many ways, and for my character Sarah, it started with a peek into a glass bowl.
“Janice, I’ve enjoyed our lunch, but before you drop me off at home, could we stop in at that antique shop by the mall? I want to see if they have anything new.”
“New? Sarah, everything in there is junk. It’s all cracked, dusty, and…”
“Come on, you know what I meant. I love the knick knacks I’ve found there. Besides, it’s okay if they’re flawed. Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved. All it takes…”
Sarah stopped, and turned away to look out the car window. She had been born with deformed legs, and wore braces that enabled her to walk. A childhood disease had left her blind in one eye. She had never dated, and even her own parents had been ashamed to be seen with her in public.
“Sarah, we’ll stop there. You take your time. I don’t need anything, so I’ll wait in the car. There’s no hurry, hon.”
Sarah was surprised to see a young man behind the counter. The elderly lady who ran the stop was very unpleasant and always seemed angry, but Sarah was used to her. She was concerned, and asked about her.
“My grandmother passed away,” he said. “I’m here to close the shop. I have my own business out of state, and there’s no other family to keep this going. Everything is half off, Miss. See anything you like?”
Sarah noticed the goldfish on the counter. It looked pitiful with only one eye, twisted fins, and malformed tail.
“Is the goldfish for sale?” Poor thing, she thought, it needs someone to love it.
“That thing?” The young man handed the bowl to Sarah. “It was behind the counter. I was going to dump it in the river. You can have it. Anything else for you?”
“Not today, but thank you. This is all I need.”
“You bought an ugly fish, Sarah? How much did they cheat you out of for that?”
“He was free, Janice, and he’s not ugly. He’s flawed – like me. I can’t explain it, but he needs me, and I need him too.”
“As long as you’re happy, dear. I’ll drop you off at home now.”
Sarah put fresh water in the fish’s bowl and sprinkled some food on top that the man in the shop had given her. She placed the bowl on the kitchen counter, and cautioned her cat Tangerine.
“Tange, this is our new friend. You leave him alone because he’s not very strong. I’m going to get a book from the living room, and then you and I will go sit in the back yard.”
When she heard the crash, Sarah ran into the kitchen. She saw that her cat had gotten on the counter and knocked the fish bowl on the floor. Tangerine was standing over the fish, nibbling at its tail.
“No! Get away!” Sarah shouted and clapped her hands to get the cat away from the fish. She couldn’t bear the thought of her poor little fish coming to such a brutal end. She opened the back door and Tangerine ran out into the yard. She picked up the fish, and quickly got a bowl from the cupboard and filled it with water. She hoped it wasn’t too late to save her beloved fish.
“Please don’t die,” she said quietly. “I need you to be all right. I love you.”
All of a sudden, the fish disappeared from her hand, and a tall young man appeared in front of her. He was missing one arm, and his back was hunched. She looked up at his face, and thought he had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. She felt faint.
“Do not fear me, dear lady. I am Simon, and you have said the words to break my curse. You told me you loved me, and broke the spell. You see, the old woman in the shop was a witch. Ages ago, she wanted us to marry, but I loved another. She had an ugly soul and caused my beloved to fall ill and die. She then approached me again, and I told her I could never marry anyone with a hateful heart. She put a spell on me, and turned me into a deformed goldfish. She said now, no one would ever love me. Then she laughed, and said if some poor soul did, the spell would be broken. She had added that as a cruel joke, knowing in her black heart it would never happen.
“She kept me behind the counter to make sure I’d never find a caring home. When she died, the Heavens blessed me because her grandson brought me out of hiding, and you, my lovely one, took me and saved me.”
“I am not lovely at all. I am crippled, and half blind.”
“Your heart and soul are pure and kind, and you are filled with love. I knew these things the first time I saw you through the glass in the shop. I also knew I loved you then too. Time had stopped for me while cursed, but all is back in order now. You and I will grow old together, my precious, and a perfect future awaits.”
Friday, September 13, 2019
The prompt this week was about the start of school, and sending someone (or something?) to school. We were to write from the viewpoint of the sender, not the sendee. Those first days can be exciting or traumatic or even both, and not just for the kids!
Today is my daughter Mara’s first day of school. Of course, that’s a big deal for her, but it’s an even bigger deal for me. I’m the one who has to stay home and worry all day about her. Why, you ask? Let me explain. When I sent her to nursery school, she had a great time with all the kids. In kindergarten, she was with the same group of children, and had a wonderful year. First, second, and third grades were a dream come true, because living in a small town, that same group of children stayed together year after year, and Mara was able to maintain all her friendships. Then, in the middle of fourth grade, it all came apart.
My husband is in the Army. Now, do you see the problem? He was transferred to a new city in a new state, so a new school was on the horizon. She would have to continue fourth grade in a different school in the company of strangers, and would be miserable for the rest of her life. Those weren’t my feelings, they were Mara’s, so I tried to be as upbeat as I could as I walked her to the bus. I had offered to drive her to school on the first day, or even for the first week, but she would have no part of that. According to my daughter, her life was going to end anyway, but having Mommy drop her off in front of the other kids would cause it to end sooner. I walked her to the bus; then, went home and cried.
Monday night went badly. Mara got off the bus, went in the house, and locked herself in her room. I thought I’d attempt to communicate pre-bus this morning.
“Mara, how did school go yesterday? Did you meet anyone new?”
“Teacher told the class I was new, told them my name, and asked them to show me around. Why didn’t she just kill me then and there?”
“Honey, she was just trying to make you feel welcome, and to involve the other kids.”
“I threw up on the bus on the way home.”
Mara got on the bus, and I went home and cried.
We got the silent treatment again Tuesday night. I thought about calling her teacher, but remembered my own mother doing just that. The next day, my teacher announced to my class that my mommy called her because she was worried, and that she wanted the kids to be friends with me. It was several months before the kids stopped laughing at me, so I decided to let time work its magic. Walking to the bus this morning, I tried again.
“How was school yesterday? Did you have a lot of homework last night? You went to bed quite late.”
“Teacher gave us a lot. I had to read a whole chapter. Susie and Kevin said she does that a lot.”
Susie and Kevin? Mara got on the bus, and I went home and cried.
Wednesday night, Mara had dinner in the dining room with her father and me, and then went to her room to do her homework. Her bedroom door wasn’t slammed or even closed. It stayed open all night.
We chatted on the way to the bus this morning.
“What does your teacher have planned for today, Mara? Anything special?”
“Susie and Kevin and Molly and Tim said Thursdays are easy. We get to read form our favorite book and say what we liked about it. Here comes my bus. Bye.”
Susie and Kevin AND Molly and Tim? Mara got on the bus, and I went home and cried.
Thursday night, we all had dinner together and even played some board games. Mara went on and on about Brian and Mary and Josie and… I cried myself to sleep Thursday night. My husband kept asking me what was wrong, and I told him everything was right. He was confused, but I said I would explain later.
This morning’s walk to the bus left me concerned. Mara had quite a serious air about her. She wasn’t angry or upset; she just seemed extremely determined.
“Honey, is something wrong? Do you feel all right? Is something bothering you?”
“I’m okay, but this new girl started yesterday. She just moved here and had to start school in the middle of the year. Teacher told us all she was new and all that stuff, you know, so the new girl felt abarr…ebarr…umbarrassed. So, at recess, I took her over by the fence and told her teacher was just trying to make her feel welcome, and avol…evolve the other kids. I was just trying to figure out how I’m going to get her into some stuff today cause I told her me and my friends would show her around.”
Wow. Buckle up, folks. It’s a good thing I carry tissues in my coat pocket…
Friday, September 6, 2019
The prompt this week was to write about a needy pet. The pet is adorable, but wants a lot of attention. We couldn’t use a dog or a cat, which would have been great for me since I have the neediest puppy on the planet. Poor baby cries and follows me from room to room. I couldn’t use him though. We had to pick a random one from a list of ten mythical creatures. The number given to me was 9, and that meant my pet was a banshee. This was tough because I did some research on banshees, and I couldn’t figure out how to work one in as a pet, much less a needy one. Sorry, but I went another way with my story. I still put in the banshee, but in this case, instead of being the needy one, she sort of fills a need.
The Good Life
“Help! Cassie! Save me!”
Cassie knew she should never have let her sister come and stay with her. Virginia has always been a drama queen, a snob, and frankly, a real pain. Her daily crises were the reason Cassie left the condo they shared in the city, and motivated her to buy the cottage in the tiny village 50 miles away. After Cassie moved out, her sister decided to do some renovations, which meant she’d have to stay in a hotel for the week. Of course, that would never do, since, according to Virginia, there was no way any hotel in the entire county could be suitable for her. Cassie was surprised when her sister asked to come stay with her since she regarded cottages in the country lower than skid row accommodations. But, Cassie thought, beggars can’t be choosers, and since a hotel was out of the question, and her sister didn’t really have any friends to speak of, the cottage in the country would have to do.
Virginia had complained from the second she stepped through the front door, and now, at midnight, she was screaming at the top of her lungs. Cassie heard the moaning and groaning begin outside, and realized she had forgotten to let her sister know about the weird fairy that walked around the cottage from midnight to six, crying and whining. Funny how that slipped her mind. It’s amazing, she thought, how one can get used to almost anything. She went out to the living room where Virginia was sleeping on the couch.
“Cassie, thank goodness you’re here. There’s some strange woman wandering around outside, making these horrible noises. Plus, she must be at least eight feet tall too. What kind of place is this? I’ll never understand why you would want to live out in the country. I told you only weirdos live out in the country.”
“Virginia, this is a very nice place. It’s clean and safe, and the people in the village are great. There’s just one thing about this place that I forgot to tell you about. It’s my banshee.”
“Banshee. I have one. She came with the cottage. She’s like a fairy, only, not cutsie like Tinkerbell. She’s dressed in a black shroud, and does nothing but cry. The real estate agent told me about her, and I know it sounds crazy, but having a cursed spirit that haunted the place made me want to buy this place even more. Every night from around midnight to six, she circles the place and wails. I have no idea where she is during the day, but you can set the clock by her every night.”
“I know it’s nuts. See, the legend is that banshees come and cry and make all these sorrowful sounds to warn that someone within is going to die.”
“Oh my God! Cassie! We’ve got to…”
“Calm down. No one is going to die. I told you, she’s cursed. The story is that when the cottage was first built, the man of the house was very ill. The banshee showed up and started doing her thing, but the man completely recovered. Turns out, he never was that sick to begin with, so they couldn’t figure out why she was there.”
“She probably came to kill him, just like she’s going to kill…”
“Stop. Banshee’s don’t kill people. They have no powers to do anything. She just messed up and had shown up at the wrong place. Someone else nearby died later that night, and I guess the head banshee cursed her to remain here forever, whining and sobbing, but doing it all for nothing. Weird, huh?”
“Weird doesn’t cover it, Cassie. How can you stay here? I was never comfortable here to begin with, but now? There is no way I can remain here. I’ll just have to lower my standards and find a hotel.”
“Gee, so sorry to see you go.”
“Very funny, Cassie. But, seriously, aren’t you afraid?”
“Of what? She never does anything but make awful noises all night. I’ve reached a point where I can’t sleep until I hear her. The only time she really gets to me is if I decide to watch a late movie. Then all that noise outside keeps me from falling asleep. Wanna hear something freaky? When that happens, I open the door, ask her in, and give her some hot tea.”
“You actually come in contact with that…that…that…”
“Banshee. I don’t know her name, but she responds when I talk to her. She doesn’t speak, but when I say something, she stops crying and looks at me. Anyhow, the first time I asked her in, she walked in here and stood in the corner. I brought her some tea, and while she drank it, I told her about my day, and there was no criticism and no judgment. When I was done, she put the cup down, walked out, and started moaning again. Wild, right?”
“This is too much for anyone to take. I know it’s late, but can I get a taxi out here? I’m going back to the city and find somewhere to stay.”
“Sure. I’ll get you the one from the village. The driver’s always looking for work. A trip to the city will get him some big bucks. Tip him good though, Virginia. Mr. Hopper’s an older man and can’t work as much as he needs to anymore.”
“You certainly have changed, Cassie. You invite the death fairy in for tea, and you worry about a has-been cabbie. You belong out here with the nothings.”
“Always good to spend time with you, Virginia. I’ll call Mr. Hopper so he can warm up his cab. It’s getting late, and it gets really cold in the early morning hours. My death fairy could probably use a hot drink. Us ‘nothings’ do love our hot tea and a chat.”
Thursday, August 29, 2019
The prompt this week was to do zombies, but with a twist. Mine’s just trying to find his way…
A Real Home
“Young man, excuse me for bothering you. I normally avoid speaking to strangers, but I have something I must say to you. I take this Greyhound to Harpers Gate every summer to spend time with my grandchildren. The journey is usually unpleasant because the other passengers complain about this or that, and children run the aisle. You, however, have been upbeat during the entire trip, and since our departure from Winden Falls, you have had the most endearing smile. May I pry, and ask why?”
“Thank you, ma’am, for your kind words. I was born in Harpers Gate, but have been away for a long time. I felt like I needed to come home again. I have no family left there, but there is a lady…”
“Satisfy an old lady’s curiosity. Is she a past love?”
“She is, but we haven’t seen each other in years. Her family moved away long ago, and we both married others. I heard she was divorced, and I…well, I’m single now too. Things are a bit different though, seeing as how I’m…uh…”
“An accident? I know I’m pressing, but never be ashamed of stitches and scars. You’re a fine-looking young man, even though you are a bit on the pale side.”
“I am that. It was a kind of accident, yes. Goodness, here we are at the terminal. It was wonderful talking with you.”
“You too, dear. Wishing you all the luck with your love.”
“Welcome to Daly’s Five and Dime. What can I get for you?”
“Is Suzanne working today?”
“At the ice cream counter at the back.”
“Yes, sir. What can I… Oh my God! Richie? It can’t be! I heard you had been murd… I mean, that your wife and her boyfriend kill…”
“It’s true. They did murder me, but that’s not all. This is hard to explain, but try to understand. They found an old voodoo priest to bring me back as a zombie so I’d suffer even more. But he was forgetful and messed up. He did bring me back, but I can think, talk, and I don’t walk like I’m right out of a horror movie. I got them both though. They were there when I was brought back and I pretended to be oblivious to everything. They told the cops I’d been killed by a robber, and talked about where they’d hidden the hammer they beat me with and where they hid their bloody clothes. I got the evidence and delivered it on the police department’s doorstep – literally. I’m not a vengeful person, but they had to be held accountable.”
“Of course, Richie.”
“There’s one other way I’m different from others of my kind. I can still love, and I still love you. We went our separate ways, but you were my first love.”
“And you were mine, Richie. I married Jim, but it didn’t work out. My heart has always belonged to you. Now, we can be together at last.”
“You make me so happy. But, you’re not shocked that I’m a zombie? What about the townspeople? What if they find out?”
“I’m not, and they would accept you without question.”
“How is that possible?”
“Remember old Mr. Hornsby that used to run the drug store? He’d give all the kids free candy and pop?”
“He was wonderful. Don’t tell me he’s still working.”
“No, he’s retired. But, one night on his way home from the store, he was bitten by what we learned later was a werewolf, and how he’s one. The widow Mrs. Milner is a vampire. That happened when she went to New York City on vacation alone. Sally Greene is a broom-riding witch, and… See? They all come here, Richie, to settle down, and they are accepted for who they are, not shunned and hunted for what they’ve become. Now that you’ve come back, I’ll just ask Judy Milner to bite me so you and I can be together forever.”
“Suzanne, This is more than I could have ever hoped for. I’m so glad I came back. I really am home.”