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CHAPTER ONE

Blevins

 

The fog did not arrive on little cat feet. It rolled in fast and heavy and smothered everything in its path.

One moment, Blevins lounged by his small fire. He leaned against the backpack stuffed with his scant belongings and enjoyed the clear night sky, if not the chill. If it gets any colder, I’m going to have to get myself arrested.

The next, the stars disappeared. The moonlight vanished. He couldn’t see—or feel—his fire a few feet away.

“Well, this bites the big one.” No one listened. He just wanted to hear the sound of his own voice.

What was that? A cough?

The shroud of dense air muffled the sound, made it hard to place. Maybe he hadn’t heard anything at all. Maybe he wasn’t alone.

“Hey! Who’s there?”

No answer.

“You’d better keep your hands offa my shit!” Bastard better not touch my bike.

Around people, Blevins made a point of watching, of knowing exactly where they were and what they did. And dogs. He always watched the dogs. He never knew what those crazy fuckers might do.

“Whoever you are, stay right where you are. I have a knife.” He didn’t, but if he couldn’t see whoever was out there, it didn’t hurt to scare them a little.

There’s nobody here. Blevins refused to be spooked.

He concentrated on his list of people who’d pissed him off that day. A nightly ritual, it always comforted him, filled him when he was hungry and alone.

That bitch at the laundromat threw him out and didn’t even give him a cup of coffee.

“Come on. One cup of coffee for a homeless guy?”

“Leave now. Or I call the police.” Bitch had the phone in her hand as soon as he walked in the door.

He wasn’t ready to go to jail. The nights were cold, but it hadn’t snowed. Besides, she let that idiot Danny with his stupid shopping cart sit inside and get warm. She probably even gave him coffee. He called her some choice names before he left. Blevins was pretty fucking proud of his vocabulary.

That creep at the desk at the Y.

“You can’t be begging money from our members.”

Like they couldn’t afford to give him a buck or two. The Y might as well be the country club in this crappy town. When he let loose with his mouth, those preschool teachers grabbed their kids and ran. The little brats were there for an education, weren’t they?

The damp worked its way through his coat, and he shivered. The stench, where did that come from? Part overflowing Port-a-Potty and part sunbaked road kill—Blevins had a strong stomach, but he gagged.

Another noise. Blevins still couldn’t locate it. Was someone laughing at him?

“God. What’s that smell? Is it you?”

Still no answer.

He went back to his list-making.

That place on Main Avenue, he couldn’t remember what it was called.

He didn’t go in, just stood outside the huge windows and watched those fancy-ass bitches fawn over their plastic-draped customers. The one from the desk came out and told him to leave. His ugly face pressed against the glass made the drowned rats in the chairs uncomfortable.

When the fog lifted and he could see where he was going, he’d break some windows. Hurling rocks and watching glass shatter always made him feel better.

The last time he hit the laundromat, he used the big neon OPEN sign for a target. Even turned off, the sign made for a little extra fun. He couldn’t remember if they replaced it along with the window, but he hoped so.

As fast as it appeared, the fog lifted.

He was right. He wasn’t alone.

Blevins hated mirrors and avoided them, but he was sure he didn’t look as bad as this guy. He looked like he was a month dead and didn’t know enough to lie down and admit it.

“Christ, you’re one ugly bastard.”

The other didn’t answer.

Blevins watched the still, expressionless stranger. I bet I can have some fun with this guy.

“I think we’re gonna be friends,” he said.

The other finally spoke.

“Blevins, you are my new pet.”

CHAPTER TWO

Carole

 

Life with a teenager with an Autism Spectrum Disorder was, on the best of days, quirky. I knew things could be much tougher. High functioning, low functioning—it was all attempts to slap generic labels on individuals, and Abby fell somewhere in the middle. Other than periodic meltdowns, we had it relatively easy and learned to deal with, if not understand, the way she worked.

There were the non-sequiturs.

In Tim Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Grandpa Joe is talking about working for Willie Wonka, when out of the blue, Grandma Georgina says, “I love grapes.”

I loved that scene and so did Abby. She and Grandma Georgina had similar conversational skills. At noisy family gatherings, Abby might bring all discussion to a halt by loudly announcing, “In third grade, I sat behind David Besom. He had red hair.”

Her father or I looked at her and quietly said, “I love grapes.” It was a signal. Repeating lines from a movie or a book or whatever to mean something else is a common ASD behavior—scripting is the jargon. Jim and I often found it expedient to speak Abby’s language. Fewer words, more meaning, and she always got it. Abby did know, by other people’s standards, she was not quite right. She was okay with that.

There was what we called Abby’s Pause Mode. On her way to the kitchen, the bathroom, her bedroom, she stopped, usually in the middle of a doorway. She stood stock still and grinned her lopsided grin until Jim or I said, “Hey! You stuck?”

“Noooo.” She laughed and continued on her way. If we were busy and didn’t notice she was on pause, she retreated to Abby-land. We found her stopped, still grinning, but no longer still. She swayed, front to back, elbows bent, hands in front of her body. Her fingers danced, her eyelids fluttered, and, if it’d been too long, her eyes rolled back in her head. Once she made it to Abby-land, it was harder to call her back.

“Abby!” Wait a beat. “ABBY!”

“Huh.”

“You stuck?”

“We haven’t had any snow days this year.” Her replies were mundane and often of the grapes variety, and we assumed they had something to do with whatever happened in Abby-land.

We went with it the best we could. “Nope. And as far as I’m concerned we don’t need any.”

“I want at least one.” She grinned and moved off to wherever she was headed before her little holiday.

And the obsession. At times, I obsess. Everyone does. Although I’ve had friends who carried it to the point where I wanted to suggest medication, they were all slackers compared to a teenager with ASD.

Something small to most of us—a postcard reminding us it was time to have our eyes checked—consumed Abby’s attention.

“Did you make our eye appointments?”

“When are you going to make our eye appointments?”

“You really should make our eye appointments.”

“We need our eyes checked.”

On and on, until I said, “Yes! I made the appointments!” Obsession over eye check-ups led to obsession over the dentist, the ear doctor, and the anything-else-she-could-think-of doctor. Regularly scheduled maintenance was very important to Abby.

When she was excited about something, anything, the obsession became the only subject of conversation for weeks, even months.

“Abby, did you empty the dishwasher?”

“Twyla’s birthday party is in three weeks.”

“Abby, dinner’s ready!”

“I’m going to wrap Twyla’s present in red.”

“Abby, do you know you’re a banana?”

“I think I’ll wear my new jeans to Twyla’s party.”

“It’s okay, Abby. I love bananas. A lot.”

“Twyla’s favorite color is red.”

There was more, some of it, like the rocking, typical ASD behaviors. Some of it, Abby specific. Being on the spectrum wasn’t her only issue. Mentally and emotionally, in some ways she was twelve. In others, completely seventeen. It kept things interesting.

Our life had a rhythm. An odd rhythm, but it worked. It was my excuse for not noticing sooner something was wrong. Most people with typical kids would have caught on at the first sign of weird. Weird was our way of life, and we took it all in stride.

• • •

My own particular OCD was paying bills—god knew, it wasn’t housework.

In the early days of our marriage, when money was tight, Jim took care of all the financial stuff. I hounded him constantly. Was the electric bill paid? When was it due? How much was left in the checking account? And in those days, we had to write a check, put it in an envelope, stamp it, and mail it, all early enough for some nameless drone to process it by hand. In the interest of staying married, and quite possibly saving my life if not my sanity, I took over the family finances.

Bill paying and account balancing became easier with online banking, but remained a high-stress time for me. When I was at the computer paying bills, lightning could strike the house and as long as the electricity stayed on, I’d never notice.

Even so, when I looked up and saw Abby in my office doorway, I knew she hadn’t been there long, maybe a minute. Not long enough for her to go from simple pause to deep Abby-land, yet there she was, already into the eye-rolling stage.

“Abby? Abby! ABBY!” Three Abby’s deep was bad.

“Huh.”

“You stuck?”

“He’s moving.”

Not one of Abby’s stock answers. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. “What?”

“He’s hungry.”

“Who’s hungry?”

“Idunno,” she said. And shrugged.

In Abby-speak, that word—and it was one word—combined with a shrug didn’t mean she didn’t know the answer. It meant she either didn’t want to or couldn’t find the words to talk about it, and it was always her final answer.

She walked away.

“Hey!” I called. “What did you want?”

She stopped and turned back. She looked puzzled.

“Did you need me for something?”

“I forget,” she said. She gave me her crazy-wonderful grin.

Like the proverbial elephant, Abby never forgot. Anything. Ever.

“Why don’t you take your dog for a walk?”

And there was The Mighty Samsonite.

That dog could hear the words walk and out from the farthest corners of the house and, I swore, teleport herself to our feet, ears perked and butt wagging—she was an Aussie, no tail—ready to go. She hadn’t learned to stop and grab her leash along the way, but I suspected it was only a matter of time.

“Sami, come,” Abby said.

Whenever I needed a short break from parenthood, I sent the two of them out for a walk. It was good for all three of us, and as long as Sami was with her, I knew Abby was safe.

• • •

“Someone is torturing the kid again,” Jim said.

I looked up from my book. “Can you tell what she’s singing?

“I can’t even tell what language it is.”

Abby loved music. Getting her an iPod seemed like a good idea at the time. We didn’t realize with the buds in her ears, she would sing along even louder and, if possible, more off-key than we were used to. She was upstairs in bed, and the noise filled the house.

Sami whimpered and laid her head on Jim’s knee.

“Ahhh, is the girl hurting da puppy’s ears?” He scratched the top of her head.

“Don’t talk baby talk to the dog. She’s well past puppy-hood,” I said.

Jim grew up in a pet-free household and was leery when I insisted we get our first dog. He promptly fell in love and turned out to be the world’s biggest marshmallow with our pets. Five years ago, when we got Sami, I sent them both to obedience training and hoped Jim would learn some discipline. It didn’t work.

“She’ll always be my little puppy,” he said.

“You are damaging her dignity,” I said.

He laughed. “You’re worse than I am.”

“Nobody is worse than you are.” Sami’s whining grew insistent. “I think it’s more than Abby’s singing. I think she needs to go out.”

Sami bounced.

Aside from their big brown eyes and lack of tails, Aussies are known for their ability to out-bounce Tigger.

“I’ll take the widdle doggy-kins outs,” Jim said.

“Now you’re just trying to annoy me.”

“Is it working?”

“For a big, bad cop you really are a pansy.” I turned my attention back to my book.

I made it through a couple of pages before the back door opened. Sami shot through the living room and flew up the stairs. I heard her land in Abby’s room. Jim followed at a slower pace.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. She got weird while we were out there.”

“That wasn’t very long.”

“Well….”

“What?”

“I don’t know. She was fine until we got to the middle of the backyard, then she glued herself to my leg and growled.”

“Was there something out there?”

“I’m not sure,” Jim said. “I thought maybe I saw something by the garage, but—I don’t know. First I thought it was a shadow, then I thought it was a dog, then I thought it was a person, and then it was gone. And Sami took off for the house.”

“The full moon was last week, so it wasn’t a werewolf.”

“Thank you for that.”

“Coyote?”

People had coyote troubles on the other side of town, but not on our side. Our wildlife problems were usually groundhogs or skunks, and not many of those thanks to our neighbor’s extermination program. Pete trapped them, gassed them, and disposed of the bodies in dumpsters all over town—Jim pretended not to know anything about that last part. On the other hand, we were close to the river, so who knew what might wander up.

“Maybe,” Jim said. “Or maybe it was just a shadow.”

“At least you had the Mighty Samsonite for protection.”

“And whewa is my widdle luggage dog?”

“Keep it up, and you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.”

• • •

A few days later, I got a call from Abby’s teacher. Daytime calls from Ms. Colley were always bad and usually meant Abby had a meltdown.

“What’s up?” I closed my eyes and hoped for only a minor meltdown. Things were crazy at work, and I didn’t have time to go get her.

“Um, I have a sort of odd question,” she said.

“I’m Abby’s mother. Define odd.”

She laughed. “Good point. Has Abby been watching movies that she’s not ready to cope with or process?”

I panicked. My first thought was sex. Attempts to discuss the subject and explain appropriate and inappropriate behavior to Abby were frustrating. I could never tell how much she understood or how much she already knew. She was seventeen, and she was obsessed with the idea of having a boyfriend even though she didn’t fully grasp the reality.

The previous year, thanks to a pregnant cousin, she figured out that one doesn’t have to be married to have a baby. She told everyone she knew—and a few people she didn’t know—she wanted one. Dealing with the backlash was loads of fun.

“What kind of movies?”

“Oh, the scary, gory, bloody, spattery kind.”

I was relieved. Bad movies I could deal with. I was fairly sure Abby would never take an ax to a cabin full of teenagers.

“Not that I know of. What happened?”

“Abby disrupted the math lesson with...lurid talk,” Ms. Colley said. “The two things she kept repeating were, ‘He rips their throats out,’ and ‘When he eats them, their insides get splattered all over.’ No matter how many times I told her to change the channel, or just to stop, she kept going.”

Change the channel was Ms. Colley’s version of I love grapes.

“She didn’t stop until Twyla cried. Then Abby cried, and they both had meltdowns.”

I was speechless. And appalled. We both knew Abby didn’t—couldn’t—just make things up. She could only lie in reply to yes or no questions, and she was bad at that. She could repeat verbatim things she heard or describe in great detail things she saw or did. Even when she went off on a tangent and imagination came into play, the what-ifs were always easily attributed to something we knew she’d heard, seen, or done.

“Are you still there?” Ms. Colley brought my attention back to our conversation.

“Yeah. I’m clueless. We don’t watch many blood-and-gore movies and never when Abby’s around. Besides, she’s pretty self-censoring. If we watch anything that gets scary or makes her uncomfortable, she goes to her room and puts in an Anne of Green Gables DVD. Maybe she watched something on Netflix when she was home alone. I’ll check into it. Do you need me to come get her?”

“No. They’re both sitting in the Quiet Corner now. I think Abby feels bad for upsetting Twyla. They seem to be comforting each other. I just wanted you to know what happened.”

We hung up, and I thought about it. I dwelled on it—Abby-level dwelling. We didn’t have cable, so television was limited to Netflix, only hooked up in the living room, and DVDs. I wasn’t getting any work done, so I opened my Netflix account and checked the list of recently viewed items. Nothing there I didn’t recognize, nothing that explained Abby’s storytelling.

When I got home, she was at the kitchen table doing a word search puzzle.

“Abby, what happened at school today?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t tell me nothing. Ms. Colley called me.”

“Twyla does not like moving pictures. They freak her out.”

I understood that. Twyla couldn’t cope with television or movies. Her parents kept the television in a locked cabinet and only watched it when she was asleep or gone.

“What does that have to do with what happened at school?” I asked.

“I should not have showed her moving pictures. It was mean.”

“What are you talking about? What moving pictures?”

“Idunno.” Shrug.

Great. “Abby, we really need to talk about this.”

“Mom. I really need to finish this.” She went back to her puzzle, and that was that.

I checked her room. Maybe somebody at school lent her a movie. I looked in her player and at her DVD collection—Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, A Little Princess, all I found were the sweet, slightly sappy movies Abby liked. I checked her known hiding places. All I found was a half-eaten bag of chocolate chips. One minor mystery solved. I knew I bought those. The room was a mess. Unless I dismantled and reassembled it, I wouldn’t find the DVD, if it existed.

After Abby was in bed and we were alone, I told my husband about Ms. Colley’s call. Jim couldn’t come up with an explanation either. We decided to take the wait-and-see route and not worry until we were sure there was something to worry about.

It had worked for us before.

CHAPTER THREE

Carole

 

Most days, I loved my job. The other days involved dealing with budgets, grant proposals, or my mother-in-law, and it was Evelyn’s day at the Senior Center. My mother-in-law didn’t come to the Center for the services or the activities or the company. She came for the chance to annoy me.

Evelyn was a strong woman. When Jim was an infant, his father abandoned them. Neither of them ever saw or heard from him again. His mother raised him on her own. It wasn’t easy, and I had a lot of respect for what she went through. However, I didn’t like her, and I didn’t feel at all guilty about it. She didn’t like me either.

It was a given that I wasn’t good enough for her golden boy. Nobody was or ever could be. She adored Abby but remained convinced all of my daughter’s problems were my fault because I waited until I was “too old to be having babies” to have one. Her darling boy was, of course, in no way responsible for that decision. If only I was a better housekeeper, a more devoted wife, a more attentive mother—the list went on—Evelyn could relax and enjoy her dotage. I tried not to take it personally, usually without success. Even if a miracle occurred and I became a cross between Mother Theresa and Martha Stewart, I would never measure up.

When Jim was around, Evelyn’s behavior toward me was passive-aggressive, snide little comments with double meanings. She was Jim’s mother, so I smiled, reminded myself to breathe, and took it. When she was at the Senior Center—my turf, no Jim—she turned on the flat-out aggressive. I still smiled, reminded myself to breathe, and took it. I liked my job.

When she hit the lobby, I was in my office with the door closed, buried in a grant proposal. I still heard her.

“Can’t anyone run the vacuum around here?”

I hit save on the proposal. If I didn’t go out and greet her, there might not be anything left of the Center to fund. The paid staff knew it was me she was after, but I’d already lost too many volunteers over her.

“Evelyn? How are you? You look nice today.” I added an extra dollop of syrup to my voice.

She stood at the bulletin board and read the list of the next month’s activities. “This is the same old stuff. Didn’t you even look at the list of suggestions I gave you?”

I’d tossed it on my desk and forgotten about it. It might have slipped off into the wastebasket.

“I did. It’s wonderful, but you know I need to run it by the Board before I can do anything.” Sometimes I hated myself.

“Oh. Well. Did I tell you I’m talking to Catherine Marlowe about being appointed to your Board of Directors?”

There was a good reason Jim said I was never allowed to own a gun.

Syrup. I tried to remember the syrup. “Really? How wonder—”

That idiot Blevins walked in the door.

Port Massasauga was officially considered a city. In reality, we were a large town, just large enough to have a few city-type problems. One of which was a small homeless population. Some of them were mentally ill, some were drunks or druggies, some just down on their luck, and some were all three. Then there was Blevins, who was a sociopath. Or a psychopath. I always got the two mixed up. Whatever he was, he was a nasty piece of work.

Shelly, at the diner, used to feed him for free every night. They had a deal. He came in at the end of the day, and she fed him while they cleaned and got ready to close. He might take the trash out as token payment, but usually he just ate. The arrangement came to an end last November. He showed up in the middle of the evening rush and demanded food. When Shelly told him to come back later, he went ballistic. He yelled. He swore. He tipped over tables and generally scared the paying customers. She called the police, and Blevins went to jail.

When spring came, he showed up at the appointed time and expected dinner. When Shelly told him the deal was off and he needed to leave or she would call the police, he was outraged.

“But it was winter! Time for me to go to jail!” Blevins hated being contained in good weather but got himself arrested as soon as the snow started to fly. After the Salvation Army, the only homeless shelter in town, banned him, it was pretty much his only option.

Shelly had a restraining order. Just walking through the door was enough to get him arrested. He left, but not quietly. Blevins’s mode of communication was, to say the least, colorful.

That night, the diner’s plate glass window was shattered. She replaced it. The next night, a rock went through the new window. On the third window, Shelly spent the big bucks on unbreakable glass. It was cheaper than continual window replacement.

I asked Jim why the cops couldn’t do something. Everybody knew Blevins broke the windows. He reminded me everybody knows isn’t enough. They had to catch him in the act. The one time they caught him, he didn’t go away for long. Blevins broke, but he didn’t enter. No matter how expensive it was, vandalism wasn’t as serious a charge as breaking and entering. He was mean. He was nasty. He preyed on those he saw as weak, but he wasn’t entirely stupid.

“I need money.” He headed straight for Mrs. Gardner, the meekest of the three women in the lobby. She shrank away and clutched her purse.

“You need to leave. You know you’re not allowed in here.” Blevins didn’t scare me. He was all about intimidation and sneakiness, not outright assault.

“Can you at least give me a cup of coffee? I need coffee.” He was at the urn before I could answer.

“Take your coffee and leave. Otherwise, I will call the police,” I said.

“I can’t believe you are giving him coffee! He has no right to be here! And he stinks!” Evelyn’s screech and fingernails on a blackboard had a lot in common.

I wasn’t giving it to him, more like letting him take it, but she acted like I invited him to tea. Her feathers weren’t just ruffled. She puffed up with rage.

Please don’t explode. I don’t want to clean up the mess. I watched Evelyn turn purple with fury and didn’t notice Blevins next to me until I smelled him. She was right. He stank.

“You’re a real bitch.” He took a mouthful of coffee and before Evelyn could reply, shot it all over her. If he were a comedian, it would have qualified as the best spit-take ever. For about three seconds, he was my hero.

“Coffee sucks anyways.” He dumped it on the floor and splattered all three of us.

“You need to leave. Now, or I’m calling the police.” My wet shoes washed away any hero-worship.

Blevins let loose with one of the rich streams of invective for which he was famous. It was almost poetry. His last line as he went out the door was “Nice fucking windows.”

• • •

By the time I got everybody and everything cleaned up and settled down—and got rid of Evelyn—I was a good hour behind my self-imposed schedule. On my drive home, two hours later than usual, I thought about dinner. I had no desire to cook, but I’d already played my one pizza card for the week.

Abby loved to cook. Except for a few simple things, she needed supervision, which took as much or more energy as doing the cooking myself. As for Jim, he was a disaster in the kitchen. I’d told him many times my next husband would be both rich and a gourmet cook. I didn’t know which was a higher priority.

Dinner needed to be something quick and easy. I tried to remember what we had to throw into a pasta salad—and saw Blevins on his bike. Whenever I passed him on the road, I fought the urge to run him down. Most of my fellow Port Massasauguans admitted to the same urge. Blevins still lived only because no one would believe running him down was an accident and prison jumpsuits weren’t flattering to any figure type. The memory of him spewing coffee all over Evelyn bought him some goodwill. When I passed, I gave him more than his bicyclist’s three feet. I almost waved at him.

Abby and Jim met me at the door. Jim’s grin was as loopy as Abby’s. They were up to something. He took my coat and briefcase, and Abby led me to the dining room. The table was set with my vintage Fiesta Ware. Something was on the plates covered by napkins—the good linen napkins.

Oh, god. More laundry.

“Sit down. Don’t touch anything until Daddy gets here.” Abby pointed me at my chair. As soon as Jim joined us, she whipped the napkin off my plate.

A peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich. Jim and Abby loved them, but I didn’t see the appeal.

“The pickles count as vegetables,” Jim said. “By the way, my mom called.” He winked, and Abby giggled.

Abby was a sponge for other people’s moods. After a weekend with Evil-lyn, she came home sullen and critical of everything. Go figure. After time with my parents, who took the grand-parents-are-more-fun-than-parents philosophy as gospel, she came home glowing, in love with everybody and everything.

She was happy and mirrored Jim’s silliness. It was one of her clear days. I needed to sit back and enjoy her and the ridiculous sandwich before she caught my crankiness, but all I could think about was jammies, a good book, and as soon as she and Jim weren’t looking, the bag of Oreos stashed in the back of the cupboard.

“Well. That was delicious.” Not as delicious as the Oreos would be, but they didn’t need to know about my hidden treasure.

“Stay put,” Abby said. When she got bossy, she really got bossy.

“Is this going to take long?” My comfy pajamas were calling my name.

“Just sit.” She and Jim went to the kitchen.

I relaxed a little while I listened to them in the other room. Something hit the floor, followed by an oops and more giggles. I tried not to think about the mess they were making. With any luck, Sami would clean up the floor.

“Brownie Sundaes!” Abby was back. Jim was right behind her with a loaded tray.

She stuck a bowl in front of me. A ginormous slab of brownie topped with ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and, oh yes, a cherry.

I loved my family. Peanut butter, dill pickles, and all.

• • •

Abby and Jim both called it an early night and left me downstairs alone. I curled up on the couch with my book and enjoyed the quiet. The night was freakishly warm for the time of year. The door to the sun porch stood open, and Sami lay on the porch enjoying the night air.

Sami growled.

At first, I thought it was the big orange cat from across the street. He loved to sit just close enough to the house to get Sami riled up. Once Sami worked up a good frenzy, the cat washed his butt. When one of us humans finally bellowed Enough at the dog, the cat got up, stretched, and sauntered away, his work done.

I waited for the barking, but it never came. Just the deep growl. I put my book down and got up to see what was going on.

Sami went crazy. She ran through the house and hurled herself at the back door—then she barked.

Insane barking. Timmy’s down the well barking. There’s a clown car in the driveway barking.

She ran back through the living room, halfway up the stairs to the landing and barked at the window. Back down, back to the porch. She barked, ran to the back door, and repeated the process.

I was almost to the porch when she barreled at me, head-butted me, and grabbed my pajama leg in her teeth. Unless I wanted ripped pants, I wasn’t going anywhere.

“What the hell is going on?” Jim stood at the bottom of the stairs.

“I have no idea. Something out front set her off. I don’t know what. She won’t let me move.”

Jim headed for the porch.

Sami let go of me. She growled, lunged, and snapped.

One time when Sami and I were getting out of the car, the mailman came around the corner of the house and startled me. No blood was shed, but Sami sent him home for a change of underwear. Until then, although I knew she took her people-protection duties seriously, I’d never seen her spring into action.

Dogs have forty-two teeth—ten more than humans have, but still only forty-two, not the hundred and forty-two they look like when they’re all bared and snapping.

Sami flashed them all. More frightening than the teeth, she bared them at Jim. Jim, the puppy-loving marshmallow, source of treats and Frisbee fun and all things good in doggy-world.

“Sami. Sit!” It didn’t work. She barked and snarled and displayed an alarming number of teeth. Neither of us wanted to try to get past her.

Then it was over. She slumped and hung her head, like someone hit her off switch. I swore I heard her sigh.

“What was that all about?”

“I have no idea,” Jim said.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Patricia Lillie grew up in a haunted house in a small town in Northeast Ohio. Since then, she has published six picture books (not scary), a few short stories (scary), and dozens of fonts. A graduate of Parsons the New School for Design and Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, she is a freelance writer and designer addicted to coffee, chocolate, and cake. She also knits and sometimes purls.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
There are so many it’s hard to know where to begin. Writers from the past—Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman. Recently, the Weird Fiction novels of Gemma Files, Michael Rowe, and Paul Tremblay. Their amazing writing makes me curl up and wonder why I even try. Then, I get up and get back to it.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I was ten when I saw the 1963 movie The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It scared the crap out of me. We never saw a monster or a ghost. Even at that age, I knew seeing the Big Bad would lessen the fear. I’ve been a fan of slow burn or quiet horror ever since.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The germ of the novel was my short story “Abby,” published in the anthology Deep Cuts, edited by Angel Leigh McCoy, E.S. Magill, and Chris Marrs. When I workshopped it, people said they wanted more. My first reaction was “Nope. Don’t want to go there.” I did, and The Ceiling Man is the result.

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