I Knew

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The house had a basketball hoop in the driveway.

I remember that most of all. That day, the day we had a house, is too fragmented to remember perfectly. But I remember a few things. The real estate agent’s dusty car. The cracked pavement. The weeds. The peeling paint on the front door. And the basketball hoop.

I’ll get you a ball, you promised us, and I knew you would. You’d promised us a house too, and we had that now, although grandpa said we’d never keep it. You’ll be back begging at our doorstep in a week, he told you before we left, and I didn’t tell him goodbye.

I don’t think you did either.

The real estate agent had you sign some papers before he left. I remember how your hands were shaking. I was too small to read what they said, but whatever it was, it made you cry when he left. We all cried together, on the floor in that empty house. I think it was a happy kind of crying.

You made me a nest that night. I had a whole room to myself in that big, empty house, and I felt like a princess in my palace. You tucked my blanket and my sheet together on the floor and told me stories about the mice who made nests just like mine. I’ll get you a bed soon, you told me, and I knew you would. You tucked me in tight, and I used my teddy as a pillow.

We had a picnics in the kitchen. I remember that too. You spread out a sheet on the floor, and we had breakfast and lunch and dinner there. We used to pretend that we were eating breakfast at the beach, and lunch in the mountains. Cade used to complain that there were ants in his food, so we’d think the picnic was real. You always laughed when he said it.

The first thing you bought us was a basketball. I remember when you brought it home. We didn’t have a table, or beds in our rooms, or pictures for the walls, or even a couch to sit on, but we had a basketball. I remember you sitting on the front steps after dinner, watching Cade teach me how to play. I couldn’t reach the hoop, even when he lowered it all the way down, and he’d lift me up so I could score. You clapped for us. I don’t remember who won, but we played until the fireflies came out and the moon was peeping in to watch through that old oak in the front yard.

Don’t worry, you told me when we inside that night. You’ll grow into it.

I knew I would.

We didn’t go back to grandpa’s that week. Or the next one. You said we never would, and I knew you were right. We had a house now, and a picnic blanket, and a basketball.

We didn’t need anything else.

When school started, you made Cade and I go. You’d walk us to the bus stop every morning, and when we left, you’d walk to work. You said you didn’t need a car, that walking made you happy. I knew it did.

You were never home when school was over, but we played basketball every night until you came. You were right. I did grow into that hoop, and so did Cade. He grew into it so much that he could raise it right to the top and still score, and I had to learn to jump high enough to block him. I still don’t remember who won those games, just that we played them.

We all used to do our homework together. Cade and I used to laugh about Mama having homework too, and you’d just laugh with us and keep right on working. I think you got better grades than we did. I know you stayed up later than we did. I remember you shooing us to bed, but the light never switched off before I went to sleep in my nest.

You graduated the same day Cade did. You bought us a table, and Cade came home wearing a uniform that made him look ten feet tall. You cried, but it was a happy kind of cry, and you sat on the steps to watch us play basketball before he left.

I played basketball by myself after that, and rode the school bus alone. You brought work home with you, and we sat at our table while I did my homework and you graded papers. I didn’t tell you I was proud of you, but I thought it every night. I was proud of you for your new job, and for the homework you did after I fell asleep, and for the house you didn’t lose. I was proud you didn’t have to go begging to grandpa anymore, and that you had a car, even if you still liked walking.

You never told me how scared you were, but I remember that too. You never told me you were brave, but I knew you were.

Where Peace Abounds

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He throws me out after the fifth beer. My mother will follow me in an hour or so. She offends him less, I think, because she doesn’t answer back when he swears at her. She’s everything I’m not and wish I could have been. Soft and gentle, kinder than one of God’s angels, with mouse-brown hair and blue eyes that have the patience of the heavens in them.

I was born with his slate-gray eyes and his wild temper. One more thing I intend to hold against him until the skies burn.

Dusk is falling in the orchard when I leave the house and follow the lane toward the wheat fields. The wind is up, and I can see clouds rolling in from the west, dark as soot and building into a summer storm. Lightning cracks in the distance, followed by a rumble of thunder, and I leave the lane and wade into the waist-high wheat.

This early in the year, it’s still green, and the wind ripples through it. I went to the seaside once, when I was so young that the wheat towered over my head and my father still called me his son. I still remember how the waves looked, tossed about by the wind and capped with white foam. The wheat fields remind me of it on days like this. They sway and ruffle, catching the last of the light and throwing silver glints at the sky.

I’m never at peace on this farm, except when I’m here.

The clouds are overhead and the wind smells of rain before I reach the far edge of the field. The gypsy tents are pitched beneath the trees there, as far from the house as they can get and still be on our land. Their men help with the harvest in the fall, and if they pass through before then, my father always has work for them. But he doesn’t want them nearby. If he can see their tents or wagons, or if he can smell the smoke from their fires, he’ll kick them out. This is the only place that he never comes.

So, of course, this is always where I end up when he kicks me out.

Their fires are burning, and the smell of the stew bubble over the flames reminds me that he threw me out before I could eat. Two of their children, bare-footed and black-eyed, see me coming, and they run to greet me, babbling incoherently in that lilting, graceful tongue that never seems to need space for a breath. I swing one of them onto my shoulders, and he grabs handfuls of my hair and tugs, still shouting. Mama Kazia comes out of the tent, scolding, and kisses my cheeks, pushing me down on one of the cushions scattered around the fire. She’s got poppies braided into her black hair, and bare feet like her children. They’ve been here six weeks already, a long time for people who love the horizon, and we’ve managed to get past the language barrier. They chatter at me, and I talk to them, and if neither of us quite understands the words, we catch the meaning.

She’s clucking over my bruised face now, and one of her children brings me a puppy from underneath the wagon while I tell her about our latest fight, about my mother’s silence, the baseball games in town, the money I have stashed under my mattress from the odd jobs I’ve been working, and the train headed west next spring. She listens sympathetically, clicking her tongue every once in a while and dishing out stew to the children that come crowding around. She pushes a bowl into my hands too, and I eat with one of her toddlers in my lap.

The rain is pattering against the canvas awning when their papa returns. The older children hear him whistling, and they run to meet him and come back splattered in mud and laughing. He’s carrying them, two on his back and one on each hand, swinging like pendulums. The first few times I came here, I slipped off when I heard him coming. He caught me the third time, and we spent three hours talking about fishing and what bait is the best for trout.

He likes practicing his broken English, I think. I explain baseball to him, and he tells me where to find the best holes for brook trout in the spring or how to hunt down a blackbird’s nest.

A fool waste of time. That’s what my father would call it. But I’m never at peace on this farm, except when I’m here.

Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons: Coming Fall 2019

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Hedgehogs, O most faithful of readers, make excellent writing companions.

I would not admit this to anyone but you, for some of my friends would be terribly jealous if they thought that I was choosing favorites. Belinda Munkindot, who I am sure that you remember from my previous letters, would fly into the most ridiculous passion if she so much as suspected that I preferred a hedgehog’s company to her own. But there it is, dearest reader, and I do hope that you will keep my secret.

Since I have taken on the task of chronicles these small adventures for you, I have had many little visitors to my cottage. Lumpkin has come several times. He roams about beneath my desk, tapping on the walls, and occasionally will clamber up to sit on my shoulder, reading the page that I have so carefully inscribed for you and uttering a few complaints if the story happens to be about anyone but himself. Once, I caught him digging through my flour barrel, as if he really did think he would find treasure buried inside. I am afraid that I dusted him off rather roughly and ordered him to go home at once.

He is still sulking.

Belinda, too, has come to see me many times. She flits in and out of my window as she pleases, sometimes resting on my writing hand to get a closer look at what I am saying about her, sometimes tinkling in my ear, and sometimes admiring herself in the mirror I keep on my desk to distract her. Her tinkling is very bothersome, and as she seldom does anything but scold about the stories I’ve chosen to tell—or not tell—about her, I find it very trying to have her with me for long.

Wignilian would be a fine companion, I think, if he wasn’t so easily distracted. He scuttles about, sniffing this and nibbling that, and drives me quite frantic. I have been forced to banish him several times.

In the end, I have found that the only little creature I can stand to have rooting about on my writing desk is a hedgehog.

Actually, if I am to be most entirely honest, it is one hedgehog in particular that has snuffled his way into my good graces.

His name, dear reader, is Lester Winklestep.

Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons, the sequel to Of Mice and Fairies, is set for release in the fall of 2019. Mark your calendars!

How I Will Probably Die

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I find the bookshop on 47th and Willow, sandwiched between a pawn shop with a broken lamp in the window and a jewelry store selling fake pearls. The windows are shuttered, and a black cat is lying on the doorstep. She arches against my hand when I reach down and pet her, and when I step over her and go inside, I half expect her to follow me.

She doesn’t, even when I hold the door for her. I guess she likes it outside better.

A silver bell rings when I come inside, but there’s no one at the counter. A dusty book is lying open beside the register, and there’s a kitten asleep in a basket under one of the tables, but no people. No customers, no employees.

But there are books. The walls are lined with shelves that reach right up to the cracked ceiling, and the books that don’t fit on the shelves are stacked neatly in the corners, or arranged in rows on the creaky reading desks in the center of the room. I browse through, finding a few titles I know and some I’ve been looking for. I can’t find any price tags, but since some of the books are pretty battered, I figure they’re mostly second-hand, and the owner has a standard price that she—or he—keeps by the cash register.

The kitten is following me. I clump down a few steps into another room, this a little more messy, a little more scattered than the last. Big, sprawling plants are growing in pots in the corners, and the books are double-lining the shelves. Some of them have real leather covers, their pages so old that they crack when I open them. The writing is nearly illegible, faded by dust and years, and I’m tempted to buy a few to keep in my library, maybe on display. I’ve always liked old books.

Another cat is sleeping on the books, a big orange tabby. He yawns as I pass by, and I scratch him on the ears and under the chin. The kitten is rubbing against my ankles, purring as loud as if he hasn’t had any kind of attention for years. I pick him up, letting him rub his face against my cheek and chin as I venture into the next room.

It’s bigger than the last. I didn’t think the shop was so big. From the street, it looks like a one-room corner store, with maybe an upstairs room for extra stock. But I can’t find any stairs, and the rooms keep getting bigger as I go along. Several ferns and a few leafy vines are growing on the tables, and one of the shelves has Venus Flytraps growing next to the books. They’re bigger than I thought they would be, although I’ve never really grown any. Maybe they feed on book moths, or something.

The books are all leather now. I pull one off the shelves, and it’s so heavy that I have to set it down on a table before I can open it.

I can’t read the writing inside. It’s hand-lettered and smeared, and definitely not written in English. I put it back on the shelf, feeling a little funny, and go back through the door to the room with the orange tabby.

At least, that’s what I meant to do. The door was the same, or looked the same, but the orange tabby is gone, and this room has a bare wall with hand-drawn maps pinned to it and an old writing desk, with quill pens and an ink bottle with dust on it in the corner. The kitten is gone, and the books are chained to the shelves, like they were in the Middle Ages. I pull one off and open it up, and the pages are lined by painted illustrations that make my stomach turn.

I go back through the door I just left, thinking I’ll find the kitten and the right door, and go home without buying anything, at least today.

But the Venus Flytraps aren’t there, and the room isn’t the one I left. Three or four more doors, and I begin to realize that I’m very, very lost.

Either that, or this bookshop is playing games with me. A few hours, and the way it toys with me starts to feel very alive. As if it’s confusing me on purpose. The kitten appears a few more times, but I always lose it again.

It’s weeks before I give up. The bookshop seems intent on keeping me alive, whatever else it has in mind, like one of its cats. I find plates of stale cookies and lemonade set out for me, or sometimes a sandwich and a cup of milk. At night we have tea in the room with the squashy armchairs and the fireplace, and the kitten finds me.

It’s not so bad, once the panic wears off. Who knows? Maybe the last owner got eaten by the Venus Flytraps or made it outside, and the shop got lonely without them. I don’t think it likes to be alone, and someone has to take care of the books and give the cats the attention they need.

So why not me?

FREE BOOKS: Last Day!

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Hello, my friends!

Friendly reminder that today is the LAST DAY that my books, Of Mice and Fairies and The Birdwoman, will be FREE on Amazon.

Of Mice and Fairies is a charming collection of fairy tales written by a forest witch, in the form of a series of letters to her niece. They spin tales of the adventures of her little forest friends: a fairy, a gnome, several mice, ducks, and, of course, Quiggly S. Minster, a troublesome troll with a greedy, grumbly sort of temperament and a nasty temper.

The Birdwoman is a collection of my short stories, spanning several genres and each only a page or two long. The stories feature, among other things, a runaway boy on a slave hunter’s ship, the child of a returning soldier, a mentally ill woman adjusting to her asylum, and the last refuge fleeing a dying city.

I hope you enjoy both of these books! The giveaway ENDS at midnight TONIGHT, so get your copies now before it’s over!

Happy reading!

Crows

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They wait for me in the graveyard. I see them when I pass by on my way home from school, hopping about on the gravestones, pecking at the gravel paths. Their black feathers are ruffled by the wind coming down from the mountains, and we can hear their cawing from the schoolyard.

My friends are sure they belong to a witch. Crows, they tell me, are always signs that a witch has moved into the village. We spend most of recess passing tales around about why she sends them to the graveyard every morning. Tommy Mitchell thinks she sends them to collect souls from the gravestones. Janet Fletch says that’s stupid, and that they’re only after the worms in the garden beds.

I play along, sometimes. When they ask me to. I say that the gravekeeper likes the way they look, and he hired them from the witch to stay in his graveyard and scare away visitors, because they trample on his flowers.

None of the others liked that story much, but I thought it sounded plausible.

More likely than their being sent to collect souls, anyway.

I am always the last one to leave the school. I’ve gotten pretty good at making up excuses lately. There’s always one last question I need to talk over with the teacher, or a library book I forgot to return, or a bathroom pass that I forgot to use and need desperately. Whatever the reason, my friends are already halfway home before I trot down the steps, and I never make much of an effort to catch up with them. They’re all headed home to switch on their televisions, but I’ve got other things on my mind. Things that can’t be hurried.

I walk past the graveyard slowest of all. The crows are playing when I pass, so I have to whistle a time or two before they hear me. They aren’t after souls, really. Or there to frighten anyone else away. They just like how cool and shady it is, how the gravestones line up like a stone maze. They have to play somewhere while I’m in school. They wouldn’t have any fun otherwise.

The Baron is the first to hear me. He likes me the best, I think, and he’s always listening. He comes winging out of the trees to land on my shoulder, and the rest follow him. I stroke his breast and his shiny head, and he nibbles at my ear to tell me that he missed me. We walk home together like that, with him on my shoulder and the rest flying after me, and I take the back road behind the church so no one sees us.

When we get home, he and the others fly off to my workshop, and I leave my backpack and my school books in my room and follow them outside. The old shed in the back garden isn’t much of a ‘workshop’, but it’s the best I can do for now, and no one will bother us. The Baron sits on my shoulder as I fiddle with the old radio we found in the dump last week. It should work—eventually. The Baron cocks his pretty head, watching me with one eye and then the other. He’s very interested, more so than the others. They perch on the back of my chair or on the shelves and flutter about, squabbling over beetles and which of them is allowed to sit higher than the others. Sometimes they get too loud, and I have to scold them and send them outside to play.

Not the Baron, of course. He’s always quiet, and if I’m missing a tool, I’ll send him to find it. He’ll hop around the room with his bright eyes and his funny gait, and if he can’t find it here he’ll go looking in my father’s shed. I’ve never sent him to the graveyard after souls, but I think if I asked, he’d try his best. He’s obliging like that.

As a reminder, my book, The Birdwoman, is still available for FREE on Amazon. Enjoy!

Also, I would like to thank @BringeGloria for inspiring this story with her tweets. Check her out on Twitter, she is the best of the best and I adore her!

Woodpiles, FREE Books, and Snowy Mornings

My house has a wood burning stove.

It’s beautiful. I love it. In the evenings before I go to bed, I light a fire and turn off all the lights and watch the firelight flicker on my wood floor and let all the heaviness of the day slid off.

Then, if it’s cold enough, I wake up every two hours in the middle of the night to keep the fire burning.

Because if I don’t, I will freeze.

Correction. I will not freeze. My cat would never allow that, simply because if I freeze, she’s going to freeze too, and that would be a tragedy of epic proportions. If I miss the alarm, she screams at me until I wake up, because I have the responsibility of keeping her warm.

I love her so much.

Thus, my wood burning stove, and, consequently, my woodpile is very important. I spent a good part of my afternoon yesterday chopping wood, and because I am kind and love you all, I did not take pictures.

You do not want to see me chop wood. It’s embarrassing. I do it because it must be done, but I do not claim to be good at it.

So now, my woodpile is stacked high, and life is good. We are not going to dwell on the fact that I had to run outside in my shorts and snow boots this morning because it was snowing rather hard and the wind had knocked the tarp off the wood. Wet, freezing wood is no good to anyone.

But, as I said, we are not going to dwell on that.

So, because it is snowing—and I love snow—and because today is Saturday and the weekend, and because I have a full woodpile, I would like to remind all of you lovely people that my books—Of Mice and Fairies and The Birdwoman—are both FREE on Amazon this week. I cannot invite you all to my house for a cup of hot chocolate in front of my wood burning stove, so this will have to be the next best thing. Brew a cup of tea (or coffee), snuggle up with a good blanket, and enjoy one of these books on me.

Happy Saturday, my friends! Stay warm!

 

Free BOOKS!

 

Of Mice and Fairies by A.R. Geiger in leaves

Of Mice and Fairies by A.R. Geiger

Today, we are celebrating!

Several things, in fact.

Firstly, it is November. And we have snow. And I love snow, especially when I know my woodpile is going to last me through the month.

That is definitely a good feeling.

Secondly, this blog recently passed its one year anniversary, AND reached 100 followers! YAY! So, this weekend we are doing giveaways!

Double YAY!

Of Mice and Fairies and The Birdwoman

Of Mice and Fairies and The Birdwoman

Both of my books (The Birdwoman, and Of Mice and Fairies) are FREE on Amazon for the next five days, so hop over and get yourself a copy on me. I love you all! Thank for taking this journey with me and making this year such a very, very special one!

In Which Wignilian is Heroic

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I must be completely honest with you, dearest of readers, and admit that the old mill down by the pond is not really a part of Bushkyn Hollow. It is, in fact, in a different part of the forest altogether, and one must walk quite ten minutes from one to the other.

But the mill is every bit as dear to my heart as Bushkyn Hollow, and I can’t imagine one without the other. I often bring my notebook and pen to a quiet little nook that I know of, right beneath the mill wheel. The rocks are covered with thick moss, the air is cool and misty, and I can see right across the still pond into the woods on the other side. Occasionally, a deer or a fox will come by for a drink and a pleasant chat, or the frogs that live in the reeds and rushes will swim over to pass the time of day. Frogs are remarkably proud creatures and think very much of themselves, but they can occasionally be pleasant, especially if the day is warm and they have found a good many fat flies to catch.

But perhaps my favorite of all the animals in and around the Old Mill is Wignilian Finch. He is a great friend of mine, and sometimes will consent to ride about in the pocket of my dress while I am out walking. I do enjoy having him with me, but I sometimes suspect that he allows such an indignity simply because he would prefer not to walk himself. As I have said before, he is an exceptionally lazy mouse…

My book, Of Mice and Fairies, is available now Here! I hope you enjoy the rest of this story, and others like it, as much as I have.

For The Writer Who Is In Pain

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Writing is not a particularly hazardous occupation.

I mean, sure, we fight battles on a daily basis, have a suspicious knowledge of poisons and methods for burying bodies, have an exact plan for splinting a shattered shin bone, and occasionally ride dragons, but these tend to be adventures of an . . . imaginative sort.

We don’t generally risk life and limb for our books, although our egos regularly take a good beating.

In the end, writing generally looks like sitting on a couch or at a desk typing away at a computer. With a chocolate bar. And a pixie who steals said chocolate bar. And a gnome who chews on your computer cords and tears pages out of your notebook to make paper hats with.

You get the picture.

Not a particularly hazardous occupation, right? No broken bones imminent, no disasters, no two hundred pound linebacker tackling you from behind. Safe, right?

Except for the fact that you are working a desk job. You are sitting for long periods of time, and if you’re like me, you’re not sitting up perfectly straight with a board strapped to your back at all times.

That would tend to interrupt the creative flow.

From the first day I started writing, I have treated it like a job. I showed up, I sat my butt in that chair, and I got my work done whether I particularly felt like it or not. I spent a lot of time writing, and before too long, it started to take its toll. Because when you’re sitting for long, long stretches of time, it starts to mess with you.

Particularly, in my case, with your back.

I spent several weeks almost constantly in pain. My lower back did not like my latest life decisions, and it was letting me know. About then, I started realizing that one, it’s very hard to be creative while you’re in pain, and two, I was going to have to come up with some way to counter this, or I was going to be in big trouble long term. Because it’s one thing to be stiff and sore for a few months, it’s another to realize later that you’ve done permanent damage.

Not something you ever want to do.

So I changed my lifestyle. I’ve done all these things at one time or another, and I highly recommend trying them out to see if they work for you. It’s way, way better to take care of a problem before it gets serious than to wait and need professional care later. (Note: I am not a doctor. If you live with chronic pain or are recovering from an injury, talk to a professional. Take care of yourself, my dear!)

1) Take Stretch Breaks

When I first started dealing with back pain, this is what helped me the most. Taking the time to learn a few simple yoga poses and stretches was the only relief I could find. It didn’t work right away, but over time, as I began to put more effort into the practice and made it a habit, it made all the difference. Poses like the Cat and Cow, Downward Dog, Thread the Needle, and Sphinx were so, so helpful. Youtube is full of awesome instructors (I recommend Yoga with Adriene), or you can find a few simple stretches on Pinterest as well. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

2) Run

I know. Everyone hates running, right? I definitely hated running when I was younger. I would cry when I was made to participate in fall series runs. I hated the competition, I hated that the people were watching me fail, and I hated that I couldn’t breathe.

Then, I started running alone.

I stuck my headphones in, put my head down, and stopped worrying about anyone else watching me. I ran from all my problems (haha), I listened to upbeat, fast-paced music, and I choreographed fight scenes in my head to get my adrenaline up.

Don’t laugh. It totally worked.

And it kept me active. Which, believe me, helped so much with my pain level.

3) Get a Fitbit

When I’m writing, it’s very easy to get so stuck in a scene that I forget to move. At all. For like three hours. Or longer. Getting a Fitbit helped me track my steps, make sure I was getting enough exercise, and stay active. So, so important while you are working a desk job. It buzzes to remind you if you haven’t gotten enough steps in an hour, and you know what? Jumping up and down or taking a quick two-minute walk to get your steps up can totally revitalize and refresh your writing. It helps. I promise.

4) Take Your Vitamins

This one doesn’t necessarily have to do with pain. But I tell it to everyone. My family, my friends, random people on the street who look at me like I’m crazy. Vitamin B and vitamin D help with depression and lethargy, something I have battled with for many years. Believe me. It makes a difference. Take your vitamins.

5) Take Care of Yourself

As an adult with a busy schedule, it is so easy to forget the most basic needs we have as humans. This week, make a point of doing things to take care of yourself.

Drink water.

Go for a walk outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Sit in the sunshine. Actually, bask like a cat in the sunshine. Because cats know how to love themselves.

Eat healthy foods.

Drink water.

Talk to someone who makes you laugh.

Get enough sleep.

Drink more water.

Smile at yourself in the mirror.

Drink so much water that you are pretty sure you’ve turned into a fish. Your skin, your brain, and basically everything else will thank you.

Take care of yourself, take breaks when you need them, and your stories will show the effects. You have endless potential and an amazing amount of brilliance. Don’t waste it by forgetting that you, too, are important enough to take care of.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.