Flash: Misty Lake

Image from freedigitalphotos.com

Holding the screen door, Brona carefully shut the rental’s front door and then guided the screen to frame without a sound. Likely the only time the screen hadn’t slammed shut from the over-pressure pneumatic closer since the two-week vacation started. Carefully picking her way down the path in the twilight over the slippery pine needles and new fallen autumn leaves, the girl made it to the pier between the four bungalows the family rented for the annual reunion so her mom and aunts could keep in touch and the cousins could know “the meaning of family.”

The mists for which Misty Lake was named rose as the first light of day kissed its surface. Air and water waged a temperature war in the heady transition of humidity. Perfect for a last kayak trip.

Ducking under the weather-worn cedar pier, she tried to pull out one of the brightly colored single-person boats. A few choice words the thirteen-year-old learned never to say around grown-ups slipped out quietly.

“They’re chained.” A deep voice said above.

Brona jumped, hitting her head on underside of the silvered wood. “Fuck.” She managed to bite out in an undertone, before she shimmied out to find who caught her sneaking around before dawn. The masculine voice worried her.

Sitting midway down the pier, huddled over his ever-present sketch book, sat her cousin Delaney. At fifteen, his voice alternated between his old sweet child voice and the gravelly bass his oversized Adam’s apple promised would be its final form.

“Scare a girl, why don’t you?” Brona hissed, stepping onto the pier to join him watching the mist.

He shrugged his narrow shoulders, running a pencil over his paper.

Brona dropped beside him, pulling her legs against her chest. “What’chu doing?”

“Drawing.”

“At least that is a two-syllable word. You’ve been mostly monosyllable this trip.” Brona quirked a smile, looking over the landscape being sketched. “But if a picture is worth a thousand words, I guess you’ve been talking up a storm all week.”

“Yay.” Delaney chuckled. “That’s a good one, shrimp.”

“Thanks.” Brona eyes darted between the sketch and the feature her cousin picked out from the lake, on the paper the twist of two trunks hinted at a stork shape with the mist swirling about it like the ancient wood could take flight. “Been here long.”

He shrugged. “Didn’t need to sleep after the fireworks last night.”

“Won’t your parents be worried?” Brona hugged her legs tighter. “Aren’t you cold?”

“No and no.”

“But what about—”

Delaney slapped his book shut before turning his dark eyes, mostly hidden under black bangs and unkempt hair, to her. “I don’t need to talk. Do you?”

“I…I…” her voice broke, struggling in the face of his apparent anger. “no.” She dropped her eyes and whispered. “No, sir.”

“Brona?” The teenage boy reached out a hand to her long brunette hair, touching it gently. “You okay?”

Try as she might, she couldn’t help but to flinch away from his touch. “Sure.”

Delaney drew his hand back slowly. It curled into a fist, then straighten out a finger at a time before he placed it palm down on his ten-by-twelve yellow sketchbook. He stared at her. “I don’t believe you.” The crickets and frogs screamed in the early morning light, muffled in the mist. “Why did you want to take a boat out alone?”

Brona buried her head into her knees.

“Shrimp, come on girl.” Delaney took off his flannel shirt and dropped it around her shoulders. “You know I ain’t going to tell anyone. I’m the king of monosyllables, right?”

“I can’t.” She sniffed noisily. “I can’t go … I won’t go back. Not with him.”

“Your dad?”

“Don’t you fucking call him that.”

“Damn.” Delaney tucked his sketchbook into his backpack, before he asked. “Just hitting, or… um … the other too?”

She turned her head to him and whispered. “All of it.”

“All of it.” Delaney’s dark eyes became pits of sorrow. “That is why you want to take the boat.”

Brona nodded. “I can’t kill myself. I don’t want to go to hell. But, since people have disappeared on the lake this year, I thought maybe, that wouldn’t count?”

Being Irish-Catholic like her, Delaney understood unaliving oneself isn’t an option. “The big house might have a canoe we can use.”

“What?” Brona asked, watching Delaney stand and offer her his hand.

“No one should die alone, and it’s not like I got a lot to live for. Come on, shrimp.”

The teenager wiped her hands over her face before letting her cousin help her up. “Why?” Brona touched the flannel and made to take it off, but he shook his head.

Delaney shouldered his backpack while she poked her arms through his overshirt.

“Why what?” Delaney jumped off the pier, heading toward the large house about a quarter mile away. The people who owned it, owned the lake and all the surrounding area, renting bungalows out throughout the year. “Why do I think the house might unlocked canoes? The disappearances didn’t start until midsummer, and the Regans only stay in the house in the spring. The caretakers are keeping a sharp eye on the boats the visitors use but usually don’t mess with the big house. Since everyone is pretty much a regular, no one messes around because we want to come back next year. At least, that is my thought.”

“Wow, you can talk when you get going.” Brona chuckled as she walked beside him. “But, no.” All humor fled when she asked her question. “Why don’t you want to live?”

“I’m gay.”

Brona stopped on the path, her mouth opened in a small “o” before rushing to catch up.

He glanced down at her. “The parents sent me to conversion camp. It’s why I was late showing up this year. I ain’t going through that again. I was going to run away after I finish sophomore year. I think I could fake it for a year. You can do things at sixteen.” Delaney shrugged. “But you. You can’t wait. May as well be the two of us.”

“What if…” Brona waved a hand. “What if whatever is out there only does it with one person.”

“Nope, one boat only, but it was one guy, known for being stupid so no one thought much of it, two people who snuck out for their affair, then one old woman who just wanted some quiet in the morning, for a total of four. At least that is what Mr. Kennedy said.”

Once close to the house, a heavy mist deadened all sound. The deep waters around the house whispered as the fog rose. The two slipped along the wet, overgrown path until they came to the boat house. Locked.

“Look for a can or fake rock.” Delaney ordered.

Brona picked up an edger stone, lining the path from the boat house to the lower pier. “Like this?” She flipped it over to reveal a key held in a cavity by a magnet.

“Exactly.” He plucked the resin rock from her hand and removed the key. Moments later they were inside the boat house, picking out the lightest canoe and a couple oars. They moved the boat to the edge of the water. Delaney stopped her before she climbed in for him to push them off. “We need to leave a note.”

“No.” Brona shook her head vigorously, black hair flying. “No, we don’t.”

“Shrimp, you got two younger sisters.”

Her hand flew to her mouth. “He wouldn’t.”

“When did he start?”

“I was eleven, just after my period started.” Brona met her cousin’s eye. “Riley turns eleven in November.” Her face hardened. “I’ll write the note.”

They left Delaney’s backpack on the pier in plain sight. If nothing happened before the mist started burning off, then they would collect it. If they didn’t get back, it would be easy to find.

The backpack was easy to find when two sets of angry parents went looking for them after packing was finished at ten.

***

Rowing through the mists on the twisty cedar water lake revealed shape after shape. The two moved in unison after a lifetime paddling in these waters. A dip, a turn, a lift. Drip, drip, drip as the paddle switched sides. The twin trunks wishing to be storks were far behind. They passed the alligator log, cattails alongside the favorite splash pond brown-to-bursting. Sun streaked, blinding through the denuding trees as the autumn leaves fluttered and fell, the bright light turning the mist into pure white fog.

Neither talked, both hoped, feared. Praying whatever happened would be swift, but nothing in their pains had ever been quick. Determination pushed them on; weirdly growing more tense across their young shoulders, and also feeling their twisted bellies relax in the quiet morning.

Brona dropped her paddle into the water, turning it sideways to slow the canoe, drifting the aluminum boat to the left.

Looking up, Delaney made eye contact with his cousin and she lifted one hand from the paddle to wave at something. A wall, white-gray visible as they turned the bend. An emerging building with crenelations and a glass dome. A building that never existed in the fifteen years Delaney spent the final two weeks of summer at the lake.

The moss growing up the side, the cracks and chips, told a story of a building older than a summer build. Cloudlike mist swayed through formal gardens near a gravel shoreline, leaving water-drops like diamonds on roses and small berries. The two drew alongside the anomaly when the gravel had been washed aside along a sculpted cement drain way, the top of the shaped-stone ended against the building where a gargoyle with a wide mouth sat at the bottom of a downspout. Beside it rested a kayak and a rowboat against the building.

“Well…” Brona whispered, grabbing onto a pole beside the drain way.

Delaney brought them to a complete stop. “Yep.”

“Can’t be any worse.”

“No going back.”

Their black eyes met again, a thousand words passed between them and nothing was said. Brona stepped out of the boat, onto the submerged cement ledge, soaking her already wet shoes, pulling the canoe toward her. Delaney used his paddle to rotate the boat so his end bumped against the shoreline and got out. Together they ported the canoe to where the other boats were located and stored the paddles inside, out of the weather.

The other two boats showed signs of being out in the elements for a while. Leaves gathered around the bottoms, some spider webs between them and the building. The rowboat had moss growing in the shadow against the building; the kayak looked cleaner.

“Which way?” Brona asked.

Delaney looked southeast and then northwest along the building. More stonework pathways existed to the southeast side. “I think the front is this way.”

(words 1,820; first published 9/5/2023)

Book Review (SERIES): Well Met

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca, a contemporary fictional rom-com series, has four books so far: Well Met, Well Played, Well Matched, and Well Traveled. Set in the Renaissance Faire Circuit, the series should appeal to those interested in light-hearted romance.

The series alternates between the volunteers of a small town’s local Ren Faire and the performers on the Ren Faire circuit (and sometimes romances between the two). The writer clearly loves her Ren Faires, giving us all our favorites – turkey legs and living chess matches; musicians and fortune tellers; kilts and bodices. Sometimes there are crowds and, other times, quiet gatherings watching campfire sparks fly into the night sky.

What really makes the series stand out to me are the family connections of all the characters. Many romances focus only on the romantic couple and their relationship, scarcely acknowledge the greater world. In this series, a sister helps out another who was in a car accident, three musician brothers work things out when one has his heart tied to a homebody, and grandchildren struggle to find the balance between giving grandparents freedom while making sure they are okay. Jobs are considered, homes are repaired, and school runs are made.

Yes, the romances have hot moments, but these don’t kick in until about half-way in and consent is clearly modeled, both during initiation of activity and ongoing. The stories focus are always on the characters and their relationships. Also of interest to some readers is some of the women are older; one is a single mom of a high school graduate. The older couples finding a new relationship do come with baggage, previous relationships impacting the present ones, but this can be a fun change from the young love stories.

Fun and light-hearted, with a side of Ren-Faire, the Well Met series is popular enough many libraries carry hard copy as well as ebooks. The series has been published between 2019 and 2022. Ebooks run about $12 and paperbacks cost about the same. The older books of the series are also available used.

Book Review: Technical Threat

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Technical Threat by Julie Trettel

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

His job’s at stake, but she may prove to be an even bigger technical threat to his heart.

Tarron has met his match with a ruthless cyberhacker who has a personal vendetta against the Raglan. When she breeches Westin Force’s security Tarron must move in to stop her. That proves easier said than done when his Nonna steps up to help and meddle in his love life.

Meeting his true mate was not supposed to be part of the mission. But then again, having Nonna tag along wasn’t exactly how he envisioned his first solo assignment either.

Susan Duncan had finally broken away from the miserable life she led. She had been happy away at college, but then her younger sister Sonnet disappeared. Susan dropped everything and gave up her life to support her mother and two remaining sisters. But she never stopped looking for Sonnet.

Four years passed as Susan worked tirelessly each day under the strict demands of her mother then stayed up each night searching every lead possible to find Sonnet.

Her reality wasn’t a pretty one. Her days of believing in fairytales and true mates were long past when suddenly her mysterious true mate appears and promises to rescue not just her, but her sisters as well.

Can this Cinderella break down her own stone walls to accept the help of her potential Prince Charming? Or will is she be doomed to live in the dungeons of her mother’s warped reality forever?

 

MY REVIEW

A Standard Military-Shifter Paranormal Romance that is far from Standard

Tarron has been aggressively adopted by Nonna, giving him the found-family he always needed and her a reason to keep connected with the greater world. Doesn’t matter if she is an ancient wolf shifter and he is a foxy technical wizard, together they are the family they always needed.

I SIMPLY HAD TO READ THIS ONE. Their relationship intrigued me.

Then we add a romance for Tarron on top of that as he investigates a hacker into the Westin Force system. Taking Nonna as backup because all his military buddies are busy gives them alone time until he finds his hacker, as well as a waitress who is his true mate.

This is a wonderful story about community support and found-family. About leaving abusive relationships and saving others. One of the best “standard military-shifter” paranormal romances I’ve ever read because of the relationships.

(Read through Kindle Unlimited)

Flash: A Father Stays

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The carnival crowds allowed anonymity Michael grasped with both hands. Later tonight finding a place for him and his daughter to sleep would bring back the reality of being homeless and refugees. But tonight, for a couple hours, lights, sounds, food, and people brushed against them with life instead of avoiding them, refusing to make eye contact.

He reminded himself he wasn’t a failure. Maria was safe; she had a parent. They were a long way from sheltering in subway tunnels while Russians bombed the future out of their country.

Someone had dropped a half-eaten street taco into an overflowing dust bin. The crowds parted easily as people glanced up at Maria on his shoulders. Deep pockets stored the still-wrapped street tacos, and he grabbed a burger for himself. A closed water bottle lay half-buried near the top. Cracking it open, Michael sniffed it – clean.

Full bellies tonight should make sleeping easier.

Above his head, his daughter giggled as some street performers started dancing.

(words 164 – first published 6/19/2023)

Flash: Ten Thousand Generations

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash – Mother and baby cassava farming

Care never ends. Prepare, plant, weed, harvest, preserve, dry seeds, and restart. Children born, children die, children raised. Clean house, clean clothes, clean bodies. Gather wood, cook, spread the ashes. Women’s work. The never-ending chores.

Tasks would be easier. Things on the to-do list that can be crossed off forever, or at least for months. Not a meal-after-meal-after-meal circle. Thanks to the caregivers for the ten thousand generations of humanity.

(words 70, first published 5/14/2023 – from a picture prompt for a Facebook writing group. Aim is about 50 words)