Friday, May 6, 2016

When Dead Friends Visit

I had a dream last night that a dead writer friend came to visit me. (You can read more about Marilou here) We were in the home of another more successful (alive) writer. The house was chaotic, food-on-the-floor messy, and full of readers and writers--most of them argumentative and generally unhappy.

But I was so happy to see Marilou. We talked about my books and I told her I had started a new one. I was excited about it, but, for some reason, yesterday I wasn't able to focus. It took me several hours to write what I can usually write in one. She was encouraging and when she hugged me goodbye, I was surprised that she felt the same in my arms as before.

After she left, a woman from my church told me how inappropriate it was for Marilou to visit when she was dead. "She needs to stay dead." That was really sad for me. And not even true. People who have truly lived leave behind a legacy. Especially writers. Talking to Marilou reminded me of a quote I heard once that goes something like this: People will forget and ignore the thou shalt nots, but they'll remember and love the once upon a times. (That's why some fairy tales have been around for thousands of years.)

Our world, just like my friend's house in my dream, can be chaotic, messy, and contentious, but talking to Marilou reminded me that we write to try and make sense out of our world and hopefully make it a better place to be.

Here's the second chapter of my work in progress Menagerie. You can read chapter one here.


In mid-April when the crocus began to lift their heads from the ground and the daffodils unfurled toward the bleak, not yet warm sun, a pod of gray whales splashed past the western side of the island. Liza loved this time of year when the plants and animals roused themselves from winter’s frozen grasp. The garden, still crusty with ice, yielded beneath Liza’s hoe as she worked the compost into the soil. Liza longed to be out in the dingy to hear of the whale’s northern adventures, but Rose kept her in the garden.
Liza slid her mother a glance. Worry was etched between Rose’s eyebrows, and her lips were pulled into a thin, straight line. Tension radiated from her, and Liza felt powerless against it.
Wilson sat at the garden’s edge, his ears pricked, his eyes vigilant, despite the cataracts clouding his vision. Monroe perched in the branches of the maple tree, flicking his tail and complaining about the birds swooping around him.
“A man comes,” Wilson whimpered.
Liza braced herself against her hoe and glanced out at the tranquil bay. Wispy clouds trailed across the robin’s egg blue sky. She couldn’t see an approaching boat. “Is it him?” she asked, referring to her mother’s secret lover, the man she suspected of being her father. He had come many times over the years, always following an offering of ginger root tea.
“John Lamb? No. Someone else.”
“A postman?”
Liza resumed hoeing when she caught her mother’s gaze. She’d learned long ago that her mother couldn’t hear or understand the animals the way she did. At first, this bothered her. For years, she had believed her mother to be all-knowing and all-powerful, but in time, Liza grew to love that she had an ability her mother not only didn’t share but also discounted as a childish whim akin to make-believe friends and monsters beneath the bed.
“The whales dislike him. His boat is loud and he’s disrupting their path.”
Liza frowned against the sun.
“Tired already?” Rose asked without looking up from her work.
“No, I thought I heard an engine.”
Rose’s head jerked over her shoulder and her spine stiffened. She cocked her head, listening.
Gulls cried out as they wheeled overhead. “A man, a man, a man.”
“I don’t hear anything,” Rose said slowly, resuming her hoeing.
It had been months since John Lamb had been to visit, and Liza had yet to understand why he came and went as infrequently as a summer storm.
“A large boat, yet manned alone,” Wilson said.
“Not quite,” Monroe said, twitching his whiskers. “He brings a creature.”
Creature was Monroe’s word for dog.
Wilson’s ears pricked up. “I cannot smell him.”
“Nor I, but the Albatross spotted him,” Monroe said. “He’s wolfish.”
Wilson began to pace.
Rose lifted her face to the sun. Liza saw the questions in her mother’s eyes, but she didn’t know the answers. She wasn’t even sure of the questions.
“There’s something I need to tell you, Pet,” Rose began. “Not just one thing, actually…” She paused and twisted lips. “Things I should have told you a long time ago.”
Liza, of course, knew that her mother had secrets. The many books she read told her that very few lived in isolation the way that she and her mother did. There had to be a world beyond the island, a place peopled with more than friendly postmen and the occasional visitor.
An engine roared. A big beautiful boat slid into the cove. Sunlight sparkled off its shiny chrome and glass. This boat was bigger than anything Liza had ever seen.
“How?” Rose whispered, dropping her hoe. “He’s found me.”
“Who is it, Mama?” Liza asked.
Rose quickly bent and retrieved her hoe, but this time she carried it like a weapon. “No questions, love. I need you to run and hide.”
“Hide? Where? Why?”
Rose shook her hoe at Liza. “I said no questions! Go to the woods. There’s the old shack where Daugherty brewed her ale, go there.” Rose sucked in a deep breath. “No one can trespass the woods,” she muttered beneath her breath.
Liza’s memories of Daugherty were vague, but she knew of the shack. “But what about you?”
Rose shook her hoe at Liza. “I’ll join you soon. Now go.”
Liza picked up her hoe for no other reason than her mom had one, and ran into the woods. Wilson loped beside her.
“Who is he?” Liza asked the birds flying above her.
“A big man,” a swallow answered.
“A wolf creature,” a robin put in.
“Hide in my tree,” a squirrel called out as Liza ran past. “It’s hollow inside. He’ll never find you.”
“Thank you, but no,” Liza said, her pace slowing. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hide from this man and his large boat. A wicked part of her wanted to him to find her and take her to the cities where people and cars filled the streets. She had only read of cars, trucks and helicopters. Occasionally, an airplane would fly overhead, so she knew—sort of—what a plane looked like from a great distance. But all other vehicles were nothing more than figments of her imagination. She had a bicycle but had never seen a motorcycle. There was so very much that she’d never seen, and this man, this stranger, may have seen everything. Maybe he could show her—introduce her to this word beyond the island.
“This man is not your friend,” Wilson warned her.
A friend. Liza ached for a friend, but even as she did so, a wave of guilt washed over her because she knew that her mother should be enough. Her mother worked hard to keep her safe, to provide food and warmth, to supply the books for Liza’s entertainment and education. Liza knew that her mother had sacrificed her own life—a life with John Lamb—to keep Liza safe and sheltered from the world.
But what if I don’t want to be sheltered? The thought was so astounding, it halted her. Liza froze on the path to Daugherty’s shack.
Wilson pressed his nose to the back of her leg, urging her to go on.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Liz thought.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” the friendly squirrel chattered.
“No!” Liza found her voice.
“Go! Go! Go!” The crows swooped around her.
“No! I don’t think so.”
“Not safe! Not safe! Not safe!” The crows contended.
Slowly, Liza began picking her way toward the cottage because she knew and trusted the crows. They were much more clever than most of the animals and were almost never wrong. Although, they were self-serving, unlike Wilson.
“Why don’t you think it’s safe?” Liza asked the crows.
“A gun! A gun! A gun!” the birds responded.
“He has a gun?” Liza halted. She’d read about guns. They were mostly used and possessed by villains and soldiers, and as far as she knew, there weren’t any wars being waged on the island... which could only mean that this man meant her mom harm. “I have to warn my mom!”
“Go to Daugherty’s shack as your mom said,” Wilson said. “We’ll send the crows to protect your mom.”

Liza brushed past him, heading for the stone cottage. Her knees buckled as a blinding pain slammed onto the top of her head.


  1. Love the Menagerie cover! Intriguing story.

  2. Thanks. The cover is still a work in progress, as is the story. The idea was given to me by a group of high risk high school students where my sister is the reading specialist. Ellen asked me to teach a class and this is the story the students helped me plot. It was a blast to teach and in the end, I came out with a plot I found irresistible.

  3. I'm glad to know that Mari Lou is encouraging even in dreams. Thank you for sharing this about my late and dearly missed wife.