I hike year around. Walking, especially in the woods, restores my inner calm. For various reasons, I haven’t been able to hike or walk nearly as much as normal. There have been no long hikes in the mountains, or short ones for that matter. I am lucky in that I have good local trails with lots of woods surrounding them.Continue reading “Birds On a Winter Hike”
Purgatory Mountain, North Carolina is the location for a short story I wrote for an anthology published in August 2020. As such, this hike focused on the trail, or rather, the area that wasn’t trail. My story timeline is the Civil War, and I needed to get the lay of the land and identify places where the action in my story could take place.Continue reading “Purgatory Mountain: the Hike and the Story”
It’s been almost four months since my last post. Sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions. As part of my unplanned journey, I spent five weeks in Durham, NC. While it was a stressful time, there were good times too. Between appointments, we were able to hike every day but two during those weeks. Durham has some wonderful trails, but they aren’t mountain trails.Continue reading “Hiking, Writing, and COVID-19”
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m in a rush to kick fall out of my home and turn it into a postcard worthy celebration of “The most wonderful time of the year.” The weekend after Thanksgiving is when this transformation occurs.
Outside lights and winter-wonderland fairy gardens greet visitors. A metal Moravian Star lights the porch and the welcome bear (a wood carving) wears his jolly Santa hat.
Inside, we have a wide assortment of candles, garland, Swedish gnomes, lit-up houses (twenty-five plus), tablecloths, bathroom towels, holiday dishes, and a beautify nativity scene given to me by my brother and his wife long before either of us had children. I treasure the nativity mostly because he painted it (beautifully done) and said he would never make another one. I have the only TLR original in the world. Santa or elf hats (some made by my daughter) are placed on anything in my house with a head, including, pets, statues, and even the gargoyles and dragons I received as gifts in support of my fantasy novels. The most impressive display is a sixty plus nutcracker collection, started when we lived in Italy. All sizes and shapes are spread throughout the house.
The trees are the last thing to be decorated. There is a four-foot-tall candy tree (fake candy) in the sunroom and a 9-foot-tall tree in the family room full of ornaments that bring back memories of Christmas past. The large tree wears mementos of other places we’ve lived, and creations proudly created by our children, as well as treasured decorations. When the kids were little, I made hot chocolate and a snack while the hubs and the kids decorated. It was better if I wasn’t in the room when they handled the delicate ornaments. Now I join in the decorating.
Presents are wrapped and placed under the big tree. I am usually done with Christmas shopping before the end of October for two reasons: (1) I hate shopping anytime of the year; (2) I don’t do crowds. There is nothing enjoyable to me about rushing through the mall (or online for that matter) looking for gifts. I plan in advance and get it done. I have one friend out west who I always buy for early in the year. Every year it gets buried under other gifts and I forget to mail the package. Her present is always late. Even us organized people have our little quirks.
Once the decorations are complete, my thoughts turn to plans and menus. ’Tis the season to meet up with friends and family while eating fattening food. Church services take on a special meaning as various pageants are presented. Children singing or speaking their parts remind us of what’s truly important.
New Year’s Day is my choice for taking down holiday decorations. The house returns to normal and we settle in for another year. The outside lights come down the first nice day in January, because I’m not so tied to my schedule that I’m willing to freeze just to get them down.
I love the stability of January, and the return to my normal schedule – and I love schedules. In January, I’m back on track for my favorite tasks: writing and hiking.
Josh checked his watch and yelled, “We’re gonna be late.”
Janie moved unhurriedly down the stairs in a tasteful, black dress.
Josh looked his sister over. “It took you that long to change out of work clothes?”
“No, silly. I had to redo my hair and makeup.”
Her hair and makeup looked the same to him, but Josh knew if he said that she would disappear upstairs for another thirty minutes. “Fine. Let’s go.”
Arriving at five till six, they were early enough to keep Mom off their backs, and he got a parking spot in the shade. It was still spring, but the heat and humidity had been in the nineties for over a week. Josh cracked the car windows while Janie scooted out of the car.
As soon as they opened the door to the building, Allen grabbed Janie and hugged her. “It’s about time. Our mothers are nuts.”
Jolene returned her cousin’s hug. “What can we do?”
“Neither of them can bring themselves to look in on Dad. They sent me. I don’t want to go in alone.”
“Of course not.” Janie took Allen’s arm and lead him down the hall. “Come on, Josh.”
Josh glared at his twin’s back. He had planned to skip this part, but he couldn’t leave Allen in the lurch. The trio walked down the center aisle. When Allen slowed, Josh shook his head, stepped forward, and looked in the casket. “We’re in the right room, aren’t we?”
“Of course. How does Dad look?”
“Well,” Josh grimaced, “he don’t look like himself.”
Janie pushed her twin aside and looked in the casket. “Allen, did Uncle George want to be buried in a toupee?”
“What?” Allen took a deep breath and looked. “That’s not Dad.”
“That’s what I thought.” Josh nodded, pleased he was right.
“Where is he? And who is that?” Janie pointed at the unknown man.
“Don’t know,” Josh said.
“You’re the oldest,” Janie said while Allen’s head nodded in agreement.
The twins and their cousin were born on the same day. Josh was three minutes older than Janie and two hours older than Allen. Janie and Allen always threw down the age card when there was something distasteful to do. Josh saw the mortician through a tiny window in the door to the left of the casket. Knowing an argument would only prolong the enviable, Josh walked over to the side door and opened it. The mortician’s expression told Josh that grievers didn’t open that door.
“Mr. Miller. Who’s this?” Josh pointed toward the casket
“No, sir. My uncle was bald and never wore a toupee. He also wore glasses.”
Mr. Miller, followed by an employee, stormed across the room, looked inside the casket, and ran past the kids, screaming. “Stop! Michael, stop.”
The employee stared wide-eyed at the casket with his mouth open.
“Got anything to tell us, Donnie?” Josh asked.
“No. Not me.” He moved to step around Josh, but Allen blocked his escape.
“Where’s Uncle George?” Janie asked.
Donnie shrugged. “Don’t know. Today’s my first day, but Michael’s been here forever. He’s down in the crematorium.”
“He’s…” Allen ran a hand through his hair. “Mom will come unglued.”
Mr. Miller rushed back into the room. “Stall them. Donnie, no one comes in.” Unlocking the wheels, Mr. Miller rolled the casket with the unknown man out of the room.
“Aren’t you pre-med? Why you here?” Josh asked.
“Home from college for the summer. Dad decided working in Uncle Brian’s mortuary would be a good experience.”
“Aren’t you supposed to heal people, not bury them?” Josh asked.
“Exactly what I said. And yet, here I am.” Donnie ushered the others into the hallway. “Watcha gonna tell your family?”
“What we won’t say is that Uncle George was almost cremated?” Josh pointed to the hallway that was now packed. “Forget age. Allen, you have to say something.”
Allen took a deep breath. “There’s been a slight delay.”
When the grumbling started, Janie said, “While we wait, we’ll share memories of Uncle George. Josh will start.” When Josh shot her a hard stare, Janie stepped into relative safety between Donnie and Allen.
Aunt Sharon dabbed her eyes. “Dear Joshua.”
Stuck at a family reunion at Uncle Jerry’s cabin with no internet, no cell access, and no cable or satellite TV, the four cousins roamed the property. The only nearby village had the same lack of electronic access. With nothing else to do, they walked out the long pier and lay on their stomachs looking over the side into the water.
“Wish we could swim,” Sally said. “Do you really think this lake is as deep as everyone says?”
“Don’t know. What I don’t get is why have a pier if you can’t fish or swim? I don’t believe those tales about some dangerous creature living in this lake.” Dean stood up, pulled a flat rock out of his pocket, and skipped it across the water. The entire lake was posted with no fishing and no swimming signs. It had long been a sore point with the kids.
Joey pointed under the pier. “Did you see that?”
“There’s nothing there.” Sally rolled over and looked up at the clouds.
“Is too.” Joey leaned further over the pier. “That tail fin. See it? It’s huge.”
“I think I saw it.” Amy, the youngest of the four, always agreed with her older brother.
Dean peered into the water. “I don’t see nothing. I’m hungry. Let’s go see if any of Aunt Mary’s coconut cake is left.”
“Or those chocolate oatmeal cookies,” Amy said.
“No, wait. I saw something.” Joey leaned more of his body over the edge to get a closer look, and Dean pushed him in the water.
“That was mean.” Sally ran for the life preserver.
Laughing, Dean looked over the side of the pier, expecting to see Joey splashing around. Joey was a good swimmer.
“Wha…” Dean stepped back as Joey rose to the surface in the arms of… a merman. From the waist down the man sported scales and a long tail fin in place of his legs. There were also side fins where his knees and hips should have been.
Once the merman deposited Joey on the pier, he said, “Tell Jerry to have a care for his guests. These waters are not friendly.” The merman turned and dove back into the lake. The barbs running up his spine twinkled in the sunlight. The last the kids saw of the merman was his tail flipping out of the water.
Screaming at the top of her lungs, Amy ran toward the cabin. “Momma! A merman saved Joey. A real one. Momma!”
Dean and Sally backed away from the edge of the pier, watching Joey, who dripped water on the planks as he stared at the lake.
Alone in the bedchamber, the child placed the crown on her head and used pins to hold it in place. It was a bit loose, but Rani supposed she would grow into it. King Rian Sword Born, had died suddenly leaving one heir. Was she up to the task? She had expected years of training by her father’s side before this day. She had even envisioned becoming a mother first. Queen Rani looked at the crown on her head. This was not the formal crown placed on her head at the coronation. This was the working crown. At least, that’s what King Rian had called it.
She placed two daggers in their sheaths somewhat hidden within the folds of her cape as her father had taught her. From the age of six, Rani had been taught to wield weapons. As she grew, so had her weapons. Kaiden, the Master-At-Arms, and her father were the only two who knew of this special training. With her father dead, Kaiden was the only person she trusted.
Twelve-year-old Rani, Queen of Greenvale, looked at her reflection in the mirror. Dressed as an adult, she still looked like a child. The court, especially her mother, would underestimate her.
Before walking out of the chamber, she dropped a small axe into a special pocket in each boot and smiled. By this evening she suspected she would be Queen Rani Axe Born.