Word Number One – Prosperity

For those of you that haven’t read my last post, I have chosen five words to focus on this year instead of resolutions.  The first of those words is prosperity.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  We all want prosperity don’t we?  We all see things in the world we want.  Why does it seem to come so much more naturally to some people?  My husband Chris is one of those people.  He dropped out of college after three years and went to work at a factory so he could build a race car.  He then went to work at an equipment rental company a couple of years before we got married.  He started out as what they called the “Wash boy.”  Within about three and a half years he had made outside salesman.  He makes about three times what I made at my highest paying accounting job.  I’m the one with the college degree.  I’m the one that always obsessed about grades, and yet Chris has always excelled far above me.  A fact that has often left me wondering why.

Despite Chris’s stellar income, It always feels like money is tight.  For years I attributed this to Chris’s love of man toys.  You know, cars, performance parts, expensive trucks despite having a company truck, a big house etc, etc. etc.  Chris’s attitude towards money has always been to just get what you want and if you need more money than you go make more.  I attribute this to his growing up in a financially comfortable environment.  His parents weren’t rich, but they were never lacking for anything.  They didn’t worry about tires going flat or furnaces going out.

I, did not grow up in such an environment.  When I was five we lived in a crude shelter that my father made out of plywood that I’m pretty sure he “borrowed” from the job-sites he worked on.  We had no running water and our only source of electricity was an extension cord running from my grandparents single-wide next door.  I was too young at the time to realize how poor we were, but by age nine, I had started worrying about money.  It’s no wonder that I have issues in this area.

I used to attribute our tight finances to the fact that Chris spends too much.  Lately, I’ve been wondering if I have it wrong.  I can’t believe I just put that in writing.  Thank God Chris doesn’t read my blog.  I can promise you I would never live that one down.  Seriously though, I’ve been questioning some of my beliefs and my belief that responsibility for our money issue belonged on Chris’s shoulders was a strong one.  But now I’m thinking it’s possible that it may be mine.  What if the fact that I always approach our finances from a lack mentality has something to do with it?  Every time we get a little extra, I tend to spend it on things the kids are going to need, but don’t necessarily need yet.  I’m afraid we won’t have the money when they do need it.  I always approach paying the bills from a place of fear.

When the twins started kindergarten last fall Chris wanted me to go back to work and yet I’m still home.  I want to make money doing what I love and I don’t love accounting.  Fear again.  There are other jobs out there that don’t require accounting, but I told myself I can’t have any of them because I lack the experience, the education etc.  The truth is I look at the world as if the possibility of failure lurks around every corner.  I spent months setting up a membership site and as of yet not one person has joined.  It’s not that it couldn’t be an awesome space for writers to come together.  I have trouble with the ask.  I have trouble feeling worthy of the ask.  It’s only fifteen dollars a month.  Most people spend more on Starbucks.  I definitely spend more on Starbucks.  After a week of being snowed in, a Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato would be really good right about now.  In spite of this fact, it’s still hard.  This is a big thing I’m going to have to defeat in order to bring the prosperity I desire.

Brooke Castillo talks about how people worry about money because they believe that it comes from outside of themselves when actually it comes from within.  The first time I heard her say it, it scared the shit out of me.  I knew that it meant actually going out and showing up in the world and putting myself out there.  I’m going to be honest.  Just the idea makes me want to curl up in the fetal position on my office floor and hide.

If you don’t have customers, it’s because you need to ask people to be your customers and not get discouraged when people say no.  That is the wisdom I am faced with.  Sounds terrible doesn’t it.  It’s really just a matter of math.  If you ask 100 people to be your customers, about 10% will say yes and 90% will say no.  I haven’t personally asked one person.  I’ve ran Facebook ads that didn’t work and then promptly gave up.  I know I’m not the only one.  Just a tiny taste of rejection is enough to send most people running.  The primal fears kick in.  If I do the math, I need about 150 people to say yes.  That means I would have to ask 1500 people.  Holy shit.  That sounds excruciating.  I’m going to have to do it anyway if I want this year to be different.

So here’s what I’ve been doing in January. I’m running a Kickstarter campaign and I’ve reached out to someone about ghostwriting a book.  I’m also in the process of re-branding my other book. I knew at the time I first put it out that the title wasn’t right for the book.  I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I ignored it.  It’s almost like I wanted to fail.  My brain wanted to prove it to myself that my lack of worth was well founded.  I refuse to do it anymore.  I’m developing an actual marketing campaign and I’m going to reach out to influencers before I relaunch my book.  I’m going to do it right this time instead of the proverbial pissing in the wind that felt much safer last year.

If you too have been living in fear, it’s time to stop.  Otherwise we are going to wake up in a nursing home one day and wish we had done things differently.  I don’t want the regrets so I have to conquer the fears.  Don’t wait friends.  We only get this one chance.  I want to finish my book, Stealing The Amber Room this year.  I’d like to go to Europe to do research.  I’d like to write a bunch more books and go on trips doing research for those.  Doesn’t that sound awesome?  I’d like to ghostwrite books for people about topics that interest me and I’d like to make a bunch of awesome writer friends on my membership site.  That’s the goal.  That’s why I chose prosperity.

What do you want today and what’s holding you back?  What will you choose?

 

A New Way to do The New Year

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We’ve all done it.  You know what it I’m going to say, don’t cha?  Yep, I’m talking about resolutions.  How many of you have made resolutions and then promptly forgot ’em?  Or worse, you make a serious attempt, only to lose your mojo around mid-February.  At least, that’s when I notice the parking lots at the gym start to thin down.  Not that my ass is in one mind you.  It’s cold out.

Most of you, by the time you get to be my age stop making resolutions altogether because you just make yourself feel bad when you aren’t able to change the things you want to change.  That would be me.  I started to rethink resolutions a few years ago.

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I didn’t want to give up doing the New Year’s thang altogether.  There is a part of me that loves the idea of a fresh new year.  It’s like a pretty new piece of blank stationary.  Writers love pretty stationary.  And pens.  I have a very nice pen that my husband won for hitting a sales goal.  I promptly stole it while he was celebrating.  He was so drunk, he didn’t notice.  True story.

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Okay, I got sidetracked by pretty paper and perfect ink pens with just the right weight.  Sorry, they’re like catnip for writers.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the new year.  First, I quit making resolutions and set goals for myself instead.  This worked better.  I hit a few goals and felt invigorated, but I still wasn’t quite there yet.  Then, the other day, I was Reading “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins.  For those of you that don’t know me, I am an avid reader of self-help books.  And books on writing. And fiction, of course.  Who doesn’t love fiction?   I have about 55 books in my Kindle and I set my new goal on Goodreads for 52 books this year.  If you are ever trying to find a good book to read, you can find plenty of suggestions on my blog or friend me on Goodreads.

Anyway, in this awesome book, Tony mentions a discovery he made about words.  Apparently the words you use in everyday conversation when referring to your life have an effect on how you feel about your life.  If you want to change your life, you just have to change your words.  I don’t know about you, but this idea blew my mind.  Could it really be that simple?  If I start peppering my conversations with the word fabulous, will I feel fabulous?

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I’m feeling fabulous already.  I decided that not only did I need to test out this idea, but I needed to do it on a grand scale.  Why?  That’s just who I am baby.  Amber likes to go overboard.  That’s how I roll.  I decided to choose five words.  I could have chosen like a hundred, but my life coach Brooke Castillo talks about constraining your focus.  That’s a hard one for me obviously.  I have twins for crying out loud.  I couldn’t even have babies one at a time.

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Yep.  Those are really my twins.  Are they cute or what?  Even without the bangs that their big sister cut off like a week before picture day. I tease my son that he is going to be an underwear model one day.

As I was saying, I chose five words that I wanted to epitomize 2018.  Not the year I think I will have based on past experience.  No.  I’m talking about the year I want to have.  The kind of year I dream about in those rare dreams when you wake up smiling because you were so happy.  You know, like I’m a size six and I’m wearing a stunning designer evening gown and Steven Spielberg is hounding me about movie rights while a hot English actor is dragging me onto the dance floor.  That kind of dream.  Don’t tell Chris.  Shhh.  Our secret.

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So what are the words/phrases I have chosen?  Drum roll please.  They are as follows:

Prosperity

Adventure

Legacy

Willingness to Fail

Fun

 

There they are.  That is the year I want to have.  What kind of year do you want?

Why I Write

So you dream of being a writer? At least, I assume that you do or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog posting. Perhaps, like me, you dreamed of getting a degree in creative writing, but chickened out and trekked down the safer path. In my case, I got an accounting degree instead.

I’m going to share something with you here. Most subjects in school came naturally to me, except one. It was math. I struggled to break a B, starting in the fourth grade. At times, I got a C, which for any of you other perfectionist first-borns out there, you know that missing the honor roll by a small margin is enough to chap your ass. For years, my self-esteem was marred by this one cursed subject. Stupid, I know. This is my teenage self we are talking about. I wanted acceptance. I wanted to feel worthy and being smart was my ticket to getting what I longed for deep inside. Because of arithmetic, it alluded me. I didn’t feel smart because I wasn’t good at everything and I deeply believed that I should excel in everything. Other girls wanted to be cheerleaders or make a sports team. I dreamed of being Valedictorian. Yes, I am a nerd. You probably already figured that out, but I’m a straight shooter, so there it is. Anyway, we had seven valedictorians the year I graduated. I won’t tell you what year it was, but I will tell you that I wasn’t one of them.

So why in God’s name, did I then turn around and choose a major that focused on my Achilles heel. I discovered it yesterday in a book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Have. It’s because my social-self was resisting my essential self. My essential self (a.k.a. my true self) wanted to be a writer or a history teacher or a social worker, but my social-self wanted the acceptance of the people closest to me. My then-boyfriend, now-husband Chris didn’t like the sound of any of my career choices. We’ve all heard of the starving artist and teachers, and social workers aren’t known for making the big bucks. Chris wanted me to make a good living. Actually, he wanted me to make an exceptional living. The kicker is that without the elusive sense of worth the money was never going to come. Especially as an accountant. I always felt like an imposter when I was doing accounting. It’s a struggle to be something you’re not. It takes away all of your energy. Doing other people’s taxes makes me feel like I am slowly dying. I guess, if you think about it, we are all slowly marching towards death, but I don’t notice the gradual crawl towards being worm grub until I’m staring at a 1040.

You might be feeling a bit of outrage right now. You may be thinking that I should have told Chris to kiss my ass. I can’t say that I disagree, but you have to understand that he had the best of intentions. He wanted me to do something stable and being a writer doesn’t sound like a safe option. Most of us have family members like this. They mean well. They want to protect us. They think they are saving us from the fall. After all, the reality isn’t kind. The world is a cold, hard place and the sooner you accept it, the better. To this day, I cringe when people ask me how my hobby is going.

Okay, so the amount of money that I have earned so far is technically within the hobby range, but I refuse to give up. Why? You know what my relatives are thinking. That’s a lot of work to put into something to make a mere pittance in return.

I’ve had to fight my inner critic just to get words on the page. I’ve had to face fears of persecution by society at large when I hit the publish button. Fears I didn’t expect to feel until they were right there in my face staring back at me.  My book has swear words in it, I thought. What is my mother-in-law going to say?  In case you are wondering, she said, “She was disappointed in me.”  It kind of stung, but Fuck it.  It’s my life after all.  It was a long hard road just to publish one book, and now, I am working on another. I’m getting ready to send it to the editor and spend a decent chunk of change that I might never see in return, and yet I persist.

Here is why. I write because I feel cranky and out of balance if I don’t. I write because it’s my air. It’s my North Star, and I have to follow it even if I never receive the critical acclaim of Stephen King or manage to eke out a living. I spent years waiting for the people close to permit me to do what I love, and it never came, so I had to stand firm and give myself permission. If you long to write, then write. Doing anything, for the sheer love of doing it, is worth it.  Don’t worry about what your parents will say or your spouse or your kids or your mother-in-law. Know your why and follow your North Star. If you still need permission, then I give it to you now. Go chase your star. Seriously, like now. Right now. What are you waiting for?

My New Critique Forum – Creatives Academy

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I am so excited to introduce you to my brand new forum.  I call it Creatives Academy.  I have been in the writing game for a few years now and finding a critique group that really works has been difficult, so I decided to create my own.  I want to foster an environment of creativity as well as collaboration.  I want it to be part critique group, part mastermind and part support group for the difficult times, before you hit it big. Think of it as an online cocktail party for introverts.  Did anyone else just shiver at the mention of a cocktail party?  This will be different though.  This will be ours.  I want to put you in groups by genre so that you only get critiqued by people who know and like the genre you write in.  It just makes sense.  If your into sci-fi or dystopian or steampunk then you don’t want to critique romance.  Am I right?  There are a few things you should know before signing up though.

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  1. I have a humming bird brain! 

My mind likes to flit around from one beautiful thought to another.  Sometimes it gets off track, but eventually it comes back around.  A certain amount of tolerance is necessary.

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2.  I swear.

I have a bit of a potty mouth.  I actually enjoy swearing.  I love the color and punch that the occasional swear word adds like shit or damn.  Occasionally I drop the f-bomb, but I usually refer to it as the f, dash, dash, dash word or some such abbreviation.  It’s my own personal brand of panache.  If you do not like swearing, that’s okay.  My mother-in-law recently lectured me because my book has swear words and she said she was very disappointed.  I love her anyway.  Not as much as I did before, but I still love her somewhat, which brings me to number three.

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3.  My wickedly dry sense of humor.

How does this photo depict dry humor?  It doesn’t really, but I thought it was super cute.  I get distracted by cute puppies (See, hummingbird brain.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)  Anyway, my sense of humor is dryer than stale, sourdough bread.  If you’re not into that or swearing or my meandering brain, then this probably isn’t the forum for you.  If you are looking for a community of like-minded, mildly swearing introverts that are out to take the publishing world and succeed no matter what, then get in on the ground floor of something awesome.  I may have a hummingbird brain, but it has flitted around so much that I am well versed on a lot of writing topics to help out my fellow creatives.  I have a wealth of knowledge on creative topics and quotes from The Princess Bride.  I’ve learned to use it to my advantage.  Seriously, join today.  What are you waiting for?  I want to help you.  Help me, help you.  Did I just careen off into Jerry McGuire.  Possibly, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Join the cocktail party for introverts!

 

Vote for Reader’s Choice Award

Hello fellow creatives!  My short story Falling In Love is published in short fiction break and I need your help to win the reader’s choice award. There are a lot of stories with similar titles as the contest theme was falling in love so please be sure to choose the one by Amber Meyer. Big thanks and happy writing.

Click to vote

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Excerpt Falling In Love

Thomas looked around at the sage green walls. The soothing color did little to ease his nerves. There was a piece of framed art on the east wall. A piano with a vase full of flowers on top. He’d stared at it a million times, dissecting every inch. No good. His eyes drifted back to Rhonda. Her veins so purple and swollen from over use of an IV that the shock of seeing them never wore off. Two long years she’d been lying there. The doctors rarely came. If they did, it was at night after he’d gone home. Of course, he’d heard of cases where people just woke up. Helpful friends were always sharing the story of someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, who’d heard of a miracle. Some such bullshit. It was clear to him that it was over. Clear to everyone, but Rhonda’s mother Alvera. The woman had hope, and she was washed in the blood of the spirit. She led weekly prayer vigils at church, and each day seemed more certain that her only child would be returned to her. Thomas admired her faith, but his hopes of having Rhonda back had receded as quickly as the tide. He wanted to believe. He envied her hope.
Mostly these days, he came to the hospital out of obligation. Obligation or guilt or a mixture of the two. A sudden chipper voice snapped him out of his somber thoughts. It contradicted his emotions with such intensity, it felt like trying to look at the sun. He turned with the intention of scowling at the new nurse, but thought different when he saw the flowing red hair cascading down her shoulders. He blinked twice to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. She was beautiful. Really beautiful. A stunning kind of sexuality sizzled in every movement she made.
The beautiful nurse walked up to Rhonda’s bedside and took her pulse with a frown. Thomas studied her face. His gaze slid slowly down. She turned to meet his eyes with a pouty-lipped expression. Kind of like a child with a broken toy.
“How long?” She said.
“Two years,” he said.
“Oh dear. You poor thing,” she said as she walked around the bed and gave him a big hug. Her hair smelled like fresh peaches. He didn’t want her to let go. It had been so long. She walked back around and picked up the chart.
“This is my last round of the day,” she said. “No harm in taking a few extra minutes.” Her hair fell gently on the chart in front of her as she studied it with her stunning blue eyes. “Tsk. Tsk. So sad. A car accident.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said with a shrug. “On her way to meet her mother at church.”
“Oh,” she said. “Was she a good Christian?”
“Devout,” said Thomas. “A much better person than I.” He added giving her a hungry look.
“I see,” she said walking to the door and peeking out. “My shift is up. How about I buy you a drink? You’ve been through a tough time.”
“Really?” He said, not believing his luck.
“Sure,” she whispered. “Meet me at Smitty’s, across the street, in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes,” he repeated, still in disbelief. “Wait about ten minutes and then leave,” she said. “Technically I could get in trouble for seeing a patient’s husband after hours.” She smiled and waved as she walked out the door.
His heart pounded and his ears buzzed with excitement as did other parts of him that hadn’t been awakened in a long time. Long before Rhonda’s accident. Rhonda had always had very definite ideas about how their bedroom activities should be conducted. Come to think of it, she’d had definite ideas about how he should do everything. What few things Rhonda didn’t have an opinion on, Alvera did and no qualms about letting them be known. He stared at the clock. Nine more minutes. He got up and walked to the window. He longed to open the window and let in some fresh air, but it was an old hospital and there were bars on the windows. Rumor had it there used to be an asylum on this floor and they did it to keep the patients from jumping. It was probably good in a way. More than once he stared out window and felt like taking the plunge. But today was not one of those days. Six more minutes passed and he could see her cross the street. She’d changed into a little black dress, but he was certain it was her. He started to pace like a panther in a cage. The minutes dragged. Finally, it was time. He walked to the door and flicked out the light.
“Thomas,” said a voice from behind….

Read the rest at Short Fiction Break.

Voting ends on Tuesday, September 12th at midnight pacific time.

Vote now!

 

The Prison Tide by Sef Churchill

Sef Churchill took up my challenge to “Write like the Dickens.”  Here is her new masterpiece.    I’m so proud to be honoring her hard work on my blog.  Be sure to check out Sef’s own blog at http://sefchurchill.com/.   I am declaring February to be “Poe Your Heart Out Month,” so be sure to sign up for my e-mail list for information on how to create your own Edgar Allan Poe inspired piece and be featured on this blog.  Good luck to all of you creatives out there and happy writing!
The ship on the marsh swayed in the November wind. As it swayed, it groaned, and as it groaned, it echoed the cries of the gulls which swooped down to the silvery mud, hoping for unlucky fish.
A low boat wove among the treacherous channels which meandered across the mudflats. At slack tide the flats appeared benign enough. Enterprising folk plucked a living from mollusks and cargo which had been insufficiently secured. At high water, however, these very streams made a deadly funnel for the incoming sea. No boat ventured out then, and only the wiliest of local watermen  knew the safe route through.
Mercy Grabbett gathered her shawl about her and watched the gulls. To anyone watching, it might seem that her thin figure was another one of the huddled sacks of laundry, heaped against each other in the belly of the little boat. But closer inspection would show a girl of perhaps nineteen, hair of the colour they call chestnut, and hazel eyes dimmed often by long work and short rest. There was a light in her eyes, however, a fresh light, as yet unnoticed by anyone but the person who inspired it, which made her face twice as interesting as that of most washer women.
Mercy’s guardian, Frozzle, steered the craft. She called him simply Frozzle.  He was Mr. Frozzle only when they were in company, which was nearly every night, for as well as supplying the prison ship with fresh linen, Frozzle and Mercy tended the ale barrels at the Silent Tide, the inn on the marsh.
Frozzle took Mercy in when her parents were drowned near the old jetty,  and since nobody else wanted her, kept her as his daughter, or niece, or maid of all work, depending on the circumstances and who might be asking. Frozzle, with his wiry grey hair and cap always askance, ran the Tide, and the laundry service, with a quavering hand, but it might still be raised against Mercy when strong drink was in the question.
“Here she is,” said Frozzle.
Since the hull of the prison ship rose before them like a cliff, Mercy made no reply.
“You run up and fetch the dirties,” continued Frozzle. “I’ll put these aboard.”
Mercy did as she was bade, slithering up the rope ladder as nimbly as any lascar, onto the slimy deck of the prison ship. Meanwhile Frozzle attached a hook and rope to the first of the laundry sacks.
Mercy bobbed a curtsey to Dodge, the prison steward and, by default, ship’s captain. Dodge saluted back, in a way he’d studied from real sea captains. Dodge had earned his present rank at Her Majesty’s pleasure. He ascended to the lofty title of Captain  principally by being the only prisoner who had ever been on board a ship prior to being incarcerated on one.  He did not have many maritime duties, for this, like other prison hulks, would never sail again.
 Mercy hurried to the hatch.  Her thin shoes slipped and slid on the mildewed deck, but she kept her hands stuffed into her apron pocket. Into the hatch she went, and down, down, down a rotting ladder to the prisoner decks,
In spite of the dark, she found the place she wanted. She sought not the room where Dodge piled up the stinking laundry for collection, but a narrow door, one among many, with a number 77 painted on it. She knocked five times.
Immediately a slip of folded paper shot out from under the door. Mercy snatched it up, and unfolding it,  read with eager eyes. She nodded, although there was nobody to see. From her apron she pulled a small bundle, which might have been twigs, or cigars, and a thin coil of ship’s rope. “How can I give them to you?” she whispered.
“Wait,” came a hoarse cry from within. “Wait one moment!”
Mercy waited, praying that nobody, especially Frozzle, would come upon her here, among the makeshift prison cells, where she should not be. 
“Stand back a little,” said the voice behind the door.
She complied.
A sound came like a rat gnawing an empty bone, and then a splinter of wood freed itself from the door, and made a hole, just at the level of Mercy’s eyes. She bent to it.
“I could free myself from this hole anytime,” said the prisoner, “if I was prepared to pay the price on my head. Which I’m not. Pass me what you have brought.”
Mercy hesitated. “If I’m caught, we’ll both hang,” she said. “Even though you are innocent.” He had protested his blamelessness many times.
“They care not for innocence or guilt, only the appearance of justice,” said the prisoner. “Quick now!”
Still Mercy held back with the rope, and the matches.
The prisoner pressed his eye to the new gap, and gazed at Mercy. “You are as kind as I imagined,” he said. “And more beautiful.”
Mercy said nothing. However much she might wish to return the compliment, she could not, for she could see only an eye, and a hank of black hair.  Sighing, she poked the rope through the hole, and the matches.
“You do your country a great service.”
“I do myself the service,” said Mercy, emboldened, “and I care nothing for the country as long as we can run away, and be married.”
He drew back a little.
“Stand back,” she said. “Let me see you.”
He did so.
She saw a tall, thin man, dressed in the fashion of twenty years before. A long coat, and full shirt hung from his shoulders, and the remains of stockings clung to his calves. His shoes were intact,  but for missing the silver buckles , sold, by Mercy, to pay for certain supplies. He was not handsome, but what is handsome when justice is in the question? And he loved her, or said he did. Either one was more than Mercy had ever known.
“It will be tonight,” he said. “I will light the ship, and you will guide me across the marsh.”
“I will be ready,” she said, “with a lantern.” 
She hesitated. “A stranger came to the Tide. Asking about you. I told him nothing, but Frozzle, my, my uncle, may have told him you were here.”
“How would he know that?” cried the prisoner in sudden anger. “Have you betrayed me? You harlot,  who has told you my name  -“
“Your name is on your laundry,” said Mercy.
Silence. Then, in the old gentle tone, “Forgive me, my love. When this is over I will never doubt you.”
“I must go,” she said. “Goodbye. and – I long for when we will be together!”
She turned, and with all the confidence of youth and love, slipped away into the dark
***
The prison hulk flamed against the winter sky. Night was drawing on rapidly, advancing over the marsh like a black fog. The tide followed the night close at heel, like a dog sniffing for scraps, liable to turn vicious if refused.
Mercy stood at the edge of the mudflat, her face lit by the fire raging through the shell of the old ship. She watched for the prisoner to arrive, which at last he did, his boots mud-drenched, his clothes dripping. She gave him her cloak, and said she would lead him to the road.  He strode towards it.
She ran after him. “Wait my love, where shall we meet?”
“We shan’t. I’m free now.”
“But you promised -“
Too late, she realized her folly. Before her hunched a desperate man, convicted of the gravest crimes, and now believed by all to be dead. Why would he choose obligation, when he could choose freedom?
In Mercy’s heart, a hardness formed, a lump of loss and bitterness. “Wait, she said, “the road, you will never find your way. Not at dusk, not even by the light of the flames.”
“I see it there.”
“No! The tide, the water here deceives.”
He stopped and waited for her. “Which way then?” he said, folding her cloak tightly about him to disguise his ragged clothes.
She pointed. “Make for the old jetty. From it, you will see the road. East is Rochester, west is Dartford.”
He grunted.
“No farewell for me,” she said. Here was his chance, his last chance. “No thanks?”
“For a laundry girl who sold my silver buckles and doubtless profited more than the paltry coins I got?” He laughed, a cold laugh, and his face twisted. 
The bitterness in Mercy’s heart set to stone.
“Then go,” she said, “the way I told you.”
She picked her way towards the Silent Tide inn.
Frozzle was waiting, with a glass of porter, and a frown at her muddy clogs. “Evil deeds tonight,” he said. “The prison ship aflame and all the men dead, they say.”
“Is that what they say,” she said, swallowing porter.
“And a big tide coming,” he went on, “twill sweep what’s left of that vessel up to London and back out again to France. There will be nothing to see come morning.”
Mercy bent her head over her drink, and thought of the prisoner, following the line of the jetty into the path of the tide. She swallowed the last dregs, and turned aside thoughts of the past. “The tide takes what it will,” she said, and held out her glass. 

My Agatha Christie Imitation is Here!

Here it is.  I can honestly say that I learned a great deal in writing this piece.  A big shout out to my friends at The Write Practice for all of the help polishing my numerous drafts.  If you are looking for an online community, I highly recommend it.
The Case of the Gypsy Curse

It was during my early years working at Scotland Yard that I investigated one of the most extraordinary crimes of the day. The sensationalist newspapers called it The Case of the Gypsy Curse.
Hard upon the tragic death of Mr. Edmondo Zacchini, retired circus performer, came the murder of a mysterious American–both deaths occurring at Longmeade Manor, home to the Harlows, one of the wealthiest and most respected families in Devonshire Heath. The local police were baffled, and in due course; Lei Liang was called in—his success in another recent case having brought him increasing prestige and notoriety, despite Liang being newly appointed.
My uncle Albert, head of Scotland Yard at the time, received a specific request from Charles Harlow for the renowned Liang to be lead investigator on the case. Rumored curses are apparently bad for business, and Charles Harlow was considered a very astute businessman. My uncle, still dubious of foreigners and resigning the previous case’s success to be pure luck, was skeptical of Liang’s true capabilities, and assigned me to be his subordinate.
Our first encounter was at London Victoria station. We were to catch the 8:00 a.m. train that would take us to Devonshire Heath. I was searching through the crowd for a singular Chinaman, a most unusual sight at the time, and I was startled by a tapping on my shoulder. I spun around to meet a set of tiny, dark eyes studying me. He smiled and took a polite bow as I pondered his appearance, seemingly out of thin air.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Inspector Higgins,” he said.
“How do you know who I am?” I replied, unsettled.
“You are the only person here searching for someone,” he said still studying me like an exotic bird on a perch.
“Yes. I suppose I am,” I said, giving him a cursory glance. Although he was middle-aged, his hair did not contain a single strand of gray. It was sleek and dark, shining purple in the sun like the wings of a raven. He wore a smart suit, ever so slightly snug in the middle. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” I said feeling a little annoyed.
“Many apologies. I was detained by a cheese danish,” he said, giving his tiny paunch a pat.
“I see. Try to be more punctual next time,” I replied, certain now that my Uncle’s skepticism had been well founded. Lei Liang was an odd bird, indeed.
********
The air was still crisp when we arrived in the sleepy town of Devonshire Heath. It was the kind of day when the sun is shines, but the cold bites one’s ears. I pulled up my collar as we headed straight to the office of Herbert Abernathy, town coroner. He was a very stern and serious sort of fellow. Elderly, he wore spectacles that magnified his eyes like enormous, blue marbles, but his faculties were razor sharp.
“I conducted an autopsy as soon as we pulled him out of the pond,” he said. “Cause of death was a blow upon the head. Most unsavory business.”
“Could it have been caused by a fall, perhaps?” I asked. “Hit a rock or something?”
“Certainly not,” Abernathy replied, indignant. “My best guess would be a hammer. The wound was very distinct.”
“What do the residents think happened?” Liang interjected.
“They think a tramp came along and did him in.”
“Does that seem likely?” Liang asked.
“No,” Abernathy said shaking his head. “This is a quiet community. If there was a tramp about, someone would have spotted him.”
“How long was Mr. Donaldson in the pond?” I asked.
“Oh, I’d say about three days, judging by the sight of him,” Abernathy said.
“He died a week ago Tuesday, then?” Liang said rubbing his chin.
“That Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning,” Abernathy said matter-of-factly.
“Do you know what his business was here?” Liang asked.
“No idea whatever. I only dealt with the body. The Harlows can tell you more,” Abernathy said, rising with an arthritic groan.
“What about the police?” I said.
“Police chief’s wife is having a baby. Dr. Weaver just left to deliver it. It’s Chief Chesterfield’s first. I’m sure he will be of little use to you right now,” said Abernathy waving us toward the door. We took our leave of the coroner’s office, my mind whirling as we walked along the street.
“If what he said is true about the lack of suspicious characters about–” I started.
“Then we are walking into the proverbial lion’s den,” Liang replied, finishing my sentence for me.
*******
After a twenty-minute drive, the car we’d hired deposited us at the doorstep of Longmeade Manor, a sprawling estate which adorned the property in the grand fashion of a bygone era. The lawn looked meticulous, but one glance at the garden revealed signs of decline. It sat off to the side, mostly out of view, but one could tell that it was in desperate need of attention. Many of the wealthier families had been hurt by the economic collapse in the States, making these grand estates a burden, but old families held onto them out of pride. Human psychology seemed to dictate that one should hold on to what one knows at all costs.
I rang the bell and a well-dressed man who made too much use of pomade opened the door.
“My name is Reggie Castor. I am Mr. Harlow’s secretary,” he said as he bent down to pick up a watering-can from the front steps. “My apologies. The gardener is always leaving this lying about.”
“I am Inspector Walter Higgins, and this is my associate, Mr. Lei Liang of Scotland Yard,” I said.
“We have been expecting you,” Harlow replied, ushering us into the foyer. The smell of polished wood assaulted my senses, reminding me of boarding school.
“We will need to speak with the family,” Liang said.
“Of course. If you would just follow me,” Castor replied with a nod. “Terrible mess, this.”
“Could you tell us your impression of things?” Liang said.
Reggie Castor stopped and stared at Liang for a moment.
“Well,” he began, shifting his weight as he considered. “Mr. Donaldson showed up here unannounced on Tuesday, claiming to be a friend of Mrs. Zacchini. He begged to meet with her privately, and was invited to stay the evening. He dined with the family, but then took his things and left shortly before everyone retired. I offered to call a car to take him to the inn in town, but he declined. He said that he was meeting someone who would take him to town. He left and was not seen again until he was discovered in the pond.”
“Did you see a car come and collect Mr. Donaldson?”
“No,” replied Castor. “My quarters are on the rear of the house. I cannot see the road from my window.”
“Did he seem angry?” Liang said, studying Reggie Castor carefully.
“No. Not angry. More nervous I’d say,” Castor replied.
“Afraid of something, perhaps?” Liang quizzed.
“Perhaps. It is difficult to read a man’s mind,” Castor said as he resumed his task of guiding us to the drawing room.
“True,” said Liang, nodding thoughtfully.
Suddenly, a beautiful creature in black mourning garb appeared in the foyer, carrying a small, blond child of cherubic proportions. The child appeared to be just under a year old. A honeymoon baby, no doubt. Tear stains lined the mother’s cheeks, but she appeared otherwise together.
“Are these police?” she asked.
“Yes milady,” Castor said gently. “Would you like to sit down? I’m afraid that…”
“No need to worry,” she said. “Will you please collect my parents? Father is in the study, and I believe mother’s in the greenhouse.”
“Yes milady,” He said, finally retreating after a sorrowful glance resembling a puppy who had been scolded.
“My name is Amelia Zacchini,” she said, her dark eyes peering beneath long thick lashes. A specimen of the female form, even in widow’s weeds.
“I am Inspector Lei Liang, and this is my associate Mr. Higgins,” Liang said with a nod in my direction. “I am most sorry for your loss.” His eyes took a lengthy glance over the fair child with bobbing curls and a rosy nose. “What a handsome little boy,” he said as the nurse came in and carried the child off.
“Yes,” Amelia replied absently. “He is quite handsome. Just like his…,” She turned her face slightly, her lower lip quivering.
“There, there,” Liang said, offering her a handkerchief. “You have been through quite an ordeal.”
She nodded accordingly and was about to speak when a tall, slender woman with an intelligent face entered the room with her husband close behind. Jane Harlow commanded attention and I dare say, respect. She was wearing a smart wool skirt with sensible shoes, and her face was full of color. “Amelia?” she said, breathless.
“These are detectives Liang and Higgins,” Amelia said.
“Oh, I can’t tell you how glad I am you’ve arrived,” Jane Harlow said, waving a wisp of hair out of her face.
“This has all been terribly upsetting, as you can imagine,” said her husband Charles, indicating for us to take a seat.
Liang sat in a high back chair next to the fireplace and stared into the coals as if he were reading tea leaves. Charles Harlow looked puzzled as he studied the renowned investigator.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I said respectfully as I took my place on the settee across from Mr. Harlow.
“It’s just so dreadful,” Jane Harlow said with a cough.
“You alright, dear?” Charles said, feigning concern.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, looking at me with blue-green eyes that resembled a storm at sea. “I just need a moment to catch my breath.”
“You’ll have to excuse my wife,” Charles said. “She has a heart condition, and this ordeal has been a great strain.”
“Please continue, inspector,” Jane Harlow said as a servant poured her a glass of water.
“I just need a detailed account of Mr. Donaldson’s visit,” I replied.
“That’s easy enough,” Charles Harlow said, lighting a cigar. He was a competent sort of man—the type that succeeded in business and all facets of life. He exuded confidence as he puffed smoke into the air. “Mr. Donaldson showed up quite unannounced. I found him rather rude, to be honest.”
“Father,” Amelia interjected.
“I’m sorry, but he was really of no account. Amelia made excuses for him and insisted on seeing him as he was a friend of hers, so I agreed,” he said, pouring himself a Scotch to compliment his cigar.
“I’ve heard enough,” Amelia said, bristling, and rushed out of the room.
“Ah, she doesn’t understand. She is still very much like a child,” Harlow said, sipping his Scotch. “Her friend, Mr. Donaldson, pulled me aside and asked for several thousand pounds shortly after he arrived. I turned him down flat, and he had no reason to hang around. He took his leave shortly after dinner. That was the last we saw of him until…”
“Is there anyone you know that would have wanted to harm Mr. Donaldson? Did he mention any enemies?” I queried.
“No. He didn’t share anything personal, but who knows the sort of company he liked to keep? I tried to tell Amelia he was no good, but you know how children are these days.”
“He wasn’t as bad as all that, Charles,” Jane Harlow snapped.
“You were blinded by his good looks,” Charles said rolling his eyes. “A businessman like myself knows how to read a man.”
“It is odd that he chose to leave so late in the evening,” Liang interjected from his perch. I’d almost forgotten his presence, as had Mr. Harlow, judging by his startled grimace. “Did something prompt his swift departure? Something you are not telling us, perhaps?” Liang cocked his head, studying Charles Harlow now with his full attention.
“Look here,” said Charles. “Are you accusing me of hiding something?”
“Nothing you think is important, no. However, sometimes it is the tiny details that matter most. Something about Mr. Donaldson made you uneasy, did it not?” Liang said, his demeanor calm and unruffled.
“His behavior was peculiar,” Charles said slamming down the rest of his Scotch. “I didn’t like the way he looked at Amelia. It was obvious he was in love with her, and I’m afraid my daughter returned his affections. There. I said it.” He looked at Liang with defiant hatred.
“Charles!” Jane Harlow snapped.
“You don’t know what they talked about?” Liang pressed.
“No,” Charles said with vehemence.
“I see. And what of Mr. Zacchini? He died the very next day?”
“Yes. Tragic accident,” said Charles Harlow, shaking his head.
“Was it?” Liang said.
“You don’t buy into all this balderdash of a curse?”
“No. I do not believe in curses, but I do believe in evil, Mr. Harlow. Can you please describe for me the circumstances of your son-in-law’s death?”
“You really believe someone could have killed Edmondo?” Jane Harlow said, clutching her hand to her heart.
“Preposterous. It had to be an accident!” Charles roared.
“Just the same, could you tell me about it?” Liang asked, undeterred. I could feel the color rising in my cheeks. This case would be Liang’s last. Charles Harlow and my uncle would make sure of it. Of that I was certain.
“My son-in-law was formerly a circus performer,” Charles began through gritted teeth. “I’m sure that much you have ascertained.” Liang nodded earnestly for him to continue. “He dragged that silly contraption all the way across the ocean. He wanted to start his own circus, and wanted me to back him in the venture. I told him I’d have to think about it. I hoped he would drop the matter. Instead, he insisted on giving a performance. I dare say he thought that it would further encourage me.”
“Was this a spur-of-the-moment decision?” Liang ventured.
“No. Not exactly,” he said pouring another Scotch. “He announced it at dinner the night before.”
“The same night Mr. Donaldson joined you?”
“Indeed.”
“Had he perform this trick many times before?”
“Hundreds, to hear him tell it,” Charles said.
“But clearly he made an error. He had not performed it since they arrived last year,” Jane interjected.
“How did Mr. Zacchini calculate the trajectory?” Liang pressed. I felt a tight ball forming in my throat and took a deep breath as Charles Harlow rolled his eyes.
“He had a dummy specially made. It weighed the exact same as his own body. He was emphatic the weight had to be exactly right to the last ounce. Any difference could throw off things completely. It had an opening in its chest so that the weight could be adjusted.”
“He loaded the dummy into the cannon himself?” Liang asked.
“No, actually he was busy taking some measurements. He had Reggie hoist it in the cannon.”
“Reggie is a dear, though. He wouldn’t harm anyone,” Jane remarked
“Is there any way that we can see this dummy perhaps?” Liang said. At this remark, Charles threw up his arms.
“Oh, my,” Jane Harlow exclaimed gripping her chest suddenly.
“You alright, love?” Charles said with genuine concern this time.
“I’ll be fine. I just need to lie down a moment,” she said as Charles summoned a maid to assist them up the stairs. Reggie Castor appeared swiftly from around the corner where I suspected he had been eavesdropping. There was a definite uneasiness in his manner I had not seen before.
“If that is all at present,” Charles said with venom as he slid his arm around his wife.
“About the test dummy,” Liang reiterated as the Harlows started up the stairs.
“Take the damn thing if you please!” he shouted without turning.
Reggie Castor indicated for us to follow and didn’t say a word as he led us toward the east wing. A preponderance of dust indicated that this wing was little used and had been relegated to storage. Liang ran his finger along a piece of trim as we followed and gave a sigh of distaste. At the end of the hall, we were ushered to a room at the right full of odds and ends. Furniture that was not in use, old paintings, and a sterling tea set in need of polish all sat idle. In the corner sat the dummy in question. It was a doll the size of a man. The material was a thick blue cotton. A certain amount of skill had gone into its construction.
Liang examined the dummy for several long moments. He surveyed every inch of the doll’s body and finished his examination by unzipping the pocket and reaching inside.
“Was the test dummy always kept in this room?” Liang asked as he probed the dummy’s inner cavity.
“Yes. Mr. Zacchini was very particular about how it was stored.”
“Most unusual,” Liang muttered.
“What is that?” Reggie Castor and I asked in unison.
“We will need to speak to Mrs. Amelia privately right away,” Liang said, ignoring us both.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Castor with a smirk. “I will go and fetch her for you.”
Amelia Zacchini met us in the study. Liang shut the door and ushered her into a chair.
“I need perfect honesty from you Mrs. Zacchini. I am afraid. Yes, I am very much afraid that another death could occur.”
Amelia Zacchini stared at Liang opened mouthed.
“You don’t really buy into this curse business? It’s such rubbish.”
“It is not a curse that I fear, milady,”
“What do you require of me?”
“I assure you of the utmost discretion, Madame, but I need to know. Mr. Donaldson was the father of little Robert, was he not?”
Her mouth fell open, and she hesitated for a moment. “But how could you know that?” she said incredulous.
“I saw pictures of your husband in the newspaper. I knew the moment that I looked at little Robert that he was not a Zacchini. When you said he was handsome like his father you were referring to Mr. Donaldson—the real man you fell in love with in the States. He had come to claim what had rightfully been stolen from him. Am I correct?”
Amelia began to sob. “Yes,” she whispered. Liang offered her his handkerchief, which she gladly accepted as I sat dumbfounded.
“Patrick confessed to Edmondo that I was with child. Patrick was in a quandary; we were in a terrible fix. Patrick rushed off to his parents and told Edmondo to let me know he would return for me. He was so impetuous. He just took off and trusted Edmondo to tell me the truth. That horrible man convinced me that Patrick had run off. He offered to marry me to save my honor. You have to understand my life would have been ruined if I had come back home…”
“You have been through a great deal,” Liang said.
“He killed Patrick, didn’t he? Oh it’s all my fault,” she said stomping her tiny foot.
“You cannot possibly blame yourself. It is very difficult to stand in the path of evil.”
Amelia Zacchini gave a shudder. “But surely it’s over now. Edmondo is gone.”
“Yes. He is gone, but the evil that he brought with him pervades, I’m afraid. We must act quickly,” Liang said, rising. “Mrs. Amelia, you stay here.” She nodded like an obedient child.
I followed Liang out of the room, still in a bit of shock.
“So the dead man did Donaldson in right before he died himself?” I said, breathless.
“But of course–Donaldson threatened to upset all of his plans, and Edmondo Zacchini was a man of ruthless ambition.”
“But what do we have to fear now?” I asked, incredulous.
“The other murderer,” Liang said, reaching the top. “Or perhaps I should say, the murderess.”
“You can’t mean to say…” I was cut short as he knocked on Mrs. Harlow’s door.
“Yes?” Jane Harlow called as we barged into the room. Jane Harlow sat on a divan, staring. Her expression held equal parts contempt and admiration.
“What on earth do you mean by interrupting me here?” she demanded.
“You already know,” Liang said politely.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said her eyes stormy.
“You are an astute woman. You knew the moment you saw Patrick Donaldson who he was and why he was here. Your husband may not have understood Mr. Donaldson’s intentions. He didn’t want to, but you saw it right away.”
“Yes. Of course, I saw it, but my hands were tied,” she said popping her medication and taking a drink of water. I detected a subtle tremble in her hands.
“You are the one that Mr. Donaldson was going to meet that night. You were going to give him money until a divorce was arranged.”
“Jane!” Charles said charging into the room. “Is this true?”
“Yes,” she whispered, “but Edmondo got to him first. “I couldn’t prove it, but I knew. You should have seen him that morning. He was so proud of himself. So smug. You saw him Charles.” Mr. Harlow stared at his wife still uncertain.
“You saw an opportunity,” Liang said with a nod of understanding.
Mrs. Harlow was breathing heavy now. Her face became flushed. “I couldn’t let Amelia be married to that horrible man,” she said, pounding her fist. “Reggie sat the dummy on the front step and went inside to do something. The watering-can was sitting right there in front of me.”
“Jane, you didn’t,” Charles said aghast.
Mrs. Harlow shrugged, leaning back on the divan. “Reggie came out a moment later and hoisted the thing up without a…” Her eyes fluttered, and she began to slide. Charles rushed to her side. Liang called for help. Reggie Castor rushed in with the maid on his heels.
“Her pills!” Charles called to the maid.
“She already took her pills,” the maid cried.
“Why?” Charles whispered as Amelia rushed in and took her mother’s hand.
“Promise me you will be happy,” Jane Harlow whispered closing her eyes.
“Mother! No!” Amelia cried.
“I will call for the doctor,” Liang said rushing out.
“Extraordinary,” I exclaimed following Liang. “I guess she couldn’t handle it.”
“That woman can handle most anything my friend. Once she knew that her capture was imminent she overdosed on her heart medication.”
“But how did you know?” I asked.
“With experience comes intuition,” he said staring at me with those tiny dark eyes.
“Such a sad business,” I replied shaking my head.
“Yes. However, I think Mrs. Zacchini will find the happiness her mother fought so hard for her to have.”
“Who would have thought it?” I said still aghast.
“One who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself,” Liang replied as he dialed Herbert Abernathy’s office.
Sometimes about town, you can still hear people talking about the Gypsy Curse. As for me, I don’t believe in curses, but I do believe in the deductive reasoning of detective Lei Liang.