Friday, July 27, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 10


Della awoke with a start and found CJ standing next to the bed, shaking her shoulder.

“Mom, I heard something.”


“I think I heard a baby cry, or a hurt animal or something and it woke me up and I’m scared.”

“You scared the crap out of me.”

Della lifted her head and saw the journal splayed across her belly.   She sat up and twisted towards the nightstand to turn a light on.  It had grown dark and CJ must have gone to bed on his own after she fell asleep reading because she had no memory of the usual verbal struggle she had to endure every night to get him to go to bed.

“Can’t you at least knock when you come through that door?  Give me some kind of advance notice or something.  At least when you use the other door and come through the kitchen I hear you coming and I can prepare to stave off having a stroke.”

“Duh.  There’s no door.  It was the fastest way in and if you think I’m going to walk all the way around when I can just pop through, you’re crazy.”

She groggily recalled working on the doorway before becoming lost in the pages of the journal and lying down on her bed to read.  It seemed ages ago that she’d found it, but it had to have been hours ago because it was dark outside.

“Yeah.  Yeah.  I forgot.  What’s going on?”

“Well—I thought I heard voices and I thought maybe it was coming from next door or something but every time I fall asleep I hear the sounds again and then when I started hearing the baby cry, I got scared because I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  Even when I opened my window to see if I could figure it out, it sounded like it was coming from inside the house.  Can I sleep in here?”

“Yeah.  Go grab a sleeping bag and you can lay down here on the floor."

“Seriously?  I can’t sleep in the bed? 

“No.  You’re way too tall and you kick all the covers off and you’re 13 years old now.  Do you want your friends to tease you and call you the ‘sissy boy?’”

CJ grabbed a sleeping bag from Della’s closet, threw it down on the floor and ran to his bedroom to get his pillow.  Della swung her legs off of the bed and grabbed her nightshirt on the way to the bathroom.  By the time she came back, CJ had settled on the floor and was already starting to breath heavily.  She stepped over him and pulled down her covers. 

The flashlight hanging from the hook on the side of the nightstand gave her an idea.  She switched off the light, grabbed the flashlight and settled on her side with the flash light tucked in and shining from under the crook of her neck as she opened the journal.

Most of the entries so far had been unremarkable, but now that she was awake, her interest was piqued, and she figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep so she may as well read again.

January 17, 1917

Ivy was terribly fussy today.  She’s finally gone down for the night, but the day wasn’t easy.  We stayed in because the weather was so nasty.  Mother Anders came by and we shared sandwiches while she talked about Cy and told me stupid  stories about when he  was young and how the only way she could ease his colic  was if she sang him some silly song and bounce him around in some manner that seemed completely  nonsensical to me.  She sang a couple of lines but I didn’t recognize the song.  She wanted to teach it to me.  Said it might work with Ivy since it had worked on her daddy, but I was too preoccupied worrying about Cy’s “ homecoming” tomorrow.  I know he’s going to be grumpy and I just don’t think I have the energy to appease him.  I think Mother Anders  could tell that I wasn’t paying attention to her.  She left abruptly and I honestly don’t remember much about our goodbyes other than watching her as she made her way through the snow. I’ve got to do something and I feel the desperation growing  in the pit of my stomach.


Della imagined Mary slipping the book back in its hiding place.  There were no other entries for a few days and then several entries all at once, followed by more empty days when she imagined that Cy must have been home and Mary found herself unable to write of her growing unhappiness over Cy’s neglect for her and the child.

A pattern was becoming clear and Della could see that Mary was becoming increasingly restless with her life.  There was more talk of Mother Anders, and Mary had begun to write more freely about her dislike for her mother-in-law.  She was an overbearing woman who obviously adored her son and thought he could do no wrong. It wasn’t that she seemed to dislike Mary, but it was clear that she disapproved of Mary’s parenting skills and didn’t believe that Mary was making her son happy.


March 28, 1917

Why did he bother to marry me?  I am so angry and he just doesn’t understand why I am so distraught over my inability to never be able to please him.  When he comes home, he hates being here.  He’d rather be with his parents than with me.  I probably shouldn’t complain, because it frees me from his constant moaning about the baby and me.  He shows me no affection at all and is repulsed when I try to catch his attention.  I imagine it’s why he won’t take a job at the smelter or why he won’t work on the family farm. It would cause him to be home on a regular basis and he certainly doesn’t want that.   The rail keeps him away from us and only God knows who must be keeping him company when he’s away.  His mother has asked that I let Ivy come stay with her.  She must think that since I can’t please my husband, that I’m not a fit mother.  I think she’s trying to take my baby away.  And the more pleasant I try to be  with Cy, the more he distances himself and expresses his distaste with me.  I’ve got to do something soon and I’ll be damned if I let him or his mother or his limp piece-of-flesh father of his take my child.

God knows that I try to dismiss the thoughts that overcome me in my most desperate of time but I fear this all is coming to a head.  Soon.


A soft child-like cry wafted into the bedroom and Della’s struggled to open her eyes.  Had she really heard that?  She was laying on her right side, looking towards the digital clock with its big red numbers.  She glanced around the room into the darkness and tried to get her bearings.  The journal was on the nightstand and the flashlight was hanging on its hook.

She was at home.  Check.  In bed.  Check.  Time--3:04 AM. Check. CJ’s on the floor.  Check.

She looked over the side of the bed just to make sure.

Soft moonlight shone through the blinds and left beams of light on the bed, interrupted by the softly swaying shadows of the branches and leaves outside the window.  It made her think of an architecture design class from college where the teacher showed slides of different styles of pillars.  One in particular she recalled still remained with her to this day.  A strong Grecian pillar with softly flowing vines winding their way up and around.  She always loved the beauty of the vine’s curves contrasting with the strong architectural lines.

She lifted herself up onto one of her elbows.  One of her dogs was lying on its side next to her in the bed, his paws softly paddling and the side of his mouth puffing puffing up from his gently labored breathing; she imagined him dreaming of chasing a squirrel or stray cat.  The air escaping his mouth made his cheek pop against his teeth and gums as he quietly dream-barked.  Was that what she had heard?  His oral flatulence?  Or maybe a neighbor was up with a fussy baby and the sound had carried across the silence of the heavy night air.

Her pillow wrapped around her face as she laid back down on her right side and shook it off as her imagination.

Della pushed the button on her clock to turn the radio on.  She was in the habit of listening to George Noory on Coast to Coast AM when she woke up in the middle of the night and the soothing sound of his voice would always lull her back into sleep.   She always chuckled to herself, imagining that if she ever met him, she would introduce herself by telling him that although he didn’t realize it, she slept with him every night.  She imagined him laughing admiringly at her great wit and then realized that she was probably the only one that thought it was really funny.   OK, Della.  Back to reality, she told herself.

The program tonight was about EVPs.  Some ghost /paranormal group out of Langdon was on the program every once in a while (when it wasn’t promoting the latest government conspiracy theorists or UFO abductees—she usually turned the radio off immediately when they had those crackpots on) and tonight was one of those nights.  Della was totally creeped out within the first five minutes and she hoped she wouldn’t fall asleep and miss a single minute of the interview.

She liked being creeped out.  It was a good thing.  Anytime she could listen to or read something about life after death, she was the first in line.  She couldn’t get enough of it.

The group’s leader, Jeannie Bixom, explained to George that her team had recently investigated an abandoned and allegedly haunted train station and captured several audio phenomena that she wanted to share.

“I come for vengeance,” a metallic and mechanical voice from the recording broadcast through the airwaves.

Della’s eyes started to water and the hair on the back of her neck bristled.  She thought it may have sounded more like “I come for Venice,” but Jeannie’s explanation was plausible.

“This next EVP was captured during a group EVP session.   An EVP or electronic voice phenomena may not be audible to the human ear.  It is a voice that is captured either in a silent room, as the one you have just heard, or in a recording during a “question and answer” session conducted by a paranormal investigator,” Jeannie continued.  “The investigator doesn’t hear the responses until the playback.  We tend to think of voices that can be heard with the human ear as disembodied voices and yes, sometimes those voices get recorded, but we classify them differently than EVPs.

“Some skeptics try to explain EVPs as stray radio transmissions, static, or simply the fabrication of an overly imaginative mind…especially given the quality of some EVPs which are very mechanical and electronic sounding” Jeannie continued. “George, when you hear this next clip, you’ll see that the answers are intelligent and are in direct response to our questions.  And these particular clips have a natural verbal cadence to them.  These EVPs were captured in an upstairs residential area of the station where a manager and his young bride resided in 1888.  Records show that this young man, Archibald Rasmussen, strangled his pregnant wife and then shot himself due to overwhelming gambling debts. 

First, you’ll hear one of our investigators ask a question, followed by a period of silence where entities are asked to respond.  These are the holy grail of EVPs because it’s pretty hard to write off an EVP as a radio transmission when you get a direct answer to a question.”

“Is there anyone here who would like to talk to us?”  a male voice asked.


“Yes.”  The voice was scratchy and hesitant but there was a definite response.  And it sounded male.

“Is Archie here?”


“G-o-o-o a-waaaay.”  The response sounded like a man.

Della chuckled quietly at the most predictable ghost quote of all times.  She wiggled around a bit and noticed that she was getting stiff from waking up in the same position that she’d fallen asleep in.  She counted the red glowing lines that made up the digital numbers on the clock.  Wow!  The number six has six red lines in it. Go figure.  Must be some OCD setting in, she thought.

“We’d like to help,” the male investigator continued.  “Do you need help?”

Della heard the sound of a door creaking and latching as he spoke.  What a bunch of losers, she thought.  They’ve just contaminated their own investigation by not controlling their environment and making sure that their people were not moving around making extra noise.

“Geeeeeetttt oooouuuuuut of myyy space.

“Did you kill your wife and unborn child?” 

“She had a lover,” the male voice responded, crisply this time.


Honestly, some of the interpretations of the responses sounded like they could have been different than what Jeannie was saying they were, but they were pretty clear and they were definitely bone-chilling as they broadcast into the darkness of the bedroom.

“Archie, if you are here, please tell us why you did it.”

“It huuuuurrrrrttt,” Archie explained.

Jeannie started to talk again and spoke excitedly of how she and her team were ecstatic when they reviewed this tape, due to the intelligent responses they received.  Della could hear the squeak and latch of the door again. 

Wait…just a minute…where was that coming from?  It sounded like the door between her and CJ’s room but that was impossible.  It wasn’t even there anymore.  Had that sound been from the house, rather than the investigator’s recording?

Della was scared to lift her head off the pillow to look towards the doorway.  Instead, looked over the edge of the bed at CJ.  He was big-eyed and awake but very still.  She could see the fear in his eyes as he carefully rotated his gaze upwards towards her.

She slowly reached over and turned the radio off.  CJs eyes met hers and the silent communication was undeniable.  Remain calm.  Remain quiet.  Della could swear she saw her breath when she reached over.  She put her finger to her lips to make sure CJ stayed quiet.

Creeeeaaaaaakkkkk.  Click. Click.

Della rolled onto her back and sat up.  She instinctively put her hand out her side as if she was driving a car and wanted to keep her passenger from going through the windshield during a sudden stop but her hand made contact with CJ’s face as he sat up, too.

Mary.  Mary and Ivy.  At the foot of the bed.  Ivy was nestled into Mary’s arms with her head buried in the curve of Mary’s neck.  Their skin glistened in the waning moonlight and Della could see the hazy lines of her dresser and mirror behind the two.  Well, actually, she could see it through them.

Della’s hand dropped as CJ’s hand came up and grabbed hers. 

Could this really be happening?  She had so been hoping for Mary to show up again, but she hadn’t factored CJ into the mix and she was frightened for him.  She wanted to protect him. 

The air in the room started to move.  Slowly at first, but it gathered speed as it took on a quickly darkening hue and travelled counter clockwise through the room.  Della could feel her hair responding to the motion and she brushed it out of her mouth with her left hand while never taking her eyes off Mary’s face.

The darkness moved through Mary and Ivy and she could see Mary respond by arching her shoulders forward so as to further shield Ivy from the spinning darkness.

The darkness had adopted a comet-like appearance and as it gained momentum, it began to make an odd noise.  It was a whoosh with a squeal of metal against metal and as it gained speed, so did it gain volume.

Mary’s loose hair around her face flew out as the head of the comet passed through her each time it circled.  She slowly and deliberately lifted her eyes and met Della’s.

Della could feel CJ pulling down on her right hand, trying to bring it closer to his chest and she was afraid she was going to fall out of the bed and onto him.

Mary began to open her mouth as if to speak, but her lips continued past the point of normal speech and her mouth became a giant, dark cave of teeth and tongue as her head tipped slowly back and an inhuman scream crawled its way forth from the depths of her soul and into the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When The Fries Came Tumbling Down

I'm not really sure how to begin.  A few weeks back I was on twitter mentioning that I had blown my left jaw disc and that I knew it was serious because I couldn't even chew a cupcake (Yes, I measure my life in cupcake eating... doesn't everyone?), and a few minutes later a friend was talking about a charity anthology featuring short stories written by crime fighters. Then people started tweeting title ideas and talking about story themes- I vaguely remember a book cover idea being tossed around the twitters. And before I could catch up on the twitter feed... Feeding Kate was born.  Honestly, I thought this was just a lively, fun conversation on twitter and never realized that so many people had stepped up to participate in the project. And I was beyond surprised when Laura Curtis told me the project was actually real.

*To learn more about Feeding Kate and the talented authors behind it click HERE!

Since the campaign started last week some people have been asking how I injured my jaw so I thought I’d share the story with ya’ll. It’s kind of a comical story… mixed with some drama and a drunk driver.  There’s even a death.

My life...  reads like fiction.

It all started in 1994 when I was working at the Burger King located on Newmark Street in Coos Bay, Oregon. I was a college student- working my way through school, taking care of my father after heart surgery, and frying up some crispy fries on the side.

A little embarrassed at my job, I used my hearing impairment to avoid working the front counter by claiming I couldn't hear the orders properly and telling the manager it would be in the best interest of the customer if they had a more "reliable" employee to work with. You know... one that could hear. They didn't believe me at first, probably figured I was lying. But a few steady... "What was that?" later... and my butt was firmly planted in the kitchen. *grins*

FACT: I developed hearing problems in my left ear after a shotgun incident in my early childhood. In large crowds you’ll often find me turning my head when I’m being spoken to. It’s usually because people are talking into my bad ear. But it’s not like I wear a sign with instructions on how to speak to me so turning my head usually helps to avoid all of those, “I’m sorry. What was that?” moments.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah.

I was tossed into the kitchen and soon became the Queen of the WHOPPER. Hey, now. Don't laugh at me. My skills were mad, bro. My WHOPPERS were large and juicy, and always served with the best tomatoes in the batch. My mayonnaise was spread evenly across the bun, the onions were always the perfect thickness; the lettuce never wilted.  You see,  I mastered the art of WHOPPER making, people. So much so that it landed me the title of Employee of the Month. My name… forever listed on the wall inside the Burger King on Newmark Street.  *bows graciously to silent applause*

But I didn’t just master my station. I was a master on the fryer, a master at food prep, and a master while serving time on the chicken counter.  And it was my multitasking, master, madness skills that got me into trouble. A call for help from the french fry guy during a rush one night had me dashing to the walk in freezer for some bags of the good stuff.  I stepped in and the fries came tumbling down… in boxes. Yep, more than one.  Seems that *somebody* stacked the boxes above regulation height and with no advanced warning for the Queen of the WHOPPER… they tumbled over and I took a heavy box of frozen fries to the left side of my face.  I was done eating by the end of the night, on a liquid diet by morning, and battling BK’s worker’s compensation plan by the end of the week.

It was a battle that would last three years.

Not sure why it took so long… I’m sure BK thought I’d drop the claim, but I didn’t. And of course by the time they approved the surgery I was engaged to be married. In fact, my wedding was just a few weeks away. So it really wasn’t a surprise when the company called me and told me that their deadline for my procedure was a week before the big day. Fearing black eyes and stitches in my wedding photos, the company graciously allowed me to have the surgery a week AFTER the wedding.  *sigh*

The surgery was a success (thank goodness), and I went on my married little way perfectly content until… the early morning hours of December 8, 1998 (exactly one year and a day after surgery) when I was hit by a drunk driver on my way to work. The impact was so great that it dislodged the newly created discs in my jaw joints, and after another long fight (this time with our car insurance) I was scheduled for another jaw procedure. Unfortunately, there were complications with the second procedure (think missing facial tissue and fracture pins and a doctor that refuses to see you again)… and from there we have a lawsuit, a dead attorney, and a third procedure to correct damage and to help restore joint function so I could eat again.  It was another successful procedure, one that would keep my jaw in working order for over eight years.

I was sitting with my spouse on a beautiful Saturday afternoon about four weeks ago preparing for a day of bike shopping when I bit into a very yummy sandwich and painfully felt my left jaw disc fall apart. There was a horrendous noise full of cracking and creaking and one pretty sharp, POP! The pain was pretty intense and I was on soft food by that evening and dreading another visit with my jaw surgeon by morning.  And that’s the story behind my jaw injury and my need for surgery.

Some people think I’m cursed… I like to think I'm special. =)

Honestly, the last thing on my mind was our insurance coverage. The jaw procedure I need has been covered at 90% for the last several years. But this year we changed providers, and with that change came a specific exclusion of coverage for the procedure. Normally my first concern when reviewing yearly health benefits is TMJ coverage (jaw joint treatment and surgery).   Makes sense, since that’s been the biggest health annoyance for me for so many years. But, as many of you know, I have Lupus, and as my Lupus has advanced over the last few months my medical concerns have shifted. The first thing I researched regarding my coverage this year were hospital facilities, physicians, and dialysis centers since my Lupus has moved up on my list of priorities. Learning about the lack of coverage for my jaw was very disappointing.

Yes, the procedure is on the exclusion list, but to me an exclusion just means I need to make the insurance carrier work a little harder in denying my claim.  So even with the procedure specifically excluded as a benefit I still plan to ask for preauthorization for the surgery.  I expect my request to be denied, and from there I will follow the process to appeal the decision. After so many denials I’ll be allowed to meet with administrators overseeing the claim, and I’m hoping that my past history (an acute injury- car accident- botched procedure by one of their very own preferred providers) and my sparkling personality will encourage the administrators to reconsider my claim.

Prior obligations and the recovery process (6 – 8 weeks) require some planning, so I’m currently shooting for November to have the procedure done.  In the meantime, I wish to thank all of you for your love, kindness, and support. I have no words to express my gratitude, and no way to say thank you and have you know how heartfelt it is. The contributors to this anthology are all people that I admire and love, and their willingness to work together on this is truly inspiring. I’m humbled by the generosity shown by all of you. I’m truly overwhelmed by all of this, and I’m afraid I’ll never truly find the right words to thank you.  

So, thank you… so very, very much.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 9


Della opened her eyes and panicked for a split second until she realized that it was Saturday.  Whew!  She wasn’t late for work after all.

The sky was overcast.  Hopefully it would stay that way.  If it was cool enough she would start removing the door between the two bedrooms.  It had been too hot lately to do any type of physical work.  She spent most of her time at home sitting directly in front of the window-unit air conditioner that kept exactly two square feet area of the living room cooled. 

The heat never seemed to bother CJ, although with the tiny amount of body fat he had, she wasn’t surprised.  Della was more plumply padded than she wished for and she often referred to herself as a walking hot flash.

Della sludged her way to the kitchen and started a pot of “Kick Ass Coffee”, a Mother’s Day present from CJ (she suspected he chose it solely based on the anticipation of her reaction to receiving a gift with the word “ass” in its name).

The copy of the news story about Ivy’s death was on the kitchen table, mixed in with some other stories that she found at the Midvalley City Museum a few days after the microfiche fiasco.  They were mostly unremarkable upon first glance but she planned to go over them again and glean any little tidbit of information that might be available. She flipped mindlessly through the pages as she sat down.

She was disappointed that Mary didn’t make an appearance while Steve had been there earlier in the week.  His brush-off comments still stung and the two hadn’t spoken much or spent any time together except at work, and then it was only in meetings about the Baby Bea case.  He was busy with another trial—a high profile kidnapping and rape.  He was in his “zone” and she knew better than to distract him when he needed to be focused.  Maybe he was right, she thought.  He was definitely a voice of reason that she trusted and  maybe she was imagining things. They were no closer to making an arrest in the Baby Bea case than they had been the week before and things were pretty tense at the office.  Everybody wanted to hear the details of the case, but there wasn’t much to tell.  Franks and Ashram were hard at work and she knew that they wouldn’t hear back from them until they had more to go on.  The media was getting antsy, and the DA was starting to pressure Steve for answers.

The coffee was done and Della poured it into her favorite Scrabble® mug.  She muddled towards the fridge to add her usual copious amounts of milk, tucked the papers under her arm and made her way to the living room so she could plant herself in her favorite two square foot spot and start the air conditioner.  She was instantly chilled when the air hit her.  Aahhh!  A good sign!  The removal of the door was looking promising. 

Della swallowed deeply, closed her eyes and rested her head on the back of the couch. How did Cy and Mary handle the heat?  It must have been unrelenting.   She looked over at the gas stove that stood where the home’s original stove had once been.  Someone broke into the house during the time she was waiting to close on the loan and they stole the original one.  She’d had it replaced a few years later with a gas version. The style remained pretty true to the time period of the house, style-wise, but it was much more convenient than it would have been in Cy and Mary’s time.  It was easier to heat a home than to cool it off and Mary must have had a devil of a time trying to keep it cool, and she must have been miserable when she was pregnant.  Of course, she probably opened all the windows and let the breezes from the canyons to the east blow through.  Della couldn’t do that because most of the windows were painted shut.  Someday she would get new windows.  Double-paned.  The kind you can open up from the inside and tilt so that you can easily clean them.  She’d get central air, too.  Maybe get both at the same time.  Ahhh…to much to wish for.  There was always something coming up that seemed to suck the money right out of her pocket.  School expenses.  Floods in the basement.  Car repairs.  Right now, she’d better just stay focused on the door.

She finished her coffee, set the papers on the coffee table and laid down on the couch to let the cool air blow over her.  CJ wouldn’t be up for hours.  He was at that age where teenage boys could sleep all day if they were left to themselves.

She dozed off and dreamed of her old beagle, Maggie. 

The winding sidewalk was amass with hundreds of people, all shoulder to shoulder, moving as a single mass towards some promising and well-anticipated destination.  Maggie ran alongside the slithering mass of people and never took her eyes off of Della.  It had been six years since Maggie had died.  She strangled herself in her lead rope.  Della was lucid enough in her dream to remember the way she felt when she’d found Maggie lying dead in the backyard.  She was still sickened by the thought of it, even in her dream. 


Annie, Della’s beloved yellow lab, had died two months before Maggie and Della was devastated.  So was Maggie.  While Della would be at work during the day, a lonely and confused Maggie would dig her way out of the yard and Della would come home to find her sitting on the front porch or running down the street somewhere.  She tied her up with plenty of length so that she could get into the garage through the dog door and still get out and get around the yard--she could go lay in her favorite shady spots.  Maggie hated the heat as much as Della, and she was always looking for somewhere cool.  Della’s despair over finding Maggie laying dead in the hot sun was magnified well beyond where it would have been, had Maggie died peacefully in a cool spot.  The poor baby had wrapped her lead around and in and out of the legs of a plastic lawn chair and somehow one of the legs had worked its way down between her collar and the back of her neck-- she had died in the hot sun.  All by herself. 

At least when Annie was put down, Della got to be with her.  She’d been losing weight and didn’t want to eat, yet it seemed so sudden.  Della knew it was coming, but wouldn’t admit it. One day Annie just didn’t want to walk anymore, and despite the fact that Della swore she would never put down one of her pets, she knew instantly that she had to do this for her.  Annie had withered away to fur and bones.  Della probably let her hold on too long—for selfish reasons.  The night before she had to be put down, Annie just laid down on the living room floor next to the coffee table.  Della slept on the floor with her that night, holding her paw in her hand from the floor on the other side of the coffee table because she couldn’t get over on the same side where Annie was.  The next morning, Della took her to the vet and said goodbye and held her while her heart stopped beating and her eyes darkened.  Della instantly wanted to scream, “Take it back!  Take it back!  I’m sorry!  I don’t want this!” 

She left the vet’s office that day feeling an emptiness that she’d never felt before or since.  It was her first real experience with death.  Through all the heartache, she still felt honored that she was with her in the end… that they shared that precious moment.  Della came home and vowed that she would make Maggie’s life perfect.  So, when Maggie started digging her way out from under the fence, Della decided to tie her up until she had time to get to the fence line that weekend.   She planned to buy some cinder blocks and line the bottom of the fence all the way around the yard.  Their street was busy and she was afraid Maggie would get hit by a car or lost. 

So on that hot, summer day when she and CJ got home, Della asked CJ to run and let his “sister” in.  He headed to the side door and Della noticed that things sounded different.  She didn’t hear the tinkle of Maggie’s tags or her jumping against the door in her eagerness to be let in.  Della knew instantly that Maggie was dead.  She ran to the door, hoping to get to the dog before CJ did, but by the time she made it out, CJ was standing a few feet from Maggie’s body, staring at her, with his head tipped to the side.  He was puzzled.  Della ran past him and began to sob.  Her eyes were filled with tears as she dropped to the ground and tried to disentangle Maggie from the chair leg and the lead rope.  She could see the blur of Maggie’s blackened tongue protruding from her mouth and all she could think of was how sorry she was the Maggie had to die in the hot sun all by herself.  She carried her in, laid her on the couch and knelt on the floor next to her.  Della sobbed and held her as Maggie’s body grew stiff while CJ sat down next to the body and gently laid his hand on her side. 

Della was eventually able to call the vet’s office.  They told her they would stay late until Della and CJ could get there with Maggie’s body so that she could be cremated.  Della and CP tenderly wrapped her in the same blanket that Annie had laid on when she died and carried her to the back of the car. 

Della was glad that she and CJ had shared that experience together, even though it was awkward and embarrassing to carry her stiff body into the vet’s office like that.  She hoped that CJ would grow up understanding death in a different way than she had.  Death for Della was mysterious and magical—especially since she’d been sheltered from it not only when Ben died, but whenever a family pet died.  It all happened out of sight and she was always simply told that her beloved pet had gone to heaven. 

It was no wonder that she was obsessed with cemeteries and kept the headstone in her living room.  Death had always been hidden from her and she longed to discover its secrets any way she could.  Even her coffee table base was a Victorian church truck with a piece of glass on top.  She always liked to imagine what all the people were like that it had transported on their last day above ground and she obsessed with what the transition through death was like and what lay beyond this life.


She woke with a start and was instantly puzzled by the dream and what it might mean.  Maybe Maggie was trying to tell her that no matter how hectic life was or wherever it took her, Maggie would be there with her.  But even if this was the subconscious meaning, and it was meant to be comforting, it made her heart ache.

Della got up, absentmindedly went to the kitchen, put her coffee mug in the sink and went to check on CJ.  He was still sleeping—a tangle of all arms and legs crammed into a twin bed—he was oblivious to the 11:00 AM hour that had slipped up on them.  She was surprised that she had napped so soundly.  Morning naps were always the best sleep and that’s usually when her dreams were the most intense.  Nonetheless, she was annoyed with herself that she’d let so much of the day slip away and she wanted to get started on the door.

She grabbed the tool box from the mud room, entered her bedroom and faced her project.  The door between the rooms would need to be opened before she could start working and she decided to go ahead and start even though CJ was still asleep.  She’d try to be quiet, but she wouldn’t complain if the noise woke him up, because she secretly hoped he wold wake up so that he could help her.

Where to start?  This was not something she had done before but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.  Everything she’d learned about home improvement, she’d learned by trial by fire.  And HGTV.  And Youtube.  It was amazing what you could learn how to do online.

Removing the door itself was easy enough.  CJ slept through her banging on the hinges.  Damn.  Maybe she could be noisier with the next step.

After careful consideration she decided that she’d just start ripping off the trim.  A pry bar probably would have worked better but since she didn’t have one, the hammer claw and a flathead screwdriver seemed to work just fine.  She was good at improvising.  CJ was still snoozing away while she chipped away at the trim and moved onto the frame itself.  It was pretty messy underneath.  The old lathe and plaster had been covered by drywall and a bunch of stuff that was unidentifiable and it seemed to her that it was kind of hodge-podged together.

CJ groaned and rolled over.

“Good morning, sweetie-pea!”

He responded with a grunt.  Not much chance of getting his help.

Her attention returned to the doorway and she wondered what she was going to do now that the trim and frame were gone.  She formed a plan; clean up the mess and go to the computer to see what she could learn.  She’d probably have to frame in the open space where the door had and put up more drywall.  That might be a tough one.  She’d never hung drywall.

Della sat down in the doorway and sighed heavily.  Maybe she’d bitten off more than she could chew.  She started to gather a handful of splintered wood and was distracted by what looked like yellowed paper—several pages of it hidden in between the layers of lathe and “stuff.”  The paper was fanned out and she squeezed her fingers in and tried to grab it by squeezing the pages together.  Her fingers caught a big chunk of it, but when she tried to pull it out, it was obvious that there was more to it--a cover and a back that were catching on the wood as she tried to pull.  She used to hammer to break away some of the obstructing rubble and was able to reach in and get her fingers on each side of the cover, squeeze it together and pull.

The cover was a dark, aged, sable-colored leather.  The pages obviously had some years on them.  Her heart raced as she opened the front cover and looked at the first page and read,  “Property of Mary Louise Harper Jansen.”

She turned the page.

Della’s eyes teared up as she ran her fingers over the handwriting.  Mary’s handwriting.  Pages and pages of it.  Her heart was thudding against her ribs and her mind was racing; she barely noticed the wisp of frozen breath that brushed her cheek as she started to read.