Nora had a thing about always commandeering whatever vehicle she found herself in, which was fine; Marlee had no particular love for the road. The problem was that Nora was a compulsively safe driver. She never had a speeding ticket in her entire driving career, and it wasn't simply because she'd never been caught.

At least it was Nora's car they were using, and therefore Nora's gas they were wasting while she waited at every stop light and always waited for a protected turn.

It wasn't all bad: Nora's car was a '96. It had a CD player and four tires, which was all Marlee cared about.

The purple Bryant's sign lurked over Marlee's head as she stopped at the passenger side. Nora unlocked the doors with a click of her key, and looked at Marlee. “So what'd your uncle have to say for himself?”

“I guess my grandma had a present for me before she died. Uncle Ray's going to deliver it tonight, around eight.” Marlee opened her door and climbed in.

Nora opened her own door and piled in. “What about our party?”

“We can still have our party. He'll just be over a few minutes anyway. Besides, it might be a cool present.”

Nora started the car. It spat and groaned to life. “Is it a 32 inch plasma TV?”

“I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no to that one.”

“Then it ain't cool.” Nora playfully slapped the steering wheel. “You're gonna drive me to drinking, you know that, right?”

Marlee reached into the back and pulled the bottle of wine from the bag. “You better do some drinking, because I'm not drinking all this myself.”

“OK, if I have to. But when are you going to win the lottery, anyway? You promised me you'd win it already.”

“No. I said I'd win the Powerball, not the lottery.”

Nora laughed, shifted the car into “D” and drove out of the parking lot.


Marlee grinned. “Actually, my dad won the lottery once.”


“Yeah. $50.”

“Holy shit. Didn't spend it all in one place, did he?”

“I don't know. Ask the exotic dancers if he did.”

Nora sucked in a breath. “Damn. Sounds like my ex. When we lived together, he'd always leech some cash off me and go hire some strippers and hang with his boys.” Nora shook her head. “So stupid.”

Marlee crossed her legs. “Yeah. Men always spend money stupidly.” She put the booze back and hooked a few loose strands of hair back around her ears. “Like, for instance, I won a poetry contest once, when I was in high school. I won $20. Guess what my dad did with that money?”

“More strippers?”

“No. Actually, he bought some JD. And then when I got my Christmas money from Uncle Ray that year, he bought a gun, because he was doing his Chicago business trips at the time and he said it was dangerous.”

“Where's he work again?”

“Pollock & Laughlin Electronics.”

“Ah. Money well spent, then?”

“He must've thought so. He still has that gun in his desk at work.”

“And the JD?”

“He pissed that away a long time ago.”

Nora drove in silence for a minute before getting one of those wry looks on her lips. The stop light ahead turned red, and she slowed down. Once they were stopped – perfectly behind the line – she leaned in close to Marlee's face. “Don't you wish you were like those TV families? Like a Brady?”

Marlee rolled her eyes. “Nora, Nora, Nora.”

Dinner consisted of a quick trip through Neil's Deli on Park Street. Big and toasted sandwiches were Neil's specialty, although he sold pizzas, salads, and bread bowls.

Neil himself worked nights, and he was polite as could be. He was sixty but looked almost twice that.  Though it took a while for him to make the sandwiches, the quality was excellent.

Hanging dome lights illuminated the eating area, casting beautiful reflections and deep shadows like disco balls. Marlee and Nora ordered their food, and then sat down to wait, depositing their purses by their feet.

Nora twiddled her fingers comically. “So. Ray didn't say anything at all about the gift at the funeral?”

“No.” Marlee shifted her weight and crossed her legs. “He probably didn't want anyone else to feel shorted.”

“Why you, though? Did your dad get anything?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Damn. That's harsh.”

“Well, I used to stay with Grandma while she was sick. I helped take care of her.”

“Didn't he?”

Marlee hesitated. She wasn't sure how much of this she wanted to tell. Butterflies raced through her stomach. “No. It's kind of complicated. Uncle Ray took over for the last few weeks.”

“Didn't you stick with him?”

“Ray wanted to take over. He said he needed some private time with her. And once I started not seeing her, it was really hard to make myself go back.”

“I can understand that. Pretty depressing.”


“But that doesn't answer my question,” Nora added. “About your dad.”

Marlee wrinkled her nose and tried to blow off the answer. “Dad didn't get along with Grandma Janice, ever since she left her husband.”

“Still.” Nora shook her head. “She should've left him something. He's her son.”

“Well, maybe he is getting something. Why would Ray tell us if he got anything? That's a personal thing, between Grandma and my Dad.”

“Yeah, but I'm nosy, Marlee.”

That did get a laugh out of Marlee, and a genuine one at that. Nora's job complete, she relaxed and waited for their food. They exchanged small talk until the sandwiches arrived. Nora drove Marlee home, and they popped open their bottle of Perri's and drowned out the events of the day.

Marlee scrolled through her poems on her word processor as she finished her sandwich. “I've got fourteen poems so far.”

Nora topped off Marlee's glass with the wine. “That's cool. Just sixteen to go, right?”

“Yeah.” Marlee sighed. It took her a year and a half just to get fourteen done, and that only covered about thirty pages.

Nora had read a few, but by and large the poems had gone unread, which was the way she liked it. She'd read up on submitting poems, and found the whole process too scary to actually follow through with. Her mother wrote poetry now and then as well, and Marlee had read a few of the rejection letters. They weren't all friendly.

She figured that, when she had about one hundred pages, she'd go with a vanity publisher. Though she was at thirty pages at the moment, she could stretch it to about sixty if she double-spaced, increased the font size and doctored the page margins.

Nora drank some Perri's and closed her eyes. She sloshed it around in her mouth and savored the taste, and looked ridiculous in the process. Nora the Wine Taster. “Maybe you should try shopping just a couple poems to a few places. You know, get a feel for what's your best stuff.”

Marlee relaxed in her her chair. “I don't know. I'd just like to get it out there. I'd like to have it in my hands. If it gets in anyone else's, well, I don't really care too much about that.”

“So you're just going to sit on all your writing?” Nora brandished her wine glass and sat as daintily as her round bottom would allow. “Might be the greatest poetry ever written, but nobody's ever gonna know if you don't do something with it.”

“I'll be publishing it. I already said I would.”

“Yeah, but you don't even have a website. How's anybody supposed to know it's out?”

Marlee tongued the inside of her cheek. “What's it matter? I don't understand what you're all worked up about.”

“I'm not worked up about anything.”

“You're fighting me. Trying to make me feel like I'm selling myself short.”

“All I'm trying to say is I'd like to see you excited about your own writing.”

“I am. Trust me.”

“Then you need to at least smile when you talk about it.”

Marlee shook her head. “No. I just want the book for myself. What I need is a vacation.” Marlee tapped her chin and stared at the screen, putting her elbows on the computer desk. “I'd like to go out to Rock Cut Park again. Do some rowing out on Pierce Lake.”

“Hell yeah. In the rowboat or the kayak?”

“Rowboat.” For a minute, Marlee could just imagine Pierce Lake: how the water slopped against the sides of the boat, the smell of open water, the cool lakefront air. Rock Cut was to the northeast, a good thirty minute drive from here. It'd been years since she'd last been there.

Someone knocked on the front door. Marlee looked at her watch. 7:59...8:00.

Damn but Uncle Ray was punctual.

Nora opened the door for Uncle Ray, who had changed into jeans and a t-shirt, a far cry from the black and white he'd worn at the funeral. One hand he kept behind his back; the other he offered for Nora to shake.

The informality didn't fit Ray at all. He was a corporate man, he was a church supporter. He was handsome in suits. When he dressed down, he looked distressingly normal.

No matter; the look in his eyes was the same. Nora took his hand and beamed. “Good to meet you,” Ray said. “I'm Marlee's uncle.”

Nora nodded, and by the red in her cheeks it was obvious she was falling for Ray, the same way everyone did. “Great to finally meet you. Marlee's told me a lot about you.”

“Not a whole lot to tell. But, I do come bearing gifts.” Ray's smile broadened, and when Marlee stepped closer, he revealed what he held behind his back: a small present, wrapped in gold and silver wrapping paper and tied with black string and a bow. “One gift, actually.” He handed it to Marlee. “My mother wanted you to have this.”

Marlee accepted the gift and looked at all four sides of the box, poking and prodding at the paper. “Feels pretty hefty. What is it?”

“Open it. Find out.” Uncle Ray put his hand on the small of her back and urged her gently to the couch. She followed his lead and sat down, the package on her lap.

Now that she had time to look closer, she noticed little black lightning bolts decorating the box. The wrapping paper was taped up haphazardly, which was so Janice; she never understood how to wrap a present properly. Marlee ripped open the paper and peered inside.

It was a Bergner's gift box. Marlee tried to hide her disappointment, just in case Grandma Janice was watching from Heaven.

“Aww,” Nora said. “Some clothes for you. Your grandma's nice.”

Marlee shook her head. “Not clothes. It's too heavy.”

Uncle Ray looked at Marlee. “Look inside.”

Marlee wasn't sure what to expect, but Ray was starting to make the waiting unbearable. What could Janice have possibly left her that was so important?

Inside the box was a thick leatherbound book with the word “CLAY” engraved on the front. She could smell the age of the book's pages without even opening it. The leather was mottled and cold to the touch. One corner was darkened by a coffee stain.

“Wow.” Marlee stared at the book. Nora scooted a little closer.

Ray sat down beside Marlee, who barely noticed. He ran a finger over the cover. “Clay is your grandma's maiden name.”

“So what is this?” Marlee didn't even want to touch the book; she was too afraid of breaking it.

“It's genealogy,” Ray said. “Look inside. This book traces back your grandma's family all the way back to the 1800's.”

Nora pointed to the corner of the box. “Look.” Marlee saw a card, half tucked under the book's cover.   

Marlee picked up the book, careful not to let the leather make her fingers slip. The longer she looked at the book, the more ancient she figured it was. She put the box down and sat the book on her lap, frowning at the dust on her pants.

The cover of the book was stiff and dry enough that she bet she could crack off a piece if she turned the page carelessly. The leather itself was so crudely made that there was greater weight in the middle, such that the book bent when she opened it.

The pages within were yellow and spotted with dust, age and an occasional streak of mold.

The card inside was in perfect condition. There were no flashy graphics on the front or back; just scrawled handwriting on a folded sheet of paper. Marlee read the words aloud so that Ray and Nora could hear.

Dear Marlee,
This book is my final present to you and will be given to you when I'm gone. I know it doesn't look like much. Truly special things never do.
Our entire family is recorded here since before the Civil War. I continued the book after Cecilia Clay, my grandmother, gave it to me many years ago. I pass it on to you. Keep it in the family, and remember me.
Death is an unavoidable part of life, but don't let it take away those you love. If you lose someone that you want to remember, write them in, and at least through these pages you can visit them anytime.
G-Ma Janice

“Wow,” Nora repeated. “That's pretty cool. So I wonder if the first few pages were actually written in the 1800's?”

Uncle Ray nodded. “The pages are protected and have been for many, many years.” He watched the book with as much fascination as Marlee and Nora, and shook his head and whistled. “Ancient hands scribbled on those pages.”

The paper inside was laminated, crinkled so badly it looked like it was covered with brown spiderwebs. Marlee was no expert on book decomposition, but she'd read about how exposure to air can cause a book to decompose faster than usual and how certain papers can develop acid stains in time. Keeping a book in a special box was supposed to help by giving it better support. To her, the book was in superb condition.

“Damn,” Nora breathed. “Think of all the people who've looked at this page over the years.”

“Isn't that amazing?” Uncle Ray leaned forward. “We're all connected now, in some way, just by looking at this book.”

Marlee had to look close, but she made out the faded ink on the paper: it was a simple drawing of a young woman. There was no shading or wrinkle or any kind of detail at all. A few words were written below the picture:

1831 – 1855

“Oh my God.” Marlee couldn't take her eyes off the picture. “That's so beautiful.”

“What?” Nora looked over her shoulder. “Why'd someone draw that?”

“Think about it, Nora.” Marlee looked at Nora. “It's 1855, or whenever. There's no photos, there's no videos, there's no nothing. So how do you remember people?”

Nora raised an eyebrow. “What if you can't draw?”

Uncle Ray raised an eyebrow and patted his knees. “Then you get someone who can. And you draw a picture so you can always remember her.”

Marlee looked at the picture again, and shook her head slowly, exhaling gentle air. “Oh my God.”

Nora sighed. “Wish I had a man like that.”

“Don't we all?” Marlee thumbed through a few more pages and caught snippets of each.

Uncle Ray talked while she browsed. “That woman's Eve Maria Williams, the love of Jonathan Clay's life. They were married for five years before she died of fever, and he didn't want to forget her.  That's how this book got its start. He passed the book on to Cecilia Clay, his daughter, who passed it on to my mother.”

“So Grandma Janice wrote in all the relatives she knew?” Marlee continued flipping through the book.

“Not all. She got in as many as she could.” Ray probed his cheek with his tongue. “She . . . became obsessed with it toward the end. Her every waking moment was wrapped up in this book.”

Nora dragged in a chair from the kitchen and sat opposite Ray. “Obsessed? Like how?”

“She slipped into dementia a few weeks before she died,” Ray said, his voice lowering. He sighed. “She seemed to think that she really could speak with the dead. She got so wrapped up in her own head that no one could get through anymore. She died a few days later.”

Marlee looked down and bit her tongue just hard enough to keep herself from crying. She'd visited Janice quite a few times before the poor woman had died, and she had seemed perfectly sane – not the least bit crazy.

It was sad anyway. Janice had been such a good woman, and she'd had a good life despite all the trouble she'd had with Dad. “Jesus,” Marlee muttered. “I feel so sorry for her.”

“Well, I suppose that when your body starts to go and the only diversion you have is this book of memories . . . ” Ray took a deep breath and stood. “Anyway. What I'm trying to say is I suppose it'd be better to get lost in the past than to face death.”

Nora shrugged. “I think I'd rather just say goodbye to everyone I love.”

“Understandable,” Ray said. “But what do you do when most of the people you want to say goodbye to are dead?”

Nora thought about this for a moment. “Well, it's all in your head, so I think Janice had the right idea.  I mean, even if it's crazy, who cares, you're going to go anyway, so why not? Why not try this out, and at least make peace with those people in your own head before you go.”

Marlee shrugged. “I think I'd rather be sane.”

“I'd rather be happy than sane,” Nora said.

“Yeah, but if you're stuck in your own head, you may as well be dead already, because you're not even communicating with the outside world at all. You're gone.”

“But you're going to die anyway,” Nora repeated.

Marlee ignored Nora's last comment and started looking through the book, so Nora stopped talking and spied over her shoulder.

Ray cleared his throat. The two women looked up, and he flashed a big smile. “It's about time I get back home. But you two can look at that book. It's interesting to know your history.”

Marlee put the book back in the box. “Thanks for bringing that over, Uncle Ray.”

“I'm not the one to thank.” Uncle Ray smiled. “Your grandma. She made me promise to bring it.” He eyed Marlee. “Actually, she wanted to give it to you before the fact, but we couldn't reach you. She went the next day.”

Marlee couldn't keep his gaze. Ray laughed softly and took her hand. “Don't worry about it. We all make mistakes. My mother is in a better place now.”

“Thanks,” Marlee managed. Before he could leave, she had one last question. “So my parents are in here and everything?”

“That's right.” Ray stretched and knuckled his back. “With as much detail as my mother could remember. From your mom's poem collections to your dad's Chicago business trips.”

Marlee nodded. “I remember when he worked in Chicago. Didn't miss him much, to tell you the truth.”

Ray wasn't sure how to answer that, so he looked at Marlee, then at Nora, then back again. “Well, if you ever have any questions about the book, call me. I'm as close to an expert as there is, now that my mother's gone.”

Marlee nodded. “I will. Don't be a stranger.”

“I won't,” Ray said with a wink. “Take it easy, girls. Have a great night.”

Nora led him to the door. “You too.”

“This is weird.” Marlee shook her head and put the top on the box and picked it up.

“What're you doin'? I wanna see more.”

Marlee shrugged. “It just feels weird.” She brought the box to her bedroom and sat it on her bed. “It's all relatives. It's my family.”

“It's kinda creepy, if that's what you mean,” Nora agreed. “It's a big long list of dead folks.” She folded her arms. “Well, if I don't get to look at more dead people, then I'm going to get another drink.”

Marlee laughed, but she didn't feel much of the humor. “Count me in. The funeral practically killed me today.”

Nora shook her head. “Your sense of humor is getting worse every day, honey.”

“I didn't mean to make that pun actually.”

Marlee followed Nora into the kitchen, where both women topped off their glasses. They returned to the living room and put the TV on for some background noise. Marlee sat on the floor next to Janice's book. Nora chose the couch.

“So what do you think?” Marlee nodded at the book.

Nora sipped at her wine. “I think it's really cool. I always liked your grandma, even though I only saw her . . . two times, I guess. But she was nice. And the book, now that's really interesting.” She cocked her head thoughtfully. “Poor lady must not've had many friends though.”

“Yeah.” Marlee drained half of her glass and coughed it down. “Spending so much time on this. Trying to remember.”

“Remembering's hard. You never think of it like that, but it really is.” Nora gestured to her head with her glass. “It's like my first dog, right? I know his name was Dexter. I know he was a German Shepherd. One of his ears always hung limp. Those are facts, so I can use my imagination and picture that. I can imagine some generic German Shepherd with a screwy ear. But I can't honestly remember what he looked like anymore. I cried for about a week after he died. Loved that dog to pieces.”

Marlee thought about what Nora said, and agreed after a moment. “How rough that must've been for Janice. Being so old, having everyone she's ever loved die. She probably couldn't remember much anymore without putting it in a book. And attaching a photo.”

“Visual cues,” Nora added. “That's the hot scientific way to put it.”

“But she did it to herself,” Marlee said. “She never went out. Never made more friends, never fell in love again. Why?”

Nora had no answer.

Their conversation fizzled after that, and they ended up drinking wine to the noise of the TV. Marlee's thoughts returned to Janice every so often, and the morbid aspects of her book. A panic attack welled up inside of her at the thought of getting old, of having her entire life behind her.
After a couple hours of sitcom reruns, Nora got up from the couch and walked by Marlee, patting her shoulder on the way through. “I'm going to bed. Take care, OK, sister? Get some rest.”

Marlee nodded.

“Good night.”

“Night, Nora.”

Nora went to her room and Marlee carefully placed the book back in its box and padded into her own bedroom.

When Marlee heard Nora's door shut and lock, she sat on her bed, staring at the box. At her family. Her dead family.

She was still interested, though. She glanced at the clock. It wasn't quite eleven yet; there was time for a little closer look, without Nora peering over her shoulder.

Marlee opened the box again and pulled the book beside her. She got up and closed her door, then returned to her place on the bed.

She thumbed through the book. The drawings became portraits, which then became black and white photographs that finally sprouted color. She skipped to the end. There were a few blank pages, no doubt for adding in more relatives.

She stopped at the last written entry.


 “Oh my God.”

Janice must have written her own entry into the book. Uncle Ray had said she went mad at the end and became obsessed with the book, so maybe there was some truth to that. Why else would she write her own entry into the book, rather than assuming Marlee or anyone else would do it for her?
Maybe Janice thought that the book was the only guaranteed afterlife: living on in the dreams and memories of others. And, by extension, the only afterlife that allowed her to be forever surrounded by the family she loved, if only on handwritten pages.

Janice's entry included a little photo of her cooking in her old house, back when she still had color in her hair and the wrinkles had just started setting in. There were a few facts written on the opposite page. They described her dark hair and her flashy eyes, her nose and even had a mention of her curvy hips. “SEPARATED FROM SAM JORDAN”, another section stated. Below that, Marlee saw a list of children: Marlee's father -- Thomas Jordan -- and his brother, Raymond.

She skipped around in the book. Sure enough, Janice had her way: Mom, Dad, and Uncle Ray were all in here, their lives written in the past tense. And now she was supposed to fill in the blanks, take the lives from birth to death, none more or less important than anyone else listed in its pages. That thought disturbed her more than anything else. In the grand scheme of things, no single person mattered. That felt like a bombshell to her. Of course, she'd always known it, deep down; but she spent most days happily ignoring that fact.

Marlee checked through the book again. This time, she was searching for her own name, and Shawnee. She flipped through the pages one time, then a second, and finally a third before deciding that she wasn't in this book yet. It bothered her a little; why would Janice write everyone else in here, even Dad, but not put her in as well?

She imagined her own page. She knew what picture she would use, and what she would write. That page would, in time, become the only evidence on this Earth that proved she had ever been here.

Maybe looking at this before bed had been a bad idea. Marlee closed the book and put it back in the box, replaced the lid and pushed it under her bed, with her old suitcases from when she first moved in Nora's apartment.

Even tired as she was, sleeping wasn't going to be easy tonight, that was for sure. She laid back in her bed and stared at the ceiling.

What a horrible day. Marlee took a deep breath.

She didn't feel like getting up to turn the light off, so she just closed her eyes. Just relax, she told her muscles. It took a while but eventually they started to loosen; she groaned and rolled over.

She slept fully clothed.

* * * * * *

Thank you for reading part two of chapter two of my novel, "One More Day", available for Amazon Kindle for $4.99!  Check back next Friday for chapter three -- things are about to get REAL interesting! ;-)

CHAPTER 2 (Part I)

Home: an uneasy word, particularly for Marlee. There were no obvious memories to conjure, no happy moments in which the personalities of the household came together. Hardly ever did she think of her parents as anything more than just names: Tom and Allison. They sounded normal enough, but all Marlee could recall were long nights alone, or worse yet, the long days when Tom would stay home from work so he could make sure Allison wasn't cheating on him. Solitude was actually the only thing to look forward to no matter the day; any time with her parents poisoned whatever fun she managed to wring out of the afternoon.

Childhood was a weird time for Marlee, a long rotation of transitions. She had been short for her age, and her mom had kept her dark hair short and high, and she even picked up glasses in sixth grade. By high school, the pieces had come together in a more pleasant configuration, when her legs had sprouted and she grew into her weight. Suddenly, she was tall and her hair styled like a dark flower, her face became long and her nose was pinched low, with four boys interested enough to fight over who got to take her to prom.

Married life wasn't much different from living with her parents. Her ex, Keenan Pritchard, wasn't as bad as her dad, but when it came to spending the money they earned as a couple, he was a dictator. He was borderline obsessive-compulsive about the bills and let them run his life. If, God forbid, one of them needed medicine, he would yell until she backed down and suffered in silence.

When he was laid off, he tried to control her income as well. Arguments choked the days away until it became a rare occasion that they were even home together. They attempted counseling, which helped enough to get them to sleep together again, but once Marlee discovered she was pregnant, Keenan was back to his old ways, complaining loudly about every purchase she made, accusing her of being selfish and of not considering his needs too. It became a game – a tug of war, to the point where she bought baby clothes before she even knew Shawnee would be a girl, just to make him even more angry. She felt trapped with Keenan, especially with the baby on the way. Panic attacks squeezed her lungs whenever she imagined the rest of her life, which of course would be with Keenan because he was the father of her child. But the prospect of going her own way was too frightening for her to take it seriously.

It was the fear of growing old, unhappy and angry like her mother, that made her put up that tough front. If she was going to suffer that fate, then by God, Keenan sure as hell would suffer, too.
The old arguments resumed, and finally Keenan growled at her in a fit of rage and said, “If you're so unhappy, why don't you just leave?”

He hadn't meant it, and apologized profusely afterward, but his point was well taken. She left the next day. He never tried to win her back; he left her a few scathing voicemail messages, but that was the only communication they had before the legal divorce began.

But that was when Hell must've frozen over. Keenan started keeping up with her by cell, just to see how far along she was with the baby. Even with all the grief she'd been through with him, those phone calls were a respite from the Now – when she talked to him, she could disappear for a while Back Then, even though she swore up and down to herself that she wouldn't return to him, no matter how nice he became. She did soften toward him, since he obviously cared at least a little bit. They met for dinner one night, and then another, and then another. But she was not getting back with him. He nodded when she told him, but he stayed with her at Corretto's, an Italian restaurant they both enjoyed.

Keenan was quiet when she suggested they think of a name for the baby together. He shrugged off most of her suggestions, but finally seemed to show some interest when she came up with the name Shawnee, after an old high school friend. “That's perfect,” she remembered him saying.

Moments like these, where they both agreed on something and therefore could enjoy each other's company, were too rare, and Marlee relished this one. It helped her remember what it was like to be in love with him. Though he was a stickler on money and a bit controlling, he really did have a pleasant air about him, and the way that his lips curled when he smiled and his eyes got big when she surprised him, these were enough to seduce her for a few minutes when her guard wasn't up.

Then she'd remember who he was, what she'd gone through with him. That was always enough to extinguish the flame.

Months later, when she notified Keenan of Shawnee's stillbirth, he sympathized with her and wanted to meet her in person for dinner. Losing Shawnee had been the hardest thing she'd ever gone through in her life, and so she accepted his offer, mostly out of weakness. Disappearing into the past with him sounded pretty good versus staying in depression.

But the past didn't feel good anymore, especially with Shawnee gone. The only result was a lot of discomfort when he tried to kiss her goodnight. They said their goodbyes, and she finally just left it at that. It was difficult walking away from the man who had been the only home she had ever known outside of her parents' house, but she managed it by keeping things in perspective: home was where she lived while she plotted to move somewhere else.

And, by that criteria, the spare closet in Nora's four room apartment was as functional a home as any of the others.

The smell of mildew was always what she noticed first when she returned home. There was a leak in the cabinet beneath the kitchen faucet and some of the wood was decomposing. It was enough to pucker her lips. No matter; she just had to get used to it again. After an hour or so back at the apartment, the scent faded and it was life as usual.

She shut the door behind her and made her way through the living room, around unopened boxes and the debris of wayward DVD's and books.

Nora was on the couch, her lips curving into a red half-moon smile. She pushed her considerable weight up from the couch and waved. “Hey girl. Want some coffee?”

“Oh my God, you wouldn't believe how much I would.” Marlee stretched her hands to the ceiling, savoring how her back popped when she reached high enough.

Nora hopped into the kitchen, careful not to trip over her new skirt. It was longer than her legs by just a hair, and if Nora wasn't careful she'd tumble over and kiss the tile floor. “How'd it go?”

“You don't even want to know.”

“Sure I do.”

“It wasn't a bad funeral, I guess. My parents were there.”

“Marlee.” Nora watched her seriously, though the comic wrinkle in her smile ruined the effect. “Has anyone ever had a good funeral?”

Marlee shrugged. “Yeah, well, if Mom and Dad are attending, then no, no one ever has.”

Nora smirked. She plugged in the coffee machine.

“They fight about everything. I really don't know how they stay together. By the end, they stopped talking to each other, so that was something.” She wiped her face with her hands and took a long breath. “I'm gonna go change. I feel like shit in these clothes.”

“Sounds good.” Before Marlee could take three steps, Nora stopped her again. “Hey, we're still going out tonight, right?”

Marlee didn't feel up to it, but she nodded anyway. She didn't want to disappoint Nora; she'd been waiting to throw a party for Marlee's divorce for months now. “Of course.”

“Cool.” Nora clapped her hands and smiled and did her best to look like an angel. She grabbed a brush from her room and started dragging it through her thick black hair. She tossed her hair over one side of her head and tilted herself so she could brush vertically. Then Nora shooed playfully and pointed to her room. “Get in there and change your clothes. I can smell the stink from here.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Marlee agreed with a smile of her own. She escaped into her bedroom and shut and locked the door.

Home sweet home.

Nora's idea of a party was a bottle of liquor and an expensive dinner. They were both too poor for the latter, but Bryant's Supermarket on Rockton Avenue was as good a place as any to buy a drink.
Bryant's was just one of the buildings in a circular strip mall, but it was the largest by far. The inside was spacious and well lit, with air conditioning blasting so loud from the frozen goods aisle that Marlee could hear it all the way at the front of the store.

The liquor department consisted of four aisles, side by side, on the western side of the supermarket. Marlee eyed the long row of wine bottles on one end. “What do you think?”

Nora peeked closer at one bottle, and then checked the price. “I dunno, they all look so good.” She moved along slowly down the aisle, excusing herself when she almost bumped a man's cart.

“How about Arctic Freeze? I like the wine coolers.”

“Nah. I hate that.” Nora cleared her throat. “How about this one?” She took a green bottle down and smiled. Red liquid sloshed in the glass.

“What is it?”

“It's Perri's.” Nora turned the bottle so Marlee could see the label.

“Never had it.” Marlee took the bottle. It was surprisingly heavy.

“Looks good though, don't it?”

Marlee gave it a little toss in her hand. She liked red wine, and Perri's looked as good as any. “Let's get it.”

“OK.” Nora took the bottle again. “It's a lot better than that other shit.”

Marlee ignored her comment. “It looks good. Tell ya what: you don't have to spend any money. I'll get it.”

Nora put a palm up. “If I can't even buy a damn bottle of wine for you, what kinda friend am I?”

Marlee's cell phone vibrated in her purse. “Oh. Hold on. Someone's calling me.” She dug it out and squinted at the ID. A phone number she didn't recognize was flashing. She flicked the phone open. “Hello?”

A deep voice massaged her ear. “Hi. Marlee?”

No men called her cell, aside from Keenan every now and then, to try and bug her into going out again. She hadn't started dating yet; Keenan's constant presence sapped any kind of romantic longing from her bones. Even when he didn't call her, she thought about him, and she didn't know how she felt about that yet.

But this man, the one calling her now, was one whose voice she didn't recognize. “Yes, this is Marlee. Who's this?”

“Your uncle Ray.”

“Uncle Ray? What's up?” Marlee smiled at Nora, who gestured to the bottle of wine and then to the check-out lines. Marlee nodded, and Nora left to make the purchase.

Someone was talking behind Uncle Ray on the phone. The phone was muffled for a second, but then Ray returned. He cleared his throat. “Just working at the church with the minister. I hope I'm not disturbing you, or interrupting anything.”

Marlee hugged herself with her free hand and leaned against an aisle wall. “It's OK.” Nora was watching her from the corner of her eyes. Marlee shrugged.

“Anyway, I'm calling because your grandma – my mother – left you quite a present.”


“Yep. She told me that after she died, you should get it. It's all wrapped and everything.”

“So Grandma left me some hand-me-downs.” Marlee tried to mask her disappointment with a little laugh. Didn't work. “That's great, Uncle Ray. Thanks.”

“Not hand-me-downs. My mother always said this present would hold special interest for you.”

“What is it?”

“I can't just tell you. Wouldn't be very surprising if I did, now would it?” Uncle Ray paused to let her interject, but when she didn't, he continued. “What time would be good?”

Marlee shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe tomorrow?”


Was Uncle Ray being pushy? He was never pushy, or anything other than a sweetheart to anyone. “OK. Fine, tonight's fine. Eight tonight.”

“Sounds good. I apologize if I push too hard, but this is my mother's last wish.”

Marlee didn't know what to say. She felt like an asshole; Janice was dead now, after all. The least Marlee could do was show a little respect. “It's OK. I'm sorry for being such a jerk.”

Marlee heard the voice on Ray's line again, and he mumbled something to them, and then spoke back into the receiver. “I've got to go. The minister needs help. I'll see you at eight then.”

“OK. See you.”


Marlee put her cell away and looked for Nora.

Allison looked at Tom from the passenger seat. Her husband looked about the worst she'd ever seen him. His face was pale and his eyes were heavy with pain. He opened the driver's side door, fumbling with his keys, and slipped into the car.

Tom took a deep breath and plugged his key into the ignition. He turned it so hard she wouldn't have been surprised if it broke. “Can't believe it,” he said simply.

Allison patted his leg in sympathy, and he swatted her hand away. His refusal of her affection flared her temper and she forced herself to begin studying the car next to theirs.

“I just started seeing her again. I mean, she hasn't been moved back to Rockford for long. Then she died.” Tom's voice was shuddery, and his breathing was heavy. “We were finally starting to talk again. After all these years.”

“It's OK, honey,” Allison said, in her best soothing voice. Inside, though, she felt anything but. Her anger was slowly consuming all her inhibitions, and pretty soon she'd have to really fight to stop herself from making unkind comments.

“No,” Tom snapped back. “It's not OK. After leaving me with my Dad? After picking Ray to bring with her, instead of me?” He accelerated the vehicle into motion, his voice turning into a snarl. “Not OK. She never, ever apologized. That's all I ever asked for. Just her, saying, 'Sorry. I messed up.' But no. I don't think she even regretted it.”

Ray had turned into a churchman and was doing well on his own. Tom was too, financially anyway, but Ray was happy. Ray was charming. Ray was better looking. She knew that speech by heart; Tom never let her forget it. Whenever Tom went on one of his drunken rages where he recited his jealousy again, she could only think one thing: she already knew all of it was true, and didn't need him to point it out.

And sadly, she'd picked the wrong brother to marry, apparently.

“Come on, Tom. Give your mom a little slack. It had to have been a terrible choice to have to make.”

“I don't buy that bullshit for a second. Yeah, OK, she was divorcing my dad, so she'd be a single mom. Couldn't afford to take care of both me and my brother? What is that?” He rolled his window down and spat to the wind. “Why'd she pick Ray?” Then, in a quieter voice, he added, “And why'd God have to pick her now?”

Allison's anger cracked like ice breaking under pouring water. As strained as their marriage had become in the past few years, she still cared about him, and seeing him this defeated hurt her. She couldn't think of anything to say that he wouldn't throw back in her face, so she just nodded and watched the world fly outside her window.

“I saw you with Ray,” Tom grumbled, finally. “Saw you givin' him smiles.”

Allison said nothing. “He was grieving too, Tom. What else do you do for someone at a funeral?”
Tom didn't answer, but she knew he was furious, which made her furious as well. He had no right to get as jealous as he did, and she wondered if she could do any better than Tom.

No point in thinking about it, she decided. There was a ring on her finger, and she did still care about him.

Still. How would he react, if she told him that she deserved better? She couldn't imagine him calming down, couldn't imagine him assuring her he would try harder. Concentrating, she tried to imagine exactly what he would do. Would he burst into rage and start screaming, or worse?

They'd been through many years of marriage, and she liked to think the years were well spent. He hadn't left her yet, and he'd had many opportunities to do so. She'd stuck with him through thick and thin, despite his attitude and his temper, and in his own way, he had done the same.

Tom said nothing more, and Allison saw the wisdom in staying silent.

* * * * * *

Thank you for reading part one of chapter two of my novel, "One More Day", available for Amazon Kindle for $4.99!  Check back next Friday for part two of chapter two!


It was a beautiful day for a funeral. Sun cascaded over the grave markers and provided a dry bath for Marlee's shoulders. The warmth of the day was punctuated by cool gusts from the west. It began as just a whisper through the early morning blue, but as the day moved on, clouds began to appear and fatten, and with them came the wind. Marlee watched the trees as their leaves were stripped away and hurled back down the hill that sloped to the gates.

Marlee struggled with the sensations: on the one hand, there was loss here, there was death; but on the other, the gentle Spring temperature and the crisp air shooting through her nostrils tried their best to console her. It might have worked, were Marlee and the weather alone. It was the company she was forced to keep that ruined her mood.

With Grandma Janice finally buried in the ground, the crowd dissipated. Only Marlee and her dad stayed behind and watched the fresh grave settle.

“Well.” Dad grunted, his fingers hooked on his belt loops. “Now that's over with.”

Marlee shrugged. “I guess.” She ran a hand over her belly absently. She stopped herself; that was a habit she was going to have to break, no matter how hard it was to accept its emptiness.

Dad's chin was always angular, but today it looked like the blade of an axe. His dark eyes looked as pained as she'd ever seen them, but he still did not cry. Dad never cried, and never would. He crossed his arms and cleared his throat, fidgeting. He tired of waiting, and tapped Marlee's elbow with his big hand. “You'd best be moving on.”

Marlee didn't give him the pleasure of doing what she was told. She tried to picture Grandma Janice alive one last time.

But she couldn't. All she could see was Janice in her casket at the wake.

After today, no one would care anymore about Janice and her floral skirt collection. Or her crooked front teeth, or her fuzzy eyebrows or her perfect nose. She may have been nearing seventy, but Janice was the best looking woman Marlee had ever seen, black or white.

Mom had complimented Marlee once, by telling her that she had the same nose as Grandma Janice. She still held on to that memory, and she could remember every nuance of Mom's voice as she said it.
Dad had enough of waiting. He pinched her. “You didn't have to come. I told you.”

“I know.” Marlee wanted to tell him to leave her alone, but she couldn't find the strength. He was jealous, she could tell by the anger lurking beneath the surface, evident by his clipped manner of speaking.

You could've talked to her anytime you wanted, Dad.

She looked at him, and wished she could say what she was thinking. “I had to see her.”

Dad took her hand and squeezed. “Now you seen her.” His face was so wrinkled, even though he was just 55. “She'd be proud. And glad you came.”

Marlee's cheeks flushed and she shrugged out of her father's grasp. “She's my grandmother.”

“You never even knew her.”

“I've seen her more in the past five years than you have in the last thirty.”

Dad's teeth clacked together and he pointed back down the hill, to the gate.

She hated that; she was almost thirty and he still did that stupid teeth thing to get her to shut up. She glared at him.

He wouldn't take any more resistance, by the look in his eyes, but when he spoke his voice was low. Did he warble a little? She wasn't sure. “Go.”

She turned and started the walk down the hill. The wind splashed her face with cool air, and she followed a pair of leaves that tumbled along at her feet.

Dad could tell how hurt she was, and he called after her, trying to cover up his rude behavior with a smile and his cold eyes. “I'm not sayin' you can't stay, if you want to.”

Marlee turned and gave Dad one look. When he saw she was not coming back, he waved goodbye and turned back to face the grave.

Her feet crunched the dead grass at the gate. She headed out, and when she thought she was out of hearing distance, she muttered to herself. “I wouldn't want to waste your time, Dad.”

Marlee saw Mom talking to Uncle Raymond in the middle of the train of parked cars snaking up from Auburn Street. When Mom saw Marlee, she excused herself and hurried over.

“Marlee.” Mom put a hand on her arm and stood on her tiptoes to give Marlee a peck on the cheek. When Mom pulled away, she tapped Marlee's cheeks. “Lemme guess. Your dad, right?”

“No. It's not dad's fault.” Marlee took a deep breath and tried to pretend that she was happy enough, but she couldn't make eye contact. If she did, she might just start to cry. “I just didn't expect to lose her this soon.”

Mom folded her arms and gestured back up the hill, to the grave. “I know. But your dad's the one in the real pain here. That's his mother.” Marlee was not responsive enough, so she leaned in and gave Marlee another peck on the cheek and a quick, unsure hug. “She didn't feel no pain. Went out like a light switch. On, off.” She cleared her throat and shouldered her purse. “It's a shame your dad didn't get some more time with her, after all those years of no talking.”

Marlee tried to mirror her mom's calm, but it was hopeless. She was fidgeting. She had to get back to the apartment before she broke down. “Mom, I got to go.”

“Honey.” Mom took her hand and pointed to the cars. “Look over there, it's your Uncle Ray. Say hi.”

Uncle Ray didn't look much like his brother Tom. He was tall, yes, but very thin and delicate. The sun bounced off the rims of his sunglasses and attacked her eyes. She squinted. Ray saw them looking, so he waved. Marlee waved back, but she couldn't have a conversation with the man, not now.

Dammit. He was headed their way now.

“Ray.” Mom smiled brightly. “Poor Marlee's all bent out of shape about this. Any way you can cheer her up?”

Ray was the witty brother, always ready with a joke or a story or just something to distract her from unpleasant circumstances. He wiggled his eyebrows and tapped his sunglasses down enough to look out at her. “I'd say don't think about it, but that never helps.” He folded his arms. His eyes were so soft and warm that anyone not watching their feet could fall in and never find their way out. “Just try to do something new. For yourself.”

Marlee nodded and tried to look thankful for the advice. She smiled. He offered his hand, and she shook it, but she was sure he could feel how weak she was.

“Good to see you again, Marlee.”

“Same to you,” she said. “I have to get going. Talk to you soon.”

“Yeah. Don't be a stranger or nothin'.”

“I won't.”

Marlee started walking back to her car, leaving her relatives behind. She heard Mom start chirping at Ray, apologizing for her behavior. Marlee sneaked a look over her shoulder, and saw Mom giving Ray a great view of her big brown eyes and her round face. She could still hear them on the wind.

“It's just losing her baby and then your Mom, so close together,” Mom was saying. “That's what's getting to her.”

“I'd be the same way.” Ray took off his sunglasses and cleaned them on his shirt. The wind whipped his black curls like short corn stalks on a plain.

“That's why she was rude. I'm so sorry.”

Marlee stopped watching them and concentrated on getting back to the car, out of earshot. She heard Ray's gentle laugh. “No, really,” he said. “It's fine.”

The wind helped her forget about both of them. She was starting to cool down, air pressing through her hair and kneading her scalp. The smell of fresh earth started to fade, and then was replaced altogether by the sharp stink of exhaust and gasoline.

Her peace was interrupted by Mom, who was hurrying behind, trying to keep up with Marlee's power walk. “Marlee. It's the baby you're so upset about, isn't it?” Marlee refused to answer, and Mom finally stopped following and threw her hands up. “C'mon. Marlee. Do you need to talk at all?”


“Just remember I'm here, OK? You need anything, or someone to talk to, then you gimme a call, right?”

Marlee dismissed Mom with a wave of her hand. She couldn't talk, or even think; tears were getting lost in her lips and her shoulders were starting to bob. She climbed into her car and looked over her shoulder. Mom was back with Ray again, and the two continued talking.

Dad was a lone black figure on the hill, standing before his mother's grave. It was hard to imagine Dad as even having a mother, or being young enough to care that he had one. Even so, there he stood, paying his respects to her.

Marlee leaned against the steering wheel and cried.

People who drove by stared at her like she was crazy and she glared back at them. What, never seen a girl cry at a funeral before?

Her arms locked over her tummy. There was no tiny kick anymore, no internal peace.

Now, she couldn't feel anything. There was nothing to feel anymore, except for the grief, which was inescapable and played back every time she let her thoughts wander.

She remembered having just finished watching TV ten months ago, and then standing up. She remembered first feeling water pouring down her legs, and then, she remembered, looking down, and seeing that the water was blood, and the blood was hers. She remembered screaming, and then she remembered the blur of trees outside the car window as Nora rushed her to the hospital.

Memories of the rest of that night were either forgotten or nonexistent. Time passed and she never noticed; food came and went but she never ate. The TV's blank face watched her, and nurses popped their indifferent faces in the room time and again to make sure she wasn't dead.

That entire horrible night, her brain kept pounding with her heart, and she wished both would stop so she wouldn't have to think about how she didn't have her baby anymore.

Her baby. She would've been named Shawnee LaTasha Pritchard, if only she had been born alive.

* * * * * *

Thank you for reading chapter one of my novel, "One More Day", available on Amazon Kindle now for $4.99!  Check back next Friday for part one of chapter two!

Horror fantasy One More Day is coming -- and you can look for the first installment on MAY 6TH, 2016!

Published in weekly installments every Friday morning, the entire, unedited story of Marlee Jordan, her family and the terrible secret that binds them will be available right here for free.

If you like what you read, feel free to either donate using the button to the right or buy the e-book on Amazon Kindle here.  It's only $4.99, and you can read the whole thing RIGHT NOW, rather than having to wait for the weekly installments.

Although there's something fun about the serial format too, so feel free to make use of that donate button and give whatever you feel the book is worth to you.  There's other books on my Amazon page as well, so feel free to check them out while you're here.

I've also got loads of free poetry you can check out here, and the free short story "But It Feels Like Forever" to read, so please do hang out.  Want something cool to watch?  Check out my short film review blog, Forest City Short Film Review.

Looking for a writer for your project?  I'd love to work with you to realize your goals.  Visit my Services and Testimonials pages for more ideas on how I can help!


I'm very excited to announce the release of my debut horror novel, One More Day, right here on Blogger!

What does this mean, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you a few things right off the bat: once the release date hits (to be announced), a new section will be released every Friday.  You'll be able to read the entire novel, front to back, absolutely for free right here on my official writing blog.

Once you've read the book and enjoyed it, you can donate whatever you feel is fair OR buy the e-book for your Amazon Kindle.  No matter what you do, just by reading and spreading the word about One More Day, you are helping to support my work and I much appreciate it!

Much more information coming soon -- the actual release date, for one, and also bonus content to help you get excited!

She would've been named Shawnee LaTasha Pritchard, if only she had been born alive . . .
Ever since Marlee Jordan lost her baby during childbirth, she hasn't been the same. It isn't fair -- and it's impossible for her to move on knowing what could have been, what should have been. 
When Marlee inherits an ancient genealogy book crafted before the Civil War, she thinks nothing of it. But as soon as she starts looking through its pages, strange things start to happen. She begins hearing noises, seeing things that cannot be. Her dreams fill with the dead relatives written about in the book's pages. 
Desperate to be reunited with her daughter, Marlee writes in Shawnee. At first, she thinks nothing has happened -- that is, until she begins to feel the familiar gentle kicking inside of her.
Word about what the book can do travels fast. Marlee comes face to face with Stacey Combs, a broken woman mourning the loss of her twelve year old son. Though Marlee at first pities her, quickly she learns that there is a darker side to Stacey.
A darker side that carries a secret that could threaten Marlee's family and take away Shawnee once more -- this time, forever.

Look for an announcement regarding One More Day's official release date over the course of the next few days!

On the set of "Dralien"
I have an abundance of good news to report here as 2015 begins to draw to a close!

First of all, I've been writing screenplays left and right -- two short films with actor / producer Anthony Miller (drama "Only the Night Will Know" and comedy "The New Pope") and the feature length The Calling in addition to a TV series adaptation of "Dralien" with LMC Productions.

Speaking of "Dralien", the long awaited post-production process is nearly complete.  I'm assured that within the next few weeks we should be seeing the final cut, and I couldn't be more excited.

Did you get a chance to check out "Dennis Mayhew's Magic Mirror" yet?  If not, you can watch the entire short film right here.

Add on to all of that awesomeness the fact that Forest City Short Film Review just continues to grow and grow.  Recently, I randomly googled "short film reviews" and lo and behold, Forest City Short Film Review appears on page one of the search results!

Speaking of FCSFR, if you haven't had the chance, check out my latest interview with actress and all around DIY indie filmmaker Valentina Isis, and reviews of Matthew P. Rojas' boxing drama "The Amputation" and Jonathan Carlander's Asperger's-themed "The Pleasing List".  There's tons more good stuff to check out while you're there, so once you're done checking those out feel free to explore!

On this blog, I've added a "Films" page and a "Free Fiction" page.  On the latter, you can check out "But It Feels Like Forever", a short story included in my Death's Perfume short story anthology.

Here's what people are saying about Death's Perfume:

"Very dark and disturbing . . . [he has] a unique and entertaining voice."

"I like stories I can imagine being shown by the 'CryptKeeper' . . . nasty, but nice."

More free fiction and updates on my first poetry collection as well as new film projects coming very, very soon!

Great news -- what you see to the left of this text is the official poster for the Gutzee Geko Films fantasy short, "Dralien"!  I wrote the script based on a story by Linda Curry, who also served as producer and director, and judging from the production stills and the few video clips I've seen, it looks fantastic.  A trailer should be coming very soon, so check back because as soon as it goes live, it's going to appear right here.

In other news, "Dennis Mayhew's Magic Mirror", a fantastical comedy, saw release earlier this year.  You can check out the full short film by clicking on this link.

I've also worked on a pair of scripts for actor Anthony Miller and a feature film for Gutzee Geko Films -- more detail will come about all three when I receive permission to discuss them publicly.  

In addition, I have a producer getting ready to start pre-production on an original horror short script I wrote called "House Hunting".  "Her Choice", a dramatic short, is going to be looked at as well.

So it all sounds pretty good so far, right?  Well, that's not it.  April 2015 was the biggest month for Forest City Short Film Review of all time, with over 3,000 views in only a thirty day span.  More and more films are coming in to be reviewed and more people are following my blogs by the day.  I'm so happy to see my reviews resonating with people all over the world.

There is so much more to talk about, and I will do just that very soon, but until then -- have a wonderful weekend!

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