Monthly Archives: October 2022


Happy Halloween! Today, I am sharing a story I wrote some years ago. It originally appeared in a horror anthology entitled The Gates of Erebus. It has since been added it to my short story collection called Strange Hwy: Short Stories

Ghosts don’t exist. They simply are not real. When a person dies, they cease to be—unless you’re religious, then you have either heaven or hell. Dead people don’t wander around on planet Earth, hiding out in rundown old farm houses. They just don’t. My mother told me so a hundred times. So did my father.

Demons, well, they’re a different thing altogether.

I saw it at the bottom of the list. My name, Jessa Leaner, big and bold in the late summer sunlight, showing I’d be one of the fortunate ones. I’d be sitting in Mrs. Corner’s class for my fifth-grade year. That meant other kids, those less fortunate ones, would be forced to endure an entire school year under the rule of fat Miss Biddlewine. After all, Conklin Elementary School had just two fifth-grade classrooms. A kid’s entire well-being depended upon the fate tossed at him or her by those in charge of assigning students to teachers.

Mrs. Corner, she’d been at it since my own parents had made their way through fifth grade, a kindly sort—not at all different from my own grandmother. Her classroom rested beneath a cozy atmosphere, with posters on the walls encouraging reading and writing and believing that anything and everything is possible for those who dared apply the effort. An aquarium at the rear of the room flashed the brilliant colors of exotic fish not native to our area—reds and blues and greens and yellows. Jiminy the gerbil worked furiously on the wheel inside a cage next to the fish tank—as if he, alone, powered the very lights overhead.

There weren’t enough desks, though. Four neat rows of sixes added up to just twenty-four. Three of us didn’t get there early enough to secure our places.

“There’s room in Miss Biddlewine’s class,” Mrs. Corner explained, dismissing the overflow of kids standing at the back of the room.

Tommy Richter grinned at me from his seat, said, “Shit out of luck, Leaner. Off to the dungeon.”

Three of us were forced to make the slow march down the hallway to the cold, bland, fishless, gerbil-less, poster-less confines belonging to the one nicknamed The Beast.

It didn’t take long for me to wind up on the bad side of Miss Biddlewine. An A+ book report suffered with the markings of a D- after The Beast had become convinced that I hadn’t fully read the assigned novel. But I had read it—the year before. So what if I forgot about the little twist at the end?

“You’re a lying little cheat,” she told me to my face.

“Am not,” I argued.

Detention followed, a full week of missed recesses.

“I hate her,” I told Shasta Cummings on the bus ride home from school that day.

Shasta said, “You do not.”

We’d been best friends since before kindergarten, me and Shasta—even though we’re complete opposites. Shasta, tall and blond and beautiful, scored all A’s on her report cards and never spoke a bad word against anybody. Me? Short with brunette hair chopped in a pixie cut. And my grades, well, they were nearly as bad as my attitude—if you believed my mother.

“Okay,” I relented, “maybe I don’t hate her. Maybe I just don’t like her very much.”

The bus trundled down Grove Road past the old Fielding place. All eyes aboard the bus turned fearfully on the abandoned farmhouse. Nobody but squatters had bothered with the place since Elmer Fielding took a hammer and caved in the heads of his wife and three young children before shooting himself in the temple some thirty years earlier.

“We’re going to stay the night in there on Halloween,” Shasta boldly proclaimed.

Tommy Richter didn’t believe a word of it. “Horse shit!” he spat. “Ain’t nobody got guts enough to go in there at night. Even those squatters make sure they’re out before sundown.”

I had to side with Tommy on that one. Shasta had been saying we’d stay the night in the old Fielding place every Halloween since second grade. We never did, though.

Tommy’s the one who brought it up. He said, “You know, Fieldings and Biddlewines are blood related.” He shifted in his seat across the aisle from me and Shasta. “Rumor has it that Miss Biddlewine’s mother was a Fielding.”

“So what?” I retorted. “What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”

“Means she might have it in her to just up and snap one day,” Tommy explained, ambling toward the door to get off at his stop. “Crazy runs in families, I hear.”

*      *      *

I didn’t mean to say it out loud; it just sort of slipped past my lips and found its way into Miss Biddlewine’s ears. Write an essay on what we hope to be when we grow up, she told the class.

Simple enough. I wanted to move to Hollywood and be an actress, I wrote. It’s a dream I’d nurtured since the first time I ever saw The Wizard of Oz on TV. I yearned to be Dorothy, just wandering along my own yellow brick road. It didn’t matter that I’d never acted in anything—I was simply too petrified to try out for the school plays year after year.

Miss Biddlewine’s beady black gaze fixed on me like I’d brought a plague into her classroom. “You’re joking, right?” she said. “A Hollywood actress? You? No, ma’am. An actress must be pretty and talented. You, Jessa Leaner, are neither. I suspect you’ll amount to little more than a housewife to one of the local farmer boys. That will be your lot in life.”

Anger got hold of me, convincing me that this was not the time to cry. Not in front of The Beast.

As I said, I didn’t mean to say it out loud.

But the words fell out anyway.

Loud and hate-filled came my voice. “I hope you die!”

Gasps filled the room, sucking all the breathable air from my lungs. I wanted to apologize right there on the spot. But the thing about pride, well, pride is an obstacle.

Pride goeth before destruction.

Miss Biddlewine didn’t react—at least not the way I figured she might. She simply dismissed me and called up the next student.

*      *      *

We all knew something bad had happened when we found Principal Goresline, rather than a substitute teacher, occupying Miss Biddlewine’s desk.

“Died during the night,” he said, his words fluttering above my head like evil accusing butterflies.

All those other kids looked on me as if I’d gone to Miss Biddlewine’s house myself and did away with her.

The accusation from my conscience found its mark. My fault!

“She was fat,” said Shasta. “She had a heart attack. You can’t blame yourself because she ate too much.”

But I’d said those words. I’d said them aloud.

Spoken words can never be taken back.

*      *      *

“It’s a Ouija board,” Shasta announced, cradling the box like she would a newborn baby. “We’ll use it to conjure up Miss Biddlewine when we stay in the Fielding place tonight.”

“My parents won’t let me be out all night,” I argued, hoping to talk her out of such a foolish notion.

“They’ll never even know. You’re telling them we’re staying at my house, and my parents will think I’m staying with you.”

I needed to know. I needed to ask Miss Biddlewine if she blamed me for her death.

“Does that thing work?” I wondered aloud, nodding at the box.

Shasta’s reply came adamant, certain. “Of course it works. My cousin Janet used it to talk to our grandmother last Halloween. She asked private questions and the board answered correctly. It had to be Grandma because nobody else could have known the answers.”

We walked up on the Fielding place just as the sun dropped below the horizon, leaving the sky streaked through with purple. First-floor windows had long ago been busted out by teenagers using the place for a hangout. Graffiti on the walls told tales about this girl or that one who might do things I’d never heard of before. Spent cigarette butts and empty beer cans littered the creaky floor.

“We’ll sleep upstairs,” Shasta said. “It’s not as dirty up there.”

Water stains painted ghostly images on the ceiling where the elements breached the leaky roof. Half-burned logs clogged a small fireplace inside the bedroom we claimed.

“Can you build a fire?” Shasta asked.

I tossed up a shrug, said, “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

I’d long ago learned to hate that dismissive tsk sound Shasta often employed. She knew as well as I did that I’d give in.

“Fine,” I huffed, “—but I ain’t taking the blame if this place burns down.”

*      *      *

Shadows came out against the orange glow. Teasing dark shapes danced in corners, mocking our false bravado.

“Do you suppose he killed somebody in this room?” Shasta wondered.

He did—one kid in each bedroom as they slept. The wife, she’d been found in the kitchen. Fielding killed her as she prepared breakfast for her family.

We sat Indian style, facing each other, in front of the fire. The Ouija laid claim to the space between us. Candy bars and soda pops kept us in comfort.

Simple questions were asked as a means to calibrate the spirits. The oracle moved to either yes or no, depending on the knowledge we’d sought.

Shasta took control once we were satisfied we’d connect with somebody.

She asked, “Can we speak to Miss Biddlewine?”

The oracle slid across the board. Yes.

“I didn’t mean it,” I whined, hoping Miss Biddlewine herself might be listening. “Honest.”

Letters began to pile up beneath the oracle, spelling out words I didn’t want to know. KILL came first. Then, DEMON. DEATH and BLOOD followed.

“This ain’t Miss Biddlewine,” Shasta assured me.

I flung an accusation at her. “You’re the one moving that stupid thing, aren’t you?”

“I swear I’m not,” Shasta promised.

All that soda pop and a case of the nerves got to me. “I gotta pee,” I told her, gaining my feet.

“Hafta go outside,” Shasta said. “Somebody smashed the toilet.”

“Come with?” I asked, hoping to hide the pleading in my voice.

But Shasta wouldn’t budge. The comfort of her sleeping bag won out over friendship.

Under my breath, I said, “I hope they get you.”

The stairs creaked beneath my feet. Darkness swallowed the main-floor rooms. Outside, thick black clouds blotted out the moonlight. The night air had gone to a damp chill.

In the back of my head I could hear my mother’s voice. Be quick about it!

Just beyond the back door I popped the snap and pulled my jeans down. That’s when I heard it—heard them. Those whispered voices mocking me from somewhere inside that old death house. Shadows moved through the kitchen like tall dark ghosts, vaguely human in shape. I counted two of them against the blackness.

“Come inside,” a whispered voice seemed to say.

Long, twisted fingers gripped the door frame.

A face, gaunt and hollow, peered out at me, watching me through black pools of nothingness where the eyes were meant to be.

I have no recollection of yanking my pants up, just of running across a field of soy beans, stumbling blindly toward my house.

My mother opened the door, said, “I thought you were staying at Shasta’s house.”

“Decided not to,” I replied, slipping words between puffs of breath.

“Shoulda called. I’d have sent Daddy to pick you up. A girl shouldn’t be wandering around at night.”

I could still see that face: the empty gaze, protruding cheek bones, and the way its tongue dangled between cracked lips. Had he been one of Fielding’s victims? A son, maybe?

*      *      *

Shasta’s parents came looking for her the following day.

I don’t know why, but I told them everything. I told them about staying at the Fielding place, the Ouija board, seeing the demon in the window.

They found Shasta’s body in the room we’d shared. She’d been abused in ways you’d expect to read about on graffiti-covered walls.

Squatters, the police claimed. Drug addicts, judging by all the needles found.

I knew better, though. I’d seen the culprits.



MKTG #21 – BookStores

More great marketing tips for writers!

Story Empire

Hello, SE’ers! It’s Jan here to talk about another marketing avenue for Indie Authors. Unless you live in a tiny town, there is most likely a bookstore near you. So, I want to talk a little about how to convince them to take a chance with your books.

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

There are a few things an author should consider before approaching a bookstore about carrying your book or books. That’s what I want to focus on today.

This first tip is a ‘don’t.’ Booksellers do not want to hear about your success on Amazon. Independent booksellers are in competition with Amazon, so even the mention of the giant will not be well-received. Also, it’s good to note that booksellers will not stock books published through Amazon KDP.

Before a bookseller will consider putting your book in their store, your book must have a valid…

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Using Timelines

A great piece on timelines in your stories!

Story Empire

Hey, SE Readers. Joan here today. I’m going to begin today’s post with a story. Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Back in the early 1980s, I read a series of books by one of my then-favorite authors. These books chronicled several generations of one family.

The first volume was set in what was then modern times (the late 1970s or early 1980s). I’m not sure if the author planned to write others when she published that one, or if it was an afterthought due to the popularity of the book.

Book two took us back in time to the 1800s, and the third one took place in the early part of the twentieth century (no later than the 1920s). All well and good as far as character ages and the timeline.

Then we come to what is now marketed as the third of the series (the first one…

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A Few Words About Audiobooks!

A few words about audiobooks!

Story Empire

Greetings, SE’ers! Beem Weeks here with you again. Today, I’m talking about audiobooks!

Male dj working on the radio vector illustration

Once the realm of big-named authors and major publishing houses, audiobooks have become the fastest growing segment in publishing today—even among indie authors. In the early days of the format, authors like Stephen King or Tom Clancy might sit down and narrate their own stories, which would then be released on cassette tapes. Some of authors with the financial means and Hollywood connections might employ named actors and actresses to read their works.

Today, this format has been opened to those of us of more meager means. And it’s quite simple.

While I’ve yet to convert one of my books into an audiobook, I have produced several for other authors.

The first step is to find an appropriate voice to represent your work. Sites like Fiverr offer a wide variety of voice talent at reasonable rates. An…

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Author Jan Sikes Releases Saddled Hearts!

Greetings to all you readers out there! Today, it is my pleasure to welcome author Jan Sikes to The Indie Spot! Welcome to my blog, Jan!

I am deeply grateful to you, Beem, for offering to host me today for the second stop on the Saddled Hearts tour. Your support is much appreciated.

In this story, Colt Layne is confronted by a stranger who makes unreasonable demands. Colt’s grandfather, Buck Layne, was a world-champion bull rider and brought home some large winnings. But he also made a few enemies along the way. There were some who thought the judges were biased and others who simply wanted what Buck had.
So, when Jeremiah Tompkins shows up at the ranch, Colt is left speechless.

Here’s an excerpt:

A red-faced man squeezed from behind the steering wheel of a rattletrap pickup.
“Can I help you, sir?” Colt asked.
“Is this Buck Layne’s place?”
“It was. I’m his grandson. What can I do for you?”
“You and me, we need to talk.”
Those four words had never bode well for Colt. They usually meant he was in trouble, only he hadn’t done anything this time. “Do I know you?”
“I doubt it. I worked the circuit with your granddaddy for a few years.”
“All right, sir. Want to come inside?”
The stranger lumbered up the steps and across the wide sprawling porch, puffing with each step.
Colt held the door for him, then followed him in. He pointed to the living room. “Have a seat.”
The man dropped into an overstuffed chair covered with brown-and-white spotted cowhide. “Got anything to drink?”
“Anything, as in iced tea or water?”
“I’d rather have a beer.”
Jag pushed up from the piano stool. “I’ll get it, Colt.”
“You got a name, mister?” Colt sat on the edge of the sofa across from the intruder.
“Jeremiah Tompkins. Like I said, I knew your grandpa.”
Colt rubbed his chin. “Jeremiah Tompkins. That name doesn’t ring a bell.”
Jag returned with three beers and stuck out his hand. “Jag Peters.”
Jeremiah grunted, ignored Jag’s hand, and accepted the beer, turning it up for a long swig.
After he passed Colt a beer, Jag joined him on the sofa.
“Okay.” Colt leaned forward, gripping the beer bottle. “Exactly what is it you need to talk to me about, Mr. Tompkins?”
Jeremiah wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “It’s about a debt Buck Layne owes me. I heard he’s passed on, but that don’t change the fact. He owes me.”
“A debt?” Colt took a swig of his beer and narrowed his eyes. “What kind of debt?”
“Well, you see, me and ol’ Buck, we used to play cards a lot. Only this one night, Buck couldn’t draw a decent hand no matter how hard he tried. When he ran out of money, he put this land on the table.”
“Are you saying my granddad lost this ranch to you in a poker game?”
“That’s about it.” Jeremiah grinned, showing yellowed teeth. “So, I’ve come to collect what’s mine.”

Can you imagine? What would you do if you were in Colt’s shoes?


Colt Layne owns the Layne Horse Sanctuary. He lives an idyllic life between caring for the animals and playing music with his band. That is until a stranger appears with unreasonable demands. When someone murders the man, Colt is arrested. He’s been framed, but by whom and why?

He needs to talk with his deceased grandfather. But that’s impossible. Or is it?

Sage Coventry is gifted with the ability to communicate with the deceased. Skeptical but desperate, when Colt consults with her, he gets more than messages from beyond the grave as she breezes into his heart with sweet patchouli fragrance and tempting lips he longs to kiss.

The race against time to clear his name and save the ranch launches them on a mission that brings shocking revelations.













Author C. S. Boyack Returns With The Midnight Rambler!

Greetings, readers! Today, it is my honor and privilege to introduce to you Lisa Burton, the robot girl and personal assistant to author C. S. Boyack. Lisa has stopped by to share the latest installment in Boyack’s brilliantly original The Hat series entitled The Midnight Rambler. Welcome to The Indie Spot, Lisa. . .  


Oh, my gosh! I’m so excited to get away from the writing cabin for this tour. Thank you for having me over, Beem. I’m here to talk about The Midnight Rambler, Craig’s newest volume in The Hat Series. Don’t let that word, series, scare you away. All of these can be read as solo titles if one appeals more than the others. It’s October and this one has mad science. Just saying.


Anyhoo, there’s this ancient enemy of the hat and he’s come back to even the score. He’s a bad dude, spirit, whatever. He’s taking the tower fortress approach to make the hat to screw up. A desperate Lizzie and the hat might make a fatal mistake.


The Rambler kidnaps one of the local coven members, and he’s the only person who can make magical medicine for Lizzie’s new love interest. Without this medicine, Ray C. Adair is going to die. There’s a lot of pressure on our heroes.


This love interest is something new for the series, and Lizzie has to deal with always having the hat around, trying to save Ray’s life, and some serious bad weather while trying to get her private time in. It’s not easy being a paranormal heroine.


To celebrate mad science in all it’s glory, I posed for Sean Harrington to make this poster for everyone. For some reason he had these awesome mad science shoes laying around. They might have gone missing after the shoot. No idea where they went.


Your fans are welcome to use the poster as wallpaper, share it to Pinterest, or whatever else turns them on. Robot girls can always use a boost.



The Hat Series consists of short novels, which Craig insists on calling noveloids. He’s a weird dude, but you kind of want that in an author. The books are all stand-alone stories, so you don’t have to read every volume before picking up The Midnight Rambler. You can start right here if you like and won’t feel lost at all. Side note: I’m bucking for a Christmas bonus, so if you did pick them all up, it would really help. Maybe some cute Chiristmas boots with little bells.



Something evil is after the hat. The ageless enemies have battled many times, but this time Lizzie is wearing the hat. She’s also up against a ticking clock, in that if she can’t find the maker of her new friend’s medicine he will die.


The Rambler has kidnapped the only witch capable of making Ray’s medicine in an attempt to make the hat sloppy in his efforts. He’s also flooded the streets with deadly minions to impede any progress our heroes might make.


As if that weren’t enough, Lizzie is facing more of life’s struggles, both financially and mechanically. This all goes down in the middle of a huge flood event that she’s ill equipped to handle.


Join Lizzie and the hat as they battle the elements, the paranormal, and a being of pure evil. Lizzie might be battling some personal demons along the way as she and Ray grow closer.


Get your copy here:



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Story Development and Execution Part 12: Micro-Level Self-Editing

Fantastic writing tips from Staci Troilo!

Story Empire

Ciao, SEers. Today is part twelve of the series, and we’re finishing up the self-editing modules. We’ve reached micro-level revision. By now, you should have corrected most of the issues in your manuscript. It’s time to read it again (yes, again) and look for problems with words and punctuation.

Do you notice any wrong words in your manuscript? Words like “definitely” and “defiantly” are often mistaken for each other. Or the wrong version of to/too/two or their/there/they’re can slip in. Apostrophes often show up where they don’t belong. And sometimes there’s a word that’s close to your intended meaning, but a different word has a stronger connotation.

Did you delete extraneous words? Often “that” can be deleted. Many sentence beginnings, especially in dialogue, can be eliminated (so, okay, well, etc.). Are you using three common words to describe something when one multisyllabic word would be more appropriate?

Take a…

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Great marketing advice!

Story Empire

Hello, SE’ers! It’s Jan here to talk about an infuriating book marketing pitfall. I will share some tips to help make sure you don’t fall for useless book marketing promises that can drain your pocketbook.

Image courtesy Pete Linforth via Pixabay

New authors are desperate to get their work discovered. And that makes them vulnerable to promises that sound too good to be true. The old adage comes to mind, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

But it’s not just new authors who are vulnerable. Even though seasoned authors tend to be more cautious, we can all still fall prey to these sharks. They’ve gotten good at saying what we want to hear.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our money?

  • First and maybe most importantly, if someone cold-contacts you, it should raise a big red flag. For example, let’s say you…

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Should you edit your published book?

Great info for writers of all sorts!

Story Empire

When to edit

Greetings, Storytellers. Diana here to talk about whether we should edit our published books, and if so, when. This post also applies to those writers who never publish because they never finish editing. If that’s you, read on!

Like just about anything we do (paint, cook, dance, carpentry, write) we get better with practice. We learn better methods, the tricks of the trade, how to blend color and spices, cut a rug, or cut a bevel.

We learn how to craft a tight plot and rich characters, show versus tell, reduce dialog tags, choose verbs, kill the adverbs. If we’re lucky, we get strong feedback from editors, critiquers, and beta readers. We take courses, read books on writing, and write, write, write.

Knowing that improvement is a given, the books we wrote five years ago might not look as polished as those we write today.

About a decade ago, when…

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