I’ve been so busy working that I haven’t had much time to write blog posts . . . so, for those who were creeped out by the embalming scene, here’s another scene from the firstbook. No embalming, I promise. 🙂

And today I was asked how much of my stories come from real life. This scene springs from a time when my three older cousins told me there was someone bad in the house watching from a window. I don’t remember many details, except that they really scared me!

Set up: Bugs and Clay, Jen’s children, have just moved into the funeral home and are getting to know the neighborhood. Photo? My idea of what Bugs looks like. 🙂

* * *

Now that the park swing has slowed, Bugs slides off the seat. He wants to land on his feet like Clay always does, but he loses his balance and topples forward, his hands smacking the soft, black sand.
Ouch. Even the dirt in this place is hot.
He glances at the basketball court to make sure Clay didn’t see him fall. His brother’s head is still bent over the ball he keeps bouncing, slamming it with one hand and then the other. There’s no shade over the basketball court, so Clay’s dark T-shirt is wet with sweat.
Skeeter prances at Bugs’s side, eager to move on. The dog has already checked out the dock, the picnic tables, and a couple of trash cans near the water. “In a minute, boy. We have to wait on Clay.”
Bugs wipes his hands on his shorts and watches as his brother bends his knees and launches the ball toward the hoop. It hits the backboard, rolls around the rim, and falls to the side. No good.
Clay goes after the ball, then catches it and stops dribbling. Bugs wipes a trickle of sweat from his forehead and stares as a boy comes through the break in the chain-link fence—a big boy, probably old enough to drive.
No wonder Clay stopped dribbling.
“Hey.” The kid nods at Clay and bounces his own basketball on the asphalt. “Wanna shoot?”
Bugs bites his lip as his brother rolls his ball from one hip to the other. “I was just about to leave.”
The kid shoots from the middle of the court and grins as the ball swishes through the net.
“You must be one of the kids from Fairlawn,” the boy says, waiting while Clay catches the bouncing ball. “My mom told me about you guys.”
Bugs walks forward as Clay slaps the big kid’s ball across the court.
The kid catches it and rests it on his hip as he grins at Bugs. “Hey, little dude.” He glances at Clay. “You know this one?”
Clay nods. “That’s Bugs.”
“For real?” The kid’s grin widens. “Hey, Bugs, I’m Brett. I think we’re neighbors.”
Bugs wipes his hands on his shorts again, not sure what he’s supposed to do next. Maybe he’s just supposed to stand around and watch.
Brett jerks his chin at Skeeter, who is circling the players on the court. “That your dog?”
Clay shrugs. “He’s ours. But mostly he hangs out with Bugs.”
“Better keep an eye on him. There’s folks around here who’ll feed poison to a strange dog.”
Bugs calls Skeeter to his side as Brett dribbles the ball a couple of times, sends it through his legs, and spins around to catch it. The kid is smooth. Like a milk shake.
“So,” Brett says, holding the ball again. He looks at Clay. “How d’ya like living at the dead shed?”
Clay shoots a worried glance at Bugs. “’Sokay.”
“Did ya hear any ghosts last night? Anything bumping around in the tomb room?”
Bugs looks at Clay, but his brother’s face has gone blank.
“It’s just an old house,” Clay finally says. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“You must be hanging out in the wrong part of the house.” Brett bounces the ball again and winks at Clay. “I hear that old man Huffman keeps heads sitting on a table in the room where he empties out all the blood and stuff. There’s a window you can peek through, if you’ve got the guts. You can actually see ’em.”
Dead heads? Bugs waves at his brother, but Clay doesn’t notice. He’s grinning at the older kid as if this is all some kind of joke.
“Oh yeah?” Clay bounces his ball, too, just like Brett, then catches it with one hand and hugs it to his hip. “I think I’d like to see that. The heads, I mean.”
Brett’s grin widens. “Come on, then., I’ll show ya exactly where they are. But we gotta be quiet. Mr. Huffman doesn’t like people hanging around the evisceration station.”
Bugs doesn’t know what Brett means, but the place he’s talking about sounds bad. Really bad.
“Clay?” Bugs hurries after his brother, who is already following Brett toward the gate. “Clay, what’s a tomb room?”
His brother doesn’t answer, but catches up to Brett. They are whispering to each other, laughing, and taking such big steps Bugs can barely keep up.
He follows the older boys through the narrow stand of trees, but stops in the shadows when Brett leans against a pine and points to the back of the pink house. Bugs sees a garage, a sidewalk, and a small porch.
“See that door?” Brett says, pointing to a door Bugs has never noticed before. “That’s where they bring in the dead people.”
“That’s not true.” Bugs lifts his chin. “There aren’t any dead people in our house. Mom would have said something.”
“She wouldn’t tell you, squirt. People always hide stuff like that from kids.” Brett jerks his chin toward the corner of the house. “You can find out about the dead heads for yourself. See that little window next to the porch?”
Bugs creeps forward and peers through a stand of bushes. The window is set high on the wall, but there’s some kind of metal box beneath it.
“Your brother and I are tall enough to look through the window,” Brett says. “We could give you a boost so you could see inside . . . but I don’t know. Maybe you’re not old enough to handle it.”
Bugs looks from Clay to Brett and sees them exchange a glance.
Clay shakes his head. “I don’t think Bugs ought to look. But I’m good. Let’s go.”
“Okay. But be quiet.”
Clay and Brett hunch their shoulders and run forward in a crouch, pausing by the bushes next to the big metal box. Skeeter trots off with them.
Bugs hesitates, then sprints after the others. He doesn’t want to look in the window, but he doesn’t want to be left alone in the shadowy woods, either.
Clay is grinning when he catches up to them. “So you came,” he says, standing with his back pressed to the wall of the house. “Don’t tell Mom what we’re doing, okay?”
Bugs takes a step back as the big metal box begins to vibrate and roar. “What is that thing?”
“It’s part of the air conditioner.” Brett lifts his voice to be heard above the machine. “This is a good time to look, because Mr. Huffman won’t hear you if you scream. Ready?”
Clay grins as both boys turn to the window. “I can’t see anything,” Clay says. “A curtain’s in the way.”
“Easy enough to fix.” Moving as carefully as a robber, Brett lifts the bottom half of the window and slides it up. Then he and Clay step closer and peer into the mysterious room.
“That is too cool,” Clay says, sounding more okay than he ought to.
“Isn’t it?” Brett points into the space beyond the fluttering curtain. “See that head over there? I think I knew that girl from school.”
Clay rises on tiptoe. “She musta been pretty . . . when she was alive.”
Bugs stares up at his big brother, unable to believe what he’s hearing. This can’t be right. There’s no such thing as a tomb room or a table with heads on it . . . is there?
“I wanna see.” Bugs draws himself up to his full height and squeezes into the space between the other two boys. “Gimme a boost, will ya? I wanna look, too.”
“I don’t know, Bugsy.” Clay turns from the window and gives Bugs a sad look. “It’s kinda creepy in there.”
“It’ll give you nightmares.” Brett lowers his arms from the windowsill. “Maybe we should just go before Mr. Huffman shows up.”
Bugs puffs out his chest. “If you don’t give me a boost, I’m gonna tell Mom and Mr. Gerald that you were out here peekin’ at girls’ heads.”
Brett runs a hand through his short hair. “You know . . . maybe we should help him take a peek.”
Clay crosses his arms. “I dunno. He might get scared.”
“I won’t!” Bugs glares at his brother. “I didn’t keep the light on all night—you did!”
Clay’s eyes harden, and then he smiles at Brett. “Okay, let’s lift him. You take one leg and I’ll take the other. We’ll let him look but only for a second—”
“That’ll be long enough.”
The older boys bend and lace their fingers together.
Bugs slips his left foot into his brother’s hands. “You aren’t gonna tell on me, are you?”
Brett snorts. “Why would we do that when we were peekin’, too?”
Satisfied with the big kid’s answer, Bugs braces himself on Clay’s shoulder and slips his other foot into Brett’s hands. Together they lift him, but all Bugs can see is the edge of the white curtain.
“You’re gonna have to push that thing outta the way,” Clay says, his breath coming in odd little gasps. “Here, we’ll lift you higher so you can see better.”
“Wait, Clay. I can’t—”
Before he can say anything else, Brett and Clay push him onto the windowsill and through the open window. Bugs closes his eyes, afraid of what he’ll see; then he hears the slam of a door . . . and footsteps.
Can a dead head walk?
Kicking at empty air, he teeters on the sill, unable to slide backward without losing his balance and falling. He snatches a breath, and his head fills with a smell unlike anything he’s ever breathed before. He screams, the air filling with a screeching sound that ends only when arms as strong as iron wrap him in a monstrous embrace—
That’s when he feels a warm wetness between his legs . . . and begins to cry.
“Calm down, boy! What in the world?”
Because the voice sounds familiar, Bugs opens one eye. Mr. Gerald has him. The old man sets him on the floor and steps away, his hands slipping into his back pockets. “Are you okay, son?”
Bugs hiccups and lowers his head. The wet spot has darkened his shorts, and a yellow puddle is spreading over the floor.
Mr. Gerald clears his throat. “Oh . . . hmm. Let me see what I have around to clean you—that—up. You just wait there, and don’t worry.”
As the old man shuffles away, Bugs sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. There are no dead heads in this room, only a lot of cabinets and a couple of tall tables the color of a bathtub. There’s a faucet at the head of one of those tables and some strange tubes.
But no heads.
Mr. Gerald comes shuffling back, a wad of paper towels in his hand. Something inside the old man cracks as he kneels in front of Bugs, but he doesn’t complain as he wipes Bugs’s wet legs with the paper towels. “You got clean clothes upstairs?”
Bugs nods.
“You go up and get ’em on. Bring these shorts back down and I’ll toss ’em in the wash.”
Bugs takes a step toward the door, then turns and looks at Mr. Gerald.
“Don’t worry,” the old man says, wiping up the puddle on the floor. “I won’t tell a soul.”

That’s it!



  1. Dana

    I love it! I felt like I was right there with them! Poor kid!!

    I do have one comment – something I wonder – I didn’t know what evisceration means – would that older kid have really known that word? Not a big deal. My vocabulary isn’t very extensive.

    BTW, I got The Elevator in the mail. I began reading it right away (got through the first 7 chapters in one sitting) and just can’t put it down. Well, I CAN, obviously, but it was HARD!! I also blogged about it giving a link to your site and your blog. Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. Mary

    I think kids LOVE to use big words they have learned to impress other kids. When I was about 7 years old, I remember my older boy cousin telling me that I had “ancestors” and that I had “garments on my back”. I had no idea what that meant, of course, but was heartsick that I might really have them!


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