Marion Wilson’s Last Walk (Free Fiction)

Marion Wilson’s Last Walk

A.J. Brown

It wasn’t supposed to snow. Not in the middle of March and not down in South Carolina. But it did. 

Marion stared out the window of the small cabin. He held the curtain back with one knobby, arthritic hand. He felt the cold coming from beyond the door, but it was the bright white, not quite frozen flurries that held his attention. The yard wasn’t covered yet, but he had a feeling it would be soon enough.

“Don’t worry, Olivia,” he said in a tired voice that sounded nothing like that of his youth. “I’m coming to see you.”

Marion turned and shuffled his way across the living room floor to a closet held closed, not by a knob, but by a hook latch. He flipped the latch up and the door opened with a groan he had heard so many times it no longer registered in his brain. He plucked out a gray coat, one he has worn since the early seventies. He slipped it on. 

Still a perfect fit, he heard Olivia say. 

“Yes, it is,” he responded.

Then he reached onto the shelf above the pole the clothes hung on and grabbed his gray fedora, the one with the black ribbon and the deep pinch in it. He placed it on his head. There was a mirror on the inside of the door. He looked in it and then tugged the fedora down so the brim was just above his eyebrows. Satisfied, he nodded and closed the door, latching the hook to keep it closed.

Don’t forget your gloves.

“I won’t, Darling.”

In his bedroom, one with dark wood paneling on the walls and an almost threadbare carpet on the floor, he reached into the dresser across the room from his bed. The top drawer held socks, underwear and his warm gloves. They were gray, like the fedora and his winter coat.

He straightened his coat and took a deep breath.

You look quite dapper, Olivia said.

“Thank you, Darling.”

A few minutes later, he stepped outside and locked his door. It wasn’t as cold as he thought it would be. Still, he buttoned his coat all the way to his neck. 

You forgot your scarf, Marion.

“I know.”

Maybe you should go back and get it.

He thought this over, and shook his head. “No. I need to hurry. They’re calling for more snow and lower temperatures, so I don’t have much time, if I’m going to make a visit today.”

Marion turned from the door and looked out over the yard. It was nothing special, just some bushes and trees, and an old tire swing in the tall oak off to his right where his car sat. A wooden fence surrounded the yard, with an opening where the dirt driveway led to the house. Beyond the driveway and the yard was an expanse of trees that didn’t quite equal a set of woods, but more like just a field where trees had grown. This is what Marion would walk through.

Though he wore gloves, he shoved his hands into his coat pockets. 

“I’m going to hurt when I get back,” he whispered and then cringed. He looked around, as if someone had heard him. “I’m sorry, Darling. I didn’t mean it that way.”

There were no steps leading to a porch on his cabin. There was a small deck and a six-inch drop down to the ground. He stepped from the porch and made his way through the yard, onto the dirt and gravel driveway. Snow floated to the ground around him and crunched beneath his weight, along with the rocks. Though he was well into his eightieth year, he still held the wonderment of a six-year-old child when it came to winter weather. Even now, when he needed to make his weekly visit, he was still in awe of its beauty.

His cheeks were already cold and pink by the time he made it down the drive and to the line of trees. 

It’s cold out here, Olivia said.

“Yes it is, Darling,” he responded. “But it will be okay.”

He dipped into the trees, following a footpath barely touched by the snow so far that morning. Sure, there were still flurries falling and landing, but nothing really sticking in that area. But when he reached the other side and stepped from beneath the cover of trees, the snow was coming down harder. The flakes were as big as nickels and quarters, and at least half an inch had already accumulated on the ground.

“It’s coming down good, now.”

Standing outside the trees, he looked on toward the field in the distance. Like the line of trees, there was a path that led through the field and to where Marion’s eyes stared off to. It was a small area, fenced in with a brick wall and an iron gate, one Marion had built when he was younger when his dad passed away. 

“Almost there, Olivia,” he said. 

The snow picked up and blew around him. His cheeks were red and his nose was a shade of cherry. The chill had set into his bones, especially his legs, causing him to walk stiffly. It didn’t take him long to reach the fence. Outside the gate was a sign that read Wilson Family Cemetery. Marion went to the gate and worked the handle to open it.  

He walked in, passing the gravestones of long passed family members. To the left was Dad and Mom. A little further down were his grandparents, buried here before Marion built the fence and put up the gate. Uncle Abernathy was to his right, interred with Aunt Myriam. He passed three of his four children, all passing from this plane of existence before turning fifty, one of them—Marion Junior was killed in Vietnam at age twenty. He didn’t look at his oldest son’s grave—it hurt too much, even all these years later.

His feet left big prints in the deepening snow as he passed the rest of the graves, stopping only when he reached a new one—five months new. He knelt, carefully, his knees sinking into the snow. It took only seconds before the bite of the cold and wet had seeped through the material and sunk its teeth into his knees.

With one gloved hand, he wiped the snow away from the marker on the ground. He stared at the engraved inscription on it until cold tears blurred his vision:

Olivia Marie Wilson

February 4, 1939 – October 28, 2016

Beloved Wife and Mother

At Rest With Her Savior

Headstone“I’m here, Darling,” he said. His voice was thick with sadness. 

I am, too, she whispered.

He felt her hand on his shoulder. 

Thank you for coming.

He turned his head and shoulders. There she stood, in her Sunday best, a white dress with blue flowers on them, her black heels and her gray hair pulled back from her face and held in a bun by a hair ribbon. Her eyes were the same gray as her hair and the wrinkles on her face didn’t appear as deep as they had been before she died. No, they looked less like the wounds of time and more like lines of character, put there through years lived.

“I told you I would always be there for you.”

You always were.

“I’m tired, Darling,” he said as he looked at her. 

Then rest, Love. 

He nodded. “I think I will get on home now.”

Marion looked back at the marker with his wife’s name on it. His heart hurt. It had been less than six months, but it felt like it had been just yesterday when she took her last breath and left him alone.

“I miss you,” he said and let the tears fall. They were warm against his cold skin. He put his face in his hands and leaned forward. His forearms touched the ground. Like his pants, the snow soaked through the material of his winter coat. He closed his eyes against fresh tears. As he knelt, his legs grew numb, as did his arms. The exhaustion of the walk there and the weight of his loneliness pulled at him. 

At some point, he yawned.

“I need to go now,” he said and went to stand up. He pushed up with his hands and then Olivia was beside him. 

Love, let me help you up.

He looked at her soft hand, one that had grown bony and brittle at the end of her life. It seemed to have a little more flesh on it than when she passed. 

Please?

Marion nodded. “Thank you.”

He reached up and took her hand. It was tangible and soft and it felt like her. He got to his feet, a little easier than he thought he would. 

Come. Let’s go home, she whispered.

“I’d like that.”

His voice didn’t feel as heavy as it had earlier. Neither did his heart. He seemed … whole, a feeling he hadn’t had since Olivia’s death. 

Marion left her grave and made his way back through the final resting spots of his family members. Olivia held his hand. In their wake, they left no footprints in the snow and Marion was no longer cold.

____________________

On March 12th of 2017, something happened here in South Carolina that doesn’t occur too frequently. It snowed. It’s not that it doesn’t snow here, it just doesn’t snow often and rarely in March, when temperatures are usually warming up and heading for one of our famously hot summers.

Seeing how the snow wasn’t sticking in Cola-town, Cate suggested we drive North. So, we did. We stopped off in Peak, where the snow had stuck. 

Before you actually get to Peak (which is pretty much a loop around downtown and back out again), we saw a cemetery on the left. We stopped and Cate took some pictures. While there my son pelted me with a snowball (which was more like a slush ball because it was mostly ice and little snow). A short, albeit fun, snowball fight ensued. 

It was epic. I will definitely say I won, though The Boy’s hairs would bristle and he would beg to differ.

After the snowball battle ended, I noticed a set of footprints leading to a grave. (I do not recall seeing footprints leading away from the grave). I followed the tracks to where they appeared to stop, and then circle around a tombstone. 

I took a moment to look at the head stone. The woman had passed away in October of 2016, less than six months earlier. In my imagination, I saw her husband walking to the grave, kneeling, having a conversation with her, even in the cold and snow and wind. 

That’s love.

My imagination about broke my heart.

While looking at this final resting place, I could only think how painful it must have been for this man (who from the information next to his wife’s epitaph, would have been at least eighty), both emotionally and physically, to be out there. It was one of those moments of realization that most folks have about life: we’re not forever. It stayed with me long enough to write this story.

(If you liked Marion Wilson’s Last Walk, please share this to social media and help me share my stories to the world. Thank you!)

Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Here on Type AJ Negative, I often talk about things other than my books and writing. I like to tell stories about life. I talk about things that mean something to me and that I hope can mean something to you. 

I deal in words and in the importance of using them to tell stories. Sometimes, however, other folks deal in words and say good things about my work. Though I have a page here dedicated to book reviews, what I want to do is start posting those reviews here on the main page. 

Is this a way for me to interest you in purchasing one of my books? Well, yes, it is. I have a saying: Bet on me. Bet on my writing. You won’t regret it. I hope you will consider purchasing one of my books, either from me directly (for print books and I will sign each one) or through Amazon for digital books. Also, if you’ve read one of my books, will you consider leaving a review if you haven’t already done so? Or, drop me a note here, on my page or at my email, 1horrorwithheart@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

The following are reviews that were recently left on some of my books. 

From Amazon, a review of Interrogations:

Interrogations CoverYet another emotionally charged, character driven story from the mind of A.J. Brown. This author writes characters that you feel you know and you worry about them. Hank Walker wakes up in a survivor camp that is not what it seems. The leader should not be in charge and Hank makes it his mission to let the other survivors realize this. Hank is going through changes and he knows he must leave. I won’t say more except you must read Brown’s books if you love amazing stories with down to earth characters.

From Dark Bites, a review of Closing the Wound:

Closing the Wound is a story about ghosts, both living and long since deceased. It’s a story about the type of scars which, while faded over time, remain a stark reminder of what’s been lost and what may never be fully understood. It acts as a brief history of sadness about a life cut far too short and the kind of questions which can only be answered by those no longer here.

coverClosing the Wound doesn’t come across so much as a coming of age story as it does a coming to terms story. The story clearly provides a cathartic path on which the author has set himself upon while simultaneously creating a outlet for honoring a childhood friend murdered on Halloween night several years past. This story seems to be for both the writer, and his lost friend and is sure to hit several emotional chords for readers along the way.

A.J. Brown recalls the painful memories of his past in the same vein as any classic ghost story best told around a campfire long after the kids have gone to sleep when scary monsters get to play with our conscience mind a while. Except, in this case, the monsters are as real as the story told and everything you’re about to read happened as recollected by the author in a bare-bones, journalistic style.

As much as this story of about 15,000 words was written as a method for healing, it’s hard not to relate with at least some of the author’s mournful experiences which speak volumes to anyone who’s ever lost something they cared deeply for at some point in their life. As the author warns up front, don’t expect a happy ending. Happy endings don’t often belong in the real world.

While Closing the Wound may leave readers with more questions than answers, I feel it will also imbed within its readers a sense that it’s okay to not understand everything we think we need to no matter how desperate that need may so often feel. If A.J.’s book has taught at least this reader anything, it’s to remember that while it seems ideal to find answers as a way of closure, it may be important to find a way to accept what little we’re willing and able to remember – and understand – of a painful experience from even the most haunting moments of our lives.

And with that I urge you to do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Closing the Wound for yourself and put aside a few hours of reflective reading. You’ll be glad you did because there’s a lot more where that came from.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.52.16 PMFrom Amazon, a review of Zombie:

I love anthologies! Being busy, they give you a chance to actually finish a story in a short period of time. Zombie gives you 14 well written shorts with that A. J. Brown twist and emotional pull. I love that Hank and Humphrey, from Dredging Up Memories, make an appearance in Bonobo. I would have to say, French Dressing was my favorite. It’s great when a story can make you LOL. Thank you again, A. J., for another wonderful book.

From Amazon, a review of Dredging Up Memories:

A.J. Brown has done with his zombie apocalypse novel “Dredging Up Memories” what Shakespeare always strived to do with his plays and characters, to hold a mirror up to nature. Brown, in achieving this, has breathed new life into an often overdone premise. 1 DUM COVERMore often than not, the zombies in such horror novels are mindless drones that serve as nothing more than bullet cushions or slow-moving targets. Brown’s protagonist, Hank Walker, displays his human nature through trying time and time again in the novel to perceive or draw out some hint of human residue in the zombies he encounters. Who they were in life? He takes no pleasure in killing and apologizes to those he is forced to put down. He buries his dead. This, to me, is how I truly believe a good man would react to such a situation as a zombie apocalypse. He is a complex character and one worth following and sympathizing with throughout this powerful novel. Brown has written an intricately-crafted novel and his voice is authentic as it is familiar. We all know the people in Brown’s novel. And Hank Walker could be the guy on the barstool next to yours. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. And when a book gives me this kind of charge and evokes this type of emotion, I want to read everything by that author. 12 ASOM CoverBrown is such an author. Great, great read!

From Amazon, a review of A Stitch of Madness

I’m 63 years old and I’ve been a horror fan all my life. It takes a LOT to creep me out, anymore. I can’t wait to read another book by this author. In the meantime, I’m going to read this one again.

From Amazon, a review of Beautiful Minds:

A.J. Brown truly has a beautiful mind. His way with words in these 61 stories captivates you as they remind of us what it is to be human, to have feelings and emotions. The stories pull you in as he takes true to life events that make you recall bits and pieces of your own life, with a twist. He makes you feel pain and sorrow, wonder and awe, and fear at what would happen if … At times you will laugh out loud as I did. He has a way with words that make you feel at times you are living within the story, feeling and seeing as the character(s) do. Do I have favorites in the book? Most definitely. Did I mark each on the contents page? I did, and I encourage other readers to do so. You will find, as I did, a row of stars which I will reread again, like other favorite books on my shelves. Thank you, A.J., for giving your audience another purely captivating book to treasure.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.50.55 PM***

Well, that’s all for now. As always, thank you for spending your time with me. I hope we can build on this and I hope to hear from you in the future.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Free Fiction Friday–Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

(The family and I took a trip one spring break to St. Augustine, Florida. It was a fun trip—at least I think it was. I don’t know what the kids thought. They might have a different definition of fun. You would have to ask them to find out if they enjoyed themselves or not.

We took I-26 toward Charleston and then I-95 toward Savannah, Georgia. I-95 took as all the way to St. Augustine. Shortly after we crossed into Florida, Cate saw a man sitting in a lawn chair by the interstate. He had a drink in one hand and seemed to be staring off at nothing. She pointed the man out to me.

Over the next few minutes, I jotted down a few notes, mostly about the man’s appearance. Then I wrote the word ‘Why?’ Why was he there? Why was he sitting in a lawn chair with a drink in his hand? What was he staring at? Well, he’s staring at ghosts,A.J., my mind chirped. Of course, he was. Over the course of the next couple of days I wrote Rite of Passage, mostly at night when everyone was going to bed in the hotel we stayed at.

Some stories you just fall in love with. For me, this is one of them. The reality for Jake Eberly is he was not long for this world and he knew the parade of ghosts was an omen of death, in this case, his own. He faced his mortality and he was ready to move on, to join the rag tag band of journey folk. But not before letting his grandson see the rite of passage.)

____________________

The truck slowed almost a full two hundred yards before it needed to. Jake Eberly held the steering wheel tight, his old hands hurting, the knuckles white. They would be sore later. His arthritis would flair up worse than it ever had. He licked his lips and his breath hitched. Jake swallowed dryness. He pulled off the road, coasted to a stop, and killed the motor.

“Grandpa, why are we stopping?”

Jake looked to the passenger’s side where his oldest grandchild, Camden, sat. He wasn’t an Eberly like him, not in name at least. His mother was Jake’s only child. She married a Hartnett. The bloodline might carry on, but in time it will be nothing more than an infinitesimal amount and the Eberly name will be no more. 

Staring up at him was a good looking kid. Hazel eyes stood out against his creamy white skin; his hair blond and his lips very much like his mother’s. At ten, he was older than Jake was when he was brought here, to the place he now parked.

“We’re here,” he said.

“Where?”

Jake looked out the windshield, then out both side windows. “Here. Now, help me get the chairs out the back.”

Jake opened the door as a semi went by and rocked the truck on its tires. He got out and held back a grimace as the raw pain of Cancer punched him in the gut. He didn’t think he had much time left. Maybe the end of the day. Maybe tomorrow. He was weak and tired and the pain that stabbed at his stomach constantly made him want to throw up. After today, after getting the boy home, he thought he might just lie down one last time and never get up. He looked over at Camden. “Come out this side, Son.”

Camden scooted across the seat, slid from it and closed the door behind him. They went to the back of the truck. Jake put the tailgate down. 

“Grab those, Camden,” he said and pointed at two folded lawn chairs. “I’ll get the table and the cooler.”

The table was nothing more than a square fold up card table, one that had sat in the basement of the old house on South Street since he, himself, was a young boy. Camden grabbed the two lawn chairs, one in each hand, and Jake grabbed the table. 

“Come,” Jake said and went to the front of the truck, his legs weak, and his insides being gnawed at by a disease only death would cure. He set up the card table, pushing down on it to make sure it wouldn’t topple over. With a nod of satisfaction, he looked to Camden. “Let me have one of those, if you don’t mind.”

Camden dropped one on the ground and unfolded the other. He set it down in front of his grandfather. Jake saw pride in his eyes. He couldn’t help but smile. The young boy set the other chair on the opposite side of the table, and then went back to the truck. A minute later he returned with a beat up red and white IGLOO cooler. He set it on the table. 

“Have a seat, young man,” Jake said, reached into the cooler and pulled out two sodas. He handed one to Camden, set the other on the table, then placed the cooler on the ground beneath it. He picked his soda up and sat down. His legs seemed to sigh in relief, but the biting in his stomach continued. He popped the top and took a long swig, letting the carbonated water both burn and chill his throat on the way down. 

“What are we doing, Grandpa?”

The kid looked at him with the curiosity of any young child, something he gathered most kids had at that age, one he certainly had. “We’re sitting down, having a drink.”

“Is that it?”

Jake gave a small smile. He understood impatience quite well. “We’ll probably talk some, but mostly, we’ll wait.”

“Wait for what?”

Another smile was followed by Jake taking a swallow of his soda. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “You’ll know it when you see it.”

Camden shook his head. There was no smile on his face, but more of a disappointed frown. He picked up his soda, popped the top and drank from it. 

They sat in silence, grandfather and grandson, both in their own world of thoughts, both probably seeing things far differently than the other. Though Jake didn’t know what Camden was thinking, he had a good idea. He, too, had sat on the other side of the card table between them, when he was only eight. His grandfather, known to him as Gramps, had brought him here in his old Ford back in 1952. ‘We’re going for a ride,’ he had said, and that is what they did. They stopped on the side of the road, back before it became I-95. It was just another road back then, and only two lanes at that. There were more woodlands and less traffic. Sitting by the road with a jug of water between young Jake Eberly and Gramps was as boring as watching paint dry. He would have rather done the painting than sit and do nothing. He told Gramps as much. Gramps gave him a nod, placed his yellowing ivory pipe between his lips and puffed on it. Gramps was patient with him then, just as Jake would be patient with Camden now.

GHOSTSLike Gramps before him, Jake stared off across the busy roadway and spoke words he remembered as if he had just heard them. “I reckon this isn’t much fun.”

“No, Sir, it isn’t.”

“It wasn’t much fun when my grandpa brought me here either.”

Camden looked at him with his big hazel eyes. He was his momma’s boy for certain. “Then why are we here?”

“It’s a rite of passage, Cam,” Jake said.

“A rite of passage?”

“Yup.”

“What is that?”

Jake smiled again. It was a good question, one he didn’t think to ask when his time had come to be here. Even so, he knew the answer.

“My grandfather brought me here when I was a kid. His grandfather brought him before that and his grandfather did the same before that.” He took a deep breath. The explanation, he believed, only got harder from here. “A rite of passage is like a point in someone’s life, much like graduating high school or getting married. They’re important moments in life. Like birth. And death. This … this is one of those moments.”
“Sitting by the road drinking pop?”

Jake laughed at this, then took another swallow of his soda. He smacked his lips, said nothing and stared straight ahead. Cars, trucks, an occasional motorcycle and quite a few semis sped by, most of them doing well over eighty. Occasionally, Camden would let out an exasperated huff that Jake ignored.

“Grandpa, can we go?”

“Not yet, Camden.”

“I’m bored.”

“I’m sure you are, but …”

“I want to go,” Camden said firmly. His brows were creased downward, just as his lips were. His eyes held an angry storm in them. He stood and started for the truck. 

“It’s not time to go, yet.”

Camden turned around. His drink was still in one hand, but some of it had sloshed out of the can. “I don’t care, Grandpa. This is dumb. I could be at home, watching tv or playing video games, or I don’t know, doing anything but sitting here bored out of my mind, watching cars go by.”

“Camden, sit back down.”

“No. I want to go home. I thought we were going to do something fun, or just do something. We’re sitting here, doing nothing.”

“We’re slowing down, son,” Jake said. “We’re smelling the roses, so to speak.”

“The only thing I smell is smoke from the trucks going by. If I would have known this is what we were going to do, I wouldn’t have come.”

Jake set his drink on the table. With quite a bit of effort, he stood, even as his insides burned and grumbled. His shoulders slumped. Children weren’t what they were when he was a kid. They were more impatient and intolerant of things. They were less respectful and more argumentative. As he looked at his grandson, Jake realized something he hadn’t before. Maybe it isn’t the kids who are different. Maybe it is the adults who changed. He gave a simple nod. Yes, that’s it, he thought. And he, like so many others, had changed. 

“Okay, Cam …”

Then, as if time knew it was running out, across the road Jake saw what he came to see.

“There,” he all but shouted and pointed.

“What? Where?” Camden asked. “I don’t …”

Then they both grew quiet. The world around Jake Eberly didn’t matter at that moment. The rot in his gut that had grown worse over the last few months was nonexistent. His smile, something that had been forced a lot over the last year or so, was as real as it had ever been. 

“Grandpa …”

“It’s okay, Camden. Just watch.”

And they did.

From out of the woods came a young man. He wore a white button-down shirt and black pants held up by suspenders. His hair was brown, long and pulled back in a neat ponytail. He held one arm up above his head and slightly out in front of him. In his hand was a lit lantern that gave off no light at all. A rag tag processional of people followed, dressed in clothes Jake thought Camden had never seen outside of a movie, and maybe not even then. The women wore long dresses, and most of them had their hair up in some manner of a bun. The few children wore long pants, mostly browns and blacks, and button-down shirts tucked neatly into their waist bands. Some of the men wore long pants and long shirts; some of them carried muskets and wore floppy hats. 

“Grandpa, who are those people?”

“They are who we’ve been waiting on.”

“There’s something wrong with them.”

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but …” Camden’s voice changed, as did the direction of his words. “Are they going to cross the street?” There was alarm in his words.

“They most certainly are, Camden.”

“But they’ll get hit by a car.” His voice rose with each word. 

“Just watch.”

The ghostly procession neared the interstate. 

“Hey!” Camden yelled. He stood beside the card table and waved one hand frantically, trying to get their attention. “Hey! Stop! Don’t cross the street!” 

The people neither looked left or right before the man with the lantern stepped off the grass and onto the shoulder and then into the road. 

Camden screamed as a semi rumbled by, going through the young man in the lead. Jake looked down at him to see his hands over his eyes and his back turned to the dead coming toward them. 

“It’s okay, Cam,” he said. 

“No! It’s not. That truck just hit that guy and …”

“It didn’t hit him,” Jake interrupted. 

“Yes, it did. I saw it.”

“You saw the truck go through him.”

“It hit him and …” His shoulders shook, and Jake heard the tears in his voice.

“No, Camden. The truck went through him. Cars can’t hit ghosts.”

“Ghosts?” 

“Yes. Ghosts.”

By the time Camden looked back up, the young man leading the parade of dead had made it to the center of I-95. From that distance, Jake could see his face was ashen and his sockets were sunk in. He looked more like a corpse than a ghost. When he looked back at Camden, the young boy’s eyes were wider than he had ever seen them. Jake didn’t think he was scared, but maybe awestruck by what he saw.

“Are they really ghosts?” Camden asked, his voice dreamy, as if he had just awoken from a long nap. 

“Oh yes. They are the ghosts of your ancestors.”

“My ancestors?”

“Your family—all the members of the Eberly clan who have died are right there.”

The young man was now halfway across the lane closest to them. His hair was dark, and his bottom lip hung open. His eyes were distant, as if he didn’t see them. Several vehicles went through him as they went along their way to wherever they were going. The drivers didn’t seem to notice the ghosts as they sped by. 

Jake looked at his grandson. His eyes were still wide, and his mouth worked up and down as if he were trying to say something but couldn’t find the words. He looked like he wanted to run away. The hand holding the soda can shook badly. His breath came in sharp, terrified bursts. His shoulders still shook, and his cheeks were wet from the burst of tears a few seconds earlier.

“It’s okay, Camden. They won’t hurt you.”

“Are you sure?” His voice quivered.

“I’m as sure as you’re standing there right now.”

“Grandpa …”

Jake sidled over next to him, put one arm around him and rested the hand on his shoulder. Camden wrapped both arms around his grandfather’s waist and buried his face in his side.

“No, Camden. Don’t look away. You may never get to see this again, and if you do, it won’t be for a long time.”

He felt the boy’s face shift from in his side to toward the road, but the kid’s arms still latched tight around him. By then, the leader was in front of them. Jake pulled Camden to the side and let the procession of spirits pass by and through the card table. One by one, men, women and children walked by, their eyes forward, never slowing for the last of the Eberly’s and his grandson. 

As the final ghost made his way across the busy interstate, the strings on Jake’s heart gave a tug. With cane in hand, his grandfather made their way toward them. Hanging from his mouth was the old ivory pipe he used to smoke. Jake remembered his mother asking if anyone had seen it after Gramps died. No one had—and no one ever did after the day Jake and Gramps visited the side of the road.

Tears formed in Jake’s eyes as he recalled being here as a kid and not knowing that would be the last time he saw his grandfather alive. The next time Jake saw Gramps, the old man lay in a coffin in the foyer of the church his grandparents attended. If he would have known then what he knew now, he would have hugged his grandfather tighter that last time; he wouldn’t have complained about watching paint dry; he would have made sure to say, ‘I love you,’ even if it wasn’t the cool thing to do. 

“Gramps,” he said as the elder Eberly reached them. Like the others, he didn’t stop. Unlike the others, he turned his head just enough to look at Jake. 

Not much longer, Jake, he whispered. He puffed on the old pipe, nodded and continued through the table and into the trees behind them. 

Jake didn’t know how long he stared into the woods after the dead were gone, but it was Camden who pulled him free of the trance he had been in. 

“Grandpa, are you okay?”

Jake took a deep breath and let it out. His chest shuddered and the pain in his stomach had come back. He fought the urge to double over and grab his midsection. He nodded and said, “Yes, Camden, I’m okay.”

“You’re crying.”

Jake wiped his eyes and then his nose. “Sometimes it’s okay for a man to cry.”

“Like now?”

“Yes, like now.”

He took one last glance at the trees. The remnants of the dead were gone, but he knew that wouldn’t be the case forever. They would be back. And so would he, most likely on the other side of the road. He rubbed Camden’s head. “Let’s get you home,” he said. 

Camden grabbed the cooler and made his way to the back of the vehicle. Jake reached down for the soda he had been drinking. The can held icicles all around it. He picked it up, felt the freezing cold on his fingertips. He squeezed the can. It was hard like ice. He set the can on the ground by the road and folded up the card table. By the time he was finished, Camden was back and closing the chairs. 

With everything in the bed of the truck, they got in, both doing so from the driver’s side. Jake turned the key and the motor rolled over, caught and rumbled to life. He put it in gear, looked in the side mirror and eased onto the interstate. He glanced in the rearview mirror at the can he had left behind. It didn’t matter that it would be gone when he came back. Like all the grandfathers before him, he left a little piece of himself behind, a little piece of familiarity so when Camden came to watch the parade of ghosts in the later stages of his life, he would remember the day he came here as a young child. 

Jake Eberly took the first exit, circled back across the overpass and entered the interstate going in the opposite direction they had come. He didn’t look to the side of the road when they passed. With a tearing pain in his gut, he drove, hoping he would get the boy home before the pain grew too intense. 

“Grandpa?”

“Yes, Camden?”

“Was that your grandfather—the one who spoke to you?”

Jake licked his lips, nodded and said, “It was my Gramps.”

“What did he mean by not much longer?”

Jake let out a long breath. “You’ll understand soon enough. Let’s just leave it at that, okay?”

Camden didn’t respond. He just turned his attention to the world passing outside the truck. 

At Camden’s house, he let the young boy out and talked with his mother for a minute or two. They exchanged their goodbyes. When he started to get into the truck, Camden went to him. He put his arms around Jake’s midsection and squeezed. It was everything Jake could do not to grimace and let out a groan from the pain. 

“I love you, Grandpa.”

“I love you, too, Camden.”

The boy held on for a few more seconds, then let him go. When he looked down at Camden, there were tears in his eyes. 

“It will be all right, Camden,” Jake said and patted him on the shoulder. 

“I’ll come see you.” He wiped his eyes. “I’ll come see you.”

“I know you will,” Jake said, and then his grandson, with Eberly blood running through his veins, but not carrying the same name, stepped back. 

Jake got in the truck and smiled. A minute later he drove off. In the rearview mirror he saw the boy waving. He stuck his hand out the window and returned the wave. The boy held his soda can in the other hand.

(Rite of Passage appears in the mammoth collection, Beautiful Minds, which you can find HERE.)

 

The Final Run-A Short Story

The Final Run

“You’re toast, Jack.” 

____________________

“You wanna run?” the small voice called out. Squinted eyes sat above a perk nose, his lips in a tight line below it.

“Do you ever give up, Lee?”

“Nope,” Lee said, sniffled back nonexistent snot. “So, do you wanna run?”

***

Oh, man, this isn’t good. 

Crashman Jack had seen the lid of the box come off and the two large faces peer in. They were mostly shadows with the light of the hanging sun behind them. He knew what those two faces meant. A run was about to happen. Then he tumbled, head over heels, until he landed on the floor amongst all the other Lego blocks, plenty of them covering him. He tried to push the pieces away, to free himself from beneath the rubble of plastic, but couldn’t.

The least they could have done was put my helmet on.

***

Crashman Jack“I’ve got Crashman,” Lee said and shifted through the brightly colored bricks until he found the Lego figure. He plucked Crashman—a character he had made from Lego figures from other sets—from the pile, and then frowned. “Where’s his helmet?”

“Right here,” Jimmy said, holding it in his palm. 

“Give it to me,” Lee said and reached for it.

Jimmy, the older boy by a couple of years, closed his hand before Lee could get the plastic black helmet. “No. You got to pick the driver. I get to pick the helmet.”

“But that’s Crashman Jack’s helmet.”

“Not this time. I’m giving it to the Terminator.”

***

The Terminator? You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s racing the Terminator?

Crashman turned his head slightly, trying to see the two brothers. He had a good view from where he stood on the floor. Fortunately, Lee, who always chose Crashman, stood him up facing the blocks. The Terminator stood across the room, right next to where Jimmy sat building another monster dragster. He was a “two-block” taller than Crashman, thanks to the added piece to his midsection. Jimmy had also colored his face purple with a marker and drew blood running from his mouth. The Terminator wore Crashman’s helmet.

“You’re toast, Jack,” the Terminator yelled.

Crashman said nothing, but his black line smile creased downward. He turned his head and looked on in horror at the dragster Lee was building. Long thin pieces were connected by other thin pieces. Bricks of fours and eights hung off the frame. Wimpy, small wheels adorned both front and back; there was no tail fin to make the car go straight and no bumper to protect the front of the makeshift dragster. One hit from anything Jimmy built, and the car would explode.

I’m doomed.

Laughter came from across the room. Crashman looked at his opponent. The Terminator’s purple face held a crooked smile; his eyes slits. One black hand was raised near his head.

“Thanks for the helmet, Crashman,” he said. “Not that you’re ever going to need it again. Not after this run.”

This has got to stop.

***

Lee heard something. A whisper, maybe? At first he just shook his head, not sure he heard anything at all. He picked up a flat piece, flipped it over and stopped. The voice came again.

Lee, listen to me, Crashman said. Take apart your car and start over. You’ll never win with that thing. You’ll be wiped out and the Terminator will win … again. He wanted to add, ‘and I’ll lose my head,’ but bit back the words.

Lee shook his head and glanced around the room. Jimmy sat cross-legged near the door, his back to Lee, head down. Lee opened his mouth, clamped it shut. Jimmy wouldn’t have spoken to him—at least not nicely. He never did when they were going to run. Too much was on the line: Legos, helmets, mini-figures and sometimes allowances. No, Jimmy hadn’t spoken, at least not to Lee.

Shaking his head, he looked down at the fragile dragster in front of him. That’s not going to work. I can’t beat Jimmy with a stick dragster. Thoughts of how to build a better car spun in his head.

60053-0000-xx-12-1Bigger wheels for the front; even larger ones for the back; a bumper made of four-block pieces and reinforced by a long flat strip on the front; a cab for Crashman to sit in; a tail fin made with a jet tail; a stronger frame made from a wider flat piece, four spaces across and at least twelve spaces to the rear.

Lee stood, walked over to a shelf and grabbed a second box. 

“What are you doing?” Jimmy asked.

“I need some extra parts,” Lee answered and sat back down with his back to Jimmy. After dumping the spare Legos on the floor, he sorted through them, found what he needed and began to build. After several minutes of agonizing and scrutinizing his creation, Lee picked Crashman up and set him in the seat. 

“We’re not losing this time, Crashman,” he said.

***

I have a steering wheel.

Crashman smiled at his new ride. Never had Lee built anything so sturdy. The front wheels were large, the back ones wide. There were Lego plates criss-crossed along the bottom and top that held larger plates together. The front had a bumper made of black bricks, a smooth flat piece stretching its width. The white jet tail had been placed at the back just in front of two yellow cylinders that Crashman thought were boosters. Along the middle section of the dragster were blocks and cylinders put together to form a motor. He sat in a gray seat, a windshield in front of him. 

And he had a steering wheel.

***

“You ready?” Jimmy asked.

Lee turned and nodded. “Let’s run.”

Jimmy set the timer on the old stove clock his mother had given them. It was their go signal. At the sound of the long beep the boys would release the cars, rolling them to their destination, smashing them into each other. The first car to lose a wheel or a driver was the loser. Lee had never won.

They swept the remaining Legos out of the way and went to either side of the room. They both made car engine noises, Jimmy being much louder than Lee, as always.

Inside the cab of his new car, Crashman peered over the steering wheel, his thin line eyes creased into arrows of determination; a scowl covered his face. He wore no helmet.

Across the way he could see the Terminator, his smug expression replaced with concern.

Raise the stakes, Crashman whispered.

“Winner takes both cars,” Lee said without hesitation. The moment he said it he wanted to take it back. He clamped a hand over his mouth, his eyes wide.

“That’s fine,” Jimmy said. “I need more Legos, anyway.”

The clock beeped and both boys rolled their cars as hard as they could toward each other. 

Crashman held his steering wheel tight as his car propelled forward. Normally, his ride was bumpy, the front tires not high enough off the ground to keep the front end from dragging. This time, the tall wheels left plenty of clearance and the drive was smooth and straight—no chance of Crashman going sideways and getting T-boned. The wind whipped by him, the windshield keeping it mostly out of his face. The collision was violent, probably the most brutal one he had ever been involved in. His car rocked as a piece of the bumper snapped off and he went sideways. The car spun, then flipped over. Several more pieces of Legos popped off, sent soaring through the air. The dragster landed on its side, one back wheel still spinning.

***

Lee let out a scream as he looked down at the car he had created. He had been certain he would win with this one. It was almost as if Crashman had willed this car to him, for him to build … and it had failed. 

***

Crashman lay on the floor, not moving, not blinking. A slight pain danced where his shoulders and head would have been connected. In his plastic Lego back and running through to the front, another pain pulsed. His midsection had broken in half, the legs severed from the torso. Crashman’s eyes focused on his body, on the two broken pieces he could see.

His thin painted eyes focused in on the wreckage of the two cars. Just beyond the carnage lay the severed head of the Terminator. His helmet—Crashman’s helmet—had popped off and lay only inches from the two shattered cars. The Terminator’s scarred head faced him, his mouth a black line, his eyes twin ex’s.

Did I win? he thought and closed his eyes.

When he awoke, he sat on a shelf near Lee’s bed. The room was dark except for a white night light. He turned his head, moved his hands and legs. Though he hurt, his body was in one piece again. And on his head sat his helmet. 

(You can find The Last Run along with 59 other short stories in the massive collection, Beautiful Minds by going here.)

Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.

Two things happened in my little acre of the writing world this past year. In March I sat in on my first panel. It was about Indie authors and the struggles of being one. I can honestly say it was interesting and informative. I made a few friends who I have stayed in contact with. There is a video somewhere out there of it. 

In September, I stood in front of a crowd of people as the guest speaker for Chris Maw’s Words and Wine event. I was nervous for all of fifteen seconds. In the video you can see I flub over a couple of my words, but once I got my bearing and the train began to roll forward, I feel I entertained the group (even getting a few laughs here and there). I took questions and gave answers. I had a blast. I want to do it again. I want to speak in front of people again. That was as thrilling to me as a roller coaster ride or bungee jumping or sky diving might be for others.  You can see the video below.

 

So, if you want a Southern Gothic, horror story telling, rebel with somewhat of a cause to speak at an event, drop me a line at ajbrown36@bellsouth.net. 

Did I really just plug that? I guess I did.

***

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This year Cate and I made several long road trips—more than we have any other time in our marriage. Actually, we made more instate and out of state road trips than we ever had in our over twenty years of marriage.

We took the kids to St. Augustine, Florida at the beginning of April. I’m not entirely sure the kids had a great time, but Cate and I did. It was our first trip to Florida together and the first time in a while that we got a hotel. Cate and I even rode an outdoor carousel, though the kids didn’t get on it. I think they were embarrassed by our actions.

In August we went to Virginia for Scares That Care. We left on a Thursday and arrived back home the following Monday. It was a blast and a half, one of the single best weekends of my life. More on that later.

At the end of October, we made a trip to Bradford, Pennsylvania, to see our two friends, Tara and Larissa. Oh my goodness, the donuts at The Cider Mill were amazing, as they were at the Amish house we visited. In Pennsylvania they have this place called Tim Horton’s. I hear this is a Canadian alternative to Starbucks. And I will say they are far better than Starbucks … and cheaper. We need one down here in South Carolina. Do you hear that Tim Horton’s? Come down south. I’ll love you forever.

Florida was great fun with the kids. Pennsylvania was great fun with two terrific people. Virginia … Virginia was an entirely different ball game. 

Let me tell you about Williamsburg, Virginia and Scares That Care. This trip would not have been possible without Lisa Vasquez and Stitched Smile Publications. I’m not going to go into the why of it, but Lisa is a great and generous individual. The planning for this trip began before the calendar turned to 2018. When August rolled around, Cate and I left our little home in South Carolina and drove the seven hours to Williamsburg, stopping only to eat lunch and gas up the car.

We arrived at this beautiful gated complex and were greeted in the parking lot of the place we would spend the next four days and nights by Larissa and Tara. For the next three hours we sat in the living room talking. During those three hours, the four of us became instant friends. It turned out we had a lot in common including where our relationships were concerned. The similarities were eerie.

Night would come and the rest of the group hadn’t arrived yet, and wouldn’t until the next morning. We crashed and the next morning the four of us greeted Lisa, Donelle, Chris and Veronica to the house. Later in the day one of the most upbeat and enjoyable to be around people arrived: James. 

That afternoon we made our way to the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel to where the Scares That Care convention was held. The Stitched Smile Publications booth was right next to the All Things Zombie booth, ran by Jeffrey Clare, which was a treat in and of itself. Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning to early afternoon, we took turns manning the booth, selling books, meeting people and having an all around great time. 

Saturday evening, after the convention ended for the day, we were treated to the wedding of Jeffrey Clare and Shannon Walters. It wasn’t just any wedding, though. It was a zombie themed wedding. It was awesome.

That Saturday night we all sat around the table and many of us bared our souls. We learned a lot about each other. We laughed. We laughed so hard some of us cried. And a bond was created that feels as strong as any from any other group I’ve been associated with. It was a magical weekend, one of the best.

***

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMLet’s talk books for a minute here. My collection, Voices, came out on Friday, April 13th. It is dark, disturbing and awesome. The book contains 15 short stories that deal with the darker and very real subjects of life, such as cutting, neglect, sexual assault, prison, murder, loneliness, love gone awry, demons, bullying and betrayal. It’s not a book for the squeamish. 

Bibliophilia Templum had this to say about Voices:  “These stories darkly and boldly illustrate the harsh realities of life when there are no safe places, not even in your own head.”

Scream Horror Magazine reviewed Voices and said:

“Few things are as terrifying or powerful as the human mind. It’s where our darkest secrets, phobias and most troubling thoughts reside, which could spell harm to ourselves or others if they’re allowed to fester for too long, unattended. While the mind motivates us to achieve our goals and form our greatest ideas, it’s also capable of inspiring dark deeds and taking advantage of our paranoias and fears when we’re at our most vulnerable. Every horrible atrocity in human history started with a sister thought or an impulse stemming from a damaged psyche after all. As such, the complexities of the mind has always lent itself perfectly to horror tales.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 9.48.14 PMA.J. Brown’s latest. Voices, is a collection of short stories rooted in psychological torment and the horrors that can unfold as a result. Each story is rooted in the darkest elements of humanity that, when broken down, don’t seem too far fetched at all. These tales are inspired by domestic, sexual and mental abuse, as well as neglect, bullying, death, sorrow and the harm the can cause. It’s not a light collection by any means, but it’s certainly effective and deserves your attention if you’re willing to confront horror rooted in reality.

 The first story, “In the Shadows They Hide” taps into a socially awkward teenager’s fear of shadows, coupled with the anxieties that arise from being bullied and unable to fit in with your peer group.

 “The Scarring”, meanwhile, is concerned with child abuse and the harrowing effects which follows in its wake. “A Memory Best Left Alone” is about a woman who self-harms … you get the idea of the type of subject matter Brown is fascinated with. This isn’t poolside reading. 

 That said, the author handles each story with sensitivity and respect to difficult topics and themes while simultaneously mining the real horror humanity experiences to craft bold and devastating scare fare. In lesser hands, this anthology could be exploitative or schlocky, but Brown’s exploration is nuanced and all the better for it. By no means will this book be for everyone, but those who dare open its pages may find it rewarding.”

 

But there is more to Voices than just the book. Over the last eight months, the characters of the stories have been interviewed by Lisa Lee Tone of Bibliophilia Templum. Those interviews can be seen by following the links below. Also, when the series of interviews are complete, they will be compiled into a companion book for Voices. That book will also have an interview with Lisa Lee Tone and a couple of extra things that will only appear in that book.

(To read the interviews to date, click on the name of the character.)

Part 1: Spencer from In the Shadows They Hide       

Part 2: Mr. Worrywort from Chet and Kay’s Not So Marvelous Adventure      

Part 3: Lena and Nothing from The Scarring        

Part 4: Claire from Claire, The Movie         

Part 5: Jeddy from Black Storms      

Part 6: B from Anymore    

Part 7: Dave from Crisp Sounds      

Part 8: Dane from  Numbers                

Part 9: The Angel from To Bleed     

Part 10: Brian from Not Like You  

Part 11: Lewis from The Sad Woes of the Trash Man  

A couple of other books were put out, as well. The first of these is titled, ZOMBIE, and yes, it is a collection of stories involving the rotting corpses we have all come to love or loathe. There is a touch of humor in this book, and a collaboration with my good friend, Justin Dunne, titled, Bonobo.

The second of these books is titled, Beautiful Minds, a collection of 61 short stories that encompasses the four years The Brown Bag Stories were in existence. What were The Brown Bag Stories, you ask? Good question. 

The Brown Bag Stories was a monthly booklet Cate and I put out, starting in May of 2014. Each booklet had a short story in it (yes, a different story in every one), a dedication, a cover, the letter to you, my Faithful Readers, and advertisements for my other books. In the four years TBBS existed, we put out 64 total stories. As I stated, 61 of those appear in Beautiful Minds, with the only ones not in the massive book being two stories that are also in Voices and one story I hope to publish with a pro paying magazine  in 2019. 

I admit a simple truth here: I was saddened to bring The Brown Bag Stories to an end, but to be completely honest, it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. I wanted it to generate potential readers for my books. It might have generated a handful of readers, and I am grateful for that, but at the end of the day, all the work and costs going into putting them out just wasn’t generating sells for my books. I hate putting it that way, but that is the truth. 

There is one more book that I put out, but not to the general public. It was a Christmas present for my sister-in-law and it’s titled, Closing the Wound. It is based on the true events of the death of a sixteen-year-old young man on Halloween night of 1995. Amazon and I went ten rounds in our arguments over their service with the delivery of this book, but it finally showed up in the nick of time. Seeing the expression on my sister-in-law’s face made all the effort well worth it.

To Be Continued …