Tuesday, November 30, 2021

What's Under the Bridge by Eden Monroe


 Books by Eden Monroe - Visit her BWL Author Page Here

I love Saint John, in fact I was born there. But that’s not why I chose it as the primary setting for my novel, Dare To Inherit. I picked Saint John because of its cool factor, and I’m not talking about ocean breezes and the refreshing spontaneity of sea fog. It’s just the vibe of the place in general. With a population of just over 70,000, this stalwart little city has been around for a while, once a major player in the era of tall ships. Located in beautiful southern New Brunswick, the picture province, it also happens to be Canada’s oldest incorporated city (1785).

Founded by British supporters from the American Revolution, Saint John has a distinctly colourful past, including quirky legends about the city itself and indeed the ocean that almost surrounds it. I’m thinking of one legend in particular, and that’s the one about the largest whirlpool that swirls menacingly under the Reversing Falls bridge. That’s where the St. John River passes through a narrow gorge before emptying into the cold deep waters of the Bay of Fundy. It sounds like a simple enough natural event, but catch the twice-daily tidal action that consists of two low tides and two high tides, each cycle being about twelve hours and ten minutes in duration, and that’s when things get really interesting. At some point the Bay of Fundy tide, the highest in the world by the way, actually pushes a powerful 673 kilometre river backward, churning otherwise quiet waters into dangerous rapids. It’s quite a sight, and people travel from all over the world to witness this tidal phenomenon. Incredibly treacherous, it’s been called the world’s greatest example of tidal impact on a river, and is in fact a natural wonder.

The only time it’s safe for a boat to pass through this chasm is during a very tiny, twenty-minute window between tidal extremes called slack tide, although there’s still that whirlpool….

(Photo credit: David Goss)

I personally went through these rapids at high tide, a passenger in a jet boat that circled, foolishly in hindsight, that dreaded whirlpool. I felt it was quite a feat for a Saint Johner to do that, having grown up hearing the nasty legend that there was once a man who fell into said whirlpool and came out with his hair turned snow white because of what he’d seen down there. I heard that story many times as a child, and it has never really died away because I still hear it repeated from time to time to this very day. It would be a lot closer to the truth to suggest that if someone went into the whirlpool, they wouldn’t be coming out alive. Like a black hole in space whose energy can suck in objects, a whirlpool operates on the same principle.

My uncle once told me that during the Second World War he watched someone throw an empty oil barrel into that whirlpool and minutes later it popped up to the surface further out in the bay. So whatever is down there, it’s sure not the tunnel of love.

The Reversing Falls bridge spans the approximately 200 metre-wide gorge. It could also be called the suicide bridge because of the countless people over the years who have taken the 135 foot (at high tide) plunge to their death in the icy waters below. I was just a little kid in the family car crossing the bridge one Sunday, when an obviously distraught  young man ran toward the railing and tried to jump, but fortunately pedestrians walking nearby managed to get him stopped. I can still see the look on the guy’s face; hear my mother scream, not wanting her children to see such a thing. A very difficult memory about what we came to know as a dangerous place.

Onshore, Saint John is known for the striking brick and stone architecture in its historic district. Two-thirds of the city was destroyed in the Great Saint John fire of 1877. Subsequent to that, an army of architects, masons and carpenters were summoned to Saint John to rebuild from the devastation, on a much grander scale, and they certainly were able to accomplish that. Germain Street, located in that Trinity Royal Heritage Conservation Area,eritage is a pretty, tree-lined thoroughfare, featuring shops, restaurants and heritage buildings. It’s also a popular tourist attraction for those who enjoy a pleasant stroll, and the location of Aunt Feenia’s lawyer’s office in Dare To Inherit.

            “The sun made a bold appearance early the next morning, not at all apologetic for its long absence in what so far had been an unnaturally gloomy fall. There was still a bite in the air though, and the wind had refused to subside altogether. Just before the appointed hour Chloe managed to snare the last parking space within two blocks of Ronald Stewart’s downtown office – a fourth floor walk-up in a red brick heritage building on Germain Street.

            “Once inside, in single file they climbed the stairs that were varnished a rich coffee brown, and worn bare in a center dip from countless footsteps seeking the upper stories. Suite 401 was easy to find because the name Ronald J. Stewart, Barrister & Solicitor, was boldly arranged in scripted black letters on a frosted half-glass door.”

There are many fascinating points of interest in Saint John, indeed too numerous to mention here, including the Saint John City Market in business since 1876, and narrowly escaping the 1877 fire. Not far away, tucked into a steep hillside, sits the Old Burial Ground, Saint John’s original cemetery where a number of the city’s United Empire Loyalist forefathers lie in, hopefully, peaceful repose. This unique uptown green space is not without its own particular attraction on a chilly autumn day, no matter the reason for passing through it.


“If she hadn’t been so single-minded of purpose she would have appreciated what remained of the glorious canopy of gold, orange and fiery red autumn leaves overhead - and those that crunched and crackled on the brick walkway under her suede boots. But Jocelyn was headed for the bus stop on Sydney Street and the No. 5 that would take her to the west side of the city and a liquor store where she was not likely to run into anyone she knew. Just picturing the deep amber glow of the 40-ounce bottle she would buy there quickened her step.”

While not exactly an attraction beyond its utilitarian purpose, the Saint John Airport on the eastern outskirts of the city greatly increased its size and runway capacity during the 1960’s. Now what’s this you might say? Eden, you’re going to talk about an airport? Sure, because I was onsite as a kid for at least a tiny part of that expansion, accompanying my father (us four kids each had a turn one day when he passed by our house) for a bumpy ride in the cement truck he drove, pouring the concrete for new runways during that sweltering summer. Dad was proud of his significant contribution to what at the time was a major infrastructure improvement, and a pretty big deal. It’s always fun to look back at stuff like that.

As an adult I’ve come and gone from that small airport countless times, and more than once in fog so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, as they say, but never, regrettably, to meet a sexy cowboy. Not like Chloe did in Dare To Inherit, when Ty came to town. Now that turned heads.

            “Chloe’s heart had started to sink but then she spied her handsome cowboy filling the doorway. Seeing Chloe he made a beeline across the room. Heads turned at the sight of Ty in his boots, levis, fleece-lined jacket and Stetson, but oblivious to the interest of onlookers they embraced and held on.

            ‘You’re on my turf now, Cowboy,’ she whispered playfully against his ear.”

Anything is possible in Saint John with its quaint east coast charm and tantalizing eccentricities, the fertile breeding ground for any number of authors. You’ll feel right at home there, the foghorn sounding its eerie warning at the mouth of the harbour on a cold foggy night, or is it a siren call to the sea…. And when you’re crossing the Reversing Falls Bridge, cast a glance or two over the side to a place where two ancient continents once met about 450 million years ago. There’s a lot going on, under the bridge.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Edge of the Frontier

                               "Red and White--at war in her world and in her blood."

Colonial America's early history tells the story of the--at first gradual, and, finally, as Europe burst figurative banks, the enormous wave of "people from over the sea" washed into what is today the U.S. 

I first became of aware of this history of colonization when I was seven, after a move from Ohio to New York State.  Mother relished history and so when she and my father house-hunted, she wanted to find as old a house as she could. I don't think Dad got much say in this, because he was all for "modern" anytime he could get it. Having been a teen through the Depression era had convinced him that electric lights, a furnace and flushing toilets were all desirable things

The house we moved into provided all that, although it had been originally built, near as anybody knew, a decade or so before 1800, probably during the time when newly independent Americans were spilling onto lands that had once belonged to the local and now dispossessed Iroquoian tribes.  Our house was small, a style that today is commonly called "Cape Cod" but it also had Dutch doors equipped with heavy iron hinges and which were locked with a bar. As this was near the Mohawk Valley, that the builders were Dutch and had been there before the War of Independence did not seem improbable. There was even a story about Indian attacks during the early days of the house, one which the restless spirits which we encountered almost as we took up residence did nothing to disprove. 

I recently took a New England trip to see an old friend and we decided to go a few miles north to Deerfield, to visit the National Historical site there. When I first saw those carefully preserved Georgian era Colonial houses along the main street, it seemed to me that this would be just another Tory New England town, one which was once filled with dour Calvinist merchants and landlords. I soon learned that during the Revolution, this town had remained loyal to the Crown. 

There were many reasons for this, one of which was that the original terms of the Massachusetts Bay colony. That stipulated that these Dissenters, freshly kicked out of England, could run the territory as a kind of fundamentalist kingdom, as long as they remained loyal and sent plenty of young men into the King's army whenever called upon to do so.  In this Puritan theocracy, citizens could be whipped (15-20 lashes!) and fined for not only more obvious Puritan sins like adultery and/or drunkenness, but for not attending the obligatory, (and endless) Sunday services. In many ways, however, in this period, local government was had many admirable qualities. The towns were administered by Selectmen, and legislation was by consensus instead of majority rule.  

          The minister's house, one of the largest in Deerfield, built for him by his flock.

When white immigrants first explored that area, they found an Algonquian tribe living in a stockaded town, while farming the rich bottom land around the Connecticut River. These were the Pocumtucks, and they lived (mostly) in harmony with their Algonquian relatives. At this time, European diseases, smallpox and measles, were already killing many Indians, while fighting over control over the fur trade increased every year, because those fabulous goodies like metal farming tools and cook pots, guns and wool blankets, etc. brought by European traders had opened a new world to a stone-age people. By the 1630's, these foreign trade goods were becoming indispensable.  

The Iroquois, fierce warriors, were "the enemy" for both the Algonquian tribes and the new immigrants alike. Their confederacy (Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida,) occupied New York State, but their war- path reach extended right across the Connecticut Valley and into Abenaki lands as distant as Maine. The Iroquois were always in the middle of any land or trade agreement, whether you were Algonquian, Dutch, French or English. They made war frequently in order to take captives, preferring to take children who could be assimilated easily. European or Indian, at this time you had to take the mighty Iroquois into consideration.

For a time, the Pocumtucks were able to deal with the whites, who were, initially, seen as just another "tribe" looking for land. Eventually, however, the Pocumtuck angered the Mohawks by killing one of their chiefs. After one swift punitive strike from the Hudson Valley, the Pocumtuck and their town by the river were no more.  

It did not take long for the land to be resettled, this time by an English plantation. Good farmland could not long be ignored by the settlers, but the site seemed cursed. Settlers were just eking out a living when King's Philip's War erupted. This conflict would be the last stand of the eastern Algonquian tribes against an overwhelming white incursion. 

An attempted retreat by the people of Pocumtuck, carrying away their newly harvested corn, ended in a massacre at a place now called "Bloody Brook," and made infamous by Puritan writers. Poor preparation by the militia contributed greatly to the disaster. The town of Pocumtuck hadn't even bothered to build a stockade, so the town was easily destroyed. During this war, one hundred and forty-five men were killed in the northern part of the valley, most of them settlers. Four other towns in the Connecticut Valley were also completely destroyed. The remaining five towns had all been attacked and raided for their corn and cattle. It must have been a grim winter, with families broken and famine on the horizon. 

It would take more than a decade, but the old Pocumtuck land would be resettled, this time called "Deerfield." The new settlers built a stockade. Farmers came to land, younger sons from towns like Northampton, Hadley, Hatfield and Springfield, all places south along the Connecticut River. 

Time would pass while the town grew again, but peace broke down easily. There were always inter-tribal wars as well as wars that originated in Europe to cause Indian raids, rustling and murder among the outlying farms. In the early 1700's, what is known as Queen Anne's War* broke out. The French joined forces with the Caughnawaga and Mohawk, raiding into northern New York and down into New England, even into Halifax near Boston. The Connecticut Valley became a battlefield again.

Deerfield begged for help with troops and arms, and a little arrived in late 1703. Deep in winter of 1704, a group of two to three hundred men on snowshoes came south from Montreal. Among them were French soldiers, coureurs de bois, and Indians, many of these refugees from King's Philips' War, the one that had broken the New England tribes. 

Drifts of snow helped the invaders scale the stockade while the watch overslept. Soon "they were fireing houses, killing all they could that made any resistance, also killing livestock." The Reverend John Williams who lived through a subsequent captivity to tell the tale said: "by their violent endeavors ... broke open doors and windows, with axes and hatchets..." His pistol misfired and he was quickly captured and bound. He watched the murder his youngest two children, a toddler and a six week old baby, as well as the children's black nurse. He and his wife (who would be killed at the start of their march) and five children were carried into captivity.    On the terrible winter march north, Williams would watch nine more people die--the young and the old. 

The sack of Deerfield had ended when men from Hadley and Hatfield arrived on the scene. Early on in the fight, a young man, John Sheldon, after binding his feet with strips of his nightshirt, had managed to struggle almost naked through deep snow for many miles in order to give the alarm. 

Of the 291 people who had gone to sleep in Deerfield that fatal night, only 133 remained alive the following day. Beyond the 109 people captured, 44 residents of Deerfield had been killed--ten men, 9 women and 25 small children. Seventeen of forty-one houses were destroyed. Reverend Williams would survive his captivity and eventually redeem four of his five children.* 

Driving through bustling Connecticut and into Massachusetts today, I can barely imagine this totally urbanized/suburbanized landscape as a frontier, one every bit as wild and dangerous as our more well-known "wild west." The early period of colonization was complex, filled with wars between Indians as well as wars between various groups of colonists as well as the more often remembered wars between Indians and Europeans. 

At the end of the school day, my friend and I paused in our visit to watch Deerfield's streets fill with BMW's and Mercedes as parents arrived to retrieve their children from the exclusive private prep school that shares grounds with the historical site. It was hard, watching that scene, to remember what a hard-scrabble, cold, tough, dangerous place the early New England world truly was.  

~~Juliet Waldron

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* The North American part of the European War of the Spanish Succession. .

* You can read about it in The Unredeemed Captive. Eunice, the youngest survivor of the Williams children, would become Catholic and marry an Indian. Reverend John Williams himself wrote the first text of the tale, the one upon which modern books on the subject are based.   

Sunday, November 28, 2021

It's a Very Merry Cajun Christmas---Love Potions, Bachelor Auctions, Hollywood Productions, and Gypsy Magic! By Connie Vines

How Do Cajuns Celebrate Christmas? 

Cajun Christmas traditions that mark the holidays always involve lots of laughter in the company of friends and family. Many holidays dinners include having seafood dishes like seafood gumbo and oyster dressing. Look for Cajun sausage and fried turkey--or signature Lousiana Turducken!

"What is a Turducken?" you ask (wondering if it's some type of Swamp Creature that crawled out of the Bayou).

Turducken is a true showstopping main course for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The term "turducken" is a combination of the words "turkey," "duck," and "chicken".  Turducken combines the flavors of moist roast poultry and savory stuffing into one glorious dish. It is not difficult to make, but it is a little time-consuming,

When sliced, each piece of turducken contains portions of all three birds with stuffing in between the layers.

Cajuns love to cook, love their family, and... they love to party and celebrate life!

After you've consumed your holiday dinner and are sitting by the fireplace and relaxing, You might like to enjoy a new ebook to read.

Here's a little sample of Cajun life, "Gumbo Ya Ya" style:

"Marrying Off Murphy" Excerpt:

"You forgot about the rehearsal?" Tallulah said in an exasperated voice. "Murph, I reminded you. Twice."

"It'll be okay," Sylvie promised.

Tallulah glanced after her stepbrother. "I hope so," she said under her breath.

"Let's go over the program again," Sylvie coached Murphy behind the temporary rigged curtain inside the crowded restaurant.

"I smile, walk down the runway, take off my jacket, turn around, and then walk back to the podium."

"Smile," she instructed.

He complied, and Sylvie rolled her eyes. How could someone fail smiling? Murphy, try again."

Instead, he ignored her instructions and fiddled with his tie.

Pushing his fingers away, "Stop it. Listen to me," she snapped. "Pull yourself together!"

The frenzied sounds of bidding for the first bachelor filled the room. "Hear that? It's the emcee's job to pump up the bids. Just strut your stuff."

"Strut my stuff?" he yelped.

Sylvie seized him By the hand to keep him from bolting. "It's an auction, a bachelor bidding war, remember? The proceeds go to charity."

Tallulah parted the curtain and shoved Murphy onto the stage.

Fragrances and scents have the power to transport to a time and place long forgotten.     

"Love Potion No. 9"

"Don't shake your finger at me, Simone Basso. I know what I'm doing," Persia Richmond said, holding a pipette to fill a crystal half-ounce atomizer with perfume. The top notes of peach blossoms and bergamot, and mid-notes of gardenia, honey, and tuberose tantalized. While the tuberose, being the most carnal of the floral notes, and the high-ticket natural essence for her fragrance compound, merged with peony and orange blossom to temper the intoxication properties. The base notes lingered, while a hint of something unnamed and mysterious beguiled and skimmed across the narrow processing room, saturating her senses.

The fragrance was News Orleans; culture at its most upscale moment and Mardi Gras at its naughtiest.


This was a signature fragrance.

Her signature fragrance.

This was her--

"I've done warned you and warned you about messing with love potions!" Simone leaned over Persia's shoulder to hiss the words into her ear. Her statement yanked Persia out of her state of bliss and sent her heart thundering.

"You worry too much, Simone." Settling down her atomizer, she rearranged her test tubes. "This is a perfume. Nothing more, nothing less."

"That be no French perfume you be selling."

"I've extracted essences from bayou plants before, and you didn't object."

"You be using flowers then. Not that root!"

Persia frowned. She'd extracted the essence using the enfleurage procedure--a time-honored perfuming method. "Simone the scent is pure--"

"That root be pre alright. It be pure trouble from a voodoo love-plant!"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Simone. There's no such thing as a voodoo love-plant."

"A Slice of Scandal"

"Hey, now, 'dis key lime pie's like de one I serve at my restaurant. Simple to make and good to eat! Key limes perk up de mouth and makes you Hoppy."

Producer/Director Julia Kincaid focused on her monitor and adjusted the mic of her headset. "Camera One, tighten that headshot," She watched as the camera feathered over the chef to capture the best angle. The camera should have loved franklin. His height was average, his black hair, short and curly and his skin took on a polished bronze color under the harsh camera lights, but the camera didn't like  Franklin. There was something about his eyes: the dark agate, forbidding, and expressionless, and the grayish ring that clung to the end of the pupil that was difficult to erase.

"Okay. Now hold it, while Chef Franklinpullins the second pie from the refrigerator. Follow him back to the island. Good."

When the chef stood on his mark, Julia said, "Cue the music. Okay. Two, scan the audience. Back to Franklin. Focus on the pie..Camera One, close-up on the chef...Hold it."

The studio audience uttered a collective sigh when he lifted his fork to take a bite of the pie.

Julia watched as Franklin Grabbed his throat. "What's going on?" she shouted.

From her left, she heard J.D. groan. "He's spitting out the pie. Hell, there goes the show's ratings!"

Julia hopped down from the camera and took off at a full run.

Gone was the applause. People jumped to their feet. They screamed.

"J.D. call the paramedics...someone grab the AED kit off the wall!"


The moon was full; huge in the sky, a brilliant iridescent orb that stared down at the earth. Enza allowed the energy to feather over her as she removed the silk cloth protecting her Tarot cards.

There are event-eight cards in the Tarot deck. Four suits of fourteen cards each. Swords, Cups, and Pentacles, and twenty-two cards called the major arcane--the big mysteries.

Enza's mother told her she would learn to associate the picture cards with people.

The Tarot was very clear in meaning.

Not for spells and chants ar you damned but for the abuse of your gifts.

Enza glanced out the window and into the moonlight washing across the cobblestone street outside of the French Quarter.  The Roma, though, they traced their roots back to ancient Romania, never consider themself twenty-first-century gypsies. Her mother came from a stricter branch of the gypsies, rooted in the Bohemia hillsides of what is now called the Czech Republic. Her family displayed no read palms upon the shop doors or upon their carts. Nor did they dabble in the black arts. They followed the old ways...

🦃Happy Holidays and 🎅Merry Christmas, 🎄,


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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Holy Motherboard! Creating colorful swear words that will not offend in Science Fiction - by Vijaya Schartz

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This trend has been going on for a very long time. Many authors and screenwriters have used this tool to avoid vulgarity and spare the sensibilities of readers and viewers. We all remember Starbuck saying Frak. To me, it’s an opportunity for creativity. Adapting the words to the world you created is also a fun challenge.

Holy Motherboard from Angel Fierce. This expression is unique and fitting, in a futuristic world where no one would know what a motherboard is… except maybe a nerd who studied ancient technology, like Maksou, the skilled hacker and god’s gift to women.

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By the frozen hells of Laxxar – Many mentions of Laxxar in my sci-fi novels indicate it’s a mining colony in a frozen world, where they send lifers, criminals, and political prisoners, to die in forced labor. I will definitely explore this world in a future novel.
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Fark – This one is close enough and far enough to the contemporary word, so that readers can understand it without explanation.

Holy Mackerel from Akira’s choice (a contemporary expression which becomes weird and funny in a child’s mouth, on a space station where no one has ever seen a mackerel, or even knows what it is).

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Also in Akira’s Choice, since she is Samurai, I used a few Japanese expletives, which just sounds funny to the ear of an English speaker.

Fire-breathing volcano goddess! – Suggests a Polynesian inspired culture in the third book of the Azura Chronicles, ANGEL BRAVE

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But I’m still writing, and thinking up new worlds and new expressions for my characters to express their frustration.

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By the bountiful tits of HelsaraBy the land of many waters - Coming in the new Blue Phantom series Book 1, ANGEL SHIP (October 2022 release)

In the meantime, happy reading!

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Friday, November 26, 2021

Time for a story--Tricia McGill

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Deep into research and planning for my next book, I realised that time had run away with me before I decided on a topic for my latest post. I hope this short story that I wrote many years ago will suffice. Sadly, it says a lot about the state of some of our children in these times, and the poor conditions thrust upon them. It is called The Kitten.

The demons were at his heels. He was panting when he reached the house. It stood, dark, forbidding. He knew it was empty. For the past two years since the Grimwalds had moved out no one had been brave enough to occupy it, even for a night. 

           He climbed through the hole in the fence that was well known by all the local kids. He had come here once with the Wells Street gang, but had heard they never used it as a meeting place any more. He was an outcast now, belonging to no gang. His mum was always bad-tempered and drunk most of the time; had been since his dad went away. What was it about grown-ups that made them take all their problems and misfortunes out on their kids?

            The house loomed before him, dark windows glaring down like black glass eyes. Did he have the courage to go inside? Well, there was only one way to find out. A gust of wind sent a carton flying about and it caught him on the shins, scaring him, making him shudder. He felt as if he had stepped into a movie he watched once, where a werewolf lived in the cellar of a house just like this one. His teeth chattered and he shivered wildly. What was he doing here? He must have gone mad.

            Mad or desperate? Where else could he go? His mum had a new boyfriend with her—some pathetic creep she'd picked up. Greg, his best friend, had been ordered to keep away from him. Funny ideas some grown-ups had. They could only get together at school now. Of course he could go and hang about near the station, but all the druggies got there. He didn't fancy getting mixed up with that lot; he'd managed to keep out of their way up to now.

            He wasn't welcome with the gang any more, since he'd refused to take part in their shop-lifting caper—to prove his bravery, they'd said. What was brave about nicking a few silly bars of chocolate and some cigs?

            He reached the tree where he knew he could get into the house through the upstairs window, and began to climb. He reached the second limb up when a pitiful sound stopped him in his efforts. "Meow...." it came again.

"Where are you? I can hear you, but I can't see you," he called in a loud whisper, and received another yowl in response. Up another foot he went until he could get a hold of the branch hanging over the balcony. A scruffy ball of fur began to hiss at him as he sat back on the branch, and he saw a small dirty-white kitten further up, its coat all wet, its eyes wide and staring. It hissed again and he chatted to it for a few minutes in what he hoped was a comforting tone. He didn't know much about animals, for he'd never been allowed to keep a pet, but he felt a strange empathy with this little creature. It looked just like he felt. Lonely. Sad. Miserable, and confused.

            "Come down then and you can come inside with me," he called, and to his surprise the kitten obeyed, dropping onto the branch beside him. "Wanna come into the house with me?" he asked, and it began to wipe its wet nose on his hand. It sniffed at him a bit and then jumped onto the top rail of the balcony, making a sound in its throat as if calling to him.

            He tentatively crawled along the branch and followed the kitten as it jumped down. It turned to make sure he followed before disappearing through a gap in the double doors.  He pushed the gap a bit wider and went after it. The room was so gloomy that he couldn't see the kitten, but then felt it smooching about his ankles. As his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he was able to follow it to the door, which creaked as he pushed it open. The wind whistled mournfully down the passageway. Strangely, he didn't feel so frightened now he had the cat to keep him company. Stealthily they went down the stairs, and then he heard the strange noise. His flesh began to crawl, goose bumps rising on every inch of his body.

            "Who's there?" he whispered, his voice coming out odd and shaky. He'd heard of knocking knees but until that moment hadn't known just what it meant. "Come out, if you know what's good for you," he cried, not having a clue what he would do if a man came out carrying a gun or some other weapon.

            A funny scuffling sound was followed by a dragging noise and if the cat hadn't decided at that moment to smooch round him again he would have fled. His feet felt as if they were glued to the floor. As if in a dream where you couldn't move he watched as the door to what he guessed was the kitchen slowly opened. A scrawny hand appeared around its edge, the fingers bent and twisted, like talons.

            He opened his mouth to scream, but all that came out was a small yowl just like the cat had made. A face, a terrible face, all lined and flabby, with skin hanging in folds beneath each eye followed the hand. The hair surrounding it was like the strings on the filthy mop that his mum kept outside the back door.  He managed a scream then, but before he could turn and run the thing had moved to clamp those long talon-like fingers over his arm. In terror he shrank from the vile smell coming off what he now saw was an old woman.

            "Let go of me," he ordered with as much bravado as he could muster.

            "Not until you keep quiet, silly little dope. What d'you want to do, waken the dead?" she asked, giving an unearthly cackle that made him shudder anew.

            "Are you dead?" he asked croakily as she released him. He thought of running but decided to stay and see what happened. She certainly didn't look like a ghost, and ghosts didn't stink, did they?

            She took out a piece of rag from the pocket of her cardigan and blew her nose noisily. "Not me. Want a bite?" She offered him a piece of bread. "Nice house isn't it?" she asked companionably. "You must have been mighty desperate to come in alone boy. Tell Old Jane your sorry tale and perhaps I'll let you stay."

            She picked up the kitten and stroked its wet fur before sitting down on the floor. He joined her, feeling safe now as he took a bite of the bread.

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