I’ve been putzing away on Happy Medium for far too long. I started writing it about a year ago, but then managed to get sidetracked by Let’s Dish and Another Time Around. Since I sold both books, I can’t exactly complain. However, I went from having Alex and her cohorts talking to me to having them sit in the back of my brain pouting. Then I finally started getting into it again, and the hubs got sick.
Well, husband is feeling pretty good (considering) and the day job has lightened up, so it’s time to get back on the bandwagon. To that end, a bunch of buddies from a local writing group and I are going to do a NaNoWriMo style writing challenge for the next few weeks.
Yup, I’m crazy. Thank you for noticing.
So here’s a teaser – an unedited, don’t-look-down, craptastic first scene from Happy Medium. Odds are if it’s ever published, this will all be changed, but you never know.
In July 1929, Euphadora Blotz sat at this table and foretold the crash of the stock market three months before Black Tuesday. In January 1964, Helena Blotz sat down with President Kennedy, who told her about a second gunman on the grassy knoll. Two months ago, Zahndra Blotz – Madam Zahndra to you and me – told a grieving widow that her husband had hidden the insurance policies and stock certificates in a safe deposit box at the Grand National Bank. There is no Grand National Bank.
How times change.
Thunder clapped outside as I sat across from my mother, which added to the ominous ambiance of the darkened room. Incense permeated the windowless space, filling every square inch with its Oriental spices until my sinuses begged for mercy. I swallowed several times, stifling a cough that was tickling the back of my throat.
Our sucker – ah – client sat in the most comfortable chair, her hand gripping my mother’s with familiar desperation, leaving her fingers bone white. But Mom’s face was serene and her eyes closed in an expression of ecstasy.
“Oh spirit guides,” she said, her voice strong and unwavering. “Oh great goddesses of the afterlife. We beseech you, oh great ones, to call forth the beloved…” She paused, opening one eye just enough to gaze at the client.
“Al,” she said in a small, nasal voice. “Al Barthalamew.”
My mother’s eye snapped shut, and she began to sway slightly. “We beseech you to call forth the beloved Al. His lovely wife Mona calls to him beyond the grave.”
Mom kept up her shtick for a few more minutes, and the grieving widow watched her intently. Lovely. I’d reserve judgment. I try not to place value on people based on outward appearance. For all I knew, Mrs. Barthalamew was a wonderful person. Behind all that 1970s frosted blue eye shadow and false eyelashes. And what was she thinking with fuchsia lipstick? Probably that she would fit in well at Blotz Occult Bookstore.
“We beseech you,” my mother’s voice resonated with more urgency. I’d missed my cue. Again. With one toe, I hit the switch in the floor and the A/C kicked in but good. Afternoons like these I wished I wore as many layers as my mother and sister, because when it’s cold enough to see your breath, a Howie’s Hardware tee shirt just doesn’t cut it.
“Is that him?” the client asked. There was a stiff breeze, for sure, and the tiny bells hanging from the beaded curtains started to jingle.
“He is here,” my mother whispered. “His presence is standing beside you. He’s calling to you.”
In reality, there was no one behind Mrs. Barthalamew, but she seemed more than happy to chat to the empty air. “Al, honey, are you there?”
“He’s here,” my mother said again. Her eyes were rolled up and her lids flickered. “He is taking control of my body.” She had been leaning back, relaxed in her seat. Suddenly, her eyes flew wide and she sat up board straight.
“Petunia?” Her voice was not her own. The accent was southern, I thought. Maybe Georgia. And definitely deeper than it had been seconds before. “Petunia, my dahlin’, you there? I can’t see you.”
“I’m here, Al.” The client grasped my mother’s hand even tighter, and I started to worry if the bones would snap. “Al, sweetheart, are you all right?”
Depends on how “all right” you think dead is.
“I’m fine, Petunia. It’s quiet here. Lots of fishing. I’m very happy.”
“Oh Al!” Mrs. Barthalamew cried. “I miss you so much!”
Mom’s face softened, and she touched Mrs. Barthalamew’s cheek. “Petal, as long as you have the orchids, you have me. And we shall meet again soon.”
“Oh, Al!” For a split second, she looked like she was going to kiss Mom square on the lips. But she pulled back when my mother started to shake. Time to hit the switch again, and if I missed my cue this time, I’d never hear the end of it.
The furnace kicked in as Mom’s eyes shut tight. She shook a moment longer, but more subtly. She heaved a deep breath, as if she’d been underwater for minutes, and slowly opened her eyes. “He has passed.”
Tears streaked down Mrs. Barthalamew’s cheeks as she pumped my mother’s pale, smushed hand. “Oh thank you, Madam Zahndra. Thank you so much.”
Mom smiled at her, a kind but kind of patronizing smile. “You are more than welcome, Mrs. Barthalamew.”
Mrs. Barthalamew?” My sister took the client by the elbow. “If you’ll just come this way, we’ll settle the bill. Madame Zahndra needs to rest now.”
“Oh of course, of course,” she said, trailing along behind Phillipa. I tagged along, more than ready to get some incenseless air into my lungs. I had to pause, though, as we made our way through the beaded curtain. I offered a shrug to the short, balding, sixty-something man who stood near the doorway. In return, Al Barthalamew offered me a faded smile.