Archive | March, 2012

KICKSTARTER: Across the Finish Line

31 Mar

In light of a successfully funded Kickstarter Campaign, I’d like to thank everyone who made a pledge to help me self-publish my book, The Mirrors at Barnard Hall, including:

Mark & Karen Hickman, Orva & Jack Mitter, Megan Panther, Victoria Engel, Jimmy Fyfe, Sarah Franklin, Miriam Sincell, Billy Block, Brandon Stein, Caitlin Pearson, Brenda Burner, Marie Phelan, Cary Graham, Katherine Browning, Lindsey Perry, Max Nunn, Debbie Raynovich, Tim Vincent, Marianne Unger, Rachel Sowell, Richard Perry, Darron McKnight, Tillie Lee, Megan, Kris and Emma Kitzmiller, Levi Brandenburg, Kim Johnson, Katie Sass, Donna Hauser, Shannon Wiley, Gay Forston & Libby Miller, Shar Hollingsworth, Cathie Burke, Angel Putman, Linda Bell, Doogie Smith, LaWanda Harvey, Natalie Finnell, Melissa Ellenburg, Jon Dodd, Chad Panther, Jacob Brown, Drew Williams, Matt Sincell, Adam Krise, Lee Sparrow, Jacob Blaze, Richmond Williams, Seleena Puffinburger, Kimberly, Cindy Stem, Abbey Smith, Eric Green, Blake Huber, Caitlin, Amy Umstot Cowgill, Adam Sisk & Danielle Hickman, Desiree Porcaro, Melissa Clark, Mary Lynn Bosley, Ardra Sharpless, Amy Tracey, Audrey McDermott, Tami Pearce, Emily Vetter, Joe Hammond, Susan Strawser, Pamela Hammond, Dallie Hickman, Sue Hershman, Brittany Adele Naylor, Kristine, Natalie Orio, Chasity Phillips, Logan, Katie Saltonstall, Amanda Heisey, Kathryn Hefner, Blakely Glotfelty, Megan Hayes, Jenny Druckenmiller, Jessica Meyers, Matthew Burner, Rebecca McRoberts Wells, Richie Dellinger, Rebekah Brown, Sabrina Davis, Sarah Quertermous, Christine Lee, Heidi Simpson, and David Magida.

I am humbled by the outpouring of support from my family, friends, co-workers, casual acquaintances and even complete strangers!  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a million times, this dream is coming true because of YOU!

-Jenny

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The End is in Sight… and Chapter 16

30 Mar

When I wrote the title of this post I realized belatedly how much of a liar I was; still, titles have never been my strong suit, so I left well enough alone.  The official end of my Kickstarter campaign is tomorrow, March 31, 2012 at 4:01 pm; however, the completion of this step doesn’t really mark the end of anything.  This is simply another milestone passed on the lengthy journey toward self-publishing. 

The next step is to finalize the cover design and interior layout of the book for both the e-book and print versions.  Then I get to send the final product to the printers and fret over the fact that my first-born child will be in the hands of a babysitter who only cares about the money, not about my baby.  The final step is the [successful] marketing of my book. 

Today, instead of celebrating an ending, I’m celebrating the beginning of the next step.

Happy Friday & Happy Reading.

New to this story?  Click HERE to start from the beginning
Don’t want to read this online?  Click to download the .pdf version of Chapter 16
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Chapter 16: Reason

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

We smiled at one another.  Ever since Nick had revealed his theory for my existence, a tension had been building between us, vibrating the air—and glass—separating our forms. 

My days had been filled with fruitless research, consistently providing me with more questions than answers.  The monotony of my findings allowed my mind to wander more frequently than I would admit.  More often than not I found myself thinking of my best friend’s brother.  Senseless questions spun through my mind, all of them irrelevant to the investigation.  What was his favorite color?  If he could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?  What was his favorite food?  Had he ever been in love?

When night came and I saw Nick, all my questions—relevant or not—melted with the heat of his stare. 

Tonight was the same as our previous evenings together.  Nick looked frustrated, and I attempted to stifle nervous giggles.  He was the first to break the intense silence that had enveloped us.

“You’ve crossed my mind a thousand times today.”

The statement sounded sincere but his tone of voice made the occurrence sound like a burden. Thoughts of him had been plaguing my subconscious since we had first met; I would have it no other way.

It was hard to take Nick seriously when he said things like that—which was all the time now.  The perfectly delivered lines were something out of a book, not to be used in casual conversation.  In stark contrast, the words I spoke sounded childish and insignificant.

“How did you get anything done?” I teased.

“I didn’t.  I was utterly useless.  Needless to say, my father was not pleased with me.”

“Why?  What did he say?”

“It wasn’t so much the words he chose—which I would never repeat in the presence of a lady—but his actions.  He became so enraged that he ordered me to leave.”

“That sounds serious.” 

“Very serious.  Ledgers are nigh impossible when one is distracted.”  The intensity in his sidelong look made my stomach flip.  It was like Nick Dalton could see into my soul.  And, if that wasn’t enough, he liked what he found there.

“I can only imagine.”  I gave in and allowed the smile to play on my lips.  “This distraction seems to be hindering your responsibilities.”

“This particular distraction is welcome to hinder my responsibilities for as long as she likes.”

She thinks you may soon come to regret the offer.”

Nick ignored my self-defacing statement.  “Do you know what else is impossible to do when one’s mind is otherwise engaged?”

“What’s that?”

“Eating.”

“Eating?”

“Yes.  Eating is impossible to do while distracted.”

“So you haven’t eaten today?” I scoffed.

“I don’t know.”

“How can you not know if you ate?”

“I cannot remember eating and I am absolutely ravenous.  The combination of the two leads me to believe that meals were forgotten.”

“It sounds like a very trying day.”

He let out an exaggerated sigh.  “Oh, it wasn’t all ledgers, angry fathers, and hunger pains.”

“No?  What else was there?”

“I heard from my sister today.”

I jumped off my bed and pressed my palms to the glass.  “You did?  Did you talk to her?  Is she there?”  I had been waiting to hear Tilly’s reaction, to know if she had thought I had been imaginary too.  What would she say when she found out I was back?  Had she even remembered me?  What would I do if she couldn’t recall all of our adventures, if I had not made the difference in her life that she had made in mine?

“Calm down, Callista.  She is not here, at least not yet.  I received a letter from her this morning.”

“This morning?  And you’re only telling me now?”

He wasn’t fazed by my annoyance.  “I told you that I have been distracted.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”  Nick grinned.  Sometimes he was so irritating.

“What did she say?”

“This and that—typical Tilly.”

“Read it to me?”  I asked, hoping he would agree.  I wanted to hear her exact words.  She would be real if I could hear what she had to say and how she said it.  Tilly always had her own unique way of expressing herself.  Had that fact changed in the past ten years?

“Read it yourself.”

Nick scooted his chair to the mirror and held the letter up for me to see.  The words scrawled elegantly across the page, drawing me into the sentences.

Nicki,

Your news could not come at a better time.  Timothy and I will be back at Barnard Hall in August for mum’s birthday.  So I will say, “Hello,” to Callista myself.  I begged Tim to leave London early, but he is obligated to stay until the end of the month.  By the way, your help with the final arrangements for the event would be much appreciated.  After all, she is your mother too.  It is trying to organize everything from London.  (And do not tell me that such things are a woman’s work, below your lofty station, or I shall take out every bit of my disappointment on you when I return.)

Do not be yourself and scare Callista away.  If she is not there when I arrive I will hold you personally responsible.  She is my best friend and I have been waiting too long to see her to have you ruin things.  

Give Callista my love and try to be charming—your life depends on it.

Love,

Your beautiful and intelligent sister

Tilly

PS. I told you she was real.  You can apologize to me when I arrive in August.

I did not notice the tears welling in my eyes until her signature began to blur.  I swiped at them and offered Nick an apologetic smile. 

“The letter is so…”

“Tilly?”

I nodded and let out a watery giggle.

“I suppose I do owe her an apology.  She always believed you were real—even when I made fun of her for having an imaginary friend.  She used to get so angry with me.  The names she would call me became quite inventive as she grew older.”

Tilly was never one to keep her own emotions in check.  No doubt she had passionately backed the argument for my existence.  I was ashamed that my own resolve had not been as strong.  In this issue it had felt like the entire world had been against me; modern thinking did not promote the presence of imaginary friends—or magic.

“I wish my mind had been as open to the possibility of her being real.  My mother sent me to a therapist to prove she couldn’t exist.”

“And did it work?” he asked quietly.

“At first I resisted.  After a few months I thought it had worked.  But it was harder to accept her non-existence than the present situation we find ourselves in.  I think maybe I always knew she was real, somewhere in my heart.”

“Will you tell me about your parents?” 

His question caught me off guard.  When I had first met Nick, I hadn’t wanted to tell him anything about me.  Our conversations tended toward impersonal subjects and my weak attempts to ferret information.  Now I looked forward to speaking with him.  Somewhere inside me I knew I needed to tell Nick about myself and the life I had endured.  If I could share everything with him then perhaps the burden wouldn’t be as heavy.

On the off nights he did not appear, I had found myself falling into a deep depression.  It was as if he was my own version of therapy—or the beginnings of an addiction.  Even if the latter was true—which I suspected it was—I could not find a reason to cut myself off.  Who did I need to be sane for?  Imaginary friends weren’t viewed as healthy companions but so what?  Happiness was more important than sanity and Nick made me very, very happy.

I started with blissful childhood memories, ones of my family before it had been ripped apart.

“My mother met my father when she was nineteen.  She was a model and he was a successful businessman.  They were married three months later, and I came along in the first year of their marriage.  Life was wonderful then…”  In the few photos I had seen from that time in my life, my family had been smiling.  My parents had been so proud of me even when I did the most mundane things.  Looking back, it was most likely a byproduct of being an only child.  But their noticeable pride gave me confidence that, at one point, I had been loved.

“When I was seven, my father contracted a virus that attacked his heart.  I didn’t even know that could happen.  Treatments had not helped and he died a month later, in April.  My mother married Jim in May and we moved to England in June.”

“That had to have been a distressing year for you.”

I nodded.  “Besides the loss of my father, the worst part of that year was losing my mother.”

Nick’s forehead crinkled as he processed my statement.  “I thought your mother died a few weeks ago?”

I chuckled bitterly.  “My mother’s spirit was dead long before the date on her tombstone.  At first I blamed Jim for her change.  Then I realized it was not Jim’s presence, but the absence of my father that drove my mother into such a deep depression; he had been the glue that had kept our family intact.  My mother could not handle losing him, and I was a constant reminder of what she had lost. She never recovered.

“After I was sent to New York, things didn’t get better.   I lived with my father’s spinster Aunt.  She had never had kids so she wasn’t sure what had been normal behavior and what had been me acting out; she had assumed that everything was the latter.  Her one house rule had been strict: don’t bother her unless the problem was life-threatening.  Aunt Mildred and I never ate together, spent time with one another, or had any semblance of a conversation; we had barely co-existed.  She never noticed me, and I had learned to ignore her.”

Nick looked down at his hands and did not speak.  His silence was my cue to continue.

“I’ve lived the past ten years in a sort of self-imposed exile.  I kept thinking if my grades were high enough or if I did something spectacular, that I would be worth loving—or noticing.  I had always hoped my mother would realize she did not lose everything when my dad had died.  So I fast forwarded my life; I skipped grades in school and studied around the clock.   I didn’t have time for friends or social interaction beyond a superficial level.  I graduated high school at fifteen and received my college degree at seventeen.  Now…”  I said, coming back to the present.  “Now my days pass too quickly.  It’s like I am working on delaying the inevitable.  I have no control over time, and the end is looming in the distance like a deadline I’m dreading to meet.”

And it was.  August twenty fourth was rapidly approaching, and I could not do anything about it.  Although the date did not mark the end of my own life, the life that was going to end seemed more personal, the loss infinitely more catastrophic. 

“My days pass as quickly as yours.  To me their ends are inconsequential because they mark the beginning of the night.  But the nights, they are only a breath away from morning.  I blink and another day is breaking.  Then I am responsible for being cordial to others, holding meaningless conversations, and pretending to occupy myself with menial tasks when my mind—and heart—are elsewhere.”

I smiled.  It was the same for me only I wouldn’t have been able to say it like a sonnet.  Never in my life had I looked forward to anything as much as I did seeing Nick.  My entire existence revolved around his impossible presence.

“I think maybe…” Nick let the sentence drift into silence.  His forehead creased and his eyebrows drew together like he was searching for words.

“Maybe what?” I prompted.  I wanted to know what he thought.  No, I needed to know what he thought.  Could he feel the same?  What was the point in feeling this way if I was the only one touched by our connection?

“That you are my reason for coming back, or whatever it is I am doing.”

He could not be serious, could he?  “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?”

“Because…”  Just because.

“Do you care to elaborate?”

“Well, because I’m just a person, not a reason for anything.  The mirrors aren’t magical because of me, they just are.  They worked before me and will work when I’m gone.  You and I happened to be at the same place at the same time—you know what I mean.  And because we were, we can see one another.  But I can find no reason behind any of it.  Reasons contradict magic, and I am positive that we are dealing with magic.  So that’s why you can’t be serious.”

“But that’s just it, even with the logical points you’ve raised I remain serious.  What was the point of doing this before you—of barely existing?  The thought of seeing you stops my heart yet it’s like my heart never beat before you.  In you I have found something better than existence; I have found life, my purpose.”

My mouth went dry.  I had almost sunk down into my pit of despair while relating my story, and now Nick was declaring himself.  At least I thought that was what he was doing.  He pressed his palm to the mirror, and I scooted to the edge of the bed.  The burning look in his eyes gave me hope like I had never experienced before.

“Every day I hold on to the possibility of you.”  My own admission seemed inadequate next to his.  I could not believe I had spoken the words aloud.  But a spark ignited inside my dormant heart and I continued.  “You see me differently than everyone else… than I see myself.  I have never been good enough.  I’ve never been a reason for anything.”

“Everyone was wrong.  You were wrong.”

I shook my head.  “In my time, I am unexceptional. It’s the mirrors—the circumstances—that make me seem…”

“Remarkable?” 

Remarkable?  Not in the least.  He had to know about me.  Preconceived notions and false impressions only turned into disappointment.  If there was any way to remove the barrier that separated us then he would only be let down by the person he found on the other side; that offense would be unforgivable.

“No!  Listen to what I am telling you, Nick. In my time…”

“Maybe you belong in a different time.”

“That’s insane, not to mention completely irrelevant.”

“Why is it irrelevant?”

“Because it is,” I dismissed.

“You are quick to make rash statements without having any rational thoughts to support them.”

“Can’t you see?  Rational thought does not allow for this.”

Nick repeated his question.  “Callista, why is it irrelevant?”

I was furious now; angry tears burned the backs of my eyes.  I wasn’t angry with Nick, I was angry at my own helplessness in the entire situation.  “Because I can’t exist in any other time than my own.  A mirror is called a looking glass; for some reason when I look through I see you.  I see you.  I can’t touch you or feel you.  I can’t belong with you.  This—you and I—we are an impossibility.”

Nick and I stared at one another.  Tension raced across the divide, electrifying the air.  Neither of us could speak as the weight of our conversation hung in the glass space between.  He opened his mouth then shut it abruptly. 

Lightness buried deep within my being, beneath my childhood, my parent’s death, and life’s disappointments broke free and floated toward the surface like a balloon without a string.  An unstoppable smile spread across my face, and I laughed.

I laughed because Nick and I were fighting over our mutually impossible feelings for one another instead of reveling in the sweet agony.  Then I laughed because Nick looked at me like I had sprouted a third eye.  But mostly I laughed because, for the first time since I had met the man in front of me, I felt a semblance of hope.  Hope for the maybe.

Nick shook his head solemnly.  “The only impossibility I foresee is me letting you go.  Together, we can overcome everything else.”

My laughter was silenced with a swift knock on his bedroom door.  We turned off our lights simultaneously and the room fell silent.  Through the darkness I watched a thin strand of white light grow as his door inched open.

“Nick, are you alright?” a sweet voice called out of the darkness.

“Yes, Mother,” he said, making his voice sound appropriately groggy for a man who had gone to bed hours earlier. 

I squinted in the darkness, attempting to catch a glimpse of Maria Dalton.  All I could make out was a slender shadow cast by the dimly lit hallway.

“Alright.  I could have sworn I had heard voices.”

“Hmmmph,” he growled.  When he didn’t say more, his mother closed the door.  We waited a few moments before speaking, making sure she was not going to come back in.

“Callista, are you there?”             

“Yes,” I whispered, stifling a giggle.  Even though we were separated by an impossible barrier, our minds were thinking the same thoughts.  That knowledge made me feel closer to him than ever.

There was a smile in his voice when he responded.  “I was hoping you would say that.”

“Were you?”

“Of course.  Otherwise, what reason do I have to stay awake?”

GREAT NEWS, LOYAL READERS!  IN LIGHT OF THE UPCOMING EASTER HOLIDAY, THE NEXT INSTALLMENT WILL BE POSTED ON THURSDAY, APRIL 5!

The Thing

28 Mar

Because of my honors-level English classes in high school, I have an aversion to the following word:

Thing

Of course, I still use it heavily in the first drafts of anything I write (it is one of those elementary-school placeholders I spoke about in a previous post: Finding the Words).  But when I review my work and find those five letters in succession, I begin to develop a mild twitch (and night-terrors).  There is always a more descriptive way to explain said “thing” to your audience.  Next time you come across that word in your own writing, seriously consider a better way to describe what it is you’re talking about.  (This is also an easy way to beef up your final word count). 

Another equally annoying word:

A lot

As writers/readers, what words give you a twitch?

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Kickstarter Update: Big news, loyal readers (and first-time stumblers)!  My self-publishing project has successfully been funded!  We are currently $650 over the original goal of $4,000.  This means that more books can be printed in the initial print run.  As of 4:00 pm on Saturday, March 31, I will be officially on my way to self-publishing The Mirrors at Barnard Hall!

Beyond Chapter 3

26 Mar

Most of you can probably relate to my overwhelming enthusiasm for new projects.  Anyone can write the first few glamorous chapters of a book.  I firmly believe that first-time authors, myself included, are fueled solely by the idea that they are writing the best book in the history of literature. 

Then, somewhere between chapters 3 and 4, focus and interest wanes.  For me, the problem is not that the story building in my mind is not interesting… if that was the case I wouldn’t have wasted my time in the first place.  It just seems like my brain has spent so much spare time playing out the initial events and conversations that the momentum stops when I’m required to conjure additional content.  

The more mundane bits between the introduction and climax, ones that lay the foundation for building drama, are some of the most important—and also require the most effort.  When you get past the initial high, you find yourself putting in considerably more effort than originally anticipated. 

I’d liken this phenomenon to a new relationship.  When a couple first meets there’s attraction and exhilaration; each person can revel in the newness and possibility.  After a while, the excitement fades and both individuals have to put forth more energy to keep the relationship going strong.

Recently, I’ve looked back at some of the books I’ve started; each of them dies around Chapter 3. 

This week I am making it my own personal goal to put my head down and start Chapter 4.

Thanks to you! (Chapters 14 and 15)

23 Mar

I’d like to take a minute to thank everyone who felt this book was a worthy investment.  It is going to be printed because of YOU, not me.  As a small token of my appreciation, I have posted the next two chapters of The Mirrors at Barnard Hall.

Happy Reading!

-Jenny

New to the story?  Click HERE to start from Chapter 1.

Don’t want to read this online?  Click to view these two chapters in .pdf format: Chapter 14 and Chapter 15               __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 14: Cleaning

When my alarm buzzed Nick was gone.  By some miracle I had been given the luxury of a dreamless sleep.  Despite being well rested I dressed unenthusiastically, keeping one eye on the mirror in case he decided to appear.  The outfit I had chosen was the closest to the bed.  It was an internal struggle for me to make myself leave the room long enough to change.  If I missed him I would never forgive myself. 

Before I left, I stared at my reflection for too long.  When he did not show up, I made myself go down for breakfast.  If I wasn’t careful, Nick Dalton was going to become an unhealthy obsession.  The last thing I needed was to fixate on someone who was the very definition of unattainable.

My way to the kitchen was impeded by a tower of brown cardboard boxes.  The empty cubes were stacked outside the first bedroom on the right, the master suite.  Megan and Rosa came into view, carrying more empty containers.  My maid sat her burden down and left Rosa and I alone to talk.

“Miss Callista,” Rosa said quietly.  “It is time.”  She didn’t need to supply any more details; I had been subconsciously aware of the task she was referring to since I had arrived in England.

“I don’t think I can do it today.” Or any other day.

“It is time,” she repeated.

“But…” 

“You need to put this behind you.”

“Let the girls do it.” 

She shook her head.  “This is something that you need to do, Miss Callista.”

Rosa was right.  I had put off the task for long enough and needed to move past it.  My hunger subsided—all feelings had dissipated—so I headed straight for my mother’s room.

“Do you want me to help you?  We could get it done in half the time if there are two of us working,” she said from behind me.

“No, thank you, Rosa.  I need to deal with this by myself.”  If I had a nervous breakdown I wanted no witnesses to the event.

“I will be downstairs if you need me.”

The master suite was the largest of the bedrooms at Barnard Hall.  The quilt covering the four-poster bed was a soft cream that matched the bold swirls on the patterned wallpaper.  The atmosphere in the room was worse than lonely; it was lifeless. 

The room smelled like her, like my mother.  Her perfume still lingered in the now-stale air, lacing the space with femininity.  The adjoining bathroom was cluttered with makeup, shampoo, and other cosmetic items.  Her personal products were left waiting for her to return, ready to make her beautiful again.  Sylvia Franklyn Burns had left that day, thinking it would be no different than any other day.  She had not known that she would never return to Barnard Hall. 

I attempted to distance myself from the task at hand.  The project would be finished soon enough, and I would be able to leave the room to collect dust.  It was important to fill each box and not think about what I was giving away or why it was no longer needed.  Out of foolish sentiment I allowed myself one box for jewelry and other personal affects I wanted to keep.  Rosa could decide the fate of everything else. 

Two hours later, I had miraculously completed the bulk of the work.  All but one drawer of clothes were in boxes, ready to leave Barnard Hall.  I pulled the decorative metal knob and the drawer jerked open.  The dresser had belonged to Jim; keeping a mental distance was effortless.  I had never been more removed from another human being as I was from my stepfather.  His sweaters filling the space made my stomach roll.  I threw the garments into the box as quickly as possible in case they spontaneously combusted in my hands. 

Just as I was about to shut the drawer, light glinted off of something shiny near the back.  My fingers grasped the thin key; the metal’s cool weight sent a current zinging through my hand.  I knew the exact lock the key would fit into. 

The drawer remained open, forgotten as I ran to my old bedroom.  I raised my hand to the door and closed my eyes.  In my mind’s eye I remembered how it had looked ten years earlier—my private sanctuary, a child’s escape.  With the bed shoved to the corner, the spacious room had been mostly bare.  The area had allowed for more games contrived by the imaginations of two little girls. 

My hand shook as I put the key into the lock.  I inhaled a steadying breath, composed my face into an impassive mask, and turned the key.  With a bit of force the mechanism clicked, admitting me into my bedroom.  Musty air drifted around my body like a heavy fog and assaulted my senses with memories.  The cloying atmosphere seeped through the open doorway and penetrated my soul as it crept past. 

For months I had played here with my best friend.  I had dreamed of the place for the last ten years and yet what was left of my bedroom reflected the nightmare.  Those ten minutes of terror in my final hour at Barnard Hall would forever taint the space. 

Distorted shadows claimed the walls, snarling at me as I stepped inside.  The windows were shuttered by thick curtains, allowing only slivers of light to filter through the crack in the center.  My old room was covered in a film of dust from disuse, and cobwebs clung to the eaves.  The unmade bed glittered with shards of glass from the broken mirror in the corner.  I took a second step into the space and crunched some forgotten remains beneath my shoe. 

The mirror itself looked like something out of a horror movie.  The edges of the glass were still there, jagged and slicing at the thick air.  A large hole was missing from the heart of the piece.  The menacing, razor-like edges were stained black with my stepfather’s blood. 

My cheeks grew damp as I drank in what was left of my childhood.  This couldn’t be the last memory I had in my old room.  This was a place for possibilities and dreams, not the set of a Stephen King film.

I ran to the curtains and flung them open, allowing the white sunlight to coat the pale walls.  The glass on my bed glittered like a million diamonds.  I pulled the small iron-handled broom from its stand beside the fireplace and fell to my knees to sweep away the precious jewels.  When there was a small pile, I dropped the glass into the ash bucket.  Next, I pulled the covers from the bed and rolled them into a ball, careful to collect the diamonds in the middle and keep the sharp edges from cutting my soul.

With all my strength, I heaved the heavy mirror frame to the edge of the room with the other trash.  The vines carved into the metal branded my hand, leaving an imprint of the design on my palm. 

As I surveyed my handy work, pride filled some of the void that had been created ten years earlier; I had completed two of the tasks I had been dreading since I had returned to Barnard Hall.

As I turned to leave, a dainty white hand reached toward me from beneath the bed.  I picked up Tilly’s favorite doll, and brushed the reflective glass from her dark curls.  Her porcelain skin was still smooth and her serene smile remained in place.  I sat her proudly against the feather pillow atop my blank bed, where she belonged.

My former sanctuary was now an empty space; empty of dreams but also free of nightmares.  The room was ready for someone else.  I wasn’t sad when I left the room.  I’d found what I had been craving all these years: closure.

“Haven’t you seen her?”

I waited at the top of the steps when I heard Beth’s voice in the hallway below.  Something about the way she whispered kept me from revealing my presence.  The maid beside her, Amanda, shrugged. 

Beth scoffed.  “She’s happy.  Her parents were killed only weeks ago and she walks around here with a constant smile on her face.”  The hatred in her voice made me bristle.  I had never done anything to this girl to deserve her vicious slander.  My apparent happiness was no one’s business.  If anything, she should be happy that I was happy.  The longer I was happy, the longer I would stay here.  And, the longer I stayed here, the longer she had a job.

Wait.  Was I happy?  There really were no words to describe how I had been feeling of late.  I was interested in life—more interested than I had ever been.  But I wouldn’t use the word happy.  How could I be happy when I knew how this story ended?

“You can’t expect a person to mourn the dead forever,” Amanda said.  The girl’s face was on the homely side, but her kindness shined through.  I would have to give her a raise in her next paycheck as a reward for her sympathy.

“But that’s just it.  She never mourned at all.  She didn’t even cry at the funeral.”

“Maybe she mourned in private.”

“Regardless, I’ve heard she’s mad.”

“How can you know that?” Amanda asked in a hushed whisper, looking around her for eavesdroppers.  I stepped back, becoming one with the shadows.  Both Amanda and I waited for Beth’s response.

“Her stepfather made sure her aunt put her in therapy after she left Barnard Hall.  He had thought she was possessed.  She saw people who weren’t there and all sorts of eerie things.  That’s why they kept her away all those years.”

Amanda took a minute to process the malicious details.  “I had not heard that before.” 

It hurt more than I would ever admit that Jim had shared such personal information with strangers.  A lot of other children had imaginary friends, how was I any different?  That thought made me chuckle.  My situation had been very different; my imaginary friend had been real, only she had died in 1912.

“Haven’t you walked by her room in the evenings?  She’s in there talking to herself, holding full conversations.”

“Well, what does she say?  I talk to myself sometimes too but I don’t expect to be committed anytime soon.”

Beth must have overheard me talking to Nick.  Getting caught wasn’t something I had previously considered; as a rule, my staff gave me a wide berth.  Having someone discover Nick could only end in tragedy.  If I was smart I would change rooms and stop seeing him.  But I knew that wouldn’t happen.  No matter how much time I spent with him, I would crave more until the end. 

“I don’t know.  The doors in this house are thick, but these conversations are more than just thinking aloud.  I’m sure of it.”

Amanda straightened.  “So what if she’s a bit mad?  Barnard Hall has had that effect on some others through the years.  You’ve heard the stories, same as me.  Even I sometimes think I see things when I clean the bedrooms.  Old homes hold ghosts.  Miss Franklyn is a good employer.  She has no need for a most of the staff, yet she keeps us on.  For that, I am in her debt—crazy or not.” 

I would have to get to know Amanda better.  She seemed to be a worthy ally in a place where allies were scarce. 

The fury on Beth’s face left me smiling.  Anger radiated from her body; I could taste the bitterness in the air.  Stepping out of the shadows, I resumed descending the stairs.  On the outside I remained calm but inside I was boiling over.  It would do no good to provide the entire community with more gossip about me.  It was obvious that Beth had been a main source of the rumors, and I had to stop them from growing more vicious.

My maid saw me come around the corner and she stiffened, wondering if I had overheard her conversation.  I smiled to set her at ease; she visibly relaxed.

“Beth, may I have a word with you?”  I said with a friendliness I did not feel.

She moved a step closer and offered me a tentative smile; the look did not reach her eyes.

“I just wanted to remind you that your place here at Barnard Hall is in no way set in stone.  I would appreciate it if you kept your personal opinions to yourself and remained professional while you’re on the clock.”

“Miss Franklyn, I assure you I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“And I can assure you that you are lying.”

There was something cold about Beth’s eyes that I had not noticed before.  They were not like my mother’s; Sylvia’s green eyes had been lifeless.  Beth’s were cold and sharp, like switchblades.  At that moment I knew Beth would like nothing more than to slap me… or worse.

Instead of letting loose with her true feelings, Beth nodded stiffly and turned on her heel.  The fury emanating from her was electrifying.  I inhaled deeply and took the long route to my room in order to shake off the confrontation.

“What happened to you?”

I looked at the gorgeous man in the mirror and his words got lost in my muddled brain.  The concern on his face was foreign to me; when was the last time someone was worried about me?  “What do you mean?”

“Callista, you are bleeding—and quite profusely at that.”

“What?”  Sure enough, the broken glass from the mirror had cut my knees and hands.  If my staff hadn’t thought I was nuts before, they would now.  How could I have let Beth see me in such a state?  The next thing the village would hear was that I had turned suicidal. 

Tiny specks of glass had been embedded in my palms.  With the acknowledgement of their existence, the tiny scrapes ignited and began to burn my tender skin. 

“Huh,” was all I could manage.  Each slice felt like it had its own heartbeat; the throbbing was unbearable.

“What were you doing all day that would inflict such wounds?” Nick asked, curious about my battle scars.

“Cleaning.”

“Cleaning what?  A war zone?”

“My old bedroom and my mother’s room,” I confessed.

“Why were you doing it?”

“Because it needed done.”  Why else would someone clean?  It wasn’t exactly the type of task people enjoyed.

“I meant, don’t you have a household staff for that sort of chore?”

“Yes.”

“So why were you doing it?”

When my eyes made contact with Nick’s, I forgot to breathe.  He was sitting in his chair, looking beautiful in a tailored white shirt and black pants.  He had shaved and looked more rested than he had the entirety of the past week.  His dark eyes pulled the truth from my lips.

“Because I had to get rid of my mother’s clothes,” I confessed, knowing what he would ask next. 

“Why?”

“Because she and her husband died a few weeks ago, and I needed to get rid of their personal things.  I spent most of the morning boxing up clothes.”

For a moment he didn’t respond.  I wasn’t sure he had heard me but then he whispered, “I am so sorry for your loss.”

I shrugged away the sentiment.  I had been sorry too—ten years ago.

“Why had you not told me this before?”

“It never came up.”

“If I may make an observation without offending you,” Nick began as I walked into the bathroom to clean and disinfect my cuts.  He did not wait for my permission to continue.  “You seem to be handling the situation quite well for losing your mother.”

“It’s complicated,” I hedged, unprepared to relate the details of the trauma that had made up my childhood. 

“Too complicated to share?”

Too complicated to face.  “For now.”

Nick nodded.  “Did you cut yourself on the clothes or with a broom?”

“Neither.  I had to clean the glass from my old bedroom.”

“Glass?”

“From the broken mirror.”

“Too complicated?” he predicted.

“Not really.  My stepfather saw Tilly ten years ago and broke the mirror as a result.”

Nick smiled and my heart broke.  “I cannot say I am surprised.  My sister tends to have that sort of damaging effect on people.”           

Chapter 15:  Motive

“I know why you’re here.”

Nick’s startling declaration cleared my brain of all coherent thought.  I had been trying to understand what had been going on for ten years; he had needed less than ten days to figure it out.

“You do?”

He nodded.  “And I now know that I am dreaming.”

“Are you?” I smiled at the seriousness in his tone.

“Yes.”

“But you’re awake.”

“Precisely.”

“You know that makes no sense.”

“Precisely.  Does any part of our relationship make sense?”

I ignored his question and offered one of my own, curious where he was going with his theory.  “Do you often dream while you’re awake?”

“Not until recently.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Stress,” he answered quickly.

“Stress?”

“Yes.  My dreams conjured you because of the stress I have been subjected to of late.  It appears as though you are a combination of my conscious and subconscious desires.  You are everything I did not know I wanted. ”

“I… I am?”  The confession was not what I had been expecting.  His tone had lost the playful edge it usually held.

“Yes, and you were sent to torture me.  To let me know what I will never have.”

“It sounds like I’m more of a nightmare than a dream.”

“No, you are most definitely a dream.”  He let out a heavy sigh.  “In light of the impending tragedy, it really is quite ironic.”

Tragedy? 

Nick knew he was going to die?  My head was spinning out of control.  How had he found out?    I had to make a conscious effort to keep from hyperventilating.  Had I unknowingly spilled those secrets in my sleep?

“You know what’s coming?”  He was calm—too calm.

“My father alluded to this morning.”

So, Nicholas Dalton Sr. knew his family was going to die?  Maybe he knew who the killer was and had overheard his murderous plans.  But surely if Nick’s father knew about the tragedy he would want to stop the fire.  Had he known the first time around and failed to put an end to the event?

“And I must be honest, if this were ten days ago, before you started haunting me, I would not have cared.”

I had to say something to distract him and give me time to think.  In a moment the entire dynamic between us had changed.  “Now I’m back to being a ghost?”  My tone was light, playful.

“Dreams can haunt a man too.”

“So can nightmares,” I whispered.

“Callista, if you were a nightmare I would want you to go away.  But I don’t.  So, you’re a dream.  Please, take my word on this.”

“You are amazingly composed for finding out this morning.”  I would be completely freaking out—I was completely freaking out. 

“I’m resigned.  She’s just not the one I would have chosen.”

She?  “Wait.  What are you talking about?”

“Marriage.  What were you talking about?”

We had gone from dreams/nightmares, to death, then marriage in the span of five minutes.  I needed to resume taking notes in order to follow our conversations.

“It doesn’t matter,” I murmured.  At least we weren’t talking about his impending death.

Even as I signed with relief I was not relieved.  My steady breath sounded more like the final gasp of air from a drowning victim before she succumbed to her watery grave.  I had thought he was okay with dying and that the burden of knowledge I possessed would be lifted.  The mystery had been solved, and I could leave Barnard Hall guilt-free.  Instead, the mystery had compounded.   

“How did you find out?”

“This is the first I’m hearing about it, Nick.  I can’t believe you’re getting married…”  I squeaked.  This news seemed more final than death.  After all, Nick had already died.  Everyone dies.  But if he was getting married…  A few silent moments passed before the full force of the subject hit me.

“I’m not getting married.”

“You’re not?”  Now I was more confused than before.

“Not exactly,” he hedged.

How could one not exactly get married?  He was either getting married or he wasn’t.  “Who are you supposed to be marrying?”

“I am not entirely sure, but I have an awful premonition.”

“What does that even mean?”  How could he not know the name of his fiancé?  Perhaps it was pity I was feeling for the woman, not jealousy.  

No, it was definitely jealousy.  Envy clouded my vision as a wave of rage paralyzed me.  I simply couldn’t share this man with some other woman for the next few weeks.

“It means my father threatened me with a formal betrothal this morning and very few women are willing to have someone like me as their husband.  I have until the twenty fourth of August to find a wife.”

The date hit me like a sledgehammer to the skull, rendering me lifeless.  “The twenty fourth?”

“The day after my mother’s birthday celebration.”

“Your mother’s birthday…”  Everything was falling into place, and I was no closer to finding the truth than I had been ten years earlier.  The events were already in motion, the fuse lit.  The clock on the wall ticked like an armed explosive.

“Are you going to repeat everything I say?”

I graciously ignored the jibe.  “How can your father expect you to get married?  You’re only twenty-three.”  Things were different back then; Tilly had married at eighteen.  Was Nick ready to get married?  Did he want to get married?

“I know.  And he did not marry until he was nearly twenty seven.”

“That hardly seems fair.”  The word hypocrite swirled on my tongue, but I bit it back.  I didn’t know Nick’s father and could not claim to know his family’s circumstances.  Besides, I lived in the twenty-first century; it would be presumptuous of me to make such rash judgments.

“My mother insists my father was not serious in his threat, that he only wishes to see me as happy as he is.  His was a love match with my mother.”

“All the more reason to wait,” I rushed.

“Try and convince him of that fact.”

“How did your parents meet?”  I had always been curious, but the subject had never come up when I had been around Tilly.  Plus, I did not want to think about, let alone discuss Nick getting married.  As far as I was concerned he was unavailable.

“My father was betrothed to Lady Regina Smyth, Lord Smyth’s daughter.  A month before their wedding, my father caught her in the arms of another man.  He had been devastated, but my mother had appeared a week later, seemingly out of nowhere, and they instantly fell in love.”

One detail in the romantic story made my stomach tighten.  “The same family who had lost their home to your grandfather?”

“The very same.  I don’t believe she ever forgave my father for catching her, which makes no sense really.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I agreed.  An unfaithful daughter, a broken engagement, and a lost house; the combination of all three sounded a lot like motive for a fire that would eradicate the source of the Smyth’s apparent problems.

“And now I fear I may be tied to the same fate my father once was.”

“I’m sure she’s a bit old for you, Nick,” I said sarcastically.  For him to marry a woman old enough to be his mother was ludicrous at any point in history—wasn’t it?

“Her daughter isn’t.”

“Another Lady Smyth?”  How many Smyths were there?

“Lady Emily Smyth.”

Hearing her name made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  Again, it felt oddly like jealousy.  My vision blurred when my mind pictured Nick with the faceless woman.  She would be beautiful; he deserved someone beautiful.

“Surely someone else would be willing to marry you.”  Nick was handsome and charming and strong and… 

Willing to marry me?  You say it as if it is a horrible punishment for a woman.  Would marriage to me really be such a sentence?”

 “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

Nick shook his head and smiled sadly.  “At present, I have prospects for relationships, but none would be likely to end in marriage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you asking what I meant about the relationships or the results of said affairs?”

My blush made it clear that I knew what he was inappropriately implying.  “Why won’t they marry you?”

“I have no title.”

“So?”

He looked at me as though those two letters had been a curse.  Apparently my statement was almost as unacceptable.  “Equality is something we find ourselves striving toward here in 1902.  Granted, a title does not mean as much as it once did, but status still matters to most people.  My family has made our living through hard work and sweat; it has not traveled through our bloodlines.  The Daltons are considered new money.” 

“I think your way is more admirable than the other.”

He smiled sadly.  “Unfortunately, the majority does not agree.”

“Have you no prospects at all?”  Not that I wanted him to have options.  If he did get married I had a feeling his wife would have a problem with me staying in his bedroom or spending every waking moment with him.

Nick’s grin widened.  “How can I think of another woman when I look forward to spending all of my free time with you?”

My stomach fluttered.  I prayed he did not notice the flush creeping up my neck or the shortness of my breath.  A response escaped me. 

“Which brings us back to the reason you are here.  Until I met you, I did not think of marriage or of women in terms of something that would last.  And now my father has issued an ultimatum.  It matters not how contrived it may be.  In you, I have finally met someone with whom I have a connection and yet you don’t exist.  I’m obsessed with a woman who is not here.  How can I be expected to find someone in my own time that can outshine you?  But you will never be with me and I could never be with you.  The thought is maddening.  You’re here to remind me of what I will never have.”

“What is that?”

“You.”

“Nick, you don’t even know me.”

Our acquaintance had been brief, yet his words mimicked my thoughts.  Men had never interested me before Nick Dalton.  Even when he wasn’t around he was on my mind.  If I could imagine someone for myself, a partner who would return my love, I would have imagined the man in front of me.  Yet the being in front of me was even better than my wildest dreams could conjure; he was perfect. 

We had an otherworldly connection beyond the magical circumstances of our unattainable relationship.  There was a supernatural magnetism between us, drawing us toward one another.  However, the reflective barrier kept us a century apart

“But I do know you.  You are my sister’s best friend.  You have a vivid imagination and you always come up with the best games to play.  You don’t eat sweets and you cry a lot.”

“Those are Tilly’s opinions and memories.”  And they were true of the seven-year-old I had been, not the woman I had become. 

“Alright.  You’re brilliant although you think too much.  You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and it matters little to you that my family has made their own way in this world.”

He thought I was beautiful? 

All my life my mother had been my standard for beauty.  I wasn’t sure if other people had found me attractive; they had always seemed mildly disappointed to find out that Sylvia Franklyn Burns was my mother.  There really was no comparison with the legendary model.  On my own though… I suppose I was passably attractive when I was done up—a rare occurrence.  It was high time I started putting some effort toward my appearance.

When I didn’t say anything, Nick continued.  “You haunt me, Callista.  Yet I find myself welcoming the torture.”

The welcomed part took the sting out of being referred to as torture for the second time tonight.  When he finished I couldn’t find pretty words to explain my own feelings.  So I whispered what was on my mind, confessed what I felt in my heart.  “I know how you feel.”

Dream Manager

21 Mar

Throughout this self-publishing journey, I’ve found that when you begin pursuing your dreams, most people genuinely want to see you succeed.  Sure, there are some individuals who would rather you fall on your face, but they are a minority. 

If you’re going for it (whatever it may be), don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re floundering.  As with everything worthwhile, the road to your dream will be wrought with self-doubt and perilous pitfalls that require hard work, perseverance and patience to navigate.  However, if you surround yourself with a great support system, the struggle won’t be as lonely.

The vast majority of your peers and mentors want you to attain the goals that drive you to reach the farthest.  Those who witness your victory will begin to realize that their own personal dreams and aspirations are just as attainable.  The result?  Probably the most positive domino-effect in the history of mankind.

At my day job, I’ve been blessed with a brilliant Dream Manager.  His sole purpose at the company is to help facilitate employees’ dreams outside of the office.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough clearly-designated Dream Managers to assist the rest of the world’s dreamers.

I’m here to tell you that you can be a Dream Manager for someone else.  You don’t need a corporate-assigned title to help motivate those around you pursue their dreams. 

Urge others to reach for the stars; don’t be the one to take the light from their eyes.

I’m thankful for those who have chosen to help me achieve my dream and wish all the success in the world for those of you pursuing your own.

– Jenny

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Only two more days until the next installment of The Mirrors at Barnard Hall!  Haven’t had a chance to begin reading?  Click HERE

Cleanup on Page Five

19 Mar

Today I’d like to dispel a nasty rumor that appears to have plagued the publishing world since the beginning of books: Your editor is not your own personal janitor.

It is not his/her job to clean up the mess you’ve made in your manuscript.  The more errors you make, the more revisions required.  The more revisions required, the higher the potential for additional errors and typos that may not be reviewed as closely before your work goes to print. 

If grammar isn’t your strong suit, have someone you know—like a former English teacher or favorite professor—preview your manuscript for errors before you move forward with a professional editor.  Otherwise, your editor will spend the majority of his/her time fixing silly mistakes instead of focusing on deeper issues that may be present throughout the story. 

When editing/proofreading your own manuscript, I’ve found it’s best to complete no more than a chapter or two in one focused session.  Otherwise, you’re liable to read the story instead of proofread it; text-weary eyes are more apt to glance over glaring errors.  Spend an exorbitant amount of time with just one page—it’ll pay off in the end.

I hashed through my manuscript with a fifth-grade grammar manual and a red pen before handing it off to my editor.  I also sent a copy to one of my favorite English teachers, a woman I’d credit with providing me the bulk of my knowledge of grammar, punctuation and aversion to words like “a lot” and “thing.” 

Yesterday, my editor returned the file, along with multiple suggested revisions and additions.  In the weeks to come, I’m going to be focusing on making those changes in order to hand over a [nearly] perfect copy to the printing press.  (My hope is that this task will take my mind off the fact that there are only 12 days left for me to raise funds with my Kickstarter  project)

 

As a completely unrelated side-note, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to the roommate.  Let’s chase some dreams.