Spark for a Story
Hello friends and readers. Welcome to Soul Mate Publishing blog. I have another post to contribute to the page. In the past, we discussed inspirations for a story, garnered from a newspaper clipping, a report on television, an incident happening in the family, or even a neighbor.
With Hurricane Harvey smashing into the coast line of Texas dispersing havoc in its wake, how could I pass up the opportunity to mention hurricanes? In fact, the third book published by Soul Mate Publishing was inspired by a memory sparked by Hurricane Ike.
I wrote a skit (names changed of course) bringing the incident to life. Below, I’m including a portion of that skit. Sara Beth is the one on the left with brown hair, a nosey little thing.
Tires crunched in the gravel drive at the side of the house. Five year old Sara Beth slammed the drawer shut and jumped down. She streaked to the living-room in mind of her mama’s warning to never open the door to a stranger. She was alone in the house. Her mama went shopping and intended to pick up her older sister from school, but her daddy should be out in the workshop.
Scooting past the deep burgundy sofa, the stuffed armchair, the stone fireplace and the piano, she peeked outside. The wooden door stood open to let in a soft breeze, but the screen with the iron scrollwork was latched.
She viewed a tall man, his shadow steadily creeping towards her with his every heavy step until it swallowed her up. With his back to the sun, bright light outlined his lanky frame and shaded his features.
Wanting to scream, to run, to escape, she stood rooted to the spot, helpless. He was a grownup, not to be trusted, a stranger as best she could tell. She didn’t recognize this man wearing rumpled jeans and a baggy shirt. With his red nose and eyes fresh from weeping, he fisted his hands, opened and then shut his fingers again.
He turned away before whirling back, still standing on the concrete porch with the white pillars holding up the roof. He studied her for endless minutes.
Finally, he spoke his voice deep and muffled, “Is your daddy home?”
Sara Beth blew out a breath and grinned. She knew that voice. He was Mr. Clutch. She struggled to loosen the latch until it popped opened. The screen door creaked at the joints when she pushed on it. “Hi, Mr. Clutch.”
A booming laugh sounded behind her. She twirled around. Her daddy, Mr. Travis Dayton, stood in the archway between the living and dining rooms.
Travis moved forward and pulled Sara Beth to his side. “Clutch is his nickname.”
Travis stretched out his hand. “Welcome Joe. I heard your truck in the drive.”
Joe shook his hand. “I need to talk to you.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets leaning back on the heels of his tennis shoes. “I got something to tell you. It’s important.” He shuffled his feet and glanced at Sara Beth.
Sara Beth sensed this was the time to melt into the background. She wouldn’t go play, even though her daddy pointed her in the direction of the archway and patted her back. Moving slowly forward on her way out of the opening, she quickly slipped behind the over-stuffed chair by the fireplace. Crouching, ever so quiet, still as a mouse, and on the alert to every word uttered by the grown-ups, she listened, her favorite thing to do—besides searching around in her mother’s belongings.
“Set. Let’s talk,” Travis invited.
She paid close attention to Joe’s words so she could understand what he said. Mama had told her his voice sounded so muffled because he had a cleft palate—a hole at the back of his mouth. Sara Beth couldn’t see a hole, but he did have a funny-looking lip all snarled up in the middle. She could see it through his mustache even from her hiding place.
Joe sank into a chair and propped his elbows on his knees. He dropped his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking. Finally, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m in bad trouble.”
“Let’s hear it then.” Travis settled back in his chair, his long legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles.
Joe swallowed. Sara Beth could tell. When she peeked around the edge of the chair, his Adam’s-apple bobbed up and down before he spoke.
“Me and some buddies went camping at Galveston. We pitched our tents on the beach way out so we wouldn’t disturb nobody. We partied all week, swimming, picnicking, and howling at the moon.”
Sara Beth blinked her eyes in disbelief. Only a coyote howled at the moon, not people. She didn’t understand, but she knew about partying. She went to a birthday party once. How long was a whole week anyway?
Joe made a funny sound in his throat, like a groan. “A couple of the guys brought some wild women. I brought one to the party as well.”
Sara Beth’s imagination worked overtime trying to picture a wild woman. Later, she’d ask her daddy if he knew any wild women. She wanted to see one. Joe stopped talking and she peered at him until he started again.
“We didn’t do much sleeping, but plenty drinking, and carousing all night.” Joe rolled his eyes, and his restless gaze darted around the room.
Sara Beth ducked completely behind the chair again and covered her legs with her pink skirt. Drawing her knees up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs and didn’t move except to take a few shallow breaths. She heard his feet hit the floor with a thump. Cautiously, she peeked around the edge of the overstuffed chair.
Joe paced across her mama’s best carpet, the big one with the roses on the border. Back and forth, back and forth, his hands in his pockets again.
Halting and with tears running down his cheeks, Joe stammered, his voice pitched higher, “When I woke up this morning, she was dead.”
Sara Beth held back a gasp. She knew what dead meant. Her granny had died and went to Heaven. Did he mean his wild woman went to Heaven this morning, too?
Travis didn’t say a word for a long minute. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Joe gestured wildly. “You don’t understand. She died in the night.” He gritted his teeth. “I didn’t know what to do. Me and the guys talked it over and decided to bury her. We dug a grave in the sand and put her in it. I left her there.”
A tension filled silence blanketed the room, heavy, uncomfortable. Sara Beth was afraid to move, to swallow, or even breathe. Everything seemed louder than usual. She could even hear a bird singing in the chinaberry tree outside the window. The clock on the mantle ticked loudly making every minute longer.
Travis’s voice, deep, and very stern rang out. “What do you mean you buried her on the beach?”
“We put her in the ground and covered her up,” Joe said and shrugged. “We didn’t know what else to do.”
“Man!” Travis shook his head and straightened in his chair. “You should have informed the police.” He stared across at Joe. “Are you certain she was dead? She may have been merely unconscious.”
“No. She was dead,” Joe insisted. The flare of the sun streaked through the window across his face, his expression wild, scary.
“How do you know that?” Travis’ voice rang with skepticism, firm, and filled with authority.
Joe stopped pacing and stared at Travis, distracted as if viewing the woman again. “She was cold as ice to the touch, and she wasn’t breathing. No pulse either. I tried to bring her to, but I couldn’t wake her up.” Joe hung his head. “The other guys made me stop. Said she was gone.” He held out his hands palms up, defeated. “That was all.”
“I say again, you should have gone to the authorities. Why didn’t you?”
Joe glared at Travis. “Cause I might get blamed. I brought her to the party.”
“For Pete sakes, Joe, if she died in her sleep, you weren’t to blame for that.” Travis raised his chin and studied Joe. “Did you do something to her to cause some injury?”
The grim tones of the men’s voices made Sara Beth afraid. She wanted to get up and run away, but she couldn’t. Her daddy would be pretty mad if he found out she’d been listening. She held her breath for a second, slowly exhaling.
“No, I tell you. She was just dead when I woke up.” Joe retraced his steps and stared out the window at the front lawn, or maybe the chinaberry tree. “The other guys helped me bury her. None of ‘em wanted to go to the cops, either.”
After a long interval, Travis suggested, “Even now, you should go to the police.”
Joe twisted around to face Travis, his hands in his pockets jingling coins with a nervous twitch. “It’s too late for that. I’d go to jail. Maybe never get out.”
Sara Beth studied Joe’s face. His features were sort of crumpled and sad, but determined, stubborn even. Her daddy couldn’t make him listen. Sara Beth wanted to shake her head, but remembered not to call notice to her hiding spot.
She sighed under her breath. Joe was willful, like her sometimes. She glanced at her daddy. She’d seen that look before. It was the same one he wore when trying to reason with her or her mama—after some of their little talks.
Travis took a deep breath through his teeth. “Her family will need to be notified. What are you going to tell them?”
With a jerk, Joe raised both hands up into the air. “Nothing. She don’t have any family, least ways, not around here. No kids, no mate, no relatives as far as I know. If she did, she didn’t say.”
Travis stared at him. “Do you know anything about her?”
“Not much. I met her in a bar. She said she liked flowers. Since Marigolds were her favorite, I could call her Marigold.” Joe shrugged. “That’s all I know.”
Travis edged to the front of his seat, his voice urgent, “What if I call and report the death for you?”
Joe stared at Travis. “And what will you say? Someone told you a woman died on the beach. You think the police will be interested in some drifter from parts unknown?” He shook his head. “No siree, they won’t.”
“Well, calm yourself and set down. You make me nervous with your pacing. I’ll put the coffeepot on.”
On his way to the kitchen, Travis must have caught sight of the ruffle on her pink dress. “Sara Beth. Come out here, young lady.”
Slowly crawling out from behind the chair, she bumped the side-table making the ivory lamp shade tremble. She stood before her daddy with her hands gripped behind her back and her head down.
“Sara Beth, go to your room.” He pointed his finger, his arm long and stiff.
She dared a peek at his face. His features were stern. Maybe his eyebrows were scrunched together because he was mad. She couldn’t tell. Turning away, she slowly shuffled across the dining-room floor to the hall.
Years later Sara Beth lived through Hurricane Ike, a devastating storm, wide, intense, mowing down communities in Galveston, Texas. When the cleaning up and reconstruction started, a crew of men discovered a woman’s skeleton at a construction site on the beach. The authorities reported the bones had been in the ground for over fifty years. Marigold! Sara Beth readily jumped to that conclusion.
That was the spark for
A Lady’s Vanishing Choices.
Bethany Ann Littleton pulled on the reins, bringing the gig to a halt, and gazed about at the peaceful scene. Silence, blessed silence, blanketed the forest, but the serenity surrounding her did little to stem the tide of angry tears slipping down her cheeks unchecked. Uncle Arthur would have her hide if he returned and discovered her absence, especially after taking the gig without permission.
She didn’t care. Even a beating would be worth it to escape Aunt Gertrude’s sharp tongue ringing a peel over her head. She clenched her hands into fists, finally exhaling a long sigh. Maggie, the closest thing she had to a mother figure, would scold her for behavior unworthy of a lady. She would advise her to dismiss her sulks. Don’t wallow in the dismals.
Dashing her tears away before climbing out of the gig, she strolled into the trees. She picked a few wild flowers, sniffing their slight fragrance, and enjoyed the opportunity to linger, if that was her want.
The clatter of a thud and scrape against the ground reached her ears. What on earth? Alert now, she strained to listen. Again the thud and scrape echoed in a steady rhythm. She recognized the noise of a shovel being plied. Such a sound deep in the forest instantly announced something unusual, even sinister and dangerous. The hairs on back of her neck stood on end and she froze in place. She was alone, vulnerable. Discovery of her presence could herald a ruined reputation perhaps even sending her into actual peril. She shivered. Why had she allowed vexation and self-pity to drive her to act on such a reckless impulse?
Holding her breath, she inched forward ever so quietly and crouched behind a screen of bushes. Alarm curled down her spine, but the urge to discover the source of the sound pushed her forward. Peeking through the foliage, she viewed a small clearing with a mound of freshly turned dirt piled in the center. A man flung another scoop full onto the heap and continued to dig. What could possibly be his purpose? The odor of moist soil reached Bethany, reminding her of her situation, alone and deep in the woods. She recalled the old adage about curiosity and the cat. She caught her breath. The cat died. Nevertheless, she couldn’t drag herself away.
The stranger stopped digging, lifted his head and surveyed the area with a sweeping gaze. Listening intently, he checked beneath the surrounding trees. After several seconds, he dropped his shovel and headed to the edge of the glade. He passed so close to her position, he could have easily detected her presence with a quick look.
Ceasing to move or even blink, Bethany held her breath, fearing the sound might alert him to her presence. She couldn’t force her gaze from the man. Every detail imprinted on her memory, sharp and indelible. The tip of something yellow protruded from the pocket of his hunting vest. He wore a fine lawn shirt, expensive, normally owned by the gentry and nobility. A dark cap, pulled over his hair, obscured his eyes and upper face.
He stopped beside his horse only a short distance away. Until this moment, she’d been totally unaware of the animal tethered to a tree not far from her hiding spot. She placed her hand against her chest to still the hammering of her heart. The horse stomped and snorted when the man removed a bundle from its back. Why hadn’t she noticed the blasted animal before?
Could she slip away without detection when he returned to his digging or should she remain concealed until he finished whatever he intended to do? She clenched her teeth. How devastating to know self-pity and a bout of ill humor had brought her to this pass.
The digger turned. In a panic at the threat he presented, cold sweat beaded her upper lip. She didn’t wish to discover what he intended to do next, but she couldn’t drag her gaze away.
He peered around suspiciously, surveying the area again, before striding back to the dig site with the blanket-draped roll over his shoulder. Bethany’s stomach churned while she watched the stranger dump the object on the ground. His guarded movements alone proclaimed he had a nefarious purpose. Her imagination ran wild with speculation about the contents of the roll, and terror gripped her. Regardless of what was in the blanket, the necessity for a secret disposal deep in the woods told its own tale. A lump caught in her throat. It was time to run. No…no, don’t run. He might hear.
The man glanced around again, searching, probing the area. Alert and tense, he seemed to listen for a long minute.
Horrified, she crouched frozen in place, her gaze never wavering from the man. The taste of fear coated her tongue, coppery and disgusting. Did he sense her stare or her panic even from this distance? She squeezed her eyes shut and ceased to breathe for an eternity…waiting. Finally, she heard him heave another shovel-full of soil into the hole.
Calm. She must gain control. Patting her skirts where her pistol rested in a deep pocket, she shuddered at the mere thought of killing another human. Nevertheless, a sense of relief washed over her. She had a way to defend herself if called upon to do so, but it was still best to slip away, if possible.
Bethany forced her limbs to move. Her pulse pounded in her throat with every step. She inched back slowly, careful not to snap a twig or rustle a leaf. She gulped shallow breaths, trying to remain quiet.
Although she continued to hear the thump of each shovel-full of dirt when it hit the ground, time seemed to have stopped. Each minute stretched into hours with each step, or so it seemed to her. When she could no longer hear the digging, she finally glanced over her shoulder. Did she actually glimpse a yellow scarf or was that merely a sunbeam piercing the forest? Panicked anew, she could hardly breathe when she stepped out onto the rutted lane.
“No. This can’t be happening,” she whispered. The horse and gig had disappeared. She came close to a swoon before shaking away the fog closing round her. The vapors won’t help. Think. With the wind of the approaching storm, a branch had blown down across the lane, most likely frightening the stupid creature. The horse had somehow broken the small brush where she’d tied the reins. She glanced both ways down the narrow lane and failed to catch sight of the wayward horse or the gig.
She noted the tracks led off in the opposition direction of Birdelwood Manor. Nothing else for it, she had to follow. She dared not return to the manor without the worthless beast and the gig. Trudging after the animal, she longed to curse.
Her anger alleviated a bit of her fear, but she couldn’t resist the urge to glance over her shoulder again. Nothing there, except the quiet of the forest before a brewing storm.
After she traveled only a few miles, she spied the gig standing in the middle of the lane where the horse slowly lipped a few blades of grass between the ruts. Quickly catching the reins, she climbed aboard and wiped the dampness off her forehead. Tired and so upset she could hardly think, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder again. She prayed the sinister stranger hadn’t caught a glimpse of her. If he had, he might come after her.
Whipping the reins to urge her horse forward, she winced as the gig scraped the side of a tree growing almost in the path. Bethany wanted to be well out of the ragged edge of the forest and this nightmare before the storm broke.
Thus the spark for Bethany’s story. She didn’t tell the authorities either, partly because the closest one was eight long miles away.
Thanks for taking time to read my blog post. I hope you enjoyed my drama describing the true incident. I’ll see you soon.
For more information about my novels, please visit my website http://www.wareezewoodson.com