Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Pastor Larsen and the RatReverend Martin Luther Larsen—highly regarded, completely ethical, genuine and sincere—has dedicated his life to the pastorate. Now, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, a dangerous and intriguing complication has slipped into his life: Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

Excerpt:

She had answered the door shoeless, wearing a close-fitting black dress and no makeup. Her black hair was just long enough to bounce when she let him in the front door and immediately turned toward the kitchen table, where packets of documents and possessions were stacked. He assumed she was going to hand him the items she had promised him at the funeral and bid him farewell, until he saw the magnum of red wine and the two glasses beside it. First he thought he would have to turn down the offered drink, and then he wondered if perhaps he should not have assumed. Perhaps she was expecting other company. She sat down in one of the two chairs at the table and crossed her bare legs.

“Can you sit down for a minute? It was nice of you to come all the way out here to pick these things up, Pastor Larsen,” she said.

He pulled out the chair and sat down. The daughter sat in the one he had always used in past visits. It was strange to him to sit in the chair Joan Celeste sat in when he visited her, where she graciously offered him crumb cake and lemonade.

“I came out here to Alton a lot, actually. Your mother was very dear to me. That is, she was just as nice and hospitable as she could be. And I always really appreciated that. I enjoyed coming to visit her.” He smiled. “Of course you mother very faithfully showed up every Sunday. It’s a long way from Alton to Manchester. But she never missed. When someone comes that far every week, you want to show your appreciation.”

Ange Celeste stared at him. It was a bit disconcerting to Larsen. Did she not believe that he visited often, or did she doubt his sentiments? Did she—perhaps cynical about church life or even an outright disbeliever—look down on the sort of pastoral relationship he described? The unexpected or incomprehensible reactions of extremely attractive women had always troubled him, made him feel like an unappealing buffoon.

“She liked you.”

Her words and the way she spoke them surprised him. It was almost like a pronouncement or a verdict Joan had handed down for her daughter to share with Larsen in her absence. And there was something about the tone she used. It was wiser and perhaps more intimate than he expected.

“Well. I liked her.”

“She told me about conning you into going to the fall festival here in Alton. And on a Saturday, no less. And she told me about your favorite wine.”

Without asking, she turned and grasped the magnum in two hands. Larsen’s mouth dropped. He stammered, started to protest that he was working, had other appointments to keep that Friday afternoon and could not drink. The daughter paid no attention to him, though, as she poured the glasses full.

“A nice Nebbiolo from Verità Wino, your favorite Italian winery.”

“. . . I really shouldn’t.”

She had anticipated his reluctance and brushed it aside. “One glass, Pastor Larsen. Only 12% alcohol. Undetectable.” She picked up the glasses and handed one to him. “A toast to my mother, the divine Joan Celeste.”

He laughed, somewhat anxiously, as they touched their glasses. “To Joan.”

The wine was as he remembered it: rosy and slightly tart with a lingering mellow aftertaste. And with the first taste he felt himself begin to relax. The second and third sips did not disappoint.

“I did not know Verità Wino produced a magnum size of their Nebbiolo.”

She looked at the bottle, as if seeing it for the first time. “Well I guess they do.” She smiled at him. “Mother said it was ironic that you liked this wine.”

He gazed at her. “Seriously? Why did she say that?”

“Because you are so much like it.”

“What?”

“The Nebbiolo grape takes an exceptionally long time from the moment it blooms until it’s ready to pluck.” She smiled. “And once you do skin it and start the fermentation process, it takes a very long time before . . . it’s ready for the bottle.”

He stared at her oval face, cream-colored complexion, dark almond eyes, pert nose and small mouth. She bore only the faintest resemblance to her mother, whom he had only known in her 70’s. How old was this daughter? Forty perhaps, at most? Was she a late-life child?

“What does that have to do with me?”

She had finished her glass and poured another. “I guess Mother thought you were a work-in-progress.” She grabbed his glass in his hand and steadied it as she brought the neck of the magnum onto the lip and filled it again.

“No thanks. . . . Uh. What did your mother mean, that I’m a ‘work-in-progress?’ Was I not the pastor she needed me to be?”

“I seriously doubt that, Pastor Larsen. . . . Sounds like you worry about that kind of thing though.” She took another drink.

He thought about it. “Every pastor worth his salt wants to be the shepherd his—or her—congregation needs.”

“How politically correct of you.”

He laughed. “Heaven knows I try, Ms. Celeste.”

“Ange”

“Ang?”

“No. Say it right. It’s pronounced ‘auhnjj.’ It’s French.”

“Ange.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Ange, I take it you don’t have a great deal of use for church life and customs.”

Her head tipped to one side. “I don’t do religion the way my mother did. That doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual.”

***

Bio:

Lazarus Barnhill’s titles appear in several Indigo Sea Press genres. Among his first novels to be published was the police procedural The Medicine People. Later, co-authored with Sally Jones, he released Come Home to Me Child. His work is characterized by the unexpected twist and turn, by crisp dialogue and unpredictable endings.

Only $.99 on Kindle today! https://www.amazon.com/Pastor-Larsen-Rat-Lazarus-Barnhill-ebook/dp/B01GGIKF4A

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Flower Child by Sheila Deeth — Excerpt 2

Blurb for Flower Child: The story of a grieving mother and her unborn child.

When Megan miscarries her first pregnancy it feels like the end of everything; instead it’s the start of a curious between the grieving mother and an unborn child who hovers somewhere between ghost and angel. Angela, Megan’s “little angel,” has character and dreams all her own, friends who may or may not be real angels, and a little brother who brings hope to her mother’s world. But Angela’s dream-world has a secret and one day Angela might learn how to be real.

Excerpt from Flower Child:

This excerpt from Flower Child takes place as Megan, delightedly pregnant for the first time, realizes something might be going wrong.

I carried her inside me. I watched her grow. I imagined a future, school, college, marriage; had it all planned out. I hoped one day to be mother of the bride. Do you think that’s crazy? I’d been pregnant only three-four months or so; only just begun to believe I could feel the babe move. And then I woke in the dark of night to a pain that shouldn’t be there. It’s too soon, I shouted to myself. I told myself turn over and sleep and hoped the growing ache would go away; convinced myself it was just a new mom’s panic making me neurotic. It was bound to be okay.

As the pain grew worse I told myself it’s your own stupid fault, imagining a future for a child not yet born. It’s your punishment for wishing her life away. I believed it was true.

The night was dark. The sound of traffic was muffled through layers of curtains and bushes and air. The whisper of insects was almost still—that empty, midnight place. And the fluttering in my belly felt like razor blades. A sticky dampness pooled between my legs; my baby’s life-blood draining away.

In the end I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. I rolled and screamed in agony at the motion; reached out for David where he lay beside me, totally, irrevocably asleep. I remember his shoulder was bare—summer’s heat—slick and soft against my hand; the shoulder I clung to when we made love; the shoulder that leaned against my cheek while we made a baby.

I hear my voice saying his name still in dreams, heard its strangled awkwardness. “David. I think it’s the baby. I think something’s wrong.” But David slept on. I prodded and poked him then ‘til at last I’d forced him from his dreams. He grunted, sat up, something I wasn’t quite sure I could do, and switched on the light over my head. I remember its blinding, clinical whiteness, as if he’d magicked me from our comfortable bed to a hospital ward. Closing my eyes, I saw red.

“What’s wrong, Megan?” David’s voice whispers still in my memory. His breath blew the hairs like fragile tendrils of loving over my ear but I felt no desire. My eyes leaked wetly on the pillow and I couldn’t raise my head. “Megan. What?”

***

About the author: Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has a Bachelors and Masters in mathematics from Cambridge University, England. Now living in the States with her husband and son, she enjoys reading,writing, drawing, telling stories, running a local writers’ group, and meeting her neighbors’ dogs on the green.

Sheila describes herself as a Mongrel Christian Mathematician. Her short stories, book reviews and articles can be found in VoiceCatcher 4, Murder on the Wind, Poetic Monthly, Nights and Weekends, the Shine Journal and Joyful Online. Besides her Gypsy Shadow ebooks, Sheila has several self-published works available from Amazon and Lulu, and a full-length novel under contract to come out next year.

Find her on her website: http://www.sheiladeeth.com
or find her books at: http://sheiladeeth.weebly.com

Click here to read an interview with: Sheila Deeth

Flower Child by Sheila Deeth — Excerpt 1

Blurb for Flower Child: The story of a grieving mother and her unborn child; When Megan miscarries her first pregnancy it feels like the end of everything; instead it’s the start of a curious between the grieving mother and an unborn child who hovers somewhere between ghost and angel. Angela, Megan’s “little angel,” has character and dreams all her own, friends who may or may not be real angels, and a little brother who brings hope to her mother’s world. But Angela’s dream-world has a secret and one day Angela might learn how to be real.

Excerpt from Flower Child:

My mother swore she’d never lie to me. The day I asked where babies come from she told me, beautifully I’m sure, how they grow and mature from a seed planted by Daddy in Mommy’s tummy. Unfortunately I heard the word “seed” and imagination took over. I furnished a field, somewhere between the Pearly Gates and a farmer’s fences on solid earth. Angels stood guard, checking marriage certificates—since I knew some babies were born out of wedlock, I imagined devils too, with a thriving business selling fakes. Meanwhile one special angel, the baby’s future guardian of course, would officiate while the precious seed was gently laid to rest. God would water. Earth and angels would nourish. And in time the happy couple would return, cutting the cord that held the child to the ground and raising her up—a sister for me!

I never had a sister, of course, but I was sure she existed. I used to imagine her running between the plants, green tendrils of flowers in her hair, forever tethered to that field, unborn, unable to be born. I used to think my parents didn’t care, and if only they’d just go visit one day perhaps they’d find her there.

Not that I spent my whole life mourning those siblings I never had; that’s not what I mean. I just liked to complain. But I was a happy enough kid most of the time; grew up in a happy home; had a Dad who didn’t die ‘til I was sixteen, so I wasn’t exactly orphaned or anything; and Mom’s still around. I played with friends; scrambled through forests and flowers, free as a bird, like kids can’t do now; I read books; I went to school and I grew up.

My husband David was a fellow math student I met at college lectures. I went out with him for a while and we got married after graduation—all the usual things; Uncle Malcolm escorted me down the aisle to the sound of Here Comes the Bride; and we both got jobs.

Happily married, contentedly productive in my chosen occupation—writing computer programs—but sadly unproductive in that manner husbands and wives, and potential grandparents, tend to hope for, I trundled along, one day much like another, and lived for my dreams. One day I found myself pregnant and glowing, only to be totally devastated short weeks later when the unborn baby died. I slept and screamed and wept for her, my little girl, and drove my husband to distraction. Then, in a moment’s incautious clarity, I was cured. What happened was I found those childhood dreams weren’t really so far from the truth, and I don’t care if you don’t believe me. Mom thinks I’m mad, Uncle Malcolm tries to humor me, and David just pretends not to hear a word I say. But there are more things in heaven and hell than human eyes and ears can tell, and I first stopped crying the day I met my angel, Angela.

Angela

My earliest memories are a mixture of red and green—red for sleeping; green for awake. Nighttime was when I heard dream voices call and oceans roar. Words weren’t something I understood, too early then I guess, but love was sweet. Sometimes she sang to me in her summer’s light while that darker voice, warm as the liquid I bathed in, whispered its bass.

The roar, I guessed after a while, was just the sound of fluid surrounding me. It tasted salty sweet and filled my eyes and mouth and ears. My body would move sometimes, pushing wetly against those cushioned walls that held firm, yet yielded, all around. Then, once in a while, something would lean into me, rocking me with that voice of love. “Feel that? She kicked.” The words carried delight in their singsong tone; I’d wriggle again and push against the pressure, kicking I guessed, whatever that meant, feeling the weight of affection pressed against elbow, ankle or knee.

In the green of waking up I imagined my dreamtime voices belonged to heroes, mystical guardians of my fate. I longed to see them, connecting their sound with the shadows that sometimes swam through the glow of my growing. I learned to reach out when they were close, waiting for that touch, that sound of joy, wondering if there were a way to forever hold such pleasures and more. But then the green would surround me again, its milk scented with hay. Leaves formed a sweet cocoon to shield my eyes from sun’s red rays. Angels, white as light, trod paths and cleared the scrub away, keeping insects that buzzed and hummed safely distant from newly formed souls. Warmth and dampness poured over me, pumped through my veins while tiny limbs budded fingers, legs and arms, and bending head. In the real world I thought I’d grow up to be an angel; in the dream-world I’d rather be man, or woman, or hero.

The leaves cocooned me in eternal green while dream-walls filtered red. But the angels were bright enough to shine with their own light, human shapes that wandered between us like shadows in reverse. They were my keepers of the gates…

It started, the end or the beginning—I’m not sure which—while I was asleep, red warmth and people-sounds. The ocean’s roar grew violent and angry around me, changed its shape to waterfall. My body jerked in slumber as fluids flushed. My river gone dry, I struggled against my cage and started to fight.

The lights of my red world grew scary then, viciously bright. Something whiter than angels made brittle images on the air. Voices were sharp and fearful, mother singing but the tune all cracked like there was a hole in her heart, beating ragged and sharp. “My baby has gone down the plughole…” she laughed, her body, me, quaking and bent. I didn’t know what a baby or plughole meant, so I simply stored the sounds in memory.

When Mother fell silent, her heartbeat slowing, her thrashing flesh finding rest, then my own struggles dimmed and I fell asleep. Everything up to then felt like a dream, but somehow sleeping didn’t feel like falling awake. My body was sliding, squeezing, fighting its pain, but I had no control and no desire to control it. Flickers of green trickled over me, as though I were trying to rise, but the nightmare held tight.

The world went black at the last and there was silence for a while. Somewhere in the distance the mother-voice cried while Father soothed with words like heavy sap in the burgeoning dawn, but I wasn’t really there. Just a memory of listening, of feeling, seeing nothing, making no sound.

Later I tumbled to the ground and felt the soft sweet earth, dark crumbles flaking under my hands. I tucked my fingers into the cool and damp. Stickiness felt like comfort in my palm. Sunshine was warm, filled with life and new growth, and it pleased me. I hadn’t liked this fighting dream, so instead I was glad to wake up in a field and know I belonged to trees, even if leaves weren’t holding me.

I remember an angel bending over me. His face—her face; it doesn’t really matter with angels—was filled with concern. His eyes were pale like fragmented clouds and hair swirled white against sky. Warm breath blew over me, tickling my nostrils and tempting with the sweetness of flowers. Then a sun-white hand reached down and cupped my head, lifting me up so the world could take shape around me. Earth, stems, leaves and sky. Dark ground and petals too, pale roses in the gloom.

He settled me on a cushion of green and coiled the twisting cord around my feet, then sang to me. I think birds gathered to his call, but perhaps imagination’s embellishing the tale. I think the insects hummed a steady bass beat to his tune. But the only thing I know for sure is I fell asleep, a deep and dreamless, seamless, meaningless sleep. No red night-light, no voices and no pain; I was safe and secure, wrapped in my nest of leaves ‘til it was time to wake again.

***

About the author: Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has a Bachelors and Masters in mathematics from Cambridge University, England. Now living in the States with her husband and son, she enjoys reading,writing, drawing, telling stories, running a local writers’ group, and meeting her neighbors’ dogs on the green.

Sheila describes herself as a Mongrel Christian Mathematician. Her short stories, book reviews and articles can be found in VoiceCatcher 4, Murder on the Wind, Poetic Monthly, Nights and Weekends, the Shine Journal and Joyful Online. Besides her Gypsy Shadow ebooks, Sheila has several self-published works available from Amazon and Lulu, and a full-length novel under contract to come out next year.

Find her on her website: http://www.sheiladeeth.com
or find her books at: http://sheiladeeth.weebly.com