Saturday, March 31, 2012

For "Diablo II" players: A Message from Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara

From Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara.

Dear MOMI (Mistress of My Immortality):

If any of your readers play "Diablo II" on in hardcore (once a charactor dies, it can't be played again), ladder, (something you'd have to play to understand), I have an account called Bryony with the names of charactors in the book.

If anyone who plays sees a Druid by the name of Ed Calkins John Simmons, Kimberly, Masters, or Bryony...its me! Also if there's a game call Bryony, I've created it. (my little advertisement).

Just a warning: If you PK (player killer) me the limrick about you will live longer that you will!

Friday, March 30, 2012

"The Vampire" by John Stagg

Leslie Ormandy's Simply Supernatural site is by far the most well-rounded site I've seen for traditional vampire stuff, especially poetry. This piece I'm posting today, from 1810, is a mixture of prose and poetry, for its opening lines deliver a variety of vampire beliefs before delving into the story, which Stagg tells in verse.

Ormandy's summary is thus: Gertrude notes her husband Herman is getting paler and weaker every day. She finds out from him that his dead fried Sigismund is nightly drinking his blood.

Read at

When finished, check out the site's rich index of topics. If you can't find something interesting, you don't like vampires.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Bryony" the Audio Book: Session Two, Cookbook Update and Another Signing

Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood!

The Bryony audio book team, Heather King and Alby Odum from Daniel's Window ( and me, met on Tuesday evening at the University of St. Francis in Joliet.

Heather and Alby recorded and edited three more chapters for a total of six, so Alby set a three-chapter goal for each Tuesday night, even though we did go over by half an hour. Even then, he was game for a fourth, but Heather promptly vetoed that suggestion. Wonder if Alby'll still feel the same way when we get into the really long chapters, but we shall see.

Chapter Five: Blood Relatives took the longest, with several re-recordings of Grandma Marchellis' crying, "Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood!" until we were convinced Heather would be screaming it in her sleep. Heather had done a beautiful job reading the passage the first time, but, sound-wise, it wasn't recording right, but a bit of experimenting with pitch and volume perfected it.

I listened attentively to first audio drafts and was on hand for pronunciation consultation (Galien Marseilles, Bryony's father; Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott, which Heather double-checked online, and Eircheard of Eircheard's Emporium, of which I hadn't a clue, so Heather looked up old Gaelic pronunciations and, I think, winged it).

During the editing, I paid less strict attention and used that time to scan what I hope is the final formatting of the offical Bryony cookbook: Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from "Bryony," a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties (, which will (hopefully) be available in another month or so. I noted any errors for an upcoming meeting with the cookbook's designer, Serena Diosa, author of the Tinkey's Goldfish children's book series.

The Bryony cookbook contains recipes for all the 1970 and Victorian food references mentioned in Bryony, everything from homemade pizza and boiled calves head, along with snippets of story information to root the reader in Bryony's timeline. Unlike many cookbooks, the recipes in this one are arranged by the events in Bryony, rather than by topic (ie. main dishes, desserts, etc).

In addition, my business manager scheduled another book signing for the afternoon of April 21, at Frugal Muse Books in Darien ( She had asked the manager if he had read the book and would be willing to write a review, but couldn't locate a copy (Hurray!), so she's bringing him a fresh supply. I'll provide details about the signing as I get them.

Finally, a little, fun trivia. The beginning of Chapter 6, A Job Well Done, reads thus:

   Melissa fought back yawns in American History class. Who cared what Sir Francis Drake had claimed for England? She’d bet Ann felt bored, too.

When we began editing that chapter, Heather said, "I care. I'm descended from Sir Francis Drake."

Now that is cool.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's the Challenges that Form

Most of us like  to hear praise and encouragement; there's no doubt about it; and most of us enjoy standing on the pinnacle and gazing down the mountain at the conquered rocky slope, and I am no exception.

However, it's the dark, solitary, teeth-gnashing, gut-wrenching, clawing-through-challenges--despite, doubt, pain, loneliness, weariness, failure, etc.--that press, shape, and mold us into the people we are continually becoming and striving to be.

So when I encounter those circumstances in my life--and I have experienced one or two--and I'm uncertain whether I can or should keep plowing resistant furrows, and assuming the task is in the will of God for me, I grab a symbolic looksie into the mirror and ask myself one question: How badly do I want this?

It's no secret I'm a technological and software dummy. During the early editing and formatting stages with Bryony, shifting text, and the perpetual resetting page breaks, was hugely frustrating for me (an understatement).

One night, after I had already missed bedtime by hours and would greet the day by delivering mountains of papers wayyyyy too soon, and my flaccid attempts to halt the shifting again failed, I absolutely cracked.

Clutching handfulls of manuscript, I flew down the ladder, screaming, "It's wronnnnnggggggggg," to anyone in earshot. Timothy and Rebekah were hanging out in the kitchen and talking, but paused to gaze at me as if I had gone insane.

After a few minutes of ranting, raving, foot-stomping, thumping Timothy's back, and a spewing of colorful language, I marched back up the ladder and began resetting page breaks (Keep in mind this was a six hundred page manuscript). Rebekah was right behind me with a stern, "Go to bed!"

And my equally terse reply was, "Not until I make a dent." And I stoically reset another break.

Months later, I shared that scene with my book designer, Serena Diosa, and she, bless her, laughed heartily and offered to show me a simple technique to prevent shifting text. What an insightful moment. If only I'd had that information at the beginning, I could have avoided hours of mistakes. Yet, the incident was a valuable one for me because I was truly considering quitting altogether.

What stopped me? I really, really wanted to take this project all the way to the conclusion. I didn't want to just see the promised land. I wanted to stand on it, walk through it, claim it, SEIZE IT!

So, I started over.

Today, that scene is often replayed in my household. Whenever someone encounters a problem that appears too big to handle, a hurdle so enormous the goal no longer seems worth it, I only have to say, "Page breaks," and then ask the question, "How badly do you want this?"

Now someone in the throes of distress might prefer a bit of warm and fuzzy coddling and a soft, "There, there," and there are appropriate times for meting it out, for applying the soothing salve of, "You can do this," and "I believe in you," etc. But when you've lost your footing on a perilous ledge, a sweet utterance is not the solution.

Sometimes, what a person wants and needs are completely different. Too often, we leave behind an undesirable situation, only to repeat it, with different circumstances and people, perhaps, but our pattern of approach and behavior, even with slight modifications, is too predictably similiar to produce the end we desire.

When an indvidual is battered and banged with defeat and discouragement and on the verge of abandoning the prize, tauntingly in sight and still so elusive, the needed remedy is really to quickly bandage up those wounds, deliver an unkind nudge into the nether regions, and harshly remind the person the consequences of forsaking the quest.

May you always have both kinds of people in your life, those that comfort, buck up, and applaud you, but, most importantly, those who command you out of the cozy places to meet, head-on and with open eyes, the awaiting destiny.

Lazarus might have felt blissfully peaceful inside the tomb, but Jesus' firm, "Lazarus, come out!" opened up an unbelievably new existence for the man.

You will stumble through dimly lit, uncharted territory. You will kiss the dirt. You'll greet uncertainty. You'll take wrong turns. You'll grow increasingly aggravated and pissed off at the circumstances and the people shoving you forward, at the ones offering dangling carrots.

And yet, it's really the only way to reach the joys of the peak.

So, what's on your "bucket list?

How badly do you want it?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Power and Beauty of Choices

I believe one of God's greatest gifts to us is free will, the power to decide between this or that, to act and speak (or not), and whether (or not) to explore various opportunities life presents to us.

Yesterday, for many Christian denominations, was the feast of the Annunciation, where the archangel Gabriel presented Mary with God's wish--to conceive and bear His son--and Mary affirmed it.

Like Eve before her, Mary could have chosen differently. Unlike Eve, Mary's choice brought life, not death, to generations. She based her decision less on personal comfort ("Indeed, a sword will pierce your own soul, too, so that the inner thoughts of many people might be revealed." Luke 2:35), but on the potential benefit to everyone else.

And she said, "Yes," without hesitation, but it was not the impetuous "Yes" of rushing into a thrilling moment--such as Melissa quickly agreeing to a blood bargain with a vampire--but one where she immediately saw and comprehended the full consequences of her fiat.

Now, I have enough conscience that I rarely make completely selfish decisions, ones with no regard for another, but I definitely can see myself saying, "Hey, can I get a few opinions and sleep on it?"

No, Mary's way is not the method of the masses.

Certainly, if we can envision positive outcomes--for us--in a particular situation, we might be apt to select it. A wiser, perhaps more mature individual, would also consider the needs of loved ones or those for whom he is responsbile before moving in a direction.

Yet, how often do we truly turn our feet onto a challenging, and perhaps heartbreaking, laborious road, fully realizing we personally might not benefit, ever? Or pursue (or relinquish) something personally important to us, because it is not in the best interests of another, even if that person doesn't realize it?

Honestly, I'm not a fan of sword-piercings (OUCH!). Mary had some guts. And without realizing, she left us a hefty measuring stick, something to ponder the next time we're floundering at the crossroads.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is an Ed Calkins

New Bryony readers are often astonished when I tell them the story's Irish vampire, Ed Calkins, is a living, breathing man who lives in a Chicago suburb and who legally signed off his identity for the sake of three Bryony books, all for the sake of immortality.

For more about the why's and how's, etc. scroll through the blog's labels on the front page. Also check out, Twenty Questions about Ed Calkins on the Bryony website at

Although in recent weeks, Ed has been rather distant about sending new blog material (Saturdays on the BryonySeries blog are dedicated to the Steward of Tara and all things Irish), since the release of Bryony, (finally), in December, Ed has been fervently promoting the book amongnst clan and kin (especially his many wives; see Bryony for an explanation of that) and even organized a St. Patrick's Day book analysis and sent me the comments.

The result is that all this renewed excitement has led to a flurry of most entertaining and badly edited emails from Ed (He is hopelessly scatterbrained, dyslexic, and , as he tells my protagonist, which is not Melissa--spoiler--in the third book, "Spell check does not recognize me.").

Hopefully, I can rewrite...clean, okay, polish, one of Ed's writings in the next few days and post it next Saturday. And now, off to change in to Victorian dress and head off to Westfield Louis Joliet Mall fore Day Two of Bryony's participation in an arts and crafts fair.

If you're out and about today, stop over to my table (I'm by Sears and Charming Charlies) and get your copy of Bryony. If you've already purchased one, buy one of the BryonySeries candles for ethereal mood-re-reading. Done both? Come 'round anyway. I'd love to meet you.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Rebecca Gillespie responded to a problem faced by people who search for good vampire poems and could not find them by writing one her instructor called "excellent."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Bryony" the Audio Book: Session One and Other Munsonville News

First of all, the really cool part about creating an audio version of Bryony is that the recording studio is on the fourth floor of Tower Hall at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. So, for old times sake, I skipped the elevator and ran all the way up the main staircase.

What a transformation in the former art department! (I had a good friend who was an art major). Fortunately, Jeff Jaskowiak, director, was on site, so he gve me the official tour of DARA's (Digital Audio Recording Arts) expanded editing suite, which was really cool to see, especially since, two years ago, I had writtten a story for the Herald News when USF began the sound program.

The audio book project is a two-person team, both members of the Christian rock band Daniel's Window ( Alby Odum is sound manager; Heather King is reading, and she has quite the expressive voice, and her take on when and where to emphasize differed from mine, but not in a bad way.

I'm amazed that, for as long as the story has been inside my head, that she could bring it so alive for me with simply her reading style. And I get to be on hand to enjoy the fun, offer opinions, and to correct any mispronunciation of terms, especially since Alby and Heather edited as they went.

Heather had hoped to cover forty pages, but she was only beginning the second chapter when my ride got super-sleepy (The sessions are from nine p.m. to midnight), and I had to leave. Curious how that last bit sounds, so I can't wait for Alby to send me a copy.

In other news, Serena Diosa, author of the Tinkey's Goldfish children's book series, and I met today to review the latest formatting for the Bryony cookbook: Memories in the Kitchen Bites and Nibbles from "Bryony," which, hurray, is in its final stages. I'm hoping it will be available for purchase within a month or so. All proceeds will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties (

Also, if you're anywhere near the Joliet area tomorrow, Saturday, or Sunday, stop out at the Westfield Louis Joliet Mall on Mall Loop Drive. Bryony will be part of an enormous arts and crafts fair. I will be selling both books and all five scents from ByronySeries one hundred percent soy candle collection. (

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Okay, Now it's Just Flat Out An Interesting Week

The fun began yesterday when I missed a a four o'clock interview.

I don't generally schedule phone interviews this late, because I'm usually engrossed in correcting homework (which is where I'm heading as soon as I post this blog). So after listening to Daniel's comments about why British comedy is better than American comedy (which it is), I ran upstairs to show him a Goodies commericial on YouTube and saw a Facebook message from the very nice vampire author I had stood up. Luckily, she was very understanding and still free for a conversation.

No sooner had I hung up the phone than Faith, the calico cat who bit me in October, appeared out of nowhere. Now Faith had had a mild stomach bug on Friday, so I had canceled my evening plans to take her to the vet, and she repaid the kindness by hiding in the attic cubbyholes (The mess in my attic office, which I haven't had to time to reorganize, still attests to how hard we tried to lure her out).

Meaning I went to the vet for the medication, and she stayed home where it was safe. After that, I went to THREE stores to find the best price on generic Pepcid and a non-flavored electrolyte solution that wasn't orange (which would taste really disgusting when mixed with cat food, even for a cat).

Now Faith gets these little bugs once a year, which fall into this predictable pattern: Faith gets sick, vomits a few times, then refuses to eat or drink for fear of vomiting. This means force dropping two medications into an willing mouth to soothe her stomach, then force-feeding her a special soft food mixed with electrolyte solution for nourishment and fluids, and then, in a couple of days, adding an appetite stimulant to coerce her to eat real food again.

Faith, knowing the routine, stayed pretty much in hiding since Friday, so when she appeared, she was noticeably dehydrated. I immediately snatched her up and called the vet, who told me to bring her in right away for IV fluids, which we did, on a car with the gas gauge in the red zone. On the way home, the back brakes failed.

Fortunately, my oldest son Christopher was home grillling chicken and had just sold a laptop that day (He owns a computer repair business). Proceeds went toward the brakes ($23.36), which he fixed that night (and added a quarter tank of gas so he could safely take a test drive) and a new phone for me, mainly so I can take credit cards at the mall show this weekend, but really because the kids are tired of sending text messages for me.

At eight o'clock, Midnight didn't show up for kitty suppertime, so we spent a hour combing the property looking for her, all to no avail. Finally, we gave it up for the night and, at ten-thirty, wrestled another meal into Faith. That's when Midnight nonchalantly strolled into the room.

Today, so far, has been rather low-key. I'm learning to work the new phone--I can send and receive calls, text messages, and, somewhat, manipulate the music player. I'm almost caught up on work (although I'm still woefully behind in editing Visage), but tomorrow I will either get a late start (which will make me cranky and behind) or be overly tired (which will just make me plain cranky), but either way I don't care.

Because tonight, from nine o'clock to midnight, the recording of Bryony the audio book begins. I, for one, can hardly wait!!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Gonna Be an Interesting "Bryony" Week; Hope I can Keep Up

Latest news around Munsonville:

9 p.m. - midnight, March 20: Recording of the Bryony audiobook commences at the University of St. Francis sound department. Two membrs of the Christian rock group Daniel's Window ( have branched out into the audiobook business and, several months ago, approached me about producing an audio version of Bryony.

After some info exchanges (the manuscript for voice recordings), we struck an agreement. A bonus with the audio book not found in print: the audio book will contain music clips from the official Bryony CD, The Best-Loved Compositioins of John Simons, by James Onohan ( And yes, I will be posting updates about this project.

March 23, 24, 25: Bryony will have a booth at Westfield Mall in Joliet (formerly Louis Joliet Mall) as part of the Heartland Creative Arts & Crafts show. If you haven't purchased your copy yet, stop out and see us. If you have, then you might enjoy a "Bryony" 100 percent soy candle. Your choice of five scents! For more candle information, visit Valerie's Heavenly Scents (

Of course that means EARLY deadlines for me (huff and puff), since one entire workday will be spent at the mall. It also means, unless I can get super creative at night after the show, a third week without tacking the editing on Visage (Believe me, I'm trying to get it done), although I'm thinking I'm being a little ambitious here.

My goal, remember, when writing the BryonySeries was to get the story out of my head, share it with anyone interested in reading it, and have fun. So far, we're at three out of three, oh yeah!

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Skeleton Dance," by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Skeleton Dance by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
English translation, 1874

The warder looked out at the mid-hour of night,
Where the grave-hills all silently lay;
The moon-beams above gave so brilliant a light,
That the churchyard was clear as by day:
First one, then another, to open began;
Here came out a woman - there came out a man,
Each clad in a shroud long and white.

And then for amusement - perchance it was cold -
In a circle they seemed to advance;
The poor and the rich, and the young and the old,
But the grave-clothes impeded the dance:
And as no person thought about modesty there,
They flung off their garments, and stripped themselves bare,
And a shroud lay on each heap of mould.

They kicked up their heels, and they rattled their bones,
And the horrible din that they made
Went clickety-clackety - just like the tones
Of a castanet noisily played.
And the warder he laughed as he witnessed the cheer,
And he heard the Betrayer speak soft in his ear,
"Go and steal away one of their shrouds."
Swift as thought it was done - in an instant he fled
Behind the church portal to hide;
And brighter and brighter the moon-beam was shed,
As the dance they still shudderingly plied;
But at last they began to grow tired of their fun,
And they put on their shrouds, and slipped off, one by one,
Beneath, to the homes of the dead.

But tapping at every grave-hill,
there staid One skeleton, tripping behind;
Though not by his comrades the trick had been played
Now its odour he snuffed in the wind:
He rushed to the door - but fell back with a shock;
For well for the weight of the bell and the clock,
The sign of the cross it displayed.

But the shroud he must have—not a moment he stays;
Ere a man had begun but to think,
On the Gothic-work his fingers quickly he lays,
And climbs up its chain, link by link.
Now woe to the warder - for sure he must die
To see, like a long-legged spider, draw nigh

The skeleton's clattering form:
And pale was his visage, and thick came his breath;
The garb, alas! why did he touch?
How sick grew his soul as the garment of death
The skeleton caught in his clutch-
The moon disappeared, and the skies changed to dun,
And louder than thunder the church-bell tolled one-
The specter fell tumbling to bits!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Have you checked out Bryony's "Sue's Diner" page lately?

Her mother parked in front of a dingy, squat-looking building, Sue’s Diner. Brian turned and rolled his eyes. Melissa mouthed back, Probably get food poisoning.

“Let’s go, guys!” Darlene peered in the mirror and patted her short hair, the color and texture of corn silk. “Don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ll bet the food is terrific.”

Stiff and cramped from the long ride, Melissa and Brian slowly emerged from the car and entered the dreary building. Brian poked Melissa, and her jaw dropped.

For a small, lakefront village restaurant, throngs of people packed the dining room. There were men in overalls and plaid shirts; women wearing faded, print dresses; and kids in jeans. Darlene asked the gum-cracking, pony-tailed hostess for a table, and the girl led the trio to a booth by the picture window overlooking Main Street. Melissa slid close to the fingerprinted window and glanced down. Clear tape sealed cracks in the vinyl blue-green seats. The table’s smooth top was peppered with gold speckles and imbedded with coffee stains. From Bryony, Chapter 1, Welcome to Munsonville.

Sue's Diner's food, however, as Melissa soon found out, was "surprisingly good," and so are the recipes Sarah Stegall, Bryony's online administrator, is posting on the BryonySeries website each month. Browse, sample, or submit your favorite dish ( to share; the choice is yours. Either way, do visit often and see what's cooking at Munsonville's only eatery.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Took a Life Break This Weekend

Although Friday night is my "stay up all night and write fiction" night, and I'm having a blast editing Visage, I think that will be challenging to accomplish over the next few weeks.

Friday nights, for we Eastern Orthodox Christians, is a time to celebrate The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, an ancient liturgical celebration for distributing the Eucharist during weekdays of the Great Fast.

Since I belong to a teeny tiny mission church forty miles from home, and I'm a terrible night driver, eyesight-wise and the fact I take the drowsy portion of my antihistamines for chronic urticaria at night , I'm blessed to have one good friend in the area who also belongs to that church and offers to do the driving.

The past two weeks, after liturgy, several of us have gone out for Chinese, so it's generally after ten o'clock before I return home, relaxed, sleepy, and not at all brain-sharp to be editing a manuscript, despite the full pot of coffee I put on the second I stumble through the door.

On this particular Friday night, despite staying up a long, long time, I didn't get very far with my second book. I resolved to pick up the slack during the weekend, and then I made some other choices on how to spend my time, which had absolutely nothing to do with writing and absolutely everything with stepping out of the attic for a change and mingling with the rest of the world.

The past couple of years have brought major upheavals, which are by no means vanquished, and several more are looming on the horizon. Some are painful; others are frustrating; some are scary; and still others are absolutely exhilarating, but all are changing my life as I know it, which is tumbling down like a house of cards, except for that which is cornerstone: faith, family, friends, and the ability to chronicle stories in a profound and meaningful way.

My reaction to all this? I'm hanging on tightly, eyes wide open, determined to ride that glorious ride.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why the Irish Vampire Association is not Buying "Bryony"

A message from Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara:

Remember the IVA's demands for the books release?

Jugding by the book's exclusion from the best sellers' list, I think it's obvious that the IVA is not buying the book for equally obvious reasons. For those who are not IVA members, I'll explain the paradox.

The burden of secrecy with the IVA is greater than with any other secret society. An IVA member much also keep his/her membership unknown to other IVA members (unless you thing you're Ed Calkins).

I will not confirm or deny its existance, but imagine the difficultly conecting to an IVA meeting. Now imagine what owning a copy of  Bryony might do to raise suspicions among other secret members.

However, by outing the members' reason for not buying the book, perhaps I've freed members to do just that, as not having a copy could now be equally suspicous.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Der Vampir" (The Vampire) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder

Der Vampir (The Vampire) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder (1748)

 My dear young maiden clingeth
Unbending, fast and firm
To all the long-held teaching
Of a mother ever true;
As in vampires unmortal
Folk on the Theyse's portal
Heyduck-like do believe.
But my Christine thou dost dally,
And wilt my loving parry
Till I myself avenging
To a vampire's health a-drinking
Him toast in pale tockay.

And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life's blood drain away.
And so shalt thou be trembling
For thus shall I be kissing
And death's threshold thou' it be crossing
With fear, in my cold arms.
And last shall I thee question
Compared to such instruction
What are a mother's charms?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ed Calkins Reports on the First Outdoors "Calkins Day" Parade...and Gives a Nod to "Bryony"

Dear MOMI (Mistress of My Immortality):

It was a long holiday season with the release of THE book running into Christmas and the of course, Calkins Day, which saw its first out door parade. I, because of my duties connected to newspaper delivery, was unable to attend, but my wives (current count is eight), most of whom are teachers that had the day off, assured me that they conducted it at three a.m.

They started at Resurrection Cemetery and processed down the middle of Archer Ave, past the distribution center in Rockdale, and ended, twelve hours later, at the Desplaines River. I was disappointed and confused by the lack of press converge... Maybe next year.

Anyway, I tried to organized a extended family group discussion of THE book in January. The problem was, with so much to celebrate, nobody had finished it yet (including me), but I have a good reason. I’m carefully search within the text justification of Calkins Day.

Even my wives are only through the first three-fourths, (excluding the wife I sleep with, who enjoyed the whole book in two days and is currently rereading to keep up with my insights). Anyway, I've giving my inner circle till St Patty's to read. We will hold the discussion on that day. I'll report back on what was said.

Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Dead Serious," by Kristina Skaggs

For Michael Hudson, a routine doctor's appointment brings shocking news: he's not sick; he's dead.
But although being dead has some distinct advantages, before Michael will take the doctor's word, he needs confirmation. “You’re dead.”

This is the first story Kristina Skaggs, co-owner of Complete Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Joliet (, published  on Bryony's website.

She is also the founder of "Write On," the writer's group that meets every first and third Thursdays of the months at the Three Rivers Arts Council in Minooka ( Read Kristina's blog at

Michael Hudson glanced up at his doctor, suspecting there was more to what she’d just said. There wasn’t. He decided to ask her to elaborate. “Are you sure?”
Doctor Michelle Hughes clicked her pen several times, as if spanking a bad child on its bottom, and continued to script and scroll through paperwork. A bad cold was one thing, but to be dead was a completely different scenario. Would family and friends need to be contacted? How much paperwork would this involve?
“You’ve been dead for a while. I’m surprised you were even able to make this appointment.”
His doctor clicked her pen once more and placed it into her lab coat pocket. Her lips, when she went over the charts, made lines, which he did not find charming. Mostly, they frowned.
“I should….”
“You should relax, Mr. Hudson. You are dead now. These things happen.”
The pat on the back she gave him was friendly, but nothing more than a pat on his back. She began to walk away, indicating the end of their appointment. But she paused and turned her head back to him, as if getting one last look at the dead guy. Whatever thought she had to say made a final attempt as her lips parted. He thought how the color of her lipstick made her look crass. Dr. Michelle Hudson closed her mouth, turned the knob on the door, and walked out, leaving Michael in nothing but a thin juniper-colored exam gown.
Saying it aloud, the word was foreign coming out of his mouth. Here, he thought he was just sniffling too much. Snot had a way of annoying him, and it was never tolerated. He’d go around with Kleenex sticking out of both nostrils, if he had to get things done. But, no. Now, he was dead.
Michael got dressed in the khakis and polo he’d arrived in. They were comfortable, better than the gown. He looked as if he’d just come from a game of golf. But maybe it would have been better to have died in a suit? He looked better with a tie on. He assumed most dead people walked around in their last worn clothes. He would be the dead guy in a polo.
The receptionist at the office didn’t ask him to pay his bill; the taxi driver who took him home didn’t ask for his fare. As far as Michael knew, being dead was a free world. At his apartment, the clothes piled up in his laundry basket did not wash or dry themselves. Can’t have everything.
After a lunch, which he had to make himself, Michael decided to call his family and friends. They had to know about his predicament. They had to know he was dead.
“Hey, Dad.” Michael rubbed his head raw, trying to come up with the best way to tell his parents.
His father pitched him the perfect segue," Michael, how are you?”
“Turns out I’m dead.”
There was silence on the other line. A pregnant pause so long Michael thought the connection had been lost.
“I’m here, Michael. Your mother and I knew that you’d figure this out, one way or the other. Truth is, you’ve been dead for awhile.”
This time, it was Michael’s turn to be pregnant.

“You still there, Michael?” His mother’s voice lit up the line, and Michael knew she’d have a better way to explain it.
"Mom, how could I have been dead without knowing it?
“Sweetie, it’s been going on for quite some time now, honestly. I thought you knew. We figured it out at your junior high school dance. You took that one impressionable young girl from church…Maggie…Marcia….”
His mother strained to make her memory recall this girl’s name.
“Mary,” his father threw in.
“No, she was blonde with those cute ring curls. I always wanted a daughter so I could curl her hair like that.”
“Mom,” Michael blushed on the other line.
“Anyway, that’s when we knew. You took Mary or Marcia to the dance, and the entire time that you wanted to hold her hand or kiss her, you never did. She sat with her group of friends and left with
them afterward.”
He was dead because he hadn’t touched Mary/Maggie/Marcia? Michael needed to make some more calls.
The afternoon was spent dialing friends from the office, friends from college, friends from high school. His best friend Mike told him he’d been dead since the day he passed up a promotion at work. His high school friend, Mickey, told him he was dead when he refused to smoke pot after gym class.

There was one more number he needed to call. It was Michaela Kerry’s number, which had been burned into his memory three years prior, when they’d been dating. First on, now they were officially off.
Michael had scrubbed his routine clean. He would ask if she remembered him. If she said yes, and he hoped she would, he would tell her that some startling news had come upon him. He was dead. That had gone so well with the others, they knew exactly what he was calling about before he even had to say it.
“Hello?” Her crisp voice answered on the third ring.
Michael stuttered.
“Hello?” she asked, this time with more urgency in her voice, but still blanketed with her sweet politeness.
“Michaela, this is Michael. Do you remember me?”
It sounded so silly, to be asking an ex-girlfriend that question. Of course, she did remember, but had she wanted to forget him.
“Michael?” The name rolled off her tongue as strangely as it rolled off his.
“Yes.” He paused for the powerful effect. “I’m dead.”
“Dead?” she asked.
“Dead,” he repeated.
“Well, I don’t know about dead,” she scoffed. A nervous laugh trickled down her through the phone wire. “You were very serious and uptight, but you weren’t dead.”
Michaela went into a few stories he would have liked to forget. The time at the movies when the popcorn was too salty; the sock drawer he meticulously organized; the kitten heel shoes of hers he’d tripped over. If she didn’t think he was dead after the assortment of occurrences leading up to their break-up, then why did everyone else think so?
Michael hung up, feeling better about death, knowing that maybe it wasn’t so bad, as long as your ex doesn’t think you’re dead, just serious.

"Toying With Death," by Kristina Skaggs

Kristina Skaggs, co-owner of Complete Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Joliet (, has the unparalleled honor of being the first writer to submit and publish a short story on Bryony's website.

She is also the founder of "Write On," the writer's group that meets every first and third Thursdays of the months at the Three Rivers Arts Council in Minooka ( Read Kristina's blog at

Here is Kristina's latest twist on death. Enjoy!

Geoffrey predicted a few years.  He would say his goodbyes.  He’d blame it on the recession.  Then he would die. 

There wasn’t much to his predicament.  The pink elephants at the end of the shelf knew what was coming.   Each Christmas another kid pointed avidly at the anorexic bleached blond Plastic Fantastic doll in the aisle.  She didn’t have to worry about job security.  Everyone loves a party girl.  Birthdays, bachelor parties, and each and every Christmas, she was there, beneath ribbons, ready to be unwrapped and played with. 

Plastic Fantastic, she’d get what was coming.  The shoes would be the first to get lost then her blond hair would be chopped off with safety scissors.  They’d strip off her panties and discard them in a crayon box.  Her pointy breasts would lead to dozens of unanswered questions.  Eventually the rest of her clothes would be scattered and shoved between couch cushions. They’d find her naked laying face down, a scene taken right out of SVU.  

The choking hazard cars, the glorified robotic hamster that also could be used as a cat toy, they had all had their hey day.  Geoffrey was more of a sentimental item.  He was cuddly, sure.  He didn’t talk though.  There was no battery pack stowed away in his rear end to make him recite lovey-dovey phrases.  The talking ones, they got played with until their batteries ran out anyway.  After Teddy started babbling through the Goldilocks and the Three Bears he’d be sent to the ceiling hamper with the rest of the stuffed lot.  Sentenced to a lifetime of having to look adoringly onto the bedroom of a child who no longer remembered them.  At least they had company. 

Geoffrey had come to terms with his inevitable.  He’d be picked out as a last minute shower gift.  Wrapped in pastels, Geoffrey preferred baby blue.  There would be squeezing and facial nuzzling by the adults.  They would awe at each other, saying how he was “cute” and “fluffy.”  And then he’d sit untouched in a white barred prison, until his cellmate arrived.

He’d be kicked unexpectedly in the night, he’d put up with the outburst of crying and spats of bulimic purging.  His ears would be used for numbing new teeth; his eyeballs would be pulled out and get vacuumed up.  He’d be dragged everywhere.  There would be attempts to wash him, but his color would never return.  There would be snuggles, hugs, kisses, and then he’d go late in the night; out with the binkies and the tattered security blanket.  The parents would replace him with a newer, flashier toy.  Maybe even get Plastic Fantastic and her accessories, which they’d regret when they stepped barefoot onto her handbags and tripped over her convertible. 

Geoffrey, he’d go peacefully.  There would be a little fussiness, but sooner rather then later, was best.  He’d be there and then not.  He expected death, but not without a few years of toying around.