About the Author

Alison Preston

Alison Preston was born and raised in Winnipeg. After trying on a number of other Canadian cities, she returned to her hometown, where she currently resides. All of her books are set in the Norwood Flats area of Winnipeg, including The Rain Barrel Baby, The Geranium Girls, Cherry Bites, Sunny Dreams, The Girl in the Wall, and Blue Vengeance. A graduate of the University of Winnipeg, and a letter carrier for twenty-eight years, Alison was twice nominated for the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, following the publications of her first two novels, The Rain Barrel Baby and A Blue and Golden Year. Alison went on to win the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher for Sunny Dreams and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction for The Girl in the Wall. She was also shortlisted for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for Cherry Bites.

 

Books by this Author
Blue Vengeance

Blue Vengeance

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : suspense
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One of the men in charge of lowering the casket started up an electrical device that hummed. Reverend Badger paused in his droning. The casket, on its canvas bands, was lowered into the earth.

The reverend went back to where he had left off. "The days of our age are three score and ten."

"Fool," Danny said quietly now. Only a ceritfied idiot would include that line under the circumstances. The guy was certifiable. However long three score and ten was. It didn't apply to Cookie. She was fifteen years old. And would be forever.

Dot squeezed his arm.

The rain kept on, snaking down the sides of the shining wooden container that housed his sister. When they had picked it out at the funeral parlour Danny had thought it looked like a miniature palace furnished in satin and sparkles, but now he could see that it was just wood after all, and it wouldn't be shiny once it was in the ground. It would dull and wet and soon rotten.

"For Christ's sake," he said now. "Fill the hole around her."

There were no shovels in sight. A small yellow machine stood a ways off, partially hidden behind a tree. It looked as though it may have been responsible for digging the hole; perhaps it also had the job of filling it in. Danny got down on his kness and began to push the piled dirt into the space around the casket.

"Danny, please." It was his mother's voice.

He didn't care.

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Cherry Bites

Cherry Bites

Norwood Flats Mystery, A
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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from Prologue

I bit a dime-sized morsel of flesh from the tender cheek of my brother, Pete, while he napped in his basket on the porch swing. He had whimpered as he dozed and I lost my temper. Even in sleep he couldn’t shut up.

The baby's screams when I bit him sounded different from his usual carrying on. The cries had an edge to them that cut through to the inside of me. I could tell from the screams that this was the worst thing I had ever done, by a long shot. It didn’t feel good.

I don’t remember the taste of his skin as much as the feel of it: soft and then slippery. I spit it out in the cotoneaster and ran away.

It was July eleventh, 1954. A dusty day. Dry topsoil blew in off the fields forming a mist of grey cloud over the western edge of the city.

I didn't run far, just two doors down, to the Wideners’ caragana hedge. Murray called for me, but he had to take Pete to the hospital. Nora didn’t drive. As I recall, it was soon after that day that she asked Murray for lessons and went for her driver’s license. She wanted to go with them, but someone had to stay behind to look for me. "Find Cherry!" Murray shouted out the car window as he drove off, as though she wouldn’t have known to do so on her own.

She called my name a couple of times, but she didn’t leave the front steps. I waited till she went in the house and then I crept home and hid in the crawl space under the verandah. An hour or so later Murray returned and I slipped out of my hole.

Nora was putting on her gloves. She had called a taxi to take her to the hospital where my little brother stayed on. "Go to your room," she said, "and stay there."

Nora and Murray are my parents. They didn't know how to punish me for a crime of such proportions. A spanking wasn’t even mentioned. I waited for the punishment to come and it never did, unless you count the silence from her and the new way Murray had of looking at me sometimes, as if he didn’t know who I was.

Right from the start Pete irked me. I had been so excited when my parents told me I would be getting a baby brother or sister. I remember waiting, a little quivery, for them to come home from the hospital, watching out the window with Elaine, my babysitter, on the crisp December day when my father drove up with Nora and the baby in the front seat of the Studebaker.

"When will I be able to play with him?" I asked. I hadn’t given any thought to the types of games I would play with a being so small, but it seemed a valid question.

My mother ignored me, just fussed over her tiny bundle.

"Not for a while yet, Cherry dear." Murray chuckled nervously. "He's just a little bit of a guy."

I think my dad was smart enough to sense right from the start that the new baby was going to be a piece of work. He was tiny, five and a half pounds at birth. I had weighed in at eight pounds, ten ounces when I was born. It was satisfying to me that I had been a sturdy baby.

When I reached up to move the blanket aside so I could see his face, Nora pulled away. Then she immediately thought better of it and allowed me a peek at the baby boy.

Peter, they named him, after my uncle Pete, my dad's older brother who was killed in the war. I never met him; World War Two happened before I was born.

The baby started crying and he never stopped. That’s how it seemed to me, anyway. His wails were explained away as colic. He ran Nora and Murray ragged and made me want to scream.

He vomited a lot, more than the average baby, I was sure of it. I was also pretty sure that my brother would never be the playmate I had imagined; he was so frail and disgusting.

My parents held him constantly, cooing and rocking to stop his crying. When I cried to see if they would coo my way, it didn't work. They sent me outside instead. In those days there were kids in practically every house on the street so there was no problem finding someone to play with. There was always something going on: skipping, marbles, British bulldogs, work-your-way-up, hopscotch, or just tormenting the rich guy.

We called him that because he had a fussy yard with flowers all over the place, more than in normal yards. And there were trellises and tall birds and fancy stepping stones, things like that. We figured you’d have to be rich to waste your hard-earned cash on those kinds of frivolities. Nora thought so too. I heard her say it.

So they sent me outside if I was in their way, or got Elaine over to play with me, to keep me out of their hair while they dealt with the newer, more important member of the family.

Elaine was all right. She was a high school girl and I liked her fine. She was good at playing and didn't mind when I coloured outside of the lines. That was something that bothered Nora, unreasonably, I thought. I could have coloured inside the lines; I just didn't want to.

The plastic surgeon grafted flesh from Pete's bum onto the wound I had made on his face. It healed beautifully; there was the tiniest of scars. Outwardly, the damage was nearly invisible.

Because I knew that part of Pete's face was made up of skin from his bum, it was impossible for me not to call him ‘Assface’. It was especially mean, I know, because I was the one who caused the damage in the first place.

The cheek bite was the only major incident between us in those early years. I was just four when it happened. My resentment towards Pete lessened as time passed. Other than my calling him ‘Assface’ as he turned toddler and then little boy, I treated him all right. He wasn't so bad if you didn't count the way he totally ignored me. I tried to play with him, boss him around a bit, but he had a way of looking through me that kind of scared me, so eventually I left him pretty much alone. It seemed best.

Almost as soon as I had done it I regretted biting my brother. It amazed me that my hate could have been so strong; I truly didn’t feel it anymore, after the event. I remembered wanting to hurt Pete and I had known it was wrong even as I did it, but it wasn’t until afterwards, in my spot under the verandah, that I began to sense the different levels of wrongness. It wrecked everything, even more than he already had.

I knew Nora wouldn’t be able to love me, not after what I had done. I don’t know that she ever had. I was sure had never cuddled with me the way she did with Pete. But I didn’t envy him. His cuddling stopped as soon as his crying baby ways did.

My dad loved me; he couldn’t help it. But I frightened him now. It was as though I gave him his first taste of truly malicious behaviour. Or maybe he just didn’t expect it of someone so close, someone he had helped to create. He was blind when it came to Nora, to anything that hinted of wickedness on her part (like not looking for me the day of the bite). It was because of her beauty, I thought then and still do; she bewitched him.

I believed that there was a darkness that lived inside of me, deep and hidden. It came out the day of the cheek bite and then went into hiding again, maybe somewhere in my small intestine, I thought – there was lots of room in there for extra stuff – twenty-five feet or so of slimy twisted innards. Or maybe it was in the blood running through my veins and arteries, always there, but inactive for the most part.

One of the main worries of my childhood, besides getting polio, was that the darkness would resurface and that the good part of me wouldn’t be big enough to control it, that the good part wasn’t very big at all. That worry still surfaces from time to time, but only as a memory or in a dream.

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Geranium Girls, The

Geranium Girls, The

Norwood Flats Mystery, A
edition:Paperback
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It was a wet spring. The ground didn't get a chance to dry out between rainfalls. Beryl tramped through the bushes in St. Vital Park, away from the well-trodden paths. She slogged through long grass and thistles, poison ivy and mushrooms. Mushrooms in June! That's how wet it was. Her sneakers were soaked through.

Something long, solid and rounded, like a thin baseball bat, caught her hard in the arch of her foot. She lost her balance and toppled to a sitting position in the drenched forest. With one hand sunk in the boggy soil she boosted herself onto a fallen log where it wasn't quite so wet. Beryl removed her shoe and massaged the sore area. I should have stuck to the regular trail, she thought. I should be home drinking coffee.

"What the hell was that?" she muttered. Something stunk; she smelled her hand. And then her gaze drifted to the ground.

Her chest clenched. It squeezed and let go, squeezed again. A female form lay next to Beryl in the woods; she had touched it. It was the shin bone that had caused her to tumble to the ground. Bone on bone. No wonder it hurt so much.

Her breath didn't return for so long she thought she would die. She forced it. Manually—like turning off the toaster before it popped up the toast on its own—it could be done.

With her eyes she followed the long length of the girl—she was tall and very slender. Beryl hoped she was dead. Dealing with a live thing so close to death seemed beyond what she was capable of doing. She needn't have worried. This person was gone. Beryl knew this when she forced her gaze to rest upon the face. She had no experience with long-dead bodies, but no experience was necessary.

The dead girl's mouth was open wide. Mushrooms were growing there. Someone must have filled her mouth with dirt. How else could this be? Beryl closed her eyes for a long minute to give the face a chance to disappear. It didn't. A colony of mushrooms was using the head of a girl as a planter. It rained softly at first, then hard, like a punishment.

She held out her hand and the rain washed it clean.

Pain in her foot. Pain from the shin bone of a dead girl. She could still feel the hard roundness pressing into her.

She wished she hadn't seen the face. The mushroom face. But she had; it was hers to keep. Like a birthmark, like a tattoo. Let me go back, she prayed, so I don't have to carry this forever.

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Girl in the Wall, The

Girl in the Wall, The

Norwood Flats Mystery, A
edition:Paperback
tagged : suspense
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Behind the drywall were layers of mortar and cracked plaster covering wood lath. In some spots the lath had pulled away from the framing behind it. Someone had tried to repair it.

“I like this ripping-down phase,” said Frank.

“Not me,” said Jane. “It’s my least favourite part. I like getting to the stage when we start building new stuff.”

“Hey, wait a sec,” Frank said. “What’s this?”

His arm was out of sight up to his shoulder in a hollow space behind a destroyed sheet of drywall.

“Just a minute. I can’t quite get it.”

He tore away some more of the outer wall, reached in and brought out what looked to be a photograph. He took off his mask and blew on the item and then wished he hadn’t as he coughed away the dust and sneezed four times.

“What are you up to over there?” Jane asked. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”

Frank sneezed one last time.

“I’ve found something interesting.”

He took a clean white handkerchief out of his back pocket and carefully dusted off the picture. It was in faded colour, unframed and curled at the edges. It was bigger than an ordinary snapshot, perhaps five by seven.

“What is it, Frank?”

“It’s a photograph.”

“Let’s see.”

Jane took off her gloves and whapped them on the side of her leg.

“Hmm. It looks kind of sixtyish,” she said.

There was a man, two women, a boy and a girl. And they did look like their time was the sixties or early seventies, with their tie-dyed T-shirts and long flowing hair, even on the man. The women and girl sat on straight-backed chairs, the man behind them, standing. The boy stood beside the girl with his hand gripping her shoulder.

“Are they wearing costumes, do you think?” asked Jane. “Or…”

“It looks like a pose for an album cover.” Frank interrupted. For a group with a girl singer or two.”

Jane put her gloves back on.

“I’ll leave you to it. I want to get this part over with today.”

She went back to her job and Frank continued staring at the photograph.

“Could you please turn the music down, Jane?”

Frank’s head was starting to hurt and he no longer liked the songs. There was too much death in the lyrics.

Jane turned it off.

“Are you all right, Frank?”

“I don’t know. There’s something weird going on in this picture.”

“What kind of weird?”

“The little girl might not be alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I think she was dead when this was taken.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Jane set down her crowbar and walked over to where Frank was sitting on a crate with the photograph held gently in his hands. She peered over his shoulder.

“Look at her eyes,” Frank said.

“Odd.”

“Very.”

Jane pulled up another crate and sat down beside him, taking a closer look.

“I think everyone else is alive,” she said.

“Yes.”

“It’s her eyes that give her away, but I’d like to see this in a better light.”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a moment and then back at the picture. Frank turned it over. There was writing on the back, too faded to read. It looked like it had been written in pencil. A capital L for sure, and maybe a capital D, and 19 something, a date perhaps.

“I can probably get someone at work to figure out what this says.”

“You’re retired, Frank. You don’t go to work anymore.”

“I still have people there.”

His words sounded petulant to his own ears.

Jane stood up.

“Okay. You try to figure out what it says. And I’ll go to the library and find out who all has lived here.”

Frank suspected that she was humouring him, that she had no intention of going to the library, but he decided to try to take her words at face value and dismiss his mistrustful feelings.

 “It’s no big deal,” he said, as he set the picture down carefully in a safe spot away from their activity. “Featherstone probably already knows who all lived here. We could just ask him before you go trudging off to the library. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up today while we’re still here.”

They went back to work.

“Garth has a powerful magnifying glass at home,” Frank said, mostly to himself. “Maybe it will do the job of deciphering the words.”

“Maybe,” said Jane.

With a creaking rip Frank tore down the last of the drywall on the north-facing side of the house.

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he whispered when he saw what was stashed behind it.

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Rain Barrel Baby, The

Rain Barrel Baby, The

Norwood Flats Mystery, A
edition:Paperback
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from CHAPTER 1: 1954 & CHAPTER 2: The Present

The words drift over on the wind to the family of three sitting on the beach at Matlock. They don't know where the words come from. Sounds on the beach are tricky. You can hear a laugh or a bark from a mile away. But sometimes the words of the person lying next to you get lost in the waves.

The mother slathers cocoa butter on herself and tells the boy to do the same. When he's done, he smoothes some onto the back of the little girl.

"Don't waste it, Ray," the mother says. "There's not very much left in the jar. Your sister doesn't really need it."

"Yes she does." He keeps on till she is well covered. "There's still lots left."

Ray is seven and he wears two hats. One is a black cap with the name Gophers embroidered in gold thread. Gophers is the name of his pee-wee ball team. Ray plays first base. He chose the cap when the mother told him to be sure to bring a hat. He didn't know she was talking about sun protection. She has placed one of her big straw hats on top of it. He doesn't seem to mind.

Squinting into the sun, the girl smiles up at her brother. He smiles back and removes his hats to go for a swim.

"Be careful out there!" the mother shouts as Ray dives into the waves. "A little boy drowned here last year, ya know."

Her words vanish before they reach Ray's ears but the girl hears them and shivers.

"Time for some sand cakes," the mother says, and helps her daughter cut out tiny squares from the damp sand near the shore.

"Mmm," the mother says and pretends to eat one. "You now. Take a bite."

The girl sits in the wet sand with the water lapping around her. She is three, going on four.

"I don't want to, Mummy. I don't want to eat sand."

"You know you have to, so just do it," the mother says and smiles up at the people walking by. "And don't forget to chew."

It scrapes against her tiny teeth, grinds in her ears. It's louder than the waves. She gags on sand and tears, feels as though her head is made of sand and she could just lie down and be part of the shoreline.

"Clean yourself up now, before your brother sees you all grubby and dirty."

The little girl leans over the shallows and splashes water onto her face. She peers into the lake, hoping to see a fish or some smooth stones at the bottom, hoping to see anything. But the lake is cloudy and dark. And the darkness settles inside her narrow chest.

 

CHAPTER 2: The Present

"Greta Bower found a baby in her rain barrel," Gus said.

Frank Foote turned cold. He stepped out onto his front porch and closed the door behind him. "What?"

"Well, I guess, technically, I found it," Gus said. "She asked me if I could come over and give her a hand with her rain barrel." He gave his head a shake. "It was awful."

"Is it alive?"

"No, Frank. It's dead. Real dead."

"Oh, God." Frank clutched his thinning hair in both fists. "Whose baby is it?" he asked. "Where did it come from?"

"I don't know. It hardly looks like a baby anymore. It's been in the barrel quite a while I guess." Gus sat down on the top step. "I think maybe it wintered there."

"I'm sorry, Gus. Let me get you a glass of water. You're as white as a sheet."

"No sheet of mine, that's for sure. Since Irma died mine just keep gettin' grayer and grayer."

Frank returned with the water. "So Greta doesn't have any ideas on it?"

"She doesn't seem to. She just started to shake and hasn't stopped."

"Where is she?" Frank asked.

"I took her to my place." Gus took a sip of water and spit it out. "She wanted to get away from it."

"I don't blame her." Frank sat down on the step beside his friend. "Are you sure it's a baby?" he asked. "Maybe it's a raccoon or a squirrel or something. Sometimes foxes come into town."

"It's a baby all right," Gus said. "I think I can tell a human being from a fox. Jesus, Frank."

"Sorry, Gus. Just hoping I guess."

The morning was cool, too cool to be sitting on the porch in shirtsleeves the way Frank was. Chilly sweat slid down his sides and a gust of wind brought goose bumps out on his forearms. "Where is it now?" he asked.

"It's still in the bottom of the barrel. I drained it. Ya see, her water had been cloudy lately and got to smellin' kinda funny. That's why she asked me to come over and have a look at it for her. After the water was emptied out I stood on her ladder to take a peek inside."

"God, I'm sorry you had to see it, Gus. I don't expect it was a very pretty sight."

"I've seen plenty of death in my time, Frank. I grew up on a farm. But yeah, this is the worst the worst I can remember."

Frank put his arm around the thin shoulders of his next-door neighbour, just for a moment. "Who the hell has a rain barrel around here anymore?" he asked.

"Greta Bower. That's who. She's pretty upset, Frank. I should probably get back to my place. I just kind of put her on the couch and left her."

"Yeah, you're right, Gus. We better get moving. I'm just going to have a word with Emma and then I'll come over. I don't want my kids to know about this."

"Thanks, Frank. I'll see ya in a few minutes then."

Frank brushed his teeth and spoke to Emma, who agreed to watch Garth and Sadie.

"It's Sunday," she said. "I thought this was your day off."

"Yeah, it is, but there's a little problem at Greta Bower's place. I'm just going to check it out and then I'll phone the station and get someone else out to clear it up."

"Was that Mr. Olsen at the door?" Emma asked. "What happened? Did someone die?"

"Don't worry about it, Em. I'm sure it's nothing."

 

Greta was a wreck. Gus had given her a mug of brandy even though it was just mid-morning.

She explained about the rain barrel. "It's just always been there. It was there when I was a kid and well, I like it. I use the water for my plants and my hair and that's about it. The water got kind of yucky looking lately, and it had a bit of a stink to it, so I quit using it. I thought maybe the barrel needed cleaning or something. There's a filter on top to keep out biggish things and I did have it covered with lengths of wood over the winter, but I figured maybe lots of small insects added up, or maybe some kid did something. Oh hell, I don't know what I figured."

Greta gulped down the rest of her brandy and Gus poured her some more.

"The filter is really just resting there," she said. "Anyone could move it if they had something to stand on. Could you please make it go away, Frank? I'd really like to get it cleaned up in a hurry. It's supposed to rain tonight."

"You're surely not going to use it again after this?" Gus said.

"Why not? It's just a little baby. What could be more natural than that?" She laughed. "Maybe it'll give my hair new life."

She's lost her marbles, Frank thought. Maybe it's just temporary, from the shock. Or, maybe she belongs in a loony bin.

"You're thinking I'm crazy, aren't you?" Greta said. "I can tell by the look on your face." She started to cry.

Frank felt terrible, the way he always did when women cried, as though it were his fault and it was up to him to fix things. He touched her shoulder and gave her a handkerchief.

"No, Greta. No one's thinking you're crazy. It just surprised me is all. Most people would probably want to get rid of the rain barrel after something like this. But you're right. A poor dead baby is nothing to run from."

Gus didn't look so sure. He fetched a glass and poured some brandy for himself.

Frank left the room to phone the police station.

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Sunny Dreams

Sunny Dreams

A Norwood Flats Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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from Prologue

We went next door to Picardy's. The restaurant was crowded but we found a table in a corner behind a large potted fern. Mother settled Sunny. She didn't need much settling; she was sound asleep.

"You stay here with the baby, Violet, and I'll go up to the counter to choose our treats."

I was having none of that. I wanted to pick my own. She sighed and gave in to me. My mother wasn't much of a fighter.

There was chocolate cake and rhubarb pie and banana cream pudding and apricot tarts. I finally chose the chocolate cake. Mother added it to her bowl of pudding already on the tray. Sunny was too young for treats. Her needs were pretty basic, mostly involving milk.

I followed along behind my mother as she carried our tray back to the table. When it clattered to the ground every face in the room turned toward us. Moon-faced women and chisel-faced men and rosy-cheeked waitresses and busboys wearing hairnets. My mother scrabbled through the carriage and raced about the restaurant from table to table.

"Sunny!" she cried out. "My baby!"

The carriage looked the way it always did when Sunny wasn't in it. There was a soft dent in the pillow where her head had been. I touched it. It was warm.

My mum clutched at her throat where there was nothing but the flimsy collar of her summer dress.

"Help!" She didn't make a sound but we all saw the word leave her mouth.

A man in a dark suit took charge. He phoned the police from the restaurant phone on the wall next to the cash register. That frightened my mother even more. Surely it was too soon for those kinds of measures, she said. He tried to calm her and told everyone not to touch anything. Everything he said seemed to crank up my mum's terror a notch. I wondered if I should admit to having touched Sunny's pillow but I decided to keep it to myself.

"Maybe Will's got her," my mother said in an odd loud voice. "Maybe my husband slipped in and picked her up."

A waitress ran next door for my dad. We were well known at the restaurant: that nice lawyer's family.

My mother ran out to the street; the man who kept scaring her ran out too and women fussed over me. I stayed with the carriage, guarding it like I should have been doing all along. I placed my hands in the pockets of my dress to keep from touching anything and stared at my cake on the floor.

I don't think I considered that I would never see Sunny again or that my life would change drastically from that moment in time.

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The Geranium Girls

The Geranium Girls

edition:eBook
tagged : suspense
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It was a wet spring. The ground didn't get a chance to dry out between rainfalls. Beryl tramped through the bushes in St. Vital Park, away from the well-trodden paths. She slogged through long grass and thistles, poison ivy and mushrooms. Mushrooms in June! That's how wet it was. Her sneakers were soaked through.

Something long, solid and rounded, like a thin baseball bat, caught her hard in the arch of her foot. She lost her balance and toppled to a sitting position in the drenched forest. With one hand sunk in the boggy soil she boosted herself onto a fallen log where it wasn't quite so wet. Beryl removed her shoe and massaged the sore area. I should have stuck to the regular trail, she thought. I should be home drinking coffee.

"What the hell was that?" she muttered. Something stunk; she smelled her hand. And then her gaze drifted to the ground.

Her chest clenched. It squeezed and let go, squeezed again. A female form lay next to Beryl in the woods; she had touched it. It was the shin bone that had caused her to tumble to the ground. Bone on bone. No wonder it hurt so much.

Her breath didn't return for so long she thought she would die. She forced it. Manually -- like turning off the toaster before it popped up the toast on its own -- it could be done.

With her eyes she followed the long length of the girl -- she was tall and very slender. Beryl hoped she was dead. Dealing with a live thing so close to death seemed beyond what she was capable of doing. She needn't have worried. This person was gone. Beryl knew this when she forced her gaze to rest upon the face. She had no experience with long-dead bodies, but no experience was necessary.

The dead girl's mouth was open wide. Mushrooms were growing there. Someone must have filled her mouth with dirt. How else could this be? Beryl closed her eyes for a long minute to give the face a chance to disappear. It didn't. A colony of mushrooms was using the head of a girl as a planter. It rained softly at first, then hard, like a punishment.

She held out her hand and the rain washed it clean.

Pain in her foot. Pain from the shin bone of a dead girl. She could still feel the hard roundness pressing into her.

She wished she hadn't seen the face. The mushroom face. But she had; it was hers to keep. Like a birthmark, like a tattoo. Let me go back, she prayed, so I don't have to carry this forever.

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The Girl in the Wall

The Girl in the Wall

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tagged : suspense
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Behind the drywall were layers of mortar and cracked plaster covering wood lath. In some spots the lath had pulled away from the framing behind it. Someone had tried to repair it.

"I like this ripping-down phase," said Frank.

"Not me," said Jane. "It's my least favourite part. I like getting to the stage when we start building new stuff."

"Hey, wait a sec," Frank said. "What's this?"

His arm was out of sight up to his shoulder in a hollow space behind a destroyed sheet of drywall.

"Just a minute. I can't quite get it."

He tore away some more of the outer wall, reached in and brought out what looked to be a photograph. He took off his mask and blew on the item and then wished he hadn't as he coughed away the dust and sneezed four times.

"What are you up to over there?" Jane asked. "Do I need to call an ambulance?"

Frank sneezed one last time.

"I've found something interesting."

He took a clean white handkerchief out of his back pocket and carefully dusted off the picture. It was in faded colour, unframed and curled at the edges. It was bigger than an ordinary snapshot, perhaps five by seven.

"What is it, Frank?"

"It's a photograph."

"Let's see."

Jane took off her gloves and whapped them on the side of her leg.

"Hmm. It looks kind of sixtyish," she said.

There was a man, two women, a boy and a girl. And they did look like their time was the sixties or early seventies, with their tie-dyed T-shirts and long flowing hair, even on the man. The women and girl sat on straight-backed chairs, the man behind them, standing. The boy stood beside the girl with his hand gripping her shoulder.

"Are they wearing costumes, do you think?" asked Jane. "Or..."

"It looks like a pose for an album cover." Frank interrupted. For a group with a girl singer or two."

Jane put her gloves back on.

"I'll leave you to it. I want to get this part over with today."

She went back to her job and Frank continued staring at the photograph.

"Could you please turn the music down, Jane?"

Frank's head was starting to hurt and he no longer liked the songs. There was too much death in the lyrics.

Jane turned it off.

"Are you all right, Frank?"

"I don't know. There's something weird going on in this picture."

"What kind of weird?"

"The little girl might not be alive."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I think she was dead when this was taken."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Jane set down her crowbar and walked over to where Frank was sitting on a crate with the photograph held gently in his hands. She peered over his shoulder.

"Look at her eyes," Frank said.

"Odd."

"Very."

Jane pulled up another crate and sat down beside him, taking a closer look.

"I think everyone else is alive," she said.

"Yes."

"It's her eyes that give her away, but I'd like to see this in a better light."

"Yes."

They looked at each other for a moment and then back at the picture. Frank turned it over. There was writing on the back, too faded to read. It looked like it had been written in pencil. A capital L for sure, and maybe a capital D, and 19 something, a date perhaps.

"I can probably get someone at work to figure out what this says."

"You're retired, Frank. You don't go to work anymore."

"I still have people there."

His words sounded petulant to his own ears.

Jane stood up.

"Okay. You try to figure out what it says. And I'll go to the library and find out who all has lived here."

Frank suspected that she was humouring him, that she had no intention of going to the library, but he decided to try to take her words at face value and dismiss his mistrustful feelings.

"It's no big deal," he said, as he set the picture down carefully in a safe spot away from their activity. "Featherstone probably already knows who all lived here. We could just ask him before you go trudging off to the library. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up today while we're still here."

They went back to work.

"Garth has a powerful magnifying glass at home," Frank said, mostly to himself. "Maybe it will do the job of deciphering the words."

"Maybe," said Jane.

With a creaking rip Frank tore down the last of the drywall on the north-facing side of the house.

"Jesus Christ Almighty," he whispered when he saw what was stashed behind it.

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The Rain Barrel Baby

The Rain Barrel Baby

edition:eBook
tagged : suspense
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Excerpt

Chapter 1: 1954

The words drift over on the wind to the family of three sitting on the beach at Matlock. They don't know where the words come from. Sounds on the beach are tricky. You can hear a laugh or a bark from a mile away. But sometimes the words of the person lying next to you get lost in the waves.

The mother slathers cocoa butter on herself and tells the boy to do the same. When he's done, he smoothes some onto the back of the little girl.

"Don't waste it, Ray," the mother says. "There's not very much left in the jar. Your sister doesn't really need it."

"Yes she does." He keeps on till she is well covered. "There's still lots left."

Ray is seven and he wears two hats. One is a black cap with the name Gophers embroidered in gold thread. Gophers is the name of his peewee ball team. Ray plays first base. He chose the cap when the mother told him to be sure to bring a hat. He didn't know she was talking about sun protection. She has placed one of her big straw hats on top of it. He doesn't seem to mind.

Squinting into the sun, the girl smiles up at her brother. He smiles back and removes his hats to go for a swim.

"Be careful out there!" the mother shouts as Ray dives into the waves. "A little boy drowned here last year, ya know."

Her words vanish before they reach Ray's ears but the girl hears them and shivers.

"Time for some sand cakes," the mother says, and helps her daughter cut out tiny squares from the damp sand near the shore.

"Mmm," the mother says and pretends to eat one. "You now. Take a bite."

The girl sits in the wet sand with the water lapping around her. She is three, going on four.

"I don't want to, Mummy. I don't want to eat sand."

"You know you have to, so just do it," the mother says and smiles up at the people walking by. "And don't forget to chew."

It scrapes against her tiny teeth, grinds in her ears. It's louder than the waves. She gags on sand and tears, feels as though her head is made of sand and she could just lie down and be part of the shoreline.

"Clean yourself up now, before your brother sees you all grubby and dirty."

The little girl leans over the shallows and splashes water onto her face. She peers into the lake, hoping to see a fish or some smooth stones at the bottom, hoping to see anything. But the lake is cloudy and dark. And the darkness settles inside her narrow chest.

Chapter 2: The Present

"Greta Bower found a baby in her rain barrel," Gus said.

Frank Foote turned cold. He stepped out onto his front porch and closed the door behind him. "What?"

"Well, I guess, technically, I found it," Gus said. "She asked me if I could come over and give her a hand with her rain barrel." He gave his head a shake. "It was awful."

"Is it alive?"

"No, Frank. It's dead. Real dead."

"Oh, God." Frank clutched his thinning hair in both fists. "Whose baby is it?" he asked. "Where did it come from?"

"I don't know. It hardly looks like a baby anymore. It's been in the barrel quite a while I guess." Gus sat down on the top step. "I think maybe it wintered there."

"I'm sorry, Gus. Let me get you a glass of water. You're as white as a sheet."

"No sheet of mine, that's for sure. Since Irma died mine just keep gettin' grayer and grayer."

Frank returned with the water. "So Greta doesn't have any ideas on it?"

"She doesn't seem to. She just started to shake and hasn't stopped."

"Where is she?" Frank asked.

"I took her to my place." Gus took a sip of water and spit it out. "She wanted to get away from it."

"I don't blame her." Frank sat down on the step beside his friend. "Are you sure it's a baby?" he asked. "Maybe it's a raccoon or a squirrel or something. Sometimes foxes come into town."

"It's a baby all right," Gus said. "I think I can tell a human being from a fox. Jesus, Frank."

"Sorry, Gus. Just hoping, I guess."

The morning was cool, too cool to be sitting on the porch in shirtsleeves the way Frank was. Chilly sweat slid down his sides and a gust of wind brought goose bumps out on his forearms. "Where is it now?" he asked.

"It's still in the bottom of the barrel. I drained it. Ya see, her water had been cloudy lately and got to smellin' kinda funny. That's why she asked me to come over and have a look at it for her. After the water was emptied out I stood on her ladder to take a peek inside."

"God, I'm sorry you had to see it, Gus. I don't expect it was a very pretty sight."

"I've seen plenty of death in my time, Frank. I grew up on a farm. But yeah, this is the worst I can remember."

Frank put his arm around the thin shoulders of his next-door neighbour, just for a moment. "Who the hell has a rain barrel around here anymore?" he asked.

"Greta Bower. That's who. She's pretty upset, Frank. I should probably get back to my place. I just kind of put her on the couch and left her."

"Yeah, you're right, Gus. We better get moving. I'm just going to have a word with Emma and then I'll come over. I don't want my kids to know about this."

"Thanks, Frank. I'll see ya in a few minutes then."

Frank brushed his teeth and spoke to Emma, who agreed to watch Garth and Sadie.

"It's Sunday," she said. "I thought this was your day off."

"Yeah, it is, but there's a little problem at Greta Bower's place. I'm just going to check it out and then I'll phone the station and get someone else out to clear it up."

"Was that Mr. Olsen at the door?" Emma asked. "What happened? Did someone die?"

"Don't worry about it, Em. I'm sure it's nothing."

Greta was a wreck. Gus had given her a mug of brandy even though it was just mid-morning.

She explained about the rain barrel. "It's just always been there. It was there when I was a kid and well, I like it. I use the water for my plants and my hair and that's about it. The water got kind of yucky looking lately, and it had a bit of a stink to it, so I quit using it. I thought maybe the barrel needed cleaning or something. There's a filter on top to keep out biggish things and I did have it covered with lengths of wood over the winter, but I figured maybe lots of small insects added up, or maybe some kid did something. Oh hell, I don't know what I figured."

Greta gulped down the rest of her brandy and Gus poured her some more.

"The filter is really just resting there," she said. "Anyone could move it if they had something to stand on. Could you please make it go away, Frank? I'd really like to get it cleaned up in a hurry. It's supposed to rain tonight."

"You're surely not going to use it again after this?" Gus said.

"Why not? It's just a little baby. What could be more natural than that?" She laughed. "Maybe it'll give my hair new life."

She's lost her marbles, Frank thought. Maybe it's just temporary, from the shock. Or, maybe she belongs in a loony bin.

"You're thinking I'm crazy, aren't you?" Greta said. "I can tell by the look on your face." She started to cry.

Frank felt terrible, the way he always did when women cried, as though it were his fault and it was up to him to fix things. He touched her shoulder and gave her a handkerchief.

"No, Greta. No one's thinking you're crazy. It just surprised me is all. Most people would probably want to get rid of the rain barrel after something like this. But you're right. A poor dead baby is nothing to run from."

Gus didn't look so sure. He fetched a glass and poured some brandy for himself.

Frank left the room to phone the police station.

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The Cognitive Neurosciences

The Cognitive Neurosciences

contributions by Tania L. Roth; Marcello Massimini; Sinéad L. Mullally; Asif A. Ghazanfar; Dean D'Souza; David Pitcher; Anjan Chatterjee; Alard Roebroeck; Suzanne Wood; Gideon Yaffe; Jacqueline Fairley; Asli Özyürek; Laura A. Libby; Karl Deisseroth; Franz-Xaver Neubert; Paul J. Whalen; Catherine A. Hartley; André M. M. Sousa; Wilson S. Geisler; Hanah A. Chapman; Yaniv Assaf; Wei-chun Wang; Leah Krubitzer; Patrick Haggard; Ali Borji; Annabelle M. Belcher; Gordon L. Shulman; Danielle S. Bassett; Todd M. Preuss; Frédéric Crevecoeur; Sergi Ferré; Lasana T. Harris; Steven P. Wise; Kara D. Federmeier; Adina L. Roskies; Jennifer Blaze; Ian G. Dobbins; Alexander Todorov; Danielle R. King; Michael J. Kahana; Nathaniel E. Anderson; Alison Preston; Jill D. Waring; Hal Blumenfeld; Julio C. Martinez-Trujillo; Christof Koch; Paul W. Glimcher; Jon H. Kaas; Gregory J. Quirk; Jill K. Leutgeb; Peipei Setoh; Laurent Itti; Anthony D. Wagner; Behrad Noudoost; Scott T. Grafton; Xaq Pitkow; Kenneth A. Norman; John T. Serences; Kevin S. Weiner; Rodney Douglas; Beatrice H. Capestany; Elad Schneidman; Nicole C. Rust; Snigdha Banerjee; Dietrich Stout; Ralph-Axel Müller; Chantal E. Stern; Daniel Yoshor; Eveline A. Crone; Maurizio Corbetta; James Rodger Fleming; Daniel Kersten; Nicole White; Richard P. Dum; Robert S. Turner; Anthony D. D'Antona; Nathaniel D. Daw; Eve Marder; Steven S. Hsiao; Thomas P. Urbach; Jörn Diedrichsen; Peter Hagoort; Leah H. Somerville; Tilman J. Kispersky; Marco Catani; Alan M. Gordon; Olga Rass; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore; Lin Bian; Aaron Batista; Kyong-sun Jin; Matthew F. S. Rushworth; Man Chen; Sid Kouider; Guilio Tononi; Maureen Ritchey; BJ Casey; Adrienne Fairhall; Mirjana Bozic; Fred Rieke; Antonello Baldassare; Eddy Albarran; Thilo Womelsdorf; Nils Kolling; Steven J. Luck; Athena Demertzi; Courtney Stevens; Adam K. Anderson; Gregg H. Recanzone; Michael B. Miller; Eric D. Roth; Nalini Ambady; Felipe De Brigard; Jeremy R. Manning; Nora D. Volkow; Elizabeth A. Phelps; Stephen H. Scott; Renée Baillargeon; Lyn M. Gaudet Kiehl; Victoria K. Lee; Jason Scott Robert; Michael S. Beauchamp; Amy Bastian; Michael E. Hasselmo; James K. Rilling; Ayelet N. Landau; Charan Ranganath; David Poeppel; Charnese Bowes; Dylan D. Wagner; Jamal Williams; Michael W. Deem; Naotsugu Tsuchiya; Todd F. Heatherton; Mary-Ellen Lynall; Stefan Treue; Eduardo Rosales Jubal; Rainer Goebel; Uri Maoz; Bradley B. Doll; Stephen C. Levinson; Anat Arzi; Jonathan D. Power; Gabriel Kreiman; Helen Neville; Eleanor A. Maguire; William D. Marslen-Wilson; Scott A. Huettel; John C. Myers; Daniel Marcus; Nenad Šestan; Ashley Royston; B. A. Wandell; James J. DiCarlo; Frederick Gerard Moeller; Jarrod A. Lewis-Peacock; Peter Mende-Siedlecki; Jonathan B. Freeman; Urs Schüffelgen; Justin M. Moscarello; Kyle A. Meyer; Johannes Burge; Pascal Fries; Bolton Ka Hung Chau; Roger N. Lemon; Jay N. Giedd; Stephanie Sloane; Tyler Cluff; Anne-Lise Goddings; Kent A. Kiehl; Kevin N. Ochsner; Marta Kutas; Walter Sinnott-Armstrong; Katrin Amunts; Stefan Leutgeb; Olaf Blanke; Jérôme Sackur; Lenny Ramsey; Scott H. Johnson-Frey; Steven A. Hillyard; Steven Laureys; Tirin Moore; Alicia Callejas; Dylan G. Gee; Maital Neta; Bruno A. Olshausen; Lorraine K. Tyler; Rachel I. Wilson; Douglas A. Ruff; Karen Emmorey; Justin C. Cox; Marlene R. Cohen; Kevan A.C. Martin; Morten H. Christiansen; Lila Davachi; Markus Meister; Joshua D. Greene; Melina R. Uncapher; Melchi M. Michel; Jeremy Wolfe; Kalanit Grill-Spector; Olaf Sporns; Kelly A. Zalocusky; Kathryn L. Mills; Andreea C. Bostan; Daphna Shohamy; Timothy O'Leary; Manuel Gomez-Ramirez; Benjamin Pasquereau; Peter L. Strick; Sibylle C. Herholz; Sabine Kastner; Alan L. Yuille; Timothy R. Koscik
edited by Michael S. Gazzaniga & George R. Mangun
edition:Hardcover
also available: Hardcover Hardcover
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