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Book Review: Devil of Gilding

After the death of his wife, nobleman James Blake cares little for anything other than his son Toby. But life changes when Toby goes missing in the book Devil of Gilding.

After the death of his wife, nobleman James Blake cares little for anything other than his son Toby. But life changes when Toby goes missing in the book Devil of Gilding.

Book Review: Devil of Gilding

December Knight, lover of counting to three in several languages, superfluous facts, God, and searching for Big Foot, has also brought us a great story, Devil of Gilding. The story, filled with mystery and convoluted plans by more than one villain, kept my attention from page one to page done.

My Thoughts on Devil of Gilding

Set in the time of carriages and corsets, Devil of Gilding begins with the birth of Toby and the death of his mother, Leah. A tender-hearted boy, Toby grows into a loving thirteen-year-old under the hand of his father, James, uncle Clemit, and caregiver Adelaide until he goes missing.

The exciting book includes wonderful descriptions, intricate plans, gypsies, criminals, and someone we only know as D, short for Devil. The well-developed characters drew me into the story, as did the perfect descriptions.

Devil of Gilding is written in a third-person omniscient point of view. Knight, however, does not project the narrator’s voice well, so occasionally the bounce from one character to another is jarring. I also found myself re-reading several sentences due to missing commas. That said, I didn’t find either too difficult to look past it.

As much as these weaknesses exist, the story is well worth the read and the writing, itself, is quite engaging. I enjoyed the story immensely and cannot iterate strongly enough that the weaknesses should not dissuade anyone from reading the book.

Now, if you don’t like cliffhangers, you may want to wait a few weeks until the second book comes out, but add the Blake Duology to your list of series to keep your eye on. I know I’ll be waiting for the second book.

The official Blurb

Despite their troubled past, the Blake family have found their own kind of perfect. James, a nobleman, and his less than reputable brother Clemit discovered something to live for in James’s son, Toby. When jealousy enters their lives in the form of a new personality, all hell breaks loose. 

In a single instant, all of their lives change for the worst. A new greedier villain enters their world wrapping tightly around the one thing that kept everything together, Toby. Toby is forced to fight for his life, as James and Clemit desperately try and find him while avoiding the other villain that is still hungry for more. 

Will the Blake’s survive this trial or will they be pulled apart by the hands that have taken hold?

More Info…

Purchase your copy of Devil of Gilding on Amazon.

Follow December Knight on Facebook Instagram Goodreads
and don’t forget to check out her website.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

A Decision of Love

Benny’s saved his money, and the pups are ready for homes. But unforeseen circumstances threaten his deepest desire.

Man's Best Friend

Benny sauntered down the street, money jingling in his pocket and the snow crunching under his feet. Hound pups, born late-December, weaned and ready, waited for him to choose the best of them. He had his eye on the one with the keen nose and perfectly dropped ears. Every time he visited, the pup had his nose to the ground. And when Benny hid a treat, he always scouted it out first. A couple quickened steps, put him that much closer, his excitement barely contained.

“You off to get that pup of your’s today, Benny?” Mr. Jansen waved from his shop, broom in hand.

“Sure am. Best of the litter.”

“That’s what Kyle said. With all the work you done, you deserve him. Stop on your way home so I can lay my eyes on him, ya hear!”

The words from the shop’s owner flitted to his ear, but he had no time to acknowledge him. Not in his mind, anyway. As the town’s buildings spread further apart, Benny’s feet struck the frozen ground sooner, picking up speed. What boy could wait for his very first hound? He sure couldn’t.
Jumping the log that lay across the trail, he watched as the Kyle barn peeked through the dense trees, calling him closer. The movement of boots smaller than his and the bottom of a dingy gray skirt caught his eye. Emiline ran toward him. “Hurry, Pa’s got the pups out, ready to go. You gonna get Dozer?”

“I told you that’s not his name.”

They fell in step with each other and hurried toward the farmhouse.

“Well, what is it then?” Her eyes, blue as fine china, blinked, waiting for his answer.

“Don’t know yet. But not Dozer.”

“Okay, but he already answers to Dozer, comes real good when called.”

“He’s a pup, he’ll learn a new name fast enough.”

Emiline shrugged as they continued in silence.

When the trees fell away, Benny’s legs took off, no longer able to wait. The snow crunch under his feet became lost as tiny snowballs flew into the air before crashing back down behind him. Emiline’s shorter legs pumped but eventually slowed. Benny was fast.

“I’m here, Mr. Kyle. I’m here.” His heart pounded erratically as he lungs panted for breath.

“You run all the way?”

“No Sir, just from the trees.”

“Hmm.” Mr. Kyle straightened his hat and narrowed his eyes. “Got the money? Ten dollars, right?”

“Yes Sir, I mean… I got the money, but you said seven, not ten.”

“Did I now?” A new gleam shone in the man’s eye. “Well, tell you what, you muck out that stable, and I’ll make it five.”

“Yes Sir, but you won’t give him to no one else, will you?”

“Pay now, just muck that stable good, or you’ll pay those two dollars, too.”
Benny’s grin spread across his face as his shaky fingers dug the coins he’d saved for so long. As he counted out the money, a dime fell to the ground and he dove after it, unwilling to lose a precious cent, let alone ten. “Five dollars.”

Mr. Kyle eyed the coins. “So it is. Top pick goes to you.”

Everything slowed as he stared at the pups. Each one wagging a short tail and ready to trip over their long ears. No question as to which dog he wanted crossed his mind, but he focused on building a memory. The scent of freshly fallen snow mixed with the mustiness of the barn. He picked up the pup Emiline had called Dozer, fresh puppy breath joining the other aromas as the pup licked his chin. “This one.”

“Dozer’s a fine pup. Great tracker. He’ll train easy for you if that’s what you want.”

Benny nodded, then turned toward the stable. “I’ll get all four stalls real good and clean for you, Mr. Kyle. Don’t you worry.”

Turning, he buttoned his new pup into his jacket, and picked up the shovel. The work promised to take most of the day, but he didn’t care. Not now that he had his pup.

“So what are you going to name him?” Emiline straddled a low wall nearby.

“I’ll think of something.”

“Something like Spot?”

“No. Something that makes him sound special.”

“Whatcha gonna do with him, anyway?”

“Train him to hunt. Help feed my family, maybe make some money from furs.”

“Dozer’ll be good at that. Pa breeds the best.”

“Name’s not Dozer.” With the first stall finished, he moved on to the next.

“ What should I call him, then?” Emiline questioned.

He stared into the pups eyes, still gray on their way to brown. “Major. I think I’ll call him Major.” He scratched behind the pup’s ear. “You like that, boy?”

A young bay rumbled in the dog’s throat.

Giggling, Emiline ambled toward Benny. “Guess he likes it. But I’d let him down, or he’ll wet you good.”

Benny nodded, lowering Major to the ground.

About the time he finished the third stall, a thump on the side of the barn lifted his head. “Jed, what are you doing here, scaring me like that?”

“Gotta come home, Pa’s had an accident.”

“Is the doctor there?”

“No. Ma says we can’t afford him. His legs real messed up. Come on!”
Benny looked at the pup. “You go ahead. I’ll be there quick.”

After his brother left, he sank to the floor of the barn and picked up Major. Tears filled his eyes and he lifted the pup and himself off the floor of the barn and looked to Emiline. “Where’s your Pa?”

“Out at the fence, fixing it, I think. Why?”

“This pup’s no good. I’m returning him.”

She grabbed at his arm, but he pulled away as she said, “What do you mean he’s no good? He’s the best there is.”

“No, he ain’t.” He yanked his arm away again and rushed to Mr. Kyle.
Mr. Kyle stopped hammering at the fence and gazed at the boy’s blotchy face. “You all done?”

“No Sir. I’m sorry. I can’t take the pup.”

“Well why not, you paid for him?”

“He’s just not right, that’s all. You gotta take him back.”
The man straightened his hat and eyed his daughter and Benny. “If that’s what you want.”

Benny’s voice broke. “Yes Sir.”

“Did you want to look at the others?”

“No, Sir. I mean to get home as soon as you give me my money back.”

Mr. Kyle dug in his pocket and pulled out the five dollars. “How much of the stable you finish?”

“Three stalls.”

Another dollar fifty fell into Benny’s hand. That’s for the work you did today.

“Thank you!”

Head hung low, Benny took off toward town as fast as he could, and minutes later banged on the doctor’s door.

“Something happened to my pa’s leg. You gotta come.”

The doctor grabbed his bag. “Get my horse saddled, boy.”

Benny did as he was told, and the doctor soon appeared at his side. “Your family able to pay?”

“I have eight dollars and fifty cents. Is that enough?” His teary eyes met the doctor’s, hoping.

The doctor sighed. “Today it is, I suppose.”

A breeze colder than Benny remembered it chaffed his face as he rode home on the doctor’s extra horse—a service rarely afforded to customers. The pounding of his heart matched the galloping of the horse’s hooves. Tears traced his cheeks at the thought of returning the perfect puppy he’d just named Major. No longer could he help feed his family. Momma didn’t want him helping anyway. The memory of the sweet puppy breath caused his face to crumble.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get your Pa all fixed up.” The doctor’s words scratched at his ears.

Of course, he wanted the best for his pa, but anguish batted him from both sides.

Once home, the doctor rushed in the house, Benny trailing slightly behind. A moment later, Momma quietly slipped into the rocking chair behind him on the porch as she held her rounded belly. “Where’s your pup? Jed said you got him.”

“Gone.”

“The doctor said you paid him.”

“Yeah. Mr. Kyle paid me to muck out his barn, but I didn’t finish.”

“He didn’t pay enough to hire a doctor, did he?”

“No.”
Silence permeated the porch until Momma’s soft whisper reached Benny’s ears again. “Thank you. You and me could’ve set the leg, but not well. And I wouldn’t know what to do about the gash from the bone.”

“What happened, Momma. How’d he break his leg like that?”

“Removing a tree, I think. Don’t really know. He’s not talking much yet.”

“Pa’s downed hundreds of trees!”

She stood and squeezed his shoulder. “I know.”

His whole life, all he’d wanted was a puppy, a coon hound. His whole savings was gone. But he held the pup for those few hours. Major—a strong name for a strong dog. Tears fell to the wood below his feet and he wiped them away before traipsing into the house.

Darkness soon turned to dim light, and Benny’s swollen eyes opened as his momma’s voice entered his consciousness.

“Coming.”

Stepping onto the porch, Benny gazed at the wet nose and soft fur resting in Emiline’s arms. Mr. Kyle stood next to her. “Benny, you’re right. This pup’s not right. Fact is, I’ll never sell him. Feeding him takes a lot too.”

Benny stared at the pup. “I lied. He’s a great pup, should be the first to go.”

Mr. Kyle pushed his hat back. “No, you were right.” His eyes narrowed. “I know you wanted a good hunting dog. This one’s no good for that, not good at all, but well, if you want him…”

Emiline held Major out, who wagged his tail, his gray eyes bright and eager. Benny extended shaky hands that wrapped around the pup. Holding him close, he nuzzled his face against the fuzzy ear. The fall of tears sparkled in the rising sun as Benny’s tongue tripped over the short, raspy words. “Thank you.”

First Kiss

Conversation ceased as his gaze pierced her own. Strong, yet soft, questioning. She eased closer, head tipping up.

Various frosted heart-shaped cookies lay across the counter as the new couple stepped past the kitchen toward the front door. Friends had easily gathered for a Valentine’s Day cookie decorating party, thrown together for the sole purpose of seeing him again. A third date. Fingers entwined with hers as she reached for the door, the cool handle contrasting the warmth of his hand.

Bare feet padded onto the doormat, the icy breeze floating through her blue silk top, prickling her skin. Would it come? A squeeze of the hand, seconds slowed but still promised to pass too fleetingly. The door closed, the damp pavement from a light shower sending shivers up her spine—warmth emanating from his touch chasing them away.

Thoughts galloped through her mind. Was it possible? The words pounded through her. As the wind whipped across her legging-dressed knees, she pushed the nagging recitation down, leaving only a dull roar in its place.

They approached his old, brown car; it got him from one place to another, to her, that’s all that mattered. She gazed at the stars, brighter after the rain. Twisting his hand in hers, she reached for the other. Light shone down on them from above, his chocolate eyes catching their gleam. Ripples of warmth descended from head to toe, wrapping her first in an illusory blanket, then capturing her in strong arms, the aroma of almond frosting mixed with spicy cologne causing both comfort and frenzy within.

The third date.

Small hands lay lightly on his chest, her eyes meeting his again. Unimportant words flowed from her mouth. School. Work. The soft silk of her blouse skimmed across her back where his hands caressed almost imperceptibly. The lateness of the night worked against them, the other guests long since departed. Fingertips brushed against her cheek, auburn hair now resting behind her ear.

Conversation ceased as his gaze pierced her own. Strong, yet soft, questioning. She eased closer, head tipping up. As his head lowered, she raised herself on tiptoes, and bodies pressed together as lips parted. The first kiss. Brief. Soft. Tantalizing. His grip tightened, and she welcomed it. Resting her head near his ear, energy pulsed through her, setting the whisper free. “I love you.”

Silence surrounded them as he pulled her closer, the anticipation for his response filling her bosom.


“You’re awesome!”

My Life: A Yellow Canary Kind of Day

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat.

I sat against the sliding door in Mom’s bedroom singing the usual melody of summer. “I’m bored.” Gauging her response, I mentioned a movie playing at the dollar theater. (Back then, the dollar theater still cost a dollar.)

“Hmm. Have you asked your father?”

“No.”

As if he’d been called into the room, Dad entered. “Asked me what?”

“Can we go to a movie?”

“Which one did you have in mind?”

Within minutes, a family day lay ahead of us. Not only would we attend a movie, but Dad wanted King’s Table too. A movie and the buffet! About that time, my youngest sister came in, took a single look at me, and scowled. “I’m not going anywhere with her dressed like that.”

“Why?” I held out my bright yellow shirt and looked at my yellow shorts. “I match.”

At sixteen, how I dressed should have mattered more, but aside from the fact that I lived by the mantra like me or leave me, none of my friends frequented downtown Glendale.

“You can’t wear that. Mom, make her change.”

I stood and casually sauntered to Mom’s dresser where I picked up a giant, yellow floppy hat. Placing it on my head, I announced myself ready. Tanna fell to the floor. “She can’t wear that. You can’t.”

“Bet you I can.”

“Mom.”

“I don’t care what she wears.” Mom flipped a page in her book.

“At least leave the hat.” The begging started, but the game was too fun to give up.

“No way.”

“But you look like you belong in a Curious George story.”

“I always liked those books. Besides, I don’t want the sun getting in my eyes.”

My sister grabbed my arm. “Kameo, please.”

We climbed in the car. The yellow hat would have hit someone in the head, had we not been in a Suburban, by this time aptly named the SuBarton, by a friend. My sister never stopped begging, and I only laughed harder.

“You’ll take it off inside though, right. Hats can’t be worn inside.”

“That’s for guys. But I’ll take it off during the movie so no one complains.”

“Mom, she can’t wear it while we eat!”

Dad snickered.

I held my yellow floppy-hatted head high as I entered the rundown restaurant in downtown Glendale. A few patrons sat at tables, but for the most part, we had our choice of where to sit. I grinned as the hostess eyed my hat. The only thing better would have been an up and down of my canary-colored outfit. Understanding my sister’s needs, I made several trips back to the buffet table, hat atop my head.

Valley West Mall, almost completely deserted of customers, entered our view. My sister continued to complain. The one-story mall, easily circled within eight or nine minutes, housed the dollar theater we’d visited since my birth.

“We’ve got time. Let’s get some penny gum,” I said.

The health goods store had one of the only penny gum machines around, and I wanted to see if it still existed. It also meant walking in the open. We passed the DQ and headed to the right, my sister refusing to walk next to me. Dad’s hands slipped onto my shoulders, and he eased me to the left until I stepped in time with Tanna.

“Dad!” Smoke definitely puffed from her ears.

Dad and I chuckled.

As the few people in the mall passed us, I started waving and calling hello. Most ignored me, some waved back with smiles. Children pointed. Crimson filled in the spaces between my sister’s freckles, and she did everything possible to get away from me.

We entered the theater and realizing my fun would soon end, I whipped the hat off my head and placed it on my sister’s. That’s when Chad walked by. “Hey, Tanna. Um, nice hat.”

Although the bulk of this story is true, I may have fibbed toward the end. No one we knew ever walked by.

A Memoir to Remember: Danny Boy

Melinda Turner remembers what growing up with her special needs brother Danny brought to her life in Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family.

In a world where people would rather take care of themselves instead of others, Danny Boy shows the joy that comes through ultimate service to the ones we love.

When you grow up in a house with typical siblings, imaging what it’s like in a home with a special needs brother leaves out half the angst and nearly all the happiness. Melinda Turner remembers what growing up with her special needs brother Danny brought to her life in Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family.

My Thoughts on Danny Boy:

Melinda and I have a few things in common. We both grew up in homes with a sibling that needed extra care, we share the same beliefs, and our families both know how to have a lot of fun. Unlike Melinda, my sibling’s needs came from a car accident and the injury has always had a plethora of information and treatments available. I also relate to Melinda’s parents as a mother of a child with a developmental disability, Unlike both Melinda and her mother, I stopped having to clean up someone else’s poop long ago.

Born at a time when doctors could not diagnose him, Danny started life with a feeding tube. Later he became the best escape artist in the history of children and helped his family laugh until they cried.

Melinda covers the ins and outs of despising and absolutely loving a brother with needs that required the help of every member of the family. Something I have no experience with. Her honesty is refreshing, as is her family’s wonderful sense of humor. We might need to become best friends.

Whether I laughed or cried, Danny Boy kept my heart warm. Well-written and worth the read, I recommend Danny Boy, especially if you love biographies or memoirs.

The Official Blurb:

I was not quite eight years old when Danny was born. Even at that young age I can remember the exact moment I knew my life, my family’s lives, everything we had known up to that point had changed forever.

​It was evening in early summer. I walked to my parents’ bedroom at the end of the upstairs hallway wearing a soft summer nightgown and lurked silently, just inside the doorway. Mom and Dad stood side-by-side, arms around each other with their backs to me, looking down on their newborn son as he lay under the bilirubin lights in his crib. I don’t remember any words being spoken—only that I think mom was crying. Or maybe the baby was. What I do remember as the scene was forever stamped on my consciousness was that I knew something was wrong. Maybe not even wrong. Just different. This baby was different. And somehow, I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. And it never has been.”

At times hilarious, at times heart-wrenching; full of wit and wisdom, “Danny Boy” is a must-read for anyone struggling to care for a special needs child.

More Info:

Purchase your copy of Danny Boy: The Boy Who Raised His Family on Amazon.

Midnight Tan

When Pa told me he hired a new ranch hand, I’d shrugged my shoulders and stuffed another bite of rice and beans in my mouth, a few grains falling back to my plate. He made mention of remembering my niceties, and I nodded while shoveling in more food. Never once did he mention the cowboy had skin dark as night.

“Have you ever seen one?”

“No. He looks like a Mexican with a tan,” my friend John said. “Do you think he can see his hand in the dark?”

I whopped him on the head. “Can you see your hand in the dark? Course not.”

When Pa told me he hired a new ranch hand, I’d shrugged my shoulders and stuffed another bite of rice and beans in my mouth, a few grains falling back to my plate. He made mention of remembering my niceties, and I nodded while shoveling in more food. Never once did he mention the cowboy had skin dark as night. So when John and I set out to play kick the can with some of the others, we hid behind the tool shed the second we saw the new hand.

John and I’d seen plenty of Mexicans, played with a few too. José always won when we played marbles. One day I’d win my aggie back, God willing. But Negroes weren’t too common in our state, and even less common in our corner of the desert.

“Let’s go talk to him.”

John yanked me back behind the shed. “We can’t do that. What if he touches us?”

“So.”

“So, they carry illnesses. You don’t wanna get sick.”

“Pa wouldn’t have hired him if he carried illnesses—not if he’s working with the herd. Come on.”

John picked up an old, half-rotted two by four and skulked behind me. As I approached the new hand, I turned my head and rolled my eyes at my friend, motioning for him to drop the unneeded protection. He shook his head and stood back.

“Hi there.”

The man tipped his brimmed hat as he continued to stare across the ranch.

“We’ve got lots of land. The cows like to hide some. I guess Pa hired you to help bring ‘em in.”

His eyes shifted, looked me up and down, then returned to their original position. “He did.”

“Name’s Will.” I held out my hand, but he ignored it.

“Matthew.”

“Where you from?”

“South… Will, you got a friend ready to beat my brains in.”

“John? Nah, he’s just scared you’ll make him sick. Wood’s rotten anyway.”

Matthew swung around, feet sliding in the dirt as he yelled boo. The two by four broke in pieces when John dropped it and ran all the way down the drive faster than a coyote chasing a rabbit. Ebony hands gripped leather-bound knees as the new ranch hand’s entire body shook with laughter.

I squinted and looked into Matthew’s eyes, sunlight haloing his head. “What d’you do that for?”

“Don’t need no hasslin’.”

“John’s no hassler; he’s just never seen someone like you before?”

“Thought I’d make him sick.”

“Probably his Pa talking.”

“How come you’re not scared?” He eyed my blond hair and blue eyes with a raised eyebrow.

“Pa only hires the best.”

“And my midnight tan?” He folded his arms over his chest, a giant bear that relaxed the more we talked.

I shrugged. “Is it a tan?”

“No.” He squatted next to me. “And the sun don’t hurt me like it does you.”

I reached my hand out toward his arm, “Really?”

He flinched but allowed me to touch his skin. It felt just like mine. “I wish I didn’t burn.”

Matthew stood up and returned to the fence. “Friend’s back.”

Turning around, I viewed John far off, hunkered down under a tree. Puffs of dirt bloomed around my boots as I sped to tell him about Matthew. Under the Mesquite, I bent over to catch my breath as I narrowed my eyes at my friend. “Scaredy-cat.”

“Am not.”

“Why d’you run?”

John scratched the dirt with his foot, scowling, and shrugged.

“Scaredy-cat.”

“Come on. Matthew’s nice. His skin feels like ours, and he don’t burn in the sun.”

“He doesn’t?”

“Nope.”

“I wonder what color he bleeds.”

“Red,” I scoffed. “What other color is blood?”

“I don’t know? Thought maybe he’d bleed dark rust color”

“You’re dopey.”

“Am not.” John dropped a can and kicked it.

“What’s your Pa told you?”

“About what?” He stopped and glared at me.

“About Negroes?”

“Same as yours I ‘spect.”

“Then you know they’re just people. Like us.”

John’s scowl deepened. “Pa says their scum.”

“Well, your Pa’s mean. Thinks that about Mexicans too.”

“So.”

“So, that’s why your Pa can’t keep good hands. They always steal from him because he passes up good people ‘cuz of their skin.”

“No, he don’t.”

A towering shadow covered our heads.

“Boys.”

We dropped our heads and stared at the dirt. Something in the tone of the voice humbled us both.

“Sorry I scared you back there, John.”

John turned his head away from Matthew.

“He’s a scaredy-cat,” I mumbled.

“Will,” Matthew said, “I don’t like name callin’. Been called too many myself.”

“Sorry.”

“Saw you kickin’ your can, John. You got a good leg.” He held out his hand toward the rusted tin. “Can I see it?”

John picked up the can and held it in his hands.

“He won’t make you sick. I touched him and ain’t sick.” I said, whispering toward my friend’s ear.

Handing the can to Matthew, he watched as the man dropped it back to the ground. “Kids back home like to lift their toes when they kick. Like this.”

The can flipped into the air and landed twice as far as it had for John. Kicking the can high and far wasn’t necessary for the game, but it sure meant something to us boys.

“Wow!” John turned to me. “That puts Tommy’s kick to shame.”

“Yeah.” My jaw hung as low as John’s.

“Can you show me that again?” he asked.

Matthew played a few rounds of kick the can with us before Ma rang the dinner bell.

We said our farewells to John and walked up to the house together.

“Ma makes the best food. You’re gonna love it.”

Matthew stood still and furrowed his brow. “Will, I wanna thank you.”

My eyes widened. “For what?”

“You reminded me that bigotry is often taught.” He slapped me on the back of my neck, and we started walking again. “John’s a good kid, just been fed a bunch of lies. It’s people like you that help to unravel them fibs.”

The Exodus

The Exodus is a fictional short story based on occurrences that took place in Missouri after Governor Lilburn Boggs signed the Extermination Order against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838.

Elizabeth awoke to the frigid February air funneling into her home through the front door. An unfamiliar hand clamped over her mouth only a second later. Kicking and flailing, she reached for Ezra but failed to find the comfort her fingertips sought. Hot breath, wreaking of stale beer and tobacco, stung her nose as muscled arms dragged and then thrust her outside,  her hands and knees sinking into the snow. Beside her, her three young children fell.

“Ma?” Peter picked up his two-year-old sister and helped Elizabeth up. “Where’s Pa?”

Heartache set aside, Elizabeth grabbed the hands of her two children, trusting Peter to carry Clara, and ran for the darkened path leading from their property to the Beckers’. “Run, hurry!”

She and the children shivered as the night air whipped through thin clothes and the six-inch snow crunched under bare feet.

“Pa!” Emily cried great racking sobs as the sound of gunfire ignited her senses further.

Warm amber light soon reflected off the glistening ice, and the mob’s horses galloped from the scene.

“Pa.” Peter turned, running toward the glow, chest heaving, and Clara bouncing in his arms as tears flowed freely from everyone’s eyes. Slowed by the toddler he carried, Elizabeth caught him by the arm.

“Take your sisters and go to the Beckers’. I’ll see to Pa.” She stared into the eyes of her oldest, lit by the blazing house, barn, and night sky. “Don’t stop, just run. And don’t let go of your sisters.”

Peter nodded.

The Beckers’ house lay several miles to the north—the only family they could trust since the order for their religious group to leave the state had been given. The others were mostly gone. Rescuers from the neighboring state helped gather families and get them to safety—oxen, horses, and cows often driven to the brink of death. Carts overflowed with the few belongings people grabbed. Others fled with nothing. She and Ezra had planned to leave the next morning. Their meager cart now burned with the barn.

Step by agonizing step, Elizabeth found her way back to their homestead. Wind pricked at her frozen skin through her nightgown. Eyes watered not only from tears but from the cold, bristling air that surrounded her. Feet numb, she picked up her skirt and ran.

Swift legs carried her toward her goal. Refusing to consider Ezra’s death, she considered only the life ahead of them. Thousands of now destitute people migrated from settlements they’d once called home to the neighboring state. People—friends—slept in the yards of rescuers with hardly a blanket for warmth. But they had food. They would rebuild, she and Ezra together.

Inconsistent breaths entered and exited Elizabeth’s lungs as she careened around the house, knees landing in the melting snow next to Ezra. “Please Ezra.”

His eyes found hers. “Help.”

She gazed at his shoulder, blood oozing from the wound. “How? What do I do?” The words stung the tip of her tongue.

“My shirt, Elizabeth, help.” Ezra tried to sit up but fell back into the snow. The melting patterns proved it was not his first attempt.

“You’ll freeze.” Elizabeth removed her undergarment and pushed the waded drawers over her husband’s wound.

“Help me stand.”

Arms around her husband, she pushed, pulled, and lifted until he wavered on his feet instead of the ground. The paleness of his face brought her rushing to support him better.

“Where are the children?”

Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she prayed continuously for their young children. How had she left them alone in the dark?

“I sent them to the Beckers’.”

“They’ll make it. The Lord will see us through.”

Following her earlier footsteps, Elizabeth led her dying husband toward the Beckers’ home. His shivering weighted his body, each movement a struggle for both him and her. The full moon rose higher in the sky, lighting the bloody footprints of their children. They added their own as a testament of their persecution.

How had people come to hate them so much? They wished only to worship God as they desired—a right given through the Constitution but forgotten by mob and government. Hate legalized the extermination of human beings because of their religious beliefs. Though given until spring, no one stopped those who hunted early. Guards stood to keep them from food and warmth, not as protection. Only those leaving were permitted to pass.

Ezra fell to his knees and clasped her hands, his teeth chattering. “Go.”

She fell beside him, holding him in her arms. “I can’t leave you, Ezra.” Blood seeped from under his hand to her nightdress as they embraced.

“Go.”

Refusing, she wrapped her arms around him. “They’ll come. Someone will come.”

Moving behind him, she pulled him against her bosom, helping him to sit. She pushed her hand against his, her soaked drawers dripping blood down his nightshirt. His eyelids fluttered as he complained about the heat, a sign of hypothermia.

“Stay awake, Ezra.”

Pushing him forward and lifting him up, she raised him to his feet. He tried to fight her, to refuse, but her strength overpowered him. “You’ll walk or I’ll drag you!”

He shuffled his foot forward.

“You can’t die. Not today, Ezra. We’ve too much to do. I don’t build houses, and I can’t raise that boy without you. Take a step.”

He eased his foot forward again.

Elizabeth rubbed her own frozen hands down his arms, attempting to warm him. The sound of wagon wheels and horses broke through the deadly wind, whipping past her ears. Don waved his arms, calling lost words to them.

Needling breaths entered Elizabeth’s lungs, a wan smile crossing her lips. “They’re here.”

They fell to their knees; she supported her husband even then.

Jumping from their seats, Don and David Becker lifted Ezra into the buckboard, where blankets lay atop straw. Wrapping him tightly in a quilt, Don eased Ezra’s hand from the wound and packed it with clean cloths. “A miracle you’re alive.”

Elizabeth, helped into the wagon by David, curled into a blanket next to her husband as their friends layered three more on top of them.

“You should be proud of Peter, Elizabeth. He got your two girls to us before collapsing himself. The three of them are wrapped up warm. Mary’s tending to their feet now.” David said, then looked at his son. “Don, we need to leave tomorrow.”

“But…” With Elizabeth’s strength depleted, her teary eyes shifted between the father and son. “Ezra.”

Her husband still shivered next to her.

“He can ride in the wagon if you and your children will pull a cart.”

She nodded.

“Mary’s got clothes for you—and your boy and girls too. I’ve some leather strips for your feet. Wish we had more to give.”

“People have given less.” She said softly.

A Lighter Christmas

After a devastating accident Martha isn’t sure her anger can subside, but with a little help, she’s willing to make a change.

arkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?

A Lighter Christmas

Darkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?

“What h-happened?” The words, so strong in her mind, barely slurred past her lips. Everything hurt, yet only confusion coursed through her.

“You’ve been in an accident. Can you tell me your name?”

Name? What was her name? “M-Martha.”

Questions continued, but Martha’s brain remained sluggish. A thought pounded in the back of her consciousness, refusing to manifest. Where had she been that night?

“John. Where’s my husband? John?”

No one answered. Had the words crossed her lips? Someone sat next to her, holding her hand. John? She couldn’t see him, but he was there. John? Understanding of his death overwhelmed her. Chaos enveloped her as paramedics loaded her into the ambulance. John stayed with her. Annoying utterances called out commands and occasional questions at her. He prompted her answers.

At the hospital, doctors discovered internal bleeding, severe bruising, and a mangled limb. Blurriness clouded her vision then all went black. Passed out or anesthetized, she wasn’t sure, but the pain subsided for a short period. Then she woke up.

Christmas included celebrations with strangers and an extended visit from her adult son, which brought her joy. But with John’s hand no longer holding hers, emptiness and anger oozed from her heart, polluting her body’s ability to heal.

Struck by a drunk driver, missing a leg, and the death of her husband—no one condemned her rage. How could they? But as the physical healing sluggishly began, the hatred still festered.

She’d known the boy for months, a student at the school where she taught. Fourth row, fifth seat, until she’d moved him up. Sixteen and drinking—he received nothing more than a few hours in jail. He’d faced manslaughter charges, but they were soon dismissed. That left her with weeks in the hospital and a stump that suffered endless agony while he hung out with friends.

The following year, Martha shuffled to her car from her church’s Christmas program. The prosthesis rubbed at her skin, despite the sock, but she walked. Stopping to rest, her gaze lifted to the lights and displays that celebrated the Savior’s birth.

In front of her, the worn nativity, placed on the lawn each year, called her forward. Vandalized several times, some plastic figures had spots of splotchy paint and dents. Joseph suffered a crack on his side. She stared at the figure in the manager, a small doll with a mature look.

Though she considered leaving, something kept her there. And her numb fingers clutched the insides of her pockets as warmth swelled within her chest. The shabby doll, one eye a lighter shade than the other, represented the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who walked the earth teaching his gospel of forgiveness. His greatest miracle and example apparent when he suffered for the sins of all men. In return, he asked only that man believe in him and keep his commandments. The scriptures said he sweat great drops of blood. As much pain as Martha had experienced, imagining the misery of bleeding from every pore still eluded her. A softness entered her mind, speaking to her. Focusing, she swept the words forward: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Forgive who? The salty tears of knowledge soon welled in her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered.

You must.

A hand rested on her shoulder, but Martha stood alone. He’d been gone for so long. A warming peace surrounded her—strength overpowering fear and anger.

“Why are you here?” She asked John.

To help you.

“You’re not really here.”

Lighten your burden. Forgive.

“Is it that easy?”

Christ’s burden is light; let him carry yours.

“How?”

The touch at her shoulder faded, but the warmth remained. On the way home, Christmas lights strung on the eaves of homes pricked at her understanding. Over the last year, she’d spent countless months in physical torment. Emotional agony crashed down on her every time memories of that night gained her attention. But remembrances of John had become almost more sweet than painful, a blessing she’d begged to receive from the Lord. The pain from the accident might never go completely away, but if Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, and blessed her to remember John without crying, he would remove her anger. Wouldn’t he?

As her front door opened, Martha’s eyes found the porcelain nativity sitting on her coffee table. White lights from the Christmas tree reflected off each piece. The babe, sent to earth by his Father, died for her. Had he not done the same for the boy who sat in the fourth row, fifth seat?

She knew his name: Jay. She hadn’t allowed it to touch her lips since the accident. Doing so reminded her of his smile and his ridiculous sense of humor.

She sank to the couch. “Father, thank you for sending thy Son, Jesus Christ, and helping me through losing my leg and J-John. I’ve been so angry. Wilt thou forgive my anger and take it from me that I might forgive Jay?”

Thoughts and prayers swirled inside Martha’s head for weeks. Scriptures read by the light of the Christmas tree and prayers uttered from wherever she was helped her learn to trust the lord, and the anger faded. Wanting to put her forgiveness to the test, she devised a plan.

Christmas morning, Martha rose and entered the kitchen. Ingredient after ingredient found its way onto the counter, and she mixed a special treat. Fudge brownies covered with a delicious mint frosting.

Singing along to Christmas music, she focused on the memories she had of Jay in class. She hadn’t moved him from the rear to the front because he talked too much. Another student needed help with his math, and Jay agreed to tutor him. A popular kid, she’d seen Jay say hi to students from various social groups.

She didn’t know why he chose to drink or why he’d climbed in the car and attempted to drive. And although it affected her significantly, she didn’t have to live with the pain. Christ provided a way for her to give it all away if she’d forgive.

The aroma from the warm pan of brownies in the seat next to her soon floated on the air. Hands shaking, she steered the car to the side of the road and parked in front of Jay’s house. Closing her eyes, she waited as a warmth surrounded her. Her hands trembled for a moment as she gathered the dessert and stepped to the door. No hatred clutched her. She rang the bell.

Jay’s mother answered the door and stared at Martha, eyes wide. “May I help you?”

“Hello. I’ve come to see Jay if he’s available.”

The woman’s jaw dropped, her gaze frozen.

“I want to wish him a Merry Christmas.”

“Of course… Jay, door.” She turned back to Martha, “Please come in.”

Jay walked toward the entryway and stopped when he saw Martha. His mother scooted his sisters and father to the other room.

The boy stayed where he was, rigid.

“I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.” Martha stepped closer to him.

“Why?”

Her single leg twitched. “I’ve been thinking about you and how much I enjoyed having you in my class.”

His brows furrowed. “That’s it?”

“For today it is.”

“You’re not mad?”

“Mad about what?” She lifted an eyebrow.

His head bowed, and Martha saw a tear fall to the floor.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I haven’t had a drink since then and never will. That’s a promise I made to myself.”

Martha nodded, surprised by her sincere smile. “I know you won’t. You messed up pretty bad, but it’s time we both let it go.”

His tear-stained face raised, and he met her gaze. “How?”

“Well, if your parents allow it, I’d like to tell you.”

Read more Christmas and other short stories at KameoMonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird Has to Fly.

Stort Story Review: Elsie

Short story review: Everything in Elsie’s life is changing, yet once again, she finds herself listening to her sons and giving up one of her most precious possessions.

Everything in Elsie's life is changing, yet once again, she finds herself listening to her sons and giving up one of her most precious possessions.

Author of the Homecoming Short Story Series, Jessica Marie Holt, shares the wonderful women's fiction story of Elsie in her first fully-published series of three short stories.  The warmth of the South will fill your heart right from page one as you experience grief and joy alongside the main character.

My Thoughts about Elsie:

Holt introduced me to Elsie through beautiful writing that immediately dropped me into Elsie's emotional mindset. As memories of the porcelain teacup in her hand came forward, I experienced the love of a mother, a grandmother, and a husband. Life through Elsie's eyes continued as I viewed what she saw in explicit detail that didn't detract from the story. When she made a friend, I hoped for her and laughed with her. When her heart broke, mine did too.

Many of today's stories dwell within easy, emotional boxes. We feel sadness or anger for a short time only to move on to blissful love. In this short story, which takes less than forty minutes to read, I experienced a range of emotions usually left for much longer stories. And I enjoyed every second of it!

The style of this story, the way the author adds just the right amount of detail and just the right amount of characterization, held my attention captive. There is no doubt in my mind that if you decide to read Elsie, you will love it as much as I do!

The Official Blurb:

After the sudden death of her husband, Elsie is finally learning to enjoy life again. When her well-meaning, but overbearing sons convince her to turn her world upside-down, will she cling defiantly to the past, or find a way to move forward? A short story about grief, second chances, and finding hope in unlikely places.

More Info...

Purchase Elsie, by Jessica Marie Holt on Amazon for $o.99.
Follow Jessica Marie Holt on Facebook   &  Goodreads

Read more reviews and flash fiction at kameomonson.com, where you can download your free version of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

A Christmas Prayer

With Bria gone, Christmas dulled my life, but then I discovered she still lit everything around me.

Loosely based on a true story. A Christmas Prayer remembers grief while celebrating life.

A Christmas Prayer is loosely based on a true story.

A Christmas Prayer

The blaring beep from my alarm sent waves of stress through my body, and I slammed my hand against the off button. My pillow soon dampened as sobbing wails found themselves lost in its fluff. No one should expect me to get out of bed, not today. Not this month.

“Why Christmas?” The words slipped past my lips though no one listened. Lights and baubles, reindeer songs, and happy wishes adorned the world outside. Everyone else forgot. Not me. I couldn’t. With only dry laments remaining, I crawled from my bed and sank to the floor.

Slurred words and stumbled steps filled my memory. Bria had left her bedroom expecting an exhilarating Christmas only to find herself rushed to the hospital instead. We lived a nightmare that day.

Pulling myself from the rug, I dressed without worry of what I wore and staggered to my car. With the steering wheel in my hands, I repeated the same mantra I had for several weeks: work will force my mind to other things. I never believed the lie.

At work, happy faces blurred as I walked past co-workers. I bowed my head and clutched my purse. Smiling hurt when my sincerity failed.

Bria always knew when I faked smiling. She would never have forgiven my sallow behavior. The year I lost my job, she forced me through the front door and down the street. Pointing at every light we passed, she’d mentioned something that made her happy. Then, after a block, she looked at me.

“Your turn Mom.”

I shook my head and backed away. “We should go home.”

“Not until I see you smile.”

My lips parted and I flashed my teeth at her. It probably looked like a grimacing growl. “There.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Look,” she pointed, “what do the lights on that house remind you of?”

“I don’t know… The electric bill I can’t afford.”

Her head flung back and she stared at the sky. “M-o-o-m.”

“Okay.” I stomped my cold feet. “It reminds me of…tucking you in at night.”

“That’s better.”

A few houses away, I pulled her into a hug, a genuine grin on my face. “Bria, I’ll forever be happy as long as I have you.”

“I still expect a big Christmas gift.”

A snort escaped me but was accompanied by a smile. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Good. And I suppose I can give up cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “But don’t burn the oatmeal, okay?”

The office relaxed through the holidays, and once the party started, I slipped out. I might not get away from all the celebration, but I wouldn’t ignore the presented escape either. Leaving my car in the lot, I walked down the street. My fingers reddened in the cold breeze, and I slipped my gloves from my jacket pocket.

The city always set up an ice rink in the winter. It was right around the corner. Ice skating was Bria's favorite winter activity. As she and her friends got older, they went without parents, but Bria still found time to drag me onto that ice. She twirled and skated. I shuffled and fell.

People said the pain would wane. They were wrong. I missed her more each day.

Recent snow lined the walks, and I listened to it crunch under my shoes as I passed the rink. The local churches had set up nativities under the picnic ramada for the week, and a vendor cart with warm drinks greeted people at the park’s entrance. I joined the queue.

My eyes fell on a young girl dressed in a worn coat dancing in the distance. Her long ponytails swirled behind her with every graceful pirouette she made. The woman with her heartily applauded. She could only be the girl’s mother. With a drink in my hand, I found a bench and sat, captivated. How many times had I watched Bria the same way? My eyes burned and I blinked rapidly, then followed the crowd of people toward the nativities.

A year of pent-up anger surged within me, and I clung to it with all my might. How could I celebrate without Bria? God could have stopped it. She would still be with me if He’d allowed it. But He hadn’t.

Blinking no longer satiated the burning in my eyes. I swept tears away with my gloved hand, then stilled as a quiet voice spoke in my mind. Listen.

I stepped down the aisle, gazing at the various nativities. Porcelain. Wood. Some were Precious Moments. One was Peanuts—Woodstock played the Christ child.

Listen.

I tried but heard nothing.

I took another step.

Listen.

The crowd buzzed quietly among separate groups. I waited.

“Why?” a young voice asked.

“We can’t afford it this year,” an older voice answered.

“But we always have a tree.”

I spun. The same mother and daughter I had seen before stood near the nativity behind me.

“I want one too.” The mom bent down, holding her daughter’s shoulders. “What if we take old boxes, color them green, and make a tree?”

Bria would have loved that.

The girl bounced on her feet. “Okay. Can I color ornaments on it too?”
“That’s a great idea!”

As they passed, the girl met my eyes and smiled. I smiled back—not a fake smile—a sincere one. A warmth surrounded my heart, and I reached for the mother’s arm. She turned.

“I heard your conversation.” My fingers dug through my purse. “Something told me to listen. I think God placed you in my life today.” Money slipped from my hand to hers, my chin trembling. “My daughter died on Christmas day last year from a brain aneurysm. She still lights up my life when I let the happiness in. Please buy a tree.” I bowed my head. “But will you do one thing for me?”

The mother’s eyes glistened. “I can’t take this.”

“You can. It means everything to me. Please.”

She nodded and squeezed her daughter’s hand.

“One thing, though. Buy an angel ornament, too, and hang it on the tree.” I tilted my head as my face crumpled. “Say a little prayer for my Bria.”

The mother reached her hand toward mine. “We will. Thank you.”

As I headed toward the office parking lot, I smiled sincerely for the second time. “God, please send me a family to help every Christmas. Bria would like that.”

Read more short Christmas stories on kameomonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.