About The Author: It could be said Nicole Patrice Thomas was born with a book in her hand. Reading has always been her favorite pastime, whether a physical copy or an eBook, she is never far from a current read. That love led to her creating a world where anything is possible with enough faith.
Book Title: The Flower Girl
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Book Synopsis: Grace is learning about Obedience. It is a little rule with big consequences if not followed. Your child will learn, along with Grace, what can happen when we forget to obey.
Grace loves flowers and chocolate chip cookies! She likes to collect flowers for her mother, and her mother loves to make cookies for Grace. One day when she was doing just that, Grace forgot a very important rule!
How will she get back home now?
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Find Nicol’s Website HERE!
Watch The YouTube Video HERE!
About The Author: Kathleen is a Texas gal. Except for an eighteen-month hiatus living in New York City after college, she lived in the Lone Star State continuously for fifty years. Since then, Texas has been hit and miss—a little hit, but a heck of a lot of miss. There was a time when she thought she would happily die in Austin, Texas. But circumstances and weather—especially weather—changed that. Now she spends most of the year on Fidalgo Island in Washington State with a view of the bay and the mountains. When she gets homesick, she and her husband listen to Willie Nelson. Soon, they are dancing the two-step, imagining they are at their favorite honky-tonk in Tokio, Texas, where the mayor is believed to be a dog. Who wouldn’t miss that?
Kathleen writes the awarding-winning mysteries: The Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book, which was updated and released by Lyons Press in November of 2020. She also writes the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series.
On her blog, you can also find her Five-Minute Writing Tips and Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town. Kathellen also coaches writers and edits manuscripts.
Book Title: Murder at the Menger
The Mrs. Maisel of the mystery world, Sydney Lockhart, takes you on a thrill-ride around San Antonio as she searches for the next killer.
She’s at it again, Sydney Lockhart is trying to solve a murder in another famous hotel while avoiding being locked up for the very crime she’s investigating. Bribes, fixed races, dirty money and unkempt places. A string of illicit deeds that trails from San Antonio to New Orleans and back again. Be it plane, train or automobile, Sydney will get to the bottom of this case in her own determined style.
It’s 1953, and detective Sydney Lockhart finds herself solving another murder. The victim is a slick bookie named Johnny Pine who had his dirty fingers in pies from Texas to Florida. Sydney tracks Pine to the Menger Hotel in San Antonio where she discovers he’s been murdered in the room next to hers. And as usual, Sydney is a suspect. With her partner, Ralph Dixon, handling the case from Austin, or so she believes, Sydney is working alone in unfamiliar territory.
To make matters worse her car is stolen, and she elicits the help of an Irish cab driver named Taco and a bouncer named Rip. Soon she’s on the trail of Nora Jasper, a harlot jazz singer and Pine’s girlfriend. Corpses start to pile up, a string of illicit deeds surface and Sydney’s home life goes south. But the investigation takes a bizarre turn when Sydney is whacked over the head and thrown into the river. She surfaces with a faulty memory, uncertain of whom she can trust. Her only choice is to find the killer before the killer finds her, or before she gets arrested.
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Find Kathleen’s Website HERE!
Watch the YouTube Video HERE!
LISTENER ADVISORY: TEEN SUICIDE
About The Author: D.A. Reed (Deborah Reed) writes young adult novels—from page-turning thrillers to stories based on challenges children and adults face every day.
Her stories have garnered the attention of readers and fellow authors alike. Since 2016, author Johnathan Rand has invited her to be a writing instructor at his Author Quest writing camp for young writers. She was also asked to present at several writer and educator conferences including the North of 45 Retreat for Writers; Delta Kappa Gamma Women’s Educator Conference; and regional district libraries. Deborah also offers writing workshops at various venues. Deborah’s international travels include leading creative writing workshops to children—most notably at the Sharjah International Book Fair in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
D.A. Reed’s books have received acclaim, notably: Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the category of Young Adult Fiction for All The Things We Didn’t See (2021) and Dare Accepted (2020); Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) in the category of Young Adult Drama for All The Things We Didn’t See (2021) and Nothin’ But Gutters And Pocket Change (2020); and Independent Press Award “Distinguished Favorite 2022” for All The Things We Didn’t See.
She also writes Suspense/Thriller fiction for adults, including Three Thrilling Tales, One Killer Book!, The Caitlin O’Reitly Mystery Series, and Web of Decieit; as well as a collection of humorous essays, Chicken Butthair: Tales of an Over-Caffeinated Human.
You may also find Deborah’s short horror stories published in Share Your Scare: A Lulu Anthology, and annual literary and visual arts magazine The Garfield Lake Review.
Deborah lives with her husband and family in Western Michigan.
Book Title: All The Things We Didn’t See
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Book Synopsis: It's been three years since Isobel Crane's sister died. Everyone thinks it was a tragic accident, but Izzy believes Astrid took her own life. When Izzy finds her sister's journal, her suspicions are confirmed. But Izzy isn't prepared for the hostility she must face from her own family and friends as she attempts to reveal Astrid's truth. While attempting to navigate her newly tumultuous life, Izzy realizes she could lose one of the people she loves most to the same darkness that claimed her sister. With her life unraveling at an alarming rate, Izzy is unsure how to do what she believes is right without destroying the relationships most important to her.
Find the Book HERE!
Find D.A. Reed’s Website HERE!
Watch the YouTube Video HERE!
This is the story of Emmett Elephant. One day, with the help of his friends, Patrick Egret, and Gregg Giraffe, he learns a very important thing. Smart elephants know that listening to their heart, even in sadness, is a strong thing to do. This is a gentle picture book that teaches children about the death of a grandparent, and the strength of family and friendship.
Treading softly upon the floor
But missing my mark
The boards creek and you awaken
Your long slender body
As your wondrous eyes
Pierce my soul
The walls around us echo
The silence of the many before us
Who have been as we are now
Helpless and lost
In a sea of expectation
Several minutes pass
As we stand together
Though we never touch
Locked in our gaze
Is what comes next
I move a moment closer
Yet once again
Caught in my tracks
A light shines
Deep inside you
It begs me to come closer
But warns of hidden dangers
Within your power
I turn to go
For I am uncertain
Of what you could unlock in me
You catch me again
Your eyes won’t release me
Your soul won’t release me
Your power holds me strong
Drawing me again to you
A breeze floats through the room
Yet all is still
The silence is so deafening
The light in you grows stronger
I am powerless against it
You bring me in closer
Deeper into that part of you
Where you hide your secrets
And your strengths
Our souls collide in a cascade of colors
Melting together in a timeless dance
Of eternal oneness
Together we create a single spark
The universe vibrates with exhilaration
As our flame ignites
We realize now
We are one
At least in this way
A fascination forged in steel
And hardened through
Encapsulated in us
At last you relinquish your hold
And I slip away into the darkness
Dew falls on my face
A warm wind blows through my heart
And I recall the words
Once released but never forgotten
The night wraps around me
Like too many old movies
I stroll the old places
And think of you
This Writing Workshop Workbook has been designed specifically for young writers, from second thru sixth grade. Children gain confidence with each new worksheet they complete, building the courage to write down their ideas, stretch their imagination, and share their stories with the world! This program teaches children the same comprehensive skills of creative writing, used by writers of every age, stage, and genre... More than just instruction... this workbook is filled with writing pages to brainstorm ideas, build stories, and storyboard ideas... encouraging each child to work in the modality that best suits their creativity. This workbook includes 175 full-color pages of fun worksheets and brainstorming pages!
CHAPTER ONE THE DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A FISH STORY!
While it's true that authors don't write books unless we are hopeful that we will make money, and that lots of people will find our work compelling; you must understand that I would be lying if I said that success in print is my only reason for telling my story. Please understand, this is not a "quick fix" book. I didn't set out to write a "tell-all" book on the best possible technique for being a single parent by choice. I am not interested in being a featured speaker on Dr. Phil (although, if he called, who in their right mind would refuse?). And I'm not interested in being the next Dr. Spock of the baby-rearing world. This book was written mainly as a cathartic study in parenting. This was my way of remembering what I did that worked.
This book is also meant as a resource for my son; to pass these notes along to him so that when he decides to raise children one day… many years from now, please… he might have some hints about what worked for us.
If you are a person considering single parenthood, or know someone who is, approach what I offer here with a tremendous amount of skepticism and reserve. Although I share several interesting techniques for dealing with the more obvious speed bumps along the child rearing road, (or at least the ones that seemed obvious to me) please remember, this is by no means anyone's parenting "get out of jail free card". This is just another resource for a unique person, who may be faced with a unique life challenge. If you read any further, use what you can from these pages, and throw the rest out. If you gain a menial ten percent of positive information from this volume, I'd call it a successful and a worthwhile purchase for you and a worthwhile writing exercise for me. If there is absolutely nothing that you can find to agree with or use in these pages, burn this book and don't suggest it to your friends!
For those of you considering the life of becoming a single parent by choice, I highly recommend spending a year or two as the caregiver for someone else's children first. There are no moments so revealing when thinking about how you will parent than watching up close and personal how others do it. And while I do not advocate the idea that children should be test-driven… there is something monumentally important about test-driving yourself before you make the life-altering change of inviting a child into your universe. I know no better way to make sure you are ready… and even then, you may still not be completely ready. I encourage you to prepare with the first step of observation.
That having been said, I'm not a wonder-woman-single parent with the magic secret decoder ring which will give you all the step-by-step instructions to raising the perfect child. This is not your child's "Owner's Manual". I'm just a single parent, like many others, trying to fill a gap I found in the resource department of my local library.
Nor is this is not a fish story. What I share in these pages are what I discovered to be tested and proven options for assisting to nurture a child who will grow to become a happy, healthy and semi-well-adjusted person in their own right, despite the fact that they only had one "full-time" parent. I know this approach works because my son is living proof. Further proof is this statement from my then-high-school-aged son; "Mom, you're a cool parent. My friends think you're cool, too".
In my world, that's pretty high praise.
A little while ago, I saw a post in an online networking group defining the term Brand. The writer supplied a bullet list of things that are not a business' Brand. Included were such things as a logo, business cards, YouTube videos, and blog posts. The writer explained that these things are ancillary and not at the heart of branding. They continued to explain that instead, a business’ Brand was defined as the connection between themselves and the customer or client. They refuted the expense of time and money on the other items, declaring them insignificant, and wasted effort.
I noodled this around in my head for about a week and considered the question from several angles. I've been active in various networking groups (in-person and online) for over ten years. As a result, I've been attentive to how branding is used across many different industries. So, after considering this writer's point of view and my own experience, I came to this understanding:
Perhaps the writer mentioned above overlooks the impact of having both a Brand and a Reputation. The first is meant as a marketing tool to provide comfort and accessibility for prospects. The second instills confidence and security inside an interaction that fosters loyalty and endorsements across years, and we would hope, decades.
As with speaking and listening, I believe that we should never focus on one without the other. This is especially true for Independent Authors as they grow their writing careers.
Speaking to readers with business cards, websites, YouTube videos, Amazon advertising, podcasts, and other marketing outreach is vital toward expanding the opportunity for discovery. Using these tools requires a fundamental understanding of message presentation and emotional aesthetics. A solid branding practice shares an author's "novel" approach to their iteration of a genre. Physical takeaways or digital evergreen content allows readers to see that our books are interesting, enduring, disarming, and desirable. Branding acts as a gateway for the reader to access the author, coming closer with a warm invitation. Branding is the coy smile shared between an author and a reader across a crowded room. Branding teases a love affair that will evolve in intensity over time.
Listening to readers is an entirely different set of practiced skills. The author's Reputation creates a safe space where the reader feels comfortable in the author's vulnerability as they share their imagination. It is the connectivity an author initiates with genuine interest as they engage in conversation at a festival or signing event. Always attentive, interested, and accessible to the reader; eager to hear their impressions of the work and how a reader was touched. Reputation is about building relationships, risking rejection, and delivering on promises made on the page and in person. Listening to readers and learning what they desire most through authentic connection is how authors pave the way for readers to develop a deep devotion to their books and encourage referrals to other readers.
Branding is the overture to the symphony of your writing career. Reputation is the intellectual and emotional connections authors establish in a safe space, directly with a reader's heart and soul. Branding and Reputation are intrinsically intertwined. An author cannot expect to reach readers without first extending an invitation, nor can they expect to maintain their Reputation without the emotional attention all relationships expect and require.
So, build book trailers, pass out rack cards, and design enticing table displays. But don't neglect the personal interaction between you and your reader. Respond to their conversations at festivals, interact with them on social media, and thank them for their honest reviews, regardless of whether that review was good, bad, or indifferent. Each relationship you invite and maintain will help encourage a footbridge of referrals to your future work.
Building relationships with readers is paramount to building a solid, long-lasting career. But remember, that first introduction, more times than not, will be based on a tangible or visual exposure, rather than your witty repartee.
Use this space to brainstorm first on the visuals that you can use to invite your readers to discover your work, and then expand each idea to include how you might be able to build that initial connection into a lasting relationship with your reader.
Metal exploded all around them. Glass shattered. The shards impaled the unaware, smearing the afternoon sun with the devastating splotches of torrential loss. The screams of an implausible collection of souls erupted from those sitting in front and behind… not one sounded the same. Not one cried out the same words or prayed the same scripture. It was the most fear she had ever experienced. It was the most painful moment she had ever endured… and it became clear to her in that instant... she would not survive.
She held her daughter as closely as possible, cushioning her head from the oncoming blow, trying to remain calm. She added soft tones to her voice so as not to scare the small child. "Please God, just make it end quickly," was all she could manage her voice to whisper.
As she kissed her limp daughter for the last time, she watched the jagged cavern wall outside the window collide with the two cars in front of her, then fly past her tear-filled eyes with storm-fury. Water began to flood the compartment. And then... searing pain and perfect dark.
“Man does not control his own fate. The women in his life do that for him.” ~Groucho Marx
Nathan got a text to meet Paige at the marina at three o'clock, Wednesday afternoon. He was a little apprehensive. When summoned to the boat, there was never a hint of what would come of it. Sometimes, it was just a sail around the harbor. Sometimes, it was a job–sometimes sinister, sometimes not. But you never knew… and you never refused. The intimidation of not knowing was like walking a tightrope... forever a little off balance with some influence but no control. That was precisely the point. It was important for Paige to remain in control... always in control… despite everything else.
Nathan accepted the invitation to the meeting with a simple “yes” reply and inhaled tentatively. He looked at his watch. She wanted to see him at five o'clock; that would give him time to finish his current project, catch the blue line to Lewis Warf, and still have time to grab a quick bite. What could she want now?
During their association, which started long before her parents’ death, Paige asked much of Nathan. Much of it could have been morally disputed, though guided by the perfect dash of incentivizing guilt and a lot of pacifying cash. The rest were primarily menial tasks far below his pay grade. He sensed it was an excuse to keep him close. Her paranoia ran deep and spoke softly. He was sensitive to its whispers.
Nathan was one of the few people who recognized Paige from both sides of the mask. He saw the controlled, sophisticated woman the rest of the world encountered, forever maintaining and building her father’s legacy in ways that would make him proud. He also saw the inverse echo… the tumultuous teenager who hid from the mistakes of a past she could not control, at times lashing out with emotions she did not understand. Nathan knew the confusion and frustration of her life but had no explanation for it. Her habitually complex behavior didn’t track, considering her comfortable childhood. But, he accepted it and became the curator of her safety, as her father requested. Acceptance didn’t make meeting with her at the marina–or anywhere, for that matter, stress-free, though.
Nathan’s watch read 4:58pm as he reached the finger dock aside Wing om Wing. Punctuality was definitely a thing with Paige, and he knew better than to be insolent with tardiness. Paige was already there... sipping something defiant from a glass held high to refract the early evening sunlight. She watched him walk down the dock but said nothing. It was not her habit to bring attention to herself here. She preferred to be disguised... just another average, although financially comfortable, sailor in the fleet. Marinas were a nice blend of the sophisticated and sublime. Being ignored here was simple. No one took offense to those who were indifferent to their dock mates. Seclusion with all the amenities. She thought it merely nice, and she liked nice.
As he came within three feet of the boat, Nathan waved a hand and called out, "Ahoy! Permission to come aboard?" Nathan wasn’t much into the pretension of the lifestyle she chose to inherit, but here, she demanded it, and since she also signed his paycheck, he indulged her.
"Permission Granted!" Paige called back with an air of playfulness and a genuine smile that she only indulged in this place.
As he grabbed the stanchion and swung his leg on the deck, he thought about how many times he'd been here. There are only three that I can remember... and each time, my life changed. The first time was just after her father and the Board voted to promote her to CEO. Paige invited Nathan out for a day sail, along with a few of the other minions. He discovered on this trip that she selected him as one of her "chosen few." He was equally pleased and petrified. He recalled that it felt much like becoming a "made man" in the Patriarca crime family. An honor and a curse simultaneously.
The second opportunity came four years ago when she celebrated his promotion to resources manager with dinner and a night sail with a few of the Board members. Now a sergeant in the "family," he was tasked with protecting innovative revenue-generating projects and her personal secrets. It was a weighty assignment, keeping the Figureheads and the Potentate at equilateral distances yet proportionately well-informed. It took all the shrewd negotiations he could devise to avoid creating cracks in the gentle façade of either the company or the woman. It cost me more than a little sleep to get it right.
Nathan’s third visit to the harbor brought the devastating news of her parents’ passing, three years ago. He'd taken over the funeral arrangements and ensured that her image was not compromised during the grieving. Her father’s dying wish was that she be well protected, and Nathan planned to do his best to fulfill that wish. He’d been Mr. Lambert’s part-time, evening valet for several years and was very fond of the man. He was strong, clever, and compassionate. Those traits, plus the astounding skills he possessed in the business world, made him a difficult man to deny.
It was a tenuous line for Nathan to walk. He had to maintain professional decorum while simultaneously not painting Paige as an unemotional bilge rat. She didn't make it easy. After her parents’ death, she spent the next five months impersonating a bipolar diagnosis. In the beginning, she lost herself to misery living with the shades drawn tight, eating nearly nothing, and screaming at every opportunity. However, her jubilant responses to minuscule triumphs far exceeded the inappropriate once that storm passed. The household staff was replaced three times. Her paranoia of secrets becoming public manifested in outrageous anger, while a quarter-point jump in her stock portfolio brought on a champagne and caviar celebration. Paige’s phases between mania and depression kept Nathan continuously guessing and re-tooling. There had been no tell-tale signs of shifting winds, yet he managed to keep her reputation on an even keel.
These last few months were a bit more tranquil. He was comfortable with her displacement of confidence and defiance, in equal measure. The tide receded, and calm returned. Now, on this fourth harbor call without a horizon in sight, he wondered, what sweet chaos will try to capsize me this time?
"Welcome aboard," she said, offering her hand, which he took in his uneasily. "Have a seat, help yourself to a drink. We have much to discuss. Isn't the view beautiful here?"
"Indeed." Nathan learned early on that fewer words kept him without regret.
"Well, let's get right to it." Her eyes held a sparkle that set Nathan into worry mode. Her plans and schemes, which usually profited her happily, rarely worked out well for those on the periphery. He was wary of what was to come.
"As you know, I’ve been searching for some time for a more effective approach for our marketing program. Three months ago, I sent Aaren on a quest for a new social shaman to shepherd a resurrection of the company’s public persona. After quite a diligent search, she connected me, through several SKYPE sessions, with a brilliant gentleman named Thomas Laird," she said, picking up a page from an open file on the table next to her. "He comes highly recommended, a veteran writer with the Detroit Free Press. I'm told he was a wizard at reporting disasters. Even in the worst of times, he spins stories in ways that increase his audience rather than alienating them. That's exactly what we need here, don't you think? Our marketing program has grown stale... we need someone to jazz things up just a bit. We had a final Skype call two weeks ago, and everything seems in order. Legal checked his background. He starts on Friday. I want you to keep an eye on him. Make sure he understands the company... but also, make sure he understands the town. You know just as well as I do that in order to bring all our plans to fruition over the long haul, he will need to understand our business and our culture."
"I'm not quite sure what you're asking of me, ma'am. I mean, I get that he'll need a mentor to get through MouseTrax and its infrastructure... but I'm not sure what else I can do..." Nathan detected an eerily strong undertow in her request. He wanted to be certain of her intentions and her expectations. Getting it wrong could not only put his job–but his reputation–in jeopardy. "What exactly do you want me to do?"
"All right, Nathan, let me put it to you plainly. I need you to watch him. Make sure he is the man we want and need in this capacity. If he produces the kind of effects that have been insinuated to me, our profit margin could triple next year. Give him as much rope as he needs to string up others, but not enough to hang himself. Understand? I want to make sure he gets everything he needs to make waves and propel us into the next decade with our competitors cheering. Spare no expense... Spare no networking opportunities. Make what he wants to happen... happen. Oh, and keep this away from the Board. I don't need their infantile meddling complicating things. Am I clear?" Nathan silently nodded his comprehension.
Paige set down her drink, stood, and descended the galley ladder. When she returned, Nathan stood, and she handed him a noticeably padded, plain, white envelope. "This should make up for any inconvenience you may encounter."
"Of course, I'll take care of it," Nathan said reluctantly. He liked succinct directions; and this was far too vague for him. Thomas, this new guy, had just become Paige's latest pet project, and Nathan was now his keeper. This had every mark of not ending well... and yet, it would. Paige demanded it, and there was little she was ever denied.
"Are you hungry? We could go to the clubhouse and get a bite." Just that fast, Paige shifted gears again.
"No, thank you; I grabbed something before I came over, and I’m meeting up with friends in a little while for St. Paddy’s Day stuff." Although he had no choice in accepting her assignments, that didn't mean he had to spend his personal time with her. He knew there was more to this woman. He often felt she kept secrets, even from him. He suspected there was more to this particular assignment than she told him. He also knew that asking for more than she was willing to volunteer was dangerous water to navigate, fraught with unknown rapids and invisible reefs. He rationalized it was best to leave it alone for now, but it gnawed at his gut. It was too much uncertainty. He preferred gentle stability over impromptu risk indulgence.
"Suit yourself," she said, sitting back in her deck chair. She took up her drink once again. "I'll see you at the office on Monday. I'm out tomorrow and Friday. Call Aaren or my cell if there are any developments." It was over. He was dismissed.
"Very good. Thank you." Nathan said, quickly disembarking, heading back down the dock toward the security of the city streets.
Paige noticed the crimson and amber hue beginning to streak against the western sky. She recalled the old mariner's adage; "red sky at night, sailor's delight." She took it as a good omen. She let a wry smile sneak past her lips. My plan is beginning to take shape. Even Blackbeard would be proud.
At five seconds, things were a little foggy. I'm not sure how much time passed by or exactly how I got there... I wouldn't figure out the details until much later... but I can say that the first fifteen seconds of my life after death were exactly as I imagined they would be.
The corridor where I stood was foggy from my feet to my knees. I couldn't actually see or feel solid ground beneath me, or my feet, for that matter... but somehow, I knew it was there. The sky directly above me held an odd, ethereal light, and the air was dry and soft. There was no sun, no wind, and the space around me was eerily silent. There were two gates: one black and foreboding, one bronze and inviting, just like the storybooks and religious school teachers had foretold. There was a strong comfort surrounding me.
At thirty seconds, logic and comfort took a nosedive.
From out of nowhere, about twenty feet in front of me appeared a fifty-four-inch flat-screen plasma HDTV. As it drifted in place, the light around me dimmed, the soft aroma of jasmine lilted somewhere just on the edge of perception, and the screen flickered to life.
The Choice Has Always Been Yours
The opening title appeared in the center of the screen in scarlet biblical calligraphy with an elegant satin silver background.
"An orientation video?" All my presumptions about death had been turned inside out.
"Welcome to Purgatory." said the host.
He looked like a pudgy, balding, bowtie-clad, nearsighted professor. In fact, he looked just like the man who taught my freshman trigonometry course in college, Professor Tribell. But it couldn't be. "Isn't he still teaching at Wayne State this term?" My thoughts were running amok, and they were doing it out loud. The strange little man droned on.
"We trust your travel from the Earthly realm was uneventful." Before I could catch myself, I nearly screamed an exasperated retort.
"Uneventful? I'd say the demise of my physical body was quite the event. Who is this guy?" I looked around for someone to commiserate with, but there was no one. It was beginning to look like reincarnation was not an option.
"Now that you've shoved off that mortal toil," the host snickered, "You have quite the little adventure before you. But as with everything, you must choose." He seemed to be having much more fun than should be allowed.
The screen then presented two purple check boxes; above the first, in cobalt script, Heaven. Under the second, in gothic silver block lettering, Hell. As the Dr. Tribell doppelganger continued to speak, the images of the two gates superimposed under each checkbox and settled gently on his left and right shoulders. A brief flashback of an old cartoon jogged in my memory.
"Before you stand two gates; one offers entrance to Heaven, the other to Hell. You must choose which side deserves you more." I'm sure my face screwed up in a contortion that could only be described as gargoyle-like.
"Which side deserves me? Just how am I supposed to figure that out?" I said with whining frustration. I was a bit wobbly and would have liked a chair or stool, or something to settle my body, or my essence, or whatever they call this thing you get after death. This was not an easy thing for me to process. After all, I'd only been dead for... what was it, maybe a day?
As if in answer to my dizzying brain, the host started talking again. He was sitting behind a desk now, looking even more like my plump trig professor than before. The simultaneous familiarity and oddity of the scene made my stomach do little flip-flops. "You will spend a little time in both Heaven and Hell on a visitor's pass. You will be given ample time, a full seven days, in each place, to decide where you think you belong. When you finally make a decision, just let us know; and you'll be permanently assigned."
"But what if I know where I belong now?" I said aloud, fully expecting to get an answer.
"No one really knows where they belong, not so close after death anyway, and that is why you must spend this mandatory time as a visitor in each realm before making a final choice. After all, you wouldn't buy a car without a test drive, now would you? Once your choice is made, there is no turning back, no retractions, no do-overs".
For a moment, it felt like the video host had been speaking directly to me… and then I realized that it must have been one of death's FAQs; I couldn't possibly have been the only one to ask that particular out loud. They must have just built it into the program, like that silly little scene at the beginning of Jurassic Park. Of course, it was ridiculous, me talking to the TV. I felt like that first day of boot camp in the Navy all over again… foolish and ignorant. The host went on.
"Although we can't tell you what to expect during your visits, what we can say is that there will be no apocalyptic fight for your Soul, regardless of what you may have read. However, we can't promise you that the residents of either Heaven or Hell won't try to sway your decision by their own means; after all, we can't control everything. We can promise, however, that you won't be harmed in the process."
"Good thing! It'd be pretty difficult to hurt a dead person, don't you think?" I hollered at the screen, and then I screamed one of those primal screams my therapist once told me were... what did he call it? Oh yes, healing. This whole death thing was getting tremendously weirder with each passing nanosecond.
"So, we suggest that you just go with the flow and enjoy your time touring each realm, consider it a vacation... and don't worry about your decision until judgment day, almost a full month away. Just take it slow. Really consider your options. We'll make sure you'll get some regroup time in between each visit and at the end to process your thoughts. Good Luck!"
The screen grew dark, and the credits rolled in true Hollywood fashion. I remember thinking that it was amazing how many people it took to put this production together... lots of dead videographers and grips. As the final copyright line rolled past, the host chortled somewhere off-camera. He was probably laughing at the same thing I was... Copyright in the afterlife? Who could possibly steal it?" The light around me returned to normal. That is, if ethereal can be considered normal.
As I looked about, I noticed that a woman had appeared at my side. She stood only about four feet tall but was perfectly proportioned in every way. There was no pitchfork, no pointy ears, and no spiked tail; none that I could see, anyway. I took this as a good sign. "I'm Liza. I'll take you back to your room now," she said. "You'll need proper rest if you're to go on a visit to Heaven in the morning."
I was overcome by a drunken giggle as the little woman took my hand. Absolutely nothing about my dying process was happening according to Hoyle... Not one of the rules I'd been taught had been followed. It was just all so... not normal. I had to ask... "Why do I get to visit Heaven first? Does everyone visit Heaven first?" I was tired and rambling.
Liza smiled and looked up at me with a strange glint in her eye. "Oh no, my dear. You are visiting Heaven first because it is your right. A priest gave you that last right before you arrived."
Last Rites meant a first stop in Heaven? Do all priests know that? Did they teach that in seminary school? Is that why my Rabbi didn't talk about the possibility of going to hell... maybe he was never taught the bypass code and didn't want to tell his congregation that he was out of the loop. My brain was awash with too many images, too many sounds, too many thoughts. What time was it, anyway? I needed sleep.
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