Thursday, October 28, 2021

Traces of Mary, coming on March 8, 2022. from Crossroad Press. Pre-order now!






Dedication

To David Wilson and David Dodd, with heartfelt thanks for keeping my sci-fi, horror, mystery and fantasy torch burning brightly! And for all that both of you have done for so many other authors, too. 
  
Cast of characters 
In order of appearance

Tanya Audette, a young girl who lives in Boston. 

Sophie Audette, her mother.
 
Zachary Pearlman, Boston shop proprietor and owner of Fluffy, a French poodle. 

Billy McAllister, a young boy who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Jessica McAllister, his older sister. 

Mary Lambert McAllister, their mother. 

The Rev. John Lambert, S.J., “Uncle Jack,” Mary’s brother, a Jesuit priest. 

Alice McKay Lambert, “Grammy,” Mary and Fr. Jack’s mother, of Blue Hill, Maine. 

George Linwood Lambert, “Grampa,” Alice’s late husband and father of Mary and Jack. 

Mr. Hawthorne, a mortician. 

Amanda Leroux, a social worker at the homeless center Fr. Jack runs in Boston. 

Stephen McAllister, Mary’s estranged husband and the father of her two children. 

Andre Washington, Billy’s best friend. 

Paul “Angel” Iannotti, 14, a school dropout and bully. 

Ordo, leader of the Priscillas, the good species in a distant galaxy.

Alex Borkowski, Billy’s and Andres’s second-best friend. 

Crimson Vanner, a drug addict and dealer. 

Z-DA, last of the Lepros, an evil species in a distant galaxy. 

Juan Sierra, a property owner in Providence, R.I. 

Rudolph Howe Sr. and Jr., lawyers in Providence, R.I. 

Mrs. Bartholomew, father of a boy burned in an amusement-park fire. 

Lt. Perry Callahan, a Providence police detective. 

Amanda Leroux’s mother, an elderly woman who lives on Massachusetts’ North Shore. 

Erica Han, a reporter with the Bangor Daily News. 



Chapter One: Heaven and earth.

Saturday, May 29, 2021


Billy McAllister’s sister is dead.

Billy knows that.

But time cannot steal the young boy’s memories. Time—four years, one month and 19 days of time—and still Jess appears in his dreams.

Sometimes in these dreams, she is calling to him.

She is someplace dark and cold, someplace distant and unreachable, no place he’s ever been or wants to go. He sees nothing but Jess’s face, illuminated softly by an unseen light. It’s a sad face, not the face he wants to remember—not the face in that photograph Mommy keeps on her bedroom bureau. Tears cover both cheeks. Her hair is tousled, her lips cracked and dry, her eyes wide and dark and empty, as if not really her eyes, but fake ones constructed of cheap glass.

She is clutching her favorite stuffed animal, Baby Bear, the Teddy bear that Santa brought.

Baby Bear looks sad, too.

“Help us, Billy!” Jess calls in these dreams. “Me and Baby Bear! Let us out of here! We don’t want to be dead! We want to be with you and Mommy and Uncle Jack!”

Billy reaches for his sister then—but always she’s too far, and the distance to her is increasing, and Jess is shrinking, is getting smaller and smaller, until finally she is gone.

But in other dreams, it is summer—the summer of 2015, when they took that photograph so dear to Mommy’s heart. The summer five years before the coronavirus pandemic, which devastated America and the world.

He was six that summer of 2015, Jess barely five. Her health had once again gotten better, and with every day, there was less talk of that “Pitts-bird” hospital, where she had spent so much time as the doctors fixed her one time and then, when she fell ill again, a second time.

Mommy was better, too. Mommy was not so upset all the time, wasn’t short-tempered and grouchy and crying and yelling and screaming at him when he hadn’t done anything at all.

Uncle Jack, who usually took Billy’s side, said that after all the bad stuff involving Jess’s health, the family deserved a good stretch—that it was always darkest before dawn, and now the sun was climbing high into the sky.

They spent June and July at Grammy’s. Her house, larger than any house Jess and Billy had ever been inside, was in Blue Hill Falls, Maine, that magical seaside place where the mountain really was blue, at least when viewed from a distance. It was major fun, those two months, ice cream and corn on the cob and lobster and fried clams and staying up until ten or even eleven o’clock, way past regular bedtime. The ocean, cold as it was until August, when you might be able to handle a few minutes’ swim without shivering, was the best.

Almost every day, they played on the little beach there at Blue Hills Falls, where Grammy’s house overlooked Mt. Desert Narrows.

It was go-easy play because they had to be very careful of Jess. They had to keep the saltwater from those big zig-zaggy scars across her tummy, evidence of where surgeons had transplanted one liver into her, and then a second when the first had failed. They had to keep sunblock all over her, and she had to wear a straw hat and her Elsa sunglasses.

Jess tired pretty easily, but she had spurts of energy, too, and during them, they climbed rocks and hunted for periwinkles and fiddler crabs and built sandcastles and went sailing with Mom and Uncle Jack on Grammy’s big boat.

“How big is the ocean?” Jess always liked to ask.

“Bigger than the biggest lake in the world,” Grammy would answer.

“Wow, that’s huge!” Billy would say.

“Almost as big as heaven,” said Uncle Jack, a Jesuit priest who liked to shed his Roman collar on his occasional visits to Maine.

“Heaven is where Grampa is,” Grammy would say.

“I want to meet him some day!” Jess would say.

“No you don’t,” her mother said on one occasion.

A dark memory had welled up within her and she said no more.

Grammy wagged her finger at Mary and quickly changed the subject, to the fairy-tale story of how her parents had met.

“My mother was a young girl living in Nova Scotia when one summer day, she and a friend drove to Burntcoat Head Park to see the amazing tides at the Bay of Fundy,” Grammy said. “Do you children know about those?”

“No!” Jess and Billy said.

“Highest tides in the world,” Grammy said. “One of the seven or eight or nine or ten Wonders of the World, I’ve lost count. People come from all over to see.”

“Wow,” Jess said. “Can we go there one day, Mom?”

“That would be nice,” Mary said.

“So there was my mother, Miss Alice O’Reilly,” Grammy continued, “when my father, George McKay of Blue Hill Falls, Maine, happened to be visiting there with friends. They’d taken the old steamer up from Bar Harbor to Halifax for a week-long holiday. And there was Miss Alice, watching the tide roll in with a rumble and a roar. Their eyes met, and both later said it was love at first sight. The rest, as they say, is history. They married, Alice and George moved in here, and along came I, their only child.”

“Cool,” Jess said.

“Neat,” said Billy.

The question of what happened after that did not arise.

Not that summer.

Rainy days, they stayed inside Grammy’s mansion and made mischief with her three cats and Tuggs the bulldog, a good-natured old hound that was Grammy’s favorite pet. Once, when it was cloudy and cool but the heavens hadn’t opened up, Jess and Billy snuck off to the family cemetery and mausoleum, which stood in a grove of pines on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Two hundred years of McKays and their spouses and other relatives were buried there—a few in the marble crypt erected by Grammy’s great-grandfather, Samuel McKay, who’d made his fortune in the clipper trade and then, in a move that shocked his Yankee friends and associates, converted to Catholicism after a Jesuit priest who was said to possess the power of healing had laid his hands on his abdomen and cured him of the colon cancer that had been consuming him.

The burial ground and mausoleum, where Jess herself would be laid to rest in less than a year, was strictly off-limits and the one time Mommy found them nosing around there, she went ape. That was the only time they were punished that summer, although they got off easy, only one day without TV and no dessert.

The attic was also strictly off-limits, but there was no chance of them of getting up there, much as curiosity compelled them: the door was padlocked and nailed shut.

“But why?” Jess asked one time

The response remained as vivid as yesterday to Billy.

Grammy, he remembered, said “attics are no good for anything but collecting dust,” and then she fought tears. Mommy convulsed, as if pain had pierced her body, and after screaming “do NOT ever ask again,” she went into the kitchen, where she poured a tall glass of hard liquor.

“Grammy’s right,” said Uncle Jack, who visited as often as his busy schedule would allow. “Attics do nothing but collect dust, and dust does no one any good. Now come into the library, my precious niece and nephew. I have a new book I’d like to read to you. One Morning in Maine is the title. It’s a classic I’m sure you will enjoy—more than the average bear!”

That was one of Uncle Jack’s favorite lines, an ode to his niece’s love of the Teddy variety.

In early August, as the Maine water was approaching swimming temperature, Uncle Jack drove up again from Boston. He stayed the weekend and on Monday morning, he took everyone back to Rhode Island so Mommy could apartment-hunt. The first place they visited was affordable, and near a school where Jess could start kindergarten and Billy, first grade.

So they took it. That night, they celebrated by visiting Ocean State Park, where they rode the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, ate all the cotton candy they wanted, and had their picture taken in a booth.

By Labor Day 2015, Jess’s health was deteriorating again.

In April 2016, she would die.






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