Friday, October 31, 2008

When morning comes to the diner

As promised, here is the final end to the tale of Abby and the diner! To read the first parts, go here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“I’m not going to do it.” Abby shook her head so hard her strawberry blond hair smacked her in the face. “There is no way I’m talking to that nut job.”

“Please?” Paul asked, his lower lip quivering. “We have no other option. You’re our only hope. If you don’t help us, we’ll be trapped in his dark prison forever, only free for a few hours on Halloween night after midnight.”

Abby opened her mouth to protest again when she realized the diner was silent. Dozens of ghosts were staring at her, their pale faces and dark eyes desperately pleading her to change her mind.

“I can’t,” she cried, her voice cracking. She shook her head back and forth, sickness bubbling in her throat. “You don’t understand. He’s evil. His eyes—oh God, his eyes”—

It was as if someone had pulled the cord on the world’s happiest song. The lights in the diner dimmed and the jukebox went dark. The ghosts’ shoulders slumped and they exhaled in a collective sigh. The food in their hands turned to dust, trickling away as the ceiling fans overhead spun. Their eyes sunk into their faces, their cheekbones piercing the gossamer fog that passed for skin. They looked more like sad skeletons than the happy, colorful ghosts that had been giggling a few minutes ago.

Abby’s eyes slid to Paul and she felt a wrench in her chest. He was faint, slumped against the bar stool as he stirred the dust that was formerly a pie with a fork clutched in his bony fingers.

“Where did the pie go?” Abby asked stupidly. Paul barely raised his eyes as he droned his reply.

“Food is life,” he replied. “It is celebration, joy, comfort and hope. Without hope, there is no sense in pie.”

The sorrow in his voice broke Abby’s heart.

“I’ll do it,” she said, her voice trembling. “I’ll do it.”

The ghosts cheered. The lights flashed on, the jukebox blared and a fresh piece of pie appeared on little Paul's plate. Before Abby could say a word, a napkin was tied around her head and two ghosts were leading her to the kitchen in gleeful anticipation.

"Wait!" Abby cried, anxiety bubbling in her stomach. "What if he tries to hurt me? What if he tries to steal my soul or something? What am I going to do? How am I going to convince him that I'm Jessica?"

"Don't worry!" Paul cried behind her. "Just have faith. We believe in you!" The ghosts burst into another round of cheering as Abby was shoved in the kitchen.

"And don't worry, dearie," one of the ghosts said kindly as they shoved her into the kitchen. "We have plenty of pie." Abby stared at the door as it slammed shut in her face. She was alone in the kitchen. The only thing she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears and the sound of her breath quicken. Forcing herself to stay calm, she turned around.

He was staring right at her. The shock of seeing the blackened, rotting skin vibrated through her like she had been slammed against a brick wall going seventy miles an hour. She swallowed her scream and widened her lips in what she prayed looked like a smile. His eyes watched her. He knew she was scared. He was enjoying this. She could feel it.

"Hello, Mr. Jackson," she croaked, stretching her dry lips so far over her teeth she could feel her skin cracking. "I'm here for work."

To her surprise, the monster staggered back. Shivering, he ducked his head under his arm. When he turned back to her, his face was free of the boils and burned skin.

"Jessica?" The voice was hopeful, but cautious. "Is that really you?"

Abby wondered if she would go to hell for lying to a ghost. "I'm here for work," she repeated, avoiding the question. "What tables should I take over?"

The creature trembled, hiding his eyes. "Wouldyouhaveapieceofpiewithme?"

"I'm sorry?" Abby leaned forward, praying he didn't ask what she thought he asked. "Could you repeat that?"

"Would you have a piece of pie with me?" The creature's voice howled, sending a shudder through her. She couldn't, she wouldn't do this. Through the kitchen door, she could hear laughter and the faint burble of music. She sighed, thinking of how disappointed the ghosts would be.

Abby bit her tongue, wishing she had never stayed late. She looked up and gasped.

It was his eyes. The evil sneer and swagger was gone. Instead, all she saw were the desperate, lonely eyes of a crazed old man.

It was at that moment Abby decided she was the biggest sucker in the world.

"Sure," she said, swallowing hard. "That would be nice." The ghost sighed with relief and smiled. The black skin dotted with blisters, boils and raw flesh drained away down to the ground, slithering down the drain like dirty dishwasher. All that remained was a chubby bald man with furry arms and red cheeks with the saddest eyes Abby had ever seen.

The light buzzed overhead as the ghost cut two pieces of pie. Abby took a bite and tried not to spit it out. It tasted like sawdust and glue.

"I have a confession to make, Jessica," the ghost said, taking a bite of his pie. "Please don't be scared."

Abby nodded, waiting.

"I never wanted you to think I liked you, in that way," Mr. Jackson said, tapping his fork against the plate. Rat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat. "It's just--my wife died. She was the only one who cared about me. I got so caught up in work, and then I met you."

"You see, my wife had red hair, just like you. She always used to tell me that she wanted a little red-haired girl with green eyes. And when I saw you--I just felt like you were the daughter I never had." He lowered his head, embarrassed. "Please, eat."

Abby took another bite of pie. This time, it tasted like a stale cracker.

"But Mr. Jackson," she said, her voice wavering. "You have to understand, I was scared. You were so mean. You yelled at everyone, you treated people badly--you played mean pranks."

Mr. Jackson hung his head.

"Why did you want to be mean to people?" Abby asked, sliding her fork through the pie. "I mean, you were almost--evil."

"It was evil," he whispered. His eyes were wide and filled with tears. "It was a rotten thing to do. I scared a girl, tonight, you know. Scared her to death, I bet. Poor thing. I was just--so angry and so lonely and so miserable. My life was terrible, so I didn't care about anyone else. I had lost hope. I'd lost joy. It felt like something had taken over me, crawled inside me--turned me from me."

He leaned forward and his cold hand wrapped around hers. "And then I found you. And you had some pie with me." His voice was filled with wonder.

Abby took another bite of pie and smiled. It tasted like a rich chocolate cupcake mixed with pudding. For once, she felt no fear. "Promise me, something, Mr. Jackson," she said.


"Promise me you'll be nice to the diners--both kinds," she said, raising her eyebrow. "Promise me you'll make the diner a happy place they remember, so they can come out more than just Halloween."

"I promise." Mr. Jackson stood and held out his hand. "I've got to go now," he said, nodding towards the window. Abby glanced at the shades and started. She could see the sunrise peeking through the blinds. "Shall we say same time, same day next year?"

Abby took his frigid hand and smiled. "I'll be there."

Beaming with joy, the ghost faded into the air. Abby stood alone in the kitchen, the shadows in the corners the only darkness left. She left her half-eaten pie on the table and walked into the dining room. Light was streaming through the windows. The ghosts were gone, any trace of their festivities faded away. She picked up her purse and glanced at her cell phone. 30 missed calls.

Suddenly, a voice filled the air. Her head swirled toward the jukebox, its neon lights twinkling happily in the early morning.

"When I was alone
You came around
When I was down
You pulled me through
And there's nothing that
I wouldn't do for you

'Cause I wanted to fly,
so you gave me your wings
And time held its breath so I could see, yeah
And you set me free."

Abby laughed and held up a hand in goodbye. She stepped through the diner door, locked it and strode through the car. From the corner of the diner, the darkness watched her go in smoldering fury.

"I'll be back next year," Abby whispered as she climbed into her car. "Next Halloween, I'll be here." As she drove away, she hummed to herself as she thought of the pies she could make for Paul and Mr. Jackson.

In her review mirror, a pair of dark eyes peered out for the windows of the diner.

"They're free," he muttered, pounding his fist into the window. The glass barely shuddered, part of the effect of not having bones or skin, he through bitterly. "No longer am I ruler, no longer is Mr. Jackson under my spell."

A grin spread over his face. "At least, until next Halloween." As the final strand of sunlight threaded through the door, the creature slunk back to wait in the shadows.

It would be a long time until midnight at Halloween. But when it came, he would be ready for Abby.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A terrifying birthday and pie

For the fourth day of Halloween week, the Blond Duck presents...a terrifying birthday.

Don't let this picture fool you. My dad can be a scary man.

He grew up in a cattle ranch in West Texas, battled foes in the corporate world and fights bears bare-handed in his spare time.

That's what he told me, anyway.

Imagine seeing this face bellowing at you to wake up before 8 a.m. on weekends while Junior Brown blares in the background and you're 16 years old.

Now I get up at 6 a.m. on the weekends and 4:30 a.m. on weekdays. Thanks, Daddy.

Emotional scars aside, I knew exactly what my Dad wanted for his birthday. A big bag of car wax and shop towels, some hamburgers cooked by someone else, meaning me (free lunch!) and this.

I had to get my love of pie somewhere, people. I am a girl after my Daddy's heart. So I made him a pecan pie. From scratch. Even the crust was from scratch, people. There were no store bought crusts here! (I forgot to buy them.) I've never made a pecan pie before, but dang it, it was Daddy's birthday.

He was thrilled, as you can see.

We grill the hamburgers, set out the fruit salad, chips and salsa, and big out. I bring out the pie and I hear, "Where's the gravy?"

You see, my Dad wants gravy for everything. Gravy can be anything from spaghetti sauce to barbecue sauce to squeeze butter to icing to jelly to real gravy. In this case, he wanted Cool Whip. We were all out. Poor Daddy looked at his gravy-less pie with a look of complete resignation. And then I heard the most brilliant words ever.

"Hey girl," Ben said. "Why don't you make him the cinnamon roll gravy?"

Why didn't I think of it! The Alton Brown Cinnamon Roll icing! I leaped up, whipped up the icing and handed him the bowl.

He really likes gravy.

Really likes it.

Normally, my Dad groans and pulls out the Pepto Bismal anytime I cook. But not this time. This time he inhaled his pie happily.

Daddy, you may have terrified me when I was younger, but now I just see you're eccentric.

What terrifies me is I see more of you in me every day, from my eyes to the fact I leave all the cabinet doors open in the mornings.

I'll be as weird as you before I know it.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

* Pie and pastry recipe from my favorite book, Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.

Pecan pie

Pie pastry
3 beaten eggs
1 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1) Combine eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla. Mix well.

2) *** Place crust in pie plate. Set plate on oven rack. Pour majority of mixture into it.

3) Mix pecans with remaining mixture, then pour into plate.

4) Bake for 45 minutes or longer until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean. Mine took over an hour. To prevent the crust from browning, cover with foil.

5) ***When knife comes out clean and the pie is no longer wobbly, broil on low for one minute to make the top crisp. Cool and serve.

***= my changes.

Tomorrow, we come to the end of the Halloween week....and to the end of Abby's tale at the haunted diner. Can she save the ghosts from an eternity or torment? Or will her own soul be trapped? Stay tuned....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Door

For the third day of Halloween week, the Blond Duck presents....The Door.

Rachel Larson was only trying to find her son.

She should have never taken him to the crowded department store on a late Saturday afternoon. This was all her fault. If she had been a good mother, a proper mother, she would have had Alex's costume sewn weeks ago like her neighbor. If she had been a good mother, she would have dragged her butt out of bed and refused to go out for her cousin's bachelorette party and wasted more than $200 on the babysitter, drinks and gift that she knew her cousin would stash in a closet somewhere until she gave it to Goodwill.

If she had been a good mother, she wouldn't have ignored Alex babbling about the door.

It was all because of the Halloween party. The second Rachel had picked Alex up for school, he had chirped, "Where's my costume, Mommy?"

"What costume?" Rachel had asked.

"My Halloween costume." Alex blinked up at her. "For the party tonight."

So Rachel had cursed, sped to the mall and dragged Alex to the costume shop. While she tried to find something that didn't cost a million dollars and wasn't Spider man, Alex tugged on her sleeve.

"Mom, look at this door. It's weird."

"Baby, hold on a minute. Mommy's busy." She didn't even look at him.

A few minutes later and another rack down, another tug on her sleeve. "Mom, there's a man crying behind the door. I can hear him."

"It's probably the TV." Rachel held up a superhero costume. It had a hole in the sleeve and cost $50. She kept looking.

Three costume rejects later, another tug. "Mom, can I go cheer him up? He's really old. He says that his son died."

"Honey, just hold on a minute. Mommy's busy." Rachel dove back into the clothes and rummaged until she found a Batman costume. Extracting her head from the bin, she looked around.


Her son was nowhere to be seen. Fear shot through Rachel's veins and wound around her nervous fingers.

"Alex?" Her voice rose as she ran through the store. Her eyes jumped from one person to another, desperately searching for her son's face.

"Can I help you?" A tattooed employee looked over at her.

"My son's missing," she babbled. "He said something about a door and an old man crying and now he's gone."

The employee shrank back from her. "Oh no," he muttered. "This is not good. This is really not good. Not again. Wait here." He dashed off towards the security hut in the mall. Rachel felt tears brimming in her eyes as she neared the brink of hysteria. Not again. The words played over and over in her mind. Not again. Not again for what?

Then she saw the door. It was hidden behind a black curtain, a blue light streaming through. She could hear the sound of a man speaking in a low voice, a high young voice answering him.


She barreled past the shoppers and threw herself into the door. A scream burrowed into her ears as she dashed through the brilliant blue light. Suddenly, she felt herself hit something cold and hard. Groaning, she opened her eyes. Alex's happy face shined down into hers.

"Alex!" she screamed, wrapping her arms around him. Showering kisses on the top of his head, she pulled him close to her. "Don't you ever run away from me again! Ever!"

"I'm sorry, Mommy," her son said, though he didn't sound sorry at all. "This is James. He's looking for his son." Rachel looked up and sucked in her scream. A frail old man with white eyes and wisps of grey hair was staring vacantly in front of him.

"How do you do?" he said, waving a trembling hand. "Your son was kind enough to talk to me. No one has talked to me in a long time."

Rachel felt a twang of sympathy, but not enough to risk her son's life. Gripping his arm, she took a step back.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Rachel said, clamping on to Alex's arm. "That's a shame."

"Do you know where he went?" the old man asked hopefully.

"Where who went?"

"My son." The old man sighed and patted his ratty vest. "I used to have a picture. But I'm afraid it's hard for me to find."

"Mom," her son tugged on her sleeve and gave her a pointed look. "Can he come over for dinner?"

"Oh no," the old man wheezed and shook his head. "No one wants me. I'm just an old man. It's all right."

Rachel stared at the old man. It was strange, but she thought there was something familiar about him. It was in his voice, in the way he gazed at them, even though she knew he couldn't see them.

"We can invite him over for dinner another time," she told Alex. "Today, you have a party to attend." She looked at the old man. "I'm afraid we'll have to issue an invitation another time."

"But I'll come talk to you," Alex blurted out. "I promise."

"Don't promise these things lightly, son," the old man said in a shaky tone. "Once the door is open, it can never close."

"Alex," Rachel muttered, pinching his arm.

"I promise you can come visit us for dinner whenever you want." Alex patted the old man's hand as his mother jerked him away. The old man waved as they ran out the door.

"Alex!" Rachel hissed. "What were you doing?"

"Being nice," her son said, scowling at her. "What did you think?"

Rachel gave her son a nice long lecture about talking to strangers as they drove back home. Alex went to the party as a lawyer, the most terrifying thing Rachel had seen since her ex-husband. After the party, she tucked him in and went downstairs to drink some wine. She picked up the metro section of the paper and turned the pages, skimming over the words and pictures. The old man's face and voice wouldn't escape from her brain. Nor would the clerk's words: Not again.

She turned the page and gasped. The old man's face was staring up at her. With her heart in her throat, she read the obituary.

"Kyle Guffman," she repeated, her voice cracking with fear. "Oh no, not him. Not him." She checked the facts and moaned as she read them aloud. "Kyle Guffman leaves behind a son, Alex, and a grandson, Alex Jr."

It couldn't be. She recoiled, pressing her fingers to her lips. Her eyes never left the picture as she compared it to the one in her head. She desperately tried to remember back twelve years ago, back when she had met her ex-husband Alex. She had only met his father once in the nursing home, she recalled. Alex's words rolled through her mind.

"He has dementia," he said. "He doesn't know anyone. He doesn't even know me. He's just crazy. Thinks everyone is someone else."

The only image she could dig up was a blind old man in a wheelchair looking small and hopeful as he spoke to the nurses.

It couldn't be him.

She heard a giggle from upstairs and bolted from the table. Taking the stairs two at a time, she raced down the hall and flung open Alex's bedroom.

The old man was sitting in Alex's desk chair, so pale she could see him through the desk. He turned and grinned.

"An open invitation," was all he said with a grin, pointing to the open closet doors. "An open invitation."

She should have never opened the door.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a spooky treat!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ode to Candy Corn and How I Love Thee

For the second day of Halloween week, the Blond Duck presents....

Ode to Candy Corn and How I love Thee

Candy corn, my sweet, you've gotten a bad rap.
People say you're too sugary,
Too sickening,
Liable to make everyone fat.

But they don't know what I know,
oh candy o' mine.
They don't know how tasty you are,
how delicious,
how you make me shine.

You see candy corn, I don't think people understand you.
They don't understand every color of your multi-striped brilliance
is one more level of delicious.

They don't understand that one bite can heal a bad day,
a single taste can make one weep with joy,
and an entire bag can cause a hyperactive psychotic episode. Don't ask.

Dear candy corn, I understand you.
I understand that you're sweet and tasty,
Without slapping more fat on the hips and thighs,
Which really appeals to the sugar freak in me.

I understand that you're a Halloween staple.
How can you have ghost and goblins posing as children,
and witches and werewolves running amok,
Without this sweet treat to fuel them?

Since I was little, o' candy corn of mine,
you and I have been best buddies.
We've trick or treated, partied and handed out candy,
you're simply a part of me.
Not to mention the reason for my cavities.

Candy corn, I must confess.

I can eat you in a cup.

I can eat you from a plate.

I can scoop you up in handfuls.

My favorite method, by far, is the funnel execution.

Just pour it all in, please. I'll get the ones in my teeth out later.

Oh candy corn, how I love thee.
I'll pass on the tricks, just give me the treat.

Top two images from Google. Other photos copyright of the Blond Duck.

*Stay tuned tomorrow! Instead of our usual dance hall dreamers tale, we'll have a short spooky story guaranteed to terrify and cause shivers. And Thursday, we have the scariest meal you've ever seen. On Friday, the end of the spooky diner tale!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Blond Duck talks to Ghosts. Seriously.

I'll admit I'm superstitious. I'll admit I'm highly imaginative. And I'll admit that I tend to believe in things other people might find ridiculous.

But when I admit that I see ghosts, I'm deadly serious.

You see, I've had the terror/ pleasure of seeing ghosts four different times. Most people scoff and tell me I was a dumb kid or asleep, but I know I wasn't. I saw ghosts. I know what I saw. You don't get a chill down your back because of a person or a imagined spirit.

Don't believe me? You will.

Occasion 1:

When I was in the second grade, I awoke to a strange noise one night. It sounded like someone was rustling through the kitchen. Indignant that someone was up when I wasn't, I crept out to investigate. Padding across the floor in my nightgown, I trotted across the living room. Then I froze.

There was a naked man in my kitchen. And he was staring straight at me.

Horrified, I shut my eyes, then peeked open again. The naked man was still there, holding a glass of water.

I wanted to talk to him, but I couldn't. My mouth hung open as I gaped at him. If my brain had been working, I would have demanded to know why a naked man was standing in my kitchen that I had never seen before.

Closing my eyes, I ran back to my room and shut the door. Then I climbed back in bed and refused to get out until my mom got me the next morning.

Now, my parents claim I was sleepwalking. They tell me I was having a dream and simply thought I saw someone. My mother even tried to convince me it was my father.

But the man was dark haired with olive skin, and he looked very frail.

My father is blond and has a beard.

Occasion 2:

When I was eight years old, my mother allowed my sister and I to have a sleepover with friends one night. We each called a friend up and set about setting boundaries. I got the front room. She got the living room. The front room had doors that closed it off and a TV with a couch that turned into a foldout bed. In my mind, I had won.

My friend Erin came over. We had some dinner, watched a movie, played a few games and then retreated to our lair. After playing Pretty Pretty Princess twelve or thirteen times, we grew bored. It was around nine and we were determined to make it to ten at night before we fell asleep. We rummaged through the game cabinet and found this.

But it's not what you think.

We placed the board on the coffee table and shoved a plant to the side.

Then we started off with dumb questions. "Is anyone here?" "What's your favorite color?" "Can you tell me who I'll marry?"

Then, the room grew colder. Giddy with excitement, we traced the plastic piece around the letters. "Who are you?"

The plastic finder slid across the board like someone was jerking on it. J. U. N. E.

I sucked in my breath. "That's my grandmother," I told Erin. Her eyes widened.

Feeling brave, I moved the piece across the letters. "Prove it." I spelled out. "Move the plant."

The plant looked exactly like this. Shoving back from the table, we scuttled by the couch. We were close enough to see, but not close enough so our breath could blow one of the tendrils with leaves.

The room was colder. We shivered as we waited.

Then we saw it.

One of the tendrils raised two or three inches off the table. Then it dropped.

We gasped.

The tendril raised again, higher. Then dropped.

We couldn't breathe.

The tendril raised a third time, higher. Then dropped again.

Screaming, we tore out of the front room and into the kitchen, babbling about my grandmother moving plants. We terrified my sister's friend, who called for her Dad to take her home. After my mother had calmed us down, we went to bed.

But not before moving the plant and Ouija board across the house.

Occasion 3:

My grandmother lived in an old hospital when I was growing up. She lives in an itty bitty town in Oklahoma. The hospital was very small for a hospital but big for a house. It had cement floors and metal grooves were folding doors had been installed. It had concrete brick rooms for patients and a huge open room in the center for operations. It also had a long hallway down the center. Since my mother had four sisters and a brother, they needed the room.

Most people in my family believe the hospital is haunted. The one ghost most of us have heard is the little boy.

Late at night or in the early evening, you can hear the squeaking of tricycle wheels and the sounds of rubber wheels easing over the battered cement floor as the little boy rides up and down the hallway. If you're lucky, you can even hear him giggle.

But, I heard something no one had heard before.

One summer, my mother, sister and I were visiting my grandmother and staying in her house. She had set up two old twin beds in the library/ living room, which was the old operating room in the center of the house. The only other person living there was my cousin, a eight year old boy. I was around 10 or 11 at the time.

The first night we were there, we brushed our teeth and slipped into bed. I fell asleep staring at rows of books and wondering which one I would read first.

In the middle of the night, I was jerked awake. The room was freezing. I shivered and drew the thin blanket around my chin.

And then I heard the voices.

They were right over my head. Deep, male voices standing no more than a foot over me. And they weren't just chatting, they were discussing medical procedures. They were throwing out words and terms I couldn't understand, but knew it wasn't good. I knew it wasn't my cousin, because he sounded like a girl. And I knew it was too close to be the TV.

"Excuse me," I said in a firm voice. "I'm trying to sleep. There will be no operating tonight."

The voices stopped. After awhile, I went back to sleep.

But I never stayed at my grandmothers again.

Occasion 4:

My grandfather passed away the summer I was ten years old. While preparing for the funeral, we stayed at his home in New Mexico. I don't remember much about the time. There were a lot of relatives in and out and everyone was depressed.

That's probably why I only remember this one thing.

The house was quiet and it was the middle of the afternoon. I crept towards my grandfather's room. I knew I shouldn't go in there. He wasn't there. But I just had to see it. I had to see he was really gone.

I stood in the doorway and took a deep breath, holding his smell in my lungs. The room was bare. It was devoid of his quiet smile, his soft laugh. It was cold and empty. The only thing left was his bed and his boots by the silver boot scraper. Shivering, I turned to go.

Suddenly, I heard a shuffle. My head whipped around.

The shoe scraper was lying in the center of the room.

There was no one in the house.

I never went into that room again.

Whether you believe me or not, these stories are true. To this day, I won't go in a house where someone has been murdered and I refuse to live in a historic house.

For you see, I'm terrified of what I might see.

*Tomorrow- an ode to my favorite Halloween treat!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Miss Pickles faces a mutiny

To read the previous adventure, go here.

Mason couldn't believe it had only taken an hour.

In what seemed like a single instant, hundreds of Fireflies had mixed a vat of sand and tiny black crystals and blasted it with fire from their fingers. The blue flame was so intense Mason had ducked his head for fear of being blinded. He could feel sweat pouring down his face and the heat slamming in waves against his body, even though the Fireflies were hundreds of yards from him. Like an oven door being shut, the heat ceased suddenly. When Mason glanced up, the Fireflies were fluttering around a glass pyramid the size of a shoe box.

"Is that it?" he asked, peering down at it.

One of the male Fireflies gave him a wicked grin. "What is it your people are always saying--sized doesn't matter?"

Jasper turned red and coughed as Mason gave him a puzzled look. Miss Pickles giggled.

"I still don't think this is ever going to work," Beatrice interjected sourly. "It would take an incredible lens to define the light into the spectrum we need. Besides, this doesn't make sense. If Jasper buries through the rock, he can't do it in a glass bubble. Even a extremely powerful laser would emit a fine beam. He can't just blast through the rock like you're envisioning."

"What's your idea?" Mason challenged her.

"I think our only choice is to burn up down here," Beatrice snapped. "After you got us down here, we'll never be able to go home."

Ralph's chin quivered as he thought of all the wasted pies and strudels he would be missing. The Fireflies had tried to feed them their speciality of sulfur spaghetti, but he couldn't even get past the smell.

"I'm not qualified to compose a last will that's legally binding," Don informed everyone. "At least one that will stand up in court."

"Duckies!" Miss Pickles cried, clapping her hands. "Duckies, duckies, duckies! What is all this? Where's your sense of adventure?"

"This isn't an adventure, Mrs. Pickles!" Beatrice snapped. "This is a life and death situation."

Miss Pickles grinned. "Which makes it all the more enjoyable, don't you think?" The students of ordinary elementary stared at her like she was crazy.

The Firefly Queen floated into the room and gestured toward the lava pits. "We're ready."

Mason felt his stomach twist in knots. What if Beatrice was right? What if this was a dumb idea? What if he got them killed? He thought about his parents, his annoying little sister. He was pretty sure they wouldn't cry if he was dead. They'd just have another kid.

Mason's mind flashed back to Ordinary Elementary. He remembered the long days, the countless hours slumped over his desk praying for the end bell to ring. Now he was on an adventure. A true adventure with risks and glories and possible death. A grin spread across his face.

"Everyone, listen!" he cried. The classmates, fireflies and Miss Pickles and the Firefly Queen gathered around. "I know you're mad and you want to go home," Mason began, "But Miss Pickles is right. This is an adventure. We should have fun with it!"

"We might be killed!" Beatrice interrupted. "How is that fun?"

"I'm wasting away!" Ralph shouted. "I've had no mid-morning snack, no lunch, no dessert, no early afternoon snack and now I'm missing my late afternoon snack! If I miss dinner and my midnight snack, I'll probably fall over dead."

"I doubt it," Don muttered. He eyed Ralph's sweat and chocolate stained jiggling stomach.

"Remember before Miss Pickles came?" Mason cried. "Remember how we just sat at our desks and listened to our teacher blabber on and on and on? Remember how at recess we would get outside, start to run and get jerked back into the classroom before we could even breathe in the fresh air?" He turned to Ralph.

"What about all the lunches where all they served was old pizza and peanut butter sandwiches that looked like they had bugs in them?" Ralph shuddered. He turned to the others. "What about all the times you'd want to draw or read a book, only to have the teachers take it away with you? What about the tests?" All the children hissed in disgust. They hated tests.

"So which would you rather do," Mason asked, "Take tests all day, or possibly die on the coolest trip you've ever had?" The answer filled his ears before the words had rang off his teeth.

"AN ADVENTURE!" they cried.

"Then let's go, duckies!" Miss Pickles shouted. "Well done, Mason! Well done!"

"This way!" the Firefly Queen directed. All the children trotted after her, whooping and hollering as they ran. The Fireflies outfitted Jasper with the pyramid attached to his head by a tray like hat. They flew him over to a tall rock, where they plopped him down to begin burrowing.

"Smoky, I'll miss you," Miss Pickles said as she enveloped her friend in a hug. "Thanks."

"You're welcome any time," the Queen Firefly said. "And so are all of you." She bowed her head at the students. Mason was humbled as he gave her a low bow.

"Ready?" she asked. "Everyone stand together."

The class huddled together. The Queen raised her palm to her face and blew. A tiny flame leaped off her fingers and flew through the air around them. Suddenly, they were encapsulated in a glass sphere.

"It's time," the Queen said.

To be continued.....


I would be remiss in my duckie manners if I didn't think the talented Marjie for giving me this fabulous award!

Marjie is one of my favorite Invisible Friends. She cooks, she sews and she's got the greatest sense of dry humor. Plus, she has nine kids. And she's still married. Jon and Kate plus 8 copied her, people! Where's her TV show? That's what I want to know. I'd watch Marjie and her family any day over those neurotic numbskulls!

And she has a really cute dog named Thor. He could eat my Babies.

I'd like to give this to some of my favorite Invisible Friends:

1) Marie
2) Bunny
3) Prudy
4) Lore
5) Linda
6) Kellypea
7) Candy
8) Jen
9) Emily
10) Pam
11) Katherine
12) Alexandra

If you haven't seen these fine ladies' blogs, go look now! It's an order.

And Marjie, thanks again. When can I come over for dinner?

*** Remember, next week is Halloween week! Not only will you find out more about the ghost in the diner, but you'll have a terrifying recipe, more spooky tales and confessions from the other side!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Ghost of the Diner

It was the most terrifying thing she had ever seen.

It was a monster--no a person--no a monster. She couldn't tear her eyes away, but couldn't bear to look. It was like watching someone die in a horrific car wreck. You couldn't watch but you had to know, had to see. Bile threatened to spill from her throat and tears of fear streamed down her cheeks.

The black skin bubbled as it approached her, popping and oozing fresh blood and blisters. It's mouth was horribly deformed, twisted into a warped grin. It hobbled towards her, waving a bright red arm in the air, as if all it's skin had fallen off. But the eyes. The eyes terrified her most. For they were not the desperate, haunted look you would expect to see from a creature that had been obviously terribly abused.

They were evil. The bright black eyes focused on her, and she could feel the sick pleasure they held. It liked that she was terrified. It liked that even though she was still screaming, no sound came from her raw throat. It liked that her heart was racing and it felt like she would explode and drop to the floor simultaneously in a single second.

The creature, or man, whatever it was, laughed. The room went dark and Abby shut her eyes. She prayed it would be over quick.

"Is that pumpkin pie?" a small voice to her left inquired. "I do love pumpkin pie."

Abby's eyes flew open and a squeak escaped her. The lights were blazing in the diner. The horrid creature was gone. Standing across from her at the bar was a small boy wearing a blue sailor suit. Chocolate was smeared around his mouth and his blue eyes twinkled.

"May I have a piece, please?" he pleaded, licking his lips. "I would dearly love some pumpkin pie."

All Abby could do was stare at him. "Who are you?" she whispered.

The boy grinned up at her. "My name is Paul, ma'am," he said. "Though I can't tell you my last name. My mother always said not to talk to strangers." He reached toward the pie and Abby recoiled, clutching the plastic spoon to her chest.

"Oh," the Paul said knowingly. "You saw him."

Abby nodded.

"It's ok now," the boy said, patting her hand. His fingers were as cold as ice. "He's gone. You won't see him for awhile. We're all here now."

"We?" she whispered.

"Can't you see us?" Paul asked, his forehead wrinkled. He glanced at her plate and relief crossed his face. "Oh, that's why," he said. "You didn't finish your pie. Go on."

Abby blinked.

"Go on," Paul encouraged her, licking his lips again. "It looks delicious."

The last thing Abby wanted was pie. But she stabbed the last bite and popped it into her mouth anyway. Watching Paul, she swallowed and waited.

In a mere blink it all changed. Oldies blared from the jukebox as waitresses in beehives whisked around the floor. The booths were overflowing with families and young couples danced around the tile floor. There were soldiers in old army uniforms and their sweethearts with red lipstick. An elderly couple dined on meatloaf in the back corner as a mother hosted her daughter's fifth birthday party. The front door jingled and a group of cheerleaders in fitted sweaters and long skirts and saddle shoes swept in on the arm of their varsity boyfriends.

"Oh my God," Abby said, her eyes wide as she took it all in.

"Miss," the boy whined as he wiggled. "My pie?"

"Oh, right." In a daze, she cut a large slice of pie and slid it towards him. She handed him a fork.

"Can I get some milk, too?" Paul asked, beaming at his pie.

"Milk?" Abby repeated dumbly.

"I'll get it honey." A waitress in cat-eyed glasses plopped it down in front of Paul. She narrowed her eyes at Abby. "Are you the new girl?"

Abby nodded. "Well, I'll let you off this once," she said, pursing her lips. "But you can't sit here all night. We're not paying you to eat pie! Table 14 in 15 minutes." With that, she flew into the kitchen.

Abby shook her head and turned to Paul. "What is all this?" she asked. "Why can I see you?"

"It's Halloween," Paul said as if she was dumb. "And it's after midnight."

"Are you all...ghosts?" Abby asked. Paul nodded. He was much too polite to add, "Duh."

"You died so young." Abby felt her chin quiver and tears spring to her eyes.

"No I didn't." Paul calmly took another bite of pie. "Most of us didn't die here, or at this age. This was simply our happiest time. We could have died that night, or at 80 in our beds. It doesn't matter. You haunt where you want to haunt."

"Oh." Abby leaned forward. "What was"--

"That?" Paul took a sip of his milk. "That's Mr. Jackson. He's the original owner."

"Why is he"-- Abby shuddered.

"That's a sad tale," Paul said, taking another bite of pie. "Mr. Jackson's wife died after he built the diner. He was so distraught, he became a miserable man who spent all his time working. He was rude and stingy. Worse than Ebeneezer Scrooge. Some believed he was evil, others just thought he was misunderstood.

"One day, a new waitress started working here named Jessica. She had thick auburn hair and sparkling green eyes. Mr. Jackson fell hard, even though she was young enough to be his daughter. He asked her out constantly, which is illegal now days. But Jessica always said no. She was always very kind to him, but she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him romantically. It made Mr. Jackson so angry he took to drinking.

"One night, Jessica was working late when Mr. Jackson burst in the kitchen. He demanded she have some pie and coffee with her. Jessica said no, that she had a date. Mr. Jackson roared and rushed toward her, and Jessica screamed and jumped away. He fell into the deep fryer, where he was killed instantly."

Abby stared at him open mouthed as he kept munching on his pie.

"From that day on, he's haunted the diner, trapping all the souls who choose to be here," Paul said. "We can only get out after Halloween at midnight. Until someone has some pie and coffee with him and pretends she's Jessica, we can never be free."

His eyes brightened and he set down his fork. "Hey," he said, leaning forward. "You can help us. You look kinda like she did. We could cover your hair and you could play Jessica."

Her eyes widened. Abby opened her mouth to respond....

To be continued...

**Tomorrow, a new Miss Pickles! Also, Halloween week starts Monday!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

I love cinnamon rolls.

I adore them. I crave them. I
need them.

So last weekend, I decided I was going to make the suckers from scratch. I was drooling in anticipation. I couldn't wait to roll out the dough, sprinkle the cinnamon, roll it up in a swirl of delight...

But, I lost.

How can you criticize and pout when a man starts giggling in delight over stirring butter and milk? I mean, really.

So I made him a deal. I would let him do everything as long as I got to roll up one chunk of the dough with cinnamon. It looked fun. In return, I would twirl around in the kitchen and take pictures.

Ben was overjoyed with the arrangement.

For some reason, I love making bread from scratch. I like the kneading, the rising, all of it. It's very comforting. And tasty.

We used the recipe out of old faithful--the red and white plaid Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. Except we did brown sugar AND sugar instead of plain sugar. Such mavericks.

Just in case any of you get creative and build me a robot, I want one with eyes like this. Scratch that.
I want eyes like this. With sprinkles.

One roll, two roll, three roll, drool......Excuse me.

This photo was not staged. Seriously. You should have heard the whining that accompanied it.

So after all that hard work (twirling is hard work), we were forced to wait.

But we were rewarded.

Seriously rewarded.

I'm still drooling.

Grace, hope you enjoyed it.

*Icing from Alton Brown's overnight cinnamon rolls. Stay tuned tomorrow for the third edition of the terrifying diner, when the mysterious figure is finally revealed. And remember--next week is Halloween week!'

P.S. I don't know what's going on, but my comments are messed up and I'm having a hard time leaving comments for some of you. So Swirl Girl and Heather, I'm not ignoring you. I just can't leave you any comment love!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The right pose

Vivi floated to school the next morning on three hours of sleep. She spent her classes dreaming of the phone call last night, hearing Wade's voice sliding silkily through her ears instead of whatever boring, insignificant things were teachers were babbling about. She marked her way through dance class, letting her body repeat the movements she'd always known without feeling them in her soul.

All she could think about was him.

All day, the answers to the questions she asked buzzed through her mind like a volt of electricity. Wade was 19 and had graduated the year before. He had deferred attending Princeton to study engineering because his grandfather had suffered a stroke. Since his father worked as a lawyer in the big city forty miles away, Wade knew his grandfather would sell the ranch rather than ask his son. So he deferred going to college and spent the year caring for his grandfather and the ranch. He spent nights working at the Dixie Dining and Dance hall for a little extra spending money. He didn't smoke, didn't chew, didn't drink.

If he had told her he had three eyeballs, she wouldn't have cared.

"You're perfect," she had told him, forcing her eyes to stay open as her breaths became more shallow. She had so much more to ask, so much more she needed to know. Damn her body for wanting to sleep. Couldn't it tell she was falling--falling hard?

"I'm not perfect," he had repeated, his voice turning serious. "Vivi, have you ever heard that George Strait song?"

"Who?" she blinked. The only George she knew was George Williamson, the world champion ballroom dancer from last year.

"He's a country singer," Wade had told her. She remembered she could hear the smile in his voice, and it made her toes tingle. "Anyway, he sings a song called "You know me Better Than That." Listen to it. So whenever you think I'm perfect, realize you just don't know everything that's underneath yet."

"But I want to know," she had told him, her exhausted voice rising to a high pitch whine. "I need to know."

He had laughed. "Darling, what's the rush?" he asked. "We got nothing but time."

Vivi didn't tell him that since she had danced with him, all she did was rush through time. All she wanted to do was twirl across the dance hall. Her drill team routines, football games, ballet classes, jazz, tap--nothing seemed to matter anymore. All she wanted to hear was steel guitars and a lilting fiddle in the air.

Finally, her dance teacher called it a day. Normally, Vivi hung around after practice to improve her technique. Today, she fibbed and told her teacher she had a huge exam. She rushed out the studio and leaped into the car, pulling her jeans over her tights the second she was in the front seat. She threw a shirt over her leotard and fired up the engine. As she flew down the road, her heart pounded in her ears. Part of her wanted to curl into a ball and hide after their conversation. It was easy to tell someone everything in the dark on the phone. It was harder when your faces were inches apart in harsh neon light. And it was even harder to face them after her dad had humiliated her.

Vivi swung into the parking lot and pulled on her boots. She hurried up to the restaurant and flung the wooden doors open. Weaving through the crowd, she scanned the faces. She didn't see him. Shoving her way through drunk cowboys, she pushed past the bar and scanned the dance floor. He wasn't there. She hated to admit she was glad he wasn't dancing with another girl.

She stared at the wooden floor longingly, watching as women whirled by beaming at her partners. A hand tapped her shoulder. She turned to see a freckled-faced red headed cowboy peering down at her.

"Vivi?" he asked.

She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you?"

He held out his hand. "Bill Anderson. I'm a buddy of Wade's. He said you might be out tonight and I was to take care of you in case he couldn't make it."

Vivi's heart fell to the floor and burst into a puddle that seeped through her toes. "He's not here?" She felt tears spring to her eyes and scolded herself. This was getting dangerous. She'd known him for two days. She had just danced with him, for God's sake. It wasn't like he had kissed her or taken her on a date.

"Well, no," Bill said, his lips twitching in a frown. He couldn't stand to see women upset, especially a girl as cute as this one. "Let me buy you a burger, all right?"

Vivi hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was have dinner with a stranger. But maybe if she waited, Wade would come.

"You don't have to buy me a burger," she said, forcing a smile to her lips. "I'll just wait a few minutes."

"A piece of apple pie then," Bill said, a relieved grin spreading over his freckled face. "You can't pass up Hilda's pie. It's a legend."

"All right." Vivi grinned at him, a true smile. Bill beamed back. He led her to a table in the front and sat her down with a glass of sweet tea. She took one sip and blanched. Her ballet teacher was going to have her doing plies for a week to burn off the sugar.

"You just wait here," he said. "I'll go get your pie." He melted into the crowd, his hat mixing with all the other cowboy hats in the bar. Vivi tapped her boot against the floor, trying not to glance at the clock. Where was he?

"'Scuse me ma'am," a drunk staggered over and leered at her. "How 'bout a dance?"

"No, thank you." Vivi refused to meet his eyes.

"You're the prettiest girl here," he slurred. "Come dance with me."

"No." Vivi gave him a steely look. "Go away."

"Come on." He leaned forward and grabbed her arm. "One dance."

"No." She jerked back. The drunk's face blazed red.

"Stupid little"-- Vivi jumped back with a shriek as he fell face first into the table. Wade stood behind him with black grease-stained fist in the air, scowling down. The man's back had a single black smudge in the center. The drunk crumpled to the floor and curled into the fetal position with a moan. Bill walked up with the slice of pie and gaped at Wade.

"Golly, Wade," he said, looking at the drunk then at Wade's hands. "What the hell happened?" Wade didn't answer. He simply grabbed a towel from the bus boy and wiped his hands. Then he looked at Vivi.

"You ok?" he said.

She nodded. He grinned and grabbed her hand, pulling her through the crowd towards the dance floor.

"What about her pie?" Bill yelled behind him.

"Save it!" Wade shouted above the crowd. "And tell Hilda I'll pay for the damage. And get me some pie too! And some chicken fry!"

"You got it, hoss!" The words were soon lost in Vivi's ears as the music surrounded them. Wade led her to the floor and pulled her into a waltz.

"Sorry darling," he said. "Car broke down."

All Vivi could do was beam. "You came."

"I always will." Then he lifted her hand, and she twirled across the floor in a swirl of neon lights and steel guitars.

Seven types of country dancing:

1) Two steppping
2) Waltz
3) Polka
4) Line dancing
5) Scottische
6) Cotton eyed joe
7) Cowboy cha cha

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A bit one-handed

Hello. My name is Gary the Gorilla.

I'd look you in the eye, but I'm afraid they've been chewed off. You see, I'm one of Bear and Bitty's toys. One of their favorite toys.
They like me a lot.

Maybe a little too much.

It all started off so innocently. We were playing a nice game of gorilla in the middle when happened. I was a two armed gorilla one minute, a one armed gorilla the next.

And it's not just Bear.
Don't worry, it didn't hurt. I have a lot of stuffing. It's simply a bit inconvenient. It's hard to play basketball with one arm. And eating macaroni cheese? A total mess.

Just let him have his fun.

Ok now. Can I have my arm back?

Please? Pretty please?

Oh now you're just teasing me. Quit scraping off the green fuzz with your teeth! My arm is not an artichoke leaf.

If only I was a starfish.

Stop wuffling. You're not the one missing an arm. You're sorry, you say? You can't help being a toy destroying machine? You can't resist the siren call of stuffing and torn threads?
Well, I forgive you. You did destroy the dolphin. And now he looks better than ever after his surgery! I'm sure I'll look great. Maybe I can even be a gorilla model. I look good in green.

I'll just wait here awhile until the doctor can see me. I hope I don't get the same plastic surgeon as last time. She really messed up my nose job.

Seven things about the Babies:

1) They were born Jan.29, 2008.

2) They sleep in the same bed snuggled up.

3) They are the only dogs that literally scream when scared.

4) Bitty is only 4 lbs. and full grown. Bear is 7 lbs. He has a tummy. He likes to show it off by flopping over at night and airing himself out.

5) Bear carries his dolphin all over the house. They're inseparable. If Bitty tries to play with the dolphin, Bear freaks out and barks at her.

6) Bitty is convinced the wind is out to get us. She informs us of this daily. Loudly.

7) I had to do it.

I can't help myself.