Setting – Donner Summit 1865-1869. A harsh mountain environment near Lake Tahoe where railroad construction crews work 24/7 blasting tunnels through granite outcroppings and laying track. Winter storms drop between eighteen to twenty feet of snow. Avalanches claim lives; bodies, not recovered till spring thaw, are found with tools still clutched in hands.
Gee Lee – Chinese immigrant working as a camp cook for the Central Pacific Railroad. Lee embraces family obligations, toiling to send money home to improve impoverished living conditions. Dreams of returning to his lovely wife and young children keep Lee motivated.
Wèi An – Lee’s wife and mother of his two children, a daughter, and a son. Plagued by her controlling mother-in-law, Liu spends most of her time outside, working in the rice fields. Violated by a district official, she is now confined to the house.
Gee Yang – Lee’s older brother. Yang is charming and fun-loving; gambling and opiates have a magnetic appeal. He enjoys being away from his mother’s influence and is pulling away from Lee, who keeps reminding him of his responsibilities. He’s moved from working with tunnel gangs to constructing wooden show sheds at Norden.
Tang Ai (Eye) – Yang’s wife, mother of his daughter. Yang and Ai’s union did not produce a male child before he left for California. In this, Yang neglected his duty to the family. The couple discovered that living in the same house amplified their cantankerous relationship.
Gee Pei (Pay) – Matriarch of the Gee family, mother of Yang and Lee. After losing her oldest son in the Opium War, Pei sold her daughter-in-law and granddaughter to finance a California sojourn for her younger two sons.
Foshan – Lee’s Donner Summit kitchen assistant. He is named for his birth town in China. An orphan, Foshan plans to seek employment in San Francisco once his railroad job concludes. Foshan is wildly in love with his bossy-man.
Jaingshui – A reanimated corpse that hops. A Jaingshui is created when a Chinese person dies away from home and is not buried with his ancestors. Like the western vampire, the Jaingshui searches for life-energy (qi) to consume.
Nian – Chinese lion monster whose name means ‘year.’ Nian grows a unicorn-like horn and collects feathers in her shaggy mane. The monster hibernates in the sea or under mountains for eleven out of twelve months. The weather worsens when Nian wakes to hunt, during February’s new moon. On the menu; infants and children, crops, farm animals, early death, and betrayal.
Most of the girls Haylee’s age started getting their periods at thirteen. Haylee was well aware of this because those who were, “on the rag” didn’t have to shower in gym class. It was almost an honor and a sign that a girl had moved into womanhood.
When Haylee turned fourteen and was practically the last girl not to have gotten her period, her schoolmates started talking about it.
At fifteen, still periodless, and showing no signs of physical maturation, the gym teacher called Haylee into her office and started asking embarrassing questions. Mortified, Haylee quietly informed the teacher that the women in her family had always been very late bloomers — she was grasping at straws — and that she was sure that it would happen any day.
The teacher, who was quite fond of the quiet, intelligent girl, looked doubtful. She empathized with Haylee’s discomfort, and she knew that with Haylee’s mother gone, the girl probably had no one to confide in. “Haylee, I’m not trying to embarrass you. It may be true that you are a late bloomer, but it could also be that something’s wrong, like a hormone imbalance. I’ve discussed it with the school nurse and —”
“How could you talk about this with someone else? It’s none of your business!” Haylee shouted. She felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“It is my business, Haylee,” the teacher replied sadly. “Teachers have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their students. If it appears that a parent is neglecting —”
“What? You’re saying my father is doing something wrong because I’m not…” her brow furrowed. Haylee searched for the right words,“…growing up?”
“This is important, Haylee. You are not progressing normally; I have to call your father to make sure you see a doctor.”
“No! Just leave me alone and stay away from my father!” Haylee yelled as she practically jumped for the door. She felt trapped and needed air.
֎ ֎ ֎
Even before her talk with her gym teacher, Haylee had wondered if there was something wrong. At first, she was convinced that she had cancer eating away her insides, keeping her from growing. As she got older, she worried that she had a congenital disorder that stunted her growth.
Not long after what Haylee thought of as “The Big Period Incident,” she ordered herself a bra through a catalog and started stuffing herself. She also became an expert at avoiding gym class.
Despite her worries, Haylee stayed balanced. She enjoyed learning and took pleasure in her classes, easily outshining the other students.
When all of her chores on the farm were done for the day and she’d fixed her father dinner, Haylee would go outside and climb up on the old tractor. It sat rusting behind the barn. From there, she’d watch the sunset
The cool, evening air, as it caressed her face, had her smiling. She thought about how much she loved caring for their pigs, chickens and horses. The pictures and thoughts that they shared with her made her feel accepted as part of them. They saw her…really saw her. This was something that Haylee desperately needed.
֎ ֎ ֎
Seventeen-year-old Haylee was sure that she had a migraine, even though she’d never had one before. The excruciating pain started at her temples and radiated out like pinpoint pricks of burning sparks that crackled through her bloodstream. With eyes squinted into slits, Haylee, had to draw in deep breaths to keep her stomach contents where they belonged. Haylee gently managed the half-mile walk from the bus stop to her house.
The cool interior darkness that enveloped her as she crossed the threshold offered a fleeting sense of relief. Within moments, she was clammy and trembling again.
She held onto the walls to make her way to the bathroom. Once there, she let her book bag drop and crawled like a suffering supplicant toward the porcelain deity. After twenty minutes of dry heaves, she thankfully welcomed its cool countenance along the side of her face as she crouched there, embracing it for another ten minutes.
When it appeared that her world had ceased its sickening gyrations, Haylee gingerly moved a few inches to test her theory. I think it’s getting better, she thought. Although the agony persisted, the nausea had lessened.
Stooping carefully to retrieve her bag, Haylee didn’t bother to glance in the mirror as she shuffled toward her bedroom. Returning shortly in her bathrobe, she reached into the shower to turn on the hot water. If she had not been so preoccupied, she would have been shocked by what the mirror revealed. Dark hair hung limply around an ashen face. Her lips were gray. Her straight, angular body had become more rounded.
Shakily, she stepped over the edge of the tub. The cascading water soothed her, but only temporarily. Lost in a dull haze, but not knowing what else to do, Haylee stood there, eyes closed, remaining as still as possible.
At some point, her father started knocking on the bathroom door. Feebly, she responded. She was relieved when he finally left. Long after the water had turned cold and the house had become silent, she stepped out of the shower.
Laboriously, she slipped on her robe. The mirror reflected even more startling changes. Her hands and arms had begun to take on pronounced lines. Her neck, shoulders, hips, and legs had developed a graceful quality. The hurt she experienced blinded her to all else, but somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that her robe was too small.
Without turning on the lights, Haylee went to her room. Feeling for the electric blanket controls, she cranked the heat up to high. Crawling under the covers, she curled into a ball.
֎ ֎ ֎
Frequently, with only the hum of appliances and the ticking of the clock for company, Haylee wished that her dad would linger for breakfast ─ but not today. She was grateful that he had left at first light. Rushing to put on baggy sweats, she raced to the kitchen driven by fierce cravings. She was ravenous!
Barely able to contain her desires, she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing her hand landed on — milk. After a half dozen lusty swallows, the empty carton landed with a dull thud in the middle of the kitchen floor. Empty cheese wrappers followed by cold cut wrappers, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup bottles, an empty pickle jar, Tupperware containers that had held Tuna Helper leftovers, a tray from what was left of a pineapple upside-down cake and an empty egg carton were added to the pile.
Haylee paused to survey the bare refrigerator shelves for anything else of interest. A deep burp, that tasted like mustard and tuna, bubbled up her throat. Not a bad combination… Haylee rejected the horseradish and jalapeno condiments. Resting one hand on her stomach while wiping goo from her face with the back of the other, Haylee thought. I don’t feel like puking after eating all of that! Another belch erupted, followed by more hungry gurgles.
Haylee began riffling through the cupboards next. Soon the plinking of empty tin cans sounded as they hit the floor. With a glassy look in her eyes, she licked food remnants from the dirty dishes in the sink. Consciously, she had stopped herself from tossing the Corel plates and bowls into her heap. Although the advertisements claimed that they were unbreakable, Haylee knew this was not true. Everything even remotely edible that could be gleaned from the trashcan was added to the increasing refuse pile in the middle of the room.
Haylee took a deep breath and sighed. She wandered over to the couch. What a relief not to feel starved! Her head barely landed on the cushion before she fell fast asleep.
֎ ֎ ֎
Something roused her from her nap shortly before her dad was due to come in for lunch. Yawning, Haylee sat up, arched her back and stretched. She opened and closed her mouth, testing it’s parched, cottony texture. Cupping a hand over it, she expelled hot breath while taking a whiff to see if it smelled. The scent of fish, sour milk and onions made her frown. Thinking that she needed to brush her teeth, Haylee stood up. It was then that she noticed the state of the kitchen. “Did I do ALL that?”
It looked like a cyclone had gone through and pulled everything out of the shelves except for the plates, glasses, and silverware. A tingling underneath her skin had Haylee absently scratching her extremities. Something else felt funny. Reaching up to her chest, Haylee found sensitive mounds that filled her hands. She pulled the neckline of her sweatshirt away so she could look inside, “Holy!….” Her heart pounded as she explored that rest of her new contours. With a sense of wonder and delight, Haylee let out a sigh. So I was right!
Her eyes darted back to the mess in the kitchen. Dad’s going to be here soon! Leaping into action, she pulled out a roll of garbage bags. Haylee began shoving loose items into them. In under thirty minutes, she’d filled five! After hauling the trash bags outside, she returned to mop and wipe down the counters. At least, it smells fresh, Haylee thought as she surveyed her handy-work.
֎ ֎ ֎
The slam of the screen door announced her father’s arrival. He was greasy from crawling around under the walnut shaker. Not saying ‘hello,’ he paused at her side, took a quick sniff, raised his eyebrows, then continued striding toward the kitchen. Hesitating, he turned back, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school today?”
Knotting her fists in the fabric of her sweatshirt, Haylee hid most of the stains from her recent activity ─ as well as a few other developments ─ “Ahhh….. I wasn’t feeling good, so I stayed home.”
“Huh,” Eugene muttered before turning around to continue. Haylee held her breath as he reached for the refrigerator door.
“Aw, crap!” his voice sounded hollow coming from inside the appliance. “I don’t have time to go shopping today.” He straightened and looked at Haylee. “How can we be completely out of food?”
She smiled sheepishly, “A couple of friends from school stopped by to bring my missed assignments. They were hungry, so I told them that they could raid the kitchen.”
Nodding, he sighed. “They did. Going to have to wait till tonight before I can run into town. Make a shopping list?”
“Sure.” Haylee wondered how he could so easily accept her made-up story.
“I’ve got some beef jerky in the truck. Want me to bring you some?” he asked as he breezed past. The screen door slammed again before she had a chance to reply.
“I’m feeling better, Dad. Thank you so much for asking.”
֎ ֎ ֎
That night, Haylee slept fitfully. A headache had started again. By midnight, she was curled into a ball, feeling nauseous and dizzy. What’s wrong with me? her mind screamed.
After spending more than three hours in agony and terror, Haylee’s body suddenly jerked as a piercing, sharp pain ripped through her abdominal area. With swelling eyes, she opened her mouth to scream and found that she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was pounding so hard and fast, she thought it would burst. She panicked and clawed at her throat, leaving angry red marks. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
Sometime later, she roused. The pain was still with her, but she was able to move. She noticed that her legs felt warm and slippery. She reached over to turn on her bedside lamp. Looking down, she was horrified to find that she was lying in a pool of blood. Inhaling a shaky, ragged breath, her throat constricted. Daddy, …please help me, I’m so scared.
After a struggle, Haylee managed to get herself onto her feet. She could see thick ribbons of dark red snaking their way down her legs. “Daddy,” she croaked, starting to weep. Holding onto the furniture and swaying, Haylee slowly inched her way to the bathroom. Once there, she collapsed unceremoniously into the bathtub. Sinking into a blessed darkness where the pain didn’t follow, Haylee felt sure that she would never wake up.
Usually a heavy sleeper, Eugene woke with a start. A glance at the clock on his nightstand told him the time was 4:00 a.m. Fuzzily, he wondered what roused him. A strong smell of gardenias brought him fully awake. He wondered if it was left over from a dream he’d been having about his late wife, Doris.
He fumbled for the switch on his bedside lamp. Temporarily blinded by the illumination, Gene’s eyes squeezed shut. He scrambled to put on his clothes.
Flipping on the hallway light, he immediately spotted the dark pools of liquid and what looked like dragging footprints on the floor. When it dawned on him what he was seeing, Gene’s heart thudded. “Jesus in Heaven!” he muttered as he ran down the hall. Bursting into Haylee’s bathroom, Gene took in the scene.
His daughter lay in a heap in the tub, looking as white as a corpse. The bottom half of her nightshirt was soaked with blood, and her legs were smeared with it. “Haylee!” he cried. A fresh, steady stream was pooling and dripping down the drain.
Falling to his knees, he grabbed her shoulders. “Haylee! Haylee! Can you hear me?”
She was limp. He felt for a pulse. It was there, but it was fast and weak. Reaching for a towel, he stuffed it tightly between her thighs to stanch the flow. Gently gathering her up in his arms, Eugene ran to his truck, saying all the way, “Dear God, I beg you, please don’t take my girl away from me too!”
Stretching Haylee out on the bench seat, Gene cradled her head in his lap. With unsteady hands, he struggled to put his key in the ignition. He looked at them and saw them covered with blood. It was almost his undoing. Closing his eyes, he told himself that he had to stay calm.
Arriving at the hospital, he raced around the truck to scoop her up. The towel he had used to staunch her bleeding was soaked through. “Argh!” he exclaimed. Hastily, he ripped off his shirt to replace the sodden towel. When they burst through the emergency room door, Gene’s eyes were wild.
Immediately, Haylee was whisked away. Gene made a move to follow, but a nurse blocked his way. He would have fought to get past her but stopped when she told him that if he wanted to help, he would have to stay out of the doctor’s way.
Looking down, he saw a petite, redhead with intense blue eyes regarding him. In a firm but hushed tone, she said, “She’s in good hands.”
He nodded, “She has to be alright.” His voice was strained.
The nurse directed him to a quiet, empty treatment room where she had him sit on a table. Coming back from closing the door, she brought tissues, rubber gloves, and moist towels to clean him up. As she reached out to hand him a tissue, she found herself caught in his grasp. He pulled her close and laid his head on her chest. His large body shook with deep soul-shattering sobs.
Gene realized his tears were more than just fear of the danger that Haylee was in. They were self-loathing for ignoring Haylee after her mother’s death, and dread that he would never have a chance to tell her he was sorry.
֎ ֎ ֎
Feeling euphoric, Haylee noticed a light, floating sensation. Hearing muted voices, she struggled to become fully conscious.
Her dad’s face came into view. She wondered why he looked so tired. There were deep lines on his forehead and around his eyes.
He reached out to brush the hair off of her forehead. Seeing her eyes focus on him, he turned to speak to someone. “I think she’s coming around.”
A woman’s face appeared. A bright light was directed in one eye and then the other. The woman spoke to Gene. “She’s stronger.”
Haylee could hear muted voices from a distance. Then her father was back. His hand felt warm and strong when held hers. “Haylee, do you know where you are?”
Frowning, she moved her head slightly. “You’re in the hospital. I brought you in early this morning.”
Closing her eyes, Haylee nodded.
“You are going to be just fine.” He rubbed her hand. “You need to rest. Go back to sleep. I’ll be right here.”
֎ ֎ ֎
Sitting in a chair next to her, Gene watched his daughter. For the first time, he noticed that she was looking a lot like her mother. Now, instead of cringing, that thought brought on a resigned smile.
Gene could tell that the doctor felt uncomfortable informing him that, “The only thing we can determine at this point in time is that she was having an unusually heavy menses.”
Dr. Lester was a tall, dark-haired woman in her fifties. “Her bleeding has stopped on its own. She appears to be out of danger, but I’d like to keep her for observation.”
Gene pushed the doctor for answers. With a few short, icy words, she told him that they would do everything they could.
Feeling unsettled but relieved to have made it through the crisis, Gene returned to Haylee’s bedside.
֎ ֎ ֎
When Haylee woke the next morning, that insatiable hunger had returned. Confined in a situation where she wouldn’t be able to satisfy it, she began to panic. She had to get out of there!
Between nursing shifts, Haylee asked her dad to go buy her a magazine. As soon as he was out the door, Haylee was out of bed and buttoning his jacket up over her hospital gown. Peeking into the corridor, she waited until it was clear. Spotting a laundry cart, she grabbed it and wheeled it away while searching for a sign that would direct her to the staff locker room.
In street clothes, it was easy to exit the building. Once free, Haylee ran, and ran, and ran. She made one stop, in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Hunger satisfied, for now, she burped forcefully. Her hands hurt ─ they ached deep down in the joints and had begun to feel hot. Making the decision not to worry over, yet, more weirdness, Haylee resumed her run.
In her front yard, Haylee stretched, feeling abundantly strong and powerful. There was another sensation there also, something strange and different. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Just then, a bug landed on her arm. When she moved to swipe it away, she heard a —thwap. She stared in astonishment. There was webbing between her fingers! She wiggled them noticing the increased resistance. She flicked the other hand—thwap! Now this hand had the webs too! They glistened and sparkled. When the webs were out, she felt a potent energy humming just below the surface of her skin, as if it were waiting to burst forth.
She flicked both hands at the same time—thwap! The webs were gone! She practiced making them appear and disappear until her fingers grew sore.
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Her dad had let her wear some of her mother’s clothes since none of her own fit anymore. Wearing a halter dress and sandals instead of jeans, cowboy boots, and snap-up shirts, Haylee’s classmates didn’t recognize her when she returned to school.
Speaking to no one in the corridor, Haylee shyly met many of the eyes trained on her. She saw interest in the boys’ faces and looks of scorn on the girls.
When she answered, “Here,” to roll call in homeroom, silence fell as everyone turned in her direction. Scrunching down as far as she could, Haylee shut her eyes and willed everyone to stop gawking.
Regaining his own composure, the teacher cleared his throat, “Well, Haylee…you are looking well. I mean…did you have one of those glamor make-overs?”
The highlight of Haylee’s day had been Curtis ─ a boy she’d loved since fifth grade. He’d never looked twice at her. Recently broken up with his latest in a long list of girlfriends, he’d sought her out. “I heard that you suddenly turned ‘hot.’ I had to come to see for myself.”
Thirty minutes later, he’d asked Haylee out for her first date.
֎ ֎ ֎
The night was clear and the stars twinkled brightly as Curtis drove his Ford pick-up. Haylee sat close to him on the bench seat. She willed herself to relax. When he turned the truck onto a deserted levee and parked about a quarter mile off of the main road, Haylee’s heart began to beat quickly. She could feel herself starting to perspire.
“This is my ‘getaway’ place. I’ve never brought a girl here before,” he said as he hopped out of his door.
“Oh,” Haylee responded, feeling pleased.
Holding hands, they walked a little way. Turning a corner, they came upon a train track that went out over a trestle with the river flowing below. Helping her onto the railroad ties, they sat down on a rail. Curtis fished a couple of pennies out of his pocket showing her that the two coins had the current year. “I thought we could put them on the tracks to have the train fuse them together so we could remember our first date,” he explained as he put them in place.
Haylee was touched. “How nice!”
He leaned toward her to plant a soft kiss on her lips. It was over before she realized what he had done.
“We’ll have that memento before too long,” he whispered. He returned to kiss her again. This time lingering and gently coaxed a response.
Small rumbles began then, in Haylee’s core and the ones on the tracks.
Haylee was so absorbed, that it was a few moments before she realized that Curtis’s hand was on her breast. Shocked, she moved so she could push him away. Tearing his mouth from hers, Curtis whispered, “Don’t!”
Wedging her arms between them, Haylee complained, “Let go!”
Curtis held her tightly, “Relax. I won’t hurt you.”
Haylee could hear annoyance and frustration in his tone.
“I said stop!” she yelled. On its heels, another wave of quivering radiated through her middle, stronger this time.
“What the….?” Curtis said.
The train lights appeared a few miles out. Curtis jumped to his feet, pulling Haylee with him as he started walking quickly toward the river.
“Where are you going?” Haylee asked. Her voice was several octaves higher than before.
“Kick off your shoes,” he directed as he kept tugging her onward. The ground beneath them dropped away as they started across the trestle.
Bending over to grab a shoe in each hand, Haylee could feel herself trembling. Glints of moonlight undulated on the surface of the water.
Jumping from railroad tie to tie, they jogged between the iron tracks. Curtis urged her to hurry. Looking behind them, she saw the train approaching ─ fast!
“Curtis!” she shrieked.
Run!” He clutched her wrist and squeezed. He smiled with a wicked gleam in his eye.
Haylee’s heart hammered wildly. The tracks shook. She pulled her arm away from him, so she could focus on running.
The sound of the high, plaintive whistle was ear shattering. Curtis laughed, but Haylee couldn’t hear it.
They were about twenty yards from the far edge of the bridge when the train rolled onto the trestle. Running for her life, Haylee screamed. Adrenalin effectively masked the tremors that had her quaking from the inside out. The heavy rumble from the massive amount of iron and steel breathing down their necks had Haylee thinking about how her dad would feel when he found out how she had been killed. Haylee was preparing for the impact when she was roughly yanked at a right angle. She went flying, before tumbling down a grassy embankment.
It took a few moments to realize that she was still alive, that she had stopped moving, and that the engine and its cars were rolling past them. Nothing appeared to be broken. A white-hot anger flared up. Locating Curtis, she crawled toward him. He was laying on his back, laughing and shouting about how great that was!
Cursing, Haylee hit him with balled fists.
While holding her hands, he dragged her over to him and began kissing her. She struggled. He rolled on top of her. Between wet kisses, he kept repeating, “You are so awesome!” Curtis held her in place while grinding his hips into her pelvis. Haylee could feel his excitement.
The vibrations within Haylee intensified. Something shifted in her mind.
She ceased to be afraid. A foreign desire had taken over. It was something that didn’t care about boys with busy hands and dangerous senses of humor. It didn’t care about the physical act of intimacy. It wanted something much deeper than that.
Haylee lay beneath him, unnaturally still.
Curtis noticed that the fight had gone out of her and paused to look. Alarmed at what he saw, he rolled off her.
She sat up abruptly, considering him with a steely gaze.
Unnerved, Curtis scrambled to back away, he looked all around as if searching for an escape route.
Haylee stood up, still holding his eyes with hers. She unfastened her belt, letting it drop. In one simple movement, she removed her dress. Clad only in her underwear, Haylee wasn’t shy or embarrassed. “Is this what you want?” she asked in a slow, sultry tone.
Curtis couldn’t take his eyes off her now. He inhaled deeply, nodding. His breath caught in his throat, he reached out, bringing her to a kneeling position. He began kissing her again. Haylee did not resist. She made encouraging sounds. She did not want to frighten him again.
His hands roamed in places that would have had her fighting against him if she’d still been in her right mind. Greedily, Curtis clawed at her clothing. When Haylee felt the hooks of her bra let loose, she violently flipped him over.
An ‘oof’ escaped him as he slammed against the ground with a thud. With a detached point of view, like she was watching someone else, Haylee observed as her fingers, the webbing, in particular, molded themselves perfectly around the contours of his face.
Struggling furiously, Curtis tried to peel it away. His eyes bulged as he battled using every ounce of strength to save his life. The more he thrashed the tighter the webs adhered.
Witnessing the gruesome process was fascinating. As was the fact that it barely took any effort to hold him down. At the moment that Curtis accepted his fate, Haylee closed her eyes.
A feeling of indescribably sweet euphoria filled her. Infused with a glowing liquid light, all tension dissipated. With sparkling eyes, Haylee raised her weightless gaze to the stars. The webbed hand that had been bonded to Curtis’s mouth and nose released. Slowly and delicately, she lifted it away. She took a deep breath and stood—stretching languidly. In a daze, Haylee stood up and walked around to get used to this new sensation. Her lungs filled and expanded with breaths that drew in more air than she ever thought possible. Her thoughts came as swift as lightning. This is what all the strange things were leading up to!
After a while, Haylee wandered back to where Curtis lay, pale and trembling. Her eyes grew wide as she realized that she now knew a lot of things about him.
A surprise — since he always seemed so cool and confident — were the many nights he’d spent alone and afraid in an empty house when he was too young to fend for himself. His parents drank too much and fought too viciously. A distasteful look crossed her face when she learned that he planned to have sex with her and then describe it in graphic detail to his buddies at school.
Haylee dressed slowly. When she finished, she stood over him, watching. His pink skin glowed against the dark grass. He squirmed weakly reminding her of a maggot removed from its food source. How did I ever think that I loved him? she wondered. Haylee picked up his clothes and threw them in a heap near his feet. “Get dressed!” she demanded. When there was no response, she squatted next to him, shaking his shoulder. “Put your clothes on!”
He turned toward her. Haylee was startled to see the look on his face — or rather, the lack of a look on his face. It was as if he were asleep with his eyes open. In that instant, she understood that he was a shell emptied of its contents. Those…were now inside of her.
Haylee realized that he was not capable of putting his clothes on without help. Muddling through that awkward task, Haylee got him to his feet and tugged on his hand. His mechanical actions smoothed out and began to look almost normal once they got going. She led him back across the trestle.
On the other side, Haylee relived those awful moments running across the bridge and the shock of what she’d done to him.
Reaching the spot where he’d placed the pennies, her eyes scanned the area. Not far away, they lay on the track, blended together into one. Haylee picked up the fused metal. Her first thought was to put it in his pocket, but then she changed her mind.
Between Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone and Haylee and the Last Traveler, the author hasa conversation with the main character.
Wake up, Haylee.
“Go away Joey, I am trying to sleep.” Haylee flung a warm pillow out from under the covers. With no specific direction in mind, the soft projectile was meant to disrupt the cat’s plan to get her out of bed.
I thought we could talk for a few moments.
“Joey! Come on!” Haylee complained.
This isn’t Joey.
“Huh?” Haylee responded. She cracked her eyes into thin slits and scanned the room. Accustomed to hearing voices in her head, she took a moment to assess the quality of this particular one. It was not totally foreign; she’d heard it before…
Now that she was focusing on it, she understood that it was not Joey or any other animal. Animals didn’t form words and complete sentences. They sent a series of flowing visual images with emotions attached.
It wasn’t a thought from any of her victims either. After being absorbed into her mind during Haylee’s unusual feeding process, they were mere memories. When she was finished with them, they didn’t make new ones.
Re-asserting her tight clamp-down on those, Haylee was suddenly wide awake. She threw back the blankets and scrambled out of bed. Already wearing sweats, she threw on a jacket, slipped into a pair of shoes, and ran a comb quickly through her dark, curly mass of hair.
She was out of the apartment in less than ten minutes. The streets of Berkeley, California were not as busy as they usually were at this time of day, but there were enough people around to make Haylee feel part of something larger. Thinking that the voice was a dream remnant, she let relief trickle down her spine.
You can tell Josh all about this conversation when you see him.
Haylee stopped in mid-stride. A forty-something, dark-skinned man carrying a to-go coffee grumbled, “Watch where you are going, Miss!” He extended his hot cup away from his body while barely avoiding a collision.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
“Who are you?” Haylee asked, looking up and all around. The coffee man, glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and picked up his pace.
I can’t tell you that, but I want you to know that I am someone who cares.
“Are you my mom?”
“Alright, whoever you are, what do you want and why are you talking to me?”
A pair of female students, seeing the young woman gesturing and speaking out loud, crossed to the other side of the street.
I want you to know that when I kill you, you won’t suffer and that your time here has had a much bigger purpose.
“You are going to kill me? I don’t think so. I’m dying because all of the women in my family have some weird inherited thing that happens after they give birth.”
A husky blonde came out of a store with her son. They emerged near where Haylee was standing. The precocious boy pointed. “Mommy, that lady is talking to a ghost.”
The mother shushed him and hurried them toward their car.
That’s right. Why do you think that is?
A suspicious look crossed Haylee’s face. “I don’t know…. Do YOU?”
People are staring Haylee; you should keep walking. Yes, I am the only one who does.
Instead of walking, Haylee began to jog.
“Are you saying that it was your idea that I die at the age of twenty-three?”
You could have lived for a few years more if you hadn’t returned the souls that you stole. But it was the right thing to do.
“Not that I believe you, but did you also have something to do with my time jump to 1849 and…Reece?” her voice broke a little on the last word.
Of course. That is part of the story arc for the women of your lineage and the crystal fragments that you possess.
“Then you know about the Travelers and why they do what they do?”
Yes, and you will too before too much longer.
Haylee who had started running at top speed stopped to rest when she felt the energy of the voice begin to pull away.
“Wait! Are you saying that I’m not real? That my dad, Gori, Josh, and Serena aren’t real either?
You’re real to me and I love you all. You are like my children.
“I don’t accept this.”
“If this is true, why do I have to die? I don’t want to die! There’s so much more I want to do!”
“Josh needs to know about this! He thinks he can help. He’s started a research project.”
That is exactly what he needs to be doing. His work is going to be an important part of what happens next. But you won’t be able to tell him about this conversation because I have to wipe it out of your mind.
I need you to go into Haylee and the Last Traveler with no memory of it having taken place.
Everybody does it; toddlers, teens, CEO’s, women, and men. Everyone daydreams what they would do if they had more of it—power.
While fantasies are entertaining, rarely do they resemble reality when we’re faced with something life-changing.
Alderman’s book clutches hold of the fantasy, sears it to a crisp, and leaves us with a wretched, awful truth.
Before beginning to read, you know the author’s going to lead you through an alternate reality where the male/female power axis is flipped.
Alderman cleverly addresses reader expectations when, in pre-story correspondence, she says, “I think I’d rather enjoy this “world run by men” you’ve been talking about. Surely a kinder, more caring and—dare I say it?—more sexy world than the one we live in.”
From religious leaders modifying culture to government officials justifying actions, Alderman increases the voltage on the eclectic chair she builds for you.
We grow uncomfortable with Tunde, a college-age investigator, as he follows breaking stories. His anxiety and PTSD symptoms worsen as he publishes insider news reports and comes to understand ‘it’s never going to be alright.’
Alderman’s story makes you feel the axiom, “If power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The emotional load is lightened with skillful wordcraft and interdimensional storytelling; illustrations, chapter titles, the correspondence, and curiosity about an unseen character.
Toward the end, the invisible one says, “I don’t know where you all think you get off labeling humans with simple words and thinking you know everything you need… It’s more complicated than that, sugar. However complicated it is, everything is always more complicated than that.”
Great job, Naomi, shaking it up!
5 out of 5 Amazon | Goodreads stars
If you liked this review and you plan to read the book, you may also like Haylee. She’s also a dangerous handed woman. Haylee’s involved in a personal struggle with power and must solve the ‘why’ of her unusual affliction before it makes her destroy everyone she loves.
If you find or unearth previously unknown information about Phineas Gage – especially as it relates to his time spent in Valparaiso & Santiago, Chile (historic map spelling) or with Henry Trevitt – contact Malcolm Macmillian.
Malcolm Macmillan is Adjunct Professor at the School of Psychology at Deakin University, Australia. He is the world’s Phineas Gage expert.
A women’s compound deep in an Oregonian forest protects girls with special abilities. Something’s gone wrong.
A workaholic detective in the ninth month of a surrogate pregnancy is investigating them.
Easy, flowing style. Interesting characters and scenarios.
I read this book out of order in the series. It held together and made sense.
The most interesting relationship(s) in the book —for me—was between the female detective who is carrying a child for her sister and the spark of forbidden attraction with the baby’s father.
Possibly more interesting than the book was how it entered my reading sphere. Most of my favorite books arrive through word-of-mouth, recommendations from trusted curators, or editor picks. This one, in true sci-fi fashion, was selected by Artifical Intelligence on a linguistic profile matching site for authors.
My bookshelves are now filled with Lisa Jackson books!
His sixteen-year-old bride arrived in a gold-painted sedan chair. Carried by her brothers, the conveyance bobbed behind honking geese, herded by children dressed in red silk. Breeze-ruffled curtains concealed all but her profile and rigid posture.
Like a boy, Lee wished he could run down the lane, and pull back the cloth to see. But his upbringing would not allow him to dishonor the family. He remained in place, bland-faced, keeping his tumultuous emotions from showing.
As the procession drew near, Lee expected the geese to be shoo’ed inside their animal pen. Instead, the children formed a circle around the birds, using bamboo poles to avoid vicious snaps.
Stepping forward, the bride’s father declared, “ As tradition dictates, a wife must come to her husband with nothing, but my disobedient daughter refused to leave behind one item.” Smiling, Mr. Tie waved his arms at the flock, bowing deeply. “A messenger bird holds this item. You must decide what to do with it, Gee Lee.”
The gander stood at the center, feathers erect, beak open, hissing, tongue at full point. Dark eyes locked onto Lee, the enemy.
Crossing his arms, Lee nodded. Secured around the messenger’s neck was a bright blue ribbon; a yellow purse dangled from it. This was the first test of the marriage ceremony.
The wedding party expected Lee to refuse outright or walk through the flock, subjecting himself to injury. Lee took his time assessing, ignoring the sweat breaking out on his upper lip, as his exhilarating mating fantasies submerged under icy waters of responsibility.
He strode forward, taking two bamboo rods from the children. Lee directed them to move away. Tapping and swinging them, Lee drove the geese into the pen, separating the messenger.
Tossing the rods to the ground, Lee scooped a handful of pebbles while making a cautious advance. The gander raised its wings, lowered its head, and charged.
Lee threw stones in the bird’s face, deflecting the charge, but not before the infuriated fowl clipped the tender flesh above Lee’s knee. It clamped on; its beak like crab pincers, tearing the fabric and skin. Refusing to yell, Lee grabbed the ribbon while kicking at the animal. The purse dropped, landing in the dirt as the gander waddled away, rejoining its gaggle. Lee stared at the scene feeling a vein thumping in his temple.
Biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood, Lee willed himself to walk without limping, retrieving the purse. As he considered opening it, pitching it, or handing it over to his mother, a Confucian quote floated to the surface of his thoughts.
When it is obvious that goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.
Taking measured steps, Lee approached the sedan. After a thoughtful pause, he plunged his hand inside, offering the purse.
As he waited, anger sparked into a blaze, threatening to incinerate the curtains. It would be within his right to humiliate her, make her kneel before him in the open air.
When cool, trembling hands cupped his, Lee’s violent emotions plummeted. A shiver traveled down his spine.
From inside, a breathless, “thank you,” came as the purse lifted away.
With the return of Lee’s exhilarating fantasies, only the force of his will kept Lee from smiling.
Have you ever looked at a tree and seen a monster? When I was five, I was terrorized by thinking that the giant sequoia I was about to drive through would bend over to snatch me from the back seat.
As an adult, in the middle of a windy night, I was awoken by a sound like a gunshot. My car was totaled when the walnut tree I’d parked under snapped. (The insurance did not cover an ‘act of God.’) A decade or so later, I cleaned-up shattered window glass after an arborist removed a cedar tree that was growing too close to the house. While I appreciate the daily benefits of breathing, I recognize the hazards trees can cause when things go wrong.
For me, the car totaling experience resolved the age-old philosophical question about the sound a tree makes (or doesn’t make) when it falls in the woods. The same debates about the nature of reality and how it relates to experience can be applied to monsters.
Are there really extra large, hair-covered, humanoids hiding in the forests of the Pacific Northwest? Does a diabetic older man enter your house each year with the intent to delight your children? (It’s OK! He’s not a stranger, he knows what they’ve been thinking.)
Monsters are grown inside an electrically charged, submerged, gelatin-like structure that everyone carries inside their skull. This magnificent organ has evolved to specialize in pattern recognition. When we see or experience something that doesn’t make sense or for which we have no prior information, our brains concoct stories that seem real and make sense.
Addiction, accidents, rejection, unrealistic expectations, loss, grief and the fear of disappearing
are a few of the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that breathe life into our own personal monsters.
Because we are social creatures, our monsters can spread like a virus. Screaming fire in a crowded amphitheater or a run on the market because a rumor predicted a crash are examples of monsters gone viral.
Monsters are as adaptable. as we are. Before we understood the stages of decomposition, we thought evil spirits inhabited dead bodies, causing them to move. Every time we drop our kids off at school, we hope that a gunman doesn’t lose his marbles anywhere in the neighborhood. We worry that refugees and immigrants are taking our jobs.
With easy access to a world of information and a bit of discernment, monsters can be vaporized. Yet, instead of doing the work to accomplish this, many of us cozy up to them, inviting them to tea, and letting them share our pillow at night.
Monsters are with us to stay. Many of them are portrayed as hideous and frightful, while others are beguiling. All of them signal some kind of danger and remind us to be alert.
With certainty, we know that tomorrow’s monster will be different from today’s.
Below is a variety of contemporary and classic monster representations and lists of themes they exemplify.
A shrill scream, erupting suddenly in the darkness, sent prickles scuttling up their spines.
Bolin’s panic attack at the tunnel’s mouth made them late for their shift. Now they were alone, stumbling over rubble, feeling their way to the worksite.
According to Bolin, the ceiling was crawling with Jiang Shi (Jang-sure).
“I’ve got you,” Yáng said, gripping his arm above the elbow, squeezing like a vice.
“They’re watching!” Bolin shook his head as if he were trying to loosen clay marbles inside. Lurching forward, he broke Yáng’s hold.
It was Yáng and Foshan’s first day working in tunnel number six. Bolin had been here for a month. He was taller and more muscular than most of his countrymen. Once he started hammering a borehole, Bolin could do it in half the time as anyone else. The problem was getting him into the tunnel.
Upon arrival, a railroad gang leader informed Foshan and Yáng, “We work in teams of three.”
“Foshan is one of the best, but he’s been troubled since his brother’s death.”
“Stick with him, he’ll teach you all you need to know.”
Nitroglycerine was a new construction tool recently brought to the mountain. Blasting holes don’t have to be as deep as those for black powder. After detonation, there is less residual dust. Its downside is volatility. Slight movements or temperature shifts can set it off.
No one makes eye contact with the nitro carrier, bets are placed on how long he’ll last.
All work ceases when the nitro bearer arrives, stepping softly, holding his breath.
Bolin’s brother had been a nitro carrier. An untimely sneeze turned him into red rain.
Chinese dead must be buried with their ancestors. A soul is cursed if there are no remains.
In Chinese tradition, the dead must be buried on home soil. Systems are in place to return sojourner bones to China. When ancestors are gathered, the family grows stronger. Living relatives honor them with celebrations.
Spirits of the dead are cursed if they leave no human remains. Hun and po split. Po, the evil, foolish part lurks in the dark hunting for life force energy (qi), stealing it from the living. Once enough qi is gathered, the po can reanimate a dead body. Stiff and green with mold, they grow claw-like fingernails and fang-like teeth. Hopping, they move slowly, but they never stop. Ever.
Foshan trotted to keep up, patting Bolin’s back. “The power of legend is only as strong as your belief,” he soothed.
Bolin turned to stare with wide, torment-filled eyes. “You haven’t been here long enough to see most your friends die.” He tilted his chin toward Yáng, “or your brother.”
“True,” Foshan admitted, “but we can’t get lost in the bad. The living must inhabit our thoughts. Tell me of your children.”
Nodding, Bolin started, “I have a beautiful little girl.”
“I have a daughter too.” Foshan nudged him to walk while talking, “How old is yours?”
Approaching the rock face, Yáng hoisted a drill bar. Regarding the eight-pound sledgehammer in Foshan’s hand, he warned, “Don’t miss.”
A corner of Bolin’s mouth turned up. “Watch and learn.” Gripping high on the handle, he slid his opposite hand close to his hammer’s head.
Bolin, swung the sledge high. The blow, ringing like a bell, sent shock waves through Yáng’s arms and shoulders.
Foshan, following Bolin’s example, raised his hammer. The heavy tool came down on Yáng’s hand.
“Idiot!” Yáng cried, holding up a broken, bloody finger. Diving at Foshan, Yáng pummeled him with his good fist.
Bolin broke them apart. It didn’t register immediately that he was frantic. “Stop!
“Jiang Shi are attracted by blood.”
It took several work crews and irate supervisors to calm the scuffle. The three were sent back to camp, ashamed.
Four months later, the brothers congratulated themselves for helping Bolin. By talking about their families, he could get in and out of the tunnel without incident. Bolin told them he could still see the Jiang Shi because his brother was one. “There are hundreds of them hanging from the ceiling. Their ears rotate, following sounds made by people below,” he confided.
Crews working at both ends of the tunnel, plus from the inside out, had broken through. The three had finished their most recent borehole. They took a break while waiting for the nitro carrier.
Yáng walked a short distance to stand behind a boulder. He was appreciating the fresh alpine breeze while creating a warm puddle near his feet.
A loud pop, a burst of air, and a wet spray pelted his back.
Bolin was right, Yáng thought, as he entered the tunnel with his new crew. Hordes of menacing ghouls hung from the ceiling. Maniacal, green-tinged faces smiled at him revealing double rows of sharp teeth.
Two of them looked like Foshan and Bolin.
Yáng let loose a demented scream.
Tunnel Spirit Crossings Poem
To learn more about Bonnie McKeegan, her poetry, fiction, and therapeutic writing exercises click here.
The origins of mythical creatures, created from fear, to explain the, as yet, unexplainable is always an intriguing subject!
When background research for Crossings EAST revealed the Jiang Shi, I was thrilled. It took a considerable amount of thinking to decide to leave the paranormal element out of that story.
This short story was written to get the ‘paranormal’ out of my system before the work of deep character development begins on Crossings EAST, a historical fiction novel about Chinese railroad workers at Donner Pass.
Legendary murder crime story with a contemporary edge.
Bridget Sullivan is the Borden family maid. She’s an Irish immigrant and a witness to rising family tensions before the famous Lizzie Borden murders.
I liked the contemporary timeline tie-in with Brook’s (barista) character. Mailman does a superb job drawing parallels between people working in service sector jobs while illustrating the persistence of racism and prejudice over time.
Borden Murder Details Enhance Reading Experience
The fine details in the Borden story give evidence to the many hours the author logged while researching the famous murder, combing through trial documents, visiting the crime scene, and studying forensic photos. While details can sometimes bog down historical fiction pieces, Mailman uses them to enhance the reader experience.
If you enjoy thinking about historical events beyond what was recorded in history books and newspapers, or if you are a true crime, murder mystery enthusiast, you’ll enjoy The Murder’s Maid.
Mailman’s seamless storytelling, from the maid’s point of view, is fresh and immersive.
Because I have similar interests in re-examining historical events, Brook’s statement, “If you had been killed in a barbaric way, would you want strangers tramping through your house in 150 years and looking at photos of your brain spilling out of your skull?” struck a powerful chord.
The Irish filled the most menial and dangerous jobs, often at low pay. They cut canals. They dug trenches for water and sewer pipes. They laid rail lines. They cleaned houses. They slaved in textile mills. They worked as stevedores, stable workers, and blacksmiths. – History.com – When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis