My Lovely Blog ~ Blog Tour

Welcome to my blog tour

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I would like to say thank you so much to Virginia McKevitt, she’s an amazing woman and just as amazing as a writer. She writes in the world of Paranormal fantasy, Science fiction, Teen and Young Adult, her Fractured series The Secret Enemy Saga is a must read! And I thank you for  tagging me to join in this blog tour. You can check out Virginia and get to know her here – http://virginiamckevitt.com/

My first/favorite memories –  riding

I grew up more or less as an only child, being raised by my Grandmother and Great Grandmother, but after church I would spend time with a rodeo family. There were four sisters and me. Reggie and Brandy were my best friends. Her daddy was a Veterinarian. They had horses… and I loved them so much. So, after church we’d draw straws to see who rode what horse. I always seemed to get Bolo, he was very “spirited”. There was no telling what might get him going.

So, one Sunday we raced out to the barn and were so excited that we didn’t even saddle them. They all had reins, but no saddle. Bareback, we rode to an old dirt racetrack and imagined the announcer over the crooked intercom speaker saying our names and the horses as we would stage for an impromptu race.

About that time, Reggie’s mom pulled up across the field and we all started racing toward the old Ford Bronco. We jumped two ditches on the way to her mom, but on the third and final one, Bolo stubborned up on me and he started bucking. Now talk about being scared, I hooked my hands into his mane, because the reins didn’t do a thing. I held on for what seemed to be forever, then he stopped, but the last buck slid me right off of his back and on to the ground.

I was white as a sheet, completely terrified. Reggie’s mom walked over to Bolo, grabbed his reins, laughing at me so hard I thought she’d stop breathing. Then she straightened up and looked at me. “Alright girl, get back up here and ride Bolo back to the barn, unbridle him, brush him down and feed him.”

My eyes were as big as a full moon, but scared or not, I wasn’t telling her “no” so I got back up, brushed myself off  and rode him back to the barn.  I guess she taught me that day to always get back up.

My Books & My Library

My Library My Library is my own collection of Stephen King novels, some are like new, but a few in here are actually missing their cover, sadly. When I hit my teens I discovered Stephen King paperbacks, and just like horses, I couldn’t get enough. Thinner was the first one to start the avalanche of dark stories. One of the problems I ran into was having quiet time to read. You would think being the only child in a house with my grandmother that it wouldn’t be a problem, but it was. I sought out the only place in town that people would, one, not look for me and two, if someone did show up they would never think to bother me.

My LibraryThis is the actual graveyard I used to go to when I needed to get my fill of reading. It was quiet and I think since I was reading Stephen King, that no one there really minded.

Learning

Okay, first off I don’t want everyone to think that I’m on a morbid streak, but I’m simply stating facts. My first school was Sequoyah Elementary and it was built on top of an Indian graveyard. They tried to exhume all the graves, but missed a few. The original building was torn down and more bones were found during the new construction. They just tossed the bones into the new foundation and there are still graves under the playground there today. Creepy, I know, right?

I finished off my education at the other side of town, which, you can probably guess, is haunted too. Seminary Hall was an all girls school when Oklahoma was just Indian Territory, which today is part of Northeastern State University.

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Along with my college degree, I am trained as a Paramedic and hold certifications as a Certified Nurses Aid, Dental Assistant, x-ray technician, and level two Reiki healer.

My Passions

If I said ghosts you’d probably throw something at me. So I will attempt to keep my paranormal obsession under wraps long enough to share some of the alternate things that get me all fired up, in good ways. My hair, which I cut recently and have been crying over ever since. Kidding! I do regret cutting it though. I’m passionate in discovering amazing people, like Cassey Ho, my blogilates goddess – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIJwWYOfsCfz6PjxbONYXSg She has this entire section called Cheap Clean Eats that I love along with her workout videos. Lindsey Stirling is another – https://www.youtube.com/user/lindseystomp She’s amazing musician with the best energy. I’ve watched her from early on.

I’m so thankful to have been given this opportunity here on My Lovely Blog – Blog Tour. I’ve selected two indie authors that are as passionate about their writing as I am about my own and I hope you will continue on the journey of discovery with them.

Kate Givans is a very talented contemporary romance author and also from Oklahoma! Her Tortured Soul series is a must read. Here is her link – http://authorkategivans.com/

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J.M. Zuniga is another awesome indie author friend of mine who is not only a Young Adult Novelist, but an award-winning poet as well. Her latest book, Gwyneth, is another book that needs to hit your To Be Read list. Here is her link, enjoy – http://authorjmzuniga.blogspot.com/

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Thanks for stopping by… until next time. <3

Let Your Heart Drive is available for pre-order!

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*Dances around madly* I am proud to announce my tenth novel which will be published this June. June 1, 2015 will be the release date, but you are able to pre-order it now!

Let Your Heart Drive cover

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Just click the Amazon logo and you’re there!

As some of you may know this is my very first contemporary romance and I’m extremely excited about sharing this story with you. At least two years this couple (Sinead and Trey) have lingered with me and I have to say it was a bit difficult for me to write at first, only because I itched to write in a dash of paranormal or a pinch of supernatural. Believe me I felt the sudden urge to drop an Easter egg or two in the story and…maybe I did.  Now this is a standalone novel and a HEA. I hope my readers will enjoy it and if so, tell a friend or your dearest book buddy. <3

Next – I want to announce my Crescent Bound Box set is out, yes, you can now have the entire Bound series in one! Book one through five – Crescent Bound (which is Free!) Raven Bound, Demon Bound, Shadow Bound, and Ice Bound all complied together to make the set complete.

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Since you’re here I want to let you in on a little secret, May 5th through May 7th I will have the Crescent Bound Box set on sale! So, be sure to mark your calendars.

I hope everyone has a phenomenal week and weekend. I am off to prepare Let Your Heart Drive in paperback and decide which story I will conquer next!

Deadwood Diner – part 6 final

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

Mary Jane – ending scene

Keria begins to read us an article… “Deadwood Daily Press, Friday, May 4th, 1990. Tragedy struck late Thursday evening on Highway 13 just west of the Ma and Pa’s Diner. Two people died in an accident involving a pedestrian and the driver of the vehicle. It was reported that sixty-six year old, retired farmer, Raymond Thomson, left the diner approximately 8:41 p.m. driving westbound. Moments later he allegedly struck and killed twenty-three year old, Mary Jane Leland.  Mary Jane was struck from behind and was pronounced dead at the scene.

It is believed at this time that neither victim has a next of kin. Mr. Thompson is a widower with no known children and Ms. Leland was a local resident and had been a former patient at the Reidhaven Retreat.

It was not determined why Ms. Mary Jane Leland was on the road. She had been officially listed with the Deadwood Police Department as a missing persons, according to Sheriff Fletcher.”

Keria abruptly stops reading and inhales in a deep sadden breath. Leaving Rich and I on pins and needles.

“Keria? You still there?” Rich asks impatiently, worry creases his brows with each passing second. “Keria? Where did you find the article?”

Her breath breaks free like she held it for far too long, finally what seems like long exaggerated ear-ringing minutes stretch by, when in reality it’s probably no more than a few seconds she answers, “In the Heckman Horror’s file, Rich. She was one of the missing girls… and she was only two miles from Heckman’s house. Do you think…?”

“She was trying to make a run for it and this Raymond guy came out of nowhere and their paths incidentally collided? Yeah, I do Keria.”

“So… You and Jason just witnessed their death?”

He bobs his head lightly and glances at me. “Yeah,” he says it so quietly that I’m not sure Keria even heard him.

But her own softened voice drifts out of the diminutive speaker from his cell phone. “Well… are you guys going to sit all night at that abandoned diner or are you going to come home?”

“We’re on our way… see ya in a few,” he replies and grabs his cell from the dash. He presses end as he drives us closer to the discolored run-down diner, the closer we get to it, the more haunting it feels. Cold, arid, and unforgettably barren. The only thing that may out last this mystifying creepy town is the foundation, and the lost souls that exist here.

We drive back out onto the dank and misty highway and as we head home a silhouette of a woman emerges on the road. Her pale body contorted, shielding herself from the rain and sways with the wind. Her ghostly white face turns and stares right through us just we drive passed her, her eyes connect with mine and the radio suddenly serenades out a song by Tom Petty and the Heart breakers, ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’.

The End… for now.

My plan is to have an entire story about Mary Jane and her life living in the town of Deadwood, hopefully, sometime this Fall. I hope you enjoyed this short and feel free anytime to ask about any other stories I have available. I’m crawling back to my writer’s cave to continue writing Let Your Heart Drive – I hope everyone has a wonderfully wicked week! <3

Deadwood Diner – part 5

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

Mary Jane – part 5

Intense madding bright lights flood my vision, and a blaring scream overthrows the scene all around me. Instinctively my arm raises upward, an attempt to safeguard us from the impending deadly odds. Tires cry shrilly to a dead stop mere feet away and the howl from the car horn dies off as my friend steps out of the car.

“Jason? What the hell are you doing in the middle of the road?”

I swallow the bile back down, fear creeps in and harbors my response for a few seconds. Finally, I let out a breath and drop my arm, shaking my head. My eyes focus and fall on Mary Jane, she’s safe, I’m safe, and now it’s time to get the hell out of here. I offer her a reassuring smile and whisper, “Everything is going to be okay.

“Hey Rich, I’m glad you could make it,” I reply coolly but even if my voice sounds perfectly calm, my blood pumps deliriously inside. I slip my hand lightly along her elbow and help her toward the back of the car. If she’s mad as a hatter like Ray said or not, I can’t leave her here. Not alone and certainly not with the worthless, indifferent people inside that diner. I’m sure between Rich and I we’ll figure something out. Our feet slosh with the momentous tempo from the hushing windshield wipers. And each step feels like each beat lessens and slows, but I don’t pay too much mind to it because I just want us the hell out of here.

I toss my duffel bag in first and wait for her to settle into the backseat before I close the door. Rich quickly takes shelter from the rain and burrows back behind the steering wheel. As soon as I ease myself into the passenger’s seat he remarks, “Man, I’m sorry for not getting here sooner, I really tried to beat this storm.”

I flip the car vents toward the back to blow out some heat, the air is damp, but not as brutally bone-chillin’ as before. I rub my cold hands together to bring more feeling to them and reply, “I sure don’t remember thunderstorms quite like this.” I gape out of the front windshield watching as sky blackens with more unconforming clouds. It’s abnormal and incredible with the way the background looks, no inkling of stars, no trace of lightning, no distinctive shape just a blanket of darkness. The unmelodious wind pitches limbs from sparse trees along the highway and into the road like their wretched offspring and casted away.

“Yeah, well this is mild compared to earlier, I had to pull off to the side of road because I couldn’t see a thing in front me,” Rich replies motioning his finger at the rain waxed highway. He’s right, it’s not blinding or obscure like it was. And as we drive farther away it tapers off more and more. The windshield wiper blades start to awkwardly drag and squeak. He reaches up to dial the lever control back when a woman staggers out of the woods and onto the road.

I fiercely grip the dash and yell, “Rich, watch out!”

Rich jerks the wheel and slams on the brakes. We sweep across the yellow center line as he loses traction and the car fishtails and sails off the road. The car slides to a stop facing a longstanding rugged tree. The woman who stumbled out in front of us looked just like Mary Jane. Same tousled hair, same frail frame wearin’ the same oversized worn clothes, and the same horror-stricken green eyes….

I crane my head over my shoulder and breathe carefully out. “Mary Jane… are you okay…?”

The only thing that sits in the backseat is my duffel bag and nothing else. Rich bangs the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. “Shit! Jason, what the hell was that?”

I point adamantly at him. “You saw her? Right? The girl that I just helped get in your car, the one on the road with me? I think that was her.”  I’m half expecting him to say something mocking, Hell, I haven’t seen Rich in over a year. He’s probably thinking I’m suffering from some kind of major exhaustion or combat fatigue, but he meets my eyes with complete sobriety.

“No… I didn’t see you helping someone into the backseat, you just threw your duffel bag in and I didn’t see anyone when I saw you on the highway, Jason. But I’ll tell you this…” now it’s his turn to aim an adamant finger toward me and ramble on, “If you saw someone earlier, then I have no doubt that you did, because we both…” he motions his finger between us. “Saw a girl just now.

“Back up, back the car up now, we need to go back to the diner, Rich.”

He immediately yanks the shifter into reverse and leans his arm along the seat, overlooking his shoulder as he peels the car out onto the murky highway.  “Who’s Mary Jane?”

“The girl.”

The car is plastered in lumps of mud as the rear tires sling the sludge inside the wheel wells. The raucous sound thunks and beats like a body is towed behind us. “Who is she?” he asks in a tone that’s drawn and deducing. I glance out of the window as the smear of trees fly by, but none of images look anything like trees.

I lift a shoulder, skeptical of my own answer. “She’s the girl I met at the diner—”

“Jason…”

“Yeah?”

We speed pass the underbelly of the dissipated bridge as Rich grips the wheel and shakes his head like he’s conflicted with something. “You know the diner’s closed?”

“No… it’s not.”

He darts his assured eyes briefly to me, still shaking his head. “It’s been shut down for about seven years now. I think Keria and I were probably one of their last customers.”

“No… Rich,” I refute and stare at him hard. “I just had a cheeseburger and home fries, talked to a guy about CCR and then she came in.”

“The girl? Mary Jane?”

I nod with no doubt that what I had just experienced was a one-hundred percent real, but as the outline of the diner comes into my view, there are no lights humming from within, no cars occupying the outside and no flicker or haunting neon glow from the sign that barely hangs above.

It’s abandoned, gutted and lifeless.

The second Rich throws the shifter into park I amble out, holding the door like a ballast. I find my voice and stammer out, “I… I was just in there.” I hear my sparing words echo across the deaden cracked parking lot, my disbelieving eyes rake over a half boarded-up window like someone tried to crawl back inside it’s darkness. Back into the sanctuary it once held, to the air and haunting comfort of something I can’t grasp. “What’s going on, Rich?”

Rich stands next to me, staring at the same jilted, empty diner I am and says, “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”

I turn to him as the blood flushes from my face, I’ve been in situations before that would have most grown men piss their damn pants. But right now, I’m finding that in this unusual position I can’t even formulate a cognitive thought. I drag my eyes away and glare at the ghastly dark and somberly hollow diner. It stands soundlessly glaring back at me.

The rain I had almost forgotten about lightly taps the edge of my cap reminding me it’s still present. I stifle any more questions from rushing out while Rich calls Keria.

Rich has been with Keria since college, they met here, in Deadwood. Unlike most couples who go out to dinner and a show on a typical weekend night they spend their time chasing the paranormal. Rich said he literally fell in love with her on their first date and since then they’ve been inseparable.

“Hey, yeah we’re fine. No, we’re on Highway 13, yup just passed the bridge… I know…I know…” Rich mumbles as he walks around the car while he talks, inspecting the front, making sure there’s no visible signs we actually hit something. Eventually he stands running his other hand through his rumpled soaked hair. He nods at me once my eyes roam back and he gestures for us to get inside the car.

“Okay babe, here, I’m…” he chuckles as he grins slightly toward me. “I’m okay, he’s okay… now, I’m going to do intros real quick so we can figure out what’s going on here, Keria… this is Jason, Jason this is Keria.” He hits speaker on his cell phone and balances it carefully on the grey dash.

“Hi Jason…”

“It’s nice to meet you, Keria…” I answer and wonder what’s got Rich on a writing rampage. He quickly whips out a pen and notepad from the glove compartment and starts scribbling things down faster than my eyes can keep up.

He clears his throat and asks without looking up, “Tell Keria what Mary Jane looked like, we need our descriptions to correlate so that Keria can run a search through my data.”

I describe her down to every minute detail, from her tangled sun-streaked hair down to her mud covered bare feet. How her young and innocent expression seemed so real and yet so disjointed. I mention the color of her earthy green eyes and her smaller height simply because, I vividly remember us standing face to face on the highway. And how I had to lower my head to hers reassuring her everything was going to be okay…

But it’s not okay…

My stomach drops as I take in the deserted diner again, but my reminiscing is short-lived when Keria’s attentive voice announces, “I found something.”

To be continued…

Deadwood Diner – part 4

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Please note this short story is a small link in a chain, so to speak. A sequel to another short story titled – The House.

Mary Jane – part 4 

I adjust my cap back on my head and feel that eerie prickly sensation as soon as I step out into the night. Thunder shakes the ground like a Cobra Gunship. I harness my nerves and scout around for Mary Jane through the pitch-dark parking lot. I wait a beat, hoping for that millisecond bolt of lightning to briefly brighten my view. But I’m shit out of luck.

My feet trudge through the pouring down rain and my eyes roam the area. “Mary Jane!” I holler out while passing by a white 1970 Cadillac, it’s the only thing that shows any prominent color. I carry myself on over to the next vehicle and catch a glimpse of her scampering between two more cars. Her drenched form is hunched over and staggering to stand upright in the hammering steel cold rain. “Mary Jane!”

I chase after her, listening to her muffled down whimpers and cries. She’s terrified and I can’t seem to get close enough to her. The punishing rain blinds most of my sight, it doesn’t matter how much I shield my hands over my cap to help, it’s relentless. Thunder slams against the woeful dark sky making my body shake. I grasp a blotchy tall figure lurking behind a truck and I follow it, the shape is too misshapen to really tell if it’s Mary Jane. My gut twists and buckles with uncertainty, but I have to make sure she’s okay.

I slosh my rain slicked boots through a crater-like puddle and terminate my next step. Rain falls thickly along the passenger’s side window of a late-model red pickup, it looks no different from any of the other cars I’d just passed. Apart from the fact that an orange hazy glow pulsates inside, pulsating with a beat. In precise time and cadence to a song by Simon and Garfunkel, “Sail on silver girl… sail on by… your time has come… to shine…” I jerk my head to the right of me, searching for the cause. No one’s inside, the engine from the weather-beaten clunker doesn’t rattle with life, but the old-fashioned chrome radio recites the song from my past.

I slow my movements and strengthen my grip on my duffel bag. My heart pounds like someone called in an air strike, the hairs on the back of my neck stands on end and I breathe in the icy air. I let out a warm humid breath from within me and it reminds me of winter, the dead of winter. My body involuntarily shudders like I’m standing in my skivvies, aggravated and unnerved I sling my soaked cap off and swipe the rain away. Stubbornly I set my cap back on and glare over the truck. “Mary Jane… is that you?

The radio keeps warbling out but when it hits the last track from the song, it carries that unreal static noise that can only come from a record player back in the day. Each time the static is louder, more hair-raising and then the song begins to play…again. I flicker my glances back and forth tensely. I’m lost at what could be the source, how could anyone around here know that song from my childhood? The disheartening thunder drums the shade of the scenery, bleak and wrong. Regardless, I stick with my mission and force my feet to move.

I dog the footsteps of every shadow, every movement, and unnatural sound. The faded cracked pavement becomes nothing but a river of rain, and eventually I find myself on the opposite side of the diner. I cup my hand around my wet soaked mouth, and call out her name. The muttering and detached cries stop and turn into breathless words, stammering and wandering words that I can’t grasp. Words that sound like a thousand voices, crawling over each other, trying to be heard in the deranged storm.

Distant lights fray out along the slickened dark highway and I see her, the small angular shape of her. Cradling her body, with her head swaying low. It takes a breath for me to unfold the grappling iron lodged inside my throat. My boots race soundlessly across the stretch between her and I until I’m standing on the skirt of the highway. The rain showers us both as I ask, “Mary Jane?”

I raise my left hand outward, prayin’ she’ll accept it. Her long dripping wet hair screens her face and I can’t make heads or tails if she even knows where she’s standing. “…It’s not safe here, just take my hand, Mary Jane…take my hand,” I plead, but the only reaction I get is her gripping her arms closer to herself withdrawing from me. I glance up and along the unnerving long road is a curve guarded by trees.

And through the timber I see a beam of headlights quivering between them.

I drown my reserve and stride out to her, meeting her stance I grip her haggard, threadbare arms and command her to look at me. Her down-casted green grieving eyes drag upward, fear infiltrates every ounce of her blanched face. Tangled unavailing words drop from her stark lips so fast that it takes me a moment to catch her trembling chin and ask, “I… I don’t understand—”

“I’m afraid…I’m so afraid…”

I release her chin and wrap my arm around her and try to shield her from whatever she fears. I lower my head and mouth against her damp hair, “It’s okay, I’m not going to let anything harm you.” I brace myself closer, hoping she’ll have enough faith in me to get her off the highway, to get both of us to safety. “It’s too dangerous to be out here, in this rain and in the middle of the…

“But it’s too late… ”

A loud screeching sound erupts through the darkened night and all I can see a blinding light.

To be continued…

Deadwood Diner – part 3

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

Mary Jane – Part 3

I offer to shake her hand but she flinches back and mouths warily, “I’m… I’m Mary Jane.” Her words aren’t broadcasted without forethought, she whispers it out like she’s exposing something highly classified. Her troubled green eyes dodge madly around the diner, watching, scouting for whatever danger that’s supposedly stalking her. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s all a made-up creation inside her mind, because either way her fear is real. Real enough that I see it as plain as a nose on a man’s face. Maybe it’s my gut instincts or it’s imbedded so deeply in me, but I just want to make sure she’s safe and unafraid for a moment.

“Well… it’s nice to meet you, Mary Jane,” I respond and motion at the waitress to hold on a second. She calmly sits my heated coffee back on its small saucer and waits patiently while I tip my head toward Mary Jane and ask, “Want some coffee or something to eat—?”

“No…” she abruptly answers wringing her hands tightly together, she’s rubbing them so tightly that the tips of her knuckles turn as white as bone and she jerks her head toward the diner door. It dawns on me that she isn’t really answering me directly but rather a silent plea for help. She coils her mud covered legs up to her chest and nearly perches herself like a wounded bird on top of the barstool, she winces once as her eyes squeeze together. Her bizarre reaction makes me think of someone huddling up and bracing themselves for a twister ready to take whatever it wants in it’s deadly path.

“No…  no… no…” she whispers over and over covering her ears and rocking her fragile paling body. I start to ramble out a line of growing, concerned questions, but then I hear a spineless tick hit the glass door. A light metallic sound and then another, a trickling rhythmic tapping slowly one after another until it sounds like the heartbeat of a furious thunderstorm. I strain my eyes harder to see, to see the proof of what my ears are hearing. I watch as angry massive drops of rain sheet and distort the diner windows. Beating and pounding so insanely I bet you couldn’t even see your own hand right in front of your face.

No one inside seems perturbed by the onslaught except for Mary Jane, unexpectedly she whirls herself from the counter and jumps off the barstool and runs out of the diner and into the hell storm outside. I throw a quick glance toward Ray but he doesn’t offer a word other than a ‘I told you she’s crazy’ kinda dubious shake from his head. The jukebox rattles out, ‘I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part, so hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart, so hello Mary Lou goodbye heart…” 

        An uncomfortable pang inside me strips my dispassion away and I can’t ignore the fact that someone, crazy or not, just ran out of here like a bat out of hell. I pull out my wallet, slap a twenty down on the counter and swing my duffel bag over my shoulder.

And hastily head for the door.

Deadwood Diner – part 2

Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush diner snippet

Mary Jane

The young woman is as thin as a rake, but holds an unfading beauty to her. Her shadowed eyes skate nervously around the sudden quiet diner, her hair streaked with proof she’d seen her days of the summer sun pelt throughout. Half sticking straight up, the other half tangled in hellish twisted knots. Skittishly, she tiptoes up to the empty barstool on the right side of me. Ray, on my left, mumbles something under his breath but his mutters go mute.

The woman clings her skeletal-like hands against the metal edge of counter and whispers, “It’s out there…” Her hushed words are so voiceless that I’m not even sure I heard her, but as I bite into my burger, leaning farther forward I hear her say it again. “It’s out there…”

I sway a look over my shoulder, wondering what’s got her so spooked. The diner’s speckled with fewer customers, only a handful sit in booths near the glass door. The darkness outside creeps up starving off most of the light that once shined from the aging street lights. The highway wasn’t much to see unless a Greyhound or a truck shined their daring headlights along the shrouded lifeless road. But I can’t pin point what has her clutching the molding of the counter so desperately. I jump my eyes back over to her and see terror bathed deeply inside the green-eyed girl. It takes me a second to swallow down the bite of my cheeseburger I had just taken, simply because I had never seen someone so damn attractive, yet so damn terror-stricken at the same time.

Her unkempt loose-fitting clothes are not enough protection from the bite of the chilling late night breeze outside. She keeps her head tilted slightly downward so that I can’t see the complete view of her pale face. Her frightened eyes shift anxiously through her disheveled hair, and I try not to stare. She uses the counter as her anchor as she eases herself timidly on the barstool. The nostalgic waitress never delivers herself over to the young woman, never even gives her a welcoming comment like – ‘Be right with you, sugar’. Instead, she wanders off to the opposite side of the diner as if to give a pronounced space between them.

“Don’t listen to nothin’ she says,” Ray rumbles in a low grouchy tone. I catch his subtle head gesture toward the girl. She looks lost and afraid like a doe standin’ smack dab in middle of a hectic highway. A light sound of silverware clanks against a plate and she practically jumps ten feet out of her seat. She curls her skinny body forward and chews on her short frail fingernails feverishly.

I narrow my brown-eyed glare over to Ray and ask with the same low restrained tone, “Is she from around here?”

He grunts and blows out a cynical snort through his nose as he leans on the counter. Keeping his head, his unreadable whiskered expression forward, he replies, “She’s crazier than shithouse rat and it’s best you’d stay far, far away from her.”

I’m not sure what to make of what he just said, so, I steal another curious glance her way. There’s no way someone like her could be ‘crazy’ maybe she lacked good common sense and a decent pair of clothes but then I drop my gaze down to her feet and realize they’re bare and covered in mud. I stop my mind from overrunning with assumptions and judgment but Ray bounces his meaty elbow against mine and mumbles, “She’s gotta a few screws loose up in the head, they had her admitted to Reidhaven when she was young.”

I whisper back quietly and tactfully as I possibly can, “Reidhaven?”

His bushy camouflaged eyes dart my way incredulously. “You know, the hospital they kept sick people in, but…” he shrugs his broad overalled shoulders and says, “…they closed it down. Said they’d run out of funding or something to that effect. I just think it’s a damn shame really, but whatever you do… don’t let her get to ya.”

I’d only eaten three-quarters of my food when I finally had to stop and wipe off my mouth and force myself not to look over to her as she sputters, “They’re everywherein-in the darkwa-waiting…” She cradles her shivering bony hands like a child that’s been hiding from the boogie man all night. Has she been living in this fearful state all her life? The question floats to my mouth, wanting to ask, wanting to interrogate Ray how could some so young lookin’ as her, someone so uncommonly pretty be so distraught?

“I know what you’re thinkin’, Sgt. Knight,” Ray announces as he cranes his head closer to me. Still keeping his voice as low as possible he swallows slowly and informs me. “She hears voices, they say she never could tell which ones were real. So, nothin’ coming out of her makes sense.”

I mentally chew around on his words for a moment, nodding lightly to him so that he knows I hear him. The outdated waitress eventually saunters around and angles a flashy red nail toward my barely touched coffee. “You wanna have me reheat that up for you, honey?”

I idly scratch the side of my jaw and start to answer ‘no’ to her when the woman beside me says, “He wants it heated… it’s cold, isn’t it cold?” My weary eyes connect with her sober green and for the life of me if it wasn’t for her strange, out of the ordinary appearance, I’d never claim her crazy. Her voice as she spoke was clear and concise. And just as soft and polite as anyone else here in the diner.

“Yeah, it is kinda cold,” I evenly reply never taking my eyes away and the waitress quietly hustles herself back to the kitchen, coffee cup in hand. I study her features now that I can, and I find that she bares no trace of someone once locked inside a psychiatric hospital. But something, whatever it is has it’s claws sunk so deep inside her that I can plainly see she’s truly afraid. She tucks her bottom lip beneath her teeth, nervously she looks over me, searching my own features, tryin’ to decipher whether or not I’m someone trustworthy.

“I’m Jason Knight…” I mention and point at my last name stitched across my Army jacket.

To be continued…