A sneak peek into Midnight – Book 2 in the No Death for the Wicked series

Midnight sneak peek 1

If you’re a Rush fan or have read Daylight and have been anxiously waiting for book 2 in the No Death for the Wicked series, well…  please bear with me.

As some might already know, I have recently lost my best friend, my husband. He passed away August 13th and I have been completely and utterly lost without him. I know some may say it’s too soon or take it slow, which I am. But, the one thing that has always kept me grounded is writing, my husband used to always say he loved it when I wrote simply, because it fueled me with life. Writing helps me on so many different levels and I know it’s the one thing he would want me to continue even with him gone.

With that being said, here’s the first chapter to Midnight. I’m working on it here and there, whenever I get the chance, mostly nights since sleep evades me. Also, I would like to mention before I cozy up to write, (book one) – Daylight should be out in audio very soon. I will post links as soon as I can and I hope you enjoy the beginning taste of Mattie and Graham’s next story.

© 2015 Karli Rush

Chapter One

“A stake through the heart…” I flip another page and grumble, “Exposure to the sun.” Another page. “Decapitation.” And another. “Starvation.” I roam my eyes over to Graham, annoyed.

“Where’s the good stuff in this fossilized book?”

He directs a shimmer of a glance my way, but still keeps his blue eyes on the ill-lit road. The city of Solace is a distant memory, but one I will not soon forget. Graham found a set of wheels for us, more like a war machine. A Gothic black 1965 Buick Rivera, to travel the wastelands, the barren lifeless roads. Each mile means I’m that much farther away from the Elites. The elites are hunting us, and every pit stop we make, someone’s watching us. So, whether it’s a cashier at a gas station or a hitchhiker wandering the dusty roads, Graham makes sure they have no breath to reiterate what or who they just saw.

“There’s more in the book, Mattie,” Graham reveals, and magically flicks the pages backward with a simple gesture from his finger. His unworldly succulent eyes study me. “Bleed,” he says in a deep and throaty tone.

The only way I can read the book in my lap, the Voynich’s book, is for a drop of vampire blood to touch the page. I press my nail into my hand and squeeze the ruby-red blood from my palm. The crimson fluid turns into ink and the encrypted symbols begin to form into words. Readable, fluent sentences appear, and I start to decipher what I’m seeing.

“Vampires have existed since the dawn of man, and since that time, the two races have been at war. Both fighting for their own instinctual survival. Mankind had daylight on their side, to them vampires were nothing more than a menace.

The vampires ruled the night, but were also reliant on the humans… for their blood. After centuries of bloody war the humans believed they had finally won, and fell into a state of complacency, but the vampires, concealed by shadows of night, discovered another race being hunted and persecuted by the humans… witches.

These two formed an alliance and began slowly developing a strategy to infiltrate and take over humanity, without mankind ever knowing. First, a serum was created, giving them the one thing the humans had advantage of, the sun. Now the nightwalkers walk the day, and soon all aspects of society will be within our grasp. In five hundred years, we shall rule the world.”

As soon as my last word expels from my lips the sentences fade, no words, no ancient scribbly handwriting, not even a hint that my blood had even spilt there.

“So all this time humans think that vampires are mere stories of myth and forgotten legends, but in fact they’re the ruling class of humanity. How ironic— wait a minute… how many cities are there like Solace?”

Graham hits the lights, deadening the path in front of us even more, and steers the car off the road. The town, Shadow Hills, caps the dry scenery in the distance. Graham slips out and scouts the area. He walks, no that’s not accurate, he glides toward the front of the car. His long trench coat whispers along the ground as he waits a breath before he answers me.

“There are more cities like Solace than you would like to know about, Mattie.”

“So, we’re fucked?” I quip getting out, my eyes roam around the dreary landscape. I set my hope for blood on a metaphorical shelf for now and stride toward the back of the car. I slam my fist hard against the dusty metal and watch as vials of daylight shine like the Holy Grail from the trunk. I slide one translucent bottle from its precious cushioned protection and inspect it. The entire trunk is filled with cases of daylight, and if I’m careful, it will last me a couple of years. But, if I am not, I may just end up being a flesh-skinning nightwalker and that’s not a go-to option for me.

Graham motions over at the horizon just as the sun breaks through the early morning light. I quickly slip the vial back in its snug, tight concealment and make sure the cases are securely closed before I slam the trunk shut. I might be able to go a few days without needing another dose, but a thousand or so vials of daylight won’t last me forever. In the book it mentions witches, an alliance between us and them. And how they conjured the serum, now, all I need is a witch.

“Your friend… she’s there,” Graham announces and shifts his provocative eyes toward me.

“How do you know? You have a thing for witches too?” I sass meeting his pace, his body meets mine. We’re close to touching but not. I swallow hard watching as he licks his full sinful lips. He’s been careful not to touch me since we hightailed it out of Solace, all of his energy and concentration has solely been on keeping us safe. But now, I can see his sexual frustration building, he wants to touch me, he needs to touch me.

Finally, his right hand ensnares around my waist, pressing our hips closer. His blue eyes scour over my face as if he’s deciding on how he wants to take me. “Witches? No… They couldn’t survive my ways, they’re not nearly wicked enough.”

“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” ― Stephen King

Mindnight banner for blog

When I first started writing out the story for ‘Daylight’ which is the first book in the No Death for the Wicked series, it was for a Halloween anthology dedicated to a charity. It was meant to be a short story with a limited word count and a wonderful opportunity to write with so many talented writers. As most now know the story has evolved and I am currently writing book 2 Midnight. As soon as I am finished with Midnight I will announce the release date, which I’m hoping will be sometime next month.

It is the ultimate challenge, writing a book with balance. As an author, I want to write a book that is capturing, intriguing and brings you along as my characters live out their lives. But here’s the thing with my writing, I write what the characters show me, they are the ones that take me down the writing path. I follow their lead.  Do I want to be an author that is too easy? Predictable or boring? Well I certainly hope not, but do I want to give up everything to you in the first book? No, I don’t. I want you to desire for more, to have unanswered questions that stick with you and allow the secrets not yet whispered into your ear to bring you along as the full story unfolds, whether it’s one stand alone book or a series.

Daylight, my first book in the No Death for the Wicked series, is a great example of this. I understand that my readers are open minded, thought provoking, and intelligent.  So, I don’t fill my book with explanations of why a Reaper (Graham) and a young vampire (Mattie) have an instant attraction. Book two, Midnight, will bring more of this to light and book three, (Untitled) will wrap it up.

I also don’t dive into much of the backstory of Mattie or Graham because the first book is more of a discovery into who they are right now. How they handle themselves in different situations. What are their boundaries, or restrictions? What are their strengths or weaknesses?

There is so much in Daylight that can be expanded on, and that’s the fun part of a series. Why was Mattie so stuck in being young?  How did Mattie’s Mother Dearest control and use her? Why is Graham so thunderstruck with Mattie? Why can’t Mattie get enough of Graham? What’s the deal with the serum Daylight? How is the serum made? What’s the rest of the world like outside of Solace? Are there other vampires out there? How does Pandora fit into the picture going forward? Or does she? Why wasn’t Krew a truly evil bastard? Was he really meant to be the villain or just someone representing the other side?

All of these questions and much more are set into Daylight for a reason. The answers are my secrets. Secrets to be whispered to you as you read along with the rest of the series. And that’s the real trick isn’t it? In Midnight you’ll find out more about the questions above, more secrets will rise up too. The one thing you can rest assured is that I will always wrap up my books with a nice little bow at the end so that you’re not left hanging.

 

Midnight coming soon…

Midnight teaser 1

 

Cover reveal for Midnight – book 2 in the No Death for the Wicked series

Midnight cover final one

Midnight book 2

Synopsis

I have what I came for, the serum they call Daylight, and him. Graham is a dangerously seductive Grim Reaper who shadows my every move. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing, necessarily. Now, a clan of unforgiving elite vampires hunting me down by night, that’s a downer.

Why? Why would another vampire, especially the ‘Elites’, care if I walk the streets by day? It’s because I have something they want.

The Voynich manuscript, a book you wouldn’t believe is real unless you’ve seen it with your own eyes. Bound in the skin of an unnamed animal, this legendary book contains the history and knowledge of all vampires that walk this earth, and I have it.

They hunt the nights searching for me. I walk in the light of day trying to keep one step ahead of them, but what happens when my Reaper’s last grains of sand run out, forcing him to return to the underworld?

What will win? Love or revenge?

Join Mattie in this unique vampire love story with a gritty Gothic twist as we find out how far she will go to keep what she has.
 Release date to be announced. 

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.

Seminary hallseminary hall today

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/

kate givans

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/

jmzuniga

Thanks for stopping by… until next time. ❤

Deadwood Diner – part 4

diner pic

 

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 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…

Another tale from the Deadwood town…

Mary Jane part two of the house pic

Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

If you haven’t had the chance to read The House  then, here’s your chance… book 1 is free this weekend only!  Amazon link

Deadwood Diner –  part 1 

Words have no power to impress the mind

Without the exquisite horror of their reality.

 

– Edgar Allen Poe

I step off the Greyhound bus and the moment my black military issued boots hit the ground, I breathe in the late autumn air. I roll my stiff shoulders back and rub out the cramped soreness from my aching neck, fifteen months in Iraq and I’m finally just an hour and a half away from home. Back, from my extensive journey, my latest military stint and it’s almost hard to believe. It’s too good to be true that I can actually feel the good ol’ country like I did back when I was younger, before I enlisted and now, I need this break. I’ve dedicated everything to my one ambitious goal, and raised my rank to Sergeant first class with ten years of hard ballbusting work. Deployed more times than I can even count and now, it’s time to relax.

Joining the Army was something I’d set my ever-lovin’ sights on since I was a boy. My grandfather and my father were both die-hard U.S. Army soldiers, and they both strictly ingrained in me ‘Be All You Can Be’ from day one. Living in a town like Waynesville, there’s not a whole lot of options, for anyone really, nearest college is, here, in Deadwood. Random managed gas stations and remodeled churches sprout up more or less on every block. I never saw myself growin’ up to be someone wiping windshields and pumping gas as a lifelong career, and I certainly never thought I’d walk a saintly path to wear the fine untarnished shoes of a preacher. At one point in my high school years I had thought long and hard about going to college here, like so many others, but like I said, to serve my country was deep-seated in me, in my soul well before I could even utter the words ‘Affirmative’.

I swing my Army green duffel bag over my right shoulder and take in the old timey diner. A few cars scatter here and there along the dimly lit parking lot. A bright neon green sign hangs bravely and boldly outside –Open— inviting anyone and everyone inside. I’m expecting a buddy of mine to meet me here tonight. I’ll hitch a ride with him to Waynesville. Funny how a hometown can give you the comforts of family, friends, and familiarity. But, in this small town there is no familiarity, it’s always felt like that song by the Eagles, ‘You can check out any time you like—but, you can never leave…’  My eyes graze over the red faded pickup and unfamiliar cars I realize my buddy is not here. Not yet, anyway.

Traveling down here on the back of the bus, I watched and took note of the town signs that would pass by, reading the population stats on each one. But this town, Deadwood, didn’t have a population status. I glance around and straighten the cap on my head debating. I sure could use a bite to eat, maybe, just maybe, the food here doesn’t taste anything like Army grub. I find myself striding quickly toward the diner, my stomach grumbling, knowing soon, it’s fixin to sample some good ol’ home-cooking. A homey robust smell of deep-fried foods and handmade pies breathes about as I near the doors. Above the brilliant neon green sign flickers eerily the name of the diner. The words Ma and Pa’s looks burnt out and shadowed by the rustic metal overhang. Almost like someone wanted to hide it.

An elderly man carrying a red and white checkered take-out bag hums by me, he throws a wordless nod my way and I return the gesture. I hold the door making sure no one else is accompanying him. His demeanor has me at ease with the place, light on his feet and grinning like he’s carrying the next winning lottery ticket. Makes me want to tell the waitress ‘I’ll have whatever he’s having’ and motion toward him. I take a seat at a vintage styled barstool.

“What will it be, sugar?” the waitress asks shoving a pair of black horned rimmed glasses along the bridge of her narrow nose. She matches the theme of the diner with her pinned up hairdo and old-school bold red lips.

“I’ll take a cup of coffee, ma’am,” I reply receiving the one page menu from her.

“Comin’ right up,” she spouts with a flirty smile and spins off in the other direction. The rise of lively chatter hovers in the midst of the late-night patrons, it isn’t bothersome, a laugh or a turn from a newspaper now and again. The sun has been down for hours now, and I get the feeling that most of these people in here are regulars. A weighty middle-aged man sits at the far end of the counter his judging eyes meet mine, he shifts his view to his plate like I would walk over and abduct his nightly addiction. I drift my own eyes easily away when I hear the jukebox on the other side start to play.

“You like Creedence Clearwater Revival?” a man, in a pair of dingy overalls sitting beside me asks. He scratches at the graying whiskers camouflaging his thin mouth, the fork drops from his hand as he pushes his empty plate away.

“I’ve heard a few of their songs,” I reply mildly, withholding my own childhood memories for my dad’s love of CCR. Listening to their songs repetitively one learns a few songs by heart naturally. But one song I knew to leave him alone was ‘Bridge Over Trouble Water’ by Simon and Garfunkel, never knew what stirred the multitude of emotions in him whenever that particular song played because he wasn’t the type of man to show emotions. I drift off to the memory peering around the corner of the crinkly wallpapered dining room, a bottle of booze sitting on the table as the vinyl seventy-eight record spins on the turntable. Being so young at the time I had no grasp on the lyrics, what they meant, why he listened to it, or what meaning behind it had held for him. I snap out of my past and glance over to the guy in the overalls as he taps the counter with his calloused large hands.

“This song here…” He thumbs toward the old jukebox and says, “…was her song, my wife’s name was Mary Lou. She could cook the best daggum pecan pies, I swear!” He slaps the palm of his hand down and grins the biggest grin.

“It’s a good one,” I respond, watching amused with the look on his aging face. His bushy eyebrows scrunch together as his grin gets even bigger. He reminds me of the actor John Goodman, just older. And I catch the reference in tenses when he spoke of his wife. I don’t ask, it’s none of my business but it tells me why he’s here, eating at a late night diner, alone.

“So… what’s the special?” I ask pointing at the substandard budget menu. The perky waitress flips the coffee cup around and sits it upright on the tiny saucer and begins to pour my coffee.

“All of it’s good,” the man in overalls sitting next to me offers. He quirks his head to the side and adds, “Maybe not my Mary Lou’s but it’s worth its while.”

“All right then, I’ll have the cheeseburger, fries and a glass of ice water too.”

“You want the fixin’s?” the waitress quizzes while she jots down my order.

“Yeah.”

“You better save some room for our house special, Lemon meringue pie, ya hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I hand her the tissue thin menu back and pick up my coffee cup. Testing it before I take a sip. It’s not scalding hot, but it’s damn sure strong. I cough a little, tryin’ to soothe the harsh stale taste down. I edge the coffee back to its saucer as she struts toward the kitchen area hollering out my order.

“Walk a cow through the garden, on a rail, and one on the city.” She clamps her ticket on the order wheel and winks back at me. And then she busies herself setting up another table across from us on the side of the counter.

“So, you home on leave or somethin’?” the man asks and drags his fingers around the wiry whiskers along his beardy mouth. He pulls his large sizeable hand out from underneath his other stout arm and extends it toward me. “Name’s Raymond Thomson, but everyone around here calls me, Ray.”

I grip his hand firmly with my right hand and find myself surprised when I realize his grip isn’t like steel. It’s a considerate handshake, not tryin’ to prove anything.

“Nice to meet you, Ray. I’m Jason Knight,” I give him a small salute and add, “I guess you could say I’m between duty stations right now.”

A noticeable twinkle in his mousy eyes shimmer like a new dawn’s day as he says, “How long you been in the Army?”

“I joined as soon as I graduated high school, so… it’s been about ten years. You know what they say, stick with what you love doing,” I explain as the gum-smackin’ waitress plops my plate of food in front of me.

“You needing anything else, sugar?”

I scratch the side of my temple and glance over the palatable food and shake my head. “No, ma’am, I think that’s it.” I peer up and inadvertently meet hers. They’re soft, but kinda drained like she’s had a few hard years workin’ over-time. With her out-of-date specs it conceals somewhat the heavy lines underneath her whiskey colored eyes. Matter of fact, no one in this diner looks inexperienced in life by any means.

“You have family here or close by?” Ray wrangles out as he fumbles with some change in the center of his oversize palm.

“I do, some cousins and an aunt up in Waynesville. I grew up there, so, it’s still home to me,” I remark adding a shake of salt to the home fries and dump a hefty glob of Heinz ketchup on them. He slides a dull simple quarter across the space between us and nods toward the silent jukebox.

“On me, it’s my small way of sayin’ thanks for you putting your life out there for the sake of our beautiful country.” He pats my upper arm like a gentle giant and the second I move my perplexed gaze from the coin, he shoves it inside my hand. Urging me to accept his offer. I hop off the barstool without a fuss and leave my plate, my stomach complaining with each boot pounding step. I reach the marbelized plastic jukebox and stand, reading the list of songs. I stare back over my shoulder strangely, he wasn’t kidding about likin’ CCR because there wasn’t one song listed that wasn’t sung by Creedence. I shrug and slip the quarter in and press the button for ‘Bad Moon Rising’.

I’m not sure why I picked it, I liked it well enough, and it was listed at the top. I guess I just wanted to appease the man so I could hurry the hell up and eat. He taps his brown clad foot in time with the beat and grins approvingly. The song only lasts for a couple of minutes and then two more songs roll out, two that I didn’t pick. ‘Run through the Jungle’ belts out right after ‘Hello Mary Lou’, I keep my eyes downward and focus on my burger.

“I bet you’ve seen your fair share of…” Ray starts to grumble out but his prying words drop away as soon as a young woman stumbles inside the diner.

To be continued…