written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Southern California Writers’ Conference – L.A. 2010

My second year attending the LA SCWC, it was again not held in Los Angeles, or even in L.A. County for that matter.  The conference was held at the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach – quite fortunate for me because I didn’t have to pay the exorbitant room rates.  I live close enough that I commuted all three days. 

Day One, Friday September 23
I attended the first seminar, “Getting the Most from the Conference", not feeling very excited or hopeful about attending the conference in general.  It began with lots of smiling faces.  It also began slowly.  I felt that I would have been better off not attending that first meeting.  The speaker didn’t even seem to be happy to be there herself.  She came across tired, not at all excited.

The first workshop I attended was “Finding Your Voice and Approach in Nonfiction,” lead by Georgia Hughes.  Georgia Hughes is an editorial director at New World Library.  What a contrast from that first hour!  I found her witty, friendly, and her workshop quite worthwhile.  I met lots of interesting authors with unique nonfiction projects.

Workshop #2, I chose “Your Journal, Your Goldmine,” lead by Robert Yehling (author of seven books).  His workshop really inspired me to get back to journaling (which I put down years ago).  We did writing exercises on pace.  For quick pace, I wrote about running the trail and trying to get back in time to pick up my kindergartner from school.  For slow pace, I wrote about visiting my grandfather in the hospital just before he died.  I nearly cried during that exercise.  (Later I purchased Yehling’s book:  The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life)

I mingled about the terrace for Mixer then met up with Charisse Tyson (owner of Johnny’s Bar & Grill in Hollister), whom I met at last year’s meeting.  We dined together, then adjourned to a hilarious Welcome/Introduction Seminar and evening speaker (Ellen Bryson, author of Transformation of Barthololomew Furtuno). 

Having one car in the family nowadays, my husband and boys picked me up at 9:00 PM.  I arrived home dead-dog-tired and went straight to bed.

Day Two, September 24.

I took the bus to the seminar on day two, something I haven’t done since I was 17 years old.  $1.50 got me there – what a deal!  (I was a bit nervous, not knowing exactly when to pull the cord, so I chatted nervously with other bus riders to learn the “ropes.”)

Workshop #1, I attended a Read & Critique, lead by Jeff Sherrat (author of Guilty or Else and other crime novels) and Gayle Carline (comedy columnist and author of Freezer Burn).  I read from my novel, “One of Us,” and received very positive feedback.  But I tend to receive positive feedbacks at Read & Critiques, and though it’s a spirit lifter, I don’t let it get me too high, because where it really counts, I see many rejections.

I had lunch with Gayle Carline, then rushed off with my first agent one-on-one, which I will write on at a later date.  Quickly though, I’ll say that I left the first feeling the same ole’ thing and the second quite surprised and happy, not to mention impressed with the agent’s magnetic personality.

After the workshops and one-on-one’s, I had the pleasure to attend an agent panel, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The night ended with my husband meeting me for the banquet.  The food was okay, the desserts were wonderful, the company even more wonderful, having met and re-met (from last year) even more writers attending the conference.

The evening ended with another humorous talk from the conference directors, Michael Gregory and Wes Albers.  The evening speaker was author, Gregg Hurwitz, a man much, much too young for so many accomplishments.  (Maybe he just looked young, but I was so tempted during question and answer time to ask him his age – Just how old are you Doogie?  Hint of a little jealousy here – not of his age, but so many accomplishments for being so young : )  I enjoyed his talk.

Day Three, September 26

I was up bright and early.  Drove myself to the conference to find the morning seminar virtually empty.  I am so glad I made it, as the speaker Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles was interesting and inspiring.  I purchased her HARDBOUND book directly afterward, not because I found the topic of the book particularly gripping, but because I found her so, so gripping.   

Workshop #1, I attended Carline’s “Funny How?  How to Write Funny.”  And though I will probably never right funny, I found her workshop thoroughly funny.  The entire room was laughing at some point.  In the writing exercise though, I wrote so long in my set-up that I didn’t get a chance to get to the comedic situation that she set-up for us.  That’s funny. (I also bought in my copy of Freezer Burn for Gayle’s signature).

Workshop #2, I attended “What I wish I knew Before Being Published” lead by Darlene Quinn (author of Webs of Power).  I don’t mean to sound cocky, because I am not at all!  But there wasn’t anything she spoke of that I didn’t know.  Had I stayed the entire workshop, perhaps I would have learned something.  I left after about an hour and mingled on the terrace with other writers, like myself, working on getting published.

Finally I attended the Awards and Farewell.  And while waiting at the table with another woman, I started crying when she mentioned she had to get back to her animals.  I really missed my family, PLUS her mention of animals, brought on my sadness of my Daisy Dog’s recent death. 

At Michael’s Gregory’s last (of course, vibrant and humorous) words, I flew out that door, practically ran down to my car, and took that half hour drive home.

Overall, I call this conference great success.  Loved the workshops, meeting new people and connecting with others from last year.  Before I forget, there is one other author I neglected to mention because he didn’t run any workshops.  Charles Redner, publisher of the Hummingbird Review and author of Down But Never Out.  He had a stand out on the terrace with some materials for sale.  We spoke at length as well about his book and the Hummingbird Review.  I bought the review, but not the book, as I had already purchased too many books.

Anyway . . .

The Southern California Writers’ Conference / LA 2010 this year gets an “A”.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Spinner

He stood on the corner, the sun shined against his golden locks. A sign the length of his body in the shape of an arrow flew up above his head. He caught it on a spin, then shot it around his back. “Luxury Apartments,” the sign read, the other side: “For Rent.”

Charlotte pulled her gaze from the spinner. She’d seen him before – they passed each other every day. He had first period Calculus, she had it second period. But they had never talked.

“Don’t Walk,” blinked from the other end of the cross walk. “Damn,” she muttered and reached back to press the button. Her eyes remained fixed on the spinner, transfixed by his sign.

One foot placed across the other, the spinner whirled around as he kicked the cardboard arrow up and over broad shoulders. Front and forward, he brushed the hair from his eyes with his forearm. Then he flung “Luxury Apartments” into the sun, rays reflecting off and on, as it spun its way back down.

Her eyes flickered in unison with the sun’s reflection. She reached back to steady herself against the post. Then the odor of something like rotten eggs blew in, and what felt like a hampered giant hammer, lightly pounded against her head.

Black . . .

“Are you all right Miss, . . . Misssss?

“Back away PEOPLE.”

Did someone call 911?


The sky was blue and bright as it stared down upon Charlotte’s body laying disjointed on the ground. “Wh, what?” she slurred to wide-eyed blurry faces.

“Oh my God.” She breathed in and shielded her eyes with her arm. With a groan she rolled over. Eyes closed, Charlotte pushed up against the ground. She wondered, “How much did they see? Who gave a damn what ‘they’ saw, but him, would he say anything tomorrow at school?”

“Idiot,” Charlotte sighed. “Idiot,” she moaned again and attempted to stand.

“No, Sweeteee!” A plump, red-haired lady who sat on her knees next to Charlotte pushed Charlotte’s waist to the ground.

“Let me go!” Charlotte rolled to her side and with both arms lifted herself up, dispersing bystanders who stood too close.

“She needs SPACE people,” someone yelled. “You saw her convulsing all over the place . . .”

“What the hell was that?”

“She alright?”

“SPACE, people,”

Space . . .

* * *

Charlotte’s mother darted out the front door to meet her daughter lumbering up the driveway.

“Baby,” Chantilly cried. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Are you hurt?” She caressed her daughter’s scraped elbow that was crusted with blood.

Pressing both temples firmly with her fingers, Charlotte stared at the ground. She raised one foot, placing it in front of the other. Her brain clenched with each step. She raised her head once, squinting from the sun and shot a look with a furrowed brow at her mother. “Leave,” she groaned.

Charlotte slept for the next six hours. Chantilly woke her with a mother’s gentle touch for an evening dose of meds. Charlotte mumbled incoherently, something about the pizza being a “bad lady.” Later she complained of a headache and guzzled a bottle of water before falling back asleep for another four hours.

“Charlotte? You ok?” Chantilly sat at the edge the bed. Pad of paper and pen in one hand, she rubbed Charlotte’s calve with the other. “You missed first period,” she said. “Why don’t you skip school today? Just practice tonight, , loosen your fingers . . .” Chantilly wrote the date atop the page and with a line divided it in two, vertically.

“Hmmm?” Charlotte rolled over onto her stomach.

“I need to know some things, Dear.”

“I’m tired.”

“I know. Did you have any grape fruit yesterday?”

“Oh God, I hate grapefruit.”

“Just checking, you know what it does.” Chantilly shook her head, “evil fruit.”

“I’m so tired.”

“Do you remember – how did you sleep – did you feel rested when you woke yesterday?” She scribbled something on the pad of paper.

“Oh Ma, come on . . .”

“How about video games, did you play?”

“Ya, right. I played a video game!”

“Think Charlotte, eat anything out of the ordinary?”

“Oh, come on!” Charlotte pulled the covers over her head.

“Triggers Charlotte! I’m trying to help. If we could just figure it out, we’ll be closer to stopping these things.”

“These things?” Charlotte shot up from beneath the blankets. “These THINGS?”

Chantilly jotted out a few lines on her notepad. “How about alcohol, Honey, did you drink anything?”

“Not old enough to drink.”

Chantilly sighed. “What about meds? Did you take them?”

“Of course. Haven’t missed a dose in ten years!”

“Well, Charlotte, remember that time?”

Chantilly scribbled onto her notepad. “What did you eat for lunch?” She pulled a cell phone from her pocket and scanned through the contacts. “Go on,” she said.

“Forget it,” Charlotte said. She flung the blankets from her body and like someone recovering from surgery, painstakingly pushed herself off the bed and made her way to the bathroom.

* * *

Monday Charlotte skipped Calculus. After school, she searched for the boy with the golden hair. The sun was still high when she found him on the corner, the same corner as last week, spinning the sign above his head.

“Luxury Apartments. Luxury Apartments . . . For Rent.”

She looked away as the reflecting sun flickered its gleam. When the light blinked “Walk,” she crossed, closing the gap between herself and the spinner. She looked past him, avoiding eye contact and wondered if he noticed her in the pedestrian crowd. Then Charlotte jerked back when the reflection from his sign crossed before her eyes.

His legs apart, he flipped the sign and caught it behind his back. And then in one sweeping motion, he threw it high above his head – sunlight beaming, fluctuating before her eyes. She knew it was coming even before the smell, before the rotten eggs. She didn’t want him to see her. Well, she wanted him to see HER, her sparkling green eyes, her shiny black hair, her brilliant smile . . .

Her head spun, her brain vibrated, left fingers twitched. She heard a loud guttural noise, slow-motion-like, sounding far away. Then . . .

Black . . .

She came to on the sidewalk. She didn’t recall making it across the street. People murmured. Her head pounded. And then she was lifted.

“Back away, PLEASE,” said the young man dressed in white as he pulled the gurney Charlotte lay upon.

“You’ll be okay, young lady,” said the gentleman pushing the toe end.

Her vision blurred, Charlotte could not make out his face, nor could she tell if the spinner was among bystanders who peered down on her, as the paramedics loaded her into the truck.

She heard sirens blare just before she fell asleep, but not a deep sleep, more like a medicated, dull, kind of drunken sleep . . .

The sun shined brightly as a cougar crouched upon the rocks above the trail, eyed charlotte. She stared back, a violin case strapped over her shoulder.

His ears perked. The sun’s rays beaming upon his yellow coat, the cat stood upright. But when Charlotte removed the case from her shoulder, the cat crouched again, prepared to pounce.

Violin beneath her chin, notes commenced to drift away the Irish jig played at Custard’s last stand, “Gary Owen,” they called it – a playful, yet melancholic melody. Charlotte took a step back, and then another, as she dragged her bow across the strings. The cougar rose. Charlotte stopped dead in her tracks, her arm continuing to move the bow back and forth, back and forth across the strings. And the cougar lay down and purred to its tune as the meadow grasses sung out these words:

“Let Bacchus sons be not dismayed

But join with me, each jovial blade”

Charlotte took another step back. The cat continued to purr . . .

“Come, drink and sing and lend your aid

To help me with the chorus

To help me with the chorus . . .”

* * *

She slipped into a black, sleeveless gown without regret. Normally Charlotte shuddered at such elegance. Tonight she felt she earned it. She fought hard for first chair, week after week, another challenge. There were the tough ones, against long-time rivals. Some she feared might bring on seizures. But the challenges never did. One after another, she picked the other violinists off, winning each challenge, and anyone who challenged her, until they challenged no more, until Charlotte landed herself in the violin’s first chair – senior class virtuoso.

Chantilly zoomed in close with her camera, her eyes welled-up as her daughter lead the orchestra in tuning. The violin was an extension of her daughter’s body. It seemed like the music swept her daughter away – the old was dead and gone – the beauty down there on stage, she was perfection, she was the notes, she was the rests; nothing else existed.

But something else did exist. Charlotte saw him in the third row, golden hair, a twinkle in his eyes. She saw the spinner in the audience from the first note. It wasn’t until “Ode to Joy” that they made eye contact. And it wasn’t until the finale, “Hoedown,” when the two smiled at each other. She played with the gusto of the star fiddler at a square dance.

Stage lights dimmed. Charlotte rose, and bowed at the conductor’s direction. She tip-toed off stage without looking back at the standing ovation.

* * *

Heat waves radiated off the concrete. Charlotte saw the spinner before he saw her. He seemed lethargic, distracted, and he sported a plain, green baseball cap.

Nausea surfaced as she stood waiting for the light to read “Walk.” The sun’s reflection flickered in unison with the arrow’s spins; her eyes fluttered. Charlotte reached back to steady herself on the street post, when there at her feet, she saw it for the first time – a hat, a brand new green hat in fact, just like the one the spinner wore.

When Charlotte stooped down to pick it up, she noticed a smile on the spinner’s face. It was the smile that convinced her. She placed the hat upon her head, adjusting it some to shut out the sun’s reflection, more importantly, its flickering light as he spun the sign. She laughed out loud for not having realized before.

She made her way across the street with timid steps, increasing in confidence. When she stepped up onto the curb the spinner dropped his sign to the ground. He held out his hand to her and stumbled over the sign. They both laughed.

“Hi,” he said. My name’s Brad.” He looked nervously to the ground. “And,” he continued, “I promise . . .”  He cleared his throat as if trying to recall a rehearsed vow.  “I promise . . .,”


Brad smiled.  “To keep the light shining and never let it flicker before your eyes.”

© Lauren D.H. Miertschin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can It Be Any More Difficult? (Damn It!)

So, I love fiction.  But life takes over.  Over and over and over again.

I used to read four plus novels a month.  Now, I read a novel when I assign one to a student (by the way, the last was "A Day No Pigs Will Die" -- and I cried twice, BEAUTIFUL, SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL.)  Anyway, I read fiction when I can (which is so, so rare), but I have only been paid for writing  non-fiction.  I have NEVER received a cent for fiction.  And so I weep  . . .

Not really.  Not at the moment anyway. (But soon I'm sure I may).

Answer me this, the anonymous reader out there -- keep on writing eventhough there no chance a single soul will ever read it?  Or write for the cash?  I am in so much need of  cash right now!  A dozen plus non-fiction articles paid for doesn't pay much.  But at least it's pay.  What's a gal to do????? 

Weep herself to sleep.  That's what a gal's to do.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Well, I've got another First Line Fiction, non-placing story to post.  Pressed for time, I wrote it in about 2 days.  Perhaps I'd stand a better chance if I took more time.  Let's just call this an excercise in quick writing.  : )

The first line supplied came from Stephen King:  "Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son."

I don't know what made me think up the story.  I just let my fingers write it.  You might also wonder what my fascination is with Annabel if you have read through this blog.  I'll leave that for another post.


Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son. They were often seen together back in Monroe City. But that was before the war. Even today, one would have thought the older was caring for the younger, like a father for his son. They in fact, came in on the same horse as they followed along the Mississippi. The man had been seen wiping the boy’s bloody face with a rag dipped into the river. But the man, he wore a union cap, blue uniform. The boy, his hands were bound with a rope, his hair long and knotted, beard overgrown and unseemly, his gray uniform tattered.

The horse halted approximately fifty feet of the outpost. Customers’ shoulders relaxed. A drunkard downed his shot of whiskey. The other man drinking at the outpost handed a coin to the other for losing a bet. The bet: Who’d next come up the trail – Union or Confederate?

The man who everyone thought was the boy’s father promptly pushed the boy off the horse. He landed on the wet dirt with a thud and rolled over onto his back. The boy’s bulging eyes looked up at the Union soldier.

“John!” The boy spit out a bloody tooth before continuing. “You ain’t gonna leave me here. Not without tellin’ me. How is Annabel?”

“Shut your mouth,” John said as he brushed the dirt from his coat. “The only reason you’re still breathin’, Wesley, is cuz I gone and promised your Pa.” The Union soldier looked down at Wesley and commenced to dismount. He gave the boy, whom he had known since he was a baby, a swift kick in the side, and walked toward the outpost.

“You’re a damn bastard Sir!” Wesley rolled over onto his side. “Damn Yankee,” he sighed before closing his eyes. He appeared nearly dead lying there in the dirt, his face sunken in, his body “all bones.”

“What can I get you Mister?” The owner of the outpost was a widow, her husband shot to death when a group of Confederates made their way along the river a year earlier. He lost his life for refusing to pledge allegiance to their cause.

“I’ll have what they’re having.”

She poured him a glass and busied herself. “Mister,” the woman said as she wiped out a shot glass with the apron tied around her waist. “I think your prisoner’s gettin’ away.”

John peered up from his whiskey. “I’ll be damned!” He chuckled as he watched Wesley stagger off into the brush. After tossing a silver piece onto the woman’s tray, John took the last swig of his whisky and casually walked off to his horse, stopping once to spit shine his boot.

The two drunkards snickered when John mounted. “Think he’ll catchim,” one said to the other.

“No doubt,” the other answered. “No doubt.”

The widow lifted her skirt and removed a pistol tucked into her garter. She secured it into her waistline with one hand and with the other, poured her customer another drink.

John rode off into the wetlands, finding little difficulty following the foot length mounds of mud left by the boy’s boots.

“Wesley,” John hollered. “No use runnin’.” And he kept on after those tracks, delving deeper into the forest, so close to the Mississippi now, he could smell it. It smelled like swimming in the summertime. It smelled like rowing Annabel across for an island picnic. It smelled like . . . yesterday.

John reached the gigantic river that meanders through these states and caught sight of Wesley running upstream, his hands no longer bound. “What the heck that kid doing? Thinks he can run home?”

Gentle green waters lapped the level shore. The sun began its descent behind a horizon hidden by oaks. Though he couldn’t see him anymore, John could hear Wesley’s feet fleeing in the distance. He dismounted momentarily to cut the entangled vine around his horse’s back thigh. A wood pecker tap, tap, tapped directly above.

“Better save your energy son!” John mounted again and made his way at a leisurely pace. The river’s bank gradually increased its steepness. The sky glowed pinkish-orange. Several minutes passed without hearing the boy when John came upon a Confederate coat caught on a branch. An envelope had fallen from the pocket onto the bank.

Bringing his horse to a halt, John dropped to the ground. “Not so,” he whispered as he scooped up the letter. He recognized his daughter’s handwriting instantly. Fumbling through the coat he found two more letters, both from Annabel, and shoved them into his pocket.

John yanked the boy’s the coat from the limb. He yelled out something unrecognizable and flung it into the river. Those letters remained hidden in his pocket for a good half mile however, his horse galloping at a slant. Reaching into his pocket he felt for them, just to make sure the letters were real. “How dare she?” he grunted. “The whore.”

He recalled holding his only baby girl for the first time. “Baby – hell, she’s no baby. Practically a woman now. But why Annabel?” he cried. “Why?” Remembering the letters Annabel’s mother wrote him before their marriage, he finally pulled his daughter’s letters from his coat. A tear dropped from his eye wishing his wife had not died before seeing their daughter grown. He wiped that tear and in the dim sun setting light he read.

My dearest Wesley,

Too many moons have come and gone since our lips last parted. I pray daily to the Lord for your safe return. I stopped in to see your Ma, and she is holding up heroically. She treats me like her own and is the only one I have been able to confide our secret. Your Pa, on the other hand, I’m afraid to say, does not wish to talk of you in my presence. I can see in his eyes though, his deep love for you remains.

Misty gave birth to a litter last week. Your Ma gave me the pick, an adorable white pup that sleeps by my side nightly. She will be a wonderful companion to our child, Wesley. My prayer is that you will return to greet our baby into this world.

My continual prayers are with you, my love. Please return to us safely.


John crumbled the letter and held it in his fist for the next quarter mile. “I will kill you son,” he grumbled. “I can see your tracks. You don’t think I can’t catch a rat!”

The wind blew a cold breeze as the sky turned magenta-blue. A flock of ducks took off from the great waters, headed for the island a half mile across the river. His coat buttoned closed, John moved onward. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His baby girl would soon cradle a baby of her own. His grandchild.

Not too far away, the father of that child not yet born, staggered forward, practically within grasp of the man he feared. And then night fell, suddenly, a waning moon low on the horizon.

Both men wept that night. Tears only for Annabel.

John woke before dawn. The letter still crumbled in his fist, he kicked wet dirt over the campsite fire that he let burn all night. With aching limbs he mounted his horse. And he rode.

He didn’t even realize when he stumbled upon the boy’s camp. He didn’t smell the smoldering fire, didn’t see the sleeping lad next to the embers. What brought John to his senses was the rustling noise of Wesley scrambling to his feet and stumbling upstream.

John put his hand on his pistol. The river lapped at his horse’s legs as the wind picked up. John could hear summertime, childhood splashes along the river’s edge.

With bloodshot eyes, Wesley peered back at his captor.

John raised his pistol a mere yard from the prisoner. He noticed a gash in the lad’s left arm, dried blood soaked into the standard issue Confederate shirt. A flock of birds rustled the leaves in the trees over on the island. Then the smell of yesterday overcame John as Wesley dove into the river. John aimed for his head, his finger flush against the trigger. He never planned to tell anyone that he lowered his pistol. Only Wesley would know.

Standing there on the bank of the Mississippi, he watched Wesley swim the great river, his daughter’s letter still held within his fist. And then the sun finally peaked above the horizon -- a new day, not yesterday, but at least a day that would not bring grief to his precious child.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I have been rather discouraged with my writing, with my running, with so many things in myself.  That is my nature.  I would love to adhere to Winston Churchill's words that "Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."  So, in the spirit of keeping that enthusiasm (before I even read this quote), I wrote a little diddy for a on-line short story contest called Firstline Fiction.  They provide the first line (from a published work) and you pump out a story.  Then after all stories are submitted, each contestant receives 6 of them to read and rank.  Winners are determined by these rankings.  The line for this contest was "A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks," a line from author Michael Chabon.  With no idea where I was going, because I don't usually write stories very quickly, I roughed out my entry overnight, finished it up the next day and submitted it, I believe on the deadline day.  I didn't win; I didn't place.  But that is OLD news.  The experience however, was quite fun, and it did give me something to post here.  My entry for First Line Fiction, Contest #5:


A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. The sun peeked above the horizon, casting a brilliant light upon the two. Snow capped the westerly mountains, beneath which stood the schoolhouse, where a group of finely dressed men converged beneath a tree to discuss ousting their mayor.

No one from these parts could say they’d seen the boy and his bird before. One of the bystanders at the schoolhouse remarked that he appeared to be talking to himself – the boy, not the parrot. Had one of those townsmen ventured down the hill and crept up on the two, they would have learned a different story.

“I told you that I don’t want to hear it,” said the boy. With a distorted face he shook his head, apparently agitated.

“We should have turned back at the mines,” said the parrot. “I told you so, told you so, told you so.”

“Ahh, shucks. Ain’t turning back now. Now hush your mouth and leave me be.” The lad pulled a prune from the pocket of his long tattered coat and threw it to the ground.

“I told you so.” The bird made an odd sound, sort of a giggle, before he swooped down and grabbed the fruit. “We shouldn’t have left . . .” He ruffled his turquoise colored wings. “Should have turned back at the mines . . .”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” the boy said. He leaned his shoulder forward for the parrot who landed awkwardly, clawing into his master’s coat.

“There!” the parrot exclaimed while puffing out a brilliant green chest. His head nodded toward the group of men outside a freshly painted schoolhouse. “We can look for rest there.”

The boy glanced up on the hill, the men no longer languidly lingering about, they raised their arms in frantic gestures. The boy hesitated before moving onward. “And what then? You think those folks ain’t gonna ask why a ten year old boy wanders these parts alone? Stupid bird,” he exclaimed.

“I know of a spot, just past the schoolhouse there.”


“Ah! Should have turned at the mines,” the bird squealed. He flapped his enormous wings, slapping his master’s ears. “Stupid boy! I’m old enough to be your father!”

Now, the boy knew darn well that the parrot had been around a lot longer than he. He wasn’t foolish enough to think he was the bird’s first owner. Before Ma died in the hotel fire she said that the parrot came from Pa’s side. He never knew Pa to ask him. When he questioned the bird, he would never let on how many masters he’d actually had. The boy never thought to press for an answer.

Meanwhile, a brawl erupted among the men on the hillside. Several women burst forth from the schoolhouse. And the boy and bird could hear their shrill voices, seemingly urging the men to stop. There was one particular woman, who stepped away from the group and walked cautiously down the slope. Her dark hair worn past her shoulders flew about from the gust of wind growing in the valley.

“Keep walking,” said the parrot. “Get along.”

“I thought you said –“

“What do you know what I said? I said get along.”

The boy stopped dead on the tracks, determined to settle this now. He didn’t want to hear it later from the bird, “We shoulda this, we shoulda that . . .”

“Just wait one darn second,” said the boy.

Fists flew atop the hill as the woman made her way in the boy and parrot’s direction. At the bottom of the slope she grabbed hold of her skirt near the knees, and lifted it well above her ankles. Then she took off running across the rocky terrain.

“Get along,” screeched the parrot.

Women continued yelping on the hillside, blows landed in rage despite their pleas. The woman with her skirt pulled up above ankle-high black boots continued running toward the boy and his parrot. She tripped twice on the rocks. But that didn’t stop her. A hundred yards away from the railroad tracks she began waving her arms. “Please,” she screamed. “Don’t go!.”

“Crazy woman,” the parrot muttered. “Can we go now?”

The boy fumbled in his pocket and threw a prune to the ground. Expecting the bird to fly down from his shoulder, the boy changed direction and walked straight on to the woman. He could see her clearly now – fresh face, pink lips, large, dark alluring eyes; she was about twenty years old.

“I’m waiting!” The bird pecked his curved beak against the boy’s head.

The woman stumbled forth, tears streaming down her cheeks as she slowed to a halt. “Charlie,” she wept. “I’ve been looking for you almost ten years!” She held her arms out to the parrot.

“Graawk,” the parrot said.

The boy looked to the woman, then to the parrot. “Charlie,” he whispered, "how does she know your name?”


“Where did you go? Where have you been?” The woman fell to her knees. “It took me days to find my way out of the mines.”

"Mines?” The boy lightly smacked the bird on the side of his head. He looked to the men still fighting on the hill, then down at the woman who wept into her hands. Finally, he turned to stare down Charlie, who refused his eye contact while perched on his shoulder.

Not a cloud existed in the sky as the sun blared down on these three in the windy valley. The woman squinted looking up at the boy and his bird. She hesitated, hopeful Charlie would utter a kind word.

“Graawk . . ."

“Ahhhhh,” moaned the woman. “I’ve missed you so much. I couldn’t go home. Heck, Charlie,” she sobbed. “I had no home!”

“Charlie!” the boy screamed. “Say it ain’t so, PLEASE Charlie.”


The woman sobbed and reached out to caress the bird’s neck.

The parrot jerked away from her touch. And he saw that tears welled up in the boy’s eyes. Ruffling his feathers, Charlie shook his head. “Women!” he screeched.

The parrot then spread his wings and took flight from the boy’s shoulder and flew up along the railroad tracks. He flew on, toward the westerly, snow-capped mountains. While the men on the hilltop mended their wounds, the boy and young woman comforted one another in each other’s arms. Then after some time, the two made their way up the hill together, to make their lives in this small, yet prosperous mining town.

(c) Lauren D H Miertschin

Friday, January 22, 2010

Excerpt from "Beyond the Pale," Chapter 26

Too many months have passed since I last posted on this blog.  Life and my other hobby take up much of my time nowadays.  I want to write, yet I grow so discouraged because I don't make the time (I need more than a few minutes here and there -- I need blocks of time).  Regardless, I am going to bounce back, and as such, I thought that I'd post my final excerpt from Beyond the Pale.  (In other words, if you want to read it in its entirety, please send a publisher my way : ) 

This chapter is somewhat of the denouement chapter in that it sums up the answers to 1) whatever happened to the Tsars (that my hero so gallantly fought against in writing his underground publication), and 2) how did Jov turn out (Jov is the boy that the protagonist raised as his son).  This denouement chapter, #26 takes place 5 chapters after the climax, which I have not blogged (on purpose, in hopes of peaking your interest).  This novel totals 27 chapters plus an epilogue which is probably the actual denouement, but that's for later for those who read it in its entirety. 

I hope you enjoy (though it's quite a depressing topic).  Please comment if you are so inclined.  ACTUALLY, I'M BEGGING YOU.  : )

Chapter 26

1917, Ekaterinburg

“All over by Christmas,” Nicholas II had said. Despite everything a good number of people still had faith in their beloved Tsar. They wanted to believe him. They were let down as usual. They should have been used to it by now. But when you want to believe, no amount of evidence can convince you otherwise.

Instead, Russians saw nearly two million casualties just in the first year of The Great War. By the second year, men who fought so bravely for Mother Russia, thousands of them barefoot most of them starving, were limited to a mere ten bullets a day. At the Warsaw railroad station seventeen thousand wounded soldiers lay unattended in the cold rain and mud. The Tsarina’s gesture to turn the Winter Palace into a surgical bandage factory proved moot.

Thousands of refugees trudged east along railroad lines, their belongings piled in carts. Superiors cut off the hands of soldiers who deserted. Even off those who surrendered. In 1915, Colonel Miasoyedov was executed for spying for Germany. Many fantasized things would surely turn around with the traitor gone. But then, the unspeakable, The Great Retreat – one million Russians surrendered. That was about all he could take. Nicholas II fired the Grand Duke Nikolai and the Tsar assumed Supreme Command of the Army himself.

“Incompetence Abounds,” one writer reminisced of another dissident’s words.

It was a bloody war, that first world war. Trench warfare – dig in and get buried alive. And while world war ravished Russia from the outside, Civil War ate away at her insides. The cancer dug deep. Whole peasant villages were slaughtered. The White armies with too many generals and not enough soldiers fought bitterly against the Red forces, who though grand in numbers had too many infantry and too few generals to win anything decisively. The country had not known a greater time when so many Russians had suffered.

Then finally in the month of March, 1917, Nicholas II, who was always a reluctant tsar, abdicated his throne. Revolutionaries celebrated in the streets. Countless civilians took quickly to their homes in prayer, fearful over what they were in store for next. But for Nikolai Romanov, as Nicholas II was known afterward his abdication, a lifetime burden had finally been lifted. He, his wife, Alexandria, their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Alexis and Anastasia along with their entire retinue lived quite comfortably under house arrest for some months. For once in his life Nikolai could play a game of dominos unbothered by the demands of Mother Russia. Gardening was just gardening – a tranquil activity that Nikolai had never experienced the likes of. He had after all, been groomed as a Tsar from the day he was born.

In captivity Nikolai finally got to do what he wanted – forget the pressures of the people. He read fine books such as The Count of Monte Cristo. He even had time to enjoy a Russian great, Leo Tolstoy. He read War and Peace for the first time. He played carefree tennis. Wrote in his diary and told stories to his children. In Anastasia he saw a beauty emerging he was sure the world had ever seen the likes of. All of his daughters he imagined finding fine young suitors, perhaps abroad, Great Britain, France, maybe even in Russia where they’d raise their families in the tradition of their ancestors. His young son, Alexis, he prayed daily for his health. This young man who reminded him so much of himself could really make a difference in the world someday. He had a heart of gold. Yes, Nikolai had dreams, dreams that his children could somehow lead happy lives, normal lives, in a world better off than he had left it.

Nikolai always was a dreamer.

And he kept on dreaming those dreams. They did not die until July 17, 1917. He had noticed a change in the guards for days. They had grown rude, refused eye contact. Butter and coffee disappeared from Nikolai’s luxuries. They even refused Alexis his treatments. Something was up, Nikolai was sure of it. But when he and his family and their servants were roused out of bed at 2 AM, he thought they were just in for a move to another location. But to the basement?

“There’s been a shooting in town,” one of the guards said. He shoved Nikolai’s shoulder to get him moving.

“You’re safer in here,” another said, his eyes downcast.

Anastasia cried that she wanted to bring along Joy, their King Charles Spaniel. At first their guards refused. But somehow Nikolai was able to talk them into allowing the dog. The pup provided comfort in the dark, crowded basement. Her tail was still wagging when the order was read: “Shoot the prisoners.”

Nikolai could not believe his ears. “What? What?” he said. He lept in front of his children. Alexandra screamed. With that the firing began and the room filled with smoke. Young Alexis was finished off with two shots point blank to the head. Anastasia they stabbed several times with a bayonet. The only survivor to the massacre was Joy who whimpered over the pile of bloody corpses until the last one was dragged out.

* * *

Three young Checkists pounded on the door of one Smirnov family, 3 AM.

No Answer.

“Bring it down,” Jov hollered. He gave the door a swift kick. Nothing stood in the way of the Cheka and its duty. Stop the bourgeois counter-revolutionary. Anyone, everyone was suspect. “I said, knock it down.”

The two other Checkists threw their shoulders into the door. It crashed to the ground with just one attempt.

“Please take me, leave my family be,” said a middle aged gentleman who stood in the entryway. He was dressed in suit and tie, not your regular Russian sleeping attire. Behind him on the floor was a suitcase.

“Going somewhere Smirnov?”

“No!” his wife screamed. “Leave him, he didn’t do anything wrong.” The baby in her arms cried and pulled at his mother’s breasts for comfort. She wailed along with the child, then shook him some to try and hush him.

The man turned to kiss his wife. He caressed the child’s head before picking up the suitcase.

“He’s not going anywhere lady.” Jov chuckled. He pulled a pistol from his trousers and shot the man dead on the spot. He landed at the feet of his screaming wife and child where his coat soaked up the pool of blood.

The woman stood in the same spot and screamed hysterically with her child as the three Checkists ran throughout the two story home filling their cloth bags with whatever they could find – silver, jewelry, cologne, flour, vodka. Jov found a silver hair barrette with a single ruby at its center that he pocketed especially for his mother. He also found a cameo broach. Dasha always loved cameos, perhaps he’d start collecting them for her. There were plenty of bourgeois homes to pick through.

All three stumbled out onto the street, laughing, drunk with riches. The air smelled of smoke. A woman screaming could be heard in the far distance.

“Loot the looters,” the Checkists sang out in unison. A couple blocks away another group of young Checkists yelled back the same – a phrase many had heard that Lenin had coined himself.

“Loot the looters.”

Jov reached into his bag and opened a bottle of vodka. He took a swig, and then another before passing it on. The sun was beginning to peek above the horizon as Jov and his comrades moved onward in their search for bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. They playfully jumped over heaps of garbage left in the street. Trash collection had ceased for quite some time now. Taking swigs off the vodka they’d shoot at the rats that scurried about. Cockroaches ran for cover when Jov kicked at the lumps of garbage.

“Loot the looters,” the three drunken Checkists hollered. They laughed uncontrollably, but there was nothing really that they found particularly funny.

Jov whistled a catchy tune as the three danced up the steps to the front door of a large home. They didn’t know who lived there. But it looked suspicious all right – the curtains pulled closed, the porch swept clean, no name plate on the stoop. Looked like the type of home that housed perhaps some fancy cameos.

The three young Checkists pounded on the door. 5 AM.

No answer.

“Bring it down,” hollered Jov. He took another rather large swig of Vodka. He gagged, then wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. “I said, BRING IT DOWN.”

(c)  Lauren D H Miertschin