Just An Update...

Gee whiz, has it been quiet around here! November was a swirling vortex of inspirational chaos as I tackled NaNoWriMo , fought sickness...
3:39 PM

Oh Deer

I'm driving.  The night is thick and swirling snow puts us in the midst of what feels like Star Wars hyper drive.  The younger two a...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Month of Work = 256 Pages

It was just over one month ago that I closed my computer and breathed a massive sigh of relief having met my goal of 50,000+ words in 30 days.

I had great intentions towards keeping the momentum going but I honestly needed a break.  I had to step back, take a breather, and allow myself to enjoy everything the Christmas season had to offer.

Now, thirty one days later, on the cusp of a brand new year, I am ready to reopen that document and get to work.

Yesterday, I printed it off for the first time and as I stood there, watching page after page spill from the printer, I felt a great rush of excitement wash over me.

I am ready.  2015 is going to be a year of accomplishment!

The story is not quite complete but with dedication and focus I'm hoping to have a real first draft by March - fingers crossed!

But for now it feels great just to have this thick stack of 256 pages before me.  It's much different than staring at words on a screen.  It's somehow more real - tangible proof of hard work and fresh motivation for strict dedication to the end goal.

Wish me luck!

35 Favourite Things in Honour of 35 'Glorious' Years

35 Favourite Things in Honour of 35 'Glorious' Years - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Yesterday was my birthday.  It didn't come with fanfare or gushing celebrations.  It came timidly.  Like it knew I wasn't quite ready for such a number.  Just as I'm not ready for the white hairs that gleam wickedly when I stand beneath the terrible lighting in the woman's bathroom at work or my back that aches when I don't get enough sleep.

Thirty-five years.  It's a lifetime.  It's a blink.  And I'm curious what it's like for my mother to look at me now and remember me when I was all fat and newborn.  And isn't it just the way the world works, that it would be on my birthday that I discover a boy I went to high school with is some big shot New York DJ that is being talked about in GQ and I don't even get a mention in the local newspaper.  {Not that success is measured in press but goodness gracious: Small Town Boy Makes It Big While Small Town Girl Stays In Small Town...} 

Despite Mr. Fallis' shining success, I will not let it tarnish my own sparkle.  I have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. 

And let it be known that I am very happy being part of the same small town I grew up in!

Last year, for my birthday post, I shared 34 pearls of wisdom.  This year, I will share 35 of my favourite things.  Of course my family and friends are first and foremost in my heart and I don't want you thinking they've been overlooked - I just chose to make this list a little less sentimental and a little more frivolous - much like the Sound of Music song.

Now imagine Julie Andrews singing during a thunder storm as you read...


1.  Eggrolls.  From Chows.  With their homemade plum sauce. 


3.    John Travolta.  I can't help it.

4.    Johnny Depp.  I don't want to help it.

5.    Chai tea latte with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.



8.    Handwritten letters.

9.     Thrifting.

10. Dark Lindor chocolates.

11. Tangled {favourite Disney movie}

12.  Love Actually {favourite all-time movie}

13.  Musicals.

14. Mugs.

15. Yorkshire pudding.

16. Crafting.

17. IKEA.

18. Honesty.

19. Records.  {Everything sounds better on vinyl.}

20. Vintage Volkswagen Beetles.

21. Cobblestone streets.

22. Pulled pork pizza from The Old Garage.

23. Porch swings.

24. Staying up late.

25. Sleeping in.

26. Jigsaw puzzles.

27. Hot baths.

28. The smell of vanilla.

29. The Beatles.

30. Lazy Sunday afternoons.

31. Stolen moments on a piano.

32. Firm handshakes.

33. Strong water pressure.

34. Nice hotels.

35. Holding hands.


So, there you have it.  35 things that make my world a little better.  What would you put in your list?

35 Favourite Things in Honour of 35 'Glorious' Years - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
What a difference 35 years makes!
Blessings and Happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Evolution of a Writer's Room {Part Six - the final reveal}

Evolution of a Writer's Room
{go to Part One - Space & Paint}
{go to Part Two - Furniture}

Finally!

I almost, nearly, completely unplugged myself from the internet world over the Christmas season.  There just isn't room for online concerns when you're absorbed in cooking and baking and playing and visiting family and napping and building lego army tanks!

And so the reveal promised So Long Ago is just now coming to you.

My dear room has sat undisturbed for most of the month as the hustle and bustle had me busy elsewhere but it welcomed me happily today as I took some time while the children {still in their pajamas for what seems like the millionth day in a row} were distracted for a moment with the Netflix subscription dear old Saint Nick left, to take pictures and finally share my room.

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

My room is 9.5 x 7.5 feet.  It's small.  It was my bedroom when I was a young girl.  It fit a twin-sized bed and a dresser.  It was never a particularly nice room.  It was too small to display much aside from the pickle jar I kept stocked with minnows caught in the stream by the Varney swimming hole each summer.  I never would have imagined, tucked beneath my Sears catalog comforter, that I would, as an adult, turn that little four-walled box into a space in which I'd write a novel.

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

So there you have it.  It is cozy and colourful and all mine!

I do still want to find a great desk lamp and an interesting ceiling fixture - the current ceiling fan {intentionally left out of the photos because of it's HIDEOUSNESS} is just not cutting it aesthetically- but for now I'm very happy with the transformation.

By far, my most favorite thing is the hand painted wall treatment - it adds so much personality without being overwhelming.  I'm glad I fought against my hesitations and made it happen.

The evolution of a writer's room - the final reveal - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Cheers to the thousands of words this space is going to pull out of me and cheers to you, oh faithful reader, for every time you come back to read more!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Will One School Concert Really Ruin Your Week? {A Challenge to all Parents}

Will one school concert really ruin the rest of your week?  A challenge to all parents - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
Last week my younger two were part of their school Christmas Concert.  They had been practicing for weeks, perfecting their small parts with their classes, anticipating the applause and cheers and camera flashes.  Liam, especially, was practically vibrating with excitement because he was accompanying his class through an entire song on the djembe!

After getting both Noa and Liam to their classes where they prepared for their big entrance to the gymnasium stage, Zander and I found a seat in the loud and very crowded auditorium.  Everyone seemed happy to be there - camera's at the ready for when their own little ones took the stage.

Will one school concert really ruin the rest of your week?  A challenge to all parents - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
But as the night went on, a strange phenomenon swept through the school.  As each class took to the stage, more and more seats were vacated, until by the end, the auditorium was more than half empty.  That poor last act - they received half the acclamation the first itty-bittys had.

Parents: your child is not the only important child.

Every single child that took their place on that stage worked just as hard as your child did and they deserve your praise just as your child deserves my praise.

We are a community, are we not?  Should we not celebrate one another and not just bask in our own little family bubble?

It's Christmas, for goodness sake!  Give the kids the attention they deserve!

Will one school concert really ruin the rest of your week?  A challenge to all parents - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

I understand that there are perfectly good reasons that you might leave early and I want to honor that and bless you in that decision but for the others - those with no excuse save for 'well my kid is done and it's already passed bedtime' - I have a challenge for you.  Stay!  Is another twenty minutes really going to negatively effect the rest of your week?

Every one of those children worked hard to present something for you.  They put on nice clothes and brushed their hair.  They learned their parts.  They did their best.

And they saw your empty seat.

The greatest gift you can give any child is your time and attention.  Think about this next time you're tempted to duck out after your child has had their moment in the spotlight.


{watch a wee clip of my cuties}

Monday, December 15, 2014

Just An Update...

Gee whiz, has it been quiet around here!

November was a swirling vortex of inspirational chaos as I tackled NaNoWriMo, fought sickness, wrote, showed up for my day job, wrote, spent a night at The Fanciest Hotel In The World {at least in my own puny experience}, wrote, kept three other humans alive, and WROTE.

By November 28th I had written 50,405 words.  That means I did it.  I accomplished the goal.  

And I was thrilled nearly to the point of tears.

And I was SO EXCITED to step away from the crazy pressure of 1667 words per day and start polishing and perfecting and turning my 50K into something solid and sell-able.

Except that I crashed.  And I crashed hard.  And the sickness that shadowed me at the beginning of November came back in an annoying cloud that kept me bone-weary-tired and foggy and it just wasn't letting go.

So that novel?  Sitting right where I left it at the end of November.  This blog?  I had to clear away some cobwebs before I could start typing this.

"There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both overlook neither." Alan Cohen quoteI attended a family Christmas on Saturday and my dear Great Aunt - one of my most faithful supporters and fountain of encouragement - asked me how things were going with my writing and I told her, "I'm taking a break."

"Good for you," she said.

And yes, good for me!  I needed it!
 
I learned awhile ago to let go of blog guilt and I'm applying the same wisdom to writer's guilt - I suppose they're one-and-the-same, at least in my situation anyway.  My body and brain were crying out for reprieve and I had to listen.

Today was the first day since the beginning of December that I actually felt good.  I still had to take an Advil Cold & Sinus {magic!} to clear my foggy sinuses but I actually {almost-nearly-totally} felt like myself again.

So here I am.

It's good to be back.

p.s. Become a SBR subscriber and you'll gain exclusive access to updates and sneak peeks about my NaNoWriMo project, The Church In The Wildwood {click here} to join.  Already a subscriber? You'll find an invitation to join the wildwood tribe at the bottom of every email you receive!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Excerpt ~ She woke...


She woke to the ringing of the bells, heavy rich tones that crossed the miles from town to settle in her chest. They stirred a great feeling of redemption within her as their vibrations worked through her body and shook themselves out her toes. ‘It’s a new day,’ they called to her.

She stretched, feeling the ache of little sleep but refreshed by their familiar song. She climbed from her bed and her bare feet padded across the floorboards as she made her way to Joseph’s room.

He didn’t make a sound from behind the door, though she knew he would be awake and ready for her. She let her forehead lean forward and touch the wood and she closed her eyes as the last notes rang away.

“For whom does the bell toll?” she whispered, her hand pressed against the door as she waited for his practiced response. 

“It tolls for sinners,” Joseph’s voice cut through the lingering echo of the bells and she could hear the shuffle and he changed position inside.

Every time she expected him to say ‘it tolls for you’ and somehow she longed for that because it might finally open the door to honesty between them. For months now, she’d seen it in his eyes - felt his quiet judgement and his wavering trust in her beliefs. She didn’t know what it meant except that some time soon her world would cave in. He wasn’t a child any longer. He might chose to hate her. He might chose to condemn her. He might chose to leave her. Her heart ached at the possibilities that piled before her - an impossible mountain that would surely kill her.

She pulled the key from her nightgown pocket and turned it in the lock. “Good morning, Joseph,” she said, opening her arms to him. He was so handsome now - tall and strong with dark eyes like a storm.

“Good morning, Momma,” and he walked into her embrace, not resisting as she pressed his head against her shoulder and pushed her fingers through his hair. She breathed in the scent of him, something that lingered on the precipice of manhood but still clung to the sweetness of childhood.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
  
He nodded against her and she pulled back from him, fixing a strand of hair that had fallen across his eyes. “You’re so tall now,” she said. “You’re taller than me.  Come, I’m making oatmeal.”  She took his hand and turned on bare feet, leading him to the stairs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Deer

Oh Deer - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

I'm driving.  The night is thick and swirling snow puts us in the midst of what feels like Star Wars hyper drive.  The younger two are lost in mouths-wide-open-necks-cranked-terribly sleep and the eldest sits in the middle pretending he isn't interested in our grown-up conversation but we both know he's eating it up with late-night-bugged-eyed attention.

We've been on the road for over an hour already and haven't yet seen a plow but we are only ten minutes from home and we're confident we'll get there safely.

I've had to pee since Duntroon.  Not an every day discomfort gotta-pee.  A full-on, painful, bouncing leg, humming under my breath, if anybody mentions water I'm going to scream gotta pee.

We're coming over a hill from which, on a clear night, we'd be able to see the lights of hometown glory.  Which means we're almost there.  Which means I'm going to make it.

But then...

He appears on the opposite side of the car, all regal and tall - magnificent with a long, lean neck and antlers that burst proudly from his head.  The ground is slick but he is haughty and he starts his run with a confident shake of his striking crown.

"We're going to hit," Scott says.

I see him as a golden brown blur that shoots across my vision and I work the brakes and control the spin and skid us to a shaking stop halfway down the hill.

I don't remember the impact.  It can't recall the sound or feel of it.  I know it's happened but it's as if I was away from my body in the moment it occurred.

The young ones are roused from sleep, big eyes and questions while my heart is beating in my throat and my palms sweat against the steering wheel.

I ease us to the shoulder, put the station wagon into park and turn on the hazard lights.

The children stay buckled while the grownups inspect the damage.  It's all in the front end - crumpled and broken.  There's a tuft of golden fur clinging to the shattered headlight.

Scott calls 911 and I remember that I've never had to pee so badly in my existence and pat myself on the back for not letting it all loose upon impact.  I march to the rear of the car, step into the tall, snowy grass at the edge of the shoulder, unbutton my jeans and squat like it's normal.  Except it's not normal.  It's freezing.  But I don't care.  Until the first car we've seen in twenty minutes crawls by on the slippery highway.  Hi there! 

I button up my pants and take the phone because I was the driver and I tell our story and yes we're all okay and yes, we'll wait for the officer to come.

"What were you doing out there?" one of the children ask as I climb back behind the wheel and turn up the heat.

"Peeing," I say.

"You were not!"  Liam argues, because he thinks girls can't pee outside.

The officer comes and says we are a blessing because he's had some bad calls tonight and the roads are awful everywhere.  He's kind.  He completes an accident report and sends us on our way.

The car drives fine.  We haven't damaged any important bits that we can tell.  It all seems to be cosmetic.

Sleepy heads get put to bed and I wonder if they'll really remember in the morning because it's so late and their brains must be weary.  

We fall into dreamless sleep.

Oh Deer - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

As morning comes and we slowly crawl from our various blanket cocoons, Noa calls sweetly from the couch, "Mommy, remember that time we hit a llama?"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sample Chapter ~ Into the woods...



There were twelve of them walking along the old railroad - their sneakers crunching against the fallen leaves that covered the old ties.  The moon was just a sliver, a little hook of a fingernail that hung in the sky like it had been forgotten there. It offered them no light.

The ‘No Trespassing’ sign had hung prominently across the gate by the road but they’d all slipped beneath it to disappear into the the darkness beyond. Words were not going to stop them - nor had they stopped anyone any other year. It was something of a rite of passage for town kids deemed worthy and though the first-timers had a sense of what was going to happen they still approached the experience with some trepidation and pattering hearts.

The older boys led the way - Neal and Cam Darvey and their cousin Samuel. Grace stayed right at Sherwin’s side and held a flashlight in her gloved hand. “I’m not sure we should be doing this,” she whispered, her breath forming a grey cloud in front of her face before dissipating into the night.

“Come on, Gracie,” Sherwin said, bumping against her playfully with his shoulder, “it’ll be fun.”

Jackson ran up from behind and grabbed Grace at the waist. She screamed and jumped forward. The boys in front spun around and as a trio hissed, “Shhhhhhhh.”

Grace shoved Jackson hard on the chest. “Not funny!”

“But you’re so cute when you’re mad,” Jackson teased, hopping out of the way of her hand as she reached to shove him again.

“Take it easy, Jackson,” Sherwin warned. “It was hard enough getting her to come with us. Don’t make her change her mind now.”

“Whatever, lame-o!” Jackson said and he ran to catch up with Neal.

“Why tonight?” Grace asked. “Of all the nights? Why Halloween?”

Jackson turned and kept walking backwards, his flashlight up at his chin, “Because it’s spooooooky,” he said, laughing.

“It’s stupid,” Grace said, kicking at a leaf.

“Better than handing out candy with your mom, isn’t it?” Sherwin asked.

“She had a shift tonight. She thinks I’m at a party,” Grace said.

“You are!” he said.  “Or you will be soon, anyway.”

Up ahead the boys had stopped and were pointing their flashlights into the trees. “It’s this way,” Cam said and he stepped off the path.

                                                                    #

The woods were dense and the darkness was heavy. Flashlight beams cut through in a bouncing rhythm that was both comforting and eerie. Their footsteps were loud and punctuated every so often by the crack of a twig or the sound of a stumble and squeal. Grace had a tight grip on Sherwin’s jacket and she could see the other girl’s doing the same. Jenna Matthew’s was clinging to Samuel while Morgan Monahan was riding piggyback on Oliver’s shoulders.

Grace was relieved when they came out of the trees into a clearing. “What is this?” she asked, waving her flashlight over the circle of black stones in the center of the glade.

“This is where it happened,” Cam said, coming up beside her with an arm load of small branches. “There be blood on this soil.” He laughed and dropped the twigs in the middle of the stones. Some of the other boys did the same until they had a pile large enough to keep them warm.

Neal pulled a plastic bag from his coat and one by one lifted out twelve white taper candles. When they each held one, he took a lighter and lit his, passing his flame until all twelve wicks were fluttering against the night breeze.  “Youngest lights the fire. Grace, you’re up.”

Grace looked to Sherwin. He winked and nodded his head in encouragement. She knelt by the pile of sticks and held her candle against a hardware store flyer someone had tucked beneath until it caught. “Why are there twelve stones?” she asked as she moved back into the circle.

Jenna pulled a card from her back pocket and placed it in Grace’s hand, “Because of The Hanged Man,” she said.

In the light of the fire Grace could see the image of a blond man, hung upside down by a foot that was lashed to a tree branch. The roman numeral for twelve was at the top of the card.  “What is this?” Grace asked, handing it back to Jenna, feeling uncomfortable.

“It’s a Tarot card,” Jenna said, shrugging. “I got them at the discount store. I thought it was funny.”

“Hilarious,” Grace said.

“Who has the cups?” Cam asked.

Samuel pulled a sleeve of red solo cups from inside his coat. “Got ‘em!” He separated them and passed them out.

Neal produced a small bottle of schnapps. “It was all I could find at home,” he said sheepishly as he poured a swallow into each cup.

“Say the thing, say the thing,” said Morgan, practically giddy as she sniffed at what was in her cup.

Neal grinned, tossed aside the now empty bottle and raised his plastic cup. They all matched his motion and he gestured wide with his candle as he spoke. “Oh come to the church in the wildwood, to the trees where the wild flowers bloom, where the parting hymn will be chanted, we will weep by the side of the tomb.”

“Amen,” the kids called out in chorus.

“Amen,” said Neal, tipping back his cup and taking it in one swallow.

Grace took a little taste of her own and then dumped it on the ground beside her.

Neal held his candle so that it cast heavy shadows on his face. “Twelve stones for the twelve apostles of the truth,” he said in a low whisper. “Take your seat and hear the tale.” He threw his head back and laughed wickedly.

Morgan and Jenna giggled and ran to a stone while Grace grabbed hold of Sherwin and leaned in to his ear. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home.”

“Gracie, it’s all just in fun. Come on,” he swung an arm around her shoulder and pulled her against him. “Loosen up a bit. You’re way too serious.” He kissed her temple and she smiled in spite of herself.

“Okay,” she said. “But only for a little bit.

“Deal,” Sherwin said, winking at her and pulling her back to a stone, taking the one right beside her.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Neal began. There was some laughter and feigned spooky noises before everyone settled to listen to the story they’d all heard a thousand times before.

“Iris was the prettiest girl anywhere around Fallmoor. People say she could have whatever she wanted just by winking at a man. People say she could put a spell on anyone and you should never look her straight in the eye. People say she is a witch and this is her hallowed ground.” He paused for effect, moving his head from side to side to take in the whole clearing.

"“No one knows where she came from,” he continued.  “Paisley Carver picked her up hitchhiking one evening on his way home from Harridan Point. Her hair had a little red in it and her eyes had a little green and he was never the same after meeting her. He brought her back to his land and he married her that summer. She was only seventeen. She was always barefoot when anybody saw her and she always wore these white dresses that you could see through to the shadow of her legs when the sun shone right. She wouldn’t talk to the ladies in town. She thought women were unclean or something. When Paisley got her knocked up he was proud as punch, flaunting his news around town to all his buddies who were jealous because his wife was prettier than all their wives put together. He was the gentlest soul and the kindest man and he did whatever she asked him to do. He waited on her like she was a queen. When the doctor heard two heartbeats inside his Iris he was thrilled to learn that his family was going to double and Iris set to work sewing two white baptismal gowns. But Iris slowly grew sullen and sick and though he continued to care for her she became cold and cruel. When it came time for the babies to be born, Iris sent Paisley away. He waited outside the doors and soon heard the sound of two babies crying. But then it suddenly turned to one. He burst through the doors to find a naked baby boy lying on a scale and a nurse rushing away with a small bundle. He gathered the baby boy against himself and turned to look at his wife who was as white and angry as a ghost. Blood covered the floor. “Your daughter is dead and she has cursed me,” she said. The doctors pushed him out of the way, wheeled Iris to surgery and he was left standing with a wailing baby, a dead daughter and a broken heart.”

“Was the daughter really dead?” Grace asked, caught up in the story.

“No one really knows,” Jenna said. “The nurse disappeared and the doctor wouldn't talk. Some people think she just threw the girl away, other people say Iris suffocated her the moment she realized it was a girl. There’s no birth record that there ever was a daughter. At least that anyone’s seen.”

“So how do they even know…?” Grace asked.

“Paisley knew. He knew there was supposed to be twins,” Jenna told her. “He bragged all over town.”

“Can I get back to the story, Ms. Interuptus?” Neal whined.

“Sorry,” Grace mumbled, settling back on her stone. The fire crackled in the centre.

“Poor Paisley was heartbroken,” Neal continued. “He began to see Iris for the witch she was. He couldn’t bear to hold his son and he became obsessed with finding out the truth about his daughter but it was as if she hadn’t existed and as days went on he felt weaker and weaker. He suspected his wife was doing something to him - whether it be poison or a curse - but he couldn’t prove it. Iris was as happy as she’d ever been, caring for her little boy and ignoring Paisley as he grew more and more frantic in his search for the truth. She soon grew tired of him and, saying she had a way to bring him peace, she led him here to this very spot. She had dug a hole in the ground and in it she had placed a porcelain doll dressed in the second baptismal gown she had sewn during her pregnancy. “You must bury your grief, Paisley,” she told him. “Your daughter is dead. You must move past it.” And she picked up a handful of dirt and dropped it on the doll.

““But she isn’t,” Paisley argued. “I feel it in my heart.”

““Your heart is misguided, darling,” Iris insisted and she set a shovel in front of him and backed up towards that tree,” Neal paused to point behind him at the imposing structure of an ancient oak. “And there, hanging from a branch, was a noose.”

““Bury your daughter, Paisley,” Iris said to him, backing away into the shadows. “Bury your daughter and come home to me, or bury your daughter and join her. Follow your heart, my darling.” Then she disappeared and Paisley was left weeping over a doll.

“The next morning Iris returned to this clearing to find his body hanging right there.  The rope creeeaaaak creeeaaaak creeeaaaking and the branches groaning and the doll’s grave firmly filled.”

Grace shivered and stared into the fire. She knew the story but being at the site where it was supposed to have happened heightened it to a whole new level.

“They say the ghost of Paisley Carver haunts this land,” Cam said. “They say he’s never stopped looking for his daughter. They say that he lies in wait for a girl to come and then he grabs her and keeps her locked in a tower. They say he is a daughter collector.”

Grace was so distracted by what Cam was saying that she didn’t notice Neal had left his spot by the fire until she felt arms come around her and pull her back towards the dark shadow of the woods.  She screamed so loudly that it hurt her throat and she thrashed her legs so hard that it kicked pine needles into the fire, sending up a fireworks display of sparks.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down, Grace,” Neal said, laughing, dropping her and jumping out of the way of her flailing fists. “It was a joke.”

Everyone was laughing except Sherwin. He rushed to her side and helped her stand. Her body was trembling and she fought against angry tears that burned behind her eyes.

“Not cool, Neal,” Sherwin said, lowering himself so he could see straight into Grace’s eyes, brushing some pine needles from her hair.

“Whatever man,” said Neal, “We’re just having fun.”

A branch cracked and they all spun towards the hanging tree.

“What was that?” Jenna whispered.

“Nothing,” said Cam. “Just a racoon or something.”

Another crack.

“Guys…?” said Morgan.

A form appeared at the base of the tree. The dark shape of a man in a paddy cap, holding a shovel.

There was chaos as panic took over.  The kids became a mad mess of screaming and swearing and trying to get away.  Grace was frozen, watching as the form came closer. Sherwin was pulling on her arm and everyone else was almost back to the railway path but she couldn’t move.

“Come on, Grace!” Sherwin insisted. She waved him off. She could feel his panic but all of her own was gone somehow. She took a step towards the shape but Sherwin hung back in the shadows, begging her to come with him.

It was nearly at the fire now, standing just a little taller than she was and as the light of the flames touched his face she saw that it was just a boy, no older than her. He set down the shovel and opened his hands to show that he meant her no harm.

Sherwin suddenly ran forward and grabbed her. “Run, Grace, now!” She tripped after him towards the woods but turned to look back just before they were swallowed by the trees in time to see one shiny tear trace a wet path down the boy’s dusty cheek.
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