7 Steps to Better Character Development

Brought to you by your in house book worm, A.C. Haury.

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There are few things that bother me more in the world of books and literature than flat, uninteresting characters. I am a big fan of deep character development. As an author you should know your characters almost as well as you know yourself. After all, you are their creator. This brings to mind a conversation I had with a colleague of mine, who was so excited after reading my first novel, Shadows of Morrow, about how extensively that I had developed my characters. Now that I am writing my sequel to the first novel, she often asks, “How are the Morrow’s doing?” And I respond as if the Morrows are people both she and I are good friends with. I was so surprised at this reaction because she is a certified bibliophile, and I am always of the opinion that my book and characters could use more development. Fully developed characters have ups and downs, good days and bad, and traits that are attractive and flawed, all at the same time – much like you and I.

Throughout the course of writing my novel, my characters evolved quite a bit, until I was satisfied that they not only served their purpose in the book, but that they were also realistic as well. When developing characters, there are some key things I look to enhance. Read on for a look at how you can further develop your characters, and add some flavor to your work in progress.

1. Flaws

If your character does not have any flaws, you haven’t developed them enough. Everyone has their own sets of positive traits as well as flaws. Flaws make characters seem realistic. The world isn’t divided into good and bad people. Everyone has a combination of both inside. Some of my favorite character flaws include nail biters, characters who can’t keep secrets, chronic arguers, and insomniacs. Flaws don’t have to be a bad thing. They can make your character seem more like the rest of us. Take it from me, the nail biting, workaholic, office supply hoarding writer and author. Without our flaws, we would all be very boring people, indeed, and when I read about boring characters… Well, this is the result:

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2. Interests

Everyone has their own sets of likes and dislikes. Make sure you clearly define what your character’s interests are. This helps the reader more clearly identify with your characters. For example, Blake Morrow enjoys reading, playing video games, and watching history documentaries, while his cousin Shane has never cracked a book, loves skateboarding, and falls asleep whenever Blake puts on the History Channel. Variety is the spice of life. Make sure that your characters have their own personality. When I run into the same personality across multiple characters… well, it goes something like this….

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3. What Makes Them Different?

I’ve read many books where I have trouble differentiating between certain character’s behavior. While some characters will have some similarities and like interests, there should be some discernible differences as well. Get down to the nuts and bolts and determine what makes your characters tick. Stay clear of mundane characters, and give everyone a bit of personality. When I come across a well rounded character that has flaws, but is still likable and makes me want to know how their story ends… This is happening in my head…

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4. Language

Another thing that annoys me to no end is when character’s all sound the same. When I talk, I am not going to sound the same as when you talk. I will use different words, have a different dialect, and even react differently than you would. If your character is from an area of the world with a distinct accent, don’t be afraid to add that into the story. Each character should also have it’s own brand of vocabulary.

For example, let’s say you have a story with four major characters. We’ll name name them Greg, Sue, Lois, and Phil. Greg is killed suddenly in a devastating skiing accident while visiting Colorado. Lois, who is from San Diego, reacts, “Oh, no! How horrible! We used to work together!” Phil, from Brooklyn, NY reacts, “Oh, no! How horrible – He was my best friend!” Sue, from London, England, reacts much the same, “Oh, no! How horrible – I was secretly in love with him!” While each differed a tiny little bit, each still started with “Oh, no! How horrible!” The point is, not everyone reacts the same, and Greg had a variety of relationships with each of his friends, so they would each respond in their own way. Would you expect a former co-worker to react the same way as your best friend or potential love interest? Probably not. When I encounter this kind of repetition in novels, my reaction is something like this.

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5. Cause and Effect

According to Newton’s laws of motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Make sure that that your character’s actions and reactions are realistic. Take into consideration what is driving them and what their final destination is. Let’s go back to talking about our mock character Greg. Dearly departed Greg. Poor Greg. In our story, the local news reports that Greg was in a skiing accident where he was going down the bunny hills innocently enough, when the wind picked up and he was blown off the mountain side and subsequently eaten by a bear. So wait. Let’s get this straight. Play it safe Greg was enjoying his Colorado excursion by staying on the bunny hills. Far, far away from the edge of the cliff. How many miles per hour did the wind kick up? Was there a blizzard on the way? A typhoon, perhaps? No. Make sure that your story makes sense. Please. I don’t enjoy making this facial expression:

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6. Where Are All the Normal People?

Have you ever read a book where everyone is just so ridiculously perfect? What planet does this author live on? I don’t know about you, but in my world, there are people who don’t cover their mouths when they cough, hardly anyone has a size 2 dress size, and zits definitely happen. Let’s get realistic with our characters. A little dysfunction can make them charming and down to earth… or if you’re up for the task… a lot of dysfunction could make for one truly neurotic character. Mix it up… you might be surprised with how realistic your characters truly are. Please don’t make readers like me go batty with the lack of normal people in your book. For example:

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7. What Are They Motivated By?

Every character is motivated by something. Your job is to determine what their motivator is. Are they trying to get that big promotion at work? Has it always been their dream to visit the Swiss Alps? Or is it something darker? The key is to figure out what your characters are motivated by. And yes they have to be motivated by something… even if they are confused, there is something that is confusing them. Just please don’t alienate your readers by confusing them without resolution by the end of your book. It will look something like this:

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Do yourself a favor and keep a notebook or log of your character’s traits, skills and flaws. This will help you when you’re writing your book. Your brain is going to be busy with plot turns, prose, and editing; help your process along by keeping record of your character’s development. After all, short of a great plot, there are few things that can add to a book’s charm and attraction than well developed, interesting, and quirky characters. By the end of your book, if you’ve developed your characters, you deserve a round of applause. You make me so proud 😉

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Please note that all gifs were obtained from Tumblr and I own nothing but the words on the page 😉 Hope you enjoyed!

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There is No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

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There is a seemingly incurable disease plaguing writers worldwide. This disease is called writer’s block and it’s all in your head! Yes. That’s right. I said it. Writer’s block is all in your head. How many hours have you wasted sitting at a computer staring idly at your screen? Or are you the workaholic type like me, who pushes themselves to write when they really should be catching some quality sleep? No matter what type of writer you are, there are some very explainable reasons why you are struggling with your writing, and as such there are some simple ways to snap out of your writing drought. From one writer to another, here’s a look at how you can break free of writer’s block forever.

Reasons for Writer’s Block

1. You’re Tired and Overworked

Are you pushing yourself to write that novel in an unrealistic time frame? A masterpiece is likely not to be created in just one month’s time. If you are sitting at the computer exhausted and the words simply are not coming, don’t press yourself. Get a good night’s rest and start again in the morning. Your body and your writing will likely be revived, and you will be ready to take on the day with vigor.

2. You’re Bored

Have you been writing the same book for what seems like forever? Are you so bored with writing it that you are considering just giving up completely? If you’re bored with your book, your readers are likely to be bored as well. Try writing something that interests you, even if it’s just a blog post.

3. You’re Uninspired

It’s not easy to write passionately about something when you feel uninspired. The only real fix to this is to do something that inspires you. More on that, later.

Fixes for Writer’s Block

There are some proven and effective fixes for writer’s block.

  • Turn on some music for inspiration
  • Go for a walk if you need a break… naps and refreshing showers help too.
  • Go out for an evening on the town or a day trip… in order to write about life, you must first live!
  • Try a change of scenery… Sometimes shaking up your writing space can help the words come more freely.
  • Write something… Anything… once per day. Whether it is a chapter or a blog post. This will help you get back into the habit of writing.
  • Create outlines and summaries if you’re having trouble writing prose. At least you are making progress.
  • Energize with caffeinated beverages like coffee, cappuccino or soda… but not so much to the point of hyperactivity.
  • Carry a notebook EVERYWHERE, and write down ideas as they come to you.
  • Set an egg timer and write as much as you possible can in one half hour. It doesn’t matter what. It doesn’t matter if it’s total garbage. Write for the entire half hour and don’t stop typing. By the time the half hour is up, you should be in your “writer’s zone” and you probably won’t want to stop.

A writer cannot pick and choose when he is inspired, so do yourself a favor and set the mood. Pick out music that will help motivate you, find a quiet corner of your home to get creative, and don’t push yourself so hard that you become burnt out.

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Book Review on Shadows of Morrow

Here is an outstanding review for Shadows of Morrow by fellow blogger and novelist S. Donahue. I love great feedback like this. Have you read Shadows of Morrow Yet? If so, be sure to leave feedback on the blog or on my Amazon page! ❤ A.C. Haury

http://shannshops.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/book-review-on-shadows-of-morrow/

S. Donahue

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A.C. Haury did an amazing job with Shadows of Morrow. I enjoyed reading this book from beginning to end. I never had to wonder about a character because they were …described to perfection. When I was reading this book, I felt like I was living on the farm and living through the experiences right along with this family. I have read the previous reviews on this book and they did not deter me from reading. This book was not a far-fetched story. This type of situation happens in real life everyday but is just not broadcasted. Jack Morrow even pointed this fact out in his hospital room when he was waiting to hear about news of his daughter.

I read this book in approximately two days. I anticipated the end of this book to find out what happened but when I reached it; I was sad to see the book…

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Elkhart Radio 104.9′s JJ Penn’s Interview with Bridgette Kilpatrick of Shadows of Morrow

Cooking with Bridgette Kilpatrick: What Could Go Wrong?

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Rather than just posting ordinary character profiles, I am going to do something a bit different. It gives me a chance to stretch my creative muscles and allows you, the reader, to learn more about the characters and life in Elkhart in general. This will be a weekly feature. Every Thursday, I will feature a new character being interviewed by the obnoxious but energetic radio host JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9.

JJ- Hey guys! This is JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9, and I’m back up at the Morrow Manor. This time I’m on the porch of the Morrow house hoping to get a word with the lady of the house, Bridgette Morrow-Kilpatrick. After last week’s travesty with Frank and Jack, my now destroyed shoe laces, and their lovely farm animals, I’m ready to get back on track! Hopefully the pig isn’t a house pet. Okay! Let’s see if Bridgette’s home to answer some of our big questions!

JJ grabs the handle of the bronze door knocker that has the face of a horse on it, and bangs thrice on the door. He waited a moment, waiting for someone to answer, and when no one answered the door, he knocked louder. Suddenly the old oak door swung open and Angus Morrow stood glaring at JJ Penn.

Angus- What ever it is you’re selling, I already have two!

JJ, looking surprised at Angus’ disgruntled appearance, appealed to the retired physician.

JJ- Oh, Dr. Morrow! I’m not selling anything at all. I’m here to see…

Angus- Oh great, you want a donation, don’t you? I already gave to the FOP, the AOH, the DAR, and the March of Dimes…

JJ- No! Actually, I’m here to see Mrs. Kilpatrick…

Angus- Oh, so you don’t want any of my money, then… Great! Come on in!

JJ smiled as Angus welcomed him into the foyer as if he was his long lost best friend.

Angus- Bridgette is in the kitchen… Enter at your own risk…

Angus strolled back into the den, moccassins flopping against the floor. He found his recliner and flopped lazily into it, closing his eyes and forgetting all about JJ, who stood nervous outside the kitchen door.

Enter at your own risk?

JJ was unsure whether he wanted to open the door or not, after all the misadventure he had encountered last week. After a moment, he decided, How bad can it be?, as he swung open the kitchen door.

Steam rose from boiling pots on the stove, a strange smell permeated the air in the kitchen, and JJ watched as Bridgette attempted to cook a successful dinner for her family. Her red curls cascaded around her, as the heat in the kitchen made it frizz and grow to comedic levels.

JJ- Whatcha cooking there, Bridgette?

Bridgette- Who the hell are you?

JJ- I’m JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio-

Bridgette- Are you the fellow that the guys scared away last week?

JJ, looking embarassed, flushed a little as he stared at his feet.

JJ- That would be me…

Bridgette- Well, I’m in the middle of cooking dinner… I’m making spaghetti and meatballs tonight.

JJ- Oh, uh, it smells…  interesting…

Bridgette- Well, you interrupted me… I’m in the middle of something.

JJ- I could wait til you’re done.

Bridgette- No, you’re here now, might as well get this over with. Now what do you want?

Bridgette lifted a lid off of a pot of spaghetti sauce. She stirred it quickly, eyeing the black burn spots on the sauce with dismay. Arms moving quickly as her mood became frantic, she opened the oven as smoke poured out into the kitchen.

JJ- Well, I have a couple of questions to ask you, but I must ask that we stay on topic… Your husband and brother sabotaged my entire broadcast last week. So… Bridgette, are you listening to me

Bridgette: Blech!

The smoke had gotten into Bridgette’s face. She waved her arms around wildly, trying to cut through the smoke, but she was unsuccessful. Suddenly, the smoke detector that hung over the stove  began to wail angrily.

Bridgette: Look what you made me do! Oh my God, another dinner ruined!

Bridgette ran from the kitchen to the dining room and brought back an ornate dining room chair, which she placed directly under the smoke detector. Taking in JJ, who was just standing on the wall looking at her, Bridgette gave him an evil look.

Bridgette: Well don’t just stand there! Stir that pot!

JJ jumped at Bridgette’s sudden outburst, but quickly grabbed a pot holder from the counter, and stirred the wooden spoon that lay in the pot of burning spaghetti sauce. Bridgette climbed onto the dining room chair, her tennis shoes leaving marks on the seat. She reached up to try to turn off the wailing alarm, but she wasn’t tall enough, so she got up on her tippy toes. JJ, who had stopped stirring the pot, and coughing from smoke inhalation.

Bridgette: JJ Penn, you stir that pot right now!

Finally the blaring of the smoke detector ceased and Bridgette climbed down from the chair. With a pot holder, she swiftly pulled out a pan of completely charred garlic bread from the oven, which she proceeded to throw in the trash, pan and all. The lid of the trash can slammed shut as Bridgette whipped back to the stove. She picked up the pot that once had boiling water, but now only had a big clump of spaghetti. She turned the pot upside down, allowing the pasta the drop like a lump of lead into the trash. Last, but not least, she  took the small pot of sauce dumped it in the sink.

JJ: Now what are you going to do?

Bridgette looked at JJ as if she was about to commit murder. Eyes wild and wide, hair standing nearly on end, Bridgette approached JJ as anger seeped out of every pore.

Bridgette: Oh, JJ…. It’s not what I am going to do. It’s what YOU are going to do!

JJ backed up nervously, a look of fear on his face. Bridgette reached into the cutlery drawer, frantically scattering the contents of the drawer, as she made a loud clanking. JJ was white as a ghost, fearful of what she would pull out of the cutlery drawer.

Bridgette: Ah! There is it!

JJ: Don’t hurt me, please! I’m young, I have so much living to do!

Bridgette rolled her eyes at JJ as she showed him what she had pulled out of the drawer.

Bridgette: Order the pizza! You weren’t hugged enough as a child, were you?! Five pizzas. Go pick them up. Here’s some money…

Bridgette handed JJ the menu and the money as a relieved look washed over his face.

JJ: Your family is going to be the death of me.

Next time on Elkhart Radio 104.9, JJ will try to reach out to the younger generation of Morrows who give him a real run for his money. Stay tuned!

Elkhart Radio 104.9’s JJ Penn’s Interview with Jack Morrow of Shadows of Morrow

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Rather than just posting ordinary character profiles, I am going to do something a bit different. It gives me a chance to stretch my creative muscles and allows you, the reader, to learn more about the characters and life in Elkhart in general. This will be a weekly feature. Every Thursday, I will feature a new character being interviewed by the obnoxious but energetic radio host JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9.

Here is Episode Two: JJ Meets Jack.

Good Afternoon Folks! This is JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9 and I am back on the scene in Fox Hollow and we’re going to see if Jack Morrow, the lead male character from the new mystery novel, Shadows of Morrow is willing to talk to us and answer some of our questions. It looks like he’s in the pasture over there with some of his workers tending to an injured cow. I’m just going to mozy on over there, and see what’s up.

JJ: Hello Jack… Mr. Morrow?

Jack turns from the injured sow on the ground, and gives JJ a glaring look.

Jack: Didn’t you see the sign? No trespassing! Now get gone…

JJ: Jack, I’m JJ Penn from…

Jack gives JJ an incredulous look, and he looks back at Frank who is gently stroking the cow’s side.

Jack: Hey Frank, this guy thinks I care who he is!

Frank growls in a Scottish brogue at JJ.

Frank: You better get going, boy… This is private property, and we don’t take kindly to visits from strangers.

JJ: I don’t mean no harm, but people in town….

Jack: People in town talk a lot of crap about stuff they know nothing about. Now son, I believe I asked you to leave.

JJ tried to step forward, but the path was blocked by several other cows, grazing in the pasture. They lazily chewed their grass and stared at JJ. Whenever JJ moved, the cows move closer, effectively creating a barrier between Jack and JJ. It was as if Jack had paid off his cows.

JJ: Jack, if I could just get a moment of your time!

The cows encroached further mooing loudly. One even went so far as to lick JJ’s leather jacket. JJ retreated in disgust.

JJ: It licked me!

Jack and Frank stared at JJ as if he had lost his mind.

Jack: Am I seeing things? This joker is still here.

Frank: Maybe we should find out what he wants…

Jack: I have a sick cow to deal with. Forget him. If he’s not gone in 10 seconds, I’ll have Adam release Ziggy. JJ, still listening intently heard the name Ziggy, and became more nervous.

JJ: What’s Ziggy?

Jack: Never you mind!

Frank stared at JJ who was still trying to get the licking cow away, but wasn’t having any luck as he was pinned between an old wooden fence and the herd of heifers.  Frank smacked his tongue over his teeth and gave Jack a mischievous smirk.

Frank: Want me to take care of him?

JJ’s eyes bugged out of his head.

JJ: I just wanted to ask a few questions. Friendly questions!!

The cow was now licking the side of JJ’s face. JJ’s cringed in disgust. Jack looked at Frank with a serious face.

Jack: Yeah Frank. You better. I don’t want to have to release Ziggy.

JJ: No! Don’t release Ziggy! I mean, I don’t know what Ziggy is, but-

Frank started walking towards JJ. As he did the cows lazily dispersed, except for the one who had taken a liking to JJ. Frank had a menacing look on his face; his burly hands curled into massive fists. As JJ was sure that he was about to get the tar beat out of him, Frank slapped him on the back forcefully, but playfully.

Frank: We’re only messin’ with ya! We figured you were gonna come back up here. Tristan told us you was from the radio station.

JJ, eyes wide, all colored removed from his skin, stared at Frank in disbelief. His back still seared from where Frank had pummeled him. Jack, who was leaning over the beleaguered sow on the ground, was nearly in tears from laughing so hard.

Frank: What’s the matter? You can’t take a joke?!

On the horizon, JJ could see someone and something coming towards them. Frank looked behind him to see who it was.

Frank: Oy! It’s about time. Poor Oscar was seeing angels.

JJ: Oscar?

Frank: The poor beast on the ground. That be Oscar.

Tristan, who was leading an enormous pot belly pig on a leash towards her father, handed him a syringe as she looked at the cow on the ground.

Tristan- Poor Oscar….

Jack took the needle and jammed it hard into the cow’s hind quarter, causing it to groan in  protest.

JJ- What did you do that for?! Is it going to die?

Frank looked at JJ as if he had lost his mind entirely.

Frank- Die?! What’s the matter with ye?! He got into the corn field again, and he’s allergic! That shot saved Oscar’s life!

Tristan and her pot belly pig approached JJ to say hello.

Tristan- JJ! Nice to see you again.

JJ nodded, not in the mood for social interaction any more after his encounter with Jack and Frank.

Tristan- This here is Ziggy. Say hi, Ziggy.

Ziggy looked up at JJ and snorted loudly. JJ thought the pig must’ve weighed more than he did; it’s belly scraped the ground as it walked, and he waddled from side to side.

Tristan- Don’t be afraid, he wouldn’t hurt a fly! He’s just old and grouchy… and probably hungry.

Suddenly, Ziggy was sniffing at JJ’s feet and digging his teeth into the laces of his suede Oxfords.

JJ- Hey!

JJ jumped up onto the old wooden fence to get away from the hungry pig who had chewed right through his laces.

JJ- Oh, no! That’s it! I’m going home. I’ll come back another day… When you’re back at the house!

Frank and Jack stared at each other as JJ ran back to his car.

Jack- I was just about to answer his questions, too.

Frank- What a feather weight.

Tristan, who was still standing with Ziggy, waved as JJ’s Subaru kicked up dirt as it sped down the road towards Cavegat Pass.

Tristan- Now look what you did, Ziggy. You scared him off… And you Daisy (talking to the cow that had taken a liking to JJ)… You nearly licked his jacket off.

Frank- Think he’ll actually come back?

Jack- Not if Ziggy and Daisy have anything to do with it.

Poor JJ! But don’t worry, he’ll be back next week, and he’ll be in the kitchen with the feisty and vivacious Bridgette Kilpatrick! 

 Shadows of Morrow

A Teaser!

 

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I’ve decided to offer up a bit of a teaser. Here is a small taste of Shadows of Morrow. If you like the sampler, don’t forget to pick up the book. Now on NOOK, Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and more. Hope you Enjoy!

Please note that no parts of this sampler may be altered, changed, used, or distributed. Copyright belongs to A.C. Haury. All Rights Reserved.

Prologue

The Memory of Her

The memory of her permeated the wood. Her long shadow still danced upon the walls in her absence. The musky scent of her perfume wafted through the house, polluting the air we breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Consume. Release. Our laboring lungs swallow her down as she evades our call. The ominous tingle of breathing shocked the nape of my neck when I was alone. The oddly shaped shadow of two when I stood solitary in my chamber. The ever-present feeling that I was never truly alone. She had never really left at all. I had my doubts she ever would.

My father guarded her like a dark secret; a secret he refused to share. She was kept locked away and out of sight where no one would find her, especially my brothers and I. He held her secrets; kept them guarded in his mind. Never once did it occur to him that I held the master key to the entire riddle.

They found her on the bank of the lake as the first light of day gleamed over the valley. Snow covering her like a frigid blanket, she laid stark still, her skin an unnatural shade of blue, and her black hair cascading around her face and over her frail shoulders in messy tendrils. The shock was not in finding her. No… The shock belonged solely to her eyes. Once so soft and beautiful in life, so cold and callous in death. Frozen open by the wintry frost, she stared upon the world with deep contempt. She would not lay there forever, though. Her unsettled spirit would roam these grounds until her recompense was achieved.

The person responsible for her end led a double life. A respected pillar of the community in one light, and a sick, obsessed man in the next, brain addled with delusions and ideals that would frighten most adults awake at night; but they were nothing more than commonplace to him. I was so desperate to know what happened to her that it never occurred to me that I would be next on his list. The truth of the matter is, some secrets are better off being buried and forgotten. Unfortunately, I did not learn this lesson until it was too late.

I know every secret my mother ever had. They were whispered in my ear as my mind fell to dreams. Slowly, her secrets became my own to tell. Every secret my father longed to hide came to light in the glow of the pale moon.

Part 1

Secrets Unknown

1.

The Implausible Task

Morrow Manor
Fox Hollow, Pennsylvania
Monday, October 6, 1997

Under darkened sky and foggy moor, fall’s vibrant colors were dimmed by dense cloud cover. A hooded figure, deep in contemplation was seen from afar. Through the eyes of a raven, black and withered, the image of the figure trembled in the chill. Struggling wings beating against autumn’s brisk, pushing fiercely against the wind. Talons stretched as the raven perched gingerly on the splintering windowsill, startling the figure from its state of deep concentration. From its silent stupor, the figure turned to the window, piercing blue striking the raven’s sight.

The hooded figure hunched over itself, thoughts far away. Dark circles weighing down alabaster skin, a sound of disgust released from beneath a weather-beaten hood. From behind the figure a voice spoke.

“Tristan… You are going to drive yourself mad doing that stupid project,” said Blake.

Sitting at an ancient computer perched atop an old walnut desk, Tristan Morrow remained deep in thought from beneath her grey hooded sweatshirt. The green hue of the monitor screen blinked impatiently before her, while her index finger rested on the delete key, threatening to erase the words on the screen. A paragraph was written and she appeared to be contemplating her next move. Her eyes, heavy-lidded from the all-nighter she pulled the previous evening, close in frustration. The seriousness in her features wash away to allow a glimmer of amusement. Tristan turned in her chair to look up at her older brother Blake, who was laying sprawled out on his top bunk, reading his much beloved, but irreparably tattered book of Greek Mythology, and running his long fingers through his notoriously unkempt black hair.

“I have to hand it in,” Tristan reminded Blake.
“Why? I’m not. Neither is Tommy.”
“Since when has Tommy ever handed in homework?”
“Good point, but seriously, don’t kill yourself over this project. It’s not like it is going to wreck your average if you skip it.”

Rolling her eyes, Tristan returned to her assignment, her eyes scanning the words before her, scrutinizing every word, every letter. At Steeplechase Academy, Bernard Kendricks was known as a particularly tough English Composition teacher. He didn’t just teach the basics; Kendricks demanded more from his students than most educators would even dream of asking for. He demanded that his students think outside of the box, using knowledge, creativity, and sound moral judgment. Mr. Kendricks was not above correcting the grammar of his fellow teachers, or holding a student in detention for using the wrong adjective in a sentence. He was tough, and he was not well-liked by students and faculty alike. Bernard knew this, and he didn’t give a damn. Despite all this, Tristan still respected the man as a teacher and she wanted to learn as much as she could while in his class.


Tristan recalls having to suppress a feeling of nausea as she heard the teacher announce the assignment across the classroom. Who would have thought that a tenth grade English assignment could cause so much grief? Shortly after the first period bell rang, the students assigned to first period English 104 filed rowdily into room 219 and took their seats as they chatted loudly. Notes passed, gossip brewed, and Kendricks eyed his students scrupulously, as if their free-spirited nature truly offended his more reserved manner.

Standing at the chalkboard with a fresh stick of white chalk at the ready in his left hand he allowed his elegant cursive scrawl to grace the green board before him. He wrote “Biography Assignment” for all to see. It was immediately obvious which students had taken Mr. Kendricks’ class before, as loud groans sounded from the back of the classroom. Tristan was surrounded by three students who had to repeat his class, and they just so happened to be her relatives as well. To Tristan’s left, her crimson-haired cousin Shane groaned loudly, “Not again!” Meanwhile, two of Tristan’s brothers, Blake to her right, and Tommy who sat behind her, sighed loudly as they let their hand hit their desks in frustration. Tristan peered behind her to see Tommy rolling his eyes in utter irritation. Kendricks took center stage, complete with a smug look and a cork clipboard, as he demanded everyone’s full attention.

“It is easy enough to write about someone famous; piggybacking off of the admiration of others, with quotes already laid down by a newspaper or a magazine. If you were to write a biography about someone who is wildly famous, there is probably not a lot that you could write that would differ from pre-existing works on the same subject matter,” explained Mr. Kendricks. He continued, “Instead of writing a report on a famous football star, world leader, or rock band, I have decided that I am going to make this challenge a little more interesting.”

Kendricks held his clipboard firmly and began to file up and down the aisles of neatly arranged desks. He continued, “I am going to assign each of you a family member at random, and I expect each of you to write a comprehensive one thousand word biography on that person. You should utilize your best detective skills; conduct interviews, obtain quotes, facts, and artifacts of importance. Be prepared to present this data to the class during the week beginning October the twenty-third. Each of you will need to purchase a large poster board and neatly present your findings. You will each have fifteen minutes to give an oral presentation in front of the class.”

As Kendricks spoke the words oral presentation, the class showed their great disdain with a cacophony of noises. Kendricks responded with a tinge of annoyance present in his voice. “Shall we make it a half hour oral presentation? I can devote the entire month to just this project.” Knowing that their teacher was not bluffing, silence took over the room faster than the clock on the wall could change seconds.

“Now. As I was saying… Allow your inner investigator to flourish. Take pictures, add important details, and see how well you truly know your subject. Okay, here we go. I am going to call off your name with the relative you are to write your biography on.”

Andrus, Jessica – Grandfather

Callaghan, Bryan – Aunt

Dennison, Cory – Father

Edwards, George – Brother

“Uh, Mr. Kendricks… Older or younger?” asked George with an inquisitive look on his round face. Kendricks promptly responded, “Older.”

Fitzpatrick, Shane – Mother

Shane shook his head in contempt. Mr. Kendricks seen his reaction and loudly called across the room, “And be sure to hand it in this year so that we do not have to be in each other’s company for a third year of English 104!” Kendricks continued to read off his clipboard:

Havlang, Cora – Grandmother

Jefferson, Christina – Sister

Kaplan, Ian – Uncle

Morrow…

From the center of the room three exasperated voices rang out, “Which one?” Kendricks turned around and peered down over his glasses at his students, Tristan, Thomas and Blake, before turning his eyes back to the list.

Morrow, Blake – Uncle

Morrow….

Tristan and Tommy began to form a ‘w’ on their lips when Kendricks loudly proclaimed, “Thomas…Father.”

Under Tommy’s breath, he mumbled, “There’s a project I won’t be handing in!” Tristan turned around in her chair, scolding her brother, “You have to! If you fail this class again, Dad is going to have a fit!”

Morrow, Tristan – Mother

When the words escaped his lips, Tristan did not quite know how to react. Pale as a ghost, she dropped her pencil onto her desk. She had a 98 average in Kendricks’ class. She’d have to manage somehow. Quickly, her arm shot into the air, in an attempt to catch Mr. Kendricks’ attention. Kendricks, seeing her raised arm, protested with sheer agitation. “Miss Morrow, can’t this wait until after class?” He said her last name as if it was the name of a particularly nasty disease. “It has to do with the assignment,” explained Tristan. Agitation clear on his face, Kendricks replied “Very well. What is it?” Tristan explained, “I believe that there must be some kind of mistake. The person you assigned me… I have no way of contacting them.” Suddenly, Kendricks face changed. Something hidden came to light on his typically smug face. Tommy thought he seen the teacher release a smirk. Kendrick replied, I guess that is where your inner investigator will need to take charge.”

Kendrick immediately diverted his eyes back to his clip board and by doing so, effectively closed the conversation.

Piedmonte, Cole – Mother

“But-” protested Cole.

“Mother, I said,” interrupted Kendricks firmly.

As Kendricks continued to distribute the rest of the assignments to the class, Tommy tapped his younger sister on her shoulder. She turned around to see her brother with an emotion on his face that she once thought was foreign to his heart: concern.

“Don’t do it,” said Tommy. “I have to. He’s not going to like this one bit,” replied Tristan, worry clear on her face. While her brothers were given relatives that play an active part in their lives, Tristan’s assignment would not be quite so easy. It just so happened that Tristan was required to write her assignment on her mother; someone she never knew. Tristan’s temper, still quite heated as she attempted to work on the assignment, showed no signs of wavering.


Heavy footsteps in the hallway, more than one set, jarred her concentration. “Tristan!” called a deep voice from beyond the solid bedroom door. Hoping to ignore the interruption, Tristan continues to glare at her computer monitor. The voice is now joined by another. “Open the door!” Tristan begins to growl under her breath. “Is one hour too much to ask?” she asked quietly to herself. From the other side of the door, the voice complained again, “But it’s my bedroom!”

Tristan slowly opened the bedroom door as a scowl formed on her face. “Yes…?” Tristan said through her teeth, not giving her visitor the courtesy of a warm welcome. It was her brother Tommy and her cousin Shane who were blanketed from head to toe in mud, weather-beaten cleats hanging over each of their shoulders. In the shadow of the hall, another boy stood waiting.

“Doing that assignment?” asked Shane with an inquisitive smirk.
“Of course… I can’t just not do it,” remarked Tristan.
“Well, while you’re at it,” Tommy suggested, as he reached into his mud-caked backpack and pulled out a notebook that was in even worse condition.

“No! Absolutely not! It is hard enough to write my own,” replied Tristan, exasperated as Tommy and Shane jump back in surprise.
“Oh. But why? Is it because I put your laundry basket on the roof?” asked Tommy with a sincere look on his face. Tristan stood with one hand on the door, while covering her face with the other as laughter began to explode from her. Against her greatest wishes, a smile formed across her face as she remembered her school uniform that was drenched unforgivingly after being left outside during a particularly brutal rain storm.

“As much as I hated you that day, this is not about that. You have a brain of your own. You do it,” quipped Tristan. Tommy stared back at her, “I have to think of a thousand words to write about Dad. Do you know how hard that is?” Tristan smirked at her older brother and pinched his cheek, “I’m sure you’ll manage… and you Shane! I would love to be able to write an essay on Aunt Bridgette. Give me a break! You better hold some interviews and get your quotes!” Doing her best impression of Mr. Kendricks, Tristan pushed her nose into the air pompously, and spoke in her best snooty voice, “This is where your inner investigator will come into play!”

Quickly, Tristan turned on her barefoot heel as if to bid the pair adieu, as a boisterous banging sounded from the kitchen, a floor below. Wooden spoon against metal pot, the clattering noise repeated over and over again. As the drumming song ceased, the loud cry of a female’s voice called from the first floor landing.

“Dinner! Get it while it’s hot!”

No longer face to face with Tommy and Shane, she watched as their dirty socks left massive footprints all the way down the hall, and cascading down two flights of winding steps, sounding remarkably like a herd of elephants stampeding throughout the house. The boy who stood in the shadows looks up and smiles at Tristan before following his friends down the steps. “Hey Cole…” Tristan says softly.

“I told you she wouldn’t do it!” said Shane gruffly to Tommy as they clambered down the steps. “Did someone say dinner?” asked Blake as he poked his head out of the bedroom doorway. At the sound of the dinner call, Blake’s bored expression turned into a look of eagerness. Although he appeared to be just skin and bones, Blake had a notoriously large appetite that could rarely be squelched. Tristan nodded with a smirk on her face as the pair walked down to the dining room together.

Hungry members of the household quickly grabbed their places around the lengthy dining room table. A mountain of a man with a gruff manner sat down at the head of the table without saying a word. His faded flannel shirt of red and black squares was covered in dust from working in the field. A blue trucker hat donned his head, covering up his salt and pepper wavy hair. Beneath the brim of the hat was a weathered, yet handsome face that provided neither smile nor comfort. Jack was not having a good day.

Tristan and Blake were among the last to arrive to the table and were met with a glare from their father, who then quickly took their seats. From the kitchen, an obnoxious metallic clattering caused Jack to raise his eyebrow towards the white kitchen door. Wearily, he returned his focus to the children sitting at his dining room table; his children, nephews, and the sorely out of place Cole Piedmonte. Jack cleared his throat indicating that he required silence. In a hoarse voice he spoke, “I received a call from Kendricks today.”

From around the table groans sounded from eight voices of varying octaves. Jack stared at his family as he watched the many different reactions to his simple statement and smirked in spite of himself. Tristan rolled her eyes profusely at the sound of her teacher’s name, Tommy and Shane raised their fists in rage. Blake was so overcome with annoyance that he curled his lip up in distaste, as if he smelled something that was truly offensive. Tommy, in an attempt to distract Jack from the task at hand, created a diversion.

“I didn’t mean to throw his keys out the window! It was a jerk reflex! Look it up,” said Tommy slyly, as he was met with a disbelieving stare from his father.

“Give it up. He didn’t mention anything about keys. This is about homework.”

The jig was up. Tristan anxiously bit her lower lip as she prepared for the worst. Two chairs slid out from the table as Jack’s eldest sons Adam and Liam, ages 20 and 18, attempted to exit the room. Jack’s eyes tracked his overgrown sons from across the table, and squinted with disdain.

“Where do you two thinking you’re going?” asked Jack, sounding perplexed and annoyed. Adam, quick with a charming smile, turned to his father and replied, “I graduated two years ago. Don’t you remember? You were there.” Meanwhile, Liam interjected a simple, “Iced Tea” to the conversation. With the irritation clear in his voice, Jack barked “Sit it down. I didn’t excuse you from my table.” Liam and Adam exchanged a look indicative of “What the hell did we do now?”

Jack scratched his head in disgust as he began to speak again. “Like I was saying, I received a call from Mr. Kendricks today. Why am I being told that none of you “Morrow” children ever hand in a certain assignment for his class?”

Jack’s eyes peered over his glasses as he surveyed the room for answers.

“You two,” Jack said as he pointed his fingers into the chests of Blake and Tommy, who had the misfortune of sitting on either side of him, “Are in danger of being put on academic probation…Again! You are in the same English class as your younger sister! Don’t you think that is a problem? Do the damn assignment. Or else.”

Tommy began to open his mouth, but was interrupted by a large, calloused hand over his mouth. “Please, anyone but Tommy… Thomas, shut up,” pleaded Jack. From the opposite side of Jack, Blake stood up. Though typically mild mannered, Blake spoke to his father with a direct tone. “I will not do it, and you cannot make me.” Jack, surprised by Blake’s firm tone replied, “Yes you will, you all will for the sheer purpose that if I receive another progress report or failing report card from that school, you all will be cleaning out the garage instead of playing football or whatever it is you people do for fun.” “I don’t play football,” quipped Blake snidely. “I prefer hockey,” remarked Tristan. With frustration clear in her voice Tristan asked, “Do you even know what the assignment was about?”

All at once, voices overpowered one another, fingers pointed across the table, faces turned from worry to utter annoyance. Tristan remained still with arms crossed as she peered around at her dysfunctional family. With two fingers, a screech of a whistle sounded from her lips.


“Dad… I asked you a question. Do you even know what the assignment was?”

Cheers and comments from the others in the room called out in response to Tristan’s question. Jack quickly responded, “Shouldn’t matter. Homework is homework. The reason they failed last year is because they didn’t hand in this particular assignment. I know I won’t have this problem with you… I never have this problem with you.”

Tristan’s eyes began to water as her rage began to quake inside of her. “No matter what I hand in for this particular project, it will not be good enough for him!”

“What do you mean? You have a near perfect average.”

“The subject is not something I know anything about, and it is not something that is easily researched.”

“Kendricks didn’t mention that. Okay, I’ll bite. What was the assignment?”

Tristan broke her glare from her father, as Blake cleared his throat.

“Create a detailed biography on a family member. Kendricks assigned each of us a family member to ‘investigate’ and write an in-depth history about. Tristan was assigned mother. We don’t want to complete the assignment to support Tristan.”

Jack looked taken aback, as he gulped down air. He was not expecting this. Jack had assumed the project was a report for a book no one wanted to read. Words would not come to his mouth. He stared blankly as his children stared back at him, angry and confused looks all directed towards him.

“Kendricks said that this project makes or breaks the quarter. I told the others to do theirs so they wouldn’t get into trouble,” informed Tristan.

Jack stared quite blankly at Tristan, no emotion could be read on his face which caused Tristan to fluster red in the cheeks. Liam, who normally stays out of such matters, pipes up “You know he’s just trying to get information on the well to do families…”

“Too bad this family is not well to do anymore,” said Tommy.

“Not like he knows that…” piped up Adam.

“He knows more than you think…” grumbled Jack under his breath. Adam eyed his father suspiciously, his temper starting to boil over the surface. Jack sat at the head of the table, pensive and quiet for a moment, the gears in his head clearly going round and round, processing various thoughts at once.


“Don’t hand it in. I’ll handle it.” said Jack abruptly, shocking the children at the table, but none more so than Tristan. While Tristan looked displeased, Tommy, Shane and Blake applauded.

“Yeah, Uncle J! You tell him!” blurted out Shane, while Tommy and Blake cheered along.

Jack laughed at his excitable nephew and delivered a swift undesired response, “I am not getting you off the hook, kid. Sorry. Or you, or you.” Jack said, as he pointed at Blake and Tommy. Seeing that Tristan still appeared to be upset he asked, “Why did he assign you your mother when he knows that she is not… around?” Tristan braced herself to speak, her chest searing with pain.

“I asked him what if the person we were assigned wasn’t around and he said that is where my inner investigator would need to come into play… I confronted him after class to ask why I couldn’t select someone else, and he simply said ‘Ask your father.’ What does he mean?”

The surprise was apparent on Jack’s face, and under his breath he began muttering profanities.

“Our mother left when I was born, and I am supposed to write about a person whom I don’t know? You do realize that he is setting me up for failure, right?”

“Don’t speak poorly about your mother in front of me. I know he’s an intolerable, insufferable pain, but please have respect.”

Looking defeated, Tristan crossed her arms over her chest, as she stared at her father, feeling massively misunderstood.

“You three,” continued Jack as he pointed at his nephew and two younger sons, “Will do that assignment. I will talk to that teacher of yours, and see if maybe Tristan can write her essay on a different family member.” The trio stared at their father with a look of sheer confusion. Jack then put his most dashing smile and said, “Like me… I’m handsome, rugged, and loveable.”

All the members of the table showed their disagreement in some form, between groans and eye rolling, to a boisterous declaration of “You wish!” “Someone was already assigned you, so it would have to be someone else,” explained Tristan.

“Oh, please let it be someone other than Tommy… I cannot handle another year of interviews.”

Tommy smirked. “You better get ready, I have lots of questions lined up, and since I must hand it in, I’ll be sure that it will be extra special.”

Jack began to roll his eyes as a loud crash came from the kitchen followed by a cacophony of swears. In an attempt to diffuse the negative energy and confusion in the room, Jack blurted out with a smile, “Aunt Bridgette is cooking so naturally, we’re having pizza again.”

Shane blurted out to his buddy Cole, “Yeah, my mom can’t cook.” Cole laughed and agreed with the consensus of the crowd, “Pizza sounds great.” The kitchen door swung open and a ginger-haired woman with long, frizzy curls and a perturbed look appeared. Abruptly, she yelled out, “Pizza’s on its way! Uncle Frank offered to bring it home.” As quickly as she appeared, she disappeared, as she began to clean up the destroyed pot roast that lay burnt in the oven. As the rest of his siblings celebrated over the news of pizza, Adam stared into his father’s green eyes and didn’t mince his words.

“You tell them the truth or I will. You know what he is trying to do and I don’t like it one bit.”

Jack swallowed nervously as he broke eye contact with his eldest son. Swiftly, Adam rose from his chair and hastily departed the dining room, leaving his father looking nervous and dumbfounded. The smell of pepperoni filled the foyer, as Frank Kilpatrick strolled into the house with five large pizza boxes from Monte’s restaurant. A faint Scottish brogue boomed from his lungs.

“Oy! Who wants pizza?!” His work boots tromped heavily across the hardwood floor as he trudged into the dining room. He was greeted by a room of smiling faces; the kids were always happy to see him. As far as uncles went, Frank Kilpatrick was a great one to have. He was quick with a joke, always up for a board game and whenever Aunt Bridgette fouled up dinner, he’d bring home take-out. Jack tipped his hat at his brother-in-law, and oldest friend.

Frank dropped the pizza on the massive dining room table and he began passing out paper plates in a Frisbee-like manner. As hands began grabbing slices of pizza, Frank swung the kitchen door open to get a peek at his wife. Leaning over the trash can, Bridgette scraped what appeared to be completely charred pork chops and lumpy mashed potatoes into the rubbish that lay below. His young wife looked utterly disgusted.

“Just admit it. I’m a horrible cook.” Frank smirked, “I’ll keep the pizza place on speed dial.” Bridgette jabbed her husband playfully as a smile crossed her face, against her will. As he leaned in for a kiss, the kitchen door swung open as Tommy yelled out, “Uncle Frank, play a board game with us!” Still smiling, Frank said he would.

After dinner as Bridgette cleared the paper plates and empty pizza boxes from the table and Frank began taking board games down from the closet, Tristan escaped with Cole outside. Capturing the perfect moment, when her brothers are preoccupied, and Jack was focused on his evening news, Tristan hoped to catch up with her oldest friend. Living atop Cavegat pass, there weren’t other children, so it wasn’t easy to make lasting friendships.

When Cole and Tristan were children, Bridgette would babysit many of the children in Elkhart, and Cole and his siblings just happened to be among them. Jack did not approve of Tristan hanging out with Cole alone. Tristan recalls the last time Jack addressed the so-called issue. Jack berated them from the other side of the dining room table as his face turned a putrid shade of reddish purple, exemplifying his anger that the pair were found sitting together in her bedroom playing a game of chess on the floor with the door ajar as requested by Aunt Bridgette. Jack overlooks the fact that the pair have been friends since they were both in diapers, been in every class together since nursery school, and share many of the same friends. Tristan wondered how Jack would react when he found out that Cole has been her boyfriend for the last month. It wasn’t Cole’s fault that Jack was so protective, and Tristan, at age 15, understandably had an interest in dating. Jack liked Cole as a person. He just wasn’t savvy on the idea of his daughter being seen as a romantic interest.

Now when Cole wants to come over, he has to play it cool; act like Tommy, Shane or Blake invited him. Then when dinner was over, Tristan and Cole would sneak off to the lake just to hang out without being watched like a hawk. If Jack could read the contents of Cole’s mind, or knew the extent of his feelings for his daughter, Cole was sure that Jack would never allow him within fifty feet of his daughter.

Tristan ran briskly across the valley, as Cole chased behind her, unable to quite catch her. Her brown curls flew behind her, as she ran through the fall breeze, the vivid, vibrant scenery whipping past her. Cole smiled as he watched her, raven hair flowing gracefully down her back, the color of her cheek flushing rose from the autumn chill. Finally, she slowed, finding a tree, her tree, in the apple orchard. An aging wooden ladder sat by the tree. She climbed up to the top step and sat, while she laughed at Cole who was still catching up, clearly out of breath as he clutched his side.

“Come on old man!” yelled Tristan at Cole, teasing him because of his slower speed.

“You’re too damn fast!” said Cole, winded but finally at the foot of Tristan’s apple tree.

“You better get back in shape before hockey season starts…”

“Totally different experience; skating. I’ll be ready.” Tristan settled onto her tree branch, as the smile washed from her face.

“What is it?” asked Cole, with worry clear in his voice. Tristan trying to hide what it was that was bothering her, tried to play it off like it was nothing. This often happened between the pair; something was bothering Tristan, but she didn’t want to trouble Cole with her complaints.

“It’s nothing…”

“Can we skip the part where you pretend nothing is wrong and you just tell me?” asked Cole with a charming smirk on his face. Tristan rolled her eyes, and prepared to give up what was irritating her.

“Do you ever go into town with your dad?”

“Sometimes… Why?”

“Tommy and I went into town with my father today and we had a really weird experience. So we arrive and right away we see Joey Binns getting the snot beat out of him by his father, right in the middle of Elk Road. My father ran over to stop the guy, Joey’s dad, no lie, took one look at my dad and looked like he had seen a ghost.”

“That guy is a jerk. My dad always tells me to stay away from that house,” said Cole.

Tristan continued, “That’s not all though. Then when we were passing through Harrow’s, the General Store, I noticed that we were being watched. Edna and Peggy were watching us from inside the store. I elbowed Tommy, and he pointed out that they weren’t the only ones who stared when we go into town. It was weird.”

“You know those people in town have nothing better to do than get in other people’s business. Especially Edna Harrow and Peggy Dresher. My grandmother used to belong to the same bridge club as them, and she said all they do is talk bad about other people. Sad…”

“Edna is one of the ladies that insulted me. She said I am just like my mother. Sullen and weird.”

“From what I hear, you are nothing like your mother aside from looks.”

“It made me really uncomfortable. It was like they knew something about us that we didn’t.”

“I think you have enough on your plate, with researching this ridiculous project… Don’t worry about what stupid people think… especially gossiping old ladies with nothing better to do.”

*****

Edna Harrow slammed the register drawer shut inside Harrow’s General Store, her father’s operation, as she reclaimed her seat next to her long time confidant and fellow Harrow’s employee, Peggy Dresher. Peggy was sitting on her metal folding chair, her thunderous saddlebags draping over the edges on either side of her seat with a miserable scowl permanently planted on her once attractive face. She opened up her mouth to speak, showing a gob full of empty space; she had forgotten to wear her dentures again, and as a result made her difficult to understand as she rambled on about lord knows what. Edna had no trouble understanding Peggy though, because she routinely left her dentures at home, and insisted that they were only for special occasions, like weddings and funerals. As Edna lowered her skeletal figure onto the chair beside Peggy, the morning conversation opened with the usual topics: health complaints, husband complaints, and a hearty round of malicious gossip about their fellow community members.

“How ‘ya feeling today, Peggy?”

“Just grand, isn’t this the life?” Peggy said facetiously as she waved to the tiny, cluttered General Store.

“One of these days, we’re just going to pack up and head to somewhere warm and this town isn’t going to know what hit them…”

“Where will we go? And should we bring Hank and Arnie?”

“I thought we were running away, why the hell would we bring the husbands?!”

“It would be much less stressful without them. But what if we get lonely?”

“Edna, we are youthful, voluptuous, and full of spunk! We’ll find a pair of cabana boys, and live our days without worry!”

“Young men do love older women these days!”

As Peggy was contemplating her day dreams out loud with her longest living friend, Jack Morrow had walked up to the front counter and rung the rusty bell that was sitting on the wooden countertop, with a sign next to it that said “Ring for Service.” Edna and Peggy argued silently, deciding who would be assisting Jack today. Neither of them wanted to take on the task.

“Good Morning, Jack,” said Edna lifting herself gingerly off her seat, fluffing up her red dye job in the process. “What can I do you for this fine morning?”

“Hi Edna, We need to pick up some chicken feed.”

“We just got two dozen cases in yesterday, so help yourself. They are out back. Is there anything else you need? Milk….eggs…baked goods?”

“Nope, that is all I need.”

Edna smiled and nodded at Jack, but as she watched him head to the back of the store towards the supply yard, she glared at him suspiciously, her crow’s feet appearing on the sides of her face.

“I never did trust him….” Edna said to Peggy, unaware that Tristan and Tommy Morrow was staring right at her when she let the words spill from her mouth.

Tommy motioned to Tristan to follow him, and they followed Jack out the back door. Edna hurried back to her seat as Peggy commented, “That girl is so strange. Did you see the way she stared? A weird and sullen girl just like her mother.”

“Her poor mother.”

“So why don’t you trust Jack? He comes from good stock.”

“Would you? You know what he did to his wife!”

“Yeah but how is he not in jail? Maybe it wasn’t him.”

“They could never prove it, but you could just tell… that was no accident… and who else had access to her. That was a crime of passion. You’d have to hate someone an awful lot to do what he did. Besides my nephew Earl was on the case. Nasty piece of work, he said that investigation was.”

“Sssh… here he comes again!”

Jack, Tommy and Tristan came in from the supply yard with their arms full of chicken feed. As they approached the counter Edna made sure that they didn’t need anything else – Jack said they did not. A moment later Jack and his children were heading back out onto Mountain Road, as the muted chatter resumed inside the General store.

*****

“Three in a row!” yelled out Shane as he claimed victory in his third straight game of checkers against Tommy. Prior to this, Uncle Frank, and the kids had played their way through the closet filled with board games, effectively exhausting their uncle, who now sat quietly reading the Elkhart Bugle at the in his recliner in the living room, while Jack sat opposite him stared off, deep in thought.

“Good job, son. Are we finally finished with the games for the evening? Cole needs to be heading home soon. Where is Cole, anyway?” Shane shrugged his broad shoulders as he ran towards the back door with Tommy in tow. Shane and Tommy headed out onto the expansive Morrow property in search of Cole and Tristan. They searched through the orchard, the barnyard, and finally, they found them on the bank of Croft Lake. As they approached the lake, Tommy stopped dead in his tracks to find his friend Cole standing quite close to his younger sister. The pair held hands as they stared out across the reflective lake, unaware that they were being watched.

“Hey, there you are,” hollered Tommy, effectively breaking their attention on the lake. Tristan quickly removed her hand from Cole’s grasp and Cole looked to see who was calling. “Did you win again?” asked Cole innocently. “Three times,” replied Shane smugly. “What are you two doing out here?” asked Tommy, suspicious of his friend’s close encounter with his little sister.

“I was telling Cole about our experience in town the other day.”

“What about it…”

“How the people were staring… and Joey Binns father was afraid of Dad… and what Edna said about me.”

“Just ignore them, they are stupid…”

“I don’t like how they think they know more about this family than we do… Makes me think we are kept in the dark.”

“Your sister was also telling me about the land,” explained Cole. This caught Tommy off guard.

“Oh?” A troubled look grew across Cole’s face as he spoke, eyes widened with fear.

“I heard this land is haunted, and that a lady died in this lake.”

Taken aback by his friend’s seriousness, Tommy pensively replied.

“Our family has owned this land for generations… Do you really believe such rumors?”

Before Cole or Tommy could say anything further, Tristan looked at both of them with a fierce glare in her eyes. All sense of Tristan’s usual warmth removed from her features as she released a simple yet ominous statement: “Without a doubt.”

The statement and the look upon Tristan’s face flushed the color from her brother’s skin, and sent chills running throughout Tommy’s veins. Before anyone could ask more, a booming voice echoed from the valley beyond. Frank was calling them home so that they could take Cole home. As Cole, Tristan, and Shane ran back to the house, all Tommy could do was stare at his sister. He could not quite put his finger on it, but something about that moment scared the living hell out of him.

*****


Night time in the Hollow was unsettling. The shadow of Mt. Grier and the long-reaching arm of Cavegat forest casted a dark shadow across the valley. The pale of the moon reflected across the black glassy surface of Croft Lake, and acted as the sole source of light for the valley beyond. If you were to walk through the valley in the dark of night, you wouldn’t be able to see your hand if you waved it across your face. Then there was the house itself.

Although the Morrow Manor was considered to be farmland, the Morrow family did not live in a simple farmhouse. The Morrow manor was a massive and elaborate Victorian Queen Anne. Standing three stories high, the moss strewn building had as much character as the people who lived within. In the dark of night, the Morrow house stood like a forgotten skeleton in the abyss of night. The Morrow Manor set to darkness could strike fear in the stoutest of men.

As Tristan closed her eyes, her mind raced from the day’s events. From outside her window, a bird pecked at the windowsill, as a breeze rustled through the tree branches. Overhead, Tristan could hear a scratching from the floor above; the raccoons must have gotten into the attic again.

Tristan rustled in her alcove bed, thoughts disrupting her slumber. Something just wasn’t sitting right with her. Why was her father so willing to get her off the hook for this assignment? He’s never done that before. She didn’t want to get out of the project entirely, but at least wanted him to be aware of what the problem was. Although she would never admit this aloud, what Tristan wanted more than anything was to hear the full story about her mother from her father.

The only thing Jack ever told her about her mother was that she was gone. No explanation how, or why, as if she vanished out of thin air. There had to be more to the story than that. Right? People don’t just vanish. Why did she leave? Where did she go? And why did no one seem overly concerned with finding her? Tristan had always gotten the impression that her father loved her mother tremendously, and to speak of her pained him deeply. But hadn’t she a right to know the whole truth?

In frustration, Tristan kicked off her purple comforter, giving up on sleep for the time being. She slipped her feet into a pair of moccasins and quietly trudged from her tiny chamber into her brothers’ bedroom. Her brothers were already sleeping, so she had no qualms about booting up the ancient computer and giving her project yet another go. Although she was giving the assignment her all, she feared that the little information she knew about her mother would simply not be good enough for the persistently picky Mr. Kendricks.

*****


Exhausted, Jack walked down the hallway to check on his children before bed. He wandered down the long hallway, past his own bedroom suite and beyond the one belonging to his sister on the opposite side of the hall. Generations of family portraits and paintings led the way from the master suites to the single bedrooms. He approached an old wooden door on his right. Etched into the wood is the word “nursery,” though someone had tried to paint over it in years prior; below hung a sign that read simply, “Tristan.” Jack cracked open the door to reveal Tristan’s tiny bedroom. In the room stood a wardrobe and an ancient alcove bed, with the bed linens still perfectly intact.

With a lurch of his stomach and an awful sense of déjà vu, Jack closed the door quietly, leaving it slightly ajar. He walked a bit faster now to the last door in the hall, and opened it with a push. Jack listened with a touch of amusement as he took in the symphony of snores that was coming from the two sets of wooden alcove bunk beds. To his left, Blake and Tommy slept peacefully, while his nephew Shane occupied the bottom bunk to his right as Liam crowded the top bunk. As he was turning to leave the room, he noticed there was someone asleep at the keyboard. When he removed the hood, long dark curls were revealed and he found who he was looking for, fast asleep. Jack read the words on the computer screen, as a fracture in his heart began to form.

Tristan Morrow October 6, 1997
English 104 Room 219

Biography Assignment

Subject’s Full Name

Catherine Elizabeth Westfeld-Morrow

I never met my mother. I hear she was lovely. I hear she was crazy. I hear lots of things. One thing’s for certain though; she didn’t stick around long enough to teach me a single thing. My oldest brothers, Adam and Liam have memories of her. I have not a single one. Were this assignment about lessons my father taught me, or advice my Aunt Bridgette gave me or practical jokes my brothers have played on me, I’d have hundreds of words to fill this page. But as it is, the assignment is to write a biography on someone I never knew and regrettably, I have nothing further to add.

Jack released a deep sigh. How could simple words from a fifteen year old girl rip open old wounds afresh again? It was as if she ripped the bandage off of a healing scab. His intentions were not to have his children hate their mother; or to alienate them from her completely. His intentions were to protect them from the horrible truth that occurred in the winter of 1981.

In one swift movement, Jack lifted his daughter from the rickety folding chair and cradled her in his arms. Delicately, he carried her out of the boys’ bedroom and down the hall. With a skillful move of his foot, he nudged the door to Tristan’s tiny bedroom open.

The room was no bigger than a small walk-in closet. Her alcove bed was crafted from mahogany wood and built into the wall some generations before. Carved into the wood were elaborate flowers, fleur-de-lis and a bold cursive M across the center of the frame. Adorning the bed was a brass rod from which purple, gauzy curtains with silver crescent moons hung. Jack approached the bed and moved the billowing curtains aside so he could tuck her safely in her bed. With the tug of a gold tassel, the curtains closed again, as Tristan let out a sigh as she slept.

Wearily, Jack walked down the hallway to his own bedroom. Thoughts continued to flow; a stream of unwanted reminders of his wife’s final curtain call. The night his daughter was born; the very same night his wife had disappeared. How he yearned to protect his children from the devastating truth, but somehow, he knew that one day he’d have to tell them; especially Tristan. How very alike they were too, with the same hair, same face, and same laugh. It took forcible measures to keep from calling Tristan her mother’s name: Catherine.

Jack glared at a beautiful oil painting that lay above his bed. A beauty with raven waves and piercing blue eyes. She stared down at him with an inquisitive look. How very similar they were. Tristan’s anger at the dinner table reminded him just how alike they were. If Catherine were still alive, she would have reacted the very same way. Jack pulled out a worn leather wallet, and removed Tristan’s latest school photograph and held it in the air next to the oil painting. If he didn’t know better he’d swear they were the same person.

That night as Jack’s mind drifted into slumber he could see both their faces, side by side. Mother and daughter, Catherine and Tristan; united in this moment, but never in life. The pair came closer, slowly approaching the foreground of Jack’s mind. The nearer they came, the more they looked like one.

Then in an instant the faces joined, and in a flash transformed into one. Catherine. Tristan. It was getting hard to differentiate. In an instant of panic, Jack shot up in his bed, sweat dripping from his brow, adrenaline pumping his heart to its limit. Above him, the oil painting, nestled in its oval cherry frame, stared down upon him with a contemptible glare.

 2.

The Artist’s Appeal

Morrow Manor

Fox Hollow, PA

December 24, 1981

Late Afternoon

A dark haired beauty clothed in a red maternity dress stood at a wooden easel in the kitchen of the Morrow Manor. With the curtains drawn, she peered out of the bay window of the large house. She was painting a watercolor of the aging blue barn that stood in the distance on the land. Her tiny hands danced gracefully over the canvas. Her strokes were meticulous, methodical, and perfect. Occasionally, she would need to crouch lower to the floor to give the bottom portion of her painting the attention it deserved, as her swollen belly tended to get in the way of her art.

Afternoon light shined brightly through the beveled glass of the kitchen windows; brilliant rays catching the natural red highlights in her dark brown hair. Catherine’s ice blue eyes glanced up towards the ticking clock on the wall and she realized she had been painting for over three hours now. How time escaped her.

Catherine stretched her arms and let out a loud yawn, while still holding her paintbrush with her right hand. Catherine exuded exhausted radiance; excitement pouring from her eyes in anticipation of the new baby, and the upcoming Christmas festivities. Catherine let out a large smile, showing a mouthful of white, nearly straight teeth. As she lowered her arms from her stretch, one tiny speck of yellow paint dropped onto her bare foot.

“Blast,” remarked Catherine as she looked at the paint on her foot.

Catherine walked to the sink and grabbed the worn, red checkered dishrag. She attempted to bend over to clean off her foot, but lost her balance and nearly tumbled forward; the weight of her belly pulling her thin body towards the floor. Catherine grabbed a wooden kitchen chair and slowly lowered herself onto the pink and green floral seat cushion. With great effort, she lifted her swollen leg onto the other and scrubbed the now drying paint off of her foot. Catherine sat for a moment on her chair; she felt relieved to be off of her swollen feet.

After a moment, Catherine rose from the chair and walked over to the oven, dutifully checking on the fresh ham she was making for tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner. Satisfied with the ham’s progress, she closed the oven again, set her faded yellow egg timer for ninety minutes, and walked back to the window.

Catherine peered out into the distance and surveyed the valley beyond the house. Her eyes seemed to wander off, becoming glassy and distant; seeing something in her mind that we could not. A memory played in her mind like a movie that we were not privy to attend the showing.

*****


The farm lay nestled deep in the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, far from what most modern people would deem civilization. The land was well hidden; tucked away from the busy highways. Privacy was well maintained by the natural geography of the land; lying in the shadow of the mountains. To the far west, at the border of the manor lay Croft Lake. To the south and east, trees as far as the eye could see. Set in the midst of Cavegat Forest, the entrance to Fox Hollow was well guarded by the majesty of nature.

There are two ways into Fox Hollow. By train, followed by a five mile hike, or by driving up Cavegat Pass. The Pass had a reputation. In a word: treacherous. Cavegat Pass is a daunting stretch of road along the Newland corridor. There is nothing but wilderness on both sides of the road for seventeen secluded miles. The way is winding, steep, and made of dirt and gravel. For roughly three miles, you are driving on a narrow road, pinched between the mountain side and an iron guard rail that had seen more winters than Skole County would like to admit.

Jack Morrow had recently received the land as an early inheritance from his father Angus. Old Gus had grown tired of caring for the land, and decided to finally give in to his wife Moira’s pleas to travel. Whenever Gus and Moira weren’t on holiday abroad, they stayed in the guest house on the northwestern corner of the property that overlooked the orchard.

Jack gladly took the manor house and all one hundred and twenty seven acres of land, as well as the huge responsibility of caring for the animals. In all, there were seven horses, nine cows, countless hens and chickens, a herd of sheep, and one seriously obese pot belly pig that Liam affectionately named Ziggy. Add that onto his load of caring for his wife, their four sons with another baby on the way, and two hyper dogs, and you can definitely say Jack had taken on a bit more than he could chew. Fortunately, Jack had help.

Jack took great pride in receiving the estate from his parents. The Morrow family had owned the land for over five generations now. It wasn’t until his first month on the job as Mr. Do It All Myself that he realized just how much responsibility he took on. Thankfully his sister Bridgette and her husband Frank had agreed to help out. They inhabited the guest suite on the second floor, while their son Shane slept in the room next door with Tommy and Blake

Catherine loved living at Fox Hollow, for the most part. It reminded her of her childhood summers vacationing in upstate New York, long before her father had accepted the curator position at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Arts. She enjoyed the calm that the farm provided. She had felt safe here, at first. Jack took great care to make certain that Catherine had a calm pregnancy; free of stress and worry. This was a daunting task, as Catherine was prone to bouts of extreme worrying and borderline paranoia. Even more a complex task was getting their four sons to let her rest during the pregnancy. Her condition was considered high risk; added stress could be devastating. Today Catherine was quite relaxed. Today was a good day.

Privately, Catherine wished Jack had inherited a property in a warmer climate. Though she loved the farm, she greatly disliked the cold that came with Skole County winters. Catherine succumbed to extreme bouts of loathing when snow decided to fall. On warmer days, Catherine enjoyed painting outside. Her choices of subjects were seemingly endless. Whether it be the lush mountainside covered in trees and laurels, the tranquil valley where the cows lazily chewed their grass, or the winding trails that stretched deep into the thick forest, where she and Jack would ride the horses, and see just how fast they could gallop.

In the spring, Catherine especially enjoyed walking to Croft Lake, on the far northwest corner of the property. She had always been drawn to the picturesque lake. The surface was as smooth as a mirror, not a ripple in sight. Overhead, Mt. Grier loomed, rising above the landscape, providing a breathtaking backdrop. In fairer weather, she would spend hours in the shadow of the mountain, admiring the crystalline reflection of the lake. When the summer sun became too hot, Catherine took refuge in the shade provided by the crab apple trees in the orchard. Often Jack would come out and spend the afternoon with her after a long morning of working in the fields. In the winter months, she was forced to take in the bleak scenery from indoors, and this dampened her spirit significantly.

Catherine’s staring eyes refocused; staring out the kitchen window again. She blinked a few times as she awoke from her momentary day dream. Her warm breath had begun to fog up the ice cold window. With the sleeve of her dress, she wiped the window in a large, circular motion before peering out again. It was snowing. Oh, for crying out loud! White Christmases are so overrated! Snowflakes were beginning to fall from the grey sky. She stared at the snow fluttering to the ground for a few spoiled moments. Then a thought came to her.

The laundry!

When she had put the clothes out this morning, the sun was bright and strangely warm for December. Now the sun hid behind the storm clouds, grey and ominous, leaving her fresh laundry cold and stiff. With a start, Catherine hurried into the next room; the den. She grabbed her pink bathrobe and satin bedroom slippers, put both on, and hurried to the front door. She unlocked the deadbolt, and gave the door a pull. Stuck. She braced her foot firmly on the hardwood floor and pulled again. The massive door opened loudly, the hinges in desperate need of some oil. Catherine stepped out into the frigid December air with a shiver. She jogged as fast as a pregnant woman can jog, around to the back of the house where the laundry was hanging on the line. Jack would be furious if he knew she was outside. If she hurried, she could finish before he returned.

The flurries danced around Catherine, landing in her long mane of thick hair. She couldn’t help but smile. Not even snow could ruin her mood. She began haphazardly pulling clothes off of the line, letting clothes pins fall to the ground. I’ll find them in the spring when this mess thaws.

Catherine grabbed as much as she could carry. When her arms were filled with clothing, she brought them in the house, then came out for more. In the distance, a blue pickup truck could be seen coming up the long road, winding its way up towards the house. At the sight of the truck, Catherine rushed inside with the rest of the laundry, slamming the heavy oak door behind her.

She rushed upstairs to the second floor and discarded the laundry onto the bed she occasionally shared with Jack. She turned around and peered in horror at her reflection in the long mirror on the bedroom door. Catherine yelled in frustration; no shoes, no makeup, hair unkempt. Catherine was not a sneakers and sweats kind of girl. She refused to let anyone see her in a state of disarray, even her own husband.

She kicked off her slippers and the old pink bathrobe as she began searching the room for a pair of flat dress shoes. Even though she looked perfectly acceptable to an outsider’s eye, her fervent pride took over. Catherine began rummaging through her over-crowded closet for an acceptable pair of shoes to put on. She decided on a pair of black mules, attempted to put them on, but was met with resistance. Her foot was too swollen to fit into the shoe.

I’ll just go barefoot. That’s better than these hideous slippers!

Catherine looked at the mirror again, and focused on her face. No make-up, dark curls hanging past her shoulders; Catherine now entered panic mode. Quite the natural beauty, she needed no additional assistance from the large makeup case that sat on the shelf inside the medicine cabinet. Stubbornness being one of Catherine’s strong suits, you could not dissuade her once she put her mind to something.

Catherine rushed to the bathroom and attempted to open the medicine cabinet, where her makeup bag was stored. Locked. Stubbornly, she tried to open it again. Definitely locked. Frustrated that Jack still didn’t trust her enough to leave the medicine cabinet unlocked when he left the house. Catherine squeezed her tiny hands into fists, and pounded them on the white pedestal sink; her thoughts aflame, her rage obvious.

“Damn it, Jack! I’m fine! Really, I am!” Catherine insisted at herself in the mirror. Scrutinizing her angry, scrunched up face in the mirror, Catherine became even more frustrated and stormed out into the hallway. A failing muffler could be heard from outside and Catherine was reminded that she was supposed to be getting ready. Anger washed away from Catherine’s face as quickly as it came. She pulled a hair brush through her thick curls, and pulled them into a sleek twist on the back of her head. She then secured her hair with seven bobby pins.

Catherine was tempted to pick the lock with one of her bobby pins, but decided against it. No need to get him upset. On Jack’s bureau was a small tube of cherry lip balm. She smeared some across her lips, and tosses the tube back on the bureau. Just as she was finishing up, there was a loud series of knocks at the front door. Catherine gave the mirror one last glance, smiled at her reflection, and hurried down the stairs. Before opening the door, Catherine took a deep sigh, winded from rushing around. She smoothed her dress down, and double checked her hair in the hall mirror. As she opened the heavy oak door, disappointment washed over her pretty features.

What the hell are you doing here?

 3.

Old Wounds

Elkhart, PA

October 7, 1997

Dawn

“Everybody come on! Let’s go…” Jack yelled up the staircase at his kids and nephew. Today it was Jack’s duty to get the kids off to school and run errands in town with Adam. Bridgette had already left for her shift at Grier Mountain Medical Center where she was a nurse in the Emergency Room, and Frank had not returned from his night shift yet. The house was quiet. Too quiet. A suspicious look came across Jack’s face. By now, he should have heard trampling feet, arguing amongst siblings, or at the very least, someone pretending to be sick so that they could escape the long school day.

Jack grabbed five brown bags out of a kitchen drawer and began to write out everyone’s names on each. In each bag, Jack stuffed leftover pizza from last night wrapped in tin foil, a juice box, an apple, and a note of encouragement for each kid. The note is just a light-hearted way for Jack to show his support without expressing emotion; it was something he simply was not good at. He gave another agitated look towards the empty staircase. Just as he was about to go upstairs and drag bodies out of beds and rudely wake everyone up, they came stampeding down the steps. Tommy was down first, and the others sleepily followed, clearly not looking forward to the school day.

“Everybody in the truck… Gus and Grandma aren’t back yet. They are still in Scotland… or is it Stockholm… I don’t remember. Anyway, we’re grabbing breakfast on the way.”

“They are in St. Petersburg….and they’ll be back tonight,” Tristan reminded her father.

“Russia? You’d think I would remember something like that…”

“They’re not in Russia!” Tristan said shaking her head in disbelief. “Florida, Dad. The Sunshine State.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

Rolling her eyes at her father, Tristan grabbed her backpack off the floor of the foyer and headed for the front door. Walking through the broad doorway, she met Adam and Liam on the front porch, deep in conversation. As soon as they seen her, their voices hushed, and their serious faces turned warm. Tristan couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been talking about her. The thought fleeted when the rest of her siblings tried to push their way out the door. All seven bodies crammed in the body of Jack’s silver SUV.

Two hours later, the family had eaten breakfast at Jack’s favorite diner, Monte’s; the restaurant Cole’s father owned, and had arrived in the gravel parking lot of the Steeplechase Academy. A massive building of stone and granite, Steeplechase looked more like a bank or a mansion than a school. With four floors of classrooms, a large school yard, a playground, and a dated gymnasium, Steeplechase appears to be more along the lines of a college than a high school. A prestigious school with a strong academic foundation and flourishing athletic program, the only reason Jack could afford the tuition payments was due to a hearty payout from a life insurance policy. The moment the vehicle pulled into the parking space, Tommy and Shane jumped out of the car to join their buddies Cole and Dominick, who were standing by the entrance of the school. Tristan and Blake followed at a slower, more leisurely pace. Tristan definitely was not in a rush to get to class. Liam, meanwhile headed across the street to Harry’s Hardware Store where he worked part time.

Tristan tugged on Blake’s arm, “Hold on a sec… I have to say goodbye to Dad…” She ran back to her father’s silver truck and kissed her father goodbye, leaving him with a surprised look on his face. She would be the only child to say goodbye to him that morning. Jack remained in the driver’s seat for a moment as he glanced at his eldest son Adam.

“Can we bury this for a few hours?” said Jack referring to their exchange from the previous evening. I need your help with something.” Adam nudged his broad shoulders as he exited the truck and began to walk to the school. Casually, he glanced back at his father and asked, “You coming, or what?” Jack replied, “Yeah, just keep me calm.”

*****

Jack and Adam walked into the marble foyer of the Steeplechase Academy where they were greeted by Melissa Kent, one of Adam’s former classmates. “Hey Ad! What are you doing here?” Melissa asked with a charming smile. Adam followed the young receptionist into the school office, with his father following behind. “I just thought I would pay my good friend Melissa here a visit,” said Adam convincingly. Behind Adam, Jack rolled his eyes like a little school girl. Clearly, his son was not going to offer the back- up he so desperately needed today.

Melissa began to search through her desk drawer for two visitor’s passes. In a feminine and elaborate cursive, she wrote each of their names on the tag, and handed it to each of them. Jack took his name tag, peeled off the back and gently placed it on his blue polo shirt. He then gave his oldest son a glance, as Adam continued to eye up the pretty receptionist.

“Am I to understand that you going to stay here?” asked Jack with an incredulous tone to his voice. “Yeah, I’ll wait for you right here,” Adam said with a smile as he winked at Melissa. Rolling his eyes profusely, Jack exited the office and made his way up to the second floor.

The hallways were eerily empty; class must have already begun. It seemed so strange to be in these hallways. Somehow he remembered the school being much bigger than it was. Strangely enough it looked exactly the same, only much, much smaller. Slowly, he wandered to room 219, where Bernard Kendricks was teaching his first period English class. Jack took a breath before knocking on the heavy classroom door. After a moment, he opened the door and stood in the entryway as he waited for the teacher’s attention. Jack noticed as he entered that all the children in the room stopped chattering and fidgeting and stood perfectly still; all eyes upon him. Even the four children who lived in the Morrow household, Tristan, Tommy, Blake and Shane, didn’t dare move a muscle.

Classroom 219 was filled to the brim with students sitting at their tiny desks, all dressed in matching uniforms of slate grey and scarlet. In the heart of the classroom sat Tristan, surrounded by a troublesome group of boys. In front of Tristan sat Cole, who was busy doodling in a notebook, to Tristan’s left sat Shane, looking surprised to see his uncle in the classroom. On Tristan’s opposite side was Blake, looking bored and sleepy, while in the back sat Tommy with a huge grin on his face, waving at his father. Jack waved back, nonverbally motioning for Tommy to stop acting like a fool. Jack now understood what Shane meant when he said he had the perfect person to copy off of in English class.

Bernard Kendricks was standing at the chalkboard reading Shakespearean verse to his class when he noticed he had a visitor. A lean man with thinning blond hair, there was a handsome quality to his face, but it was overridden by his uptight mannerisms and snooty up-turned nose. When the teacher heard the noise cease in the classroom, he turned around, peering condescendingly over his black wire-rimmed glasses.

Jack had patiently waited for him to stop talking, crossing his arms across his chest. He glared at the teacher, “A word, please?” Jack stepped back out into the hallway as he waited for the teacher to follow. Stress apparent on his face, it took all the strength in his body to stay calm and even-keeled. It was not simply the assignment that had him on edge. Jack Morrow and Bernard Kendricks have a shaky history, and the two of them go way back. To put it plainly, Jack Morrow would knock Kendricks’ perfect teeth down his throat if he wasn’t afraid of getting arrested on assault charges.

Bernard Kendricks stepped out into the hallway, an agitated expression written all over his face.

“Yes?” he asked, as if he wasn’t the one who initiated this meeting.

“You called…” reminded Jack.

“Ah, yes… The assignment. I continuously encounter problems with your family handing in this particular assignment.”

“Tristan is trying to complete the assignment. I’ve seen it myself.”

“And the others? They do not have a good track record,” explained Kendricks curtly.

“The boys will be handing their assignments in. At least the subject matter is something that they are comfortable with. I have to say, you knew exactly what you were doing…” Jack rebutted, anger clear on his face.

“Must you be so dense? The assignments were divvied out randomly.”

“I find that a little hard to believe. I know you see the resemblance. I know you remember the history. Blake told me some of the other people you assigned. Cole has to write about Maria who passed away when he was a baby? Cory Dennison has to write about his father who is in jail? What good will this do? I was also told that if this assignment isn’t damn near perfect that you’ll fail them.”

“You heard correctly. This is not grammar school. Or PS132… I expect my students to be independent thinkers and solid researchers. If they do not hand in a thorough report, and bring forth a solid oral presentation, they will fail my class. And as I said before, the assignment was given out at random. A little challenge will do them good.”

“You know this is a sensitive subject for my family,” complained Jack.

“It was not directed solely towards your family,” Bernard explained.

“Then why does it seem you are taking great pleasure in holding your students’ misfortune against them?”

Bernard laughed at the man before him. Six feet, five inches of cowardice is what he thought of Jack; the venom that he needed to take him down was on his tongue, but he held it back.

“Hey Kendricks, you’ve got real nerve. You’re the same weasel you were in high school!”

Jack turned on his heel in a huff as he began to storm down the first floor corridor of the Steeplechase School, when Bernard couldn’t help but allow the venom to slip through his lips.

“At least I would have the courage to tell my children the truth! You may have won her then, but look how it all turned out.” Kendricks continued, “If Tristan, Thomas and Blake do not hand in their essays they will get an F on the project. Not only does that mean that Thomas and Blake will be on academic probation, again, but it also means that Tristan will find herself off the honor roll for the first time since she’s started at Steeplechase. She’s a brilliant girl. Don’t allow her record to be sullied because of your pride. It’s your call, do it, don’t do it; the firm fact remains that if that project is not handed in, there will be serious repercussions.”

Jack looked Bernard straight in the eye, “Now that you’ve spelled it out for me, I’ve decided that they will not be handing in the essay after all.”

“Is this how you teach your children responsibility? Or is it simply that you are running away from the truth? I think the school counselor would be interested in hearing about this.”

Jack turned on his heel slowly and focused his eyes on his children’s English teacher and his former high school enemy. Bernard took in his features slowly and felt a quiver move down his back. Jack walked slowly, but with each movement it was apparent that Jack was using every ounce of his strength to keep from losing his cool on the Steeplechase English teacher. Jack didn’t stop walking until he was toe to toe with Bernard, with eight inches of height over Kendricks, Jack was not someone you wanted to start trouble with if you didn’t have to. Bernard was all too familiar with that notion.

“Is that a threat?” asked Jack incredulously.

“No, I am their teacher,” Bernard firmly responded, “If they do not hand it in, I will fail them.”

“Is it possible that Tristan can write an essay on another relative; use another family member such as a grandmother or aunt?” asked Jack sensibly.

“That was not the assignment. Good day to you. I have a class to teach,” Bernard said as he tried to slither away from Jack.

“I will go to the dean and report you. You are meddling, once again. You did the same thing when Adam and Liam were in your class too. And let’s not forget the hell you put my wife through. You’ll get more than a slap on the wrist this time; I assure you. Do not test me,” replied Jack a heated expression clear upon his face.

A sly grin emerged across Bernard Kendricks’ face, “The fact remains that you still have not told your children about their mother.”

Jack, reaching his breaking point of control, took one finger and firmly pressed into the chest of Mr. Kendricks. “That, is none of your business. Your job is to teach my children English, not pry into personal matters! Press the issue, and I’ll have your job this time.”

Bernard puffed out his chest, and bravely stated in a hushed voice “You are the reason she is dead, and you don’t want to explain that to anyone.”

Prologue

The Memory of Her


The memory of her permeated the wood. Her long shadow still danced upon the walls in her absence. The musky scent of her perfume wafted through the house, polluting the air we breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Consume. Release. Our laboring lungs swallow her down as she evades our call. The ominous tingle of breathing shocked the nape of my neck when I was alone. The oddly shaped shadow of two when I stood solitary in my chamber. The ever-present feeling that I was never truly alone. She had never really left at all. I had my doubts she ever would.

My father guarded her like a dark secret; a secret he refused to share. She was kept locked away and out of sight where no one would find her, especially my brothers and I. He held her secrets; kept them guarded in his mind. Never once did it occur to him that I held the master key to the entire riddle.

They found her on the bank of the lake as the first light of day gleamed over the valley. Snow covering her like a frigid blanket, she laid stark still, her skin an unnatural shade of blue, and her black hair cascading around her face and over her frail shoulders in messy tendrils. The shock was not in finding her. No… The shock belonged solely to her eyes. Once so soft and beautiful in life, so cold and callous in death. Frozen open by the wintry frost, she stared upon the world with deep contempt. She would not lay there forever, though. Her unsettled spirit would roam these grounds until her recompense was achieved.

The person responsible for her end led a double life. A respected pillar of the community in one light, and a sick, obsessed man in the next, brain addled with delusions and ideals that would frighten most adults awake at night; but they were nothing more than commonplace to him. I was so desperate to know what happened to her that it never occurred to me that I would be next on his list. The truth of the matter is, some secrets are better off being buried and forgotten. Unfortunately, I did not learn this lesson until it was too late.

I know every secret my mother ever had. They were whispered in my ear as my mind fell to dreams. Slowly, her secrets became my own to tell. Every secret my father longed to hide came to light in the glow of the pale moon.

Part 1

Secrets Unknown

1.

The Implausible Task

c

Morrow Manor
Fox Hollow, Pennsylvania
Monday, October 6, 1997

Under darkened sky and foggy moor, fall’s vibrant colors were dimmed by dense cloud cover. A hooded figure, deep in contemplation was seen from afar. Through the eyes of a raven, black and withered, the image of the figure trembled in the chill. Struggling wings beating against autumn’s brisk, pushing fiercely against the wind. Talons stretched as the raven perched gingerly on the splintering windowsill, startling the figure from its state of deep concentration. From its silent stupor, the figure turned to the window, piercing blue striking the raven’s sight.

The hooded figure hunched over itself, thoughts far away. Dark circles weighing down alabaster skin, a sound of disgust released from beneath a weather-beaten hood. From behind the figure a voice spoke.

“Tristan… You are going to drive yourself mad doing that stupid project,” said Blake.

Sitting at an ancient computer perched atop an old walnut desk, Tristan Morrow remained deep in thought from beneath her grey hooded sweatshirt. The green hue of the monitor screen blinked impatiently before her, while her index finger rested on the delete key, threatening to erase the words on the screen. A paragraph was written and she appeared to be contemplating her next move. Her eyes, heavy-lidded from the all-nighter she pulled the previous evening, close in frustration. The seriousness in her features wash away to allow a glimmer of amusement. Tristan turned in her chair to look up at her older brother Blake, who was laying sprawled out on his top bunk, reading his much beloved, but irreparably tattered book of Greek Mythology, and running his long fingers through his notoriously unkempt black hair.

“I have to hand it in,” Tristan reminded Blake.
“Why? I’m not. Neither is Tommy.”
“Since when has Tommy ever handed in homework?”
“Good point, but seriously, don’t kill yourself over this project. It’s not like it is going to wreck your average if you skip it.”

Rolling her eyes, Tristan returned to her assignment, her eyes scanning the words before her, scrutinizing every word, every letter. At Steeplechase Academy, Bernard Kendricks was known as a particularly tough English Composition teacher. He didn’t just teach the basics; Kendricks demanded more from his students than most educators would even dream of asking for. He demanded that his students think outside of the box, using knowledge, creativity, and sound moral judgment. Mr. Kendricks was not above correcting the grammar of his fellow teachers, or holding a student in detention for using the wrong adjective in a sentence. He was tough, and he was not well-liked by students and faculty alike. Bernard knew this, and he didn’t give a damn. Despite all this, Tristan still respected the man as a teacher and she wanted to learn as much as she could while in his class.


Tristan recalls having to suppress a feeling of nausea as she heard the teacher announce the assignment across the classroom. Who would have thought that a tenth grade English assignment could cause so much grief? Shortly after the first period bell rang, the students assigned to first period English 104 filed rowdily into room 219 and took their seats as they chatted loudly. Notes passed, gossip brewed, and Kendricks eyed his students scrupulously, as if their free-spirited nature truly offended his more reserved manner.

Standing at the chalkboard with a fresh stick of white chalk at the ready in his left hand he allowed his elegant cursive scrawl to grace the green board before him. He wrote “Biography Assignment” for all to see. It was immediately obvious which students had taken Mr. Kendricks’ class before, as loud groans sounded from the back of the classroom. Tristan was surrounded by three students who had to repeat his class, and they just so happened to be her relatives as well. To Tristan’s left, her crimson-haired cousin Shane groaned loudly, “Not again!” Meanwhile, two of Tristan’s brothers, Blake to her right, and Tommy who sat behind her, sighed loudly as they let their hand hit their desks in frustration. Tristan peered behind her to see Tommy rolling his eyes in utter irritation. Kendricks took center stage, complete with a smug look and a cork clipboard, as he demanded everyone’s full attention.

“It is easy enough to write about someone famous; piggybacking off of the admiration of others, with quotes already laid down by a newspaper or a magazine. If you were to write a biography about someone who is wildly famous, there is probably not a lot that you could write that would differ from pre-existing works on the same subject matter,” explained Mr. Kendricks. He continued, “Instead of writing a report on a famous football star, world leader, or rock band, I have decided that I am going to make this challenge a little more interesting.”

Kendricks held his clipboard firmly and began to file up and down the aisles of neatly arranged desks. He continued, “I am going to assign each of you a family member at random, and I expect each of you to write a comprehensive one thousand word biography on that person. You should utilize your best detective skills; conduct interviews, obtain quotes, facts, and artifacts of importance. Be prepared to present this data to the class during the week beginning October the twenty-third. Each of you will need to purchase a large poster board and neatly present your findings. You will each have fifteen minutes to give an oral presentation in front of the class.”

As Kendricks spoke the words oral presentation, the class showed their great disdain with a cacophony of noises. Kendricks responded with a tinge of annoyance present in his voice. “Shall we make it a half hour oral presentation? I can devote the entire month to just this project.” Knowing that their teacher was not bluffing, silence took over the room faster than the clock on the wall could change seconds.

“Now. As I was saying… Allow your inner investigator to flourish. Take pictures, add important details, and see how well you truly know your subject. Okay, here we go. I am going to call off your name with the relative you are to write your biography on.”

Andrus, Jessica – Grandfather

Callaghan, Bryan – Aunt

Dennison, Cory – Father

Edwards, George – Brother

“Uh, Mr. Kendricks… Older or younger?” asked George with an inquisitive look on his round face. Kendricks promptly responded, “Older.”

Fitzpatrick, Shane – Mother

Shane shook his head in contempt. Mr. Kendricks seen his reaction and loudly called across the room, “And be sure to hand it in this year so that we do not have to be in each other’s company for a third year of English 104!” Kendricks continued to read off his clipboard:

Havlang, Cora – Grandmother

Jefferson, Christina – Sister

Kaplan, Ian – Uncle

Morrow…

From the center of the room three exasperated voices rang out, “Which one?” Kendricks turned around and peered down over his glasses at his students, Tristan, Thomas and Blake, before turning his eyes back to the list.

Morrow, Blake – Uncle

Morrow….

Tristan and Tommy began to form a ‘w’ on their lips when Kendricks loudly proclaimed, “Thomas…Father.”

Under Tommy’s breath, he mumbled, “There’s a project I won’t be handing in!” Tristan turned around in her chair, scolding her brother, “You have to! If you fail this class again, Dad is going to have a fit!”

Morrow, Tristan – Mother

When the words escaped his lips, Tristan did not quite know how to react. Pale as a ghost, she dropped her pencil onto her desk. She had a 98 average in Kendricks’ class. She’d have to manage somehow. Quickly, her arm shot into the air, in an attempt to catch Mr. Kendricks’ attention. Kendricks, seeing her raised arm, protested with sheer agitation. “Miss Morrow, can’t this wait until after class?” He said her last name as if it was the name of a particularly nasty disease. “It has to do with the assignment,” explained Tristan. Agitation clear on his face, Kendricks replied “Very well. What is it?” Tristan explained, “I believe that there must be some kind of mistake. The person you assigned me… I have no way of contacting them.” Suddenly, Kendricks face changed. Something hidden came to light on his typically smug face. Tommy thought he seen the teacher release a smirk. Kendrick replied, I guess that is where your inner investigator will need to take charge.”

Kendrick immediately diverted his eyes back to his clip board and by doing so, effectively closed the conversation.

Piedmonte, Cole – Mother

“But-” protested Cole.

“Mother, I said,” interrupted Kendricks firmly.

As Kendricks continued to distribute the rest of the assignments to the class, Tommy tapped his younger sister on her shoulder. She turned around to see her brother with an emotion on his face that she once thought was foreign to his heart: concern.

“Don’t do it,” said Tommy. “I have to. He’s not going to like this one bit,” replied Tristan, worry clear on her face. While her brothers were given relatives that play an active part in their lives, Tristan’s assignment would not be quite so easy. It just so happened that Tristan was required to write her assignment on her mother; someone she never knew. Tristan’s temper, still quite heated as she attempted to work on the assignment, showed no signs of wavering.


Heavy footsteps in the hallway, more than one set, jarred her concentration. “Tristan!” called a deep voice from beyond the solid bedroom door. Hoping to ignore the interruption, Tristan continues to glare at her computer monitor. The voice is now joined by another. “Open the door!” Tristan begins to growl under her breath. “Is one hour too much to ask?” she asked quietly to herself. From the other side of the door, the voice complained again, “But it’s my bedroom!”

Tristan slowly opened the bedroom door as a scowl formed on her face. “Yes…?” Tristan said through her teeth, not giving her visitor the courtesy of a warm welcome. It was her brother Tommy and her cousin Shane who were blanketed from head to toe in mud, weather-beaten cleats hanging over each of their shoulders. In the shadow of the hall, another boy stood waiting.

“Doing that assignment?” asked Shane with an inquisitive smirk.
“Of course… I can’t just not do it,” remarked Tristan.
“Well, while you’re at it,” Tommy suggested, as he reached into his mud-caked backpack and pulled out a notebook that was in even worse condition.

“No! Absolutely not! It is hard enough to write my own,” replied Tristan, exasperated as Tommy and Shane jump back in surprise.
“Oh. But why? Is it because I put your laundry basket on the roof?” asked Tommy with a sincere look on his face. Tristan stood with one hand on the door, while covering her face with the other as laughter began to explode from her. Against her greatest wishes, a smile formed across her face as she remembered her school uniform that was drenched unforgivingly after being left outside during a particularly brutal rain storm.

“As much as I hated you that day, this is not about that. You have a brain of your own. You do it,” quipped Tristan. Tommy stared back at her, “I have to think of a thousand words to write about Dad. Do you know how hard that is?” Tristan smirked at her older brother and pinched his cheek, “I’m sure you’ll manage… and you Shane! I would love to be able to write an essay on Aunt Bridgette. Give me a break! You better hold some interviews and get your quotes!” Doing her best impression of Mr. Kendricks, Tristan pushed her nose into the air pompously, and spoke in her best snooty voice, “This is where your inner investigator will come into play!”

Quickly, Tristan turned on her barefoot heel as if to bid the pair adieu, as a boisterous banging sounded from the kitchen, a floor below. Wooden spoon against metal pot, the clattering noise repeated over and over again. As the drumming song ceased, the loud cry of a female’s voice called from the first floor landing.

“Dinner! Get it while it’s hot!”

No longer face to face with Tommy and Shane, she watched as their dirty socks left massive footprints all the way down the hall, and cascading down two flights of winding steps, sounding remarkably like a herd of elephants stampeding throughout the house. The boy who stood in the shadows looks up and smiles at Tristan before following his friends down the steps. “Hey Cole…” Tristan says softly.

“I told you she wouldn’t do it!” said Shane gruffly to Tommy as they clambered down the steps. “Did someone say dinner?” asked Blake as he poked his head out of the bedroom doorway. At the sound of the dinner call, Blake’s bored expression turned into a look of eagerness. Although he appeared to be just skin and bones, Blake had a notoriously large appetite that could rarely be squelched. Tristan nodded with a smirk on her face as the pair walked down to the dining room together.

Hungry members of the household quickly grabbed their places around the lengthy dining room table. A mountain of a man with a gruff manner sat down at the head of the table without saying a word. His faded flannel shirt of red and black squares was covered in dust from working in the field. A blue trucker hat donned his head, covering up his salt and pepper wavy hair. Beneath the brim of the hat was a weathered, yet handsome face that provided neither smile nor comfort. Jack was not having a good day.

Tristan and Blake were among the last to arrive to the table and were met with a glare from their father, who then quickly took their seats. From the kitchen, an obnoxious metallic clattering caused Jack to raise his eyebrow towards the white kitchen door. Wearily, he returned his focus to the children sitting at his dining room table; his children, nephews, and the sorely out of place Cole Piedmonte. Jack cleared his throat indicating that he required silence. In a hoarse voice he spoke, “I received a call from Kendricks today.”

From around the table groans sounded from eight voices of varying octaves. Jack stared at his family as he watched the many different reactions to his simple statement and smirked in spite of himself. Tristan rolled her eyes profusely at the sound of her teacher’s name, Tommy and Shane raised their fists in rage. Blake was so overcome with annoyance that he curled his lip up in distaste, as if he smelled something that was truly offensive. Tommy, in an attempt to distract Jack from the task at hand, created a diversion.

“I didn’t mean to throw his keys out the window! It was a jerk reflex! Look it up,” said Tommy slyly, as he was met with a disbelieving stare from his father.

“Give it up. He didn’t mention anything about keys. This is about homework.”

The jig was up. Tristan anxiously bit her lower lip as she prepared for the worst. Two chairs slid out from the table as Jack’s eldest sons Adam and Liam, ages 20 and 18, attempted to exit the room. Jack’s eyes tracked his overgrown sons from across the table, and squinted with disdain.

“Where do you two thinking you’re going?” asked Jack, sounding perplexed and annoyed. Adam, quick with a charming smile, turned to his father and replied, “I graduated two years ago. Don’t you remember? You were there.” Meanwhile, Liam interjected a simple, “Iced Tea” to the conversation. With the irritation clear in his voice, Jack barked “Sit it down. I didn’t excuse you from my table.” Liam and Adam exchanged a look indicative of “What the hell did we do now?”

Jack scratched his head in disgust as he began to speak again. “Like I was saying, I received a call from Mr. Kendricks today. Why am I being told that none of you “Morrow” children ever hand in a certain assignment for his class?”

Jack’s eyes peered over his glasses as he surveyed the room for answers.

“You two,” Jack said as he pointed his fingers into the chests of Blake and Tommy, who had the misfortune of sitting on either side of him, “Are in danger of being put on academic probation…Again! You are in the same English class as your younger sister! Don’t you think that is a problem? Do the damn assignment. Or else.”

Tommy began to open his mouth, but was interrupted by a large, calloused hand over his mouth. “Please, anyone but Tommy… Thomas, shut up,” pleaded Jack. From the opposite side of Jack, Blake stood up. Though typically mild mannered, Blake spoke to his father with a direct tone. “I will not do it, and you cannot make me.” Jack, surprised by Blake’s firm tone replied, “Yes you will, you all will for the sheer purpose that if I receive another progress report or failing report card from that school, you all will be cleaning out the garage instead of playing football or whatever it is you people do for fun.” “I don’t play football,” quipped Blake snidely. “I prefer hockey,” remarked Tristan. With frustration clear in her voice Tristan asked, “Do you even know what the assignment was about?”

All at once, voices overpowered one another, fingers pointed across the table, faces turned from worry to utter annoyance. Tristan remained still with arms crossed as she peered around at her dysfunctional family. With two fingers, a screech of a whistle sounded from her lips.


“Dad… I asked you a question. Do you even know what the assignment was?”

Cheers and comments from the others in the room called out in response to Tristan’s question. Jack quickly responded, “Shouldn’t matter. Homework is homework. The reason they failed last year is because they didn’t hand in this particular assignment. I know I won’t have this problem with you… I never have this problem with you.”

Tristan’s eyes began to water as her rage began to quake inside of her. “No matter what I hand in for this particular project, it will not be good enough for him!”

“What do you mean? You have a near perfect average.”

“The subject is not something I know anything about, and it is not something that is easily researched.”

“Kendricks didn’t mention that. Okay, I’ll bite. What was the assignment?”

Tristan broke her glare from her father, as Blake cleared his throat.

“Create a detailed biography on a family member. Kendricks assigned each of us a family member to ‘investigate’ and write an in-depth history about. Tristan was assigned mother. We don’t want to complete the assignment to support Tristan.”

Jack looked taken aback, as he gulped down air. He was not expecting this. Jack had assumed the project was a report for a book no one wanted to read. Words would not come to his mouth. He stared blankly as his children stared back at him, angry and confused looks all directed towards him.

“Kendricks said that this project makes or breaks the quarter. I told the others to do theirs so they wouldn’t get into trouble,” informed Tristan.

Jack stared quite blankly at Tristan, no emotion could be read on his face which caused Tristan to fluster red in the cheeks. Liam, who normally stays out of such matters, pipes up “You know he’s just trying to get information on the well to do families…”

“Too bad this family is not well to do anymore,” said Tommy.

“Not like he knows that…” piped up Adam.

“He knows more than you think…” grumbled Jack under his breath. Adam eyed his father suspiciously, his temper starting to boil over the surface. Jack sat at the head of the table, pensive and quiet for a moment, the gears in his head clearly going round and round, processing various thoughts at once.


“Don’t hand it in. I’ll handle it.” said Jack abruptly, shocking the children at the table, but none more so than Tristan. While Tristan looked displeased, Tommy, Shane and Blake applauded.

“Yeah, Uncle J! You tell him!” blurted out Shane, while Tommy and Blake cheered along.

Jack laughed at his excitable nephew and delivered a swift undesired response, “I am not getting you off the hook, kid. Sorry. Or you, or you.” Jack said, as he pointed at Blake and Tommy. Seeing that Tristan still appeared to be upset he asked, “Why did he assign you your mother when he knows that she is not… around?” Tristan braced herself to speak, her chest searing with pain.

“I asked him what if the person we were assigned wasn’t around and he said that is where my inner investigator would need to come into play… I confronted him after class to ask why I couldn’t select someone else, and he simply said ‘Ask your father.’ What does he mean?”

The surprise was apparent on Jack’s face, and under his breath he began muttering profanities.

“Our mother left when I was born, and I am supposed to write about a person whom I don’t know? You do realize that he is setting me up for failure, right?”

“Don’t speak poorly about your mother in front of me. I know he’s an intolerable, insufferable pain, but please have respect.”

Looking defeated, Tristan crossed her arms over her chest, as she stared at her father, feeling massively misunderstood.

“You three,” continued Jack as he pointed at his nephew and two younger sons, “Will do that assignment. I will talk to that teacher of yours, and see if maybe Tristan can write her essay on a different family member.” The trio stared at their father with a look of sheer confusion. Jack then put his most dashing smile and said, “Like me… I’m handsome, rugged, and loveable.”

All the members of the table showed their disagreement in some form, between groans and eye rolling, to a boisterous declaration of “You wish!” “Someone was already assigned you, so it would have to be someone else,” explained Tristan.

“Oh, please let it be someone other than Tommy… I cannot handle another year of interviews.”

Tommy smirked. “You better get ready, I have lots of questions lined up, and since I must hand it in, I’ll be sure that it will be extra special.”

Jack began to roll his eyes as a loud crash came from the kitchen followed by a cacophony of swears. In an attempt to diffuse the negative energy and confusion in the room, Jack blurted out with a smile, “Aunt Bridgette is cooking so naturally, we’re having pizza again.”

Shane blurted out to his buddy Cole, “Yeah, my mom can’t cook.” Cole laughed and agreed with the consensus of the crowd, “Pizza sounds great.” The kitchen door swung open and a ginger-haired woman with long, frizzy curls and a perturbed look appeared. Abruptly, she yelled out, “Pizza’s on its way! Uncle Frank offered to bring it home.” As quickly as she appeared, she disappeared, as she began to clean up the destroyed pot roast that lay burnt in the oven. As the rest of his siblings celebrated over the news of pizza, Adam stared into his father’s green eyes and didn’t mince his words.

“You tell them the truth or I will. You know what he is trying to do and I don’t like it one bit.”

Jack swallowed nervously as he broke eye contact with his eldest son. Swiftly, Adam rose from his chair and hastily departed the dining room, leaving his father looking nervous and dumbfounded. The smell of pepperoni filled the foyer, as Frank Kilpatrick strolled into the house with five large pizza boxes from Monte’s restaurant. A faint Scottish brogue boomed from his lungs.

“Oy! Who wants pizza?!” His work boots tromped heavily across the hardwood floor as he trudged into the dining room. He was greeted by a room of smiling faces; the kids were always happy to see him. As far as uncles went, Frank Kilpatrick was a great one to have. He was quick with a joke, always up for a board game and whenever Aunt Bridgette fouled up dinner, he’d bring home take-out. Jack tipped his hat at his brother-in-law, and oldest friend.

Frank dropped the pizza on the massive dining room table and he began passing out paper plates in a Frisbee-like manner. As hands began grabbing slices of pizza, Frank swung the kitchen door open to get a peek at his wife. Leaning over the trash can, Bridgette scraped what appeared to be completely charred pork chops and lumpy mashed potatoes into the rubbish that lay below. His young wife looked utterly disgusted.

“Just admit it. I’m a horrible cook.” Frank smirked, “I’ll keep the pizza place on speed dial.” Bridgette jabbed her husband playfully as a smile crossed her face, against her will. As he leaned in for a kiss, the kitchen door swung open as Tommy yelled out, “Uncle Frank, play a board game with us!” Still smiling, Frank said he would.

After dinner as Bridgette cleared the paper plates and empty pizza boxes from the table and Frank began taking board games down from the closet, Tristan escaped with Cole outside. Capturing the perfect moment, when her brothers are preoccupied, and Jack was focused on his evening news, Tristan hoped to catch up with her oldest friend. Living atop Cavegat pass, there weren’t other children, so it wasn’t easy to make lasting friendships.

When Cole and Tristan were children, Bridgette would babysit many of the children in Elkhart, and Cole and his siblings just happened to be among them. Jack did not approve of Tristan hanging out with Cole alone. Tristan recalls the last time Jack addressed the so-called issue. Jack berated them from the other side of the dining room table as his face turned a putrid shade of reddish purple, exemplifying his anger that the pair were found sitting together in her bedroom playing a game of chess on the floor with the door ajar as requested by Aunt Bridgette. Jack overlooks the fact that the pair have been friends since they were both in diapers, been in every class together since nursery school, and share many of the same friends. Tristan wondered how Jack would react when he found out that Cole has been her boyfriend for the last month. It wasn’t Cole’s fault that Jack was so protective, and Tristan, at age 15, understandably had an interest in dating. Jack liked Cole as a person. He just wasn’t savvy on the idea of his daughter being seen as a romantic interest.

Now when Cole wants to come over, he has to play it cool; act like Tommy, Shane or Blake invited him. Then when dinner was over, Tristan and Cole would sneak off to the lake just to hang out without being watched like a hawk. If Jack could read the contents of Cole’s mind, or knew the extent of his feelings for his daughter, Cole was sure that Jack would never allow him within fifty feet of his daughter.

Tristan ran briskly across the valley, as Cole chased behind her, unable to quite catch her. Her brown curls flew behind her, as she ran through the fall breeze, the vivid, vibrant scenery whipping past her. Cole smiled as he watched her, raven hair flowing gracefully down her back, the color of her cheek flushing rose from the autumn chill. Finally, she slowed, finding a tree, her tree, in the apple orchard. An aging wooden ladder sat by the tree. She climbed up to the top step and sat, while she laughed at Cole who was still catching up, clearly out of breath as he clutched his side.

“Come on old man!” yelled Tristan at Cole, teasing him because of his slower speed.

“You’re too damn fast!” said Cole, winded but finally at the foot of Tristan’s apple tree.

“You better get back in shape before hockey season starts…”

“Totally different experience; skating. I’ll be ready.” Tristan settled onto her tree branch, as the smile washed from her face.

“What is it?” asked Cole, with worry clear in his voice. Tristan trying to hide what it was that was bothering her, tried to play it off like it was nothing. This often happened between the pair; something was bothering Tristan, but she didn’t want to trouble Cole with her complaints.

“It’s nothing…”

“Can we skip the part where you pretend nothing is wrong and you just tell me?” asked Cole with a charming smirk on his face. Tristan rolled her eyes, and prepared to give up what was irritating her.

“Do you ever go into town with your dad?”

“Sometimes… Why?”

“Tommy and I went into town with my father today and we had a really weird experience. So we arrive and right away we see Joey Binns getting the snot beat out of him by his father, right in the middle of Elk Road. My father ran over to stop the guy, Joey’s dad, no lie, took one look at my dad and looked like he had seen a ghost.”

“That guy is a jerk. My dad always tells me to stay away from that house,” said Cole.

Tristan continued, “That’s not all though. Then when we were passing through Harrow’s, the General Store, I noticed that we were being watched. Edna and Peggy were watching us from inside the store. I elbowed Tommy, and he pointed out that they weren’t the only ones who stared when we go into town. It was weird.”

“You know those people in town have nothing better to do than get in other people’s business. Especially Edna Harrow and Peggy Dresher. My grandmother used to belong to the same bridge club as them, and she said all they do is talk bad about other people. Sad…”

“Edna is one of the ladies that insulted me. She said I am just like my mother. Sullen and weird.”

“From what I hear, you are nothing like your mother aside from looks.”

“It made me really uncomfortable. It was like they knew something about us that we didn’t.”

“I think you have enough on your plate, with researching this ridiculous project… Don’t worry about what stupid people think… especially gossiping old ladies with nothing better to do.”

*****

Edna Harrow slammed the register drawer shut inside Harrow’s General Store, her father’s operation, as she reclaimed her seat next to her long time confidant and fellow Harrow’s employee, Peggy Dresher. Peggy was sitting on her metal folding chair, her thunderous saddlebags draping over the edges on either side of her seat with a miserable scowl permanently planted on her once attractive face. She opened up her mouth to speak, showing a gob full of empty space; she had forgotten to wear her dentures again, and as a result made her difficult to understand as she rambled on about lord knows what. Edna had no trouble understanding Peggy though, because she routinely left her dentures at home, and insisted that they were only for special occasions, like weddings and funerals. As Edna lowered her skeletal figure onto the chair beside Peggy, the morning conversation opened with the usual topics: health complaints, husband complaints, and a hearty round of malicious gossip about their fellow community members.

“How ‘ya feeling today, Peggy?”

“Just grand, isn’t this the life?” Peggy said facetiously as she waved to the tiny, cluttered General Store.

“One of these days, we’re just going to pack up and head to somewhere warm and this town isn’t going to know what hit them…”

“Where will we go? And should we bring Hank and Arnie?”

“I thought we were running away, why the hell would we bring the husbands?!”

“It would be much less stressful without them. But what if we get lonely?”

“Edna, we are youthful, voluptuous, and full of spunk! We’ll find a pair of cabana boys, and live our days without worry!”

“Young men do love older women these days!”

As Peggy was contemplating her day dreams out loud with her longest living friend, Jack Morrow had walked up to the front counter and rung the rusty bell that was sitting on the wooden countertop, with a sign next to it that said “Ring for Service.” Edna and Peggy argued silently, deciding who would be assisting Jack today. Neither of them wanted to take on the task.

“Good Morning, Jack,” said Edna lifting herself gingerly off her seat, fluffing up her red dye job in the process. “What can I do you for this fine morning?”

“Hi Edna, We need to pick up some chicken feed.”

“We just got two dozen cases in yesterday, so help yourself. They are out back. Is there anything else you need? Milk….eggs…baked goods?”

“Nope, that is all I need.”

Edna smiled and nodded at Jack, but as she watched him head to the back of the store towards the supply yard, she glared at him suspiciously, her crow’s feet appearing on the sides of her face.

“I never did trust him….” Edna said to Peggy, unaware that Tristan and Tommy Morrow was staring right at her when she let the words spill from her mouth.

Tommy motioned to Tristan to follow him, and they followed Jack out the back door. Edna hurried back to her seat as Peggy commented, “That girl is so strange. Did you see the way she stared? A weird and sullen girl just like her mother.”

“Her poor mother.”

“So why don’t you trust Jack? He comes from good stock.”

“Would you? You know what he did to his wife!”

“Yeah but how is he not in jail? Maybe it wasn’t him.”

“They could never prove it, but you could just tell… that was no accident… and who else had access to her. That was a crime of passion. You’d have to hate someone an awful lot to do what he did. Besides my nephew Earl was on the case. Nasty piece of work, he said that investigation was.”

“Sssh… here he comes again!”

Jack, Tommy and Tristan came in from the supply yard with their arms full of chicken feed. As they approached the counter Edna made sure that they didn’t need anything else – Jack said they did not. A moment later Jack and his children were heading back out onto Mountain Road, as the muted chatter resumed inside the General store.

*****

“Three in a row!” yelled out Shane as he claimed victory in his third straight game of checkers against Tommy. Prior to this, Uncle Frank, and the kids had played their way through the closet filled with board games, effectively exhausting their uncle, who now sat quietly reading the Elkhart Bugle at the in his recliner in the living room, while Jack sat opposite him stared off, deep in thought.

“Good job, son. Are we finally finished with the games for the evening? Cole needs to be heading home soon. Where is Cole, anyway?” Shane shrugged his broad shoulders as he ran towards the back door with Tommy in tow. Shane and Tommy headed out onto the expansive Morrow property in search of Cole and Tristan. They searched through the orchard, the barnyard, and finally, they found them on the bank of Croft Lake. As they approached the lake, Tommy stopped dead in his tracks to find his friend Cole standing quite close to his younger sister. The pair held hands as they stared out across the reflective lake, unaware that they were being watched.

“Hey, there you are,” hollered Tommy, effectively breaking their attention on the lake. Tristan quickly removed her hand from Cole’s grasp and Cole looked to see who was calling. “Did you win again?” asked Cole innocently. “Three times,” replied Shane smugly. “What are you two doing out here?” asked Tommy, suspicious of his friend’s close encounter with his little sister.

“I was telling Cole about our experience in town the other day.”

“What about it…”

“How the people were staring… and Joey Binns father was afraid of Dad… and what Edna said about me.”

“Just ignore them, they are stupid…”

“I don’t like how they think they know more about this family than we do… Makes me think we are kept in the dark.”

“Your sister was also telling me about the land,” explained Cole. This caught Tommy off guard.

“Oh?” A troubled look grew across Cole’s face as he spoke, eyes widened with fear.

“I heard this land is haunted, and that a lady died in this lake.”

Taken aback by his friend’s seriousness, Tommy pensively replied.

“Our family has owned this land for generations… Do you really believe such rumors?”

Before Cole or Tommy could say anything further, Tristan looked at both of them with a fierce glare in her eyes. All sense of Tristan’s usual warmth removed from her features as she released a simple yet ominous statement: “Without a doubt.”

The statement and the look upon Tristan’s face flushed the color from her brother’s skin, and sent chills running throughout Tommy’s veins. Before anyone could ask more, a booming voice echoed from the valley beyond. Frank was calling them home so that they could take Cole home. As Cole, Tristan, and Shane ran back to the house, all Tommy could do was stare at his sister. He could not quite put his finger on it, but something about that moment scared the living hell out of him.

*****


Night time in the Hollow was unsettling. The shadow of Mt. Grier and the long-reaching arm of Cavegat forest casted a dark shadow across the valley. The pale of the moon reflected across the black glassy surface of Croft Lake, and acted as the sole source of light for the valley beyond. If you were to walk through the valley in the dark of night, you wouldn’t be able to see your hand if you waved it across your face. Then there was the house itself.

Although the Morrow Manor was considered to be farmland, the Morrow family did not live in a simple farmhouse. The Morrow manor was a massive and elaborate Victorian Queen Anne. Standing three stories high, the moss strewn building had as much character as the people who lived within. In the dark of night, the Morrow house stood like a forgotten skeleton in the abyss of night. The Morrow Manor set to darkness could strike fear in the stoutest of men.

As Tristan closed her eyes, her mind raced from the day’s events. From outside her window, a bird pecked at the windowsill, as a breeze rustled through the tree branches. Overhead, Tristan could hear a scratching from the floor above; the raccoons must have gotten into the attic again.

Tristan rustled in her alcove bed, thoughts disrupting her slumber. Something just wasn’t sitting right with her. Why was her father so willing to get her off the hook for this assignment? He’s never done that before. She didn’t want to get out of the project entirely, but at least wanted him to be aware of what the problem was. Although she would never admit this aloud, what Tristan wanted more than anything was to hear the full story about her mother from her father.

The only thing Jack ever told her about her mother was that she was gone. No explanation how, or why, as if she vanished out of thin air. There had to be more to the story than that. Right? People don’t just vanish. Why did she leave? Where did she go? And why did no one seem overly concerned with finding her? Tristan had always gotten the impression that her father loved her mother tremendously, and to speak of her pained him deeply. But hadn’t she a right to know the whole truth?

In frustration, Tristan kicked off her purple comforter, giving up on sleep for the time being. She slipped her feet into a pair of moccasins and quietly trudged from her tiny chamber into her brothers’ bedroom. Her brothers were already sleeping, so she had no qualms about booting up the ancient computer and giving her project yet another go. Although she was giving the assignment her all, she feared that the little information she knew about her mother would simply not be good enough for the persistently picky Mr. Kendricks.

*****


Exhausted, Jack walked down the hallway to check on his children before bed. He wandered down the long hallway, past his own bedroom suite and beyond the one belonging to his sister on the opposite side of the hall. Generations of family portraits and paintings led the way from the master suites to the single bedrooms. He approached an old wooden door on his right. Etched into the wood is the word “nursery,” though someone had tried to paint over it in years prior; below hung a sign that read simply, “Tristan.” Jack cracked open the door to reveal Tristan’s tiny bedroom. In the room stood a wardrobe and an ancient alcove bed, with the bed linens still perfectly intact.

With a lurch of his stomach and an awful sense of déjà vu, Jack closed the door quietly, leaving it slightly ajar. He walked a bit faster now to the last door in the hall, and opened it with a push. Jack listened with a touch of amusement as he took in the symphony of snores that was coming from the two sets of wooden alcove bunk beds. To his left, Blake and Tommy slept peacefully, while his nephew Shane occupied the bottom bunk to his right as Liam crowded the top bunk. As he was turning to leave the room, he noticed there was someone asleep at the keyboard. When he removed the hood, long dark curls were revealed and he found who he was looking for, fast asleep. Jack read the words on the computer screen, as a fracture in his heart began to form.

Tristan Morrow October 6, 1997
English 104 Room 219

Biography Assignment

Subject’s Full Name

Catherine Elizabeth Westfeld-Morrow

I never met my mother. I hear she was lovely. I hear she was crazy. I hear lots of things. One thing’s for certain though; she didn’t stick around long enough to teach me a single thing. My oldest brothers, Adam and Liam have memories of her. I have not a single one. Were this assignment about lessons my father taught me, or advice my Aunt Bridgette gave me or practical jokes my brothers have played on me, I’d have hundreds of words to fill this page. But as it is, the assignment is to write a biography on someone I never knew and regrettably, I have nothing further to add.

Jack released a deep sigh. How could simple words from a fifteen year old girl rip open old wounds afresh again? It was as if she ripped the bandage off of a healing scab. His intentions were not to have his children hate their mother; or to alienate them from her completely. His intentions were to protect them from the horrible truth that occurred in the winter of 1981.

In one swift movement, Jack lifted his daughter from the rickety folding chair and cradled her in his arms. Delicately, he carried her out of the boys’ bedroom and down the hall. With a skillful move of his foot, he nudged the door to Tristan’s tiny bedroom open.

The room was no bigger than a small walk-in closet. Her alcove bed was crafted from mahogany wood and built into the wall some generations before. Carved into the wood were elaborate flowers, fleur-de-lis and a bold cursive M across the center of the frame. Adorning the bed was a brass rod from which purple, gauzy curtains with silver crescent moons hung. Jack approached the bed and moved the billowing curtains aside so he could tuck her safely in her bed. With the tug of a gold tassel, the curtains closed again, as Tristan let out a sigh as she slept.

Wearily, Jack walked down the hallway to his own bedroom. Thoughts continued to flow; a stream of unwanted reminders of his wife’s final curtain call. The night his daughter was born; the very same night his wife had disappeared. How he yearned to protect his children from the devastating truth, but somehow, he knew that one day he’d have to tell them; especially Tristan. How very alike they were too, with the same hair, same face, and same laugh. It took forcible measures to keep from calling Tristan her mother’s name: Catherine.

Jack glared at a beautiful oil painting that lay above his bed. A beauty with raven waves and piercing blue eyes. She stared down at him with an inquisitive look. How very similar they were. Tristan’s anger at the dinner table reminded him just how alike they were. If Catherine were still alive, she would have reacted the very same way. Jack pulled out a worn leather wallet, and removed Tristan’s latest school photograph and held it in the air next to the oil painting. If he didn’t know better he’d swear they were the same person.

That night as Jack’s mind drifted into slumber he could see both their faces, side by side. Mother and daughter, Catherine and Tristan; united in this moment, but never in life. The pair came closer, slowly approaching the foreground of Jack’s mind. The nearer they came, the more they looked like one.

Then in an instant the faces joined, and in a flash transformed into one. Catherine. Tristan. It was getting hard to differentiate. In an instant of panic, Jack shot up in his bed, sweat dripping from his brow, adrenaline pumping his heart to its limit. Above him, the oil painting, nestled in its oval cherry frame, stared down upon him with a contemptible glare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.

The Artist’s Appeal

c

Morrow Manor

Fox Hollow, PA

December 24, 1981

Late Afternoon

A dark haired beauty clothed in a red maternity dress stood at a wooden easel in the kitchen of the Morrow Manor. With the curtains drawn, she peered out of the bay window of the large house. She was painting a watercolor of the aging blue barn that stood in the distance on the land. Her tiny hands danced gracefully over the canvas. Her strokes were meticulous, methodical, and perfect. Occasionally, she would need to crouch lower to the floor to give the bottom portion of her painting the attention it deserved, as her swollen belly tended to get in the way of her art.

Afternoon light shined brightly through the beveled glass of the kitchen windows; brilliant rays catching the natural red highlights in her dark brown hair. Catherine’s ice blue eyes glanced up towards the ticking clock on the wall and she realized she had been painting for over three hours now. How time escaped her.

Catherine stretched her arms and let out a loud yawn, while still holding her paintbrush with her right hand. Catherine exuded exhausted radiance; excitement pouring from her eyes in anticipation of the new baby, and the upcoming Christmas festivities. Catherine let out a large smile, showing a mouthful of white, nearly straight teeth. As she lowered her arms from her stretch, one tiny speck of yellow paint dropped onto her bare foot.

“Blast,” remarked Catherine as she looked at the paint on her foot.

Catherine walked to the sink and grabbed the worn, red checkered dishrag. She attempted to bend over to clean off her foot, but lost her balance and nearly tumbled forward; the weight of her belly pulling her thin body towards the floor. Catherine grabbed a wooden kitchen chair and slowly lowered herself onto the pink and green floral seat cushion. With great effort, she lifted her swollen leg onto the other and scrubbed the now drying paint off of her foot. Catherine sat for a moment on her chair; she felt relieved to be off of her swollen feet.

After a moment, Catherine rose from the chair and walked over to the oven, dutifully checking on the fresh ham she was making for tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner. Satisfied with the ham’s progress, she closed the oven again, set her faded yellow egg timer for ninety minutes, and walked back to the window.

Catherine peered out into the distance and surveyed the valley beyond the house. Her eyes seemed to wander off, becoming glassy and distant; seeing something in her mind that we could not. A memory played in her mind like a movie that we were not privy to attend the showing.

*****


The farm lay nestled deep in the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, far from what most modern people would deem civilization. The land was well hidden; tucked away from the busy highways. Privacy was well maintained by the natural geography of the land; lying in the shadow of the mountains. To the far west, at the border of the manor lay Croft Lake. To the south and east, trees as far as the eye could see. Set in the midst of Cavegat Forest, the entrance to Fox Hollow was well guarded by the majesty of nature.

There are two ways into Fox Hollow. By train, followed by a five mile hike, or by driving up Cavegat Pass. The Pass had a reputation. In a word: treacherous. Cavegat Pass is a daunting stretch of road along the Newland corridor. There is nothing but wilderness on both sides of the road for seventeen secluded miles. The way is winding, steep, and made of dirt and gravel. For roughly three miles, you are driving on a narrow road, pinched between the mountain side and an iron guard rail that had seen more winters than Skole County would like to admit.

Jack Morrow had recently received the land as an early inheritance from his father Angus. Old Gus had grown tired of caring for the land, and decided to finally give in to his wife Moira’s pleas to travel. Whenever Gus and Moira weren’t on holiday abroad, they stayed in the guest house on the northwestern corner of the property that overlooked the orchard.

Jack gladly took the manor house and all one hundred and twenty seven acres of land, as well as the huge responsibility of caring for the animals. In all, there were seven horses, nine cows, countless hens and chickens, a herd of sheep, and one seriously obese pot belly pig that Liam affectionately named Ziggy. Add that onto his load of caring for his wife, their four sons with another baby on the way, and two hyper dogs, and you can definitely say Jack had taken on a bit more than he could chew. Fortunately, Jack had help.

Jack took great pride in receiving the estate from his parents. The Morrow family had owned the land for over five generations now. It wasn’t until his first month on the job as Mr. Do It All Myself that he realized just how much responsibility he took on. Thankfully his sister Bridgette and her husband Frank had agreed to help out. They inhabited the guest suite on the second floor, while their son Shane slept in the room next door with Tommy and Blake

Catherine loved living at Fox Hollow, for the most part. It reminded her of her childhood summers vacationing in upstate New York, long before her father had accepted the curator position at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Arts. She enjoyed the calm that the farm provided. She had felt safe here, at first. Jack took great care to make certain that Catherine had a calm pregnancy; free of stress and worry. This was a daunting task, as Catherine was prone to bouts of extreme worrying and borderline paranoia. Even more a complex task was getting their four sons to let her rest during the pregnancy. Her condition was considered high risk; added stress could be devastating. Today Catherine was quite relaxed. Today was a good day.

Privately, Catherine wished Jack had inherited a property in a warmer climate. Though she loved the farm, she greatly disliked the cold that came with Skole County winters. Catherine succumbed to extreme bouts of loathing when snow decided to fall. On warmer days, Catherine enjoyed painting outside. Her choices of subjects were seemingly endless. Whether it be the lush mountainside covered in trees and laurels, the tranquil valley where the cows lazily chewed their grass, or the winding trails that stretched deep into the thick forest, where she and Jack would ride the horses, and see just how fast they could gallop.

In the spring, Catherine especially enjoyed walking to Croft Lake, on the far northwest corner of the property. She had always been drawn to the picturesque lake. The surface was as smooth as a mirror, not a ripple in sight. Overhead, Mt. Grier loomed, rising above the landscape, providing a breathtaking backdrop. In fairer weather, she would spend hours in the shadow of the mountain, admiring the crystalline reflection of the lake. When the summer sun became too hot, Catherine took refuge in the shade provided by the crab apple trees in the orchard. Often Jack would come out and spend the afternoon with her after a long morning of working in the fields. In the winter months, she was forced to take in the bleak scenery from indoors, and this dampened her spirit significantly.

Catherine’s staring eyes refocused; staring out the kitchen window again. She blinked a few times as she awoke from her momentary day dream. Her warm breath had begun to fog up the ice cold window. With the sleeve of her dress, she wiped the window in a large, circular motion before peering out again. It was snowing. Oh, for crying out loud! White Christmases are so overrated! Snowflakes were beginning to fall from the grey sky. She stared at the snow fluttering to the ground for a few spoiled moments. Then a thought came to her.

The laundry!

When she had put the clothes out this morning, the sun was bright and strangely warm for December. Now the sun hid behind the storm clouds, grey and ominous, leaving her fresh laundry cold and stiff. With a start, Catherine hurried into the next room; the den. She grabbed her pink bathrobe and satin bedroom slippers, put both on, and hurried to the front door. She unlocked the deadbolt, and gave the door a pull. Stuck. She braced her foot firmly on the hardwood floor and pulled again. The massive door opened loudly, the hinges in desperate need of some oil. Catherine stepped out into the frigid December air with a shiver. She jogged as fast as a pregnant woman can jog, around to the back of the house where the laundry was hanging on the line. Jack would be furious if he knew she was outside. If she hurried, she could finish before he returned.

The flurries danced around Catherine, landing in her long mane of thick hair. She couldn’t help but smile. Not even snow could ruin her mood. She began haphazardly pulling clothes off of the line, letting clothes pins fall to the ground. I’ll find them in the spring when this mess thaws.

Catherine grabbed as much as she could carry. When her arms were filled with clothing, she brought them in the house, then came out for more. In the distance, a blue pickup truck could be seen coming up the long road, winding its way up towards the house. At the sight of the truck, Catherine rushed inside with the rest of the laundry, slamming the heavy oak door behind her.

She rushed upstairs to the second floor and discarded the laundry onto the bed she occasionally shared with Jack. She turned around and peered in horror at her reflection in the long mirror on the bedroom door. Catherine yelled in frustration; no shoes, no makeup, hair unkempt. Catherine was not a sneakers and sweats kind of girl. She refused to let anyone see her in a state of disarray, even her own husband.

She kicked off her slippers and the old pink bathrobe as she began searching the room for a pair of flat dress shoes. Even though she looked perfectly acceptable to an outsider’s eye, her fervent pride took over. Catherine began rummaging through her over-crowded closet for an acceptable pair of shoes to put on. She decided on a pair of black mules, attempted to put them on, but was met with resistance. Her foot was too swollen to fit into the shoe.

I’ll just go barefoot. That’s better than these hideous slippers!

Catherine looked at the mirror again, and focused on her face. No make-up, dark curls hanging past her shoulders; Catherine now entered panic mode. Quite the natural beauty, she needed no additional assistance from the large makeup case that sat on the shelf inside the medicine cabinet. Stubbornness being one of Catherine’s strong suits, you could not dissuade her once she put her mind to something.

Catherine rushed to the bathroom and attempted to open the medicine cabinet, where her makeup bag was stored. Locked. Stubbornly, she tried to open it again. Definitely locked. Frustrated that Jack still didn’t trust her enough to leave the medicine cabinet unlocked when he left the house. Catherine squeezed her tiny hands into fists, and pounded them on the white pedestal sink; her thoughts aflame, her rage obvious.

“Damn it, Jack! I’m fine! Really, I am!” Catherine insisted at herself in the mirror. Scrutinizing her angry, scrunched up face in the mirror, Catherine became even more frustrated and stormed out into the hallway. A failing muffler could be heard from outside and Catherine was reminded that she was supposed to be getting ready. Anger washed away from Catherine’s face as quickly as it came. She pulled a hair brush through her thick curls, and pulled them into a sleek twist on the back of her head. She then secured her hair with seven bobby pins.

Catherine was tempted to pick the lock with one of her bobby pins, but decided against it. No need to get him upset. On Jack’s bureau was a small tube of cherry lip balm. She smeared some across her lips, and tosses the tube back on the bureau. Just as she was finishing up, there was a loud series of knocks at the front door. Catherine gave the mirror one last glance, smiled at her reflection, and hurried down the stairs. Before opening the door, Catherine took a deep sigh, winded from rushing around. She smoothed her dress down, and double checked her hair in the hall mirror. As she opened the heavy oak door, disappointment washed over her pretty features.

What the hell are you doing here?

3.

Old Wounds

c

Elkhart, PA

October 7, 1997

Dawn

“Everybody come on! Let’s go…” Jack yelled up the staircase at his kids and nephew. Today it was Jack’s duty to get the kids off to school and run errands in town with Adam. Bridgette had already left for her shift at Grier Mountain Medical Center where she was a nurse in the Emergency Room, and Frank had not returned from his night shift yet. The house was quiet. Too quiet. A suspicious look came across Jack’s face. By now, he should have heard trampling feet, arguing amongst siblings, or at the very least, someone pretending to be sick so that they could escape the long school day.

Jack grabbed five brown bags out of a kitchen drawer and began to write out everyone’s names on each. In each bag, Jack stuffed leftover pizza from last night wrapped in tin foil, a juice box, an apple, and a note of encouragement for each kid. The note is just a light-hearted way for Jack to show his support without expressing emotion; it was something he simply was not good at. He gave another agitated look towards the empty staircase. Just as he was about to go upstairs and drag bodies out of beds and rudely wake everyone up, they came stampeding down the steps. Tommy was down first, and the others sleepily followed, clearly not looking forward to the school day.

“Everybody in the truck… Gus and Grandma aren’t back yet. They are still in Scotland… or is it Stockholm… I don’t remember. Anyway, we’re grabbing breakfast on the way.”

“They are in St. Petersburg….and they’ll be back tonight,” Tristan reminded her father.

“Russia? You’d think I would remember something like that…”

“They’re not in Russia!” Tristan said shaking her head in disbelief. “Florida, Dad. The Sunshine State.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

Rolling her eyes at her father, Tristan grabbed her backpack off the floor of the foyer and headed for the front door. Walking through the broad doorway, she met Adam and Liam on the front porch, deep in conversation. As soon as they seen her, their voices hushed, and their serious faces turned warm. Tristan couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been talking about her. The thought fleeted when the rest of her siblings tried to push their way out the door. All seven bodies crammed in the body of Jack’s silver SUV.

Two hours later, the family had eaten breakfast at Jack’s favorite diner, Monte’s; the restaurant Cole’s father owned, and had arrived in the gravel parking lot of the Steeplechase Academy. A massive building of stone and granite, Steeplechase looked more like a bank or a mansion than a school. With four floors of classrooms, a large school yard, a playground, and a dated gymnasium, Steeplechase appears to be more along the lines of a college than a high school. A prestigious school with a strong academic foundation and flourishing athletic program, the only reason Jack could afford the tuition payments was due to a hearty payout from a life insurance policy. The moment the vehicle pulled into the parking space, Tommy and Shane jumped out of the car to join their buddies Cole and Dominick, who were standing by the entrance of the school. Tristan and Blake followed at a slower, more leisurely pace. Tristan definitely was not in a rush to get to class. Liam, meanwhile headed across the street to Harry’s Hardware Store where he worked part time.

Tristan tugged on Blake’s arm, “Hold on a sec… I have to say goodbye to Dad…” She ran back to her father’s silver truck and kissed her father goodbye, leaving him with a surprised look on his face. She would be the only child to say goodbye to him that morning. Jack remained in the driver’s seat for a moment as he glanced at his eldest son Adam.

“Can we bury this for a few hours?” said Jack referring to their exchange from the previous evening. I need your help with something.” Adam nudged his broad shoulders as he exited the truck and began to walk to the school. Casually, he glanced back at his father and asked, “You coming, or what?” Jack replied, “Yeah, just keep me calm.”

*****

Jack and Adam walked into the marble foyer of the Steeplechase Academy where they were greeted by Melissa Kent, one of Adam’s former classmates. “Hey Ad! What are you doing here?” Melissa asked with a charming smile. Adam followed the young receptionist into the school office, with his father following behind. “I just thought I would pay my good friend Melissa here a visit,” said Adam convincingly. Behind Adam, Jack rolled his eyes like a little school girl. Clearly, his son was not going to offer the back- up he so desperately needed today.

Melissa began to search through her desk drawer for two visitor’s passes. In a feminine and elaborate cursive, she wrote each of their names on the tag, and handed it to each of them. Jack took his name tag, peeled off the back and gently placed it on his blue polo shirt. He then gave his oldest son a glance, as Adam continued to eye up the pretty receptionist.

“Am I to understand that you going to stay here?” asked Jack with an incredulous tone to his voice. “Yeah, I’ll wait for you right here,” Adam said with a smile as he winked at Melissa. Rolling his eyes profusely, Jack exited the office and made his way up to the second floor.

The hallways were eerily empty; class must have already begun. It seemed so strange to be in these hallways. Somehow he remembered the school being much bigger than it was. Strangely enough it looked exactly the same, only much, much smaller. Slowly, he wandered to room 219, where Bernard Kendricks was teaching his first period English class. Jack took a breath before knocking on the heavy classroom door. After a moment, he opened the door and stood in the entryway as he waited for the teacher’s attention. Jack noticed as he entered that all the children in the room stopped chattering and fidgeting and stood perfectly still; all eyes upon him. Even the four children who lived in the Morrow household, Tristan, Tommy, Blake and Shane, didn’t dare move a muscle.

Classroom 219 was filled to the brim with students sitting at their tiny desks, all dressed in matching uniforms of slate grey and scarlet. In the heart of the classroom sat Tristan, surrounded by a troublesome group of boys. In front of Tristan sat Cole, who was busy doodling in a notebook, to Tristan’s left sat Shane, looking surprised to see his uncle in the classroom. On Tristan’s opposite side was Blake, looking bored and sleepy, while in the back sat Tommy with a huge grin on his face, waving at his father. Jack waved back, nonverbally motioning for Tommy to stop acting like a fool. Jack now understood what Shane meant when he said he had the perfect person to copy off of in English class.

Bernard Kendricks was standing at the chalkboard reading Shakespearean verse to his class when he noticed he had a visitor. A lean man with thinning blond hair, there was a handsome quality to his face, but it was overridden by his uptight mannerisms and snooty up-turned nose. When the teacher heard the noise cease in the classroom, he turned around, peering condescendingly over his black wire-rimmed glasses.

Jack had patiently waited for him to stop talking, crossing his arms across his chest. He glared at the teacher, “A word, please?” Jack stepped back out into the hallway as he waited for the teacher to follow. Stress apparent on his face, it took all the strength in his body to stay calm and even-keeled. It was not simply the assignment that had him on edge. Jack Morrow and Bernard Kendricks have a shaky history, and the two of them go way back. To put it plainly, Jack Morrow would knock Kendricks’ perfect teeth down his throat if he wasn’t afraid of getting arrested on assault charges.

Bernard Kendricks stepped out into the hallway, an agitated expression written all over his face.

“Yes?” he asked, as if he wasn’t the one who initiated this meeting.

“You called…” reminded Jack.

“Ah, yes… The assignment. I continuously encounter problems with your family handing in this particular assignment.”

“Tristan is trying to complete the assignment. I’ve seen it myself.”

“And the others? They do not have a good track record,” explained Kendricks curtly.

“The boys will be handing their assignments in. At least the subject matter is something that they are comfortable with. I have to say, you knew exactly what you were doing…” Jack rebutted, anger clear on his face.

“Must you be so dense? The assignments were divvied out randomly.”

“I find that a little hard to believe. I know you see the resemblance. I know you remember the history. Blake told me some of the other people you assigned. Cole has to write about Maria who passed away when he was a baby? Cory Dennison has to write about his father who is in jail? What good will this do? I was also told that if this assignment isn’t damn near perfect that you’ll fail them.”

“You heard correctly. This is not grammar school. Or PS132… I expect my students to be independent thinkers and solid researchers. If they do not hand in a thorough report, and bring forth a solid oral presentation, they will fail my class. And as I said before, the assignment was given out at random. A little challenge will do them good.”

“You know this is a sensitive subject for my family,” complained Jack.

“It was not directed solely towards your family,” Bernard explained.

“Then why does it seem you are taking great pleasure in holding your students’ misfortune against them?”

Bernard laughed at the man before him. Six feet, five inches of cowardice is what he thought of Jack; the venom that he needed to take him down was on his tongue, but he held it back.

“Hey Kendricks, you’ve got real nerve. You’re the same weasel you were in high school!”

Jack turned on his heel in a huff as he began to storm down the first floor corridor of the Steeplechase School, when Bernard couldn’t help but allow the venom to slip through his lips.

“At least I would have the courage to tell my children the truth! You may have won her then, but look how it all turned out.” Kendricks continued, “If Tristan, Thomas and Blake do not hand in their essays they will get an F on the project. Not only does that mean that Thomas and Blake will be on academic probation, again, but it also means that Tristan will find herself off the honor roll for the first time since she’s started at Steeplechase. She’s a brilliant girl. Don’t allow her record to be sullied because of your pride. It’s your call, do it, don’t do it; the firm fact remains that if that project is not handed in, there will be serious repercussions.”

Jack looked Bernard straight in the eye, “Now that you’ve spelled it out for me, I’ve decided that they will not be handing in the essay after all.”

“Is this how you teach your children responsibility? Or is it simply that you are running away from the truth? I think the school counselor would be interested in hearing about this.”

Jack turned on his heel slowly and focused his eyes on his children’s English teacher and his former high school enemy. Bernard took in his features slowly and felt a quiver move down his back. Jack walked slowly, but with each movement it was apparent that Jack was using every ounce of his strength to keep from losing his cool on the Steeplechase English teacher. Jack didn’t stop walking until he was toe to toe with Bernard, with eight inches of height over Kendricks, Jack was not someone you wanted to start trouble with if you didn’t have to. Bernard was all too familiar with that notion.

“Is that a threat?” asked Jack incredulously.

“No, I am their teacher,” Bernard firmly responded, “If they do not hand it in, I will fail them.”

“Is it possible that Tristan can write an essay on another relative; use another family member such as a grandmother or aunt?” asked Jack sensibly.

“That was not the assignment. Good day to you. I have a class to teach,” Bernard said as he tried to slither away from Jack.

“I will go to the dean and report you. You are meddling, once again. You did the same thing when Adam and Liam were in your class too. And let’s not forget the hell you put my wife through. You’ll get more than a slap on the wrist this time; I assure you. Do not test me,” replied Jack a heated expression clear upon his face.

A sly grin emerged across Bernard Kendricks’ face, “The fact remains that you still have not told your children about their mother.”

Jack, reaching his breaking point of control, took one finger and firmly pressed into the chest of Mr. Kendricks. “That, is none of your business. Your job is to teach my children English, not pry into personal matters! Press the issue, and I’ll have your job this time.”

Bernard puffed out his chest, and bravely stated in a hushed voice “You are the reason she is dead, and you don’t want to explain that to anyone.”

choirbookThe Shadows of Morrow Playlist

Music is a huge part of my writing process. It helps set moods, convey emotions, and gets me in the right mindset to write a particular scene. My music collection is eclectic, and finding music that perfectly matches the mood I am trying to set, helps inspire the words to flow. And flow it certainly did.  This is the playlist that was playing during the last year of intense writing as Shadows of Morrow came to fruition. I separated each chapter by the song that helped set the mood. If some Hollywood producer should come along and aim to make all my dreams come true by turning Shadows of Morrow into a movie, I would fight for this playlist to make it on to the soundrack because it was so instrumental to my writing process. Hope you enjoy!

 

Prelude

 Opus 36 by Dustin O’Halloran

Chapter One

 

Mykonos by Fleet Foxes

Rabbit Song by Boy & Bear

Jolene by Ray LaMontagne

Comes and Goes by Greg Laswell

 

Chapter Two

 

Plasticities by Andrew Bird

Blue Ridge Mountains by Fleet Foxes

 

Chapter Three

 

Black Flies by Ben Howard

Done All Wrong by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

The Captain and the Hourglass by Laura Marling

 

Chapter Four

Ole Diesel by Chuck Ragan

Little Lovin’ by Lissie

Mountains by Radical Face

 

Chapter 5

 

Big Man by Boy & Bear

Ghost Towns by Radical Face

Brandenburg by Beirut

River by Alexandre Desplat

 

Chapter 6

 

Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins by Antonio Vivaldi

Welcome Home by Radical Face

Staralfur by Sigur Ros

 

Chapter 7

 

Seven Devils by Florence and the Machine

Beat the Devil’s Tattoo by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Dustbowl Dance by Mumford and Sons

 

Chapter 8

 

Carol of the Bells by George Winston

Flume by Bon Iver

The Stars and the Trees by The Lighthouse and the Whaler

Old Stone by Laura Marling

 

Chapter 9

 

Black Eyes by Radical Face

Hang Me Up to Dry by Cold War Kids

Give Me Love by Ed Sheeran

Nothing Between Us by Dustin O’Halloran

 

Chapter 10

 

We Move Lightly by Dustin O’Halloran

An Ending, A Beginning by Dustin O’Halloran

Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree by James Vincent McMorrow

 

Chapter 11

 

Down the Burning Ropes by James Vincent McMorrow

Diamonds by Ben Howard

Hearing Damage by Thom Yorke

 

Chapter 12

 

Gracious by Ben Howard

Saint John by Cold War Kids

 

Chapter 13

 

Daysleeper by Dear in the Headlights

 

Chapter 14

 

When I’m Alone by Lissie

Horses of the Sun by Bat for Lashes

For Broken Ears by Chuck Ragan

 

Chapter 15

 

I Followed Fires by Matthew and the Atlas

Leave Me Here by Hem

Hopeless Wanderer by Mumford and Sons

Heavy In Your Arms by Florence and the Machine

 

Chapter 16

 

This is Why We Fight by The Decemberists

Elephant Gun by Beirut

Lake Michigan by Rogue Wave

 

Chapter 17

 

Fall At Your Feet by Boy & Bear

Mexican Mavis by Boy & Bear

A Pound of Flesh by Radical Face

St. Peter’s Gate by Matt Walters

 

Chapter 18

 

Northern Star by Hole

The Beast by Laura Marling

Hardest of Hearts by Florence and the Machine

Look What You’ve Done to Me by Iko

 

Chapter 19

 

North by Phoenix

Hymn for Her by Anchor and Braille

Always Gold by Radical Face

Night After Night by Laura Marling

 

Chapter 20

 

Devil’s Spoke by Laura Marling

A Creature I Don’t Know by Laura Marling

Winter Song by Sara Barielles and Ingrid Michaelson

 

Chapter 21

 

Home by Gabrielle Aplin

 

Epilogue

 

What is Unknown by Dustin O’Halloran

 

Elkhart Radio 104.9’s JJ Penn’s Interview with Tristan Morrow of Shadows of Morrow

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Rather than just posting ordinary character profiles, I am going to do something a bit different. It gives me a chance to stretch my creative muscles and allows you, the reader, to learn more about the characters and life in Elkhart in general. This will be a weekly feature. Every Thursday, I will feature a new character being interviewed by the obnoxious but energetic radio host JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9.

JJ: Hey Folks! This is JJ Penn with Elkhart Radio 104.9 and we are on location in Fox Hollow with the feisty protagonist of the mystery novel Shadows of Morrow, Tristan Morrow. We’re going to see if she’s willing to answer some of our burning questions.

JJ- Tristan! How’s it going?

Tristan: Who are you and how did you get in here?

JJ- I’m JJ Penn with Elkhart Radio 104.9 and we are live on the air!

Tristan: You’ve got to be kidding me.

JJ- I’m definitely not, so how are you doing today?

Tristan: Pretty good. Just trying to finish up this assignment before Kendricks fails me.

JJ: You’re a smart girl, I’m sure you’ll pull it off.

Tristan: You don’t know my English teacher.

An interruption from the background jars the microphone as a group of boys stampede in the room.

Tommy: Tristan! Aren’t you done yet?

Blake: Come on! I want my bedroom back!

Shane (looking at JJ): Who the hell are you?! (Shane glances at his cousins Tommy and Blake) Who is that?!

JJ: (Clears throat) I’m JJ Penn from Elkhart Radio 104.9, and you might be?

Shane: Err… Shane Fitzpatrick. Tristan’s cousin.

The three boys eye JJ and Tristan suspiciously.

Tommy: We’ll be back later…

JJ returns his focus to Tristan, as he readjusts the microphone on the table.

JJ- Brothers?

Tristan- The dark haired boys are… the loud ginger is my cousin.

JJ- So Tristan, readers want to know what makes you tick. Would you mind answering a few questions?

Tristan- Sure, I guess so. I really need to get back to this assignment though.

JJ- Great. Okay. First up, what is your full name?

Tristan- Tristan Elizabeth Morrow

JJ- See? That was pretty painless. Are you the youngest in your family?

Tristan- Yes the youngest of six kids in this house… and the only girl.

JJ- Does that annoy you? Being surrounded by brothers?

Tristan- We’re pretty close, actually. Yeah, they get on my nerves, but it would be lonely without them… and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly the lace and frills kind of girl…

JJ- What are three of your biggest downfalls?

I’m stubborn…. I’ve got a temper… and I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

JJ- One of them, huh? What’s it like living up here in No Man’s Land?

Tristan- No man’s land? This is Morrow land. It’s nice and quiet. Just how I like it. I’m surprised you drove all the way up here just to ask me some questions.

JJ- Cavegat Pass is no joke, that is for sure. Okay, let’s dig a little deeper. What do you want to do after high school?

Tristan- Go to college. I’d like to be a veterinarian.

JJ- Very nice, okay next question. What are three of your biggest pet peeves?

Tristan- Hmm…. Not having enough personal space. Unannounced visitors. Secrets.

JJ- You don’t like secrets?

Tristan- No. I want to know the whole truth… not just what you think I can handle. I’m a big girl.

JJ- Name three of your biggest dreams that you hope to accomplish.

Tristan- I don’t have dreams. I have goals that I will achieve. I plan to graduate from Steeplechase a year early with a GPA of 3.8 or better. I plan to attend Bloomsburg University then Bucknell. Then I’d like to open a practice in Elkhart.

JJ- Would you offer your Dad a discount to care for his animals?

Tristan- Our animals, you mean? And I would treat them free of charge.

JJ- That’s very generous of you. You must really like animals.

Tristan- It’s something that I am passionate about.

JJ- Okay, next- Name one of your biggest fears?

Tristan- I don’t know what I’d do if something were to ever happen to one of my family members… That haunts my dreams at night.

JJ- Okay. Last question. Do you know what the author, A.C. Haury has in store for you?

Tristan- That girl’s got secrets and she’s not telling me anything!

JJ- Thanks for your time today Tristan. Okay folks, that’s all for today. Next time, we will be sitting down with Tristan’s father Jack Morrow to see what makes him tick. From what I hear in town, he’s not the kind of guy you want to get on the wrong side of. Hopefully I don’t piss him off! Til next time. JJ Out!

Q&A with A.C. Haury on Shadows of Morrow

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What inspired you to write your first book?

I have always been a writer, since I was a young child so the book was always inside of me, somewhere. I came up with the idea of Shadows of Morrow over nine years ago, but I was working on other projects. This year I decided to get serious and finally pen the novel that was in my head. The book has evolved greatly in the years since I first came up with a character profile for Jack and Tristan Morrow.

How did you come up with the title?

I played with several different working titles, and finally, in last weeks of editing, I chose Shadows of Morrow. Morrow is the family that the novel focuses on, and their shadows are the lies and the pain that have shrouded the family for decades. The Shadows of Morrow are as much a part of the story as the characters themselves.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Absolutely. The most important thing in life is family. Cherish and protect your loved ones, be careful who you trust, and never underestimate the strength of a woman.

Is your story realistic?

I believe this is a very realistic fiction mystery novel. I have been told by many readers that the characters are very lifelike and the story is believable. I take pride knowing that my readers care deeply for the characters I’ve created and feel as if they know them personally. There is no greater compliment, in my opinion.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No. The events in Shadows of Morrow are complete fiction.

What books have most influenced your life most?

Wow. Where should I start? Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jennifer McMahon’s Promise Not to Tell, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Edgar Allen Poe’s complete catalogue of works, and more. There are so many to choose from.

What book are you reading now?

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Definitely! Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia is outstanding. I highly recommend her work.

What are your current projects?
I am working on a novella called Harbinger House and the follow up to Shadows of Morrow, The O’Mara Vanishment.

Do you see writing as a career?

Absolutely. It is my passion. My love. Writing is what makes me happy. What better career is there than one that makes you feel complete?

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

No. I am pleased with how Shadows of Morrow turned out and I cannot wait for readers to enjoy my work.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

My grandmother loved to read, and she cultivated my love of literature at a very young age. Saturday afternoons, when the cartoons were over and before our movie nights began, she would encourage me to write short stories. The imagination can take you so much further than any remote control ever could.

Who designed the covers?

I designed them myself on my computer. I obtained the cover photograph from fotolia/andreiuc88, tweaked the fonts and coloring, ensured the measurements were accurate, and sent it off for production. I am very pleased with how it turned out.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Editing! My joy is writing and editing is my least favorite part of the process. A necessary evil, though.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Yes. Believe in yourself. Do not dull your words for fear that others will be shocked or misunderstand your meaning. Allow your passion to paint the page with beautiful and meaningful words. Don’t try to fit in. Be yourself and stand out. That is what indie writing is all about. The power of self-expression.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I hope you enjoy my debut novel Shadows of Morrow! Please feel free to drop me a line on facebook at A.C. Haury