I got to sit down with five of the seven cousins and read them one of my stories! Thankful for my sisters who love and support me!
Rob and Dee leaned over Lauren’s arm their noses almost touching the scales. Dee huffed a lock of hair out of her face. Rob hummed to himself. Rachel watched them, arms wrapped around her shoulders and feet kicking as she tried to sit in a chair and stay out of the way. They were almost out of time. Their parents would be up in just a few hours.
“So am I gonna turn into a white scaly monster who scares little kids?” Lauren asked.
Dee and Rob shared a glance.
Sam sucked the end of his pen and Carmichael leaned against the wall beside him.
“Dee?” Lauren said.
“I need to look at the monster, get some saliva samples.”
“Sam?” Carmichael said.
Sam jumped on it, rushing out the door with Dee on his tail.
“Thoughts?” Carmichael barked.
Rob scratched his beard. “I’m not sure.”
“Not sure. Rob. Monsters under a bed that don’t belong there. Agents, the best of agents, bitten. What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure.”
Carmichael groaned running his hands through his hair.
“What?” Rachel said.
“I’m causing problems,” Lauren said, her eyes sparkling with delight.
“You always cause problems,” Rachel said. Her voice cracked and she rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. She wouldn’t cry. Not now.
“Don’t worry Rach,” Lauren said. “I’ll be fine. Rob and Dee will know what to do. You’ll see. Hey. Maybe I’ll be a superhero.”
Carmichael’s phone went off. He glanced down at the text.
“Well, at least we’re getting somewhere.”
“What?” Rachel and Lauren asked in unison.
“The boy y’all brought back is Peter Noles. He doesn’t seem to know anything about the monsters under the bed.”
“Who questioned him?”
“Should be reliable then,” Lauren said with a shudder remembering her interview with the large man. He could scare a kid into telling him anything.
“Peter wants to come see how you’re doing,” Carmichael said. “You mind?”
Lauren started to answer, but a strange, haunting siren poured out her mouth. Carmichael shot off the wall and Rachel yelped in surprise. Lauren snapped her mouth shut and the siren stopped. Her brown eyes widened. She tried again. The siren filled the room waking a latent sense of danger and terror. It rose and fell in a series of undulating loops.
“That’s creepy,” Rachel said as Lauren closed her mouth.
“It sounds like an old air raid siren,” Carmichael said.
“Or like a tornadoes coming.”
Lauren started to open her mouth, changed her mind, and nodded instead.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Rob said shaking his head.
Dee and Sam burst in the door.
“It’s a mutant,” Sam said.
Everyone rounded on them.
“Someone crossed a bed monster with a sewer troll, and a hint of—”
“An imitation monster,” Rachel said.
“Well, that explains why we didn’t recognize it.”
Lauren stared down at her arm. A thousand questions tumbled through her mind but she couldn’t voice a single one of them.
“What does it mean?” Rachel said. Lauren nodded vigorously. “We have to be home,” Rachel checked her watch, “in an hour.”
“Sam, take care of their parents.”
Sam darted out of the room huffing and puffing. Rachel stepped to Lauren’s side taking her unbitten hand.
“It’s quite a puzzle,” Rob said. “It used the bed monster to set the trap, the sewer troll to deliver the bite and give the monster more aggression, and imitation DNA to poison our Agent here.”
“There’s more,” Dee said. Worry clouded her face. Rachel shared a glance with Lauren. When adults worried it wasn’t a good sign. “We tested the saliva on all the monsters brought back. They weren’t just bred to have the strengths of each of their kind. They were bred to attack Rachel and Lauren. Their DNA has some very strange codes embedded in it. I even tested it. I put them each in a cell alone. When a picture came up of Peter Noles, his sisters, or even Sam, the cross-breeds did nothing. When either of you two came up,” she pointed to Lauren and Rachel, “the monsters went crazy.
Lauren tightened her grip on Rachel’s hand.
“They were designed to attack us?” Rachel said her mouth falling open.
“Looks that way,” Dee said.
“Who would do—” Rachel gasped. “It’s her.”
Lauren shook her head, waved her hand, and held up three fingers.
Everyone looked at her. She held up three fingers. Nothing. She sighed, pulled out her tablet and started typing with one finger as fast as she could.
Rachel read for her as she typed. “Lauren said there were three houses. Three houses with monsters under the bed that we were supposed to take out tonight. Did they have the same monsters?”
“We don’t know yet,” Carmichael said. “I had to send team Beta and Charlie to check them out. We should find out pretty soon.”
“What about Lauren?” asked Rachel.
“Victor’s working on an antidote. He has the saliva and seemed confident he can fix this.”
“If he can’t?” Rachel said.
“Don’t worry. We’ll fix it,” Carmichael said.
“She said we want to help.”
“You want to help?” Carmichael said. “Then go debrief with Casey. He needs to know everything that happened. We’ll plant some memories in your parents mind making them think you’re with your grandparents. That’ll give us some time. Let’s get to work people.”
It seems like I’ve had a plethora of good books come my way recently. Here are some short thoughts on all of them.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Audio Book)
This is one of those books that might actually be better as an audio book. Why? Because Neil Gaiman reads it himself. He does all the voices. He reads it as he meant it to be read. It’s amazing, funny, touching, sad, and crazy. The story is about a very normal guy, Richard, who gets sucked into London Below. There he meets strange people, goes on an adventure, and would be perfectly played by Martin Freeman. 🙂 I can’t say enough about how well written this story is. Reading/Listening to it was pure delight. The character growth was well done and the characters themselves are both brutal, unique, sweet, scary, and captivating. It is just the right amount of normal life mixed with just the right amount of fantasy. I listened to this story while I cleaned the house, which often caused me to stand in the middle of the living room wondering what else I could clean so I didn’t have to stop listening to the story. There were also two parts, which I don’t want to spoil, where I literally yelled at Richard. All good signs of a well-done tale. This is one of those books which is so well done, it’s hard to put into words.
The Marines of Autumn by James Brady
This is a historical fiction account of the Chosin Reservoir campaign and retreat. James Brady fought in the Korean War. He brought his personal experiences into the pages of this novel giving it more of a sense of reality than fiction. I was delighted to find a book about the Korean War just because there are not that many out there. We tend to go from WWII straight into Vietnam and skip the Korean War all together. My great-uncle fought in the Korean War, so I have personal reasons for wanting to learn more about it. I gleaned two things from this novel. One, my fairy tale takes place during a harsh winter. With the help of this novel, I hope to make the weather and the reactions to it more realistic. Two, I was introduced to Chesty Puller. I plan to do more reading about him. He was quiet amazing. This would be a great book for high school students to read when they study the Korean War.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I’ve been meaning to read one of Zafon’s novels for some time now. I’ve read several positive reviews about his books over the last year or so. The story is about a young man who falls in love with a book only to find out someone is attempting to destroy every book the author wrote. He is led on a merry chase as he tries to track down the author and keep his last copy of the book safe. Soon his own life begins to mirror the life of the author leading him face to face with the author’s arch nemeses. The wordsmithing is excellent. The setting is picturesque. The characters are well done. I did find myself just slightly disappointed towards the end of the book when I started figuring out what was going on because the mirroring effect made the story a little too predictable. But, I’m glad I read it. It was beautifully written.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
So, my sister is probably still laughing at me because I meant to get Gone Girl and accidentally picked up Dark Places and didn’t realize it until about half way through the book. Don’t ask. Dark Places is about a girl whose entire family was murdered when she was seven, supposedly by her brother. Now in her mid-twenties, she is out of money, out of charity, and unable to hide from her past. With the help of a club who thinks her brother is innocent, she begins to uncover the horrible events of the night her family was murdered. This book kept me glued from beginning to end. It was very rough, violent, and showed the sinfulness of man. It didn’t just show man’s violent sinfulness, but how sin reverberates through generations of people including the victims it leaves behind. I was a little disappointed by the actually murderer, but not horribly disappointed. The growth of the main character was well done. She moved from completely selfish, to almost self-less by the end of the story. I enjoyed the unique writing style. The chapters in the protagonist point of view were written in first person, and the flash backs were written in third person, giving the reader insight into the thoughts of several different characters. A very creepy, but enjoyable read. Now, I need to go find Gone Girl.
Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters
I can’t seem to get enough of Band of Brothers. I’ve watched the show about three times now, read the book, and am now searching Half-Price bookstore for other books about Easy Company. This quick and easy to read book is the memoirs of Easy Company’s commander, Dick Winters. He takes you from the point where he joined the army to Easy Company reunions. It’s fascinating to read about how and why he did what he did. He is a very humble man trying to explain his own greatness. It struck me how much attention Winters gave to the fact that he was the man he was because of his mother. Ladies! If you need to be encouraged that the “hand which rocks the cradle rules the world”, look at men like Major Winters. He talks about his sense of discipline, self-control, leadership, and his love for his men. This would be a great book for any history buff, but also for young men to read. Winters would be a great role model for boys along the lines of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
The Secret in Defiance by Bousum and Bennington
This is one of those indie books which is actually really great. It is set in the 1950’s and told mostly from the point of view of a 13-year-old boy who is shouldering the responsibilities of his family after his dad leaves home. It is a bit fantastical with a haunted house, a possessed tree, and an old witch, but it is more about this boy becoming a man and doing what needs to be done. It’s a book about courage and friendship. I really enjoyed the story, and couldn’t stop reading as everything came to a head at the end of the book. It was paced very well. Despite the main characters being mostly children, it’s not a children’s book. The issues Bousum and Bennington deal with are very adult issues. It is not a long read, but it has some memorable characters, an exciting and chilling plot, and will leave you cheering for the hero to the end!
So, as you can tell, I’ve been very busy with books lately! It’s always nice when you get a rash of good ones. Keep Reading!
I don’t normally dedicate my articles to specific people, but this is for Emily Shiflit. Emily and I were having a discussion about music when we first met each other. She mentioned that some of the songs I brought up seemed short on hope. She wanted to know why I liked songs that seemed hopeless. She shared some of the songs she liked. The lyrics were great, but the music grated on me. Why? What is it that I look for in music? Is the music I enjoy hopeless? If so, why do I like it? Is it all subjective? Lots of thoughts and too big of a discussion to fit in a Facebook message or text, hence a blog post.
Self-examination can be very revealing, encouraging, saddening, or just interesting. I’m normally a happy and upbeat person. I often see the silver-lining, so to speak. But I love things that are sad, gray, and melancholy. I like the rain that falls from the silver-lined cloud. I also feel, or have an angry passionate streak, which tends to come out in my love of heavy metal and Irish Punk music. Then, there’s the nostalgia side of me that loves Christmas and folk music. Like most of you, I’m an odd person.
But what is it about contemporary Christian music that generally just grates on me? Why is it that I turn on the Christian radio station and instantly start gagging? Why is my ‘Lord’s Day’ playlist so short?
The focus is only on the silver-lining. The music, for much of contemporary Christian songs, is…mambsy pambsy. This was a term which me and my siblings invented, or stole from a book, which communicates someone being weak in a refusal-to-get-their-hands-dirty-and-get-the-work-done sort of way. It’s weak, wimpy, and almost a waste of space. This is how I view the music of most contemporary Christian artists. I’m not talking about the lyrics, just the notes they use to communicate truth. Music should match the truth being communicated. Their music is soft, inoffensive, mild, and annoying. There is no brokenness communicated in the music. There is little longing, little anger, little sadness, and thus little truth, little hope, and little salvation. The smaller you make God, the smaller you make salvation. The smaller you make the offense, the smaller you make grace.
When I was a child, I listened to a lot of Christian music. When I was a child, happy music was my fare. But when the rain came, when my faith was tested, when the trials of life crowded in around me, and the depth of my own depravity came to light, I found praise songs and most contemporary Christian music lacked depth. They were fine for the spring of life when all is green and bright, but they quickly burned away when the hot summer sun glared down upon them full of damnation and driving away every cool shadow. The Christ in those songs couldn’t have endured the cross. The Christ in those songs didn’t love me anymore than my boyfriend did. The praise didn’t include standing on the very cusp of the pit of hell and being rescued when you deserved to die. They didn’t include sin. They didn’t include my worthlessness. They were happy and thus weak. They failed to understand that to have a silver-lining you must have a very dark storm cloud blocking the sun.
Seeing the silver-lining should never deny the thunder cloud hiding the sun.
It is truth that makes the silver-lining shine. Remember, hope is a light in the midst of great darkness. That means you have to pass through that darkness to reach your hope. So, why do I love Mumford and Sons even though the hope in their songs is often hidden behind sad, and somewhat angry folk music? Because that’s real life. Hope is often hidden deep beneath darkness.
Why do I love Metallica’s Master of Puppets? Because we are enslaved to our sin and it is damning. That comes through in the song in a far more real and visceral way than most contemporary Christian music.
The Bible teaches us that Christ did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. Christ didn’t come to make us perfect and give us perfect lives. He came to make us like Him. Not only should the lyrics communicate this struggle, this war, this perpetual battle between flesh and spirit, but so should the music. Our modern ‘worship’ is all about feeling good, but go back and listen to some old hymns. Listen to the sober tone to their music. Listen to how the music swells and grows, drops and dives, as the sinfulness of our own hearts is exposed by the light of God’s grace.
I don’t hold to separating out Christian and Secular, since God gifts both saint and sinner with artistic talent. I think lessons and truths (small truth, big Truth only comes from the word of God) can be gleaned from both. I also know that our emotional reaction to art has much to do with what we bring to the table. A song that speaks to you may seem insignificant to me, while a song that makes me weep may annoy you. Isn’t art an amazing thing? Isn’t it amazing that God saw fit to include it in our lives?
Emily, I hope this helps explain why I love the songs I love. Thanks for sparking the conversation that lead to this article! And please, don’t take this as me thinking my songs are better than anyone else’s favorite songs, this is more an exploration of self. I’m sure there are plenty of counter arguments to what I have said in justifying my own song choice. One of the interesting parts about getting older is how I have returned to the roots of contemporary Christian music with a renewed love of old hymns. The truth set to sober, serious, heavy, music feeds my soul when I sink down in the pit. They help me more easily remember the truths of scripture and sometimes memorize scripture themselves. For me, it’s a returning after years of avoiding “Christian” music almost all together. God is always good. He does not give us only sunny days, but provides us a song in the rain.
For everything, in time, gets lost: the lives of peoples now remote, the tantalizing yet ultimately vanished and largely unknowable lives of virtually all of the Greeks and Romans and Ottomans and Malays and Goths and Bengals and Sudanese who ever lived, the peoples of Ur and Kush, the lives of the Hittites and Philistines that will never be known, the lives of people more recent than that, the African slaves and the slave traders, the Boers and the Belgians, those how were slaughtered and those who died in bed, the Polish counts and the Jewish shopkeepers, the blond hair and eyebrows and small white teeth that someone once loved or desired of this or that boy or girl or man or woman who was one of the five million (or six or seven) Ukrainians staved to death by Stalin, and indeed the intangible things beyond the hair and teeth and brows, the smiles and frustrations and laughter and terror and loves and hunger of every one of those millions of Ukrainians, just as the hair of a Jewish girl or boy or man or woman that someone once loved, and the teeth and the brows , the smiles and frustrations and laughter and terror of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust are now lost, or will soon be lost, because no number of books, however great, could ever document them all, even if they were to be written, which they won’t and can’t be; all that will be lost, too, their pretty legs and their deafness and the vigorous way they strode off a train with a pile of schoolbooks once, the secret family rituals and the recipes for cakes and stews and golaki, the goodness and wickedness, the saviors and the betrayers, their saving and betraying: most everything will be lost, eventually, as surely as most of what made up the lives of the Egyptians and Incas and Hittites has been lost. But for a little while some of that can be rescued, if only, faced with the vastness of all that there is and all that there ever was, somebody makes the decision to look back, to have one last look, to search for a while in the debris of the past and to see not only what was lost but what there is still to be found.
– The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
(Out of every tongue, tribe, and nation, God has called His people, and so these people are not, in the ultimate way, truly lost. Some of them will be in heaven, praising Christ for all eternity.)
“Once upon a time,” Aunt Abby started.
“Is this a fairy tale, or a western,” Jules asked. She squealed as a giant, Texas sized, grasshopper landed on the quilt.
“It’s a western,” Aunt Abby said watching Bruce and Joshua stalk the grasshopper. “Chase that away from the quilt, please.”
“Are there fairy tale westerns?” Constance asked chewing on the end of her braid while she looked up at the wide-open sky filled with puffy white clouds.
“Of course there are,” Aunt Abby said. “But their stories are darker and you’ll have to wait until you’re older to hear those.”
“Darker?” Ellie said. “Is it night there?”
“Well, sometimes,” Aunt Abby said. “But there’s also lots of bad men, war, suffering, and death.”
“Is there blood?” Joshua asked with a gasp.
Imogene wrinkled her nose.
“Yes, sometimes. That’s why we have to wait till you’re older.
“I’m old,” said Bruce.
“Me too,” said Jules.
“Not old enough, and don’t rush growing up. Now, everyone settle in for a story.”
The seven cousins splayed this way and that on the quilt, closed their eyes, and listened.
Once upon a time, seven cousins, three cowboys and four cowgirls, spent several happy days at Grammie and Grandpa’s little ranch with Clyde the Donkey and Hobbes the golden Labrador. They arrived every October from all over the country just as the pumpkins started turning orange and Texas cooled down. Grammie sent them to play outside and rid themselves of excess energy with the instruction to stay in the field or yard and not leave the property.
Bruce, Joshua, and Jude set about exploring the wide-open field for bugs and the old racecar track they built last fall. Julie searched for wild flowers to give to Grammie. Ellie took Imogene’s hand and ran with her through the tall, dry grass. They giggled as they chased an early autumn monarch. Constance followed the little path down to the pond searching under the willow for signs of fairies and little folk.
“I thought this was a western,” Constance hissed.
“Maybe it’s a fairy tale western,” Ellie said.
“Ohhh,” Bruce said. “It might get scary.”
“It’s not scary, is it Aunt Abby?” Jules said.
“No it’s not,” Aunt Abby said.
“I’m scared,” Joshua said with a grin.
“Me too, ” chimed in Jude.
“I’m not,” said Imogene.
Aunt Abby hushed everyone and continued the story.
Hobbes watched the children from the wide back porch with his ears perked for trouble. Clyde moseyed further out with a swish of his tail. He cocked his ears back to listen to the gales of screaming laughter coming from the happy cousins.
Suddenly out of the grass popped a boy with dark eyes, dark hair, and a dark smile.
“Is he bad?” Jules whispered.
“Wait and see,” Aunt Abby said.
“I bet he’s bad,” Constance said.
Ellie held Imogene’s hand harder. The red-headed child crowded in close to her. Constance looked up from the willow. She hadn’t found any fairies but she had found a perfect rock. Jude growled making Bruce and Joshua look up from the horned lizard they hunted in the tall grass. Hobbes trotted off the porch. He didn’t recognize the boy and decided he better check him out. Clyde tossed his head and decided the same thing. They were on the case.
“Who are you?” Jules asked.
“I’m Jethro Cagen,” the boy said with a small bow.
Jules giggled. “I’m Jules,” she said with a bow back.
The others gathered in around her.
“Are all y’all brothers and sisters?” Jethro said mocking them.
“No,” Bruce said. “We’re cousins.”
“But some of us are brothers and sisters,” Constance said fingering the perfect rock in her pocket.
Hobbes arrived and gave the boy a good sniff.
“Get your dog away from me,” Jethro said. “I don’t like dogs.”
“You don’t like dogs?” Joshua could believe his ears. Who didn’t like dogs?
“That’s rude,” Ellie said. “Hobbes is a good dog.”
Hobbes wagged his tail and licked Ellie and Joshua right across the cheek. Imogene laughed at them and Hobbes licked her too until she squealed.
“That’s gross,” the boy said.
The seven cousins looked at him unsure of why he was so mean.
“Well,” Jules said. “We’re going to go see our Grammie and Grandpa.”
The cousins and Hobbes turned away from the rude little boy.
“Hey, do you want to come play in my yard?” he said.
“Which is your yard?” Jules asked
“We can’t,” whispered Imogene.
“Grammie said stay on her property,” Bruce said.
“That’s my yard,” the boy said.
Across the street, a green yard perfect for picnics rolled up to a two-story house. No itchy grass grew up taller than Jude. No giant bugs jumped on little girls’ shoulders. A bright yellow slide rose up into a pecan where a tree house waited for adventure. Blue swings rocked gently in the cool Texas breeze.
“I have every Hot Wheel ever made up in my tree house and cap guns,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want to come play?”
Bruce, Joshua, and Jude started forward.
“Grammie said to stay here,” Jules said.
“Yeah,” Ellie said.
“I also have a box of dress up clothes. You can play pirates.”
The girls hurried after the boys.
Hobbes barked. All seven cousins stopped. Hobbes barked again.
“Cars and pirates,” the boy said with a smile.
The cousins looked back at the golden dog sitting beside the gray donkey in the itchy field filled with bugs. They looked at the pretty green lawn, bright slide, and tree house. Field or tree house? Field or tree house?
“We have to go home,” Constance said.
“He has cars,” Bruce said.
“Grammie said to stay on her property,” Ellie said moving up beside Constance.
“Yep,” Jude said. He took Imogene’s hand and they moved closer to Ellie and Constance.
Bruce, Jules and Joshua stood between the boy with the tree house filled with cars and their cousins. They gazed at the house, longing to feel the soft green grass, to slide down the slide, and play pirates in the tree house.
Clyde hee-hawed. Hobbes barked.
Bruce glanced at Jules. She sighed.
“We can’t, can we?” Joshua said.
“No, we need to obey Grammie,” Bruce said.
“Yep,” Joshua said.
“Come on, Jules,” Bruce said.
Jules nodded. “We need to obey.”
The cousins linked hands.
“Thanks for inviting us. Maybe we can play later,” Jules said.
Ellie dropped Constance and Imogene’s hands, rushed to the boy, and gave him a big hug.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Thank you,” all the cousins yelled. They tramped through the tall grass back to Hobbes and Clyde leaving Jethro behind.
The dog danced around them barking, licking, and wagging his tail. Clyde followed them back to the house nudging the slower ones in the shoulder with his nose to hurry them along.
“Kids,” Grammie called from the front porch. “Cookies!”
She held out a plate piled high with cookies. The seven cousins shared a glance and then raced to the front porch. Grammie made sure that the cousins with shorter legs still had cookies to eat when they reached her.
“Boy am I glad we didn’t disobey,” Bruce said.
“Yeah, we wouldn’t have gotten cookies,” Ellie said.
Hobbes barked in agreement.
“The end,” Aunt Abby said.
“Aunt Abby was he rude?” Bruce asked sitting up.
“Yes. He wasn’t very nice. You should never encourage someone to disobey what Grammie says.”
“Do we always have to obey Grammie?” Jules asked.
“Yes. Even if there’s a tree house, you should obey Grammie. And you should obey her even if they’re aren’t cookies when you do.”
“What about Grandpa?” Joshua said.
Aunt Abby laughed. “Grandpa even more.”
“Why?” said Imogene.
“Cause he’s scary!” Aunt Abby said making her voice quiver.
All the cousins giggled.
“Scary Grandpa,” they yelled.
Grandpa laughed and laughed as he came out from behind the house.
“Grandpa’s scary!” Imogene said with a grin.