Hollow Stare: An Excerpt

Last night Ronny was the worst I’d ever seen. I mean he could be bad, a couple punches here and there but it usually was over in less than a minute. And in the last year he’d only been really rough with Mom three times, four? I’d got a couple black eyes but only after getting in trouble or yelling that he couldn’t tell me what to do.

But he’d never gone after all of us like that.

When the sounds woke me around midnight, I knew right away what they were. I’d heard crashes like that ever since Mom’d married Ronny. I used to cover my ears, waiting for it to be over so I could steal into the hall bathroom to soak a washcloth with cold water. Then when Mom came in and closed the door behind her, I could dab at her face or shoulder.

“A call at my office? Why can’t you do your fucking job?” Ronny’s voice came through the door.

“She’s just confused.”

“No, she’s a drugged-out whore!”

The office school called Ronny about the rally? Shit. Why did I trip at school?

“Shut-up, asshole!

“Don’t tell me what to do, you fucking bitch.”

I heard muffled rumbling and a slam. Mom’s cry. “Fuck you!”

I started to cover my ears but then a thump and another slam jolted me out of bed. I peeked through the door crack at the darkened hallway. At the end something was shaking.

I knew what it was. But still headed toward it. Cocked a futile ear. It didn’t stop.

My insides turned to water. Swallowing hard, I clutched my gut and inched forward.

Kyle was already in the hallway by the time I got to the master bedroom. With his door right across from theirs, it must have been even louder to him. His eyes were Night of the Living Dead dark circles begging me to do something.

“Bitch!” Another crash.

I pushed Kyle behind me and knocked on their door.

Another thud. Followed by a muffled cry. Mom’s voice.

Knocked louder.

The door stayed closed.

I glanced back at my baby brother who was clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked even smaller than he had a moment before. I blinked, wondering if fourteen-year old’s could shrink.

Work brain.

Setting my jaw, I pounded. Still no response. Kicked at the door. Kyle came up by my side and joined me. We hammered so hard I was sure we’d soon splinter wood, a desperate rhythm that no composer would ever use.

Another whimper came from inside.

I jiggled the knob. Locked. Yanked harder. Pushed Kyle out of the way and ran for the door.

And fell into Ronnie’s gut.

He only stared for a moment before grabbing me by the hair. As he swung me in an arc, he screeched, “Go the fuck to bed!”

My back hit the wall and I fell to my knees.

A screaming Kyle leapt at Ronnie and wrapped both arms and legs around his torso like one of those sad monkeys in science experiments. “Leave-them- alone!” he said through clenched teeth.

Ronny backed up smashing Kyle into the wall. My baby brother unclenched his jaw and released his grip.

When he slid down to the floor, I thought Ronnie would stop for sure. He never went after Kyle. It was like Kyle had this special glow to him, heavenly angel or superstar spotlight or something. And he did stop for a sec. Kind of stared confused at his son.

Then his eyes went red. I knew what was next and started to crawl forward.

But was too late.

By the time I reached Kyle, Ronnie had already lifted him over his head and tossed him back toward his room. Kyle bounced off the bed, a weird circus act. He landed on the floor with a sickening crunch.  And did not move.

“Kyle?” I croaked pushing past Ronnie toward the crumpled heap that was my brother.

His arm was twisted in a weird position and his breath came in short gasps. It sounded like his lungs had shriveled and now could barely hold air. I reached out and pet his hair.

“Joy?”

“Yeah.”

“It hurts.”

I swallowed a big lump in my throat. “Sorry.”

“Look at what you did,” Ronnie growled. “Should have left well enough alone.” He kneeled and reached out, but Kyle shrunk from his grasp.

Mom appeared, loose bathrobe belt dragging on the ground. I didn’t dare look at her face. “Baby?”

“Mom.” Kyle stretched his good hand toward her.

She squeezed it then ran her fingers over his forearm. He cried out. “It’s broken,” she said in a distant voice. “But it’ll be okay. We’ll get you to the doctor.”

Only now did I look at her. Disheveled hair. Split lip. Right eye almost swollen shut. She couldn’t go out like that.

“Get your keys, Ronnie. We gotta go to the hospital.” The words didn’t seem to come from my mouth but from some stranger wearing my face as a mask.

While Mom wrapped Kyle’s shoulders in the baby blanket he’d had since he was little, I ran to my room and threw on some jeans and a tee.

Cradling his arm, Mom led my sobbing little brother toward the car and onto the velvet back seat. Then she just stood there, hands extended.

“I’ll take care of him. I got this, okay?” I gently unclenched Mom’s hand from under Kyle’s arm and got in beside him.

Mom’s good eye was a hollow socket as she closed the door.

Ronny said nothing but turned the ignition and pulled out of the garage slower than coagulating blood.

During the silent ride to the hospital, Kyle kept his eyes closed against the pain while I stared at the little trucks and cars on the faded blankie. They dipped and bobbed with each hollow in the road as if trying to drive off the blanket. I watched one and imagined that it escaped the fabric and rolled out the window.

Toward the twinkling lights of some distant and empty street.  

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net 

Dark Shame: A Novel Excerpt

Part of me is tearing up right now; this is so hard to write I want to press delete, but because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and so many have gone through what I have, I decided that it was time to come out about what happened to me. Maybe sometime my story will make a difference for someone.

I was 17 and hitchhiking home from a rock concert when it happened. I know I shouldn’t have hitchhiked, but my teen-aged self argued, You can’t miss the greatest rock concert of the year! You saved for months to get that ticket. Bad things don’t happen to nice girls. Anyhow, you are safe because your are with a boy. 

But what power does a skinny sixteen-year-old have against two grown men with gun? The boy was robbed and left in a gutter while I was taken to a shack and…and… and… did everything I could to keep them from killing me.

I survived but for years I have woken up screaming from open-eyed nightmares believing there is someone next to my bed, hands inching toward my throat. When I’m in public and see men that look like my attackers, my heart starts pounding, it’s hard to breath, and I begin to shake uncontrollably searching furtively for escape. Being alone at night is the worst. When I hear the rustling of what is probably some animal in the yard, I imagine an intruder and search behind shower curtains, beneath beds, inside doors to every closet, bedroom and corner of the garage. Some nights these panic attacks have me crying uncontrollably wishing I could crack open my skull and empty the horrific images branded in memory.

I have gotten counseling many times, but for the last two years I  have been trying to work through these feelings in a novel.  Even though this project brings up a great deal of pain, I am compelled to continue. For some reason I keep going. I don’t know why since I’m crying half the time I work on it.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.

“So here I was, a kid certain that someday the light of hippie sun would shine on all our faces as we danced barefoot in meadows. I had so much faith in this dream that I thought if you can really talk to a person, get them face to face, and bare the beauty of your child soul you could soften even the hardest of hearts.

Naïve, I know. But when you’re a kid you see the world through your own eyes. And when you’re high to boot everything is tinged with this soft mist, like an out of focus camera and you trust people, thinking they just want to give you a ride.

Yeah, I never knew people were truly ugly until the night I peered into the tunnel of darkness.

You know, I really thought the face there was just a mask. One I could melt away with my Kodachrome soul.

But I was wrong. And by the time I figured it out, it was too late.”

 

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About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Lonely Sheets: A Poem

Lonely sheets

Crisp and cold

And clean

No longer invite embrace.

Hygienic  scents

Of detergent

Fabric softener

And bleach

Have displaced

All remembrance

Of musk.

 

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

Mirror Mask: A Poem

In the mirror

Rubber wounds

Of torn flesh

And distorted features

Form a mask

I don.

Its warped reflection

Trapping  me

Inside the hot

Fetid

Breath

Of suffocating plastic.

 

(photo by David Stroup)

 

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Soap Bubble Dreams: A Poem

Dreams drift away

Like festival soap bubbles

I watch these globular rainbows

On multi-hued spheres

In wonder

Before reaching out to capture

Their  luminous glory.

But they burst into

Nothing

And escape my futile grasp.

 

(Photo by David Stroup)

 

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Poised Knife: A Poem

I hold the knife poised over my wrist.
Knowing all the while that it is only temporary insanity that has
Taken hold of me.
I brush my skin with the cool blade
Riding this lava flow of self-deceit.
I press in deeper.

Then pause Gaping at indentations in skin.

It pricks And a pearl of red pools near A pulsing vein While I wonder How much will seep
Before an end to pain.


Travel Tunnel: A Poem

Driving into darkness

The white lines blurring as

Artificial lights

In smooth stone ceilings

Glare overhead.

I grip the wheel tighter

Squinting into the opaque

Fighting against the irrational

Fear of

Something otherworldly lying

In wait at

The exit of this

Travel Tunnel.

 

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

Brambles: A Poem

I have been on a path to find my way back to myself
But I’m so lost that I can’t tell if this bramble covered ground
Is a road, a garden, or a kingdom.
I reach for shears to cut through the thorny vines
But they have long since rusted
And crumble in my hands.
I try wading through the woody sharpness
And look down to find my feet torn and bleeding.
I remember Jesus imploring me on that night
So long ago.
With unspoken words that touched and terrified me.
And decide that this is not a path
But a snare.
I entrap myself in again and again.

Sublime Love: A Poem

I had a sublime love once,

A love of salt and sea and skin

A love where every song was him

And poetry filled my heart.

 

I had a sublime lover once

One who gently brushed my cheek

With the back of his hand

And whose lips quivered

As he taught me who I could be.

 

I had a sublime marriage once,

One that had me dancing from room to room

And singing off key

To babes as beautiful as life.

 

I had a sublime friend once,

Who stood at my shoulder

With words of comfort

As we created home, and art, and family.

 

I had a sublime eternity once

With a statue in transcendent embrace

Watching over graves with the etched words,

Love was not meant to be just fine.

Love was meant to be one thing,

Sublime.

 

But all  that was long ago.

 

(Photo of The Kiss by Auguste Rodin)

 

Laurie Woodward is the author of  several novels including Forest Secrets, and the fantasy series The Artania ChroniclesShe also cowrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes her novels on the Central Coast of California.

Escape: A Trip Outward and Inward

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of maintaining two careers. Both which I love. Both which take extreme energy and focus. Both I want to excel in.

Being a teacher is my calling. When I’m with my students I am filled with joy and love. They give my life  purpose and make me feel like I’m making a difference in this world. But…they also wear me out. Being “on” hour after hour while trying to meet the needs of thirty-plus individuals can be exhausting.  I often come home after work and collapse into a nap.

Writing is my sustenance. When I am one with the words, everything else just fades away. Responsibilities, fretting, and the horrors of the world all go into soft focus. But finding enough time and space to write can be a challenge.

That’s why I’m taking a trip outward and inward. I’m going to the remote Carrizo Plain, the largest native grassland in California. With diverse wildlife, and a high concentration of threatened and endangered species, a trip here should inspire.

Let the journey begin!

(Photo by David Stroup)

A teacher, Laurie Woodward is the author of  several novels including Forest Secrets, and the fantasy series The Artania ChroniclesShe also co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes her novels on the Central Coast of California.