Being a teenager is tough enough: trying to fit in, figuring out who you are and want to be, and finding your place in the world. Jasmine Price also has to deal with being alone most of the time because her mom works two jobs to make ends meet. Her dad? Well, he’s been serving in the military so long Jasmine’s afraid she might be forgetting what he looks like.
But things seem to be looking up. They have moved out of the Projects into a better neighborhood; their neighbor Bibi, a grandmotherly figure, provides the companionship and confidante Jasmine needs while her mother’s at work, and Jasmine has a good shot at making the basketball team at her new high school.
That is until she runs afoul of Nevaeh, the team captain, and her crew. The game plan is on: take Jasmine out.
Hard pressed to deal with the escalating attacks and violence against her, Jasmine confides in Bibi who offers a solution to all of her problems: Jackson, a pet chameleon from her native Tanzania. This magical creature speaks and can transform not only his colors, but also his size, and defends, to the death, those he has sworn to protect.
When Jasmine uses the chameleon’s powers, things spiral out of control. She even becomes a police suspect in another teen’s disappearance.
Jasmine learns that by her actions she must choose who she wants to be, and realizes that positive change starts with her. Now she wants to get rid of Jackson, but how?
My Friend Jackson is a unique and riveting story of the physical and emotional impact of bullying, and the consequences of one’s actions and choices to resolve conflicts that every teenager and adult can relate to. A great and compelling story!
See you next time on November 22nd!
August’s from A Cabin in the Woods features a short short by Christopher D. Ochs. Christopher’s foray into writing began with his epic fantasy Pindlebryth of Lenland. Several of his short stories have been published in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Bethlehem Writers Group anthologies and websites. His latest work, If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep , is a collection of bedtime reading to inflict on naughty children.
His current projects include: a YA urban-fantasy/horror novel My Friend Jackson; a short story in Firebringer Press’ last anthology in their Middle of Eternity series; and the next installment of the Pindlebryth saga.
Christopher says, “The following is semi-autobiographical. I leave it to the reader to determine how much of this tale is true.”
I don’t particularly believe in ghosts, though there have been several curious incidents in this house over my lifetime.
Nothing frightening, mind you, nor anything remotely harmful. If anything, the unseen forces-that-be have been nothing but helpful.
The first instance I clearly recall occurred during my junior-high school years. I was raised the classic latchkey kid. Both parents held down two jobs, so yours truly was responsible for closing up the house before heading to classes.
That spring day, I woke up looking out the open window above my headboard at a sky filled with roiling clouds still deciding whether or not they wanted to rain. By the time I finished dressing for school, Mom and Dad had already slogged off to their crack-of-dawn work shifts.
Dashing out of the house, I was halfway through my shortcut across our neighbor’s corn fields, when I heard the rumble of thunder. On its heels came the realization I couldn’t remember if I had closed my bedroom window.
With a grunt of exasperation, I made a U-turn back for home. Sure enough, my second-floor window was wide open. Ready, willing and able to let the impending squall soak my pillow.
I had sprinted halfway up the stairs when I heard a bang, loud as a gunshot, reverberate from my bedroom. Once I summoned the courage to enter my room, my jaw dropped in bewilderment. The old warped double-hung window–which would normally require my full weight to close–was firmly shut, fierce raindrops pelting its glass panes.
Then there was the time years later, when I returned home long after sunset, tired from work and a laundry list of errands. Both my arms were crammed with fully-loaded grocery bags as I fumbled with the lock and shouldered the door open. I wasn’t two steps into the dark and deserted house when all the kitchen lights snapped on.
With the odd sensation of being watched pressing in on me, I proffered a nervous “Thank you very much?”
The lights flickered in response. I could almost hear the house chuckle.
These humorous but unsettling episodes continued, though with less frequency as the years rolled by. Eventually they stopped entirely–or perhaps, they merely escaped my notice–as responsibilities and drudgeries crowded most everything else out of my life. Adding events like the passing of my parents, the transformation of neighbors’ cornfields to townhouses, and other milestones kept my attention firmly planted in the world of the mundane.
That is, until I discovered an old family heirloom–a county map, penned soon after my ancestors and hundreds of other immigrants had formally established my hometown and surrounding boroughs. The yellowed parchment document, complete with an antiquated county seal, depicted Iroquois trails that were already centuries old by the time the colonial-era deeds had been drafted.
The paths snaked along the ridges of the local offshoots of the Appalachian mountain chain, including a few thoroughfares that wended their way through the new and burgeoning county. The map’s legend declared that the indigenous peoples–the Lenni Lenape, Delaware and other members of the Iroquois nation–had “rights in perpetuity to sole and unhindered access to the mineral fields atop and in vicinity of Jasper Mountain, for the purpose of fashioning arrowheads and other baubles likewise; to deliver said freight without impediment, toll or tax along the footpaths documented herein.”
I was overcome by an unsettling sensation that the house was looking over my shoulder, when I learned the map indicated the footpath connecting Jasper Mountain to the Appalachian Trail formed my estate’s western property line.
Barely a week had passed since finding the map, before I found unmistakable signs my unseen helpers had resumed their work. On the other hand, maybe I was simply paying closer attention.
Like the instance when a limb from the locust tree my father had planted close to the house had fallen. Carpenter ants had eaten away at its core, and the massive limb finally snapped under its own weight, coming to rest harmlessly on open lawn nowhere near the tree’s trunk. By all rights, left to gravity and a windless night, that moss-laden battering ram should have crashed straight through my bedroom ceiling.
The latest instance of helpfulness was thankfully far less life-threatening. It was a windy fall day when my dog bolted out of the house to pester the mailman. I gave chase, still in my bum-around-the-house sweatpants. A stray gust banged the door shut behind me.
My heart leapt into my throat once I realized I had left my keys on the kitchen table, and the door was set to lock behind me. With my recalcitrant puppy in tow, I returned to the house, upset with the predicament I expected to find. I could only shake my head and smile at my invisible helpers, come to my rescue once again.
The deadbolt, which could only have been operated with the key in the lock, had somehow extended itself, preventing the door from closing completely.
I suppose some would attribute these events to poltergeists or other denizens of the afterlife. Other might dismiss them as quaint tall tales. As for myself, I prefer to believe the gentle spirits of Nature, who guided the lives and culture of the countless indigenous peoples before me, still favored this locale.
But how to repay their longstanding kindness?
When I got around to replacing the rotting tree that nearly did me in, I found entangled in its roots a cache of pristine jasper arrowheads. Lost or forgotten by some long-dead traveler, their points were still sharp enough to pierce a deer’s heart. Despite my knowing they would command an impressive sum from any number of collectors, something bid me do otherwise.
Finding a secluded grove overlooking Jasper Mountain’s babbling brook, I reburied my discovery.
Back in my kitchen, I mused over my evening tea. Had I had performed a noble deed, or something unquestionably foolish? With a maudlin sigh, I wondered if I might never again be visited by my unseen helpers.
The lights flickered in response.
Christopher D. Ochs is this month featured author. Christopher D. Ochs‘ foray into writing began with his epic fantasy Pindlebryth of Lenland: The Five Artifacts, recommended by US Review of Books. Several of his short stories have been published in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Bethlehem Writers Group anthologies and websites. His latest work is a collection of mirthful macabre short stories, If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.
His current literary projects include: short stories in Firebringer Press’ next entry in their Eternity anthology series, an e-book prequel novella for Pindlebryth of Lenland, a YA speculative fiction novel My Friend Jackson, and of course, the second novel of the Pindlebryth saga.
Chris has too many interests outside of writing for his own good. With previous careers in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and software, and his incessant dabblings as a CGI animator, classical organist, voice talent on radio, DVD and anime conventions, it’s a wonder he can remember to pay the dog and feed his bills. Wait, what?
The Joy of Research – “Research?” The very word sends some people diving for the nearest foxhole, or leaves them with an expression akin to that of having swallowed castor oil.
Not me – I’ve always enjoyed learning new topics. It’s even better as an author, because my research is focused on that which I’m already interested. (An unfortunate side-effect is that my mind is filled with decades of clutter and trivia that cries for attention at inopportune moments!)
Method – For better or worse, here’s my approach to the task of research.
I begin my journey with that miasma of questionable reliability – the internet. Its convenience outweighs its pitfalls, so long as one uses it solely to gain general knowledge and build a list of potential authoritative sources. My usual go-to stepping-stones are Wikipedia followed by Google. At the risk of repeating myself, I only use them to suss out general information and pointers to refine the scope of my search.
My second level involves confirming any suspect information against a trustworthy online encyclopedia (e.g. Britannica) or reliable fact-checking sites (e.g. Snopes, Factcheck, Politifact, etc.)
Once I have a clear vision of topics on which to focus, I head to the library. Yes, Dear Reader, in this electronic world, there is still no substitute for paper. That’s just the Facts of Life. Not everything is available on-line, and that often includes the book you need.
Examples – Over the past two years, I’ve published nineteen short stories in various venues. While most were “speculative fiction,” they nonetheless covered a broad range of topics, characters and backgrounds, locales and eras. As an author, I have a responsibility to inject a reasonable level of verisimilitude into my Tales of the Weird – otherwise the story fails miserably. When said story leads me into an area where I have little experience, I hit the books – with relish!
Allow me to relay two recent experiences that demonstrate my own “joy of research.”
While searching for a description of the environment of a tuberculosis sanitorium, I selected Betty MacDonald’s memoir “The Plague and I.” To get the lowdown on girl bullying, a librarian friend recommended “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman.
In both instances, deadlines and other pressures force me to approach the research in a rush. My original intention was to hastily skim one or two chapters and glean the absolute minimum for a believable story. However, in both instances I ended up devouring the books cover to cover. The narrative of MacDonald’s battle with tuberculosis was so compelling, and the content of Wiseman’s research into the dynamics and psychology of teenage girl bullies was so captivating, that I couldn’t put either of the books down.
I believe my stories were the better for it – if I had hurried through the work, I would have missed much of the minutiae needed to flesh out my own characters, and imbue them with realistic motivations and reactions.
Caution – With all that being said, writers should not use research as an excuse to avoid writing.
During my time in the world of engineering, I often encountered the phrase “the paralysis of analysis.” The same is true in the writing world. An author must resist the temptation to dive down the endless rabbit hole of related topics and “what-if’s.” Otherwise, the writing is never started.
Do your initial block of research, enough to get the draft done. Then polish the draft with refined research, tracking down only those “what-if’s” that the story and characters dictate.
Now get thee to a library!
One storm, eight authors, eight heartwarming stories.More info →