This beautifully horrific novel is set in an asylum for the criminally insane, the dirty secret of small-town New England where “the dark was greedier…than the city, more over bearing, fattening itself on every unguarded inch of mud and bark and stone.” You’ll find plenty more quotes from The Safe in my review, because Daniel Barnett weaves poetry through the darkness at every turn. Eloquent language is the only brightness at Harbrook Hill and the contrast makes the asylum seem even more bleak and tragic, suspense lurking in every chapter. The building is an ancient, stinking, live thing, an anteroom described as the passageway between the skin and the meat. Even the air around Harbrook Hill is menacing: “The morning wind had claws.”
We’re introduced to this forbidding place as its new resident, Walter Hosler, arrives. He’s a huge, black, silent bear of a man. People shrink from his presence and the memory of his crime–a crime that everyone knows well, because the murder happened right there in their small town. One person asks Walter what he did with his wife’s head. That night, half of Harbrook Hill burns to the ground, at least one patient succumbing to the fire, and somehow Walter is involved. Shortly after, he beats the crap out of a guard and winds up with his own teeth jutting out of his lip for the offense. Yet, he stays silent.
It’s hard to feel sorry for such a man to rot out the rest of his days in a psychotic prison…until you get to know him. And like him. Barnett accomplishes this through flashbacks from Walter’s memory; summer sunshine and carnival cheer flash into view, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive, threatening atmosphere of the first couple chapters. Walter recalls an adolescent “date” at a county fair with his late wife, Alva: “Boys had on sweat for shirts; girls wore two-piece swimsuits under their clothes, as if expecting a lake to well up from the ground and demand a fast strip. Young children darted and kicked soccer balls and played tireless games of tag, while everyone else went about slow and dazed, moving to the tune of the cicada’s drone in a dance called the summer shuffle.” What follows is one of the most realistic, tender love scenes I’ve read in years—a complete surprise in the middle of a horror story!
But don’t forget, this is a horror story and not at all for the faint of heart. Barnett’s gore is as shocking as his romance, but not for novelty or brevity. There’s plenty of it and it can be gruesome indeed. We do find out what happened to Walter’s poor wife, why he’s called Safe-Man, and why he’s being haunted. The man/monster that is haunting him—tormenting him with “suicides” in every cell surrounding Walter’s—is a unique creation of nightmare, phobia and creature-legend. Barnett describes the thing just enough to form a concrete image, yet leaves enough to the imagination to raise hackles in the dark. The thing is terrifying and unstoppable; you know he will get to Walter before the book is through and you know it will be violent.
However, this author’s violence can be sensual as well. He describes a car crash as, “like climax, an eruption. The shudder of metal, ripples in steel, mimics the body before orgasm.” Pain becomes divine, when, “sparks erupted in the dark, dozens of them, stars going nova across the nightscape. His body was a cathedral of pain, and the pain was wonderful, terrible.” And, no surprise to me by the time I reached the last few pages, this story has a wonderful ending, full of peace and hope. You may not believe that while you’re in the depths of it—deep, dark depths—but trust me, every bit of this book is worth the read.
Well, I’m a little late to the starting line for a March 23rd Theme Reveal for the A to Z Blogfest Challenge. I only just read about this a few minutes ago, though, and it sounds super fun. So I’m going to announce my theme anyway!
I will be writing in the young adult thriller genre. Letters and daily posts will follow the life of seventeen-year-old April Turner, who hates the fact that she is named after a month. April Fools Day is always the worst day of her year and from the start, 2015 seems like no exception. She would hope for her luck to improve, but hope can hurt worse than April Fools jokes. Her day starts off with “A” for audience…at midnight, while she’s still asleep. Things happen quickly from there, with “B” for bang! You get the idea, and I don’t want to spoil any surprises.
If you’ve been following my other narratives, The Tramp (paranormal mystery) and Catchpenny (coming of age, romance), you will recognize the setting for this A to Z story: Shirley County. This is my fictional small town in the Appalachian mountains. Characters and timelines will overlap in all three works.
This will be my first try at flash fiction, or micro fiction, and I’ll be keeping each post to under 300 words. They will be in serial, but each installment should also stand up as a tiny story in it’s own right. I’ve already started and I have to say, this is a tough assignment. I must be a masochist deep down, but I think I’m up to the challenge. It can only make me a better writer!
I stepped off the school bus, my brain still foggy and my eyes still sleepy. But when I saw the janitor re-painting my locker again, my early morning funk was slapped right off my face. Someone must have used spray paint that time, or maybe a permanent marker—not so easily cleaned as lipstick or a simple splatter of oozing garbage. My eyes scanned the lockers on either side of mine, all faded and chipped orange paint, while mine was a bright beacon of fresh lacquer.
I wondered what graffiti Henry had seen that morning on his 5 a.m. arrival to campus. Maybe just a word: “slut.” Maybe something more creative, like the enormous penis, complete with pubic hair and a little squirt coming from the tip that had been drawn on my locker door a few weeks ago. Luckily, most sharpie-wielding dipshits at my high school weren’t so clever. Clever was remembered better.
It looked like Henry was almost finished covering whatever new allusion to my reputation had been left for me to find. I didn’t need to guess whether or not anyone else saw the graffiti before it had been painted over—darting eyes and stifled giggles nearby told me they had. Thankful that I already had the book I needed, I changed direction, and headed for my first period class instead of my locker.
How did people even get into the school at night?
I walked to class, keeping my gaze focused straight ahead and my face expressionless.
Who had I newly pissed off—and how? Whose boyfriend had been caught with his eyes glued to my ass as I passed? Or, maybe a jealous underclassman brat hadn’t developed quite as well as I had yet? I had been the first girl to grow breasts in grade school, years ago, and it hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice, no matter how baggy the shirt I wore was. Those babies just kept growing over the years, while the rest of me stretched out tall and lean. Most guys can’t help but stare, and most girls hate me for it.
But I don’t wear baggy shirts anymore. I pushed my shoulders back and straightened my spine, the shock and embarrassment of morning graffiti already wearing off. It never took long to remember who I was, and shrug off the ridicule of who people thought I was. Who they needed me to be. I readjusted my backpack and fluffed my hair. Screw them.
A pair of eyes locked onto mine. Tristan Jameson, Andrew Jackson’s star quarterback, was walking down the hallway in my direction, staring at me. He was holding the strap of his backpack over one shoulder, the other hand in the pocket of his jeans, strolling slowly with a half-smile playing on his lips.
“Hi,” he said in a low voice as he passed, so close we almost bumped shoulders.
“Hi.” I glanced back. He was looking back at me.
“Oh, sorry.” I stopped short just before slamming into the oncoming student traffic. Several girls were walking together like a wall of bodies, chatting and laughing. I shot my elbows in front of me for protection, and accidentally toppled the books from one of the girl’s hands.
“Why don’t you look where you’re going?” She stooped down to gather her things, tugging the hem of her miniskirt down and muttering under her breath.
“Here. Sorry.” She snatched the book I held out for her and pushed past me with a scowl, running to catch up with the herd.
“Why don’t you get a backpack?” I mumbled, watching her bustle away in the direction Tristan had been headed. He was already gone.
I sat on my favorite table in the outdoor courtyard, my feet propped on the back of a conjoined concrete bench. The yard was all brick and concrete, with a lone tree springing up from the center, a square space open to the sky where four school buildings met. The tables were mostly empty, with only a few guys loitering by the doors to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was where the bulk of the student body preferred to eat.
I prefer solitude. I leaned back on my hands and closed my eyes, knowing that extending my tan was hopeless. I let the late morning sun warm my shoulders and face, soaking it in with greed. It was the last of the summer heat, the days already shortening and the shadows lengthening into autumn.
A burst of laughter erupted nearby as a group of girls swarmed around one of the empty tables, flinging their purses and book bags on top, and my moment of peace vanished. I opened up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the pages blue after letting my closed eyes bake in the sun. I had been slogging through the book for days, and I thought once again about seeing the movie before I finished. I hate that seeing a movie changes the way a character looks in my mind, but I detest how much a movie stinks after I’ve already read the book. I thumbed a few pages forward to see where the chapter ended, not really in the mood for reading, but always more comfortable to have a book in hand at lunchtime.
I gasped. He was standing just behind me, his head cocked to one side, looking over my shoulder at the Tolstoy.
“Hi, I’m Tristan.”
He was squinting into the sun, and it was hard to tell if he was smiling or frowning.
“Yeah, I know who you are.”
He shaded his eyes and laughed.
Didn’t everyone know who he was? He was on the billboard in front of the football field, for god’s sake, his arm cocked back to throw a winning pass. Go Bobcatts!
“What are you reading?” His voice was soft and curious, and he squinted to read the pages I held open in my lap.
“Uh…” I stammered. The sun shone through his light irises like glass, shocking against his dark hair. His black polo shirt was gathered loosely around one hip, the hand in his pocket pushing it up casually over the waistband of his jeans. A slice of flesh was made visible. He stood in perfect contrapposto, a bookbag slung over his shoulder like Michelangelo’s David holding the slingshot. I closed my book and tossed it onto the table, pretending not to notice how his jeans hung, low and delicious on slender hips. “Just something for English Lit.”
“Man, that’s a fat book. We never have to read stuff like that in my class.”
“Aren’t you a senior, too?”
“Yeah. What English class are you in?”
“AP,” I shrugged.
“AP. What’s that stand for?”
He furrowed his brow.
“Based on college reading lists.” I held up my ‘fat’ book in illustration. “You take a test at the end and get college credits, depending on how well you do.”
I could tell he was surprised I had a brain. Most guys were. I wasn’t sure what to say next, so I held his gaze, challenging him to ask me more about books.
“How can you read out here? It’s so bright.”
Because I’d rather read a book than sit alone with no one talking to me. “I heard that people with light eyes have a harder time adjusting to bright light.”
He stepped closer to me, shifting his weight and putting his back to the sunlight. The color of his eyes reminded me of Halls Mentho-Lyptus cough drops after I’d sucked on one for a while and the zing got too strong to keep it in my mouth—icy blue and transparent.
“I don’t want to bother you or anything,” he said, dropping his voice lower, since we were face to face then. He smelled like soap and clean laundry, with something gritty underneath. Something undeniably male.
“No, I—” I cleared my throat. He was even better looking up close. “I’m not busy.”
He glanced back over his shoulder and the group of girls who had been watching suddenly picked up their conversation again, all of them talking at once and fumbling with their lunches. I was waiting with as much anticipation as they had been—why on earth was he talking to me?
Less than a month away from The Tramp’s official publication, and it’s finally all coming together. And not a moment too soon…whew!
The first big milestone was receiving my printed proofs in the mail, and that was just as exciting a moment as every other author has always said it would be. My husband commented that seeing the word “PROOF” written in the back matter of my first book was like seeing the proof that the last year-and-a-half was real.
The cover itself was such an accomplishment, because in order to finish that I had to complete so many other things. The evidence is right there in plain sight—so satisfying: the finished, edited manuscript; the front cover design, after many versions and corrections; the spine, which needed a final page count, and LayerCake Productions’ existence and logo; the back cover, including the synopsis (so difficult to write), my painted portrait, the train drawing that I had spent hours on and thought I’d never use, and of course the barcode and ISBN.
A mere two days after receiving the proofs, I was in New York for my first interview, with the ReW & WhO? Show at Gerard Kouwenhoven’s Branded Saloon. I can’t explain how nervous I was going into it, but the minute I sat down and started talking, it all flowed pretty naturally—which makes sense, since I’ve been living and breathing The Tramp for so long. Also, ReW made me comfortable immediately and Gerard made me feel at home.
You just can’t ever thank your friends enough at times like these. This is my happy face…
Not only is the book finished, but Her Last Boyfriend is finishing up the soundtrack at the same time. We got to listen to a couple live acoustic versions of songs from the album, and they sounded so awesome I nearly cried!
The best part about doing a show like this is all the amazing people you meet. See the Marilyn Monroe on the keyboard back there? Her name is Fawn, find her HERE.
See the green light that Gerard (at the mic) is wearing on his chest? Another wonderful individual we met that night that provided us all with his Friendship Lights, Jack Giambanco.
And of course, there’s no way any of this would’ve even begun without my other half, Bill Wathen…
The musical soundtrack isn’t just great alternative rock, but also a concept album that traces the story from beginning to end. The lyrics and instrumentation were created specifically for certain characters and scenes from the book.
For example, click HERE to listen to a sample from “Girls & Wishes,” and then read an excerpt from The Tramp, the scene that inspired the song:
Amanda scouted the path earlier by herself, before the daylight faded, to make sure the ritual went off without a hitch after midnight. The Witching Hour. She had heard her mom and dad arguing about some shack in the mountains where kids—including Sam Castle—went to smoke pot. After hearing them mention the famous Blue Spring, she knew that shack must be close to Lindsay’s house and quickly cooked up a scheme for a nighttime adventure.
“How much farther is the spring?” Gracie whined.
“Here’s where the path goes down around the bluff and then the spring’s right over there.” Lindsay shone her flashlight down a steep path through some sparse trees. “Be careful guys, it’s steep and kind of slippery.”
Amanda peered over the edge of the bluff in the opposite direction and saw the shack, but she decided to keep that knowledge to herself.
“It’s smaller than I imagined it, from the reading Ms. Collins gave us,” Gracie said when they finally reached their watery destination. Amanda knew she was attempting to calm her nerves by making light of their errand. There was nothing small or inconsequential about the Blue Spring.
Amanda glanced beyond the tallest pines overhead, at the glowing orb dancing in and out of billowy clouds. “Good, the moon is full tonight,” she remarked with satisfaction. “That will make our spells even more powerful, ladies.”
“Can’t we call them ‘wishes,’ please? It sounds so much less evil.”
“Gracie, there is nothing evil about working with the natural forces of our universe,” said Amanda. “Come on, it’s just a lark.”
Lindsay crouched down by the water. “It’s kind of glowing, you guys.”
“No, the spring,” Gracie pointed out in a quavering voice.
“Whatever, nervous ninny.” Amanda squatted down by a boulder to pull their occult items out of her backpack, placing each one on the rock with care.
“Isn’t that cool?” Lindsay grew up near the queer body of water and had played in the surrounding woods with her two older brothers all her life, so she didn’t seem nervous in the slightest. “There’s some kind of bioluminescence that happens in the algae. Or maybe it’s the bugs that eat the algae, I can’t remember.”
“It’s haunted, that’s why it’s like that.”
“What? Gracie, don’t be silly.”
“No, I’m serious. My mom said this is where the Indians met right before they were forced to walk the Trail of Tears.”
“Your mom is full of it,” Lindsay chuckled.
“I bet a full moon makes the spring glow even brighter.” Amanda handed the others each a candle taper, a photo print-out of the new foreign exchange student Antonio, and an index card with the moon chant she had found on her Wicca website. “We read this by the light of the moon.”
Gracie tried to hand the index card back. “It’s too dark, I can’t see it.”
“Hold on a minute.” Amanda pulled a lighter out of her pocket and lit each of their candles in turn. “We need fire to bind the incantation.”
“The wish,” insisted Gracie.
“Abundant Mother, moon so bright,” Amanda began, and the other girls followed along with her, reading their cards. “Hear my plea upon this night. Your fertile power lend this spell,” she shot Gracie a warning look for substituting ‘wish’ for ‘spell’ and finished, “Make it potent, strong, and well.”
Each of the girls stated their plea for what the new school year should bring them, while lighting the picture of Antonio and letting it burn as far as they dared, before tossing the blazing paper into the spring. Each was extinguished with a loud hiss. Amanda held onto hers the longest and finally threw her wish into the spring. She watched the blue water glow brighter around the flame before the fire went out, and added, “With this wandering soul, the tramp Antonio di Brigo, let arrive also our dreams.”
A synopsis, excerpts from the book, and detailed author info follow my review.
R.E.birth is a story that will keep you guessing and keep you reading, from the opening scene to the final act. The first paragraphs introduce us to a dying man, mortally wounded by a long dagger to the belly. Believing the end is near, he collapses in the rain and loses consciousness. When he comes to, his wounds attended and his pain numbed, he finds he has near complete amnesia. Although he seems safe inside a strange house, with two very strange women—their speech is odd, their clothes are odd, and a vaguely ominous presence lurks amongst them—he quickly learns that safety is a relative term and his life is about to change forever.
Of course, he doesn’t remember anything about his life before the stabbing, so everything he learns is new. That’s my favorite part of this book; the narrator is learning who he is, just as we are. He does remember tiny snippets of the moment before he collapsed, but mostly he’s a blank. He doesn’t even remember his own name, and finally his new companions assign him one: Rain, because he was found dying in the rain and was saved. He questions everything, even his own motives and his very personality. As we move through the story, his actions reveal his character bit by bit. Since Everson writes in first person, present tense, we experience each new revelation together with Rain. It’s easy to like him, too; he’s a pretty nice, very attractive guy who instinctively knows how to kick serious butt, as it turns out. The person underneath the amnesia exhibits valor and violence in equal measure, though, along with questionable ethics and slippery morals at times. His memory block is still intact at the end of this book, but we get some enticing bread crumbs leading to what he will find out about his past as the series develops.
The mechanism by which Rain discovers himself anew is a unique take on time travel. After a brooding, mysterious ambiance during the first chapter or so, while Rain is still recovering from the dagger wound and trying to figure out what the heck is happening, the first puzzle is solved rather abruptly. The two woman explain that their house is trapped in a cycle of continuous, random time travel in month-long increments, as a sort of vengeful punishment by another relative. Just go with it and suspend disbelief, because the story isn’t how this phenomenon is happening (not yet anyway, though I’m sure that will come up in later books). The story is about what happens in such a situation, as unbelievable as it may seem. And think about it—this makes for great adventure. They never know to which era they will be transported next, who or what they will met there, and how they will survive until the next forced time change. Rain was picked up in the middle of a lush forest during the Dark Ages, next they are whisked far into the future to an enormous city of skyscrapers and elevated trains, and then they find themselves in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic desert.
I’m waiting for them to meet some neanderthals or ancient aliens or even some primordial ooze. The possibilities are endless and a month in each time is just long enough for Rain to get into trouble, but then be carried away to a new, completely different world. Considering the scope of human experience since the dawn of man is but a drop in the bucket of Planet Earth’s lifetime, a randomly time-traveling house could be cataclysmic. The author doesn’t disappoint in the final pages of R.E.birth either, and we’re left with the promise of more profound, transcendental investigation of the subject matter in book two.
And, guess what! Book two, R.E.solve, came out this weekend, check it out HERE.
Mortally wounded, a man embraces death on the cold and lonely forest floor. But fate intervenes, as Ami and her mother, Agatha, are brought into phase with his time. He is saved, however his memory is gone and he is vulnerable. With the fear that his attacker might return to finish what was started, he plunges into the unknown and follows his saviors through a time vortex to help in their struggles rather than face his own anxieties.
Traveling through time with Ami and Agatha provides a new life to fill the void within him. He is able to define himself and finds his drive to help others more than anticipated. The events and conflicts in time begin an internal battle against violent impulses. His personal discoveries, the new sensations and the exploration of time become the Rain Experience.
As I get to the window I look in to see the two thugs that seem to wander the city on Denis’s command stirring up trouble.
The smaller one begins knocking baskets off of their stands and stomping on her merchandise. I become infuriated. Swiftly walking toward the door I am forced to jump into a roll to my left as a table comes flying through Emma’s newly installed window. I hear Emma cry.
“Stop! Stop! I’ll pay! Just don’t destroy anything else!” she pleads for their mercy.
“It’s triple now. Denis’s angry that you haven’t paid him any of your protectin’ money,” the muscular thug hollers at her.
As I stand back up and move to enter the door, glass fragments crack under my feet and there is no element of surprise now. Swinging the door open hard I clear my throat to get their attention.
“You have one chance to leave,” I issue a stern command as I see Emma beginning to swipe a credits card. The big one turns around and glares at me from under his hat.
“Or what? You gonna teach us a lesson?” His rather deep voice gives the impression he’s attempting to intimidate me.
“I just might.” I see Emma still continuing to issue her transaction on the PayPad. “Emma, don’t give it to them.”
“But…” she looks up at me with tears.
“No ‘buts’ Emma. I’ll take care of this,” I step in one more foot length.
About The Author
Thomas W. Everson is father to Bubby, a rambunctious boy despite having autism and other health issues, and has been married to Brandi for over a decade. He loves to spend time with his family by indulging in fictional worlds through books, shows, movies, and games.
He was born in Seattle. He moved around to a couple different states, but ultimately came back to live and work in Washington. He loves his job working in an aircraft component repair facility, but he hopes that one day his ideas will take him on to become a great writer.
Connect with the author on Facebook HERE, and Twitter HERE.
“Come on, I’ll show you how to find rubies in the creek!”
The evergreen forest closed in around John and Candy. They stepped over loose earth and around algae-covered boulders, still slippery from a recent rain. John spotted a patch of bright orange mushrooms sprouting around the base of an enormous pine tree.
“Which alien planet sent those as spies?” he wondered aloud.
Delighted, Candy decided that they must find clues to lead them to the mushroom spaceship. No rubies were discovered that day, but John did find a bright red ladybug that he swore bit his nose, despite Candy’s protestations that “fairies” don’t bite. Candy found blue flowers with yellow sunny centers and John helped her lace them into her braids. She threaded her fingers with his when it was time to head back.
“Candy,” said a deep, quiet voice.
John jumped and Candy yelped.
“Oh my gosh. You scared me, Uncle Brian,” she said, grabbing her chest. John turned to see a tall thin man in faded jeans and a worn plaid flannel shirt: cuffs unbuttoned and gaping wide at his wrists. He was walking up the road towards them, just outside the little woodland. “Where’d you come from?”
“Candace, you need to come with me. Right now.” He was gruff and stony-eyed.
“In the truck?” Candy peered around him at an old blue pick-up. Its door was ajar. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re late, time to go home.” He held out his hand and flicked his fingers, impatient and distracted. “Just come with me. Now.”
“Jeez. Come on, John,” said Candy, tugging her new best friend’s hand.
Uncle Brian barked, “No. Just you. Let’s go—now.”
“But…” Candy let go of John, pink blooming across her face. “His grandma lives right next door to Grandma Catherine. He’s visitin’ from the city—”
“We’re not going to Grandma Catherine’s. Your mom wants me to bring you home.” Her uncle clenched his jaw and gestured towards the truck again.
The pick-up’s engine ticked out tense seconds. John strained his vision and could just see the limp figure of another kid asleep on the bench inside.
Candy followed his line of sight and perked up. “Andy’s with you?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine, sweetheart,” Uncle Brian said, his tone softening and his smile returning.
The smile looked forced to John.
“Okay. Well…bye.” Candy dove in for a hug. She squeezed his waist, leaned back and shrugged, “You just follow the trail around either way. It leads you right back to your grandma’s house. Or mine. It just circles the woods. Sorry.” She turned to walk with her uncle, without taking his hand.
“I can find it,” John said, not entirely certain that he could. But the unfamiliar trail was not what was setting his nerves on edge. That kid in the car looked more passed out than asleep; and John didn’t like the way Candy’s uncle smiled with his mouth but not his eyes. “Bye.”
John watched her walk away, her cut-off jean shorts still damp and muddy in the rump, and her coppery braids twisting down her back, trailing blue flowers with every step. She got into the cab next to her “sleeping” cousin—pinned between him and Uncle Brian—and waved from behind a filthy window. Her uncle slammed his door, avoiding John’s gaze. Then, the ratty truck spun its wheels hard, and they peeled away off the grassy shoulder, tires squealing on the asphalt. John gasped and trotted over to the road to see them racing away in a cloud of dust.
He sprinted home, his feet pounding the packed earth and his lungs choking on their exit.
Buy The Tramp in ebook format, by clicking HERE. Buy the paperback HERE.
Make sure to follow this blog for more excerpts and updates on The Tramp. I’ll be posting artwork that is featured in The Tramp, as well as music links, playlists, and YouTube links to videos I used in my research.
Find samples of The Tramp’s original music soundtrack by clicking HERE. It’s more than just great music—it’s a concept album that follows the story from beginning to end, with lyrics and instrumentation specifically designed for the characters. The full album will be released in April.