Remember sitting on the front-porch swing with your grandma? She’s got the swing synchronized. Back and forth, over and over… even the squeaks sound like they’re in harmony. Yep, in the swing, just like the World War II generation when they were hooked on swing and dancing to jitterbug music.
I’m in the swing now. On the last day of November I revealed the front cover of my new fantasy novel, Assassins’ Lair. I can’t praise the Wings ePress artist enough. Richard Stroud did my covers for The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin, and they were superb. I’ve heard nothing but raves for those first two covers.
He finished up my fantasy trilogy with a cover that spotlights the heart and soul of the series, the magical sword Larenia’s Shadow. As I wrote earlier, “Larenia’s Shadow not only nullifies magic, it determines an empire’s new, lawful ruler following the death of the old one. Heroes and scoundrels covet it. Many have died quarreling over it. It’s the salvation of an empire and its curse.” I’m including an image of the sword with this post.
With publication of Assassins’ Lair coming up in January, I spent some of this week creating posters for marketing on social media Internet sites. Here are two of my favorites; one’s for Assassins’ Lair and the other’s for the overall trilogy. For larger posters that require a printer and for bookmarks, I’ll use Richard Stroud’s talents.
My short story Christmas Marathon began earlier this week – on Tuesday with The Night I Forgot My Lines. Today marks Day 4, and I’m taking readers of my Facebook Author’s Page to a small mining town in West Virginia on Christmas Eve, a town mourning the deaths of miners just two months earlier. Today’s story is titled God Rest Ye Merry Miners.
For this post, I’m going to include Christmas Card From Heaven, a story that ran Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it.
Frog Franks had walked the country route for more than thirty-five years, since 1919, the year of the great influenza epidemic. Mailbag strapped to his shoulder, he’d placed letters, magazines, advertisement flyers and greeting cards in folks’ mailboxes through all four seasons, sweating under the summer sun, gulping in the perfumery smells of spring flowers, dancing beneath canopies raining autumn leaves, tramping through newly fallen snow, like this day, December 21, 1954.
He’d watched young parents get old and become grandparents. One day moms and dads not much older than teenagers waved to him as they pushed strollers, then those babies in the strollers were racing by in their hotrods. Frog was growing older, but still enjoying his job and the friends – young and old – he’d gained on his timeworn route.
Panting, Frog stopped to catch his breath. Climbing a snowy hill, even one with a negligible incline, was a challenge for a man pushing sixty. He turned and eyed the path left by his boot prints all the way back to the Iuppenlatz’s farmhouse. He’d just delivered six Christmas cards to Avis Iuppenlatz. This was the best time of the year for a letter carrier in spite of snowstorms and bitter temperatures. Frog loved delivering the cards, especially if a mom with a toddler came out to the roadside mailbox and he could hand it to her. Sometimes, she had a gift for him, usually hand-knitted gloves or a scarf. These moms and grandmas had known him since they were young girls.
Frog turned back around and eyeballed the next house about a quarter-mile away, another farmhouse with two chimneys belching smoke into the blue sky. As a kid back in 1895, he’d watched the Mennonite carpenters build the house. He’d been good friends with Larry and Darla Snyder, who moved into the farmhouse in 1896 and raised six kids, five girls and a boy. Frog remembered the day eighteen-year-old Tom Snyder rushed out to the mailbox to see if an expected letter had arrived. It had. The teenager tore it open and gazed at the letter inside. “I’m in!” Tom had shouted before hugging Frog. “Ohio State accepted me.”
Tom had been the first Snyder to graduate from college. Later, when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army Air Corps and flew bombing missions over Germany in ‘Betty Lou’s Buggy,’ a B-17 bomber. Frog wiped away tears as he approached the Snyder farmhouse. Tom never came home. A Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter downed the Flying Fortress on January 4, 1945 as the flak-riddled bomber limped toward England after bombing Hamburg. Betty Lou’s Buggy crashed in liberated France; Tom was buried in France’s Lorraine American Military Cemetery, one of the thousands of white crosses.
Frog glanced at the handful of Christmas cards in his hand, all addressed to Betty Lou Snyder. One had a most unusual postmark: Alencon, France. One errant tear dampened the topmost card in his hand. He glanced at the wet spot, and a thought suddenly popped into his mind: “Walk up to the porch.”
So Frog did. But not before he reached into the mailbox, took out letters and greeting cards Betty Lou wanted mailed, and slipped them into his outgoing pouch.
As Frog climbed the front-porch steps, he remembered that he’d gone to Smithville High School’s graduation ceremony for both Tom and Betty Lou. They were in the same class – Class of 1936, sweethearts in junior high and high school. She worked at the Five-And-Dime in Wooster while he pursued his studies at Ohio State. They married in 1940 – he attended the wedding – and had a son, Timothy, born in March 1941. Frog wondered if Timothy would turn out to be as good an athlete as his father. Tom had been an All-Ohio running back at Smithville High, just not good enough to play college ball at Ohio State – and he turned down a scholarship to Wooster College where he could have played football. He wanted to go to Ohio State. Maybe Timothy would get that Ohio State scholarship.
Frog rang the doorbell.
The door opened partway and a teenage boy – Timothy – fixed curious eyes on Frog. “Mom! The mailman!”
“How did the junior high basketball game go, Timothy?” Frog brushed snow off his U.S. Post Office coat with his free hand.
“We won, sir. Beat Rittman. 36 to 33. I had thirteen points.”
A female hand opened the door fully. “Come in, Frog. Warm up a bit.” Betty Lou, attired in a colorful blue dress speckled with white flowers, motioned him to sit down in the recliner. “I’ll get you hot milk chocolate.”
“Can’t stay long, Betty Lou.” He handed her the cards, including the one with the French address. “Who do you know in France? Somebody sent you a Christmas card. Thought I should hand-deliver it.”
“Balderdash!” she said, accepting the mail from him. “You can spare ten minutes to warm up with some of my hot chocolate.”
“We don’t know anyone in France,” Timothy said, hesitation in his voice. The teenager sat on the couch and added, “Maybe we won some prize. A trip to France?”
We’ll see soon enough,” his mom replied, setting down the mail except for the card from France. “Sit down, Frog. I will not let you leave without tasting my hot chocolate.”
He laughed. “I surrender, Betty Lou.” Frog settled into the comfortable recliner and watched her tear open the envelope, then head into the kitchen.
“How do you think the season’s going to go, Timothy?” Frog leaned forward.
“We’ll be good. Not sure if we can beat Wooster, though.”
“You guys beat them in football. They’re a big school, but this is a down year for–”
Betty Lou screamed, then came an unnerving sound – a plop, as she’d fallen to the floor.
Timothy leaped from the couch and dashed into the kitchen. Frog chased after him.
Betty Lou knelt on the floor, a letter held in one hand, a tarnished card in the other. She held out both, waiting for Frog to take them. She sobbed, her body shaking, her face pale with shock.
Frog willed his hand to stop quivering. He took the letter and Christmas card.
“Read the letter first,” Betty Lou said, her voice subdued.
He did, reading it aloud so Timothy would hear. “My name is Achille Franks. Please excuse my English. I do best I can. I live in countryside outside Alencon in France. During the War, an American bomber crashed on my farmland. American boys all died. Heroes to me. Last week I cleared land for spring garden. Turned over big rock, found this card. It’s addressed to a Mrs. Betty Lou Snyder in Smithville, Ohio. I believe it’s from the bomber and somehow survived the years of rain and snow. A miracle, perhaps?”
Timothy handed his mom a dishcloth and she daubed her face. “Please read the card, my friend,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Let me hear the words again. I need proof, verification.”
The card was soiled with ancient oil, its edges burned, the coloring faded. Yet he could make out not only the image and the print-shop words, but handwritten ones as well. Again, Frog read: “I love you, dearest Betty Lou. I don’t think I’m going to see you again, at least not until we’re together in Heaven. Betty Lou’s Buggy’s on fire, shot up by a Kraut fighter. Waist gunner killed. We’re breaking up. Decided better to write these words than try to fly a doomed aircraft. Won’t last long enough for anyone to parachute out. Love you, darling. More than life itself. Kiss Timothy for me. Tell him I’ll be looking down from Heaven, watching him grow up. My God… is that an angel? I know… the pain won’t last long. Hey, Betty Lou, he says I’m his co-pilot and his flight will soar way beyond anyplace a B-17 can go. And he promises… you’ll get this card, and it will bring joy at Christmas. Love conquers all.”
Timothy knelt beside his mom and wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, Mama, what a wondrous Christmas gift!” He looked upward. “Merry Christmas, dad.”
I’m an author. Two published fantasy novels – The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin. They are the first two books of a trilogy. The third one, Assassins’ Lair, will be released in January. I also have short stories in two anthologies, Boys Will Be Boys and All About the Girls.