Date Squares Recipe

Date Squares

A date square and a cup of tea is a wonderful treat. This is a recipe that I save for Christmas, but I’m not sure why. My mother served up date squares for family gatherings throughout the year. Perhaps I should bake these more often to get up to my mother’s skill level. Her date squares were the best!

If you are a fan of dates, give this recipe a try. It’s fairly simple and oh so scrumptious.

Date Filling Ingredients and Method

1/2 pound of chopped dates

1/2 cup of cold water

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

Grated rind of 1/2 an orange

2 Tablespoons of orange juice

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cook dates, water, rind and sugar in a small saucepan over moderate hear until thick and smooth. Remove from heat, add fruit juices and mix well. Cool before spreading.

Date Squares Shortbread(base) Ingredients and Method

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar

1 1/2 cups of oatmeal

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl. Rub in butter with tips of fingers or a pastry blender. Add sugar and oatmeal. Mix well. Spread half of the crumbs into the bottom of a buttered 8 x 14″ pan. Pat to smooth. Cover with cooled date filling – spreading evenly. Cover with remaining crumbs. Pat to smooth. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Increase heat to 350 and bake for an additional 5 minutes to lightly brown the top. Cut into squares while hot and allow shortbread to cool in pan before serving.

Enjoy the date squares!

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Christmas Eve in Creekwood

A Marnie Reilly Mysteries Short Story

This short story does not fall into the timeline of Divine Guidance or Torn Veil. It is simply a little diversion for me – a change of pace – while I write Fatal Vow, the third book in the Marnie Reilly Mysteries series.

Christmas Eve in Creekwood

Wild wind wailed and huge, fluffy flakes of snow drifted to the ground outside of a log cabin tucked neatly into a tall stand of pines just off Lake Road in Creekwood, New York. Snow-covered hickory, hemlock, and maple trees swayed with the northerly gusting through the valley, and a granite fieldstone chimney billowed white smoke into the evening air.

A man and woman, dressed in clothes entirely wrong for a cold winter’s night, stood on the veranda peering through the frosty windows. Detective Daniel Gregg, Marnie Reilly, and Detective Tom Keller chatted and laughed as they drank from steaming mugs. A fire danced brightly in the fieldstone fireplace—the large hearth adorned with two snoring Border Collies—both laying on their backs, front paws curled into their white chests. Tiny colored lights gleamed through the pine boughs blanketing the mantle, and a grand and twinkling Christmas tree filled the side windows overlooking the lake. Pine garland draped the hand-hewn beams of the vaulted ceiling, and a pinecone and mistletoe ball hung from the center beam.

Marnie glanced toward the window—one eyebrow raised – head tipped to the side. She narrowed her aquamarine eyes and then turned back to the men when Tom poked her arm playfully. Nodding toward the window, Marnie said something that had Danny and Tom crossing the room. The man and woman drifted away into the shadows.

Tom cupped his hands against the glass and peeked out into the darkness. “Marn, I don’t see anything out there – just snow, Christmas lights, and the porch.”

“You sure you saw someone?” Danny turned away from the window and studied Marnie.

Marnie twisted her mouth to one side and shrugged. “Pretty sure. I don’t know—maybe I just sensed something.”

Tom shivered. “Ah geez! Marn, don’t start with that spooky shit! Not tonight! It’s Christmas Eve!”

Marnie giggled. “Afraid of a little Christmas spirit, Tom?”

“I’ve got all the Christmas spirit I need right here in this hot buttered rum,” he replied, picking up his mug.

They all jumped as an alert squawked on Danny’s phones. The Border Collies quickly sat up, ears at attention. Danny pulled his phone from his back pocket and sighed.

“Well, they’ve just closed the highway. A logging truck lost its load, and the truck following slammed on its brakes—it jackknifed and tipped.” Danny ran a hand through his wavy, light brown hair. His blue eyes focused on the windows.

“Is everyone okay?” Marnie crinkled her forehead with concern.

Tom pulled his phone from his jacket pocket, which was hanging on the coatrack near the front door. He quickly thumbed through his phone. “Yeah. It says the drivers escaped injury—no one else was involved.”

Danny frowned. “Why didn’t your alert go off?” he asked Tom.

Tom glanced up and shrugged. “I’m not as important as you are, Lieutenant.”

Danny rolled his eyes and scoffed. “You should receive the same alerts that I do.”

“I turned my sound off when I was at church. Forgot to turn it back up, that’s all,” Tom replied sheepishly.

Before an argument could ensue, Marnie jumped in to save Tom. “Let’s all be thankful everyone is fine. We should start thinking about dinner. There’s no way they’ll deliver our food with the road closed.”

Danny nodded. “Yeah, that’s the problem with one road in and one road out. I’ll call the restaurant and cancel the order.”

“I’ll go see what I can pull together,” Marnie replied as she headed toward the kitchen with the Tater and Dickens the Border Collies trotting closely behind.

“We’re stocked up,” he called after her. “You never know when a storm will hit this time of the year,” he mumbled to himself. As soon as his words left his lips, pinpricks trickled down his spine. He glanced toward the windows and inwardly shivered. The wind had picked up, and it was snowing harder. He could see the flakes swirling around the Christmas lights on the trees in front of the cabin. He also saw two shadowy figures cross the veranda.

Tater and Dickens sat at the sliding glass doors in the kitchen—their noses pressed to the glass. The kitchen overlooked a deer run in the woods behind the cabin. The dogs loved to sit and watch deer, raccoons, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and sometimes Percy, the black bear who lived in a cave near the cabin. Tater’s scruff stood on end and Dickens whimpered as the motion sensor lights switched on and lit up the woods.

Marnie glanced toward the doors. Hmm… what now? “Shush! There isn’t anything out there other than a few forest creatures. C’mon on over here, you two.”

Tater and Dickens turned and acknowledged their mistress, but they didn’t leave their post. Marnie crossed to the doors and peered outside. 

Out of Marnie’s view, two women watched from the woods. They appraised Marnie—tall with long, straight, strawberry blonde hair. Her athletic frame was obvious in her jeans and long-sleeved, Christmas green Henley shirt. Her eyes were bright in the lights of the kitchen. Marnie’s eyes were the first thing people noticed—aquamarine and haunted.

“She’s the one,” one woman said to the other.

“Yes, she is,” the other woman responded. “Shh! We don’t want her to see us.”

“Do you think she can?”

The woman nodded tightly in reply.

“Hey, Marn!” Tom shouted as he entered the kitchen.

Marnie spun around quickly. “Geez! Tom! Why do you have to yell? You scared me half to death,” she scolded with a frown.

“Ha-ha. You can get mad at me when I scare you fully to death. Where’s the hot buttered rum stuff, Grumpy Britches?” he asked, holding up two mugs. “Danny and I are ready for another steamy beverage.” Tom’s violet eyes twinkled with mischief. Marnie noticed that his black, wavy hair needed a cut. It was much longer than usual, and it was curling as it had when they were kids. The two had been friends since they were five years old—they could read one another like a book—which Tom did at that moment.

“What’s up with you?” Motioning with a nod to the back doors, he asked, “You’ve been acting all spooky. Have we got visitors I can’t see?”

With a half shrug, Marnie turned back to the doors. “Hmm. I’m not sure—but I think someone is messing around out in the woods.”

“Great!” Tom replied sarcastically with an exaggerated exhale. “That always ends well for us.”

“What ends well for us?” Danny asked as he walked into the kitchen. He crossed to the fireplace, tossed a few pinecones from a basket into the fire, and turned to observe a glance between Marnie and Tom. Leaning his brawny 6 feet 2 inch frame against the stone fireplace, he studied the two friends.

Tom dropped into a chair, stretched his lanky legs out in front of him, and waved a hand in Marnie’s direction. “Madame Séance over there thinks we’ve got visitors!”

Danny smirked—his dimples deepening as a grin spread across his oddly attractive face. “What’s a matter, Tom? Are you afraid that your Scrooge-ish behavior of late will have you entertaining the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future? Ha-ha!”

Tom threw a defiant look Danny’s way. “I’m not a Scrooge! It’s just that everyone makes a big fuss out of shopping for gifts, spending a huge amount of money, and that’s not what Christmas is about!”

Marnie snickered. “I didn’t spend much on your present, Tom. It’s just a little something that I thought you would appreciate. I also have a bag of homemade cookies, fudge, and tarts for you. I made Christmas treats for everyone.”

Tom quickly sat up and smiled. “Where’s the bag? I’m hungry!”

Marnie rolled her eyes. “You’re always hungry. You can have the bag later. If you could please feed our four-legged friends, I will worry about feeding the two-legged variety. Now, what do the two-legged critters want for dinner?” Marnie turned to the fridge and pulled open the door.

Having lost sight of the detectives and Marnie, the man and woman traveled to the back of the cabin. Neither paid much attention to the cold gusts of wind or the falling snow. They had a mission, and they were determined to see it through. Out in the woods behind an old hemlock tree, they spotted the two women—they were on the back deck peering through the window.

“Who are you?” the man demanded.

One woman turned and placed a finger to her lips. “Shh! We’re here for the same reasons you are.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” replied the man.

“And how do you know why we’re here?” the woman with the man asked.

“Shh! We have been expecting you. We received a message that you would come too. We all have the same goal. Perhaps we can work together.” The two women glided silently down the deer run and stood in front of the man and woman. “We must be careful. We think that they’ve seen us.”

The man nodded, and the woman at his side grimaced. “I was afraid of that,” she said. “We’ll stay in the shadows until the coast is clear.”

All nodded in agreement.

Marnie wiped her hands on the tea towel she tucked into the front of her jeans as an apron. “There,” she said, pushing a loose tendril of hair from her face, “Dinner should be ready in about 90 minutes. I hope you two are extra hungry.” She laughed and joined them at the table.

Danny filled a glass with wine and nudged it across the table to her. Tom stood and went to the fireplace. Picking up the poker, he stoked the fire and placed a log onto the glowing embers.

Marnie nudged Tom with her toe. “Maybe we should add another log in the living room, too. I have a funny feeling about tonight.” Just as Marnie finished her sentence, Danny and Tom’s phones both squawked an alert. Both men read the screens.

Tom glanced up from his phone and stared at Marnie. Danny did the same.

“Are your Spidey senses working overtime, Ms. Reilly?” Danny asked with mild amusement.

Taking a sip of her wine, she nodded. “Yup. Ever since I turned on to Lake Road—I don’t know. My hackles have been up. So have Tater’s. Look at him over there. He’s been watching the woods—but in a strange way. He hasn’t barked, but he is alert and his scruff is up.”

Tom scrunched up his nose. “Do you suppose Percy is moseying around?”

Danny shook his head. “Nah! He’s tucked up tight in his cave. We won’t see him again until spring. I haven’t seen him since Thanksgiving.”

“What did the alert say? The one that just came through?” Marnie asked.

“Ah! Roads are closed. Looks like we are all here for the night. Who wants to help me haul some wood inside?” Danny pushed his chair back and stood.

Marnie stood. “I’ll help. C’mon, Tom. If we all go, we can get enough wood inside so that we don’t have to venture out again tonight.”

Tom threw up his hands and got to his feet. “Why not! Safety in numbers is also a good reason. Besides, the knuckleheads should go out, anyway.”

“Maybe we should put them on their leads—just in case. We don’t need to be chasing two rambunctious Border Collies through the woods tonight.” Marnie walked through to the living room, pulled on her boots, scarf, and jacket, and called out to Tater and Dickens. “C’mon, knuckleheads! Let’s go out to pee before we get snowed in.”

Tater and Dickens raced into the living room and both skidded to a halt in front of their mistress. Marnie clipped their leads onto their harnesses, picked a canvas wood tote, and stood waiting for Danny and Tom to get their coats and boots.

Danny reached out a hand. “Let me take Dickens. We don’t need him pulling you off the porch.”

Marnie laughed and gladly handed the lead to Danny. “Yes. I need to work with him on his lead skills. He’s getting better, but he’s still fairly wild.”

Danny pulled open the big door, and a gust of wind whooshed into the cabin. He stepped out on the veranda with Dickens, Marnie, and Tater followed, with Tom close behind. They stood, taking in the winter wonderland surrounding them.  

Danny whistled. “Wow! That alert wasn’t kidding. The wind is, in fact, gusting. Geez! Look at those drifts!” He pointed to a snowdrift that was attempting to swallow up Marnie’s car. Tom’s truck was in danger too, but the hood of Marnie’s car was barely visible under the blanket of white.

“You’ve got some shoveling to do in the morning, Marn,” Tom teased with a laugh.

Marnie punched his arm lightly and nodded toward the garage. “I think that the three of us will be out here shoveling at dawn. The garage doors are disappearing, too. Danny won’t be able to get his Jeep out to plow the road.”

They all walked off the step and into the snow. Tater and Dickens’s ears were tight to their heads as they braced against the wind. Marnie handed Tom the tote. “Here, we’ll walk Tater and Dickens if you can load this up, please.”

He took the tote and turned to Danny. “Don’t you have two of these?”

Danny nodded in response. “Yup. There’s another one under the tarp. Let’s fill them up and then come back out for more. I don’t want to run out if the power goes off. My big generator blew a gasket, and I haven’t picked up a new one yet. I forgot when I was in town this morning. The small generator is in the garage, but it isn’t much good at keeping the furnace going.”

“Have you got candles?” Marnie asked.

“Yes. I’ve got hurricane lamps in the cellar and a couple of LED lanterns down there, too.”

“Quit yacking and let’s get the wood and get back inside. It’s freakin’ cold out here!” Tom stomped off toward the woodpile.

Tater and Dickens nosed around the snow and finally found their favorite spots. Danny handed Dickens’s lead to Marnie, and she took the dogs back into the cabin, then went back out to help gather wood for the fire as Danny and Tom pushed through the door with two full totes.

“Hang on, Marnie. We’ll go with you,” Danny said. “I think we should all stick together. Our past adventures make me agree with Tom—safety in numbers.”

She leaned against the big door and waiting for them to unload the totes. Tom took his tote to the kitchen and Danny stayed in the living room, stacking the logs neatly as he removed each from the tote. Marnie grinned. The detective was a bit of a neat freak—something she found endearing and mildly annoying at the same time. She could hear Tom dumping the tote on the kitchen floor, knowing he would go back and stack the logs later, but his approach differed greatly from Danny’s.

Tom strode into the living room with the empty tote. “C’mon. Let’s get the rest and get back inside. That weather is not fit for polar bears.”

Satisfied that the logs were stacked neatly, Danny grabbed up his tote and headed for the door with a scowl directed at his partner. “You just dumped the logs in the kitchen, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I did. I’ll stack them when we come back in,” he replied with a shrug.

“It’s not worth an argument, guys. C’mon!” Marnie pulled open the door and stepped out onto the veranda. She startled and grabbed Danny’s arm. “Did you see that?” she whispered loudly.

“See what?” Danny asked, looking in the direction where Marnie pointed.

“Swear to God, someone just ran around the corner of the cabin. Over there! By the woodpile!”

Danny clenched his jaw. “I didn’t see anyone. Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure. I know I saw someone—and it was a person.”

Tom scoffed nervously. “Living or dead?”

Marnie glared at him. “You know damn well that I can’t always tell the difference between a living person and a spirit. I do know that I have felt like we’re being watched. That I am sure of!”

“Sorry, Marn. You know I joke about things that make me uncomfortable. Have you got a loony client that may keep tabs on you? You know, stalking you?”

Marnie’s face reddened with anger, and she rolled her hands into fists. “Thomas Keller! My clients aren’t loony!”

Holding his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender, Tom backed away. He didn’t want to be within striking distance if she took a swing. She had never hit him, but there was always a first.

Danny gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Okay. Let’s all try to stay calm. Marnie, you know that you have some… uh… challenging clients. You’re a psychologist—of course you are dealing with mentally ill people who may…” She cut him off mid-sentence.

“Why does it have to be one of my clients? Have either of you recently had one of your loonies get out on parole? Or escape? You are cops! Who did you piss off?”

Danny frowned and shook his head at Tom before he could say something to make things worse. “Let’s just get the wood and get back inside. Okay?”

Marnie nodded tightly and then screwed her face up at Tom before stomping off to gather the wood. As she approached the woodpile, a loud squawk echoed from the branches of the tree above. She glanced up just as a large crow fluttered its wings and flew off—dusting her face with snow. She burst into giggles and turned to face her friends. The two men could not help but break into laughter.

“Oh! My! Goodness!” Marnie exclaimed with a fit of giggles. “That crow scared the bejesus out of me and I think I scare the bejesus out of him.” She continued to giggle as the snow melted down her face.

Danny crossed the short distance and used his scarf to wipe the snow from her hair and face. Tom bent and gathered up a handful of snow and expertly made a snowball. Marnie alerted Danny, “Incoming!” as she dove for cover. Danny turned abruptly and took the full force of the snowball to his chest. Marnie returned fire and hit Tom in the forehead. Dazed by the blow, he didn’t see the next white missile fired at him by Danny.

He threw up his arms in surrender. “Hey! Two against one isn’t fair!” In reply to his objection, two snowballs hit him simultaneously: one hitting him in the chest, the other in the head.

“It’s true, you know. Maybe you should sit this one out, Ms. Reilly. Let me sort him out,” Danny teased as a snowball spun past him and hit Marnie in the arm.

Eyebrow raised, she replied, “It appears that Detective Keller isn’t interested in a fair fight. He just surrendered—and yet, he has returned fire.”

“We should take him out then, shouldn’t we?” Danny replied.

“We take him out,” Marnie said, bending to scoop up another handful of snow.

“C’mon! That’s it! This time I really do surrender! I’ve got snow melting down my shirt and into jeans. I am out!” Tom held up his hands.

“Ha-ha! We beat you!” Danny proclaimed.

“Let’s get the firewood and get back inside. I’m cold and hungry,” Tom griped.

Marnie held her right hand up to her forehead—her thumb pointing straight to the right, and her index finger extended up.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m a loser,” Tom conceded—his face flushed. He shivered and picked up the canvas tote and stomped to the woodpile.

Danny clapped him on the back. “Next time, mano a mano.”

Tom grudgingly nodded in agreement. Marnie rolled her eyes and filled the second tote. Danny reached for it, but she brushed him away. “Fill up your arms, Detective. We don’t want to come back out here tonight.” She visibly shivered—not an “I’m cold”—a spooked shiver. She moved her eyes toward the lake, and Danny understood. Two shadowy figures ducked out of sight behind a pine tree.

“Do you think they saw us?” the man asked the woman.

“Most likely,” she replied with a frown.

“What about Tom? Do you think he saw us?” he asked.

The woman laughed. “No! He was too busy worrying about his ego. Silly man,” she replied with a titter.

The man joined her in laughter. “We should go back up onto the veranda to see what they are doing. The others have the back covered. Once they have all fallen asleep, we can make our move.”

She nodded in agreement and then pondered her response. “What about the dogs? Won’t they alert them?”

“I’ll take care of the dogs. They won’t be a problem,” the man replied with a stiff nod.

Marnie opened the oven door and breathed in the aroma of beef stew. She pulled on a pair of oven mitts and removed a cast iron Dutch oven. Placing the stew on the table, he called out, “Who’s hungry?”

Tater and Dickens kept watch over the forest while Danny, Tom, and Marnie ate a chucky stew of beef, carrots, mushrooms, and baby potatoes with generous sides of steamed broccoli and sourdough rolls slathered with butter. The chatter over dinner was easy—comfortable—but the three friends did glance to the glass doors each time Tater or Dickens grumbled.

Tom’s eyes were bigger than his belly when pushed his chair away from the table. “Marn, that was fantastic! I couldn’t eat another forkful! What’s for dessert?”

Danny pushed his chair back in unison with Marnie. “How could you possibly eat dessert now?” Marnie puffed out her cheeks. “I am stuffed!”

“He’s a bottomless pit. I’ve watched him eat three bear claws in one sitting. Makes me want to vomit!” Danny stood, stretched, and went to the back door. “What do you think, Tater?” He leaned down and scratched Tater’s ears. The Border Collie glanced up and then leaned against Danny’s leg. “What’s the matter, pal?”

Tater whimpered and pressed his nose against the glass. Dickens let out a tiny woof and bounced forward. Putting a paw on the window, Tater let out a long, hushed “a-rooh”, and then sat—ears perked up, tail wagging.

Marnie pulled a face, stood, and then joined Danny and the dogs at the doors. “That was a weird noise, Tater. What’s wrong, buddy?” He glanced up at his mistress—his mouth closed tight—no smile, which is quite unusual for Tater.

“Who do you think it is, Danny?” Marnie leaned her shoulder into his. She followed his steely blue gaze to a large hickory tree. “Did you see something?”

He shook his head. “You know, on a night like tonight with the snow and wind—and the clouds moving so fast, our eyes are probably just playing tricks on us. Stormy nights can do that.” He shrugged and turned away from the window.

As Marnie turned to follow him, a loud boom echoed through the cabin—and then the power flickered—once, twice, three times, and then darkness surrounded them. Turning back to the windows, her breath caught. Two shadowy figures quickly passed by the glass and disappeared down the steps. Tail tidily tucked between his back legs, Dickens yelped and ran under the table, overturning a bar stool as he raced past the island. The trees swayed violently in the winter wind, and Marnie jumped back as a gust of wind hurled a tree branch into the windows with a deafening thunk. Danny and Tom raced to her side. Tater’s ears flattened against his head—and a low growl crescendoed into a snarling, ferocious bark.

Marnie wheeled around to face the detectives. Her face drained of color and her hauntingly beautiful eyes grew wide; she sank to the floor, wrapped her arms around Tater, and mumbled into his neck, “Here comes the storm.”   

Tom shuddered. “Ah! Geez, Marn! Don’t say that! Every time you say that, something bad happens.”

Danny kneeled down next to her and gently pulled her away from Tater. “Marnie, everything is okay. It was just a tree branch. The wind is giving us all a case of the willies.”

She shook her head. “It’s not just the wind and you know it.”

He gave her a hug. “C’mon! Our minds are playing tricks on us—and we’re shell-shocked from unpleasant goings on out in those woods in the past. We’ll get some candles and lanterns, and then we’ll sit by the fire.” He turned to Tom. “Let’s grab a flashlight and go to the cellar. I’m not going to bother with the generator. I don’t think the power will be out for long.” Danny rose to his feet and held out his hand for Marnie. “Let’s get you and the pups in by the fire.”

Marnie nodded a bit grudgingly, reached out her hand, and got to her feet. Tater and Dickens trotted past them and raced for their favorite spots on the hearth. Tom stood impatiently by the cellar door, Maglite in hand.

In the living room, Danny peeked out to see what he could see, and then pulled the curtains closed. “Let’s conserve heat. I doubt that there’s a draft—but just to be sure.”

Marnie raised an eyebrow in Danny’s direction. “Draft? Humph!”

While the detectives were gathering candles and lamps, she busied herself stoking the fire, and fluffed the pillows on the couch next to the fireplace.

“What do you two think?” Marnie cocked her head at her dogs, who had settled onto the warm hearth. Dickens mumbled an unintelligible Border Collie offering, but Tater stared into her eyes. His unblinking and steady gaze told her he had seen what she had. “I’ve never known a person or a spirit to duck into the shadows if they mean no harm. Have you, Tater?” Tater dropped his chin onto his front paws and sighed—his eyes never leaving contact with Marnie’s. “Are you just upset because I’m upset, or do you think I should be upset? Sorry if my energy is upsetting you, Tater.”

Tater lifted his head, glanced over her shoulder and smiled. Marnie furrowed her brow and spun around. There was no one there—living or dead. She turned back to Tater. “What does that mean, Tater? Why are you smiling?”

“Maybe he heard Santa’s sleigh bells,” Tom suggested with a smirk, as he walked into the living room carrying a box of church candles – a lantern balancing atop the box. Behind him, Danny carried two hurricane lamps—which he gently set on the coffee table. He dug into his shirt pocket and produced two boxes of safety matches.

Tossing one box to Marnie, he said, “If you could light this one, I’ll take the other into the kitchen.”

Marnie removed the glass chimney from the lamp and set it aside. She struck a match and smiled. “Oh, how I love the smell of sulfur in the evening!” She lit the hurricane lamp, adjusted the wick and replaced the chimney. The lamplight produced shadows throughout the great room. Marnie shivered and then found her favorite seat by the fireplace—a big, buttery leather overstuffed chair with a red plaid stadium blanket draped off the back. She sat, tucking her feet under her, and pulled the blanket around her shoulders and did her best to relax. Tom settled in on the couch opposite her and stretched his long legs out on top of the coffee table. Marnie leaned forwarded and stuck her finger into a hole in the bottom of one of his socks.

“You better hope Santa brings new socks,” she said with a giggle.

“I haven’t gotten socks for Christmas since I was a teenager. I have to buy my own now, hence, the condition of the ones I’m wearing,” Tom said with a laugh.

“Does anyone want a drink? Coffee, tea, hot toddy?” Danny called from the kitchen.

“Irish coffee!” Marnie called back.

“Make that two!” Tom chimed in.

“We’ll make it three!” Danny called back. He returned a few minutes later with a tray of steaming Irish coffees.

“Hey, Marn, where are those cookies you mentioned earlier?” Tom glanced around the room, searching for said cookies.

“The cookies are in a picnic basket in the kitchen. If you want the cookies, go get them.”

Tom was off the couch and headed for the kitchen before Marnie could finish her sentence. He returned a few minutes later with a peanut butter cookie in one hand and the basket in the other. He handed the basket to Danny, who, after careful consideration, selected a molasses cookie. Danny handed the basket to Marnie—she set it on the coffee table.

“I don’t know how you two can still eat after that dinner. I am full!”

Tom patted his stomach and shrugged. “Growing boys.”

Danny stood by the front windows, peering through the curtains. “We’ll work off the dinner and cookies shoveling snow in the morning. It’s piling up fast!”

“In that case, give me that basket! There was some peanut butter fudge calling my name.” Tom reached for the basket and glanced up at Marnie. “Do you remember when your mother would make us taffy on snow?”

Her eyes lit up. “Oh, my gosh! Yes! I love taffy on snow! We should make that some time.”

Danny plopped down on the couch next to Tom and picked up an Irish coffee. He took a large sip and smacked his lips. “Oh, that’s good! What’s taffy on snow?”

“Mom would boil maple syrup down and then pour it over a pot of fresh snow. The syrup would get all gooey and cold. We would sit there with forks and devour it!” 

“She usually made it on snow days from school or after we’d been ice skating on the pond,” Tom added.

“And Dad would tell us not to get the yellow snow when we’d go out to fill the pot,” Marnie replied with a laugh.

“It sounds like your folks were great parents,” Danny commented.

Marnie nodded—her eyes tearing up. “I am so very lucky that they gave me such wonderful memories. I think of them and miss them every day, but my memories of them are so special.”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, they were.” He turned to Danny. “Did Marnie ever tell you about her father getting on the roof on Christmas Eve?”

Danny made a half frown, half smirk face and shook his head. “No. I can’t say that I’ve heard about that.”

Marnie sat up quickly. Talking about her parents and Christmas was one of her favorite things. “Well. One year, I refused to go to bed. I told my parents that I was going to stay up so that I could have cookies and milk with Santa, and that I was going to feed carrots to the reindeers. My parents told me that Santa wouldn’t visit us if I was still awake, but I insisted. Anyway, Dad snuck away and called Mr. Keller, who called Dad right back with some made up emergency so that he could get out of the house. Dad went out to the garage, found my grandfather’s old set of sleigh bells, and then he went up the roof. He stomped around and shook the sleigh bells so that I would go to bed.” Marnie giggled. “Gosh! I haven’t thought about that night in years!”

“You were a wicked little girl, Marnie Reilly!” Danny laughed. “So, did you go to bed?”

She nodded and then took a sip of her Irish coffee. “It was my brother who finally convinced me to go to bed. He told me that if Santa didn’t come visit because I was being stubborn, he wouldn’t take me sledding because Santa wouldn’t bring me a new sled if I was naughty.” Marnie took a deep breath. “Wow! Do you know that I still have that sled?”

Danny laughed. “So you did go to bed.”

“I did!” she replied with a laugh.

Danny and Tom both loved to watch Marnie when she spoke about her parents. She was always animated—but more so when reminiscing about her family.

“What I remember most about that Christmas, though, was the beautiful, carved wooden carousel that Santa left for me. Of course, I found out years later that my father had made it. It was so beautiful. Tom, do you remember that?” Marnie asked, turning to Tom.

“I do remember it. It was a music box, right? I don’t remember what song it played, though.”

“It was a music box. It played Galway Bay. My Papa Jack sang it to me when he tucked me in at night. Dad and Mom searched everywhere for the movement for the music box. Mr. O’Malley from the jewelry store found it for them three days before Christmas. I have pictures of it somewhere.” She rested her chin in her hand, sadness etching her forehead and eyes.

Danny frowned. “You don’t still have it?”

Marnie shook her head. “Nope. It was on my bedside table for a long time. I wound it up every night and fell asleep listening to it. One day it was there—then it wasn’t. We looked everywhere, but we couldn’t find it.”

Tom sat up and took a drink from his mug. “I remember joining the search party. We look for an entire day—inside, outside, the garage—even the treehouse.”

Marnie shrunk back in her chair. “Anyway, Papa Jack told me that if the music box was truly meant for me, it would find its way back to me someday.”

Danny nodded knowingly. “My grandmother told me that when some things went missing after my wife Sara died. That first Christmas without her was horrible. Gram encouraged me to put up a Christmas tree. She said that Sara would have wanted me to celebrate the season. I thought it couldn’t make my mood any worse than it already was, so I went to my storage unit to get our decorations. I had sold the house and was building this cabin when the holidays rolled around. It was just one big room—this room is the original cabin. The fireplace was here then, too. So anyway, I went to the storage unit, but the decorations weren’t there. I couldn’t figure it out. Some of my mother’s ornaments were missing, too. I always thought the Christmas things got misplaced when I moved out of the house. I thought that maybe I had taken boxes to Gram’s—but I hadn’t, and I still don’t know what happened to those boxes.” Danny waved a hand at the tree. “None of these ornaments have sentimental meaning to me. The others—my mother’s and Sara’s and mine—those had a story. I miss the star at the top of the tree the most. That’s why I don’t have a topper on my tree. Nothing could replace the star that my mother gave me.” Danny gazed into the fire—wondering what could have possibly happened to his treasured mementos.

“What about you, Tom? Any Christmas memories to share?” Marnie asked. “Now that Danny and I are all bummed out, maybe you have a good story.” Marnie half smiled.

Tom shook his head. “Afraid not. I had an idyllic childhood—until my sister Annie died. That wasn’t so good. That was awful. I remember that first Christmas without her. Mom and Dad tried to make it special, but without Annie, it was weird. Lonely, you know?” Tom rested his head against the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling. “I sometimes wonder if she knew how much I loved her.” He sat up, glanced at the fire, and then toward Marnie. “I put my teddy bear in her casket so that she wouldn’t be alone. Did you know that?”

Marnie nodded sympathetically, sat forward, and gently rubbed his knee. “You told me.”

“I didn’t know that you had a sister?” Danny remarked with a touch of shock and hurt in his voice.

Tom simply nodded, stood, and went to add a log to the fire.

“Well, aren’t we a sad, sad bunch,” Marnie commented grimly. She slapped the arm of her chair and stood. “Danny, have you got a radio? We could listen to the Christmas channel and fill this room with cheerful music,” Marnie suggested.

“Uh. Yeah. I have one in my den. It’s for emergencies, but I do believe that this constitutes an emergency.”

Marnie nodded. “It’s a Christmas spirit emergency! We need a little Christmas! Now!”

Danny got up and went in search of his radio while Marnie and Tom made more Irish coffees.

“Here they come!” the man said to the women. “Get back! Don’t let them see you! I was hoping they would have fallen asleep by now.”

“What are we going to do about Tom?” the man asked the woman with whom he had traveled.

“I don’t know. We’ll think of something,” she replied, rubbing her forehead.

“How much longer do you think they will be awake? This is dragging on far too long!” one of the other women asked.

“Do you have somewhere else to be?” the man asked, cocking his head. “No? Well, be patient.” His tone was gruff, but he, too, wanted to finish what they had come here to do. Patience was important in these types of situations. You have to wait for the right moment. Move in too soon, and the entire operation is in jeopardy.

The woman bristled and then peeked into the kitchen to see where Danny, Marnie, and Tom  were. She saw the latter two making coffee. She darted away from the glass when Danny returned to the kitchen—he walked right past the doors. He turned for a moment—perhaps he had seen her—then he continued to the table where Marnie and Tom stood making drinks.

“Do you know which station has Christmas music, Marnie?” Danny asked, handing her the radio.

“Hmm… Yes.” She fiddled with the stations and finally tuned into the correct channel. “There we go!” She smiled as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” melodiously flowed through the tiny radio.

They returned to the living room to find Tater and Dickens poking their heads through the curtains at the front of the cabin. The fur stood up on Tater’s back and Dickens simply whimpered. Danny raced to the window and looked out. “Ha-ha! There’s a possum on the porch helping himself to the suet feeder. I filled the feeder earlier today.” He reached down and smoothed out Tater’s coat. “It’s okay, buddy. The possum can eat the suet. He probably needs a bit of fuel to keep warm tonight.” Danny gave Tater’s ears a scratch, patted Dickens on the backside, and then returned to the fire. Sitting on the couch, he yawned and glanced at the clock on the mantle. “It’s nearly midnight and I’m fading fast. Are we camping out down here by the fire? Or are we going upstairs?”

Tom and Marnie glanced at one another.

“Let’s camp out down here where it’s warm,” Marnie replied.

“Safety in numbers! Think about every scary movie you’ve ever been to see. They die when they separate,” Tom added with an uncomfortable chuckle.

Danny grumbled something inaudible under his breath, nodded, and pushed himself up off the couch. “Okay. For the scaredy cats in the group, I’ll go upstairs and get some pillows and blankets.”

Glancing at one another again, Marnie and Tom jumped up from their seats. In unison, they yelled, “We’ll come with you!”

Flashlight in hand, Danny led the way up the open staircase to the second floor of the cabin—Marnie and Tom followed closely behind, with Dickens and Tater taking up the rear. Danny stopped, turned around. Marnie ran into him as she was following so closely.

“Oops,” she said, grinning sheepishly up at him.

Danny grinned and shook his head. “I get Tom being all jittery, but you, Marnie, you’re not afraid of anything.”

Marnie shrugged. “I’m remembering a night not so long ago when someone tried to get into the cabin. It was a night a lot like this—snow, wind…” She shivered. “You haven’t forgotten the skylight incident, have you?”

Danny continued ascending the stairs. “No. I haven’t forgotten. I was trying to forget—but thanks for placing that image firmly back in my head.”

“Look! We can see in here now! The dogs moved the curtain just enough that we can see in!” said one woman excitedly.

“Where are they?” asked one of the other woman.

“Upstairs. They’ve all gone upstairs,” came the reply.

“Finally!” said the man. “I’ll be right back. I have to see what the boss has to report.”

“The boss?” asked one woman.

The man frowned slightly. “You know. The boss—the one who sent us here.”

“Oh!” all three women replied in unison.

 Carrying blankets and pillows, they marched down the stairs. Tater and Dickens followed—each carrying one of Danny’s slippers.

Danny stopped short. Marnie ran into him—and Tom into her. “Did you hear that?” Danny asked, shining the flashlight up at the vaulted ceiling.

Marnie glanced up and then looked at Tom—who was staring straight up—his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“Sh! It sounds like someone is on the roof,” Danny said just as Tater and Dickens dropped the slippers and ran back up the stairs.

Tater stood at the top, ears up, head cocked to one side. Dickens raced up and down the hall, grumbling and whining.

“Dickens, settle!” Marnie called out. Dickens stopped running, sat and waited for instruction.

“Maybe it was ice sliding off the roof,” Danny suggested.

“It’s too cold,” Tom replied.

“I have electric tape up there to thaw the ice,” Danny responded.

“There’s no electricity. Power’s out,” Tom responded.

“Good point.” Danny ran his fingers through his wavy hair—the beam of the flashlight casting shadows across the ceiling. He offered Marnie the pillows and blankets he was carrying in the crook of his arm. “Can you take these downstairs? I’m going to check the skylight.”

“No way! We’re all going together!” Marnie argued.

“Yeah. Safety in numbers,” he mumbled.

They dropped the pillows and blankets, and all ran to the attic door.

“What in the hell are we doing? If the skylight wasn’t locked, someone could be in the attic,” Tom said—an edge of fear in his voice. “Two police detectives, and not a gun between us. Mine’s downstairs on the mantle. Where’s your gun, Danny?”

“Locked in the strongbox in my den,” he replied, fingers finding their place in his wavy hair once again.

“There’s no one in the attic,” Marnie said quietly—her eyes closed.

“Who are you talkin’ to?” Tom asked, nudging her.

She opened her eyes and raised an eyebrow at him. “I was just calling in a bit of help—that’s all.”

“Hmm… the psychic psychologist to the rescue,” Tom taunted.

“Hmm… my psychism has saved your ass a few times, Tom Keller!” she retorted.

“C’mon, you two. Knock it off! Marnie, you think it’s okay to go in? The coast is clear?” Danny asked.

Marnie gave a curt nod.

Danny eased the door open, peeked in, and then directed the beam of the flashlight up at the skylight. “It’s locked. I can see the latch from here.” He turned to Marnie. “No faces peering in at us like last time.” He glanced up again.

The brightest light any of them had ever seen shot through the snow-filled clouds and seemed to land on the roof of the cabin.

“Holy crap!” Tom shouted as he jumped back a step.

“What was that?” Marnie asked, mouth agape—aquamarine eyes wide.

Danny shook his head. “Wow! I haven’t got a clue! I’ve seen shooting stars, flares, you name it, but that… that… I have no idea what that was.”

“You gettin’ any divine guidance on this one, Marn? Anyone up there talking to you?” Tom teased as he pointed up and nudged her with his elbow.

She gave him a light shove and frowned up at him. “No. No one is telling me anything.” She closed her eyes again—focused, opened her eyes, and then held up her hands in surrender. “I’ve got nothin’.”

Danny put a hand gently on the middle of Marnie’s back. “C’mon. Let’s go downstairs. I’ll see if I have phone service and find out what that was.”

The man returned to the veranda with a large duffle bag and another woman. “We’re ready to go as soon as they are asleep. Are they still awake?”

The woman he had traveled with nodded. “Yes. They went upstairs and then came back down with pillows and blankets. We’re going to have to wait. We have to finish this tonight. It is too important. They have all deserved this for a long time.”

“Hmm… Never mind. We can wait,” the man replied. He pointed to the fourth woman. “We have help.” He nodded his head to the newest member of the group.

“We’ll wait,” said the other two women, nodding in agreement.

Danny checked his phone for information about the flash of light, but he had no service. Tom and Marnie checked their phones. No one had service. Danny placed two more logs on the fire and then helped Tom move the coffee table so that they could set up camp. Tater and Dickens took up their usual posts on the hearth. Both were snoring in no time. Marnie spread out a large quilt on the floor in front of the fireplace. She tossed a wool blanket and a pillow onto the couch. “Tom, you’re taking the couch, right?”

“Yeah. I’ll leave the little love nest to you two.” He waved a hand at the cozy quilt, pillows, and blankets spread out on the floor.

“Are you sure you don’t want to snuggle with me?” Danny teased.

“No. Spooning with you isn’t high on my list.” Tom glowered at him.

“What about me?” Marnie asked with a smirk. “You don’t want to snuggle with me, either?”

“No! We slept in your tree house enough when we were kids for me to know that you kick in your sleep!” Tom rolled his eyes and sat on the couch to take off his shoes.

Danny hugged Marnie. “You don’t kick me. You snore a little, but you’ve never kicked me.”

“Ha! Daniel Gregg! I do not snore!”

“Yes, you do!” both men replied in unison.

“Oh! Go to sleep!” Marnie threw a pillow at Tom and then sat down on the floor. She pulled off her boots and tossed them behind her.

“Should we turn off the radio?” Danny asked.

Marnie shook her head. “No. I’d like to fall asleep to the music. You have more batteries, right?”

“Yeah. I have more batteries.” He kissed the top of Marnie’s head and then settled back onto the quilt and a pillow.

Marnie scooted closer and rested her head on Danny’s chest. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” he replied.

“No funny business down there,” Tom said as his head hit his pillow.

“Shut up, Tom!” Danny and Marnie replied in unison.

The man and three women watched through the window as the detectives and Marnie drifted off to sleep. The dogs rested comfortably on the hearth—the little one on his back with his legs in the air—the big one with his head resting on his mistress’s foot.

“Let’s go. They’re asleep,” said the man.

“What about the dogs?” asked one of the woman.

“They’ll be fine. I’ll make sure of it,” replied the man.

They slipped through the front door of the cabin with ease and quietly set about their business.

One woman stood over Marnie, watching her sleep.

The man waved to the woman—he placed a finger to his lips and did a shoo motion. She nodded grimly and slid away.

When they finished the job that they came to do, they quietly slipped back out again.

Marnie rolled onto her back and stretched. Tater stood next to her, staring into her face. Danny stirred a moment later—he stretched, yawned and saw Dickens standing next to him – staring into his face.

He rolled on his side to face Marnie. “Why do they do that? It’s creepy.”

She shrugged and giggled. “I don’t know. They’ve both always done that.” She propped herself up on her elbow and threw a pillow at Tom.

The pillow jerked him awake. “What? What?” He sat up, rubbed his eyes and threw the pillow back, hitting Marnie in the face. “Merry Christmas!” he mumbled.

“Merry Christmas,” Marnie replied with a giggle as she kicked the blankets away and got to her feet. She glanced around the living room. “What in the holy hell?”

Danny quickly sat up. “What’s wrong?” He got to his feet. Mouth agog, he scanned the living room. He reached down and nudged Tom. “You gotta see this!”

Sitting atop the coffee table were a carved wooden carousel, a book, a card and a teddy bear. Danny turned to the Christmas tree, which was adorned with ornaments that had not been on the tree last night. His eyes traveled up the tree to the bright, shining star at the top of the tree.

“The ornaments! My missing ornaments!” Danny stood, pointing to the tree. “And the star! That’s the star my mother gave me!”

Marnie kneeled down next to the coffee table. She picked up the carousel, wound up the key, and set it back on the table. The horses moved up and down to the sweet tune of Galway Bay. She blinked back tears and looked up at Danny. “What’s going on?”

Tom reached for the teddy bear. “This can’t be!” he mumbled. He turned the bear over to look for the tag—but there wasn’t one. There was, however, a name on the bear. Embroidered on the bear’s backside was the name “Annie” in red stitching. He turned the bear’s backside toward Marnie. “Look at the name of the bear!”

She leaned in and inspected the bear’s bottom. Raising an eyebrow, she took a step back. “What is going on?” Turning back to the table, she picked up the book. She stared at the cover. Holding it up so that Danny and Tom could read the title, she commented, “Well, we know that this can’t end well. Anytime a book by Robert Frost is left for me, something terrible always happens.”

“Marn, look at that. There’s a bookmark,” Tom said, pointing to the bookmark.

She stared down at the book as if it would bite and then opened the book to the marked page. She read aloud,

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

Danny frowned. “That happened to you last night. That very thing happened last night!”

Marnie nodded, and then quickly set the book on the table. “I’m confused. How could someone come into the cabin while were sleeping—not disrupt Tater and Dickens—not wake one of us? How is that possible?” Marnie turned to Tater and Dickens, who were wagging their tails happily. Each had a new tennis ball and a box of fish-flavored dog biscuits sitting beside them.

“This isn’t happening!” Tom shouted. “How could this be happening?” He waved his hands in the air, and then he spotted the card on the table. He snatched it up and opened it. “You are not going to believe this!” He handed the card to Marnie.

Danny stood over her shoulder as she read the card.

“Five ghosts of Christmases past have visited you. Remember that you are all loved and that precious mementos always find their way home. We hope and pray that the spirit of Christmas will stay with you always and forever.”

Marnie glanced up from the card—her face devoid of color. She held out the card to Tom. “This is my mother’s handwriting. Look at it!”

Tom took the card and inspected the writing. “It can’t be.”

“Where’s my bag?” Marnie turned in a circle, searching the room for her handbag.

“It’s on the pool table,” Danny replied. He raced across the room, snatched it up and handed it to her.

She rummaged through her bag, pulled out her wallet, and searched through the compartments. “Here! Look at this! It’s the card that she and Dad gave me when I graduated from high school. Look at it!” She waggled the envelope in front of the detectives.

Danny carefully opened the card. He inspected each card carefully and then frowned. “It looks like the same handwriting, that’s for sure.”

“My mother was here last night! How could I have not known that she was here?”

“Maybe you weren’t supposed to know!” Danny said.

Marnie picked up the book. “Look at this book! This is a book that my father had on his boat when it sunk. He always had this book with him in the galley. I gave it to him for his birthday. It’s the same book!”

“No, it’s not.” Tom took the book and opened it. Danny peered over his shoulder, and Marnie held onto his arm and read the flyleaf.  

“Happy birthday, Dad. I love you to the moon and back x 10.”

Beneath the inscription was another note.

“Merry Christmas, Marnie. I love you to heaven and back x 1000.”

Danny ran his fingers through his hair. “Five ghosts. Marnie’s mother. Marnie’s father…” He held up his hand and counted off on his fingers. “Tom’s sister…”

Marnie put a finger to Danny’s ring finger and then his thumb. “Your wife and your mother.”

“But they didn’t leave me a note. Why wouldn’t they leave me a note?” he asked sadly.

Tom took Danny by the shoulders and turned him toward the Christmas tree. “Uh… They kinda did.”

“Yeah. They kinda did, huh?” Danny stared up at the tree. “That light we saw last night. I wonder if it was the star?”

“I think that’s pushin’ it a bit, don’t you?” Tom scoffed.

“No. I don’t think it’s pushing it. If Marnie’s parents can write her messages, why can’t that light have been my star?” Danny glowered.

“I think it was,” Marnie chimed in. “I think that light was definitely Danny’s star.” She put her hand on Danny’s arm, leaned up, and kissed his cheek.

“Let’s make coffee—and get something to eat. I’m starving!” Tom grumbled.

“You two go ahead. I want to take Tater and Dickens out first,” Marnie replied.

She pulled on her boots and coat, clipped Tater and Dickens’s leads onto their collars, and then stepped out onto the veranda. She paused at the sight of heavy boot prints tracking from the lake up onto the veranda. Her head tipped to one side, and she raised an eyebrow. Hmm… Spirits don’t leave footprints.

-The End?-

Find Torn Veil on Amazon

Find Divine Guidance on Amazon

Divine Guidance Review

Divine Guidance Book Review 12/27/21

The following book review of Divine Guidance was written by the talented Helen Aitchison, author of the The Dinner Club – which will be released in March 2022 by Cahill Davis Publishing, Berkshire, UK. This review was published on goodreads on December 27, 2021.

…a book written with skill, knowledge and heart.

Helen Aitchison, author of The Dinner Club

This is the type of book that tells so much more than a story. It tells of a character that has a great soul and personality that a reader can’t help but think of someone who the protagonist reminds them of.

From personality traits to behaviours, Marnie Reilly is a wonderful character. Honest, bold, compassionate, intuitive and someone who wants to nurture others. Her love for her dog, Tater, her baking and her psychic abilities drew me in almost immediately.

The other characters had endearing qualities that helped knit the story together nicely, with an injection of deviance and danger from a serial killer on the loose.

With a back story of loss, buried emotions and clairvoyance abilities, Marnie is protected by a police team, and becomes part of a hunt for a killer at large. As relationships develop and the plot thickens, we are taken on a journey of excitement, risk, suspense, humour and friendship.

Tater the dog is a beautiful touch to a book written with skill, knowledge and heart. Brilliant! I’m looking forward to the second instalment and more from this amazing writer. Highly recommended.

Helen Aitchison, Author of The Dinner Club

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot buttered rum
Hot buttered rum

This hot buttered rum recipe is a favorite in my house. It comes from a little recipe book titled Christmas Memories, Holiday Drinks, and it’s from the Mystic Seaport Museum Stores in Mystic, Connecticut.

I’ve made this over the years during the winter season. Hot buttered rums are spicy (allspice, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg spicy), sweet and a bit dangerous. Hot buttered rums are the perfect holiday hot toddy.

We are planning a few quiet evenings of sipping hot buttered rums on the deck overlooking the forest.

Make it at least 2 hours ahead of your planned event to ensure the batter has had time to refreeze.


I cup brown sugar
2 cups confectioners· sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) butter
I pint vanilla ice cream, softened
1/2 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
dash mace
boiling water


Cream butter, spices and sugars: blend with softened ice cream. Mix well.
Pack into covered container and store in freezer.
To serve: put a generous spoonful into mug. Add 2 ounces rum and mix well. Add boiling water to fill.

Adjust ice cream mixture to taste. Serve immediately. Drink slowly!

Yield: 25 servings

Writer T.L. Brown’s Book Review: Torn Veil

A sequel every bit as good as the first book – possibly even better!

Tracy Brown, Author

It’s difficult to write a sequel worthy of a great first book, but Shari T. Mitchell did just that with the latest installment of the Marnie Reilly Mysteries, Torn Veil.

In this book, the reader is treated to so many layers building a strong plot. How did the author keep track of them all? Luckily for readers Mitchell manages this well, creating an intricate storyline with many moving parts while not losing the reader for a minute.

This time around we join a main character (Marnie Reilly) who is more willing to accept help as her life is turned upside down once again with the discovery of a dead body. She’s still tough, she’s still smart, and she’s definitely confident – but we’re diving into a complex character. Marnie’s not superwoman and she has fears, too. There’s also the matter of a blockage of sorts with her sixth sense. This limitation puts her at risk even more. We also find a Marnie who must work out which players are her friends, and who is the fraud. Author Mitchell does an EXCELLENT job of keeping the reader guessing.

Mitchell is a master of bringing in the bits: Here’s a character – let’s allow her to brush by – this will be important later. Or, here’s a snippet of conversation that will eventually point to a big piece of the puzzle. (Did you catch it, reader?) That’s part of the magic happening when you read a book by Shari T. Mitchell: you develop a habit of noting everything because it just might be important later and you are rewarded with an “aha!” moment. And again, the author delivers it in such a way that you are not lost.

It seems that author Mitchell is building a family for Marnie in Torn Veil – which really feels good. Marnie has been through so much already. This eclectic family-building isn’t just a safe haven for Marnie’s mental well-being, it’s a comfort for the reader as we become further invested in her story. We’re scared for Marnie more than once, and we hold onto the belief that the love surrounding her will provide the much-needed safety net when the time comes.

Returning readers to this series will recognize a favorite cast of supporting characters: the lovable and loyal Detective Tom Keller, and of course, the sexy, strong, and supportive Detective Danny Gregg. It may be getting colder outside, but it’s heating up between Marnie and Danny. This developing relationship is such a nice side story that does not overwhelm the drama and mystery. Other familiar – and new faces – fill in the population of Creekwood. We’re also glad to see Tater, Marnie’s beloved border collie, playing with some new pals.

The paranormal is definitely present in this latest installment, and we get some peeks into a darker side of people who operate in this world. And yet, Mitchell uses her characters to remind us that some evil only has power if you give up yours. How the paranormal is related to the events in the book – or not – is quite clever. There are some solid twists that make so much sense when all is revealed!

Torn Veil is crafted in such a way that you want to try and figure out who is who, and what is really at play. How did I do? I had my ideas, but ultimately Mitchell dished out some big surprises. There were a few things I did not see coming but worked perfectly with the storyline. That’s so much fun for a mystery reader!

Marnie Reilly Mysteries

If you haven’t yet started the Marnie Reilly Mystery Series, don’t wait a second longer. This is the perfect season to get familiar with Mitchell’s bunch! Fatal Vow, the third book in the Marnie Reilly Mysteries, is due out in 2022. I’m on pins and needles waiting for it. I know I’ll definitely be ordering the book as soon as it’s available for pre-sale. I. Can’t. Wait!

T.L. Brown (Writer Tracy Brown) is the author of the Door to Door Paranormal Mystery Series. She was born in snowy Western New York where she developed a love of reading and writing – her mother never denied her request for a book. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh in History – Political Science.

After college she moved to Rochester and began to create a story about an average thirty-year-old who was caught between two worlds: the known one and a new, often dangerous place known as the Empire. That character became Emily Swift.

Tracy now lives in the beautiful Finger Lakes of New York State dreaming up new stories and quirky characters that make life all the more interesting. She believes magic still exists, you just need to look in the right places.

Book Review: Divine Guidance grabs you and does not let go!

The author moves the drama from one place to another while keeping the tension high. 

Tracy Brown, Writer


Divine Guidance, by @ShariTMitchell

Divine Guidance grabs you and does not let go!

It’s been a long time since a book kept me up and reading past midnight. I just could not put down Shari T. Mitchell’s “Divine Guidance.”

Let me be frank: Mitchell crafted a story that scared the bejesus out of me – and it wasn’t the paranormal aspects of the story making my heart race! The murders and attempted murders happening around main character Marnie Reilly made me jittery. With ingredients like an abusive ex-boyfriend, a wild ice storm closing the roads, and a stalker-murderer running loose, you certainly have a recipe for a solid creep fest!

But the author doesn’t rely on bumps in the night to create a compelling tale. She’s also written a sound mystery-thriller with a flawed main character, who despite her rough edges, is good and kind at heart. She’s also believable.

We meet Marnie in an off-beat setting right before she tips the apple cart – angering her “peers” while taking the high road. From the get-go we understand that Marnie is not only tough, but also willing to do the hard things. And yet, she’s not this larger-than-life superwoman we can’t imagine as being real. She’s experienced significant loss and struggled with a frightening past (abusive relationship revealed in memories / current discussions). She’s human.

While the paranormal is present in this story, the mundane is what takes center stage. Imagine this: You are trapped at home with a maniac running rampant – but the ice storm prevents help from coming to you. At first the reader thinks: thank goodness police officers are stuck at Marnie’s house, too.

The author moves the drama from one place to another while keeping the tension high. There was literally one scene at Detective Gregg’s house that scared me because the buildup to the scene was so well done that when it came, I was wishing it wasn’t dark outside. (I was also glad I didn’t have an attic!)

Author Mitchell also brought in some complex relationships. Early on Marnie calls another character a charlatan – a “soul-sucking trickster” and the reader would agree. And yet this character displays a completely different side, helping Marnie when she’s in danger. This “relationship” of sorts has many layers, and it was intriguing to sort out what the current status between Marnie and this other really meant. There is a scene in Marnie’s home that involves a pipe (tobacco pipe). These little touches keep the reader wondering who was who and who was friend or foe.

As a reader, I want to know more about The Collective. Marnie has clearly angered this group of psychics and they have some power – but how much of it is real and how much of it depends on the fragility of the mind of their target? This could be why Marnie is wary but not openly fearful of this group. I hope to learn more in the follow-up to “Divine Guidance.”

With all the “normal” drama, there is a paranormal element, of course. For me it wasn’t the biggest part of the plotline but added to it. And a reminder: while it might be useful to learn from the dead (ghosts), it’s not always a happy experience.

Lastly, the supportive cast of characters around Marnie – her lovable dog Tater, the police, the detective, and her friends – certainly round out the story. There are a couple of big surprises at the end that beg the questions: In the circle of family and friends, who can you trust? Who is lying and who is dangerous?

T.L. Brown (Writer Tracy Brown) is the author of the Door to Door Paranormal Mystery Series. She was born in snowy Western New York where she developed a love of reading and writing – her mother never denied her request for a book. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh in History – Political Science.

After college she moved to Rochester and began to create a story about an average thirty-year-old who was caught between two worlds: the known one and a new, often dangerous place known as the Empire. That character became Emily Swift.

Tracy now lives in the beautiful Finger Lakes of New York State dreaming up new stories and quirky characters that make life all the more interesting. She believes magic still exists, you just need to look in the right places.

The Island Part 3

The Island – Part 3 – Marnie Reilly Mysteries – The Early Years

“You better let me go!” Marnie cried. “The cops are coming!”

“Will you shut up!” the bad man yelled.

The bad man half-carried and half-dragged Marnie to a shabby cabin on the eastern side of the island. It was a log cabin with a big porch. Cobwebs and trumpet creeper clung to log columns of the porch. A large window at the front of the cabin had a crack running through it, and all of the windows were in serious need of a cleaning.

The bad man backed up the front steps onto the porch, and pushed the door open with his backside. Once inside, he dragged Marnie across the room, and down a small hallway.  He struggled to open a door, and then clumsily hauled her down a set of stairs into the cellar.

 “This is your home for the next coupla hours,” the bad man growled. Still holding Marnie in the crook of his arm, he scanned the cellar for a place to lock Marnie away for a few hours. An old, leather sea chest sat in the far corner. His mouth curled up. Lugging Marnie across the room and into that chest wouldn’t be easy, but he would do it just to shut her up.

“My father is going to be here soon. He’s going to be real mad at you for hurting me,” Marnie said meekly.

The bad man laughed, and taunted her. “Your father ain’t gonna do shit! The cops ain’t gonna do shit! I’m gonna put you in this trunk, go kill your friends, come back here, kill you, and be outta here by the time the cops get here!”

Marnie stomped down hard on the bad man’s foot. Her flip-flops had fallen off while the bad man dragged her through the woods, and her small, bare feet did nothing to phase the bad man.

“Haha! Didn’t hurt!” the bad man said with a laugh.

He bent, and struggled to open the trunk with his left hand – his fingers were so swollen and sore he couldn’t grasp the hasp.

“Open the trunk!” the bad man ordered, leaning closer to the trunk.

“No!” retorted Marnie.

The bad man squeezed Marnie’s neck.  “Open the damn trunk! Now!”

Marnie cried out. “Ow! You’re hurting me!”

The bad man squeezed a bit harder. Marnie reached out and pulled up on the hasp, but it wouldn’t open. The bad man bent, and grabbed the hasp with his left hand. Wincing, he pulled up the lid. There was nothing in the trunk but some old rope and fishing nets. He grabbed Marnie by the back of the neck, and shoved her into the trunk. He dropped the lid quickly, and closed the hasp.

Marnie kicked and screamed. “Let me out! Let me out!”

The bad man kicked the side of the trunk hard. “Shut up! If you don’t shut up, I’m going upstairs to get my gun. I will shoot you! I will kill you right now!”

Marnie lay still. She heard the bad man’s footsteps on the stairs. The slam of the cellar door jiggled the windows. Marnie strained to hear – and then distant footfalls – maybe in the kitchen. She closed her eyes and spoke softly. She knew Papa Jack would hear her – he would tell her what to do.

Tom snuck around the back of the cabin. He peered through a kitchen window, and ducked fast when the bad man walked into the room. Tom squatted behind the scrubby plant that surely had been shrubs or flowers once upon a time. Tom felt the thud of his heart against his chest, and heard it in his ears.  He tried breathing through his nose, but it didn’t work. No matter how hard he tried not to be frightened – he was terrified. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten, and thought of Annie, only this time she didn’t appear.


Tom stiffened at the sound of a door slamming. It was the front door of the cabin. He ducked down even further and tucked himself close the cabin. Uh-oh! Tom winced. The crunch of dirt and old leaves under boots grew louder, and then the bad man appeared at the side of the cabin where Tom was crouched.

Tom held his breath. He counted to 15, and just as a breath nearly burst from his lungs, the bad man walked back toward the front of the cabin. Tom exhaled loudly, and then sucked in air. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the bad man walking toward the far side of the island where Sam’s friends had been swimming and laughing moments before. It seemed like a long time ago to Tom. He stood and wiped dirt and gravel from his hands onto his shorts. Glancing left and then right, he wondered, “Where’s Annie?” Shaking his head, he focused on why he had come to the cabin. Tom peeked through the window again.

“Where are you, Marnie? Where’d the bad man take you?” Tom muttered to himself.

“Papa Jack, are you sure?” Marnie asked. She shuddered in a breath, and then clumsily rolled onto her side and sighed. She opened her eyes and listened. Silence. The bad man had left. The slam she had heard a few moments ago must have been the bad man leaving the cabin.

Ssh!” Marnie whispered.

A door closed quietly. Light footsteps above – someone was moving through the cabin. Marnie thumped with her fist on the side of the trunk. She rolled onto her back and kicked the lid of the trunk, and banged her fists on the sides of the trunk. Then she lay silent. A door opening. Feet on the cellar stairs. Marnie froze. “What if it’s the bad man?” she thought.

Marnie tilted her head – a whisper – she heard someone whisper her name.

“Marnie? Marnie are you down here?” Tom whispered loudly.

Marnie pushed herself up onto an elbow. “Tom! Get me out of this trunk! Open the trunk, Tom!” she shouted.

Tom grabbed a hold of the hasp, and pulled up hard.

“It’s stuck!” Tom yelled. “I’m gonna find somethin’ to open it!”

Tom scanned the musty room. Dust floated in the air.  The windows were dirty and rippled with age, but enough light was coming through that he wasn’t in pitch blackness. Tom spotted a screwdriver on a workbench close to one of the grimy windows. 

“That’ll work,” Tom said – partly to himself, and partly to Marnie.

“Tom!” Marnie cried. “Tom, where are you?”

Tom ran back to the trunk with the screwdriver in his hand. “I’m right here! I’ll get you out, Marnie!”

Pushing the screwdriver between the chest and the hasp, Tom finagled the hasp free. He dropped the screwdriver and threw open the lid of the trunk. Marnie popped up to her feet, scrambled out of the trunk, and wrapped her arms around Tom in a big bear hug.

Tom pushed Marnie away. “Stop it, Marn! We gotta get outta here before the bad man comes back! We gotta go!”

Marnie put her fingers to her lips. “Shh! I’ve got to tell you something,” Marnie whispered.

Tom leaned close – eyebrows raised. “What?” he whispered back.

Marnie leaned closer to Tom, and whispered, “Mr. Barnes has a secret. My Papa Jack told me.”

Tom stepped back and stared at Marnie. “What did your Papa Jack say?” Tom asked.

Marnie glanced around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation. She saw no one – living or dead – hiding in the shadows of the cellar.

“Mr. Barnes killed his wife!” Marnie whispered loudly. “She’s buried under the bridge near an old ice shack.”

Tom crinkled his nose. “An ice shack? What the heck is an ice shack?” Tom asked.

Marnie stuck out her bottom lip and shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s what Papa Jack told me. Papa Jack said there’s a treasure hidden in the coal chute, too.”

Tom quirked up one side of his mouth. “What’s a coal chute?”

Marnie shrugged again. “I don’t know, but I think it’s down here,” she whispered.

Marnie and Tom wandered through the cellar looking for a coal chute. Neither knew what one was, but Marnie was convinced they would know it if they saw it. Tom stumbled over a cardboard box, and fell against Marnie. Marnie lurched headlong into a wooden bin.

“Blah! Blah! Tom! What… I’m all dirty! You pushed me into dirt!” Marnie yelled. She stood up, held her arms out, and looked at the black dust covering her arms.

Tom’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry! I tripped! I didn’t mean to push you!”

Marnie turned in a half circle. “Hey, Tom! It think this is coal dust. I know what coal looks like. Dad told me and Sam that if we didn’t help with chores, Santa was going to leave coal in our stockings. He even brought a piece of coal home to show us what it looks like.” Marnie bent down and picked up a piece of coal from the bin. “See, Tom! This is coal! This is what it looks like!”

“I’ve seen that stuff before. My grandpa puts it in his barbecue!” Tom shouted with pride.

Marnie tipped her head to the side and examined the wall on which the coal bin sat. She took a few steps closer to the wall, and her upper body disappeared into a hole. “Look, Tom! That must be the coal chute! Look! It goes outside! I can see light up there!” Marnie’s words were muffled, but Tom heard everything she said.

Tom climbed into the coal bin, and joined his friend by the chute. Both stood looking up into the chute to daylight at the top.

“Where’s the treasure?” Tom asked.

Marnie pointed up. “There it is! It’s right there!” Marnie reached up and pulled a piece of twine, and an oilcloth sack fell into her arms. “Wow! It’s heavy! I bet it’s a genie lantern!”

“Nah! Genies aren’t real! That’s only in movies! It’s probably a pirate’s treasure! Gold and silver!” Tom shouted.

“Well, a lot of people say ghosts aren’t real – and they are wrong! So maybe genies are real, too!” Marnie argued.

“C’mon, Marn! Let’s open the bag!” Tom suggested, as he climbed out the coal bin.

Marnie handed Tom the bag, and then scrambled over the side onto the dusty cellar floor.

Shaking her head, she said, “No, let’s wait until we get outside. We’ve got to leave now! The bad man is going to come back!”

Tom nodded. “Yeah. Let’s get outta here!”

Tom and Marnie ran up the cellar stairs, and just as they reached the top, the door flew open, and Mr. Barnes stood at the top. His face dark – angry – scary.

Marnie was one step ahead of Tom. She pointed her finger at Mr. Barnes. “You need to go now! We’re not afraid of you! We know what you did!”

Tom nudged Marnie with his shoulder. “Marn, please don’t make him mad,” he whispered.

Marnie turned head. “He can’t hurt us, Tom. He’s a ghost.”

“I can do more than you think, Marnie Reilly!” Mr. Barnes bellowed – his words echoed through the house. “Put my treasure back where you found it!”

“No!” Marnie shouted. “Get out of our way! We’re going to get the cops!” Marnie took a step up. A cold blast of wind pushed her backward into Tom, and she and Tom tumbled down the stairs to the cold floor beneath.

Tom hit his head hard on the stone foundation wall at the foot of the cellar stairs. Marnie’s landing was a bit softer. She fell on top of Tom, but put her top teeth through her bottom lip when she landed. Stunned and scared, Marnie and Tom looked up the stairs. Mr. Barnes slammed closed the cellar door – both Marnie and Tom heard the latch turn.

“Geez, Marnie! Why’d you go and make him mad?” Tom struggled to sit up.

Marnie rolled off Tom, and stood at the bottom of the stairs. “He was already mad! Papa Jack told me. Mr. Barnes did tell us to leave when we got here, remember?”

Tom nodded. He reached a hand back, and felt a bump growing on his head. He bent over. “Marn, is my head bleeding?”

Marnie inspected Tom’s head where he was pointing. There wasn’t any blood, but there was a huge goose egg.

“Nah! You’re not bleeding. Am I?” Marnie pushed out her bottom lip for Tom to inspect.

Tom nodded. “Yeah! Your lip doesn’t look too good!”

Marnie shrugged. “Another scar. I’ll bet when I’m a grown-up I’ll have better ones. It’s just a little cut, right?”

Tom nodded. “I guess so. Hey! How are we gonna get out of here?”

Marnie glanced around the cellar. The windows were too high for them to reach, but she did have an idea. Tongue poking out the side of her mouth in concentration, Marnie snapped her fingers awkwardly.

“The coal chute!” Marnie yelled. “We’re gonna put the treasure back up there so that Mr. Barnes doesn’t chase us. Then we can crawl up the walls like Santa Claus does when he goes up the chimney. We can come back and get the treasure later. Sam will bring us back.”

“Good idea, Marn!” Tom replied.

Sam frantically paced up and down the forest floor.  He ran his fingers through his hair, and then dragged both of his hands over his face. Staring up at the tree branches overhead, he sighed loudly. “Hey, guys, I’ve gotta go find my sister – and track down Tom. My dad is going to be here soon. If Marnie and Tom aren’t with me, he is going to kick my butt.”

Stephanie strolled to his side, and placed a hand warmly on this arm. “Sam, this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know that there was a madman on the island. How could you have known?”

Sam stared straight ahead – focused on the path where Tom had darted away into the woods. He clenched his jaw. “My sister warned me. If she tells my father that she warned me, well, I’ll be grounded for the rest of the summer.”

“Marnie isn’t a tattletale, Sam,” David Bennett assured.

Sam shook his head, and ran a hand over his face. “Not on purpose, no. She tattles accidentally. She doesn’t get me into trouble on purpose. Marnie blurts things out without even realizing what she’s saying.”

Stephanie wrinkled her forehead, and shot a glance sideways. “What do you mean your sister warned you? How could your sister warn you if you came to the island together?”

Sam sighed, and turned to Stephanie. “My sister sees stuff. She hears stuff. Stuff that the rest of us don’t see and hear. You know – ghosts.” Realizing he had just outed Marnie’s gift to his friends, Sam turned his back on the group.

Stephanie burst out laughing. Two of the other girls shot one another knowing glances and giggled. Two of the girls stared down at their toes. Stuart and David Bennett nodded knowingly in Sam’s direction. The other boys stared blankly – not sure what to make of Sam’s strange admission.

Sam’s face reddened with anger, and he spun around – glaring at the girls. “It’s not funny! Marnie’s been kidnapped by a psycho! What’s funny about that?!”

Stephanie’s shoulders stiffened. “Geez, Sam! We are just teasing, but seriously! Your sister sees ghosts? You were obviously embarrassed that she thinks she can see ghosts! You turned your back on us!” Stephanie giggled, and the other girls joined her.

Furrowing his brow, Sam cocked his head to one side. “I’m not embarrassed that my sister can see ghosts. I’m angry with myself. I broke my promise to her to not to tell anyone about her gift when I told you.” Sam’s frown deepened. “Wow, Stephanie! I didn’t realize that you were one of the mean girls. I thought you were different. Ha! I was going to ask you to the dance next weekend.” Sam shook his head. “I guess I’ll take a girl who doesn’t make fun of my sister – especially when my sister’s life is in danger.”

Stuart and David Bennett, and the other two boys glanced sideways at one another. The girls rallied around Stephanie.

“Sam Reilly, don’t be mean. How dare you say I’m one of the mean girls? I’m not mean! I just think it’s ridiculous that you think your sister can see ghosts! Of course, she can’t! There’s no such thing as ghosts!” Stephanie stomped away from the group. Two of the girls chased after Stephanie. The other two girls remained with Sam and the boys.

Sam, hands on his hips, stared down at the ground. He pushed a spiny pinecone around with his toe, and then announced, “Okay! I gotta go find my sister. Everybody stick together. If that bad man comes back, you don’t want to be wandering off alone.”

“We’ll come with you,” replied Stuart Bennett, pointing a finger between his brother David and himself. “Joe and Alex can stay here with the girls. We don’t think you should go alone.”

Sam nodded reluctantly. “Yeah. That’s a good idea. He has the crowbar. We’ll have to find some big sticks and rocks along the way. He’s injured, but he’s strong.”

Stuart and David agreed with nods of their heads.

“We were going to catch some fish for lunch, so I’ve got my filet knife in my bag. We can bring that,” Stuart suggested.

Sam shook his head. “Hmm. We sure don’t want him to get his hands on that! He’s got Marnie! If he gets it away from you… I don’t know, Stuart. Until we find Marnie, I don’t think it’s a good idea. He’s already taken the crowbar. What if he got a hold of your knife?”

Stuart drew in a long breath, and then exhaled loudly. “Geez, Sam! I hadn’t thought of that! I guess it was kind of stupid.” Stuart dropped his head and his shoulders.

“It wasn’t stupid, Stu. It’s just… well… I don’t know. I just want to make sure Marnie and Tom are safe, that’s all. Let’s find some big sticks and rocks, and leave the knife behind,” replied Sam.

Stuart nodded. “Okay. Let’s go get Marnie and Tom.”

Sam turned to Joe and Alex. “If my dad gets here before we get back, tell him where we went.”

“Yeah, sure, Sam. We’ll stay here. If the bad man comes back, we’ll all yell really loud,” Joe said.

Sam agreed. “Okay! We’ll do the same. If he gets anywhere near us, we’ll all yell as loud as we can!”

Sam glanced over at Stephanie and the other girls. He thought that he should apologize for getting angry, and then quickly changed his mind. She had been mean. She shouldn’t have said what she said. Dang it! I’m not going to apologize. She should apologize to me. Sam nodded in agreement with himself.

“Okay! Let’s go get my sister!” Sam took a confident step forward, and then disappeared into the woods with Stuart and David following close behind him.

“Hey, Marn, maybe we should take the screwdriver with us – you know, we can stab the bad man if he comes after us!” Tom ran back to the sea chest and picked up the screwdriver. He wielded it as a pirate would a sword. “What do you think?”

 “Yeah. I think that’s a good idea,” Marnie agreed. She twisted her mouth in thought. “Umm… What else is down here that we can use to hit the bad man?” Marnie began scouting out possible weapons.

“Hey! Is that a matchstick? That looks like the one my dad used to whack down weeds at the back of our yard!” Tom shouted.

Marnie’s eyes followed Tom’s gaze to a machete. It hung on a peg over Mr. Barnes’s workbench.

“If you boost me up, we can get the matchstick, Tom! That looks scary! I’ll bet the bad man would be afraid of that!” Marnie skipped across the dusty floor, and stood next to the workbench.

Tom got down onto his hands and knees; Marnie stepped up onto his back, and then crawled up onto the workbench. She reached up, grabbed the handle of the machete, and pulled it out and then off the peg. Handing it carefully to Tom, she jumped down off the workbench.

“It’s pretty rusty,” Tom said.

Marnie shrugged. “That’s okay. We can still whack him with it.”

Tom and Marnie walked back to the coal bin, dropped the screwdriver and machete into the bin, and then scuttled over the side.

“How the heck are we gonna get up there?” Tom asked, staring up the coal chute.

“How the heck should I know?” Marnie shrugged, and stared up the shoot with Tom.

Tom and Marnie exchanged quick frightened glances. Footsteps crunching on the leaves and the gravelly road echoed down the chute from outside. Marnie held a finger to her lips.

Sam, Stuart and David crept up to the cabin. They kept low so that the bad man wouldn’t see them should he be at a window looking out.

“Do you think he’s got Marnie in that cabin?” Stuart whispered.

“I don’t know. She has to be here somewhere. We’ve looked everywhere else,” Sam whispered. “We still don’t know where that bad man is.  If he’s in there, and Marnie is in there, we’ll never get her out.”

“Maybe he stashed Marnie, and came for us?” suggested David.

Sam gave a curt nod, and then stared off into the woods. “Yeah, maybe. The only way we’re gonna know if he’s in there is to go look through the windows. You guys stay here. I’ll go look.”

Sam crept to the back windows of the cabin. He stood on his toes, and peeked into the kitchen. He couldn’t see anyone, and so next he crept around to a side window. Again, no one appeared to be home. He turned back to David and Stuart, motioning for them to join him.


Marnie and Tom could hear voices coming from outside. They could also see feet through the one of the grimy windows. It definitely wasn’t the bad man – the feet were wearing flip-flops, and there were three sets of flip-flops.

Marnie grabbed Tom’s arm. “It’s Sam! It’s Sam and his friends, Tom!”

Tom wrapped his arms around Marnie in a huge bear hug, and twirled her around.

“Yell really loud, Tom! Yell really loud!”

Both Marnie and Tom shouted at the top of their lungs. “Sam! Sam! Down here! We’re in the cellar! Sam!”

Sam turned to face the cabin. “Do you guys hear that?” A smile spread across Sam’s face. “That’s Marnie and Tom! They’re here! Listen! They’re in the cellar!”

Colin Reilly tied his boat up to the dock – his face grim. He bent down and took the rifle that his wife, Sophia Reilly, was handing up to him. Sam’s and Marnie’s father was a tall man, wearing khaki cargo shorts, a grey New York Giants T-shirt, and tan boat shoes.  His strawberry blonde hair, freckled nose, and green eyes told anyone who cared to notice that Marnie took after her father. His broad shoulders, lean build, and strong, rough hands told anyone who cared to notice that Colin worked hard. He was a carpenter – probably the best carpenter in Creekwood. Colin Reilly was known about town as the guy who could get anything done, and done right. He was a coach in the town’s Little League program, he sat on the school board, he was a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club, he was an avid hunter, angler, and he was the pitcher on his softball team.

Sophia Reilly held out her hand to her husband. Colin helped her navigate her way off the boat and onto the rickety dock. Sophia wore cut off denim shorts, a white tank top, and white Keds; and around her waist, she wore a black canvas fanny pack. Her honey blonde ponytail poked neatly out the back of her navy blue, Creekwood PD baseball cap. Sophia Reilly was a force of nature. She ran 5 miles every day. She belonged to the PTA; she coached the girls’ high school volleyball team; and she volunteered at the local animal shelter every weekend. Marnie’s and Sam’s mother had a reputation for speaking her mind – honestly and fairly. She also had a reputation for not suffering fools easily, which was a good thing because Sophie Reilly was Creekwood’s town judge. 

Marcus arrived a few moments after the Reillys.

“Marcus, can you anchor, and swim in? There won’t be room for the police boat if you dock here?” Colin shouted.

Marcus nodded, dropped the anchor, and swam to the Reilly’s boat. Colin helped Marcus aboard, and Sophia handed Marcus a towel.

“What can I do to help?” Marcus asked.

“How about you stay here so that you can wave the police boat in when they get here?” Colin suggested.

“Sure, Mr. Reilly. I’m happy to help any way I can.” Marcus sat back into a seat, and then warily glanced back at the shore.

Sophia noticed the concern on Marcus’s face. She nudged her husband, and directed her gaze in Marcus’s direction.

“You know, Marcus, there’s a flare gun under the captain’s chair. If you have any trouble, send up a flare, and then reload,” Colin advised.

Marcus grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Reilly. I was thinking that the bad man might come this way. He might want to get off the island. I don’t think he would worry about stealing a boat.”

“You’re probably right. We’ll be back as soon as we gather everyone up. You said the Bennett boys are here, two other boys and four girls. Is that right?” Colin Reilly asked.

“Yes, sir. They were all together in a clearing in the middle of the woods,” Marcus replied.

“Don’t worry, Marcus. We’ll find them – Marnie and Tom, too,” Sophia assured him.

Marcus’s eyes grew wide, and a frown spread across his face. “He’s a really big dude! Be careful!”

Colin laughed awkwardly. “Hmm. He took Marnie. He had better be careful. That little girl is a force of nature, just like her mother. Our own little tempest, and if Sam is as angry as you say he is… Well, Sam will be tailing that big dude, and he’ll be sorry he wrangled with the Reilly family.”

Sophia knew that Colin was hoping that his children were exactly as formidable as he was saying. She knew they could both be spirited, and a handful. She just hoped that they were as resourceful as Colin and she believed them to be.

Sam picked up a large rock and smashed in one of the grimy cellar windows. He cleared the glass away, and then stuck his head through the window.

“Man, am I glad to see the two of you!” Sam said.

“Sammy Bear!” Marnie shouted. She hopped from foot to foot, and threw her arms in the air.

Tom stared up at the broken window. “The bad man is gonna be mad!”

“I don’t care if he’s mad. Are you two locked down there? Can you come up through the house?” Sam asked.

Marnie shook her head. “Nah! Mr. Barnes locked the door! He knocked us down the stairs, and then the locked the door! He’s an ass!”

“Marnie! Don’t cuss!” Sam yelled.

Marnie glanced down at the floor, and then up at Sam. “Well, he is an ass. He’s mean!”

Sam nodded, and turned his head to hide a grin. “Okay, Marnie. He’s an ass. Now, c’mon over here. Stuart and David are going to hold my feet, I’m going to stretch my arms down, you’re going to grab a hold of my hands, and then I’ll pull you up.”

“Okay! Tom, you go first. I’ll matchstick the bad man if he comes down here to get me,” Marnie said, holding up the machete like a sword.

“You sure, Marn? I can matchstick the bad man!” Tom offered.

“One of you get over here! We don’t have a lot of time!” Sam shouted.

Tom jumped, surprised by Sam’s tone, and then ran to the window, held onto Sam’s hands, and Sam pulled him up, and through the window.

“C’mon, Marnie! Let’s go!” Sam scooted back through the window, and held out his arms.

Marnie raced to the window, and handed Sam the machete. “Here, take the matchstick! We can whack the bad man with it!”

“It’s called a machete, Marnie,” Sam corrected her, and took the blade carefully. He handed it back to Stuart, and then he reached down for Marnie.

Marnie reached up, and grabbed Sam’s hands. Holding tight, Sam pulled Marnie up and through the window. Sam stood and brushed gravel and dirt from his clothes, and then gave Marnie a tight hug.

“Thank you for getting us out of there, Sam!” Marnie hugged Sam tightly, and then asked, “Do you think the bad man is coming back?”

“I don’t know where he is, Marnie. C’mon! Let’s get back to the others!” Sam grabbed Marnie’s hand.

Sam, Marnie, Tom, Stuart and David rounded the corner of the cabin’s veranda, and stopped dead in their tracks. The bad man stood in front of them with a gun – aimed directly at Marnie.

“You’re not going anywhere!” the bad man growled.

Stuart, who was in the lead, quickly hid the machete behind his back. Sam saw the machete, and moved a step closer to Stuart. Marnie darted away from Sam, bent down, and snatched up a handful of gravel. With all of her might, she heaved it at the bad man. As the bad man turned to aim his weapon at Marnie, Tom scooped up a handful of gravel, and threw it at the bad man. David did the same. Sam took the machete from Stuart’s hand, and charged the bad man. Dazed by the commotion, the bad man turned his head left, then right, and then took aim at Sam. Marnie scooped up another handful of gravel, and let it fly at the bad man. Tom, Stuart and David all picked up handfuls of gravel – bombarding the bad man with flying stones and dirt. Sam charged forward, and wildly waved the machete in front of him as he ran. Confused, the bad man backed up, and then took aim at Sam again.

A fist-sized chunk of granite flew through the air from the woods and hit the bad man in on his right shoulder. He waivered and turned abruptly, now aiming his pistol to his right – in the direction of the woods. Shush-shick! Birds scattered and Sam eased back – he knew his father had arrived, and he had brought along his hunting rifle.

“Drop your weapon! Put down the gun, now!” Colin Reilly shouted from his position in the woods.

The bad man turned toward the children, and took aim at Marnie. Chick-chick! The distinct sound of a round being chambered drew the bad man’s attention to his left.

Sophia Reilly, handgun drawn and aimed at the bad man’s chest, emerged from the brush on the opposite side of the cabin.

Sophia quickly scanned the faces of the children, planted her feet, and calmly warned, “Freeze, asshole!”

The bad man met Sophia’s gaze – a slight grin appeared on his face – he was daring her to shoot.

Colin Reilly moved from his position in the woods, directly opposite his wife – his rifle aimed at the bad man’s leg. He shot a stern “don’t move” face at the children.

“Put the gun down. We don’t want to shoot you. Put the gun down, and kick it over here.” Colin Reilly worked hard to hide his fear with his cool, steady tone.

Glancing warily between Sophia and Colin, the bad man considered his options. Marnie scrunched up her nose and poked out her tongue. His decision was easy. He took aim at Marnie once again.

Birds scattered in the woods behind the bad man. He turned his head slightly, and Sam lunged forward with the machete. He whacked the man’s right arm. Shrieking with pain, the bad man dropped the gun, and grabbed his arm. David Bennett ran behind the bad man, knelt down behind him, and then Stuart Bennett rushed forward and drove his shoulder into the bad man’s stomach – forcing him to trip backward over David. Landing hard on a bed of pine needles – the bad man’s left hand continued to cling to his wounded right arm. Another shriek of pain escaped him as Colin Reilly placed his foot on the bad man’s right arm, and pointed the rifle directly at the bad man’s chest.

“Don’t move!” Colin growled.

“Careful, Dad! He’s fast! He got away from us today!” Sam ran to his father’s side, and glowered down at the bad man.

Colin nodded grimly. “Don’t worry, son. If I’m not mistaken, I think I heard the police arrive.”

Sophia put her gun into her fanny pack, and ran to Marnie. She checked Marnie’s arms, legs, and head to make sure she had no broken bones; she hugged her quickly, and then checked Tom, Stuart and David. Once she was certain they were okay, she rejoined her husband, and retrieved her gun from the fanny pack. Sophia stood over the bad man – her gun aimed at his chest.

Sophia glanced up at her son, and then back down at the man wincing beneath her husband’s foot. “Sam, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?”

“I’m okay, Mom,” Sam responded with a shrug.

Sophie glanced up again. “Sam, look at me.”

Sam’s grey eyes met his mother’s soft blue gaze. He looked older to her than when they had left for the island this morning. She knew Sam wasn’t okay. She knew that this had been a terrible ordeal for him – and for his sister – but Sam had had the burden of looking after not just Marnie, but her friend too.

“Thank you, Sam, for taking such good care of your sister,” Sophia said – a warm smile spread across her face, and her eyes teared up.

Frowning, Sam replied, “Yeah! I did a great job. I let my sister be kidnapped.”

“Did you get her back? Did you do everything you could to protect her?” Colin asked – taking his eyes off the bad man for only a moment so that he could see his son’s face.

Sam nodded.

“Well, then you did the best you could, and it’s better than a lot of boys your age could have done. You did well, son. You did well.” Colin looked around the group of children. “You’ve all done well.”

Struggling to hide tears, Sam stared into the woods and shrugged.

Marnie skipped to Sam’s side, and wrapped her arms around his waist.

Two police officers in uniform and a man wearing jeans, a t-shirt, suit jacket, and boots, raced into the clearing.

 “Mr. and Mrs. Reilly, please put down your weapons. We’ll take it from here.”

“Whew! Pete! Lou! Are we glad to see you!” Colin Reilly sighed, lowered his rifle to his side, and stepped away from the bad man.

“Yeah. The cavalries here,” Officer Pete Sterling replied.

“How are the kids doin’?” asked Officer Lou Beaumont, nodding toward the children.

“They’re as well as can be expected. Marnie and Sam have some bumps, cuts and bruises…” Sophia began – only to be interrupted by Marnie.

“Tom has a big, bumpy goose egg on the back of his head!” Marnie yelled out.

“Well, if none of them need care urgently, we’d appreciate it if you could take the kids to the hospital after we’ve had a chance to speak with them. We don’t want them to forget anything,” Officer Sterling advised.

Sophia wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Maybe we could take this back to our house. It’s been a difficult day, and we’d like the children to be comfortable when they speak with you.”

Sophia glanced in Tom’s direction, and then back to Officer Sterling. “I’ve tried to reach Tom’s parents, but haven’t been able to get through to them. They’ve been in Saratoga Springs most of the day, and are planning to pick him up at 7:00. I think it’s best we get the children home.”

Marnie poked her head around her mother, and looked up at Officer Sterling. “Yeah! And I’m hungry! We didn’t get to eat our lunch ‘cause that bad man locked me in a trunk!” Marnie put her hands on her hips and glared bravely at the bad man.

The man who was wearing jeans stepped forward. “I think that would be fine. We’ll finish up here, and then meet you at your house. Pete, you know where the Reilly’s house is, right?”

“Yeah. I know where they live.” Officer Sterling nodded.

The jeans-cladded man put his hand out to Sophia. “I’m Lieutenant Mac Gregg. I’m here in Creekwood helping out for a few days while their lieutenant is on vacation. We’ll come over as soon as we’ve finished.”

Sophia shook Lieutenant Gregg’s hand warmly. “Thank you so much. It’s just that the children…”

Lieutenant Gregg shook his head, and waved his hands. “No need to explain. I understand. I would want to get them home, too. I have two myself – just about Marnie’s age.” Lieutenant Gregg reached out a hand and ruffled Marnie’s hair.

Marnie glowered up at the lieutenant. “Hey! How did you know my name?”

Lieutenant Gregg laughed. “She’s a pistol, isn’t she?” The lieutenant knelt down, and smiled. “Well, Marnie, your mom mentioned your name when we first arrived. Why don’t you go home with your mom and dad, have something to eat, and we’ll see you soon.”

Marnie gave the lieutenant a sideways glance – one strawberry blonde eyebrow raised. Sophia recognized the look on Marnie’s face, and before Marnie could blurt out something inappropriate, she agreed wholeheartedly with the lieutenant.

“Yes, I think that is for the best. We’ll get the kids home, feed them, and then they’ll be ready to have a nice long chat with you,” Sophia agreed.

Colin playfully messed up Marnie’s hair and agreed, “Yeah, and maybe Marnie won’t be so grumpy once she’s had something to eat.”

“Don’t bet on it!” Marnie growled.

Colin laughed, and then glanced in the direction of the bad man. “Any idea who this guy is?”

Lieutenant Gregg ran a hand through his thick brown hair, and then pulled a notepad from his pocket. “Yeah. His name is Jethro Barnes. He’s Cy Barnes’s stepson… uh… adopted son. He’s bad news. He’s been in and out of trouble since he was 15. His mother, Ida, married Cy when Jethro was 5. From what I can tell, it wasn’t a happy family. Jethro was released from Bayview two years ago. His parole officer lost him, and we’ve been looking for him in connection to a few armed robberies. Ida Barnes has no known whereabouts. Cy Barnes put in a missing persons on Ida about 6 years ago. We’ve always figured she was fed up, and just took off.”

“When did Cy pass away? I don’t remember it being in the newspaper,” Colin asked.

“A couple of officers went out to the island two years ago to do a welfare check. People in town hadn’t seen him in a while. Anyway, they found him dead in his vegetable garden. They thought it was a stroke, but I’m wondering now,” replied Lieutenant Gregg, glancing over his shoulder at Jethro.

Officers Beaumont and Sterling had helped Barnes sit up. They had his hands secured with handcuffs behind his back.

Marnie walked toward Barnes slowly. She stopped directly in front of him, and narrowed her eyes. She leaned forward slightly, and whispered, “I know you killed Mr. Barnes, and I know he killed Mrs. Barnes. I’m gonna tell the cops when they come to my house tonight. You’re a bad man!”

“If you tell them anything, you are dead,” Barnes growled quietly.

“You’re going to jail. You can’t hurt me,” Marnie whispered.

“Marnie, get away from him! Get over here,” Colin called out.

“Just a sec, Dad! I want to see if his nose still hurts!” Marnie called back, and then turned back to Barnes. “Does your nose still hurt?”

“A little girl like you can’t hurt someone like me,” Barnes replied – an evil grin spreading across his ugly face.

Marnie took one step back, rolled her little hand into a tight fist…

“Marnie! No!” shouted Colin.

Marnie turned to her father for a split-second before turning back to Barnes, and punching him square in the nose.

“Does it hurt now?” Marnie glowered at Barnes.

“Marnie!” Sophia shouted.

Nudging one another gently, the children giggled and quietly celebrated Marnie’s pugilistic effort. The police officers hid their amusement by turning their backs.

Barnes blinked back tears of pain as blood oozed down his anger-reddened face. “I will kill you!”

“You’re going to jail!” Marnie scrunched up her face, poked out her tongue, and then ran to her father’s side. Wrapping her arms around one of his legs, she tipped her head up, and grinned at him.

“Marnie, you don’t punch people!” Colin scolded his daughter. He knelt down in front of her. “We’ve talked about this!”

“He hurt me! He locked me in a trunk, and he hurt Sam, and he shook me real hard, and he killed Mr. Barnes, and…and…” Marnie gasped for a breath, and then burst into tears. She wrapped her arms around her father’s neck and wailed.

Colin hugged his daughter close. Picking her up in his arms, he turned to his wife. “It’s time to get these kids home. She’s exhausted. They all must be.”

The aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and the sounds of barking dogs, children laughing, silverware clattering and Johnny Cash on the stereo greeted the policemen when they arrived at the Reilly home at just a little past 6:30.

Marnie and two dogs met the policemen at the door. “Hi! Mom and Dad are in the kitchen. This is Murphy and this is Jack.” Marnie pushed open the screen door. The dogs sniffed at the policemen as they entered the house.

Lieutenant Gregg scratched Murphy’s ears, and bent to pat the top of Jack’s head. Officer Sterling walked widely around the dogs, and Officer Beaumont patted Marnie on top of the head.

“C’mon! I’ll take you to my parents!” Marnie grabbed Lieutenant Gregg’s index finger, and pulled him through the living room, dining room, and into the big country kitchen. Murphy, Jack and Officers Pete Sterling and Lou Beaumont followed closely behind.

An old oak trestle table with long bench seats sat in a nook by a bay window that looked out over the backyard. The table held a stack of paper plates, silverware, plastic cups, and napkins. Mustards, ketchup, salad dressings, and relish bottles were placed in the middle of the table with bowls of potato, macaroni and green salad.  Two pitchers of lemonade and two pitchers of ice water sat on a sideboard on the back wall of the kitchen, near the backdoor.

“Mom! The cops are here!” Marnie announced. She pulled out a bench, and sat at the table. Murphy and Jack curled up at her feet under the table. “Can I have a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard, please?”

Sophia emerged from the pantry with hamburger and hot dog rolls in her hands. “Yes, Marnie. “I’ll check on dinner with your father. Officers, would you like something to eat? We have hamburgers, hot dogs, and three types of salad.”

Officer Beaumont rubbed his hands together. “That would be great! I’ll take a hot dog with everything!”

Officer Sterling sighed deeply. “We’re not here to eat, Lou. We’re here to question the children.”

“I think something to eat would be just fine. Maybe we could sit with the children – get to know them a bit better. It may make them more comfortable,” suggested Lieutenant Gregg. “Uh… where are the other children?”

“They’re outside – except for Tom. Tom is in the den watching TV. He has a headache from that bump on his head. I keep checking on him to make sure he’s awake. Poor thing. I don’t think he has a concussion, but that bump is going to hurt for a few days,” Sophia replied.

Colin pushed open the screen door with the tray of hamburgers he was carrying. Sam came in behind him with a tray of hot dogs. David and Stuart Bennett, Marcus, Stephanie and other children trooped in behind, and hovered over the table waiting their turn for food. Tom wandered into the kitchen a few moments later, and slid onto the bench next to Marnie. David Bennett sat on the other bench, opposite Marnie.

“Dad, is it okay if we go out and sit at the picnic table?” Sam asked.

“Sure. Does everybody have a drink?” Colin replied.

Sam nodded.

“And a napkin? Don’t wipe food on your clothes,” Sophia said. “And don’t forget to put your plates in the garbage can when you’re finished. And bring the silverware into the house – do not throw out my silverware!”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Okay, Mom!”

The screen door slammed, and the teenagers were gone.

Officer Sterling took a seat next to David Bennett. Officer Beaumont took a seat next to Tom. 

Sophia and Colin sat at the small breakfast counter where they could easily here the conversation without intruding.

Lieutenant Gregg stood next to Marnie – who was swinging her legs under the table. “Can I sit next to you, Marnie?” he asked.

Marnie shrugged. “Sure.” She picked up her hot dog and attempted to take a bite. She winced, and set the hot dog down. She put her fingers up to her swollen lip, and scrunched up her nose. “Ow!”

“Your lip looks mighty sore, Marnie. Did Jethro Barnes do that to your lip?” the lieutenant asked.

Shaking her head, Marnie replied, “Nah! Mr. Barnes did. He pushed us down the stairs. That’s how Tom got the goose egg on his head!”

“Mr. Barnes? But Mr. Barnes wasn’t there, Marnie,” the lieutenant responded.

“Yes he was! He pushed us down the stairs! Ask Tom! Tom’ll tell ya!” Marnie shouted.

Tom took a big bite out of his hamburger and nodded. “Yup!”

“Marnie, Mr. Barnes wasn’t there. Mr. Barnes died two years ago,” Officer Sterling commented from across the table.

Lieutenant Gregg narrowed his eyes and shook his head at Officer Sterling.  Sterling purposely did not look in the lieutenant’s direction.

“Pfft! I know that! He killed his wife you know! My Papa Jack told me he killed his wife. She’s buried under the bridge near the ice shack. Mr. Barnes got killed by Jethro!”

“Who is Papa Jack?”

“My grandfather. He talks to me sometimes. He’s a ghost, just like Mr. Barnes – but Papa Jack is a nice ghost. Mr. Barnes is a mean ghost,” Marnie said matter-of-factly, looking to Tom for confirmation.

Tom nodded in agreement.

Officer Sterling smirked, and then laughed. “A ghost? My goodness, you two have active imaginations!”

Marnie frowned, and held up her hands. “I don’t get it. Why are you laughing at us?”

Colin and Sophia exchanged glances. They knew this was going to be a difficult conversation.  

Officer Sterling smugly replied, “Well, Marnie, I’m a grown-up. I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“That’s okay. They don’t believe you in you either,” Marnie replied with a shrug. “That lady behind you called you a nincompoop a few minutes ago. She says you were born grumpy and grew up to be… umm…” Marnie squinted her eyes, and tipped her head to one side. Her aquamarine eyes focused directly over Officer Sterling’s head. “Bombastic! That’s what she said! Bombastic!” Quirking up the corner of her mouth, Marnie shook her head. “I don’t know that word. What does it mean?”

Officer Sterling gasped. “Who told you that?”

“She says she’s your mom. She says you’ve been a pain in the ass your whole life. She says she told you so!” Marnie grinned, and picked up her hot dog. She turned toward her parents. “Dad, can you cut my hot dog for me? It’s ouching my lip.”

The adults contained their laughter to save Officer Sterling’s dignity, but David and Tom giggled.

“Haha! Marnie, you said a swear word,” Tom giggled.

Marnie turned to Tom, and then pointed toward Officer Sterling. “No! His mom said a swear word. She told me to say it.”

Colin and Sophia stood, but before either could say anything, the lieutenant spoke.

“Hey, Pete, how about you go out back and get statements from the other kids. Beau, how about you go with him. You can divide the kids up, and we can finish this quicker so that the Reillys can get on with their night.” Lieutenant Gregg stood, and walked out the back door with Officers Sterling and Beaumont.

“Mom, what does that word mean? Bombastic! It’s fun to say! Bombastic! What does it mean?” Marnie’s wide-eyed innocence of naively insulting Officer Sterling made her father smile.

“Well, Marnie, how about we talk about that later. We’ll get out the dictionary and look it up once everyone has gone home. How does that sound?” Sophia offered.

Marnie frowned. “Okay. Is bombastic a naughty word, Mom?”

Sophia stood over Marnie while she cut up the hot dog. She shook her head. “No, it’s not a naughty word, but you shouldn’t use it to describe people. It could hurt their feelings.”

Marnie glanced sideways in thought. “Mom, is Officer Sterling bombastic?”

Colin burst out laughing. He turned his back, and then stepped outside so that Marnie wouldn’t be encouraged to continue with her line of questioning. Marnie did love an audience.

Sophia nodded curtly. “Perhaps just a little bit, Marnie.”

Marnie picked up a bit of the hot dog. Before popping it into her mouth, she replied, “Okay. It means he’s annoying.”

Sophia turned her face away so that she wouldn’t be caught smiling, and was saved by the lieutenant’s return.

Lieutenant Gregg returned to the kitchen. “Okay, Marnie, can we have chat?”

“Sure!” Marnie grinned up at him, and popped another bit of hot dog into her mouth.

Marnie told the lieutenant about everything that had happened on the island, with Tom and David adding to the story.  He left the table twice – once when Marnie told him about Mrs. Barnes’s body being near the ice shack under the bridge; and again to hide his amusement when Marnie asked him if he thought that Officer Sterling was bombastic.

Lieutenant Gregg stood up from the table. “Thank you, Marnie, Tom and David for helping me. You did very well. I’m going to go back to the station, write my reports, and I’ll let you know if I have any more questions. Do you have any questions for me?”

Tom sat forward, leaning his arms on the table. “Do you always carry your gun?”

“I carry it everywhere, but at home. At home, I lock it in a cupboard,” Lieutenant Gregg responded.

“Have ya ever shot anyone?” David asked.

“Yes, but not in a very long time,” the lieutenant answered. He glanced away, picked up his notebook and pen, and tucked them in his pocket.

Marnie put up a hand – her eyes filled with tears. “Stop asking him about that! It makes him sad!” She wiped tears from her eyes.

A knock at the front door, and the squeak of the screen door opening, interrupted the children’s questions.

“Hello! We’re back! It’s Abigeal and Declan! Sorry we’re a little late. We had a flat tire on the way home!” Tom’s mother called out from the front hallway.

Tom hopped up from his seat and ran to the door. “Mom! Dad! We went to the island today, and I got a bump on my head, and Marnie got locked in a trunk, and…”

“Whoa! What did you say? You bumped your head?” Abigeal Keller pulled her son to her – she checked his head for the bump. “Oh my goodness, that is a big bump. Are you feeling okay? Tom, look at me. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m okay! C’mon in the kitchen. We’re talkin’ to the cops!” Tom turned and raced back to the kitchen.

Abigeal and Declan Keller exchanged bemused glances.

Abigeal shook her head and chuckled. “We better go find out what mischief Tom and Marnie have gotten into this time.”

A call came through for Lieutenant Gregg while the Reillys were giving the Kellers a rundown of the day’s events. The lieutenant excused himself and stepped outside.

When he returned to the kitchen, he studied Marnie for a moment. How could this little girl have known where to find Ida Barnes’s body? Is it possible that she really did see ghosts? Is it possible that she really does speak with ghosts? His own son talked about ghosts quite often, but the lieutenant had thought it was simply the overactive imagination of a child. His wife Carol had disagreed. She told him it was common for children to see spirits. She also told him that her mother, Margaret, was quite “gifted” in the area of the paranormal. He had thought it was nonsense – until perhaps now.

Colin Reilly offered a cup of coffee to the lieutenant. “Coffee? Hey, are you okay?”

Lieutenant Gregg took the cup. “Ah, thanks. Mr. Reilly? Does Marnie really see ghosts? I’m asking because Ida Barnes was exactly where Marnie said she was. She couldn’t have known that. The officers found nothing in the house that would have indicated where Ida Barnes’s body was buried.”

Colin laughed. “She tells us things all of the time. Things she would have no way of knowing, unless she was “conferring with spirits” – as her mother calls it. She’s been doing that since she could talk – and before she could talk she would smile or frown or cry or laugh at things we couldn’t see. I don’t know. I guess I do believe she does speak to them because she is never wrong when she tells us stuff.”

The lieutenant furrowed his brow. “Huh. My son tells me that he sees ghosts. I may have to start taking it seriously. Thanks, Mr. Reilly.”

“Call me Colin, please. Are you all set? Do you need any more information from the kids?”

“We’re all set. I’m heading back up North in a few days, but I’ll be back for the trial – – if it gets that far. Pete and Lou will take it from here,” replied Lieutenant Gregg.

“Hey, mister! Are you leaving?” Marnie stood in front of the lieutenant – a chocolate Fudgesicle smile on her face.

“Yes, Marnie, I’m going back to the office. It was very nice meeting you,” the lieutenant replied.

Marnie took his hand and pulled him toward her. The lieutenant bent down so that his eyes met Marnie’s eyes. Marnie kissed him on the cheek – leaving an imprint of chocolate lips on his face.

“Thanks for getting the bad man, sir,” Marnie said with an impish grin.

“You’re very welcome. Thank you for helping us get the bad man, Marnie,” the lieutenant replied.

Marnie giggled. “No sweat! See ya!” Marnie raced off to join Tom and David in the backyard. It was a perfect night to catch fireflies.

Sam appeared in Marnie’s bedroom doorway with his sleeping bag and a pillow in his arms.

“Hey, Squirt, do you mind if I crash in here with you tonight?”

Marnie sat up and patted the side of her bed, inviting Sam into her room. “Are you scared, Sam?”

“Nope. Are you? Is it okay if I sleep on your floor?” Sam asked.

“Sure! We can have a slumber party! No, Sam, I’m not scared. You won’t let anything get me, will you, Sam?”

“I’ll always protect you, Marnie. Always!” Sam replied.

“Cross your heart?” Marnie asked.

“And hope to die,” replied Sam.

-The End-

bad man has Marnie

The Island, Part 2 – Marnie Reilly Mysteries – The Early Years

The Island, Part 2

The man’s face was dark – menacing. Marnie frowned while she studied his features. The man was taller than Marnie’s dad. He had black hair, a broad, flat forehead, bushy eyebrows, black eyes, and a huge mouth. Marnie decided that the man had fat lips. His earlobes were fat, too, but the man was thin – wiry was what her mother would say. As she studied the man, Marnie became agitated – sad – angry. She saw something evil in him. She also felt sorry for him. She sensed a terrible pain in her right knee. Her head began to ache, and her left ear buzzed. When her vision grew fuzzy, and her stomach started to turn, she knew that these were the man’s symptoms – not her own.

Marnie knew that she was an empath. Her mother told her she was. Her mother also told her that if she was ever to experience what she was now experiencing, she needed to focus on something positive – something nice – focus on anything but the person causing her to feel bad. Marnie glanced in Tom’s direction. His eyes met hers. Marnie felt panicked – terrified. She turned her attention to the pond – calm washed over her, and her courage returned. She took a step forward, crossed her arms, and scowled.

“Hey! What are doing on Mr. Barnes’s island? Did you hurt Mr. Barnes?” Marnie asked. She held her head high, straightened her shoulders and planted her feet firmly.

The man stared down at her – eyes empty.

“Can you talk?” Marnie asked. She studied the man – her scowl slowly disappearing. “Hey! Why are you so grumpy? You know, you should get some aspirin for your knee and your head. It must hurt an awful lot. You might not be grumpy if you had aspirin. Maybe Mr. Barnes has some at his house. Maybe you should go check.”

Tom nudged Marnie. “I don’t think he wants to talk to us. Maybe we should go find Sam.”

Marnie nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go find Sam.”

As Marnie turned to walk away, the man grabbed her hair and pulled her back. Marnie screeched.

“Ow! Ow! Let me go! Tom! Run! Run! Find Sam!” Marnie screamed, and swung her arms wildly. “Let me go! Let me go! Ow!”

Tom faltered, stared wide-eyed at his friend, and then raced off in the direction of Sam’s friends on the other side of the island.

The man grabbed Marnie’s arms, and then tightly clasped a hand over her mouth. Marnie twisted to free herself, and stomped down hard on the man’s foot. He held tighter. Marnie kicked back, and connected with the man’s knee. He yelled out in pain.

“Argh! You little bitch! I’m going to kill you!” he shouted, his grip on Marnie tightening.

Marnie turned her head sharply, freeing her mouth from the man’s rough and grimy hand. She sucked in a deep breath, threw her head back into the man’s nose, and then bit down hard on his thumb. The man threw Marnie roughly to ground, and as Marnie scrambled to get to her feet, he slapped her hard across the face. Marnie saw stars – her ears buzzed, and she fell backward into the reeds.

Sam stopped on a cedar-covered path. The humidity had crept up. He tugged his t-shirt away from his damp skin, lifted the hem and wiped sweat from his face. The soft breeze from earlier in the day had faded, and the buzz of mosquitos and flies filled the sticky air.  He wished that he hadn’t taken a short cut through the woods, but had rather walked the pebbled shore of the pond. Swatting a mosquito away from his ear, he narrowed his eyes, and turned his head from side to side. Sam was certain he had just heard Marnie screech. Cupping his hands to mouth like a megaphone, he called out to his sister.

“Marnie! Marnie, are you okay? I’ll be right there!”

Marnie didn’t answer. He called out again.


Tom stopped running along the pebbly path, and turned in the direction of Sam’s voice.

“Sam! Over here! Sam!” Tom shouted – desperation in his voice.

“Tom? Tom, is Marnie with you?” Sam shouted, panic rising in his voice.

“The bad man has her! The bad man grabbed her hair! She sent me to get you!” Tom screeched. His fearful shout sent chills up Sam’s spine.

Sam raced in the direction of Tom’s shouts. Running as fast as his legs would carry him, Tom ran toward the sound of Sam’s voice.

“Sam! Where are you?” Tom puffed out his words.

“I’m here, Tom!” Sam shouted in reply. Sam could see the top of Tom’s head bobbing and weaving through the thickets and brambles of the overgrown woods – and then he didn’t.

Tom took a sharp turn around a boulder, heard Marnie screech, turned in the direction of her cries, and collided with Sam.

Marnie kicked and pushed the bad man away from her. She scrambled back through the reeds, and into the pond. She held her breath and dunked herself under the water, hoping to escape the bad man. Marnie awkwardly swam in circles, before coming up for air. The bad man grabbed her hair and pulled her up out of the water. Swinging her around until she was huddled on his hip and under his arm. Marnie twisted violently. She screeched, kicked and punched as she thrashed.

“My brother is going to hurt you! My father is going to kill you!” She cried.

The bad man swung Marnie around and held her under her arms until they were nose to nose. He glared into Marnie’s face – and Marnie glared back. She narrowed her eyes, and scrunched up her nose.

“You stink! You smell like you haven’t brushed your teeth!” Marnie yelled.

The bad man’s expression didn’t change. Marnie looked into his eyes – and they seemed to be as dead as Mr. Barnes’s eyes, but Marnie was certain this man wasn’t a ghost. A ghost wouldn’t be able to pick her up or slap her. She was sure of it. Marnie’s eyes widened. She saw something in this man – and it wasn’t good. Marnie saw evil. Pure evil! A cold chill inched up her spine, and goosebumps popped out on her arms and legs. The top of her head began to tingle, a sure sign something bad was going to happen. Marnie twisted so that the bad man would release his grip. His grip tightened, and a menacing sneer appeared on his unshaven face. The bad man’s fingers were like the vise grips her father used to twist off the top of an old wood glue bottle. Marnie winced with pain.

“I’m going to have fun killing you, little one. I’m going to bite off your fingers one by one, and then I’ll bite off your toes, and then your ears, and then your nose. ” Licking his lips, the bad man pulled Marnie closer. Their noses were barely touching. Marnie could see the evil growing within him. She knew he would do exactly what he was telling her he would do.

Marnie summoned as much courage as her fear would allow. “You better put me down!” Marnie shrieked, and then kicked out hard, connecting with the bad man’s stomach.

The bad man shook her, throwing Marnie’s head back violently. When her head snapped forward, her forehead smashed into the bridge of the bad man’s nose. Marnie heard the bones crunch, and twisted to free herself – again. Blinded by pain, the bad man dropped Marnie, and put his hands up to his nose. Marnie pulled herself up, and knelt on the pine needle carpet of the woods. She watched with morbid fascination as the bad man growled with pain – then he put two fingers along either side of his nose and pushed his nose back into place. Blood dripped from his nose to the ground. Eyes wide and mouth agape, Marnie read the man’s thoughts. She scrambled to her feet, and just as she was turning to flee, the bad man lunged forward.

“I’m going to kill you!” he wailed.

“No you are not!” Sam Reilly roared, as he swung Tom’s rusty crowbar at the bad man’s head.

Tom raced to Marnie’s side, and pulled her out of the way of the bad man’s grasp. The bad man hit the ground with a dull thud – a loud groan escaping from his throat.

Sam Reilly stood over the bad man, the crow bar raised over his head.  “I swear I will kill you if you get up! Don’t you move! Don’t move! I’ll smash you again!”

Sam glanced up. “Tom, I want you to run to the other side of the island and get my friends. Run as fast as you can!”

Tom simply nodded and ran.

“Marnie, open your bag. Let’s see what we have to tie him up.”

The bad man groaned, rolled over, and reached for Sam’s leg. Sam smashed the crow bar down on the bad man’s hand.

Hearing the crack of the crow bar, Marnie’s head popped up from inspecting the contents of her bag. Her eyes welled with tears – partly from fear – partly from frustration. She could find nothing in her bag with which to tie up the bad man.

“I can’t find anything!” Marnie whined. She stood and tipped everything out of her bag, and sat on the ground to sift through the contents. “I don’t have anything in here…”

The bad man grunted, and lurched forward – reaching for Sam’s ankle.

“Sam! Look out!” Marnie shrieked.

Sam swung the crow bar down hard, hitting the bad man’s forearm. The crack that followed the hit was sickening. Falling back in pain, the bad man lolled his head to one side and glared at Marnie.

Marnie rolled her nose, and put up her fists. “I’ll take a swing at you next! You’re a bad man! You’re evil! My brother’ll whack your other arm if you keep moving around and trying to grab him!”

The sound of thundering feet, breaking branches and rustling leaves turned their attention toward the woods. A moment later, Sam’s friends skidded to a halt in the clearing. Tom, red-faced and winded, trailed behind them. Marcus, a young man of about 13, stepped into the clearing first. His dark brown hair was flat to his head – either from sweat or from swimming. His wet, navy blue swimming trunks suggested the latter, but the redness of his cheeks suggested both. His hazel eyes widened when he saw the bad man sprawled on the ground groaning under the threat of the raised crow bar in Sam Reilly’s right hand.

“What the hell! Sam, what happened?” Marcus asked, disbelief and confusion clouding his features.

Marnie hopped to her feet, pointed the man sprawled on the ground, and yelled, “That bad man was trying to kill me!”

Marcus glanced in Marnie’s direction, and then back to Sam.

Sam’s other friends, 2 tall, lanky boys; 1 short, skinny boy; 2 stocky, medium height boys; 1 tall, willowy girl; and 3 petite girls, stepped into the clearing and stared down at the bad man. Their ages ranged from 11-14. The disgust on their faces ranged from “Holy crap! Sam really messed this guy up!” to “Oh my god! This man is grotesque!”

The bad man’s right arm had a huge goose egg and a nasty bruise rising up on the forearm, and his left hand seeped blood, and from the looks of it, it was broken. His nose was a slightly askew and bulbous, and dribbles of dried blood splotched just beneath his nose, on his lips and chin. His light grey T-shirt and jeans were grubby with specks of dried blood dotting the fabrics.

Sam relaxed his stance – but just a bit. He kept the crow bar raised – his eyes laser focused on the man lying in the dirt just a few inches away.

“Marcus, can you please go to my house, and ask my parents to call the cops? Can someone go get my father, and bring him here with some rope?” Sam asked – no emotion in his voice. “The cops are going to take forever getting out to the island.  My dad can help. We can tie this guy up, and then wait for the cops to arrive. Oh, you might want to tell to send paramedics, too.”

Still staring down at the bad man, Marcus nodded blankly. “Yeah. I can go. I have my father’s boat tied up on the other side of the island.” Marcus turned to run back to his boat, snapped his fingers and turned back. “You know! I’ve got some tow rope in my boat. We can use that to tie up this guy.”

Sam glanced up. He clenched his jaw, and nodded. “Thanks, Marcus.” Sam turned to the tall, willowy girl. “Stephanie, can you please go to the boat with Marcus, and then bring back the rope? I want to get this guy tied up sooner rather than later. I don’t trust him.”

Stephanie smiled. “Sure, Sam. I’ll do that for you, Sam.” She blushed, and then she and Marcus raced through the woods to Marcus’s boat.

Distracted by Stephanie’s smile, Sam relaxed and lowered the crow bar to his side. He really liked Stephanie. He had been planning to ask her to accompany him to the Creekwood Summer Festival Dance that was coming up next weekend.

“Sam! Look out!” Marnie screeched.

The bad man kicked Sam’s legs from beneath him, and then he weakly grabbed the crow bar with his mangled left hand. Marnie scrambled to get to her brother, but she stumbled on another tree root. The bad man scooted across the ground on his backside, and wrapped his right arm around Marnie’s throat, while still gripping the crow bar in his left hand as tightly as he could.

“Don’t move! Any of you! I’ll break her neck! I will squeeze the life out of her! One squeeze of my arm, and I will break her neck!” the bad man rasped out.

“Let me go!” Marnie screeched. She kicked and punched, and the bad man squeezed her neck tighter.

“Don’t fight me! I will kill you! I’m going to kill you anyway, but I’ll kill you quicker if you fight!” the bad man threatened.

The bad man scooted in his backside across the mossy ground until his back was against a large cedar tree. He planted the edge of his boots into the ground, and using the tree as leverage, he pushed himself up onto his feet. Marnie’s neck still firmly trapped in the crook of his right arm, he stood and weakly took a few backward steps away from Sam and his group of friends.

Tom sank down, and sat on the ground. He closed his eyes, and covered his face with his hands. He whispered, “Annie, please help my friend. Please help her.”

Sam took a threatening step forward.

The bad man grinned and squeezed Marnie’s neck.

“Argh! You’re hurting me!” Marnie squeaked out. Tears ran down her crinkled and frightened face.

Sam took another step forward.

“Not one more step!” the bad man growled. “I will snap her neck like a twig! Not one more step!”

The roar of a boat engine echoed as it rounded the island. Sam hoped that it was Marcus racing toward the Reilly’s dock.

Sam scanned his group of friends. Stuart and David Bennett were both glancing back and forth between Sam and Marnie. Stuart was Sam’s age. David was just a year older than Marnie. Stuart put his hands out flat to the ground as a sign for Sam to stand down. Sam nodded, and then retreated a step.

“Good boy!” rasped out the bad man. He walked backward into the woods dragging Marnie with him. Tears streamed down Marnie’s face. Her mouth was moving, but they couldn’t hear what she was saying.

Sam turned around searching for Tom. Tom was creeping through the woods.

“Tom!” Sam shouted. “Tom! Get back here!”

Tom stopped for a moment. He turned, made eye contact with Sam, shook his head firmly, and then darted off into the woods – trailing the bad man and his friend

…to be continued